As has been the case for years now, I like to give each company a grade for their showcase at SHOT Show.
It’s a way to highlight some designs and point out ones I think will be good knives. The upcoming year’s trends are pretty straightforward: lots of autos, Magnacut, and sliding bar lock variants.
Check out the official, unofficial SHOT Show Scorecard for 2023.
Knives of SHOT Show Scorecard
Benchmade has been a company on a tear recently. Since the debut of the Bugout and the loss of the patent on the Axis lock, Benchmade kicked things into high gear with superior designs, hot collabs, and better fit and finish.
The offerings at SHOT 2023 were a lot of remixes of some of those knives. There are, of course, new colors for a slew of autos, including the Bugout and Mini Bugout — the latter being one of the best EDC knives on the market.
The Bailout, the tougher cousin of the Bugout, got a full redo with an orange handle, bluish standoffs and lanyard point, and 3V steel. It looks quite good.
The Barrage got a new handle material in Richlite, a paper/resin composite originally used in mold forms for the 747.
Benchmade also has some steel upgrades, using Magnacut on some autos this year. The only two completely new releases are the Immunity series (in both auto and non-auto). This is a small EDC knife with two blade shapes and a steel-junkie favorite M4 steel. It had been shown before but is scheduled for release this year.
And the Narrows marks the only truly new knife in the lineup that had never been shown at all. Like the Bugout, the Narrows is an extreme take on knife design, this time prioritizing thinness over lightness. It is a larger blade with an extremely thin profile and an Axis lock.
There was also a carbon fiber version of the 945 (the Mini Osborne), now with S90V — overall, my favorite new knife shown at SHOT.
- Grade: B+
- Instabuys: CF 945, Immunity, Narrows
- Summary: Having the best evergreen lineup helps make new colors more appealing and the smaller knives are nice looking.
Buck is one of the oldest, best-selling, and most revered knife brands on the market. It makes most everything in-house, and its 110 is the knife that started the Folder Revolution in the 1960s.
Its offerings focus a lot on hunting, but some of the knives have broad utility. It also has the best and most famous heat treat metallurgist in the world — Paul Bos (pronounced “Boss”) — working for them and developing heat treat protocols that make Buck versions of regular steels quantitatively superior to other companies versions of those steels.
While Buck didn’t introduce a ton of stuff, there were a few standouts. The Saunter is a gorgeous, small slipjoint with micarta handles. It also had a high-end slipjoint designed by one of the masters of American knifemaking, Scott Sawby. The Deploy lineup was also there, Buck’s out-the-side autos.
Along with the high-end Sawby, Buck showed off a truly spectacular version of the Paradigm Shift with darkened bolsters, white G10 handles, and a damascus blade.
There was also a slew of 110 variants — a Ti version with thumb studs, a nickel silver bolstered version, and, wait for it, a MAGNACUT version. Talk about an upgrade — a classic knife with state-of-the-art steel.
Imagine a 1968 Mustang GT (in olive green, of course) with a brand new Corvette LS1 engine in it. That’s the Magnacut 110.
- Grade: A-
- Instabuy: Ti 110, Saunter, Sawby
- Summary: A well-rounded lineup that hits all the parts of the market — autos, slippies, and EDC with high-end steel.
CRKT showed off a bunch of stuff ahead of the show, including the Mini Tuna, a smaller version of the Burnley-designed Tuna, a hatched clever version of the Razel from the sorely missed Jon Graham (who lost his battle with cancer), a nicely appointed utility-sized fixed blade Razel, and a new Razel folder.
It also showed off the Dextro, a TJ Schwartz-designed folder on the beefier side. There was another version of the Pilar, this one larger than the original and now with a clip-point blade.
Ken Onion designed the Jake, which CRKT is billing as an “all arounder” with a beautiful, complex handle. Most of these knives come in D2 or similarly priced steels.
But CRKT has also made moves in the higher end, too. This year marks its first USA-made folders, both made by Hogue. They sport a sliding bar lock (formerly patented as the Axis lock) and run 154CM steel.
The Definitive (check out the review) is designed by MJ Lerch, one of the more prolific female knife designers in the world, and the more angular LCBK by her husband, Matthew Lerch.
Oh and just in case you needed a little off-beat innovation, they made an EDC version of the Provoke with a drop point blade.
- Grade: B+
- Instabuy: One of the Lerch blades, Mini Tuna
- Summary: The march up the ladder continues for CRKT, and the Hogue-made knives look good and competitive.
GSM (Cold Steel/SOG)
In 2021 GSM, an outdoor brand company, acquired both SOG and Cold Steel. Given that and that both had smallish showings, I am going to cover them together.
Like a lot of brands, SOG has moved into the auto space pretty heavily as state after state repels their bans on automatic knives (check your local laws to see if that applies to you). It has an auto version of the 01 and a new color for the manual. Both looked good and sported S35VN blades.
It also showed off the Twitch 3, which is an entirely new knife — a simpler, cleaner blade with an assisted open and a 154CM blade for under $100. It looks nice too. Unfortunately, it is basically the same price as the excellent Terminus XR, which has both better steel and no assist. Both the Twitch 3 and the 01 have deep carry clips. SOG also showed off a few fixed blades, but none were all that interesting.
Cold Steel had a few new knives. The show stopper of its lineup and likely SHOT Show itself was the Mayhem. No one can do a 6-inch blade like Cold Steel, and the Mayhem, with its cutlass blade shape, grabs eyeballs.
It sports an Atlas Lock, and it will be available in two steels: S35VN for the premium version and AUS10 for the entry model. It also showed off a BladeSports competition cutter in 3V designed in conjunction with Josh Balay, aka Jimislash, that looks really intriguing.
For those uninitiated, BladeSports is a cutting competition, usually paring a custom-designed and heat-treated fixed blade and a brawny bear of a human wielding said cutter in a series of preposterously difficult cutting tasks like chopping fast-moving golf balls in half as they bounce down a trough.
This is the first production competition cutter released. Backyard shenanigans may commence. Cold Steel had the Swift, an M4 steeled, assisted opening, an Altas lock folder, and a high-end TiLite. Finally, they had an unnamed folder with a Saex blade, likely called the Viking something (“Saex” was marked on the blade).
- Grade: B+ (with Cold Steel pulling 75% of the weight)
- Instabuys: Swift in M4, and I am kind of embarrassed to admit it — the competition cutter.
- Summary: Cold Steel makes a big impression by leaning into the crazy.
Kershaw’s offerings in the past few years of been pretty snore-worthy with a bunch of black-bladed, bland, overseas-made knives. Last year it bucked the trend with a micarta-handled, USA-made slipjoint called the Federalist.
This year it added a few more USA-made offerings to the lineup and launched its own version of the Sliding Bar Lock (originally marketed as the Axis lock by Benchmade). Finally, it upped the number of switchblades.
The most high-profile splash comes in the form of its first OTF (out the front) switchblade, the Livewire, a design by custom maker and frequent KAI collaborator Matt Diskin. The knife sports 20CV steel, which is unusual for the Kershaw brand, and has a premium price of around $300 MSRP.
It also debuted a dagger design for the Launch line, the Launch 15, with Magnacut. This is the first KAI product with Magnacut and the first new steel used in a KAI knife in years.
While I am not a huge fan of automatics, the new steels show that Kershaw still has some life left in it. The Duralock blades are all D2, and all come in at under $100.
None look particularly interesting, but it is nice to see a new lock for the brand. There is a slew of new 8Cr13MoV knives that will likely all blend together but do okay as blister pack blades at Walmart.
ZT has one offering, which is not uncommon as it usually launches stuff at Blade. This year’s knife is a fixed blade called the 006. The knife sports a 6-inch blade of 3V steel and a G10 handle. It has a double-sided guard, bucking the trend and design philosophy seen on most fixed blades.
It also has an innovative tightening nut for the guard. By cinching down the hex bolt on the rear butt cap, the G10 handles are forced into the guard, locking it in place. It is an interesting idea, but I would have preferred no guard in the first place.
Compared to similarly priced fixed blades, like those from Survive Knives or Bark River, the 006 looks about par in terms of steel but seems unnecessarily complicated. For reasons unknown, they include a kydex sheath (a good thing) that is not Tec Loc compatible (a bad thing).
- Grade: C+
- Instabuys: Um…
- Summary: Nice to see some innovation and new steels, but still nothing that makes me want to grab a KAI blade.
Spyderco traditionally shows off new stuff at the IWA, a show in Europe. COVID caused problems with that over the past few years and so I had hoped that SHOT Show would be the place where it showed off new stuff.
I am also somewhat concerned that Spyderco has given up on new designs and finding sufficient profit in making Sprint versions of five knives (PM2, Para3, Shaman, Native 5, Manix 2).
There were a few “newish” knives, the Military 2 and the Mini Yojimbo. The only truly new knives were a pair of fixed blades with 8Cr steel. Neither seems remotely interesting.
Hopefully, IWA makes a comeback, or Spyderco releases a slew of new designs throughout the year. Otherwise, there is nothing here.
- Grade: D
- Instabuys: Nothing
- Summary: With only one truly new design that is both a fixed blade and sports 8Cr, Spyderco’s lineup for 2023 leaves much to be desired. Hopefully, midyear releases will make up for what is clearly the worst showing they have had in a decade.
If there is any question about whether WE is the best knife company in the world right now, it’s showing at SHOT Show 2023 provides an answer. Civvi’s lineup alone would be a solid B. It had a Carey collab in the Gordo, a GTC collab with the Airstream, and a new fixed blade system from Allen Elishewitz. All look really good.
But it is the Elementum II button lock that really nails down the greatness. The Ray Laconico knife looks nice too. The WE lineup is equally great. The Trogon from Brian Brown looks like a machining masterpiece with fine detailed milling, polished speed holes, and rounded-off clips all look nice. The 20CV will handle anything people throw at it.
TuffKnives, the pathmaker that was among the first to go from modder to maker, is working with WE on the Rupture. This titanium frame lock has a pinky ring for better grip and lots of TuffKnives aesthetic touches.
Matthew Christensen is working with WE on the RiffRaff, the third collab between the two and a follow-up to the Thug. The knife has some high-end touches with a waved backspacer for visual appeal and a nice polished pivot collar.
Finally, WE showed off the Ostap Hel collab Navo. The knife looks long but discrete, with a micarta handle and a liner lock.
- Grade: A
- Instabuys: Gordo, Elementum II, and Trogon
- Summary: WE Knives is, for at least the second year in a row, the most prolific and most exciting knife production company in the world.
Best of the Rest
Ontario Knives had a decent showing with a classic drop point bushcraft design now in orange G10 and Magnacut with a sheath to match.
Kansept Knives brought a few new knives, Mini Shikari among them. This knife was a follow-up to the full-sized Shikari. The new knife has a button lock and a flipper. It also had a collab with Jonathan Styles called the Tuckamore. This knife is relatively large but has lots of milling and carbon fiber to cut weight.
Microtech showed off two new knives, both manual. The first is a completely new design — the MSI. It has a RAM LOCK, a reverse tanto blade shape, and a deep carry clip. The MSI runs exclusive steel based on M390. It was tweaked to improve the steel’s ability to take a polish. The blade is about 4 inches long. It comes in at $250, which is quite competitive given the steel and the fit and finish.
The second, which will likely be one of the hottest folders of the year, is the manual Stitch. The Stitch is a custom knife from Sebastian Berengi (Borka Blades).
Microtech originally released it as an auto, and they fly off the shelves as soon as they are released. The manual will have a larger audience. The aesthetics of a Borka Blade are unmistakable and gorgeous.