Spyderco byte December 2022 - PARA™ 3 LIGHTWEIGHT
C223PBK / SBK
PARA 3 LIGHTWEIGHT
The Para 3 Lightweight is one of Spyderco’s most refined folding knife designs. It is also the latest chapter in an evolutionary process that began with the introduction of the iconic Military™ Model back in 1996.
The inspiration for the original Military Model began when a customer asked Spyderco co-founder Sal Glesser a simple, but profound question: “If your son was going into the military, what knife would you give him?” Although Spyderco was already manufacturing an impressive selection of CLIPIT® folding knives at that time, Sal didn’t feel that any of them met the exact needs of forward-deployed military personnel. To solve that problem, he set about designing one that did—the Military Model.
The defining features of the original Military’s blade included a full-flat-ground, modified clip-point profile, a textured thumb ramp and index-finger choil, and an oversized Trademark Round Hole that was fully accessible with either hand. These provided an outstanding balance of strength, edge geometry, and point utility, the option of a “choked-up” grip for enhanced control, and easy one-handed opening, even while wearing gloves.
On the handle end, it featured peel-ply-textured G-10 scales, nested partial stainless steel liners, a neutral, one-size-fits all profile, and a LinerLock mechanism with a generous lock-release cutout, again for easy operation while wearing gloves. It also included a lined lanyard hole for the easy attachment of safety lanyards.
The Para Military™
The Military quickly earned a devoted following and established itself as a true Spyderco classic. It also inspired a demand for a scaled-down version of the design that would be more suitable for everyday carry in a civilian environment. The answer to that calling was the Para Military™, which was introduced in 2004. Roughly two-thirds the size of the Military, it maintained the same design profile and delivered the same proven reliability and cutting performance, but in a more compact, easy-to-carry package. It also was one of the early knives to showcase our innovative Compression Lock®—a robust, extremely user friendly lock mechanism housed in the spine of the handle.
The Para Military achieved its target goals very well and quickly attracted legions of dedicated end users. Once again, they weren’t shy about sharing their feedback on the design. As always, we were eager to listen and learn. Based on detailed customer feedback, in 2010 we released the second-generation Para Military 2. It incorporated an improved detent on the Compression Lock, refined ergonomics, countersunk pivot screws, and a four-position pocket clip that supports all possible carry configurations. The response to these improvements was overwhelmingly positive and, to this day, many end users regard the Para Military 2 as their perfect folding knife. Others—especially those who live or work in areas with restrictive blade-length laws—felt even the downsized Para Military 2 was still larger than what they could comfortably or legally carry. To meet their needs, Spyderco went back to the drawing board to distill all the key qualities and performance characteristics of the Para Military 2 into an even smaller envelope built around a three-inch blade. The result, released in 2016, was the Para 3.
The Para 3
Firearms enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of “full-sized,” “compact,” and “subcompact” pistols. A perfect example of this convention is the progression of the Glock® 17, 19, and 26. Although the barrel, slide, and grip of the 19 and 26 get progressively shorter, the trigger group and the central portion of the design remains unchanged. From a design and ergonomics standpoint, the same holds true for the Military Model (full-sized), Para Military 2 (compact), and Para 3 (subcompact). While the handle and blade of the latter two are abbreviated, the center portion of the design remains fundamentally unchanged. This approach ensures a comfortable, hand-filling size and, very importantly, keeps the “cockpit”—all the critical dimensional relationships of the pivot pin, lock components, and the blade’s Trademark Round Hole—exactly the same. In this way, even though the three models are significantly different in overall size, they feel, handle, and open the same.
This strategy was the foundation of the Para 3 design and, not surprisingly, made it an instant success. It also quickly led to variations on the theme, all of which, like the inaugural Para 3, featured machined G-10 scales and nested, skeletonized stainless steel liners. While we were very pleased with the Para 3’s market reception, we still weren’t content. Given the knife’s compact size, we decided to push its design envelope even further by creating a lightweight version with streamlined engineering and injection-molded handle components. The result of that effort was the remarkable Para 3 Lightweight.
Let there Be Light(weight)
At first glance, the Para 3 Lightweight looks as if it simply traded the peel-ply-textured scales of the original model for injection-molded ones. The difference between the two, however, goes much deeper than that. The nested stainless steel liners of the G-10-handled Para 3 extend nearly the full length and width of the handle on both sides. That’s not the case with the Lightweight. True to its name, it relies primarily on its molded fiberglass-reinforced-nylon (FRN) scales for its overall structural strength. A partial stainless steel liner at the front of the handle provides unilateral support for the blade’s pivot pin and stop pin. On that same side of the handle, a separate stainless steel leaf spring forms the foundation of the knife’s streamlined Compression Lock mechanism. Anchored securely at its base by the handle’s stainless steel assembly screws, this revolutionary feature works in concert with the knife’s open-backed handle construction to reduce its weight by almost 30 percent compared to a G-10-handled Para 3.
Like most Spyderco lightweight models, one of the other key advantages of the FRN scales is the addition of a Bi-Directional Texture™ pattern—a series of opposing steps that radiate out from the center of the handle to provide a deeper, more aggressive texture than peel-ply G-10. Compared to its G-10-handled counterparts, the perimeter of the Para 3 Lightweight’s handle also features a larger radius, making it even more comfortable in the hand.
One somewhat polarizing feature of G-10-handled Para 3s is the placement of their four-position pocket clips when mounted for tip-up carry. For some users’ tastes, it causes the knife to ride high in the pocket. In contrast, the Para 3 Lightweight features a deep-pocket wire clip secured with a single stainless steel screw post. Although it does not allow the option of tip-down carry like the G-10-handled version, the wire clip provides ultra-low-ride, tip-up carry and can be easily switched to both the left and right sides. For fans of lanyards and fobs, the clip is complemented by a generously sized lanyard hole in the handle.
The standard black-handled version of the Para 3 Lightweight features a blade crafted from Carpenter® Technology’s CTS® BD1N stainless steel. This workhorse steel began as CTS BD1, which Carpenter developed in close cooperation with Spyderco as a US-made, powder-metallurgy-enhanced version of our very first knife steel, Japan’s Gingami-1. Later, BD1 was enhanced with nitrogen to give it an even better balance of hardness, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening, creating CTS BD1N. The blade’s full-flat grind gives it outstanding edge geometry and a double distal taper to ensure a highly serviceable point. At the juncture of the blade and handle, there is an index-finger choil that provides a forward purchase for enhanced control during detail work. A fully accessible Trademark Round Hole allows swift, positive, one-handed opening with either hand and both the thumb ramp and the forefinger choil have jimping (textured grooves) for additional grip security.
The CTS BD1N version of the Para 3 Lightweight is available with a choice of a PlainEdge™ or fully serrated SpyderEdge™ blade. To complement the blade’s satin finish, the handle’s liner elements, clip, and other hardware sport matching bright finishes. For tactical end users or those who simply prefer the look of basic black, a subdued version with a Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) blade coating and black-coated handle hardware is also available. It also comes in both PlainEdge and SpyderEdge configurations.
For steel aficionados, there is a version of the Para 3 Lightweight featuring Spyderco’s proprietary CPM® SPY27® steel—a US-made powder-metallurgy version of one of our time-honored standards, Japanese VG-10. Available only in PlainEdge, this knife features a signature cobalt-blue FRN handle in honor of the critical role cobalt plays in SPY27’s alloy composition.
No matter which version you choose, you’ll find the Para 3 Lightweight to be one of the easiest carrying and most user friendly full-service folding knives you’ve ever put in your pocket. The fact that it represents the pinnacle of a long, rich evolutionary history makes it even better.