BENCHMADE GRIPTILIAN 551 KNIFE
TEST SERIES BY CAROL CROOKER
April 12, 2009
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT
cmcrooker AT gmail DOT com
5' 10" (1.78 m)
165 lb (74.80 kg)
For the past 10 years, I've backpacked about 30 days each year. My trips were from 2 to 28 days, with my usual trip being 3 to 6 days long. Most of my trips have been in Arizona and the western mountains with Pennsylvania and New York thrown in for variety. Weather has varied from 107 F to a low of 0 F (42 to -18 C). Most of my backpacking trips are solo. My three-season base pack weight has crept up after a Super Ultralight stint so that it varies from about 8 to 12 pounds (4 - 5 kg), depending on the weather and trip length. My winter base pack weight is about 18 pounds (8 kg) now. I normally use a tarp for shelter all year round. I've recently taken up packrafting (which is backpacking that includes travel by raft) and apply the same lightweight principles I use backpacking.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
|Benchmade Griptilian 551 logo side|
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.benchmade.com/
MSRP: $112 for model tested
Listed Weight: 3.25 oz (92 g)
Measured Weight: 3.9 oz (111 g)
Other details: available in black, sand, camo or olive drab colors, with a straight edge or combination straight and serrated edge, ambidextrous thumb-stud opener, belt clip, lanyard hole, grip textured molded handle, AXIS ® locking mechanism
Knife tested: 551SBKOD - combination blade, BK1 blade coating, olive drab
|Benchmade Griptilian 551 clip side|
Blade Length: 3.45 in (8.8 cm)
Overall Length: 8.07 in (20.5 cm)
Closed Length: 4.62 in (11.7 cm)
Blade Thickness: 0.115 in (2.9 mm)
Blade Material: 154CM "An American made premium grade stainless steel originally developed for tough industrial applications. Known for its best all-around qualities, it offers great corrosion resistance with good toughness and edge quality."
Blade Hardness: 58-60 HRC
Blade Style: 551 modified drop-point
Blade Coating: BK1 ® COATING "BK1 coating is a matte black coating that provides excellent corrosion protection, which exceeds the ASTM-117 spec for saltwater while possessing higher scratch resistance."
Lock Mechanism: AXIS ® "A 100-percent ambidextrous design, AXIS gets its function from a small, hardened steel bar which rides forward and back in a slot machined into both steel liners. The bar extends to both sides of the knife, spanning the liners and positioned over the rear of the blade. It engages a ramped, tang portion of the knife blade when it is opened. Two omega style springs, one on each liner, give the locking bar it’s inertia to engage the knife tang, and as a result the tang is wedged solidly between a sizable stop pin and the AXIS bar itself."
The Griptilian looks like what I expected from the web site photos and description. Closed, it has a nice, solid heft. The Griptilian name comes from the cross hatched plastic handle. I was expecting the diamond shapes formed by the cross hatching to be more rounded than they are. The handle has a scratchy feel that makes it feel like there is little probability of the knife slipping in my hand.
I first opened the knife by sliding down the lock with my thumb and flicking it open with a wrist snap. The blade deployed smoothly and very satisfyingly. I again slid down the lock and closed the blade with my forefinger. I see that I'll really need to make sure my fingers are out of the way if I close the knife with one hand. Then I opened the blade using the thumb-stud on the blade. It opened easily. Finally, I closed the blade by pulling down the lock and using my other (left) hand to close the blade - it felt easier to keep my right hand out of the way using both hands.
The knife has a balance point just short of the lock in the handle. The blade has a very solid feel (it is 3 mm - nearly an eight of an inch - thick along the back at the base), while the handle is lighter.
The blade is a modified drop point which means that the back of the knife drops slightly as it approaches the point. The base half of the blade is serrated with the edge tapered only on the left side of the blade. The straight edge is tapered on both sides to a very sharp edge in the middle
The Griptilian is advertised as being ambidextrous and indeed it is. Both the thumb-stud and the lock are the same on both sides. The belt clip can be removed with an Allen wrench (hex key) and moved to the other side of the knife as well.
The belt clip is about half the length of the closed knife and looks sturdy.
There is a hole through the handle for a lanyard.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
According to the instructions, the knife blade needs occasional application of metal sealer to prevent rust. If rust does occur, Benchmade recommends a "fine grade semi-chrome polish." Benchmade recommends that the blade not be allowed to get dull by touching up the edge as needed. Further, the instructions state to keep the blade locking areas clean with hot soapy water, followed by a rinse with hot water, and flushing dry with compressed air. Also, it is recommended to periodically apply a lubricant to the pivot screw.
The instructions admonish that the Griptilian is a cutting tool and should only be used as such. Using it for other purposes (such as throwing) or disassembling the knife voids the warranty.
The instructions are easy to understand and truly make me realize this knife is a precision machine that needs some special care.
TRYING IT OUT
After handling the knife for a while, I tested the blade by attempting to slice through a sheet of paper. The blade sliced through without any hesitation.
OPENING THE BLADE
The lock system has springs so that the blade snaps back shut until it is opened more than about 20 degrees unless the lock is pulled down. Once past that point as the angle is increased to full openness (180 degrees), the blade remains where it is left. So, if I use the thumb-stud to: open the blade to 90 degrees and let go, it stays there; if I open the blade to just 10 degrees, it snaps back closed. At 180 degrees the blade locks in place.
When the lock is pulled down, the springs are disengaged, making it possible to pull down the lock and flick the blade open to its locked position.
CLOSING THE BLADE
When the lock is pulled down and held, the blade moves freely and holds its position until it reaches the closed position. If the lock is pulled down and held, the blade can be flicked closed with a wrist snap.
The springs come into play when the lock is pulled down long enough to unlock the blade from the open position (closing it slightly) and then released. Then the blade snaps closed at approximately the 20 degree point. This makes it easier for me to close the blade with one hand. My hand is large enough and forefinger long enough that I can press the blade closed to about the point where the spring engages. It would be difficult to close the knife with one hand (without using the wrist flick) if I needed to press the blade all the way to the closed position.
The Griptilian 551 is a nicely made knife. The blade is very sharp and the knife as a unit appears to be very functional. I'll be testing it as a backpacking survival knife over the next four months. Please check back in two months for my Field Report.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
|The Griptilian is plenty sharp enough to whittle a spatula.|
November 21 - 23, northern Arizona, Blue Ridge Reservoir
Elevation around 6600 ft (2010 m)
The days and nights were clear with temperatures from 58 F to 22 F (16 to -2 C)
This was one night of camping near the trail head followed by a packraft paddle on a reservoir to a camping spot among the pines.
December 11 - 12, Superstition Mountains, Flat Iron
Elevation 2000 - 4800 ft (600 - 1460 m)
The trip up the Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park to the Flat Iron is only 2.4 miles (4 km) long, but the elevation gain is nearly 2800 ft (850 m) and over 1700 ft (520 m) of the total gain is in the last 0.8 mile (1.3 km). There are plenty of spots where hands are required as well as feet to make upward progress.
Weather for the hike up was bright with temperatures into the high 70s F (26 C), while the hike down was cooler. The night was slightly overcast with low temperatures only down to the low 50s F (12 C).
January 6 - 7, northern Arizona Kachina Trail in San Francisco Peaks
Elevation 9800 - 8900 ft (3000 - 2700 m)
An overnight snowshoe trek with clear days and temperature up to 50 F (10 C) and a windy night with a low of 28 F (-2 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Griptilian is very sharp and easily sliced open plastic pouches my meal ingredients were packed in.
I brought along a special meal of cranberry scones on my Blue Ridge Reservoir trip and needed a spatula to flip the scones in the fry pan. I found a solid piece of wood and pretty quickly whittled a rough spatula that, although not pretty, did the job. In fact, it worked well enugh that I used it as my stirrer, flipper and spoon to eat dinner and breakfast my last two days. The sharp blade of the Griptilian made the finer smoothing and shaping go quickly while the serrated section was helpful for major shaping.
I started several fires using the Griptilian and a magnesium rod. The Griptilian produced a bright shower of sparks that quickly got my tinder going. I closely examined the blade edge after using it on the rod and did not see any damage.
Part of my testing is centered on using the Griptilian as a survival tool. To that end, I've been looking for the right wood to use to create a fire set of bow, drill, and fire board. Almost all the trees surrounding the Blue Ridge Reservoir are pine trees. The wood has sap and is not a good choice for the drill or fire board. On the paddle back, I saw a few white barked trees that I thought might be young cottonwood. Cottonwood is a soft, dry wood that is excellent for the fire board and spindle of a bow/drill set.
I also stopped on the drive home at a group of large cottonwood trees by a stream to look for more wood that might be suitable in a fire set. I cut down a young, green tamarisk tree for the bow. The sharp blade of the Griptilian made this task easier than it might have been. (I harvested the tamarisk from unprotected land. I chose tamarisk since it is strong and fairly light weight and because it has overtaken many of the waterways in Arizona. It is non-indigenous and there are programs in place to erradicate it along some Arizona streams.)
Sitting in camp on the reservoir, I practiced opening and closing the knife. I am definitely much better with my right hand, although it is possible to open/close the knife with my left. It would be quite easy to cut myself with the sharp blade so I am extra focussed when I do any cutting with the Griptilian.
I was able to open and close the knife wearing stretch fleece gloves.
I took along a piece of wood I'd collected on my overnight trip to the Flat Iron. I used the Griptilian to shorten the stick and shape each end to make a spindle for my fire set. I gave a blunt tip to one end and a rounded tip to the other so the spindle looks like a pencil. Once again the sharp blade made short work of the shaping.
I used the knife to strike a magnesium rod and light the alcohol in my alcohol stove. This was the first time I'd tried that and it worked so well it may become my standard mode of lighting the stove, with matches in my kit for backup only.
The sharp edge of the Griptilian cut through salami, cheese and bread easily before and during my snowshoe trip in northern Arizona.
I used a small (Bushbuddy) wood stove to melt snow for water on my overnight snow camping trip. I attempted to make a fuzz stick by cutting a small branch of dead wood to raise small curls of wood. I didn't have a lot of success since I often sliced so far that the curl broke off. I believe the problem was with my skill and/or wood selection and not with the knife.
The knife created lots of sparks by scraping a magnesium rod which easily lit the kindling in my stove (actually the sparks lit the bit of alcohol I squirted onto the wood and a small chunk of solid fuel tablet - I hadn't tried a wood stove in the winter before and didn't want to take the chance of a night without water).
I also had an alcohol stove along on my snow trip with a small portion of fuel so I could fry some brownies over its low heat. I was not able to light the alcohol with the knife and rod in the evening or morning. A match did the trick. Knife and rod worked very well to light the alcohol stove in warmer temperatures. I didn't make a lot of effort to warm the alcohol or stove before attempting to fire up the stove on the snow trip and that may have been the problem.
I've removed the lanyard I attached for my first test trip since it got in the way of cutting. I have not worn the knife clipped over a pocket or belt while I've been backpacking. I'm concerned it will get knocked off and be very difficult to find with its olive drab color in the woods. Instead, I've been carrying it in a pack or pants pocket.
I plan to shape a fire board, string the bow, and test the fire set during the long term testing phase. I haven't found a really good looking piece of wood for the fire board yet. I have found a rock with a smooth indentation that might work as a socket to hold the spindle in place as it is spun by the bow action.
What I LIKE:
- Sharp blade
- Good feel in my hand
- Opens easily with one hand
- Can be opened with either hand
- Feels secure when locked open
- I can open the blade wearing a thin glove
- Creates lots of sparks with a magnesium rod
- Big enough to tackle some larger cutting jobs
- Serrated portion of blade is useful for sawing or rough shaping
What I don't LIKE:
- Heavier than the cutting tool I normally carry
- Warranty is void if the knife is thrown (boo hoo, no throwing it at a piece of wood for fun)
Check back in two months for the long term report.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
March 12 - 15, Verde River Wild and Scenic section, central Arizona
Elevation around 2600 - 2000 ft (790 - 610 m)
Overcast the first three days with some rain, clear the fourth day. Temperatures were from 35 to 75 F (2 to 24 C)
This was an overnight at the river launch point (put-in) followed by three days of packrafting on a narrow wilderness river from Childs Power Plant to Sheep Bridge.
April 4 - 5, West Fork Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona
Elevation 5300 - 5600 ft (1600 - 1700 m)
Clear days with some gusty breezes. Temperatures were from the low 70's to 28 F (22 to - 2 C)
This was an out and back hike along a creek which is a popular Sedona area tourist attraction. A long, chilly wade at the end of the day hiking trail got me away from the crowds and into territory where overnight camping is allowed.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I used the Griptilian to free assemble-at-home furniture pieces from their boxes. The knife is sharp enough and has enough heft to cut open thick cardboard boxes fairly easily.
|Trimming an egg carton to hold 8 eggs.|
During my packraft paddle down the Verde River I put the Benchmade Griptilian to a variety of uses. When we arrived at the put-in after dark, we discovered that only eight of a dozen eggs had survived the final hour long leg of the drive on bumpy, narrow dirt roads. My paddling partner, Jason, trimmed the egg crate (see photo) while I took a photo to document yet another use for the Griptilian.
The first night in camp after some exciting rapids, the trip organizer, Tom, used the Griptilian to flip steaks cooked over a wood fire. I used the knife to cut my delicious steak - it went through the meat like it was butter. Later, Tom used the Griptilian to cut parachute cord to rig up a flat tarp for his shelter since it had started to rain.
The second night when I was cook, I used the knife to break up hunks of dried seasoning mix. The Griptilian wasn't well suited for this task since it comes to a fine point. A blunter tip would have fulfilled this function better - but of course, this is not what the knife is intended for.
The knife rode in an outside pocket of my pack which was strapped to the bow of the packraft. It was damp all day inside the pocket from splash and, on one occasion during a flip and swim, soaked. The knife looks and operates none the worse for being wet.
I had been searching for the final piece of my fire making kit, the fireboard. I found some wood that might work in a pile of debris along the river. I used both the straight and serrated edges of the Griptilian to roughly shape the wood into a board shape about an inch (2.5 cm) thick.
With all the pieces of my fire making kit collected, I took a backpack trip along beautiful West Fork Oak Creek to find the proper wilderness setting to finally try it out. Once in camp, I used the Griptilian to make the fireboard thinner and an even thickness along the whole length. I also trimmed the edges to smooth them a bit. I made shallow notches at both ends of the bow so cord would stay in place once I "strung" it.
|Bow and drill fire making kit displayed on my sleeping pad.|
I strung the bow and set up to try making fire. The pieces worked well together mechanically, but did not produce smoke. I made another spindle from a piece of wood I found in camp. This one was thinner and a different type of wood. I again shaped the stick like a pencil with a sharper point to fit into the handhold and a rounder end to produce heat from friction against the fireboard. The stick was not exactly straight, so I spent some time in camp and later at home trying to carve the bend out of the stick so it would spin nicely.
I made numerous attempts both in camp and later at home to make fire. Each attempt required me to cut a notch in the side of the fireboard with the Griptilian so a coal would be able to fall away from the spindle once it was formed. Notch cutting can be tedious. A notch needs to be precise: centered on the hole and not so deep the spindle drops into it, but deep enough that a coal will drop through it. Notch cutting went quickly with the Griptilian. I used the sharp edge to cut a guide for the notch, and sometimes used the serrated edge to rough out the shape, then finished it off with the straight edge.
I was able to produce lots of smoke and even a tiny coal with the kit, but was never able to get a fire going. The failure of my fire set had nothing to do with the Griptilian knife of course. The Griptilian made the whole process fairly easy.
The Griptilian is a very nice knife: it is sharp, attractive, easy opening, and handles well.
Please refer to the Field Report section to see my list of likes and dislikes which remain the same.
I really like this knife, but it is way more knife than I normally carry for ultralight backpacking and packrafting. I plan to use it for car camping trips where weight is not a consideration.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Read more reviews of Benchmade gear
Read more gear reviews by Carol Crooker