Story and Photos by Kevin Estela
Most people relax when they go to the beach. They empty their pockets and dive right into the water – carefree. Few people think about what lies beneath the surface of the water and most are not thinking about worst-case scenarios as they turn to the beach, ocean or river as a place of solitude and peace.
Well, I’m not most people and am actually the guy who still clips a folding knife inside the waistband of my board shorts.
Call me crazy, or whatever you want, but I will sooner dismiss your criticism of me than I will forget the idea of entanglement dangers, learned as a river guide and SCUBA diver. The problem with using most knives around water is obvious. Water and steel don’t usually mix well and lead to rust.
Benchmade recently sent me two knives, to test and evaluate in my travels. The 551H20 Griptilian and the 112SBK-BLK offer two very different methods of carry and are well-suited for distinct purposes. Both are equally at home in the water and designed to address the needs of watermen.
This review comes after months of real use, only suspended temporarily due to winter and COVID-19.
(Author’s note: Since the time this knife was sent to me, Benchmade has discontinued it. While this may prove difficult for the potential buyer, this review is more of a testament to the rust-resistance of the steel)
I carried a Griptilian for many years, and learned to trust the strength of the AXIS lock, while using it as my EDC blade. The same things that attracted me to the Griptilian then, still appeal to me now. The features, when explained in context, become desirable for a knife used around water or in the field, in wet conditions.
Since the knife is carried tip up, the handle need not be manipulated to “swing” the folding knife into position in the hand. Also, since the pocket clip is reversible, for right- or left-hand carry, one could adjust it to use the folder as a primary or secondary blade, for the right or left side of the body. Furthermore, the AXIS lock is activated in the same way, on either side of the knife handle. These features are found on all the Griptilian models but what makes this model stand out is the blade.
Made from Bohler N680, the Griptilian H20 simply WILL NOT rust. Even when I tested it inside my waistband, while on multiple runs and workouts, sweat did not affect the steel. Like my other Griptilians, I wore it while swimming in both freshwater and saltwater, as well as (here come the weird looks) in hotel pools and hot tubs. I also carried it while surfcasting, where I was repeatedly bombarded by waves. No negative effects to the steel.
Aside from the steel, there were no surprises with the Griptilian, and the handle remained securely in my hand, even when wet. The lock never failed, and the knife worked as expected, cutting odd bits here and there throughout my day.
The only issue we had with the folder was when grits of sand found their way into the moving parts. A quick blow of air and blast of water dislodged them, and the knife was back to duty.
The Griptilian is part of Benchmade’s “Blue Class” and due the popularity of the knife, there are aftermarket grips one can purchase, made from machined G-10 for a heavier and more substantial feel.
The Benchmade 112SBK-BLK is a dedicated dive knife and its features make it ideal for SCUBA divers or those who spend a significant amount of time underwater.
Originally designed for a military group of divers, the Benchmade 112BK-BLK will look right at home strapped to the leg, with provided flexible straps, or attached to a BCD. A diver’s knife can be the critical tool needed for cutting away lines, straps, or other dangers underwater.
The Benchmade 112SBK-BLK has 3 different edges, including a partially serrated section of the blade near the ricasso, a plain edge forward of the serrations, and a line cutter on the spine. This allows the user to select which edge is appropriate for a given task and reserve any of the cutting surfaces for specific circumstances.
We used the line cutter on paracord, monofilament line, and webbing ranging from .5 to 2 inches wide. Cutting performance is excellent. While bushcrafters and outdoorsmen are generally not fans of serrations, especially near the ricasso, they are perfectly placed for cutting boat line and webbing.
We used the Benchmade 112SBK-BLK for all sorts of utilitarian tasks and the serrations cut and ripped through everything we used the blade on. The standard plain edge also worked well for slicing food on breaks and we used the very end of the plain edge – where it creates a sharp angle with the chisel point – to apply the most pressure, like a carpenter’s utility knife, for fine cutting. The cutting hook worked extremely well in our tests, but we didn’t want to purposefully dull it before needing it when it really matters.
One of the most distinct features of the Benchmade 112SBK-BLK is the chisel tip. From a fear perspective, the last thing you want is a puncture wound in shark-infested waters, and from a practical perspective, a dry suit hole is no bueno. The chisel can be used for light prying, probing and even as a makeshift screwdriver.
The grip is sleek and easily fits in your hands – both bare and gloved – while the slight self-guard prevents the user from riding the blade. The flat profile also rides close to the leg, preventing the “kelp catcher” effect. Given the military pedigree of this knife’s design and inspiration, the black finish is meant to reduce glare. It also helps with additional rust resistance.
The sheath for the Benchmade 112SBK-BLK is a real winner. We attached leg straps to the molded loops and used it in and around all sorts of water. From river, to pond, to ocean, this knife rode securely against the skin and against a neoprene wetsuit. The knife is only released when pressure is placed on the thumb lock, found on the spine side of the sheath. We had no issue using this locking feature, with and without gloves. The knife locked in like a vault and yet released easily.
During the time we had the Benchmade knives for this review, we never once rinsed them with freshwater or attempted to clean them. The only maintenance performed was shaking some sand free of the Griptilian and pulling some kelp from the 112SBK-BLK.
These knives held up excellent and we are absolutely sold on their ability to remain rust free. If you need a knife for a wet environment, do not hesitate to track down a Benchmade, made from N680. You won’t be disappointed. K&G
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551H20 GriptilianBlade Material: Bohler N680Blade Length: 3.4 inchesOverall Length: 8.07 inchesBlade Thickness: .12 inchesRockwell Hardness: 58-60Weight: 3.82 ouncesHandle Material: PolymerLock Type: AXISMSRP: $140
112SBK-BLKBlade Material: Bohler N680Blade Length: 3.5 inchesOverall Length: 8.07 inchesBlade Thickness: .124 inchesRockwell Hardness: 57-59Weight: 3.2 ouncesHandle Material: Rubberized OvermoldSheath: Injection-molded PlasticMSRP: $140
Benchmade Knives(833) 557-2526www.Benchmade.com
551H20 GriptilianNo longer available
Kevin Estela is a professional Bushcraft and Survival Instructor, Author, Martial Artist, and teacher. He is the former Lead Survival Instructor of the Wilderness Learning Center under Marty Simon and the Owner of Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin’s book, 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods is an Amazon best seller and his 140 published print articles in 20 different magazines with many more online blog posts make up over a decade of his outdoor-industry writing career. Additionally, Kevin is a Sayoc Kali Senior-Level Associate Instructor and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt. He has trained under top firearms instructors and he enjoys shooting and marksmanship. A knife guy through and through, Kevin has been tapped by numerous companies to assist with knife designing and testing. His company motto was born of his no-nonsense outdoor experience in many countries around the globe, “Trusted information proven in the field”. When not wearing these hats, he is a mild-mannered high-school history teacher in a public school in Bristol, CT.
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