Almost every outdoors person has a memory of their first knife that they either used or received in their younger years. For a good number of those folks, that knife was made by Buck Knives. Woods Monkey takes a look at the new Vantage Series by Buck Knives to see what’s new from a company that has been with us so long.
When most folks think of a Buck knife, the first one to pop into their head is probably the classic lock back model 110. The 110 has provided generations of outdoorsman and trade workers with a solid, rugged knife for a price that working folk can afford. Fast forward to 2009 and Buck has a new offering that just might give the old 110 a run for its money. At the SHOT show this year I had a chance to take a look at a new series of folders from Buck and I walked away very impressed. 110’s look out, the Vantage series is newer and more hip offering features that many of today’s knife users want, like pocket clips and a one hand opening system. And they still manage to offer an outstanding bargain to the consumer, while maintaining Buck’s legendary quality.
When I say that the Vantage is a series, I mean just that. Currently four models make up the Vantage line. All share the same basic design, but differ in materials, and in one case size. The base models are the Buck vantage Selects, in both large and small size. Both feature drop point blades of Buck’s classic 420HC stainless steel. The smaller one’s blade is 2 5/8 inch in length while the larger is 3 ¼ inch. Overall lengths closed are 3 ¾ 4 3/8 inches respectively. The handles on the Select models are made of black glass reinforced nylon. The next jump up in the series is the Vantage Avid. The Avid is the same size as the large Select but has a 13C26 Swedish Sandvik stainless steel blade and handle scales of CNC contoured Charcoal Dymondwood. The final model is the Vantage Pro. The pro is the highest end Vantage model and features an S30V blade and CNC contoured black G10 handle scales. Weight on the Avid and Pro models is 4 ounces, where as the large Select drops to 3.7 ounces and the small is a feathery 2.3 ounces.
All four Vantage models feature the same blade and handle profiles, with everything being scaled down slightly for the small Select model. Structural strength is added to the knives via two stainless steel liners beneath the handle scales. The frame is open along the spine, which minimizes dirt and crud buildup and makes cleanup easy when you do need to do so. Lock up is by means of a liner lock, which was very positive on my test model. The Vantages share a common elongated opening hole in the blades, like that seen on the Buck Mayos. It’s well positioned and gives enough room for the thumb to easily roll the knives open. While there’s nothing wrong with the hole at all, I much prefer to use the flipper that protrudes from the spine of the knife while it’s closed. I’m a fan of flipper and they’re one of my preferred ways to open knives whether they’re assisted or not. Which brings up an interesting point on the Vantages.
When I first handled them at the SHOT show, I had to open them a couple of times before I realized that they aren’t assisted! The action is very smooth–so smooth that I thought they were getting a kick from a spring initially. The last feature that the Vantages share is the pocket clip mounted on the butt of the knife. The clip is positioned for right or left handed tip up carry, or is removable should you choose not to use a clip at all. With the clip attached to the butt of the knife it allows for a deep, secure carry in the pocket. It’s also relatively discrete since all you see is the skeletonized clip. I’m not generally a fan of tip up carry as I’ve had a number of knives positioned that way open up in my pocket, especially when trying to draw them. I just had it happen again twice last week with another knife I was testing. I’m not fond of getting stuck or getting holes in my pants from that happening. With that said, I was pleased to note that I didn’t have that problem with the Vantage at all. Despite regular carry for a couple of months, I never once had the knife open on me, even with as slick as the action is. The knife stays closed when it’s supposed too, but is fast and smooth to open when needed. That’s a great combination.
For my testing I chose the mid range Vantage Avid to represent the line. For one thing, I thought it would be a good option since it falls into the middle of the steel and handle options in terms of material quality. For another thing, I’m a fan of the various Sandvik steels and I wanted to see how Buck’s version stood up to daily use. As I mentioned, I carried the Vantage Avid for a couple of months regularly. I probably should have done my write up sooner but I kept slipping the thing into my pocket any time I had a choice of what I was carrying. I test a lot of knives so I tend to rotate what I carry frequently. Despite that, I kept going back to the Vantage in between other test blades and whenever I just wanted to carry what I wanted for a change. The Vantage carries flat and you pretty much forget you have it on you until its needed. The clip allows for a deep, secure carry and I never felt as if I were going to loose the knife and never had it catch on anything. Even when carried in my right from pocket it seemed flat enough that it didn’t bother me getting things in and out of my pocket around it. I carried the Vantage at work, in the woods, and just for routine carry. It’s been clipped to suit pants; jeans, cargo shorts and even my MOLLE vest at work. Actual use ran the gamut of common EDC chores like cutting cord and tape and opening boxes, to camp tasks like whittling, making tent pegs, and doing impromptu camp kitchen work. I don’t go crazy with my camp cookery but the Vantage did a good job on sausages, cheese, fruits and opening up packages. Cleanup was easy too with the Sandvik stainless blade and the open frame design. Edge retention has been excellent throughout this time. The Vantage came shaving sharp and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still shaves hair even after a couple months of regular use. And that’s with the 13C26 version, not even the S30V Vantage Pro!
I walked away from the SHOT show with a short list of “must try” items and the Buck was near the top of that list. I’m happy to say that after extensive use I’ve not been disappointed. Buck has once again hit a home run in the field of folders and came up with a design that’s sure to give its classic 110 a run for its money. Best of all may be the prices of the Vantages. True to their roots of providing working tools for working folks, Buck has managed a rather astonishing price point for these knives. The small and large Vantage Selects have an MSRP of $30 and $35 respectively. The Vantage Avid’s MSRP is $50 and the Vantage Pro’s is $75. Street prices bring them in a good deal under that with the Vantage Pro being found for under $50. Yep, you read that right, under $50 for a U.S. made S30V knife from a renowned cutlery manufacturer. Honestly, I was expecting prices closer to $100 for that model and wouldn’t have batted an eye if that had been the case. I was stunned to see how affordable the Vantage line is. I plan on picking up a Select model to keep as a back up at work, and getting an S30V model, well, just because. I’m not in the least unhappy with the Avid but at the price of the pro I can’t afford not to own one of those too!