As a long term knife nerd and a writer who has covered knives for a couple of decades now, I’ve had a lot of knives in my pocket over the years. Having started that journey in the days of the slipjoint and lockback folders typically made from 1095 carbon steel, or 420HC or 440C stainless, I can easily say that we currently live in a golden age of cutlery. There were never more choices in designs, quality materials, and styles than there are today.
With so many good options available I still find myself coming back to a handful of choices when I’m just grabbing a knife to stick in my pocket for EDC use, and I‘m not working on an article. One of the blades I grab the most is a Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight.
The Spyderco Paramilitary Series
My first Spyderco Para was a Paramilitary 2, and I still use it a good bit. I found that it’s a knife that fits my hand well, is easy to open and close, and locks up solidly. The latter is the result of Spyderco’s compression lock. While not as common as the frame or liner lock, or the classic back lock, the compression lock has a lot going for it. Like a back lock, the lock is on the spine of the knife. That means that you’re never putting your fingers in the path of the knife blade when releasing the lock and closing the knife.
The other thing about the compression lock is that it’s strong. Stronger than a liner or frame lock lock, in fact. That strength, along with the spine-mounted position make it extremely unlikely for a lock failure to occur. I’ve seen folks inadvertently bypass other lock designs by squeezing too hard, or twisting their hand during use. The position and design of the compression lock make that highly unlikely to occur.
The Compression lock is oriented for right handed users, much like most liner and frame locks are, although I usually can manipulate it with my left hand as well. It’s doable, but a little awkward. If you’re a lefty or always carry your knife where you access it with your left hand, Spyderco makes left handed Compression lock models as well.
It’s hard to talk about steel or handle materials with Spyderco because they tend to make a dizzying array in their popular knife models, including limited sprint runs with material you might not always see. If you want to know what steel they use, you need to look at each specific version of that knife. My particular Para 2 has a S110V blade and started out with checkered blue/purple (or blurple) G10 scales.
One of the great things about the Paramilitary series is that you can easily disassemble the knives and replace the scales or pocket clip, and there’s a booming aftermarket of accessories for them.
I replaced my factory scales with a set of Flytanium G10 scales that were a little more ergonomic for me. There was nothing wrong with the factory scales, these just fit me a little better and made the knife more personalized to me. I stuck with the purple color scheme like my factory scales on this one since it set it apart from the standard issue black tactical knife that every other cop I worked with carried. I knew right away the purple one was mine.
I carried the Para 2 pretty regularly for a couple of years until I had a chance to use a Paramilitary 3. The 3 had all of the features I liked on the 2, but was just a little more compact.
The Para 2 has a 3.42 inch blade and is 4.82 inches closed. Weight is a pretty reasonable 3.81 ounces. The Para 3 shaves a little bit off of all of those numbers with its 3 inch blade, 4.27 inch overall length, and 3.4 ounce weight. I found myself grabbing the 3 at times when I might have passed on the Para 2 and carried a smaller knife, depending what I was doing that day.
The Para 3 proved to be “just right.” It gave me all of the features I came to love with the Para 2, but in a little more compact package. It’s like the GLOCK 19 of the EDC knife world. It’ll do just about anything a full-sized folder will do, but carries just a little easier.
My first Para 3 was set up with the same type of blurple G10 scales and S110V steel blade as my Para 2. I traded the scales out for a set of Titanium Scales with a WW 2 fighter motif from Meton Boss. I swapped the clip out on this one with a Titanium deep carry clip from LynchNW. In the end, I had a knife that was the right size, had all the features I wanted, and was easily personalized with custom scales and clip.
Did I have the perfect EDC knife at that point right? Well, almost. I still really liked both my Para 2 and Para 3 but then I had a chance to try out the Para 3 Lightweight with FRN handles and Spyderco’s excellent wire loop clip. The FRN (fiberglass-reinforced nylon) handles have a great texture and feel to them, and make for a supremely thin and light EDC knife.
The wire clip from Spyderco is hands down my favorite pocket clip for a knife. It tends to slip easily over the lip of a pocket without tearing up clothing, but still remains securely attached. It’s also still easy to draw. The wire clip is very low profile, too and doesn’t show like a shiny solid clip, or even a solid black clip can against clothing. It’s the perfect balance of retention, ease of draw, and discretion with that clip in my opinion.
The standard FRN Para 3 Lightweight has black handles, but Spyderco did a run of different knife models in CPM-SPY27 stainless. They used the FRN handles on all of these knives in a deep cobalt blue color throughout the line. While I liked my purple Para 2 and Ti Para 3, I’m kind of a sucker for blue handles so I tracked down one of the SPY27 models and this has become one of my most used and carried knives.
At only 2.4 ounces and only 0.145 of an inch thick, the Para 3 Lightweight disappears in my pocket. I can easily forget I’m carrying it until I need it. In fact it’s gone through the wash more than once because I’ve forgotten it was clipped to my pants pocket.
While the handle is thin, it’s well contoured and textured, and is comfortable and secure in hand. I’ve used it in all four seasons, with and without gloves, and when my hands were wet and cold. I’ve never had an issue opening or closing it, or keeping a solid hold on it while using it.
Despite working with knives since I was a kid and being involved in the industry for the past couple of decades, I’m really not much of a steel snob. There are a lot of great steels available now. See my earlier comment about being in a golden age of cutlery.
With that said, Spyderco tends to work with the best and is always on the — forgive the pun — bleeding edge of new steel technology. The CPM-SPY27 has held up extremely well, and I have rarely needed to touch it up despite using it for a myriad of EDC tasks, and cutting up an endless supply of packages. Just ask my UPS driver. Or my wife. They’re probably both sick of me ordering stuff.
The combination of solid design, quality build and materials, and pure function keep bringing me back to the Para 3 Lightweight when I reach for an EDC knife. I have some other folders I do carry with some regularity too, but the Para 3 is for sure in my top 3, and one you’re most likely to find in my pocket at any given moment. It’s for sure a thing that doesn’t suck.
Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight Specifications:
Blade Length: 2.92″
Cutting Edge: 2.58″
Closed Length: 4.29″
Overall Length: 7.21″
Blade Thickness: 0.145″
Hold Diameter: 0.55″
Blade Material: CPM-SPY27 Stainless Steel
Blade Style: Clip Point
Blade Grind: Full-Flat
Blade Finish: Satin
Handle Material: Cobalt Blue FRN
Locking Mechanism: Compression Lock
Pocket Clip: Tip-Up, Left/Right Carry
Weight: 2.4 oz.
Made in the USA
Street Price: Approximately $150 online