Story and photos by Joshua Swanagon
Bushcraft folders are not a new concept, but it is not exactly a crowded market either.
About a year ago my brother and I went up to the Spyderco factory for a visit and were treated to the upcoming line of knives. When the prototypes were brought out my eyes went immediately to the Subvert. Having camped my whole life I am typically drawn to any knife that looks like it has serious bushcrafting potential and the Subvert surely fit that mold.
I’ll be honest, I have always been a little dubious when it comes to using a folder for hard core bushcrafting, due to the safety risks that can be presented. However, that does not mean that I cannot be convinced that a folder can make a good bushcrafting knife.
As is the case with the Spyderco Subvert.
When I first saw this knife, I had two thoughts: 1 – Wow! This knife is super cool looking. 2 – Wow! This knife is a tank.
I will admit, I like orange, especially on a knife. So, right off the bat the orange G-10 scales, set off by the grey titanium liner, really jumped out at me the first time I saw it. The texture on the scales is very grippy and the ergonomics of the handle fit the hand well. The handle swells slightly at the butt for increased retention during draw cuts, while the finger groove holds the hand in place solidly during any kind of stabbing or drilling work. At the butt of the handle is a slight rise in the liner, exposing a small lanyard hole, just big enough to fit a paracord lanyard for added retention.
The lines of the Subvert are very striking and the spots where the grey titanium liner protrude from the handle really set the whole presentation off nicely. However, I will say that the hard lines of the handle and liner can tend to cut into the hand and cause some hot spots in various places during extended use. Although it would take away slightly from the overall look of the knife, I personally would round off the hard lines of the handle and opt for comfort over aesthetics.
The 5.11-inch closed length of the Subvert is a little long for pocket carry (but not prohibitively so) and the width of the handle – .7-inch at the narrowest and .784-inch at the widest – is a bit filling in the pocket. With that said, having carried it, it does make up for its size in functionality.
The pocket clip is set up for right hand, tip up carry only. This does make the presentation side of the knife cleaner but given its purpose I think it could have done with the option of providing the means to switch to left hand carry.
Hover over the photos below for captions, click on an image to open a full size slideshow.
Constructed of CPM-S30V stainless steel, the 4.125-inch drop point blade has a slight recurve which helps give the Subvert a deep belly for excellent slicing and skinning, while giving more length to the cutting edge without adding length to the blade. The large trademarked Round HoleTMin the blade is perfectly sized for opening the Subvert with the thumb, single handed. Utilizing a full flat grind, the Subvert achieves a very keen edge and drag free use. The spine is a full 90 degrees the length of the blade, perfect for shaving a tinder bundle and other similar shores – although it can tend to cut into the thumb during controlled push cuts.
The Subvert comes to a solid lockup, via the liner lock, and is very sturdy during use. I have noticed that the titanium liner lock does not have any sort of stainless-steel insert to interact with the blade during lockup. So, I would keep an eye on it with each use, as the titanium can tend to get worn down over time from constant direct exposure to the stainless-steel blade. One thing that I have noticed, is that when I open it quickly (and a little hard) the liner lock sinks deep and gets stuck, requiring two hands to close it. But if you are careful during opening it is not an issue.
For my first test I harvested a two-inch Maple round and got to work on a two-prong fishing spear/frog gig. I was a little concerned that the wide profile of the blade was going to make very hard work of this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the deep belly game me a lot of options when it came to working in tighter spots.
The fine edge made short work of shaving the general shape and splitting the stock to begin my barbs. Once I began working inside, I was able to use many different areas of the blade to whittle out the barbs. The deep belly of the blade makes an area at the tip that is almost like having another, shorter, knife with you. I was able to turn the blade and just use the tip to really get into some tight spots.
Next, I wanted to get a feel for how the Subvert would handle different types of notches, hooks, etc. – as well as comfort during extended use – and got to work on a try stick (which is a stick used solely for the purpose of practicing different types of cuts for trap making and other camp construction). I found that the Subvert is extremely adept at wood working and the shape of the blade gave me a lot of different options when working on different types of cuts. However, as I mentioned earlier, the handle has a lot of sharp edges that did begin to create hot spots after extended use. Also, the 90-degree spine chewed my thumb up a bit when doing push cuts.
I then moved on to test the edge geometry and see how it would do at creating feather sticks. I was extremely impressed with the fine curls that I was able to get with the Subvert. My feather stick was very feathery.
Armed with the knowledge that stainless steel is not great at throwing sparks from a ferro rod, I decided I wanted to give it a shot anyway. Leaving the knife closed (which would be ideal for safety) I wanted to see if I could throw any good sparks using the sharp spine but was unable to get anything sufficient enough to ignite the feather sticks. So, I opened the knife and struck the ferro rod with the edge – just to see if it would be a viable solution in a pinch – and was able to get the feather stick to ignite.
I do want to take just a minute to add a little disclaimer here. I do not recommend using your knife’s edge to strike a ferro rod. One, it can be dangerous, I have heard stories of that going horribly wrong due to cold, fatigue and other factors. Two, it is not good for your edge and you wouldn’t want to ruin an expensive knife. However, in a survival situation, do what you have to do. Just be careful.
Then, to see how well the edge held up to my previous tests, I performed what I call the rope press cut test. In this test I test to see if I can simply press the edge through the rope, without needing to slice. In this case there were no issues and I was able to press right through the rope multiple times.
Finally, I moved on to some very hard seasoned lilac wood I have here on my property. This is very twisty, knotty and hard wood, so it is a great test. I normally do not recommend batoning with a folding knife – due to safety reasons – but wanted to test the integrity of the steel and the lock. The Subvert split the wood with no issues and the lock help up beautifully – nothing loosened up and everything is still perfectly tight and functioning properly.
Although I know the category exists, I have never really considered a folder for a bushcraft blade, but I do see their place. After testing the Subvert in this capacity I have really been rethinking my position on the idea. I am not saying that I would make a folder my dedicated bushcraft knife, but I absolutely plan to make the Subvert my camping folder. The performance of the Subvert makes it an easy choice when you just need to do something around camp that a folder is more suited for – and even some things that you might not have thought of using a folder for.
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Blade Material: CPM-S30VBlade Length: 4.125 inchesOverall Length: 9.25 inchesClosed Length: 5.11 inchesBlade Width: 1.25 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.157 inchBlade Finish: SatinWeight: 6.2 ouncesHandle Material: G-10Liners: TitaniumLock: Liner lockGrind: FlatMSRP: $470.00
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for, Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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