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Reviews > Knives > Folding > Benchmade 551 H20 > Test Report by Andrew Buskov


H2O FrontBenchmade 551-H2O Knife
Benchmade's new orange Griptilian model with corrosion resistant materials.
Andrew Buskov
Initial Report: November 20, 2009
Field Report: February 1, 2010
Long Term Report: April 7, 2010

Tester Biographical Information:

Name: Andrew Buskov
Age: 34
Gender: Male
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight: 223 lbs (101 kg)
Email: Rescue(at)Corridor9(dot)net
City, State Zip Madisonville, Kentucky  USA

Backpacking Background:

I’ve been backpacking for years now, and have slowly started developing my ideal style. I’ve gotten my pack weight down to roughly 25 – 30 lbs (11.3 - 13.6 kg) before water, and am whittling it down every hike. Day hiking is nice, but getting out over multiple nights is really what I enjoy. I like to take my time and enjoy the scenery as opposed to hiking hard. I also like being comfortable and insist on an air mattress. I usually tent or hammock, but stay in shelters when needed.

Product Information:

Item: 551H2O Griptilian (Serrated)
Manufacturer: Benchmade
Website http://www.benchmade.com
Year of Manufacture: 2009
MSRP: $120
Listed Weight: 3.8 oz (108 g)
Actual Weight: 3.8 oz (108 g)

Product Overview:
(From Manufacturer's documentation & Website)

Benchmade has come out with a new corrosion resistant knife that complements the rest of the Griptilian line of knives. The new Griptilian, or 551H2O, is designed to be a highly corrosion resistant knife and is advertised in their Shooting & Hunting line. The blade of the knife is made of X15 T.N steel which has the ability to resist rust in the worst of conditions, even salt water, while maintaining ample edge retention. With an ambidextrous thumb-stud opener, an orange textured grip handle, and Benchmade's Axis locking mechanism, this knife looks to be designed for years of use in even the toughest environments.

H2O Flat

The features of the 551H2O include:
  • X15 T.N. Stainless Steel Blade 3.40 in (8.64 cm) in length with a modified drop point.
  • Orange Glass Fill Noryl GTX handle
  • Reversible Stainless Steel Carry Clip
  • AXIS Lock Mechanism
  • A Micro-Fiber pouch with cinch clip
  • User Care Manual
As with all Benchmade knives, the warranty documentation is included in the original packaging. The warranty basically states that Benchmade will cover replacement parts and labor, but not on equipment that has been damaged due to normal wear and tear, neglect, misuse, improper maintenance, or disassembly. Additional warranty information can be found on the Benchmade website.

H2O ClipInitial Impressions:

This knife came to me complete, with all documentation enclosed, and in good condition. When I opened the blue Benchmade retail box, I found inside a User Care Manual, and a small pouch. Inside the pouch was the 551H2O wrapped in a plastic sleeve. There was also a little piece of poster card with the Axis logo stamped on one side and documentation on the other stating the importance of remounting the carry clip on the opposite side of the knife if it is to be worn in the left side pocket. I opened the pouch and found a nice new Benchmade knife.

After weighing this knife, along with the knife I usually wear, I read over the documentation and inspected the knife. Being made of stainless steel hardware it was easy to see how cleanly and exactly this knife was constructed. All of the screws fit nice and snug inside the handle. The Axis locking mechanism slid easily and without play in the intended direction. Opening the knife was easy and smooth throughout the entire range of motion. This itself was definitely a welcome feature. While testing this knife, I have transitioned from a knife with an assisted opening system. Because my muscle memory is trained to only slightly move the blade before the assist system kicks in, I have found that other non assisted knives prove to be difficult to open without actively thinking about the process. While it took me roughly a dozen times of opening and closing the 551H2O to get used to the new action, I have found in the past few days that I no longer think about it. Also, because of the smooth operation during opening, my thumb doesn't hurt where it contacts the thumb-stud because there is not an excessive amount of torque needed as with other knives.

H2O Side OpenThe blade itself is fairly sharp, though not as sharp as I would have imagined. I can successfully shave a little hair from the back of my hand with ease, but it takes considerably more strokes than with a sharper knife. The serrations of the blade are 1.35 in (3.43 cm) in length while the usable length of the blade is 3.3 in (8.38 cm) in length. There is a thumb-stud mounted on both sides of the blade. On one side of the blade is the Benchmade USA logo with the model number 551 that appears to be laser etched into the steel. On the other side of the blade is etched a patent number, X15-TN (the blade composition), and the production number. Mine is 730/100 from the First Production.

The Axis locking mechanism appears to be ingeniously designed. With an ambidextrous locking stud that slides rearward from the tip of the blade, the mechanism clears the rear portion of the blade, thus allowing it to close unhindered. I can see the small steel tension spring that holds the mechanism in the locked position when not in operation. There is no unwanted movement in any direction, and the mechanism slides easily in the direction needed to operate the lock.

The handle is made from a Glass/Noryl compound and appears to be very sturdy. It has a hollowed out interior to reduce weight, but has strength from a pattern of cross-members. The handle appears to be injection molded as evident from the dimple left by the runner on the rear  of the knife as seen in the picture. The exterior of the handle has a raised diamond pattern and raised ridges to provide for better grip. There is also a carrying clip mounted with three screws on one side. Three additional holes are on the other side of the handle, thus allowing the carrying clip to be switched when using in left-handed mode.

H2O Side R OpenOne of the things that took some getting used to was the thickness. At .62 in (1.57 cm) the handle itself feels rather thick, almost 1/5th in (.5 cm) thicker than my previous knife. I noticed that it didn't slide as easily into my pants pockets because of this. In addition, the belt clip is mounted "upside-down" in relation to other knives I've owned. Instead of the carrying clip being mounted near the pivot point of the blade, it is mounted on the bottom, near the tang. This does make it easier to operate when removing from my pocket as I don't have to flip the knife in my had prior to opening.  Closing the knife also took a bit of practice. Because the knife uses the Axis system, closing it with one finger on the rear of the knife blade was a bit challenging the first few times. After a bit of practice, I actually found that I prefer closing the knife against the back of my leg as opposed to using my finger.

In closing, while it appears that this knife is well constructed with quality materials and workmanship, it really feels rather cheap. From the moment I took it out of the box it just had that plastic feel to it. I know that the material is not plastic, and I know the parts are designed for corrosion resistance, but this is definitely something that would have affected my decision had I been purchasing this knife in a retail store. In addition, there are marks left over from the runner during the molding process on the tang of the knife. It appears that the two handle halves were just removed from the runner and placed into service with no effort to remove the dimple marks left behind. After using this knife for a few days, the dimple marks have already started gathering dirt and are easily more noticeable than the  rest of the knife. This is definitely not something I would have expected from a $120 US knife. I'll be sure to document additional pictures of this during the FR phase.

Field Report: February 1, 2010

Field Conditions:

Over the entire testing period, I have worn and used the Benchmade 551H2O almost every day. With the exception of a few days that I either didn't leave the house, or left the knife in my work pants, it has been on my hip almost constantly. I was able to get three days' worth of trail use, but the knife saw little action on the trail due to lack of necessity. All three trips were on day hikes in two different recreational areas in Western Kentucky.  Elevation here is roughly 400 ft (120 m) with little change in terrain, some rocky sections, but mostly a lot of mud and muck this time. Temperatures that I experienced during the outings ranged from 35 - 55 F (2 - 13 C). All three trips were during overcast skies, but there was no precipitation at all. As for actual usage, I've wielded the H2O roughly twenty times over the past few months with most of the usage coming during the Christmas season. In addition, I used this quite a bit while at work. As a fire fighter, the knife sees some dirty and gritty work and is often covered in sweat and ash after a standard house fire. I've had the opportunity to cut rope and some small wire that was covered with ice and salt during a recent storm, as well as some general use while having grimey hands during training.

Performance:

Divot TopHaving almost daily contact with the Benchmade 551H2O, I've formed some very clear opinions of the knife. Starting with the knives aesthetic features; it continues to remain as pretty and clean as the day it was unboxed. While its primary position has been in my right hand pocket, it has remained unscathed after numerous drops, bumps, and snags on various material and items. There are no scratches, bumps, dings, or nicks anywhere on the knife body. All metal components are still nice and shiny despite contact with sweaty, greasy hands, dirt from various drops in the grass and mud, and grime from using this knife on fire scenes. While there is quite a bit of pocket lint located in various locations around the knife, the only area that shows any sign of wear continues to be the runner marks at the back of the knife handle as shown in the pictures. Due to the way the runners were removed from the H2O without any cleanup work, the area really tends to collect dirt and grime a lot more than other places. It's easily apparent in the photograph that even after some cleaning the area is still darkened noticeably with dirt.

The blade continues to remain very sharp, including the serrated section. Looking down the entire length of the blade I can only find one section that is damaged in any way. The last serration prior to the straight blade area has a minor ding due to cutting those hellish plastic-coated metal ties found holding a child's toy inside the packaging. Because I used this knife a good deal over the Christmas season opening packages for my kids, it's not surprising that there would be a bit of wear to the serrated area. The ding is minor, and looks to be easily sharpened using a circular file. However, it has not hampered the cutting ability of the H2O and thus I haven't worried about it.

All marking on the H2O remain in wonderful condition, including the production information on the side of the knife. This in itself is surprising to me as the sides of the blade saw a good deal of rubbing throughout the testing period. It seems as if the metal has been laser etched, as opposed to silk screened. This would definitely explain the durability of the writing on the blade.

Divot sideHowever, above all other positive aspects I've found with the knife, the most promising aspect is the fact that there is not a single spot of rust or oxidation anywhere on the H2O! It's one thing to resist rusting after various hiking and backpacking experiences where the knife might be exposed to a bit of water, mud, or maybe some food. However, to resist oxidation in a high humidity environment as the one I subjected it to every day at work was quite a big deal for me. This is the first knife I've had that I didn't have to tear down every three to four months and oil to prevent oxidation to the metal parts. With all the knives I've gone through in the past ten years, this is most definitely the most corrosion resistant knife I've ever owned.

Now, with all the positive aspects listed above, you might think there isn't a problem one with the H2O. However, there are a few aspects that I feel could be better addressed by Benchmade. First and foremost is the ease of opening. While I want a knife that easily opens and closes for use, having it open in my pocket is not something that I desire. Over the testing period I have had this knife open in my pocket roughly 15 times. Luckily I only drew blood once as I snagged the tip of the knife. The problem that I see is two-fold. First, the aggressive design of the thumb stud tends to grab on the pocket lining quite easily causing the knife to open. This could easily be countered by tightening up the Axis locking mechanism, but the amount of tension needed to prevent accidental opening is quite a bit and actually hinders normal operation of the knife. While having a less aggressive thumb stud would cure the problem somewhat, a slight redesign in the blade requiring a bit more force to get past the break over point would be better in my opinion.

The other thing that still really has me down about the knife is the feel. As mentioned before, it still feels cheap and crappy. While I try to keep my own thoughts and opinions for the main part during the reporting phase, I feel it necessary to mention how many times others have commented on the feel of the H2O. When loaning it out to others, I always ask the same impartial question: "How much do you think it cost?" The reply generally falls within the $25-$50 range. When I mention that the retail price is $120 I get the same dumbfounded look and dropped jaws with comments of how I'd be crazy to pay that much for such a cheap feeling knife. Just a thought.

Long Term Report: April 7, 2010

Field Conditions:

Throughout the entire testing period, I have continued to wear and use Benchmade 551H2O exclusively. As mentioned previously, with the exception of  a couple of days, I've worn this almost every day.  It has had a permanent place on my right hip while at work and during play. Temperature conditions over the past two months have arranged from 25 to 85 F (-4 to 29 C). Conditions also ranged from very dry to very wet circumstances. Most of the very wet circumstances happened at work. The dayhikes that I have been on over the past few months have been in the same area and elevation range as those listed in the Field Report phase listed above. In total, I've worn this knife 130+ days, and used it probably 50 times during that time frame.

Performance:

My observations over this last testing phase continue to remain strongly held regarding the Benchmade 551H2O. Once again, almost daily contact has solidified my thoughts regarding the knife. I continue to believe that the H2O is a good knife, there just remain some details that need to be addressed to make it a better knife.

As with the previous reporting phase, the blade continues to remain very sharp and clean. The metal that the blade is made out of has resisted corrosion and rust over the life of the testing phase. This is a definite plus for me with my working environment. As a fire fighter, I'm all the time getting wet and gritty. On one particular scene I remember having an oily, gritty, muddy mess of a knife after the incident was over. With nothing more than a bit of water and some soap I was able to remove all the oil, dirt, and grease that was covering the H2O. The only damage to the knife blade is a small dimple in the serrated section of the knife. It's barely noticeable and doesn't have any impact on the function of the serrated area.

The Glass/Noryl compound that the shell is made from continues to remain clean, orange, and undamaged from use. The raised portions continue to hold their shape, while the dimples and screw holes remain round and undamaged. The screws, and other metal components that hold the knife together remain in good working order. The spring is still easy to operate, while returning to its position without problems. The knife remains easy to open as well as close. Though there is still a tendency for the knife to come open easily when removing it from my pocket even though I've tried tightening up the mechanism a bit. This is definitely something that needs to be addressed. I will once again bring to light the dimples caused by the removal of the runners from the handle pieces. As previously mentioned, this is something that really needs to be addressed on a knife of this quality and cost. 

One thing that surprised me about the knife was the resilience of the belt clip. With most other knives I've used, I was forced to remove the belt clip repeatedly every 3-4 months to bend the clip back into shape. If I did not do this, then the knives would be very loose in my pocket and have a tendency to fall out. This is definitely not something that I've been worried about at all with the H2O. The springing function of the belt clip has kept it from being stretched out of shape, and thus becoming lose in my pocket.

Over the life of the test my feelings toward the knife have shifted. I believe that this knife is of good quality and materials. I initially thought that the knife was poorly made due to the problems listed above. However, I now believe that the materials are what make the knife what it is. The materials are also what make the knife very corrosion resistant. All that being said, I have to be honest. If I were in a store looking for a knife to purchase I would probably pass on the Benchmade 551H2O due to cost. For the retail price, I would want all the negative listed qualities addressed.

I'd definitely like to Benchmade and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me the opportunity to test the 551H2O knife.

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Read more gear reviews by Andrew Buskov

Reviews > Knives > Folding > Benchmade 551 H20 > Test Report by Andrew Buskov



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