Preferences for fixed blade knives are as diverse as the folks who carry them. Some prefer a large quasi-machete hanging from their belt. Others like a $10 Mora dropped into their pack, or a tiny sharpened toothpick hanging around their neck. Still some people want a knife that will chop cinder blocks and take a .45 round. No matter what your preference, for a fixed blade knife to work, you have to have it when you need it. That ‘have it with you when you need it’ philosophy has led me to sell or trade literally dozens of outdoor and survival knives I know I will never carry. The ones that have always been kept and used have been the ones light enough to carry comfortably and substantial enough to get jobs done on the trail and around camp. Enter the Benchmade Nim Cub II.
Before I get into the review portion of this article, I have something to admit to the reader. I’m a huge Benchmade fan. I purchased my first Benchmade in 1998. It was a Stryker folder, liner lock, with G10 scales and a tanto satin finished blade. That knife has seen some extremely rough use ranging from concrete work to motor rebuilds. I still have that knife and, despite being covered in scratches from years of hard use, it’s still going strong. Since that Stryker, a Benchmade of some sort has been part of my daily carry ever since. A BM 940 now rides clipped into my right front pocket, and has for nearly 5 years.
Needless to say, when I received the new Benchmade Nim Cub II for review I couldn’t have been more excited. First off, it’s a Cub II because it’s slightly smaller in overall dimensions to the earlier Cub. This version is a scant 3.2 ounces, plain edge, and equipped with a very impressive black composite handle. Benchmade has made a genius move and produced the little Cub II in 154CM steel. This stainless steel holds its edge very well without becoming brittle like some of those uber-hard ‘super steels.’ My daily carry Benchmade is 154CM steel, and it has held up to years of use and sharpening. Benchmade specs give the Rockwell hardness of the Cub II at 58-61. This puts the hardness right in that optimum range of strength and toughness, but below the level of brittleness so often round in those high-end steels that some folks just gotta have. 154CM is a highly stain resistant stainless that sharpens without a lot of fuss and holds an edge extremely well. Have no doubt that it will do anything you ask of it.
The first thing anyone will notice upon picking up the Nim Cub II for the first time is its weight. At just 3.2 ounces, the Cub II is a light knife. That light weight keeps it from being a chopper, but that’s not what this knife was designed for. This is a knife that’s light enough to get carried and substantial enough to get the job done. For those of you that like to wear a knife on your belt without your belt ending up by your shoes, the Cub II is an excellent choice. The 3 ½ inch drop point blade makes the best use of the weight of the knife, while giving you plenty of useable edge for nearly any chore. The tang of the knife is just shy of 1/8 inch with Benchmade stating the thickness at 0.115 inch. You won’t be building a log cabin with this knife, but as my testing would show, it’ll do just about everything else.
The sheath is the next thing that the user will find interesting. Benchmade says the knife was designed with input from airborne troops, and the sheath certainly reflects that. The core of the sheath design is the blade cover, which is made of a molded nylon. The sheath is friction fit according to Benchmade, but the friction alone will not retain the knife in anything but the traditional tip down carry position. To supplement the friction fit, and ensure retention, Benchmade has placed an ingenious retention strap at the mouth of the sheath. The retention strap both snaps to the sheath, and around the knife, allowing it to be removed for cleaning and adjustment. This strap design also allows the retention strap to be rotated so that it can be easily accessed by right or left handed folks, in any mounting position.
The attachment of the sheath to the user is done with a MOLLE system as unique as the knife itself. The sheath itself can be attached to any MOLLE webbing gear with the supplied plastic MOLLE clip. This allows tip up or tip down carry on any piece of equipment that’s compatible. I attached it to a desert tan shoulder bag I use for carrying a lightweight kit for when a heavier pack is not necessary. This puts the knife at the ready, but secures it against loss. If wearing a knife on your belt is more your style, Benchmade supplies a ‘dropper’ for the knife that clips into the sheaths MOLLE attachment points. Then you can add the clip to the dropper and thread it through your belt for a traditional style carry method. There are also two holes near the tip of the sheath that will allow the user to wear the knife around the neck, or lashed to a pack strap.
One of the first tests I do with any knife is to make a large tinder bundle for fire building. I’m a believer that if a knife will produce thin shavings of wood in short order, it’ll do most anything else I’d ask of it. Pine, Mesquite, and Aspen are the most common woods found in the timber I hunt and hike in, with Mesquite being the most common at the lower elevations. Here at 6,600 ft, these Mesquite aren’t just a bush, they’re full on, two story trees. In about ten minutes I had enough wood for a small lunch fire, and all I was in need of was the tinder bundle to get it going. My favorite method for fire starting is to build a large ball of wood shavings and put a Vaseline cotton ball inside to get it all going. With less than ten minutes work, I had a pile of Mesquite shavings larger than a softball. If you’ve ever purchased a Benchmade new, you know the edge comes with that famous hair shaving sharp edge. This made quick work of my Mesquite, making nice shavings with numerous curls that fired up quickly.
While the blade is coated with a black powdercoat style finish, I was impressed with how smoothly it cut. I’m not normally a fan of blade coatings, especially on stainless steels, but Benchmade has done this one well. It’s smooth, slick, and tough, making any drag it produces hardly noticeable. The coating was truly tested during my baton testing. I’m not one that believes batoning a knife is abusive. With proper technique, batoning is a viable and useful way to split out kindling. I started with some seasoned pine cut in the middle of last winter. The 3 ½ inch blade was plenty long enough to split sections of the 2 inch thick pine. The handle is big enough to fill your hand and be comfortable for use, but no so big that the knife can’t be dropped in a cargo pocket. The finger guard is deep and comfortable, making slipping onto the blade nearly impossible. The sub guard, between the index and middle finger, protrudes out from the tang of the knife. While nice in design, this sub guard prohibits the knife from being used in an edge up, thumb flat on the edge side of the tang as in a skinning application. If you wanted to use the knife to open up a deer in the traditional manner, you’d have to use a ‘pinch’ hold on the handle, instead of thumb flat on the tang as traditional.
Kitchen chores were a breeze for the Nim Cub II. It easily sliced and peeled apples, and cut up sausage. Around the BBQ pit, the Nim Cub II cleaned, flipped, and sliced chicken and steaks on the grill. The checkering on the handle is secure when the knife is wet or slippery, as they so often are around a camp kitchen. The Cub II will not only build your fire, it can prepare your food and take care of packages with ease. One of my favorite ways to carry a fixed blade is tucked into a back pocket. Room on my belt while hiking or camping out in the woods is usually reserved for a sidearm and a multi tool. Fixed blades are often dropped into a pack pocket, and then spend the day at camp in my back pocket. The Nim Cub II’s slim design and lightweight make this an excellent carry method for this knife. I was able to spend nearly and entire day with the Cub II in my back pocket while working in the shop, and hardly knew it was there until it was needed. This is an especially nice attribute because it will ensure that you have the knife when you need it. Those big mini-swords and hatchets are often left at camp when you wander off to gather firewood, fish, or what have you. I was able to pocket my small survival kit, a flashlight, and the Nim Cub II and go about my business knowing I had the tools to help myself should the need arise.
The Benchmade Nim Cub II is definitely a keeper. Benchmade has put some real thought into this one, and built a knife that’s light and handy, yet has the performance of knives twice the size. MOLLE attachments make it versatile and secure enough to have it handy when you need it. The great steel and excellent blade shape make it perform and cut like a champ. I’m impressed. Keep up the fine work Benchmade!