SHOT Show may have gone online. But knife makers are still busy bringing their latest and greatest products to consumers without the benefits of trade shows.
With COVID numbers in unprecedented territory, SHOT Show 2021 has been canceled. As a result, companies are promoting their new goods online and sending press packs and checking samples to select selected people. I was lucky enough to get both this year.
2020 was one of the best years ever with knives (see my Gear of the Year Awards on mine personal page for more). 2021 looks like a year of consolidation, with many big brands recycling older designs with new steel.
Read on to see what’s new and what to add to your personal collection in 2021.
SHOT Show 2021 preview
Note: Since Reate, WE and Artisan – along with most other Chinese brands – do not publish catalogs for the year in advance, their publications are not covered here.
Only WE decided to release anything at all in January and the release isn’t extensive, especially when compared to the brand’s annual production.
Spyderco’s business model has changed fundamentally in recent years. The brand launched Messer in the same cycle as everyone else and competed with competitors from several retailers. However, for the past 3 years it has focused on sprint runs and exclusivity.
This model is an interesting step in a competitive field. And it has led to a boom in the collectors market. But it does mean Spyderco’s annual releases have been quite a lot. This year is no different. There are many old knives made with new steel. K390 has been fully integrated on most evergreen models (Delica, Endura, etc.) as a high wear resistance option. LC200N is also available more widely.
The two highlights for collectors and enthusiasts are the Cruwear Paramilitary 2 ($ 245) and the reissue of the Lots of Spyderco ($ 450) from the early 2000s, this time with a red G10 on the handles.
There is also a sliding joint version of the Lil Native ($ 180) which makes it a top notch working knife in countries with knife lock laws. In terms of current new designs, there is nothing at all.
- Overall grade: Incomplete due to missing new items
- Must-buys: 0
Check prices at Blade HQ. Check prices at Spyderco
This is not your father’s CRKT. The company is moving solidly in the upper range of production knives. The pattern of bringing out high-end versions of knives along with cheaper versions gives the brand an impressive and innovative catalog in 2021.
The most important innovation this year is the new Field Strip system. With a single slider and an error-free action, the new field strip improves the old system significantly. There is no transverse thread on the rear wheel and no connection point is missing at the pivot point.
In terms of new models, there are those Pillar III ($ 80), a larger, curvier version of the Pilar and the Large Pilar (also known as the Pilarge). CRKT also has a wide variety of colors for the Joe Caswell designed Provoke.
Finally, the brand’s high-end offering, the Good faith ($ 250) is a new Ken Onion design with great Ergos and Field Strip II. CRKT has always been innovative. And now this innovation is combined with good materials and good fit and workmanship.
Check the Pilar III price at Blade HQCheck Bona Fide Price at CRKT
Kai (Kershaw & Zero Tolerance)
KershawThe range has been overwhelmed by disposable designs with generic black or metal handles and sub-par steel, usually 8Cr13MoV, for many years. Some have D2 if they are fancier models. All of these are made in China.
The reality is that the market has passed such knives. With CIVIVI and CJRB When making knives with better tolerances, materials, and designs, there’s no need to look at Kershaw’s range. Unfortunately, nothing changes that was shown in 2021. Just to make it clear (or not) – the most innovative knives in the range have plastic blades.
ZT’s offers are just as boring. There are only three knives, two of which are preparations from earlier models – the new version of the 0308 ($ 375) and the stripped-down version of the 0999, the 0990 (275 USD).
The only really new blade is that 0762 ($ 400), a large pinball machine with a carbon fiber handle and 20CV blade steel. It has the ZT Tuned Detent System that I’ve had on other knives. Neither of these models is particularly exciting or innovative. They’re all pretty expensive, especially considering other brands use the same materials for half the price.
Kansept knife released a knife with an M390 blade and Timascus inlays for $ 217. This is a real problem for ZT. Nothing that ZT offers comes even close to this value.
- Overall grade: D.
- Must-buys: 0
Check Kai prices at Blade HQCheck Kershaw prices at Blade HQCheck ZT prices at Blade HQ
Benchmade Knife Company
Benchmade has had a good few years since the brand (1) lost the patent for the AXIS lock and (2) published the bugout. With the Bugout, a new approach to knives was introduced – a laser focus on EDC.
2021 is no different. Benchmade publishes a High end bugout ($ 300) with CF handles and S90V. This will be a competitor for Knife of the Year in 2021. It also has an even lighter version of Mini bugout ($ 160) with the brand’s new carbon fiber composite that showed up in the larger bugout.
There’s a new one too Mini Adamas ($ 250), a cute, aggro-looking blade. Finally there is the new high-end Gold class Tengu ($ 550). Benchmade also offers one Mini 940 ($ 205), this time with no coated blade. Lots of good stuff here, but nothing groundbreaking.
Check prices at Blade HQ. Check the prices at Benchmade
With the publication of the Terminus XR A few years ago, and then with a full rebrand and exit from big box, SOG is now clearly targeting the enthusiast market.
It took a big show for 2021 or else people would dismiss the brand as a color swap for old designs. Fortunately, SOG brings the big guns with better steel (S35VN and XHP) and innovative design.
Especially the new Terminus XR LTE ($ 140) takes the Terminus XR and makes it better. Carbon fiber scales add stiffness, and the steel is now S35VN. A lighter Terminus XR with better steel is automatically one of the best EDC knives on the market.
The Mini Kiku ($ 250) is similarly light and has even better steel – XHP. With the mid-price revamps last year and the optimization of the upper price, SOG is really in a good position going forward.
Check prices at SOGCheck prices at Blade HQ
Will Hodges has been making some of the best pens for a number of years. 2021 marks his move to Messer.
His first entry is a high-end titanium frame-lock pinball machine called The Stone wall. With XHP steel and Hodges’ hallmark design and fit and finish, the Rockwall is amazing. Look for the Rockwall soon for a retail price of $ 300.
TRM shows his first slide rail knife (read: AXIS), the shadow ($ 279). The brand is also still working on that TiCoon Atom. I’m sure the likes of Enrique Pena and Brian Nadeau of Sharp by Design will continue to release new models (the Pena X series trappers was released in Blade HQ color).
Chris Reeve announced an upgrade, from a newer manufacturer to the standard carrier of high-end knives It is delicious (400 USD). The Mnandi is one of the best production knives ever made. It has two major improvements: a new opening method and new steel.
Instead of the rounded nail that made the Mnandi a two-handed knife, it now has a long opening hole. It also has S45VN steel, the grandchild of S30V, a steel Chris Reeve Knives was instrumental in developing. This is a great knife made better – and a sign that Chris Reeve is closely following the market.