It’s easy to become jaded viewing recent knife designs, 99 percent of which are chasing various black-ops/street-fighter/wilderness-survival fads. “Tactical” folders with assisted opening, black-oxidized blades, and tanto points? Yawn. (Ever tried to sharpen the corner on a tanto point?) Sheath knives with Kraton handles, half-serrated edges, and saw teeth on the back? Pass. Gerber’s Bear Grylls “Signature” knife includes a pocket survival guide and an emergency whistle on the lanyard cord. (“TWEEEET! Somebody help! I can’t get reception on the Discovery Channel!”)
I suppose one could ask just how much true original thinking we can expect in this oldest of all Mankind’s manufactured tools. You have a handle, and a blade. How much innovation is really possible? Also, to be fair, it’s beyond doubt that steel technology has progressed substantially the last couple of decades. Top-end modern blades now combine toughness, strength, and edge-holding in levels unimaginable just two decades ago. And in the end, the steel is really what a knife is all about.
Nevertheless, when I scan knifemakers’ booths at venues such as the Outdoor Retailer show, it takes something special to stop me in my tracks. Last Saturday, on a tip from Mario Donovan of Adventure Trailers, I strolled past the Baladéo booth—and stopped in my tracks.
On a plexiglass display stand stood an impossibly slender folding knife, a mere wisp of stainless steel accented by an even fainter wisp of black G10 scale material. The spine of the blade and the back of the handle comprised a single graceful curve. It was knife design reduced to, as the writer Thomas McGuane once described an elegant skiff, a “simple linear gesture.”
I expected it to be light, but I was unprepared for just how light. The model I held is called the 37G, for its weight in grams. That’s less than an ounce and a half, just hardly even there (and the company makes a smaller model called the 15G). For comparison, my Chris Reeve Sebenza (below), with titanium scales and a blade the same 3.75" length, weighs 130 grams. Despite this, the Baladéo's blade lockup felt good, and the knife is user serviceable via tiny Torx fasteners. The G10 mini-scale is one of several options (including a scaleless version at 34 grams). Also available is a limited edition (300 pieces) 37G in cooperation with climber Conrad Anker, the proceeds of which will go to support Anker’s Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal, a school that trains local Sherpas in climbing techniques and safety.
Okay—let’s be clear. You won’t be using the 37G to saw your way out of the cockpit of your F/A 18 after being shot down behind enemy lines. You won’t be making a spear out of it with a stick and your unravelled paracord bracelet. In fact, you won’t be doing any of the things those “tactical” knifemakers assure you can be done with their products, which no one ever does anyway.
Even in the real world, this is a specialized implement. It would never work for field dressing large game, or making feather sticks for fire lighting. Opening shipping cartons? Well, sure, but slightly beneath contempt. That’s a job for a Swiss Army knife or a multitool. It certainly won’t take the place of a substantial piece such as the Sebenza.
Instead, here’s what I envision. You’re at an upscale restaurant with several acquaintances. The filet mignon you ordered has arrived, but the knife provided is either woefully inadequate or one of those coarsely oversized serrated saws. You produce the 37G from the inside pocket of your sport coat, open it with a deft twist, and slice away. Around you, conversation stops as everyone stares at the elegant blade, then demands to see it. Across the table, the guy who showed up in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, who was already squirming under your tolerant but dismissive glances, is instantly, totally emasculated, and says not another word about his new quad the entire night. In fact he skips dessert and leaves early.
You’ll think of other scenarios. Slicing cheddar and peeling oranges at a picnic? Nice. Gutting a freshly caught brook trout? Excellent. Opening Christmas presents? Perfect.
Criticisms are scant, accepting the design parameters and featherlight construction. The steel is utterly pedestrian 420 stainless—perfectly adequate for any task this knife will handle, and it keeps the price down to under $50. But it would be nice to see a premium option for us helpless steel snobs. Also, the blade has a chisel grind, bevelled on only one side (calling to mind my vintage Puma Trapper’s Companion). I find chisel grinds a bit more trouble to sharpen, and will unceremoniously convert this one to a standard grind the first time it needs work (the edge is completely protected when closed so this represents no hazard). Finally, if you grip the knife the wrong way it’s possible to accidentally release the Walker liner lock that keeps the blade open. The best grip is a squeeze between thumb and index finger on either side of the pivot bolt.
Those minor issues aside, this is one of those tools that will bring a smile to your face whenever you use it. I liked it enough to buy two—a G10 for me and a Conrad Anker model for Roseann.
However, in case you were wondering, the 37G does not come with an emergency whistle.