In 10 years of service as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, I was issued only one serious piece of everyday handheld gear that I can remember: the black Gerber multi-tool. It was instrumental for the daily work of the Global War on Terror, but the blade would snap right off if you did any substantial work with it. I broke the blade on every Gerber I was ever issued, but to be fair, an infantryman like me can break a hammer if you leave me alone with it for long enough. Despite my infantry brain, I set out on a quest in my last few years of service to find the best knives that were useful and affordable for my fellow soldiers.
For my first knife purchase after Army life, I wanted to check out a company that I’d seen in gun shops across the country for years: Kizer. I purchased a standard Kizer Mini Sheepdog with OD green G-10 scales and C01C tool steel on Blade HQ. Made in China, this blade comes in many variants with Guccied-out materials, but this one prices at around $70 as the company’s most affordable model. (Kizer also provides options for stone washing or models with completely blacked-out blades if you are concerned about your platoon sergeant yelling at you for being shiny, although these options will set you back a few bills.)
This particular knife spent a full year riding around in my pocket without breaking. Here’s what you should know about the Kizer Mini Sheepdog — and why it might be your next everyday carry blade of choice.
What really surprised me about Kizer was the impressive unboxing experience. Most knife companies send you a white box that’s smashed to pieces by the time it reaches you (and yes, even the high-end companies screw this up from time to time). But Kizer displayed this blade beautifully in a special box complete with a microfiber cloth for maintenance and a zippered pouch. Although the knife will never be this pretty again once it’s out of the box, it’s obvious that Kizer intends to make an impression with their packaging and the overall experience of purchasing a new folder. I don’t think any other knife company with affordable models goes that hard in the packaging department.
The knife itself is gorgeous. It has a cleaver-style blade profile with a rear flipper tab. Closed, the flipper tab juts neatly out the rear of the frame. The G-10 composite handle material has a cross-stitch stippling that provides more retention in the hand. The bearings of the knife are set with hex key screws and can be removed for maintenance with a small star key. The pocket clip sits at the bottom of the knife and makes it easy to carry on your pocket, or in a pouch on your vest.
The knife opens with a satisfying snap and is razor-sharp right out of the box. Easily manipulated with one hand to both open and close, the blade itself is just under 3 inches long and comes with a short handle made of G-10 composite. When folded, the entire knife is only around 3 inches long. Overall, it’s a small, wonderfully designed utility knife for most everyday chores. As long as you stay within reason and use this tool for the right purposes, it will last a lifetime.
The blade also passes a paper cutting test, a test I use to immediately gauge the sharpness of the knife after a sharpening session or fresh out of the box. Some knives come out of the box require a few passes over a whetstone to hone the edge and get rid of small burrs from the grinding process. If you can’t cut a piece of paper pulled tautly, the knife isn’t sharp. If the knife passes through with zero effort, it’s likely a custom-made knife. If it passes through with some finesse, it may not be as sharp as it could be, but it will do nearly any job except for, say, actually shaving the hairs off your forearm.
How we tested the Kizer Mini Sheepdog
This Kizer Mini Sheepdog has been my personal everyday carry knife for the last year during normal outdoor recreation, moving across the country, and regular indoor chores inside the house. I’ve cut up oranges, limes, tree branches, boxes, rope, Technora, and 550 cord with this knife in both the desert near Fort Bliss and wintry New England. It also accompanies me on range days and on campus, because you always need an extremely sharp knife in a library in sleepy Connecticut.
While living in New England last summer, I spent a lot of time doing yard work and repairing broken weed eaters. I don’t use the blade as a screwdriver, but it’s helped me fix many small machines for yard work. The knife has cut countless plastic lines with only some degradation of the edge, but even after a year of regular use this knife has yet to be sharpened and can still cut a sheet of paper without dragging.
What we like about the Kizer Mini Sheepdog
Honestly, I love this blade as much as one can. It’s well-designed so far that the moving parts are of the highest possible quality on a folding knife. The blade’s profile is perfect for nearly any task as long as kept as sharp as possible. For the infantryman among us: No, you cannot use this knife to pry open the Stryker’s driver hatch, but it’s certainly a dependable tool, but other than that, this knife is fine for your everyday tasks like opening MREs and making MacGyver blush with 550 cord. It also meets most states’ requirements as the knife is just under 3 inches long, so if you are stationed somewhere with strict knife laws, you can still carry this off-post. However, check your local laws, because we can’t afford lawyers.
The best part of this knife is its ease of use. You can manipulate the knife with a thick pair of gloves and still cut and retain an edge well enough for average use. I used this knife to prepare a meal while camping in the Western Massachusetts winter with thick military-style gloves on. The knife snaps solidly into place with little pressure and remains locked out for the duration of whatever you need to do. It also works well as a camp blade in a pinch to split wood, but remember, I believe in the right tool for the job, and this is not designed to split wood. In the last year, I haven’t sharpened it once, and the knife still passes the paper test.
What we don’t like about the Kizer Mini Sheepdog
A few of the drawbacks of this knife for an infantryman is the lack of serration on the blade. When you can’t find a sharpening stone in the field, which you most likely won’t, a serrated section provides more cutting ability over time without sharpening. I’m not suggesting you don’t take care of your knife, but a serrated blade would make the knife slightly more field-friendly.
The knife is also a little too shiny at the $70 price point. You can Gucci this blade out on the BladeHQ website, but the costs can exceed $200 quickly. Soldiers probably don’t want the mirrored sheen on the blade to piss off their platoon sergeant, but they also don’t want to spend $200, so an affordable option for subdued blades would be a huge improvement for troops that need less shiny equipment.
For civilian purposes, the knife has few drawbacks except for users with large hands. I have large hands, and the model is just a smidge too small — and the only upgrade Kizer offers is as big as a regular butcher shop cleaver. Also, the clip rides a little oddly in the pocket and requires the user to be careful when grasping for it blindly. The knife can open prematurely, and its sharpness makes this a blade for someone that knows and uses dangerous tools often. Beyond that, this knife might look a little overkill in, say, an office setting. There’s not much you can do with a cleaver as a paralegal, but it does look cool enough to show your friends at lunch.
You cannot beat the Kizer Mini Sheepdog for it’s value. At $70, you can purchase a knife that will last a lifetime and work for nearly every task you can put before it. The knife’s flip tab opening, the substantial blade profile, and out-of-the-box sharpness are just too good for the price. It’s twice as easy to use as your grandfather’s folders, but sharper and longer-lasting. The main drawbacks are the size: if you’re over six feet two inches and large-framed, this knife might be a tad too small for you. Other than that, the Mini Sheepdog is a tough-to-beat everyday utility knife that works in the field or in the city.
FAQs about the Kizer Mini Sheepdog
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does a Kizer Mini Sheepdog cost?
A. The MSRP for a Kizer Mini Sheepdog with a G-10 handle is around $69.
Q. Are Kizer knives quality budget blades or a Chinese clone company?
A. Kizers are made in China, and often people question the quality of Chinese-made goods. Kizer is not one of those companies — at least not for now. Kizer makes extremely high-quality knives and provides ways to maintain them yourself, namely because Kizer lacks the customer support infrastructure that American companies like Benchmade provide. Despite this, Kizer knives are often smoother than other brands that cost four times as much. Sure, it’s no fun to lose a $70 knife, but it won’t send you to the Army Emergency Relief fund if it stops working properly five years after you buy it.
Q. What’s the deal with all the different handle materials?
A. Kizer offers Micarta, G-10, and titanium to function as scales on the handle of the knife. Micarta is just a brand name for composites of fabrics in a thermoset plastic which develops a classic-looking patina over time and is almost impossible to break. Micarta looks slightly better than G-10, which is simply a hard plastic, while the titanium scales offered by Kizer is simply another way to Gucci out your knife. I like cool gear as much as the next person, but G-10 is perfectly suited for every task you could imagine.
Q. G-10 is plastic? I don’t think I want that as a handle material.
A. G-10 is actually a composite of glass cloth soaked in resin. The result is an extremely durable material that could be used to make a knife itself. It’s quite new but impossible to beat as a durable handle material. The major factor between choosing Micarta and G-10 is usually just a matter of aesthetics: some people prefer the natural patina of the former more.
Q. Are Kizers worth the money?
For a knife like this under $100, yes, a Kizer is worth the money. Like I said, the company does not have a robust customer service line, so it competes with international brands by offering blades for significantly lower prices. A Kizer is an affordable option, but they are not made in the United States if that’s a sticking point. The company does have more expensive options that range into the $300 territory, but they are still cheaper than their U.S. counterparts. For example, a Kizer totally Guccied-out will cost no more than $240, but a basic Emerson will cost over $200 with no upgrades.
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