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Last Updated: September 30, 2017
By now most people are well acquainted with ESEE knives and their variety of fixed blade offerings. Hallmarked by their thick powder coatings, 1095 steel, USA origins, and unlimited lifetime warranty, I have grown to be quite a fan of ESEE products, and hold their Junglas and Izula II in especially high regard. ESEE is known for their no nonsense form over function tools, so it was quite interesting to see that ESEE was taking on a folding knife, and a sub 3″ framelock at that.
Buy the ESEE Zancudo at BladeHQ
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The design of the Zancudo, which, by the way, is the Spanish word for mosquito, is unassuming enough. Whether it will live up to the legacy of their fixed blade offerings is an entirely different question.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Zancudo has an overall length of 7″, sports a 2.94″ blade, and weighs 3.1 oz. This is a great size for suburban EDC, although I don’t doubt it will do well at a camp site preparing food or performing other light camp chores. The sub 3″ blade is an interesting choice. There is plenty of room to gain a few extra millimeters so my guess is ESEE is trying to make a knife that flies under jurisdictions where 3″+ blades are outlawed. The full steel liner and steel frame lock add some heft to the knife, but it’s still slim and light enough to be an easy carry. In talking with globe-trotting renaissance man Kyle Ver Steeg on the podcast, I was surprised to learn that he prefers a small folder for most of his adventures. This could very well be an option for a trip to the Amazon, or disaster relief effort in the Philippines.
Your blade shape is a sloping modified drop point design. The spine of the knife droops down to almost a spearpoint, and the end result is a very utilitarian design with a thicker tip and relatively short belly. The blade is flat ground nice and thin, and the edge bevel has been neatly and uniformly applied. In practice the knife makes easy work of typical daily carry tasks like opening mail, cutting up fruit, and breaking down packages. A handsome dark stonewash has been applied for a well worn look right out of the box. The end result is an innocuous looking blade that packs plenty of punch for daily tasks. There are a lot of logos and markings on the blade. The mosquito on the back side is interesting; can’t say I have any other folders that share that distinction.
Blade steel is classic AUS 8, par for the course for any low price Taiwanese or Japanese made knife. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, AUS-8 is a relatively mild steel. Edge retention isn’t its claim to fame, but I have gotten plenty of work done with AUS-8, and it is extremely easy to sharpen and maintain. It’s also a very tough steel. For a sub $30 folder it’s a welcome choice.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
The handle on the Zancudo is so simple it is almost boring. It’s a form follows function kind of knife, and I don’t have a problem with that. On the show side you have a faux G10 scale over a full steel liner, on the lock side you have a tumbled stainless frame lock. The knife is of pillar construction and features a lanyard hole. One interesting detail is that the hardware on the locking side is stainless while the hardware on the non-locking side is black. This is a thoughtful and attractive touch. Thy could have easily gone with all stainless or all black hardware, so I like that they paid attention to this detail. It is also important to note that everything has been really well finished. There isn’t a sharp corner or unnoticed detail. Even the liner and inside of the frame lock has been polished to a mirror-like sheen.
While on paper the handle of the Zancudo looks a little goofy, in hand it all makes sense. Mike Perrin decided to stretch this handle out to afford the user the full length of the handle without a choil or large guard. The resulting grip is sure and comfortable, and the knife is ready for work. The very short run of mild jimping is perfect for indexing your thumb and providing some level of traction without chewing into your flesh. The plastic scale, while inexpensive and not my favorite feature of the knife, has been patterned to mimic peel ply G10. The results are understated, and you have traction without the trauma often associated with aggressive G10 handles.
The pocket clip is functional but has an almost Ken Onion-esque curvature to it. I think it may be some sort of OEM piece, as I could have sworn I have seen this clip on another knife. The bend to the clip is quite severe, and it results in very sturdy and secure retention. The fact that it butts up against smooth stainless steel will save your pockets and make this knife easy to access. The clip comes right side tip down but the handle is also ready for right side tip up carry. The Zancudo is nice and slim and I found it very pocketable. The extra weight isn’t really noticible on heavy denim, but there are lighter knives out there if watching weight is your thing. I think ESEE’s product line is ripe for a lightweight version of the knife, as that would likely be of greater appeal to the weight conscious hiking and outdoors crowd.
Deployment and Lockup
Much like my Rat II, a firm flick of the ambidextrous thumb studs will send the blade flying out, and the blade glides on phosphor bronze washers. The thumb studs are simple and easy to get at, the way thumb studs on this kind of knife should be. No complaints in the deployment department.
For lockup you have a steel framelock, and it is very robust and well implemented. Fresh out of the box I noticed a little blade stick, but that quickly calmed down and has been replaced by effortless rock solid lockup. Given how relatively thin both the blade stock and lockup are, I am impressed by the early (50%) lockup on this knife. That combined with the dead center blade provides a sense of pride of ownership that you don’t typically encounter with bargain basement blades.
ESEE Zancudo Review – Final Thoughts
Much like the Rat II, the Zancudo isn’t a particularly sexy knife, but it is practical, robust, and well made. You also can’t argue with the price. ESEE always manages to infuse a good deal of character with their knives, and I am happy to report that the trip overseas didn’t wash that character away. The tumbled steel, matching hardware, and big black bug on the blade all play a part in distinguishing this knife from the competition.
2017 Update: This is among my favorite knives in the $30 range, and it makes it to my best EDC knives list. Although I have always liked this knife, I didn’t come to this conclusion immediately. It was only after years of carry and use that I realized the depth of the Zancudo – how thoughtfully designed it was. It’s beautifully built for the money. I prefer it over the Rat II, and can think of little else that matches it at this price point. If you are on the fence about the Zancudo my recommendation is to buy it without hesitation.
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I recommend purchasing the ESEE Zancudo at Amazon or BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.
K Nolan says
Another great review Dan…always enjoy your review site and participation in the Gear Geeks podcast. I’m not usually interested in value/budget folders but having used a Rat 2 as my “yard work” knife for the last 18 mos, I’ve been so impressed with it that I may have to buy a Zancudo as well. It’s my understanding that Blue Ridge in Taiwan manufactures both the Rat series for Ontario and the Zancudo for ESEE.
Thank you, K. Yes, these value folders have their place and the quality on some of them, like the Rat II and Zancudo, are quite good. I have heard that the Zancudo and Rat II were manufactured in the same facility as well (not surprising given the relationship between Ontario and ESEE), and when you examine the knives closely there are definite similarities in the build qualities and materials that would suggest they are made in the same place.
Dan, I read this review last night, and it was the first knife review I’d read in a while. I tend to get really focused on an interest for a while and then move on to something new, and a few years back I was really into EDC knives and read this website religiously. Since then I haven’t been paying too much attention to knives as I got more into firearms and other stuff, but I got the hankering for a new EDC knife recently so I popped over here. This morning I bought a Zancudo, and since then I’ve been reading other reviews on it. Some of them are less positive, with many pointing out that it’s only licensing the ESEE name and so on, but I bought it based on your review so I’m perfectly confident. You’ve never led me astray and you never hesitate to call a spade a spade. This will be my first framelock, I’m excited. Thanks for all the work you do around here man, I made sure to get it through your link.
Thanks for taking the time out to leave a comment, and thanks for coming back to check out the site.
For $30, the Zancudo is a very nice knife. True, it’s not made in the USA like ESEE’s other products (and I tried to make that clear in my write up), but I can’t argue with the end result. It’s not a perfect knife, no knife for $30 is (and I’ll argue that I can find something to dislike with any knife, regardless of the price), but I think you will find that the Zancudo is thoughtfully designed with the end user in mind, and well made.
Do let me know what you think of it after it arrives and you have a chance to form an opinion. Thanks again for your support of the site.
Hey Dan, since you asked me to let you know what I thought of the knife I decided to give it a few weeks of riding in my pocket and get back to you.
I love this knife. The second it fell out of the plastic and into my hand it just felt right. The plastic isn’t G-10 but it feels better to the touch than some G-10 scales I’ve handled. The framelock is great and makes for the most satisfying deployment noise of any knife I’ve ever handled. And while some would say that the noise it makes isn’t a big deal, I don’t think any knife guy doesn’t care about those sort of details.
Fit and finish on this cannot be touched by anything in the same price range that I know of except maybe the RAT 1, and to be honest my RAT’s blade isn’t centered as well as my Zancudo’s. It came out of the box sharp, sharper even than the Cold Steel knives I’ve owned. Again the comparison to the RAT comes to mind, as it was a lightsaber out of the box as well.
Basically, while I haven’t gotten my hands on a RAT II yet, I can’t see how it could be any better than a Zancudo- unless of course you’re a lefty. For a righty, I think the Zancudo compares favorably with the RAT 1 in every aspect of build quality and utility, comes in just as many cool colors, and has a stronger lock. I don’t own a Sebenza or anything, but I have had a few knives north of 100 bucks that weren’t better than the Zancudo. The first day I carried it I tried to cut a plastic band holding a pallet of stuff together that turned out to be a metal band, and destroyed the edge. If I’d done that with a Spyderco Sage, I would still be crying. But the beauty of AUS-8 is you can bring a rolled edge back to factory sharpness in about 5 minutes, making it one of the best choices for a working knife in my opinion. And honestly, when I heard the screech of metal on metal my first thought wasn’t “oh no, my new knife,” it was “SWEET I GET TO BUY ANOTHER ONE.” Which I did, despite being able to fix the edge, because this really might be my special favorite knife and it’s cheaper than what I use to sharpen it.
The RAT I will probably go back to its place as my serious work knife, just because a bigger blade offers no downsides where I work and has a few advantages (though my Voyager XL, I’ve learned, is big enough to cause a commotion anywhere). But while for many the RAT II seems to be an answer to a prayer for a smaller RAT, I’m over here praying for a bigger Zancudo.
This is a hall of famer for me, and will be my go to recommendation for knife newbies. I don’t know why I love it quite so much, but I think we all have one or several knives in our collection that just resonate with us and this is it for me. Plus, you didn’t mention this specifically in your review so I really hope I get to point it out to you: the mosquito on the blade is also a drawing of the knife itself half open.
Anyway. Point is, I like it.
K Nolan says
Actually Kyle, your prayer for a larger Zancudo is coming soon…the ESEE Avispa Folder (Avispa: Spanish word for Wasp) 4″ Frame Lock is due in at knifeworks in April or May.
Interesting! I’ll be buying one.
Wow, nice, Kyle. Glad you like yours too!
Daniel K Cluley says
Great review from somebody that actually uses knives! thanks man!
Bought one of these a couple of months ago on your recommendation. I couldn’t be happier with it. Very comfortable to wear and use and well made. I would certainly recommend this to anyone looking for an edc.
Thank you, Foster. Glad to hear my recommendation was on point! I like this one so much I actually just recorded a video on it (which will be up soon). Thanks and enjoy your Zancudo!
Greg F says
Dan, couldn’t agree more. I have a couple of these and a couple of it’s big brother blades. These are excellent values. I paid $26.99 for my most recent 3″ Zancudo. For that I get a nice drop point stonewashed blade. I think stonewashed blades are the way to go. No finish to rub off and no polishing. This knife just flicks out with minimal thumb thrust and locks up solid and when closed is dead centered.
I have more than several Rat 1’s and 2 Rat 2’s. If given a choice I’d choose the Zancudo’s over the Rat knives. Thinner, nice solid frame lock, they seem a tad more robust to me. Take a very nice edge easily due to AUS-8 which is one of my favorite steels. They also have a better grip over the Rat’s somewhat slicker scales. Just winner blades.
The fact that they’re made in a Democracy (Taiwan) is not to be omitted either. I’ve gone out of my way lately to avoid Chinese made knives. To often I see people equate Taiwan with “Chinese made” when it’s simply not true.
BTW, you’re my favorite reviewer by far. If you like a $25 knife you say so whereas some tend to be a bit snobbish about that.
Thanks for stopping by. I am glad to hear you have been enjoying your Zancudos. I know I still like mine, and have been meaning to check out the Avispa. I see your point in terms of the Rat 1, and I agree with you. I like the thinner profile of the Zancudo as well.
I know that many guys who collect knives see it as a progression, eg, moving “up” to more and more expensive knives. I have found that I am checking out pricier blades as well, but I still get excited about a quality tool at any price point, and many of the knives that actually stay in my collection are under $100 and get regular use.
Thanks again for the comment and kind words, Greg. Much appreciated!
Ron D says
I’ve been using a Zancudo for the better part of a year & it has now become my EDC. It is light enough & compact enough to comfortably carry all day. It is unobtrusive & it’s pocket clip is not only streamlined, but strong. I am a big fan of AUS 8 steel for a knife at this price point. I personally think that once again ESEE has a winner. Your review above was spot on in my opinion, & I am looking forward to seeing your future reviews on otherESEE knives. Thanks and keep up the good work. By the way, I’m in law enforcement & take my knives very seriously.
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with the Zancudo. It remains one of my all time favorite blades at this price point for the very reasons you described. Thanks for reading and I am planning on checking out some of ESEE’s new Camp Lore series at some point.
Mike H says
I just got back from picking one of these up at my local knife & tool. A few weeks ago I was there picking out a newbie knife for a friend’s fatherless son. He had never whittled before nor even operated a locking knife so I had to show him how to process a marshmallow stick. At any rate, the Zancudo’s blade shape and finish caught my eye. I asked to hold it. Opening it and feeling it in my hand, I asked the sales guy why I don’t already have one. Well, the answer was I have a lot of knives already. I haven’t had a chance to give this kid the knife I got for him and since the feel and design of the thing has haunted me ever since, I decided I’d better get another before I opted to keep the 1st. I’m now holding my new EDC beater knife, and the kid still gets his 1st knife and fenix flashlight. Totally satisfied… but now I predict I have some ‘splaining to do w/ the missus.
Congrats on the Zancudo. It is a sweet little knife and I appreciate the story. Good luck explaining this one to the Ms.!
I just purchased a Zancudo. It is a great knife for a small amount of money. I also purchased the Avispa which is also a good knife. It is very similar to the RAT 1. Perhaps the Avispa is a bit more robust than the rat. I have found a least one thing I don’t care for but will wait until you review the Avispa to see if we both agree. Both the Zancudo and Avispa have found places in my under $50 knife collection.
Thanks for the comment – I still need to order an Avispa. I still really enjoy the Zancudo, so I need to take a closer look at the Avispa. Glad to hear it has earned a spot in your collection.
I love this knife. I used as my go to knife to cut my insulation and do everything to rebuild my house. Then I lost it for half a year after I was done. But I found it yesterday behind my washing machine! Man I love it. I live in belgium so it doesn’t cost 30 “bucks” here. However I adore esee knives, an though I know it really isn’t a true american made esee knife, i adore aswell. The AUS8 sharps so well and it’s cheap so you can really…really use it. Perfectly balanced, perfact blade shape. Just a great little blade!
Thanks for your thoughts on the Zancudo. I love this knife as well – probably my favorite in the $30 range. I hope yours didn’t cost you an arm and a leg in Belgium, and it’s always a nice surprise to find a knife that you have misplaced. I have been looking for my Dragonfly 2 for a few months now… maybe I need to check behind the washing machine!
Why has ESEE dropped their Kydex sheaths on the 4 and others?
Honestly I have no idea (and this is the first I am hearing about this). If I get a chance I’ll dig into it further, and maybe someone else will chime in with some thoughts.
I’m enjoying my new Zancudo very much after a short break-in period. I understand that it’s now available with D2 and G 10 upgrades….What do you think?
I heard about the D2 version. Did not realize it included G10 – that sounds great! I will have to pick one up. My guess is that these will be nice upgrades.
Daniel K Cluley says
Another good review. I love these budget beaters.
I have a SOG Terminus XR that has become my main go-to EDC after a couple of mods, a Rat 2, and a lot of other knives that are similar.
Was looking at the Zancudo because I really like the blade shape as opposed to the Rat 2, which is otherwise a great knife. I just like that utility blade shape and I really like a flat transition from the handle to the blade in most of my knives and that is one of the main things that gets me on the Rat.
Have heard that the lock on the Zancudo isn’t the best and can lead to blade play, but have not experienced that yet. I hope they fixed that or maybe I just haven’t used it enough yet.
Steve Hackett says
Thank you for your wonderful website. I have been a longtime reader and have followed your advice to buy many terrific knives.
Recently I bought the Zancudo, and discovered it to be a shockingly excellent knife. Just one question: How do you release the blade lock to fold that puppy up?
Dan Jackson says
Steve, Congrats! Probably easiest to illustrate this in a video. Here is a link to a video about frame lock and liner lock knives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyejLlcm2Dg
It shows you how to disengage the lock. Just push outwards to unlock it.
Steve Hackett says
I’m sorry but those were all Spydercos. My Zancudo is not the same. The only way I can close it it to slip a dinner knife against the frame lock and press very hard. Not exactly a practical way to close a knife. It’s easier to just not open the thing. What a sad waste of a knife. Someone on ESEE’s design staff must have been smoking something. It’s a shame, because its an otherwise fine knife.
Dan Jackson says
Steve, The brand shouldn’t have anything to do with it – a framelock is a framelock. Sounds like your knife is messed up. It shouldn’t require a dinner knife to pry it closed. Mine closes easily. I’d recommend contacting ESEE for a replacement.
Steve Hackett says
I dunno – maybe I am just old and feeble. 😉 I sometimes have trouble pushing my lock-back Buck 110 hard enough to release it. Despite my difficulties, I still think the Zancudo is an excellent knife.
I’d like to say how much I appreciate your website, and the trustworthy reviews – I’ve liked every knife I’ve bought on your advice, since my Paramilitary 2.
Phil Brookes says
Your reviews are great reading! I am a collector of older slip joints, but I bought the zancudo after seeing one in a magazine. After finding your review, I felt I had to comment. It is everything you say and more. I have used it every day for the past 3 years on construction sites to open cement bags, cut cable ties and everything in between. It has always performed well and gets sharpened every couple of weeks. One feature that I found particularly useful was the open frame design that lets you wash out debris easily. I do recommend giving the pivot an occasional oil as mine was constantly used in a dusty environment . I have just purchased another one, this time with the D2 blade.
I have larger and heavier knives, but I keep coming back to the zancudo. I’ll certainly read more of your reviews before I buy my next knife because this one was spot on.