If you ask anyone involved in the fields of preparedness or bushcraft, they will all invariably tell you that a knife is the most important tool to have on hand. In all honesty, this probably applies in daily life, as well. We all use knives in meal preparation, and a large percentage of people who work outside of an office environment also use knives of one sort or another on a regular basis. It goes without saying that if an emergency or disaster scenario occurs where the general public doesn’t have access to modern amenities and electronic appliances, knives will, once again, be the first tool we turn to for most of our daily chores. This will be particularly true of pocket knives, since they are the easiest to carry and have on hand at all times.
One of the most prolific manufacturers of pocket knives is Spyderco, which offers a wide range of knife styles and utilizes a broad gamut of material types, depending on the intended use. Just about anything you can think of is probably in its catalog—from lightweight folding knives to heavyweight utility and fighting folders to fixed blades for just about every occasion.
Having used Spyderco’s knives for over two decades, I’ve come to trust in their reliability and performance, and that’s why we’re presenting a few of the company’s new models for the reader’s consideration—in case there’s a time when things get tough, and a life may depend on the tools you have on hand.
Living a Spyderco Life
Because of the variety of models Spyderco offers, we decided to do our story with a slightly different approach: Instead of doing a review on just one knife, we decided to talk about three different Spyderco models I’ve carried and used the past few weeks—the Foundry, Burch Chubby, and Roadie. Some got used more than others, but that’s mainly due to their specific designs. Nevertheless, we did our best to test the knives via the tasks for which they were designed, and, in some cases, we went beyond that standard.
A Natural Partnership—The Foundry
The first model to be discussed is also the one I probably used the most. The Foundry stayed with me just about the entire review period. It was my EDC knife for about a month and was used constantly for common, everyday tasks. It also traveled with me into the field on several occasions while shooting or just passing time in the hills.
The Foundry was a collaborative effort between Spydero and Carpenter Technology Corporation (a U.S. steel manufacturer). Made in Sypderco’s Golden, Colorado, factory, the Foundry utilizes several Carpenter alloys in its construction. The handles are made of Custom 465 stainless steel, the back spacer from BioDur 316LS, and the blade is formed from CTS XHP. According to Carpenter’s website (www.cartech.com), CTS XHP has the corrosion resistance of 440C and approaches the maximum hardness of D2. CTS XHP can actually be hardened to a 64 HRC.
Handling the Foundry is a pleasant experience, and all the details are just the way I like them. The broad blade is 3.31 inches long and .12 inch thick, and the entire knife weighs 5.3 ounces. It opens smoothly, with no resistance, but the fit is still tight and solid. This is a well-built knife, utilizing the Reeve Integral Lock, and the edges of the handle scales are rounded off to improve comfort. Finally, it is configured for tip-up carry, but unfortunately, it is not reversible for lefties.
Spyderco calls the blade a clip-point style. It certainly has the usual taper, with the blade getting thinner toward the point, but there’s no removal of the top side of the blade that would be typical of a clip-point. It is a flat grind from edge to spine. While I like clip-point blades, the Foundry works better without that feature, because the point retains its strength for chores that might be considered outside its realm of intended performance. This is the very definition of what we would expect in a survival tool, right?
Short and Stout—The Burch Chubby
I have to say that I was immediately surprised the first time I picked up the Burch Chubby. At first glance, this knife seems small, although still attractive. However, once you feel the weight of it, there’s no doubt you’ve got a robust tool to work with. With an overall length of just 5.96 inches, the blade is only 2.3 inches long. The weight comes from the thickness of the CPM S30V blade—almost .18 inch. The handle scales are made of titanium, and one side is adorned with three carbon fiber inserts. It’s such an elegant knife that you hate to actually use it.
The Spyderco Burch Chubby is based on a popular design by custom maker Michael Burch. What really makes it stand out is the length of the cutting edge you get from the oversized belly of the blade. With a deep hollow grind and an aggressive reverse taper along the spine, this blade design is good for both slicing and penetration (think: self-defense). The Chubby incorporates a Reeve Integral Lock and has a butter-smooth opening with an extremely solid lockup.
Time for Some Tests
Aside from the day-in, day-out chores I did with the knives as I carried them, I took them into the woods a few times to try them out on jobs they really weren’t intended to do. There’s an axiom that states, “The best knife you have is the one you have with you,” and although it’s a little trite, there’s a ring of truth to it. We don’t know when an emergency situation will arise, but we can’t always go strapped with an 11-inch chopper and a dedicated bushcraft knife. (Imagine what folks would think of you at the office.)
The compromise we have to make, in most cases, is to carry a folding knife, because there could be a time when all you’ll have with you is a folder, and you need to make sure it’s up to the job. This is why I used both the Foundry and the Burch Chubby on a few simple tests to see how they would fare. The Foundry got the most use because of its size, even though both knives are robustly built.
The first test was to see how well the Foundry would do making a pile of tinder/kindling shavings from a dead branch. It took just three to four minutes to get a decent-sized pile. These shavings usually won’t take a spark as easily as dried moss, tinder tabs, or cotton balls, unless you’re using magnesium or a Misch metal rod. However, they do come in handy to help build the fire quickly and sustain it long enough to get other kindling in the mix to really get the fire going.
The next experiment was to carve several stakes to see how comfortable the Foundry was for more repetitive work and to see if my hand would experience any fatigue during the process. Stakes can be used for anchoring snares, tarps, or tents and even for improvised weapons such as a “knife”; and, if you think about it, a long stake is a “spear.”
I’ll be honest: I was surprised how well the Foundry did with this test. I used dead wood, which is a little tougher to carve and shape than green wood, but that didn’t seem to matter to the Foundry. In a matter of about 10 minutes, I had four stakes done. I could have been finished a bit earlier—I probably worked a little longer than I needed to for simple stakes.
It was time for the Burch Chubby to come out and play, so I did some similar tests, even though the knife has only a 2.3-inch blade. I’ve got a friend up north who has a thing for fuzz sticks, so I did that test for him. Because of the oversized belly of the blade, it took a bit of time to get the technique down. I found that using the front ⅓ near the point did a better job grabbing the wood and making shallow cuts. Once that was figured out, it was a fairly easy process.
Because of its short handle, the Chubby wasn’t as easy to control as the Foundry, but it made up for it with a lack of jimping. It was far more comfortable to apply pressure to the spine hump without any jimping digging into my thumb.
I carved yet another stake with the Chubby, and this one was almost twice as thick as the others done by the Foundry. Even so, I was able to turn it out almost as quickly, despite the Chubby’s size. Granted, neither the Foundry nor the Chubby is as comfortable as a dedicated bushcraft knife, but that’s not what Spyderco had in mind when these models were designed. What both knives do offer is an always-available option to perform these kinds of chores because of their edge geometry, solid construction, and the quality of the materials used.
It’s the TSA’s Loss—The Roadie
Although recent reports show that close to 95 percent of mock explosives and banned weapons made it through TSA screening, rest assured that this federal agency has every pair of fingernail clippers that’s ever gotten within 100 feet of an airport.
I do mention this for a reason: At one point, the TSA was contemplating allowing citizens carrying pocket knives to once again board planes. It issued a set of specifications that knives needed to meet but soon decided against allowing any kind of knife.
The Roadie was Spyderco’s response to the TSA specifications. It’s a very small, notched-joint folder with a sheep’s foot blade. It has a 2.09-inch blade made from N690Co, and the handles are made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon. The handles come in different colors, including black, blue, red, orange, and gray.
Despite the Roadie’s tiny size, the more I used it, the more I liked it. One particular thing I liked was the double detent divots at the head of the blade that make opening the Roadie much easier than typical slip-joints with the fingernail catches. And, after having a couple of the review samples around for a little while, I was hit with a couple of ideas—and I slapped myself on the head for not thinking of them sooner.
I’ve been in preparedness mode for about 20 years, and I’ve put together a lot of different styles of kits—such as kits made from Altoids tins (I have at least one of these on me at all times). These little kits don’t seem like much, but they’re better than nothing at all.
For a kit that small, I used to resort to putting in a couple of scalpel blades for cutting materials, but I figured out that the Roadie is a perfect size for such a kit and still leaves plenty of room for other useful items. That was my first “brilliant” idea.
The second was to attach the Roadie to my key-chain via the lanyard hole so I always have a knife with me, no matter where I go and even when I forget to take another knife along. Now, I’m not advising anyone to do this. I’ve just been trying it out for the past week to see whether the blade is prone to come open on its own while the keys are in my pocket. So far, it hasn’t happened, but I’m still being careful until I’m comfortable with the arrangement. You need to keep in mind that certain spots, such as schools and sometimes your own workplace, might have an issue with a knife on your key-ring, so user discretion is advised.
Let’s face it, the Roadie and any folding knife of its size aren’t going to double as a pry bar or be relied on to tear through thick, dense material. The Roadie is made to cut through normal materials such cordage, packaging, or first aid materials, and it does those chores just fine. I keep scalpel blades in all my pocket kits, and the edge on the Roadie seems to be just as sharp. However, you get the bonus of having a handle already in place.
The Final Word
These three folders represent just a small sampling of the variety of knives Spyderco currently offers. It’s always better to do your homework and pick the right tool for the job. But whenever an emergency comes about, you have to use what you have on hand. We can’t always be equipped to the gills wherever we go, so even if you’re forced to make a compromise regarding what you’ll use in a time of crisis, you can still have a quality tool on hand.
If you’re looking for a dedicated knife for a specific job, or if you want a quality, all-around knife, Spyderco will most likely have whatever you need.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.