Two years ago, the team at Benchmade set out to design a knife that was ultralight, yet uncompromising in regards to performance. With the industry trending towards lighter and stronger, we felt there was no better time to define a new standard for lightweight folding pocket knives.
“Just search the term ultralight backpacking on the internet. In no time you’ll be watching videos of people sawing their toothbrushes in half, and wearing the shortest shorts allowed by the laws of public decency.” says Dane Pollett, an avid thru-hiker and Bugout user. “The rite of passage for any new thru-hiker is their first gear purge. You walk into town exhausted, muttering under your breath how you’ll never let yourself become this worn out again. No matter how tired I got during my 2,600 mile journey on the PCT, or how many times I promised myself I would purge every last piece of gear in my pack, I never had to think about ditching my knife.”
Many of these same concepts derived from thru-hiking can be applied to the growing trend of backcountry hunting. People are pushing further into the wilderness, necessitating lightweight gear that can hold up in the harshest of conditions. We had a chance to talk with EXO Mountain Gear employee, Mark Huelsing about why he uses the Bugout on his backcountry excursions. “To be self-sufficient in the outdoors for an extended period of time requires you to think critically about what you do and do not bring with you. Over the years, I have learned that each item I carry must serve a purpose. The best gear is lightweight, reliable, and serves multiple purposes. For me, the Bugout meets those three criteria perfectly.”
While we don’t recommend using the Bugout to pry out tent stakes that have been hammered into dry earth by Thor himself, we’ve certainly been impressed with the capabilities of a sub two ounce folder as the Bugout line continues to expand. From thru-hikers like Dane, to backcountry hunters like Mark, the Bugout has weaseled its way into a variety of different lifestyles given its slim build, and versatile performance as a knife that literally punches above its weight.
Originally released with grivory handle scales and a CPM-S30V blade, the Bugout platform picks up where the 531 Pardue model left off. The comfortable ergos of the 535’s contoured handle, provides users with just enough purchase to accommodate a wide range of hand sizes without feeling too small or uncomfortable. In recent years, the automotive industry has relied upon grivory as a common substitute for sheet metal. Hey, if it’s good enough for a car or truck, we figured it’d be good enough for a knife handle.
The folding blade is locked in an open position using a titanium Axis bar, intended to cut weight without jeopardizing lock-strength. The two individual handle scales are separated by anodized aluminum standoffs, eliminating the need for a larger backspacer that would add unnecessary weight. Many robust folding knives are built around the chassis of full liners that run from the tip of the handle to the tail, providing rigidity and strength to the knife’s functional components. Inevitably, these full liners will add to the overall weight, leading our engineers to go the route of short cartridge liners that allow the grivory handles to flex under pressure, while maintaining support around the pivot and locking mechanism.
Currently, there are three iterations of the Bugout. The original 535, the 535GRY-1, and the 535-191, all of which cater primarily to the EDC and outdoor users. We’re well aware of the fact that a need for ultralight performance goes far beyond the world of outdoor recreation, thus the latest evolution, the 537 Bailout. Geared towards the military and law enforcement communities, the new Bailout takes the strength-to-weight ratio to the next level. With vests and duty belts that weigh upwards of 20lbs, we wanted to do everything we could to lighten up the kits of officers and servicemen alike. Boasting a reputation for strength as a hard-use tool steel, CPM-3V provides users with unsurpassed edge stability under duress, making it the perfect steel for a knife like the Bailout.
Differing from the drop-point blades of the traditional Bugout models, the 537’s blade mimics a Japanese profile tanto, as opposed to the tanto Benchmade has used on models like the Griptillian, AFO II, and Barrage that sport a straight belly and crisp primary bevel. The reasoning behind this design, was influenced by a desire to embolden the tip strength of the blade while maintaining superior slicing performance. Even with the addition of an aluminum pommel with a lanyard slot at the tail end of the handle, the 537 adheres to the 2 ounce precedent set by the Bugout.