Story by Jim Cobb, Photos by Jim Cobb and Manufacturer
Elegant, eye-catching, lightweight; all of these and more apply to the newest iteration of the Bugout from Benchmade.
The idea behind the Bugout line is to provide the user with a slim, ergonomic pocketknife that’s well-suited for real work. Their latest model, the 535BK-4, adds substantial visual appeal to an already solid design.
Let’s break it down.
I’ve admired the Benchmade Bugout model for a while, appreciating its clean lines and unobtrusive appearance. That said, this new version is the first one I’ve actually held and used.
The first thing I noticed when I took the Bugout from the fabric bag inside the box is its weight—or I should say lack of weight. At just 2.5 ounces, this is one of the lightest pocketknives I’ve owned. The aluminum scales don’t just cut the weight, but their milled surface provides texturing for a positive grip.
There is a thumb stud on both sides of the blade, perfect no matter if you’re right- or left-handed. The deep carry pocket clip is reversible to either side of the handle, but always in tip-up carry configuration. Both the thumb stud and spacers along the back of the handle are a magenta color, giving it some pop.
The black Cerakote coated blade arrived razor-sharp, with no need of any touching up before putting it to use. It is neither automatic nor assisted-open. Use the thumb stud to swing the blade open. The Bugout is equipped with Benchmade’s AXIS locking system. To close the knife, slide the switch located near the back of the handle and the blade releases, to fold closed. Open, there is zero wiggle to the blade, the lockup is 100% rock solid. Closed, the blade is absolutely centered in the handle.
The M390 steel blade is a drop point design, with a very slight unsharpened swedge. This narrows the point a bit for better penetration. It also looks pretty cool.
Overall, the knife is very slim, just 0.375-inch at the widest point on the handle. At the same time, it doesn’t feel lost in the hand. This is largely due to the shape and contouring of the handle. My first impressions of the knife are that it would be perfect for EDC, no matter what you do throughout your day, office work, farm chores or anything in between.
I’ll say up front that I’ve not had this Bugout very long, just a couple of weeks. But, in that time I’ve been carrying it near constantly and using it for every task and chore that required a sharp blade. As such, it has gutted and processed dozens of cardboard boxes, sliced cordage, and done some light carving/whittling.
The pocket clip is fairly short, just about 1.5 inches long. However, it works very well, securing the knife. It is a deep-carry clip, with very little of the handle visible in the pocket.
I’m generally not one for torture testing knives. I don’t find it necessary to see if a blade can be hammered through a cinderblock without undue damage. I look at it like this. If I’m ever so unfortunate to be in a situation where my life truly depends on prying bricks apart with my knife, I’m not going to wonder if a reviewer tried it before and, if so, how they fared.
That’s not to say that I baby my knives and treat them with kid gloves. I just feel it is important to use the right tool for a given task whenever possible. A knife isn’t a screwdriver, nor is it a pry bar.
For the purposes of this review, I decided to put the Bugout through a few formal tests, so as to document how it performed.
Like any experienced knife reviewer, I have a box full of odds and ends just waiting to slice and cut. A few years ago, I picked up a bag of leather scraps at a surplus store and have been slowly making bits and pieces of leather into ever smaller bits and pieces, ever since. I grabbed a large square and began slicing it up. Long cuts were no trouble at all, it was like the leather wasn’t even there. Push cuts were also no trouble at all.
I then stacked several bits together and slowly pushed the point of the knife down into them. With the tiniest bit of rocking, the point broke through the bottom of the pile. The knife was very comfortable throughout.
Recently, my wife handed me a box filled with belts, straps, and similar materials, stuff that’d been accumulating for the last 30 years or so. She’d been about to toss it all in the trash, then had second thoughts, feeling that I might have a use for them. Indeed, I do!
One of the pieces was a belt of some sort from an old couch, near as I can tell. I put it down on the cutting board and went to work. The Bugout was like a laser beam, parting the belt cleanly with each pull of the knife.
I always give a new knife a turn in the kitchen. I’m the family cook, so I’m typically there anyway. Plus, many of us end up using our EDC knives to cut fruits or veggies during lunch at work—that sort of thing. So, I grabbed a few radishes, washed them off, and tossed them on the cutting board. This is an area where the Bugout particularly shines.
The blade is thin, just 0.09-inch, making it a tremendous slicer. It worked very well with the radishes, lopping off the ends and then making nice slices for my wife’s salad.
I’ve owned a few other Benchmade models over the years, including one of their newer Adamas models. Their attention to detail, precision components, and overall quality has always impressed me. The Bugout is no exception.
This knife is exceptional in every way. I love the visuals, as the knife has a very classy appearance. However, it isn’t just another pretty face, as it backs that up with solid construction and ergonomic design.
The only gripe I have about the Benchmade Bugout is that I wish it were either automatic or assisted-open. While yes, either of these options would add a bit to the weight of the knife, I’m very familiar with Benchmade’s technology and know that adding a model to the lineup so equipped, would be an absolute win.
At the end of the day, I’d highly recommend the Benchmade 535BK-4 to anyone seeking a solidly built pocketknife, that’s suited for just about any common knife chore. It isn’t tactical in appearance, so it won’t startle coworkers when you use it to open mail or trim a broken shoelace. At the same time, it isn’t going to fall apart at the first sign of abuse. Instead, it is likely to shake it off and come back looking for more. K&G
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Blade Material: M390Blade Length: 3.24 inchesClosed Length: 4.22 inchesOverall Length: 7.46 inchesWeight: 2.50 ouncesMSRP: $275.00
BenchmadeKnifeCenterSmoky Mountain Knife Works
M390 is one of the “super steels” that have been developed in the last several years. It is manufactured by Bohler-Uddeholm. The ultra-fine grain gives it a very clean look and feel. It has excellent corrosion resistance and is suited for high-wear applications, such as knife blades. M390 is particularly known for edge retention. For the metallurgists out there, here’s the composition.
Carbon 1.9%Manganese 0.3%Silicon 0.7%Chromium 20%Vanadium 4%Tungsten 0.6%Molybdenum 1%
Jim Cobb is a recognized authority on disaster readiness. He has written several books and is also the Editor in Chief for Prepper Survival Guide magazine. He is a longtime collector of knives, EDC gear, and defense weapons. Jim lives in the upper Midwest with his wife, kids, and a motley crew of dogs and cats.
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