Monday, May 28, 2012

Spyderco's Native knife line

I've written about the Native series before. They are the knives I've found most interesting in the Spyderco line.

The basic design started with the Manix, which featured a well-defined finger choil (between blade and grip), nice G10 grips, an acceptable but standard blade shape in acceptable 154cm steel, and funky ball bearing lock. The screws for disassembly were much appreciated.

Then they refined things with the Native, which featured a misshapen finger choil with uncomfortable sharp edges, the new spear point native style blade in excellent S30V steel, too-slick plastic grips, acceptable pocket clip, the standard strong lock, and aggressive jimping on the blade for your thumb. Rivets were used in this design, presumably to reduce cost. The Native was less expensive than the Manix when it came out, but has risen in value as people discovered the utility. This design actually returned to production after the next knife came out, and is currently available as a very high value low price EDC. It's hard to go wrong with this one.

Then the Native III which kept the overall blade shape and lock, but switched to VG-10 which is a bit too hard for my tastes. The partial serration was appreciated in this design because it left enough plain blade to use for detail work. You'll notice the choil returned to proper shape and gained higher sides to keep your finger safe and add grip. The jimping is reduced, just as grippy, and less visually disruptive to the design. Very well done. The biggest design addition here is the "design in the dark" grip which is significantly more ergonomic than the Native's flat sides. (detail of grip comparison here) The clip is also superior at both holding in place, and easily sliding off. When sliding on, the grip/clip interface tends to bind on your pocket. The blade shape is modified slightly to be wider, and fits with the lines of the knife beautifully. I would like to have one of these in plain blade, but they're hard to find at an acceptable price. This knife has been discontinued.

Next is the Native 4 which is more of a dress knife than a utility blade. The smooth carbon fiber grips look and feel beautiful, but are much too smooth. Notice the return of the Manix's lanyard loop for some reason. The blade design appears to be modified slightly with a dropped tip, still using VG-10. The choil is more elegantly swept back, but this only means less grip to me. Jimping is virtually non-existent. The blade is flat ground (blade body has no additional bevels from back to cutting bevel) which improves the looks somewhat, but reveals what we've already figured out; looks are beating utility on this design. The clip is now totally customizable (left, right, tip down, tip up), but not as good as the Native III's clip. Also notable is the addition of screws instead of rivets, meaning you can take down your Native for a detail cleaning finally. These additions all came at a price, the Native 4 was priced at about double the last two knives. (prices have reduced since release) This knife has been discontinued.

Finally, we come to the most recent evolution of the Native; the Spyderco Native 5. Immediately we can identify many desirable features. The blade shape has returned and retained the flat grind while switching to S35VN (supposedly similar to my preferred S30V). The clip is unfortunately still the new style, but can be set in any configuration. The choil seems to have compromised with the Native 3 and 4, and for some reason features internal jimping. Gladly, the screws remain to allow you to clean this caliber of knife. The G10 grips appear flat, and while better than the Native, aren't nearly as positive as the Native III. I vacillate on this, though. The wide grips of the 3 are great in your hand, but not so much in your pocket. I found myself carrying the Native more because it was less obtrusive in my pocket and was smoother entering and exiting my pocket. I suppose if I was holding the knife more than I was carrying it in my pocket, I'd prefer the 3's grips, but I carry far more than I use, so these G10 grips should be perfect.

While striking the right mix of utility and elegance, the Native 5 clocks in around $150, which makes this knife an extremely great value. The features and design have developed to the point of rivalry with knives over $200. This isn't the Spyderco throwaway you toss in a toolbox and forget about, this is your new Every Day Carry knife. Resting unobtrusively in your pocket, ready and sharp when called upon for utility tasks, sure of grip and totally controllable, prepared for years of reliable service.

This is an idea, a design, a knife worthy of carry.


Davidwhitewolf said...

Thanks for an excellent review! Out of stock of the 5 at Spyderco's website, but Amazon still has 12 available. I wanted something to get my brother for his 40th b-day, and this will be it.

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