Review: the Wander Tactical Lynx is a thoroughbred knife tested in the Alps of Italy
Just how much knife does $260 buy? This much.
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I’d never heard of Wander Tactical knives before a friend of mine offered to send me one. All that he told me was that these knives were some sort of unbeatable, unbreakable, unobtanium, tested by the craftsman himself in the mountains of Italy for days on end before the design is approved for market. And then he mentioned the price: well over $200 for a knife made of materials that I can get elsewhere for $50. Or so I thought.
Wander Tactical Research Team, of Milan, Italy, is a boutique knife manufacturer that claims its customer base includes “survivalists, soldiers, bushcrafters, explorers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts.” They also claim to use the highest quality materials for the job and back their product up with a lifetime warranty. It’s because of that policy that I was handed this handmade artisan knife and told “Go wild, if you break it, I’ll just get a new one for free.” So here we are with the Wander Tactical Lynx — and trust me, I tried.
Wander Tactical is guilty of the same sin that a lot of small-batch knife manufacturers commit, which is that their packaging is rudimentary, if there at all. Mine came in used condition from its owner, and he told me that the knife literally came wrapped in plastic, in its sheath. There is no packaging, other than the box it ships in, and while that doesn’t affect the quality of the knife, there’s something to be said about a package that makes you feel like you just spent $260 on a cutting tool.
Inside this package, if you can call it that, you find the knife and a Kydex sheath. That’s it. The knife is 9.25 inches in length overall, with a 4.25-inch blade, making it slightly more handle than blade. The blade is finished in a greenish tan KG Gunkote finish and made of cryogenically treated tool steel. Wander Tactical guarantees this steel to within 59-61 Rockwell Hardness, which for the price is very good, considering that it’s a handmade boutique knife, and considering that the blade is truly massive. The handle is made of indigo-speckled micarta, which is given a hewn texture, not unlike lava rock or volcanic glass, providing an amazing grip. The handle is secured to the blade via plain stainless steel Torx bits, which throw off the otherwise luxurious appearance of the blade.
The cutting edge is plain and mirror-shining, topping off a flat-ground drop point blade that’s nearly two inches wide, and over ¼-inch thick, which makes this a very capable survival knife. The choil, or “place where you put your index finger while carving stuff,” is truly massive, is immediately behind the cutting blade, and terminates in a spur ahead of the grips, which provides the added advantage of ensuring that your fingers will not slip up onto the cutting edge, should you decide to use this for…well…stabbing. The blade is full-tang, with the grips covering everything apart from the blade, and a very small exposed lanyard loop. There’s very strong jimping along the spine of the blade, matched by cuts in the grip scales, which I found very useful in my tests when it came to making an improvised spear. Finally, the thickness of the blade makes this knife a perfect batoning wedge for splitting wood, which is an important task in a survival environment.
The sheath is Kydex, and honestly, I’m not happy with it, especially given the price. The sheath that’s included with the knife is not the only one, given that my friend who sent me the knife is a kydex sheath maker. The included sheath is black plastic, and features a very generous opening, which makes re-sheathing a breeze. The stock sheath included no real mounting option, but features the eyelets necessary to mount standard two-inch spaced holes for various types of clips. I was able to mount a Blade-Tech MOLLE clip onto the sheath, albeit having to mount the clip slightly lower, since the wide opening gets in the way of the top-most hole. Another issue with the holes is that they’re not properly drilled to spec. It makes the sheath feel like an afterthought, since I had to physically gouge them out the rest of the way between the grommets that hold the eyelets together, making mounting a chore. Overall, the sheath is definitely not the standard of quality that I expect from a fixed-blade knife costing over $200.
How we tested the Wander Tactical Lynx
This thing is a serious outdoors enthusiast’s knife, and so I tested it accordingly, which is to say, harsher than I’ve ever tested a knife for this site. For starters, I tested the slicing capabilities of a knife that’s ⅛ inch at the spine, which is usually a tall order to fill. Then I took this thing out in its natural environment, and built a 19th-century hunting blind, alongside my friend who’s a historical reenactor, and a knife that I’ll be reviewing in the future. Then I deliberately corroded the blade, as usual, to test how it will operate in adverse environments while maintaining an edge. I then attached the knife in its stock sheath to my issued U.S. Marine Corps flak to see how it would function as a cool guy Rambo knife (or, more realistically, a giant MRE opener.) Finally, I used the knife to break stone and chip mortar out between bricks, giving this thing a comprehensive battery of tests, short of going and cleaning an actual dead animal.
For the first test, I performed the same sharpness evaluation that I subject every bladed tool to for this site, which is to say slicing paper along the bias and shaving hairs. In the past, thick blades, however sharp, have struggled to slice a single sheet of paper, simply due to their blade architecture. However, the Lynx, with its gradually-ground blade, slices handily, even multiple sheets of paper at once, and shaves hair extremely easily. I can’t speak to whether this is the factory edge since the owner of the knife could have sharpened it himself and just not told me. However, the fact that it slices well while being as thick as it is speaks well to the blade’s design.
Sitting around in my house and slicing random household goods would be a gross misuse of the Lynx, and not an accurate indicator of its capabilities as a field knife, so we took it out in the woods. A friend of mine suggested that we build what he called a “shee-bang,” which is an archaic term for any kind of improvised shelter or hunting blind, so we made what would have been considered a ground blind in the 19th century, which is his area of expertise as a historical reenactor. We did this by stripping several small saplings of their branches, notching the central one to allow the two side supports to sit still, and then notched the supporting saplings up and down their length, from which we hung the branches we had just stripped, creating a half dome that, while obvious at close range due to the fresh leaves, would at least conceal movement and the human silhouette — or at least that’s what my friend told me. The Lynx made short work of whatever task we set it to, and within 10 minutes we had the small blind built and were able to totally conceal my friend when observed from 10 feet away. Cutting down saplings was a breeze, and the gradual wedge of the blade profile meant that provided you came in at an angle with your hacks, only a few cuts were needed. Stripping branches was easier still, providing hardly any resistance to the very sharp blade, which cleanly cut through.
One of the other tests that we did while out there was to take advantage of the very deep jimping along the spine to make an improvised spear, because that’s something that some survivalists like their knives to be able to do. To do this, I took a smaller sapling with a forked end and took the leather laces out of my Sperry Topsiders (only the best outdoor shoes), wrapping them in a way that sunk into the jimping grooves. A length of paracord would have likely been better for this, as one of the key issues that I encountered was that the leather laces weren’t long enough to really secure the Lynx to the sapling as sturdily as I’d like. The point is though, the jimping and hewn texture of the micarta, as well as the spur below the choil, meant that the Lynx is definitely suitable for all your caveman antics, should you be in need of a spear.
D2 is not a stainless steel in any sense of the word, being considered a “semi-stainless” tool steel that is more resistant to true carbon steels but chemically formed to prioritize things like edge retention and hardness over corrosion resistance. Nonetheless, I wanted to see how much aggressive corrosion affected the blade’s edge quality, and whether or not it cleaned off effectively. For this I used my salt test, which consists of wetting the blade, and then adding salt, before scrubbing the wet salt into the finish to see if it wears away. After doing this, I leave the blade exposed to open air for 12 hours to allow rust to form. The rust that formed was relatively minor, affecting the untreated portions of the blade to include the edge, logo, and any large scratches on the blade that had worn away the KG Gunkote. However, the rust came off, barring a few small spots, and the knife still sliced through paper handily, even after being used to hack saplings, strip branches, and being subjected to corrosion abuse.
For the final test, I used the Lynx to break stone and chip away mortar between bricks, to test the blade coating and impact resistance of the blade. The trouble with a lot of harder steels, especially steels as traditional as D2, is that their hardness is at the expense of being brittle, and especially when executed at a lower level, D2 can have issues with chipping. Thankfully, Wander Tactical advertises their knives as being cryogenically heat-treated, which should alleviate some of those concerns. As I expected, the spine of the blade easily smashed concrete and cinder block and chipped mortar with only minor damage to the finish.
The overall outcome of these tests was that the knife survived with minor surface wear, some stubborn rust, and some abrasion to the micarta grip scales. Cutting through the green wood of the saplings wore some of the KG Gunkote off of the blade near the edge, which doesn’t speak well for the abrasion resistance of the coating that protects the majority of the blade from rust. The coating also got scraped off when I used the spine for chipping concrete, though that’s a little bit more forgivable since it’s concrete after all. The rust is concerning, because D2 is not stainless, as mentioned above, and given that the KG Gunkote seems so quick to strip off, you’re going to have to stay up on the cleanliness of your blade with this. Edge retention was good, and even after all the abuse I put it through, it only developed minor burring on the majority of the cutting edge and still slices stiffer paper and cardboard.
What we like about the Wander Tactical Lynx
This thing is a really serious knife, and there’s zero confusion or pretense about its intended use. The blade itself is masterfully executed, supremely comfortable in the hand, and absolutely a purebred survival knife. The fact that the Lynx is a small-batch boutique knife shows in spades, especially considering the designs are allegedly tested in survival scenarios before ever being sent to market. Wander Tactical believes in that mission so much that should you ever manage to have one of their blades fail on you, they’ll just send you a new one. Just by appreciating the gradual bevel of the blade grind, to the depth of the choil, the grip texture, and the placement of the jimping, it’s obvious to me that Wander Tactical have basically said “if you’re not a serious outdoors enthusiast, this knife isn’t for you.” In so many words, this knife is way cooler and way more hardcore than I am. I guess the best example I could think of would be handing a novice marksman a hand-fitted precision rifle. They might appreciate how cool it is, but an expert would appreciate the nuances, and I’m adult enough to admit that I’m no expert.
What we don’t like about the Wander Tactical Lynx
For all that stellar fluff above, there are going to be some issues with the Lynx, because this knife was crafted by (imperfect) humans. For starters, there’s no reason that a knife that costs more than $100, let alone more than $200, should have a sheath like the one that comes stock with the Lynx. The mounting holes weren’t even finished — I had to bore them out myself — and that’s frankly unacceptable. The sheath also doesn’t allow me to mount a MOLLE clip in the top-most position, requiring me to mount the clip lower, and the knife, conversely, higher. The KG Gunkote used defends against rust well, but at the same time, rubs off with normal usage in the exact environment for which it’s intended, which was cutting through green wood, and leaves me to question how permanent of a solution it is. Finally, and this is a super minor gripe, but I would really love it if the grip screws were color-matched or at least coated black, as the bright stainless fasteners look a little strange against the indigo micarta grips.
If you’re the intended clientele for Wander Tactical Research Team and their hardcore, boutique knives, then you probably know exactly what you need in a knife and are willing to pay the cash to get what you want. In every way, this knife is designed for people who throw themselves into the wilderness for fun, or people for whom having absolutely bombproof and reliable gear is a must. Whether you’re looking for something that will survive a hike on the Appalachian Trail, or something that will survive your next rotation with U.S. Africa Command, if you’re the kind of person that Wander Tactical has in mind, you’ll see the value in this blade. If you can’t, and find yourself wondering what’s so good about a knife that costs this much, you’re probably not the kind of person who needs a blade of this caliber. And that’s fine.
My friend who sent me this knife is a man by the name of Don Kramer. He’s a serious knife nerd, and also makes his own Kydex sheaths, under his brand Carnivora. If you want a Kydex sheath for any knife, hit him up. He included his own Lynx sheath with the knife, as well as the stock one, and his sheath features a number of improvements, including improvements that fix all of the issues I had with the stock one. Wander Tactical still needs to fix their stock sheath’s issues, but Don’s sheaths show how to do them right. If you’re interested in getting one of his sheaths for your fixed blade knife (this is for all of you Ka-Bar motivators out there), he’s on Instagram as @Carnivora_Blades and you should definitely check him out. Here’s one of his sheaths below:
FAQs about the Wander Tactical Lynx
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much does the Wander Tactical Lynx cost?
Q: What is D2 Steel, and why does it matter that Wander cryogenically heat-treats theirs?
A: According to Hudson Tool Steel, D2 is “a versatile high-carbon, high-chromium, air-hardening tool steel that is characterized by a relatively high attainable hardness and numerous, large, chromium-rich alloy carbides in the microstructure.” What this means for you, according to Knife Steel Nerds, is that D2 is a readily available and relatively lower-cost steel option that offers hardness and edge retention that’s better than steels like 440C and 154CM, and a toughness that’s better than S90V and 440C, but falls short of things like CruWear and 3V. As for cryogenic heat treatment, according to Blade Magazine, cryogenic treatment converts the maximum amount of austenitic steel to martensitic steel, which reduces brittleness and leaves more even clumps of carbon, leading to superior performance over traditionally quenched steels. D2 steel especially benefits from this process.
Q: Where are Wander Tactical knives made?
A: Wander Tactical knives are designed and made in Italy. That’s it. You’re paying for and getting Italian workmanship.
Q: What does Italian workmanship entail?
A: Mama Mia. Pasta. Spaghetti. Bawnjorno. *Pinches fingers together*
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Matt Sampson is an 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native. In his past life, he worked in tactical gear retail and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is Oklahoma.