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Last Updated: August 30, 2019
Admittedly, the Mantra 1 had a hill of biases to climb from the start with me. It is a titanium frame lock flipper, a style of knife that I’ve never warmed up to. I find the flipper to be an inferior deployment method for knives, and while I’ve had positive experiences recently with the frame lock, unless it is done exceptionally well it’s temperamental nature make it a sub-optimal lock for daily use.
Buy the Spyderco Mantra 1 at BladeHQ
There was also the Mantra’s heritage to consider: it is more or less a retooled Delica 4. I like the Delica as it exists in knife community mythology: an affordable, ideal EDC blade, a true classic that anyone can afford. I enjoy the reality of the Delica much less: strange ergonomics, underwhelming VG-10 steel, and a just-slightly-too-high price point have made it hard for me to connect with this venerable blade.
So I picked up the Mantra 1 to see if it could prove itself worthy, both as a titanium framelock flipper, and as a reimagining of the Delica chassis.
And there are many ways in which the Mantra is a fine tool. But it has completely bounced off me. The Mantra is a safe design. Too safe. Not every knife needs to be a history-making masterpiece, but nothing about the Mantra’s design excites me. It is purely perfunctory, a competent knife, but a complacent design. Worse, there are things about it that drove me crazy from day one. The longer I carried the Mantra, the more I noticed major problems with its form, its function, and its purpose. Carrying it was never a chore, but it never distinguished itself in use, and now that it’s out of my pocket I can’t imagine why I’d ever carry it again.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Mantra has a handle length of 4”, a blade length of 3 1/8”, and an overall length of 7 ¼” and is made in Taiwan. It weighs 3 oz. As a modified Delica 4, it is a little bigger, and a little heavier.
The leaf shape blade is a workhorse. The additional cutting edge length and blade width over a Delica makes a difference when it comes to slicing. The Mantra’s blade is precise and efficient without being overlarge or cumbersome. The ergonomics mess with the cutting control somewhat, but the blade shape itself is pure gold.
The steel is my first big issue with the Mantra. I will never disparage CPM-M4’s sheer cutting ability. This is a knife that takes a sharp edge, holds it forever, and is tough, tough, tough. I liked its performance on my Air and I like it here on the Mantra – but when I’m not cutting with M4, I hate it.
M4 is not a stainless steel. It discolors, tarnishes, and stains with little provocation, and quite quickly. The minute I got my Mantra I wiped it down with oil, and even so every time I touched the blade my fingers left a mark. I left the Mantra out overnight on my desk in an air-conditioned apartment, and there was discoloration all over the next morning. If the Mantra was designed to be a true everyday user, M4 was a bad choice. I don’t want to have to baby and fret over my EDC knife; it should work well and virtually maintain itself.
I feel like Spyderco knows that M4 has a corrosion problem, because the Mantra’s flipper tab, ostensibly the place that will be receiving the most contact from your finger, is differently finished, almost polished, as if to counteract that additional contact – and it still discolors. If Spyderco wanted to go with M4 here, they should have coated or clad it. The sprint run HAP40 Delicas have a laminated blade to fight corrosion, and HAP40 actually has more chromium than M4, so I don’t know why they didn’t work to combat M4’s weaknesses on this more expensive knife.
M4 is a great steel for specialized applications, but its quirks preclude it from being an all-purpose folding knife steel. If it was the only steel in the world with great edge retention and toughness, that would be one thing, but we are literally spoiled for choice when it comes to super steels available on $150-200 knives. S35VN is not a ridiculous thing to ask for at $160, and it would have been perfect here. My suspicion is that we are seeing M4 on the Mantra for the same reason that we are still seeing a lot of Spyderco knives with S30V: they have a lot of the stuff lying around and need to get rid of it. But whether it was a matter of convenience or Spyderco really believes in this stuff, it just doesn’t work here.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry
I may not love the Delica 4, but I readily acknowledge that the design has been gone over so much that nothing feels like an accident. Even the handle, which I find too prescriptive, is more refined and considered than most knives’. If there was one thing the Mantra seemed to carry over unmodified from the Delica 4, it was its handle design.
But here’s where the flipper starts to make life difficult. The Delica 4 handle may not be my favorite, but it does work. However, it needs every last centimeter of its handle length to do so. The Mantra retains the Delica 4 handle’s overall length, but doesn’t change the size to accommodate the flipper tab, which of course works as a forward guard, perpendicular to the handle, when the knife is open. What this means is that you actually lose usable handle length over the Delica.
Thus, in hand, I found the Mantra a Delica-but-less, and thus uncomfortable. The scalloping makes your pointer finger run right up against the flipper tab. You also have to stretch your thumb a bit to actually make use of the jimped thumb ramp. Holding the knife like you’re supposed to, your hand is canted at a weird angle, and strangely distant from the start of the cutting edge. You lose a lot of control.
The titanium handle scales themselves are quite nice, well-machined and chamfered, with an attractive large grain stone wash. They’re mildly textured, but positive enough grip-wise, aided by the jimping on the thumb ramp and the lockbar insert. All details that Spyderco and its Taichung facility generally get right, but the flawed fundamentals make the execution more or less moot.
The Mantra works well in the pocket. The deep carry wire clip keeps it buried and out of the way until you need it, and the scales won’t shred your pants. I have been a longtime disparager of the Spyderco wire clip, finding it a little fragile. If there’s a positive takeaway from my time with the Mantra, it’s that I was wrong about this clip. It survived weeks of carry with no problem, and actually looks handsome in its way, so I’m a semi-convert on the wire clip.
Deployment and Lockup
Judging by any standard, the Mantra’s flipper is mediocre. Despite utilizing a ball bearing pivot, it’s laggardly. It isn’t thoughtless: you have to be deliberate with your deployment motion. It misfires every once and a while. It even fails at the more frivolous things: it isn’t particularly smooth, particularly effortless, or particularly satisfying to fidget with. Ironically, the Spyder Hole works really well here, and this is a satisfying knife to flick open in the ‘traditional’ way: fast and sure.
The frame lock is good. No play, and disengagement is easy. A very scrawny-looking lock bar, but it manages to inspire confidence with its fuss-free performance.
Spyderco Mantra Review – Final Thoughts
I don’t like the Mantra. The steel choice isn’t right, the ergonomics are actually bad, and the main selling point, the flipper, is undercooked. It’s hard to make an unusable knife at the $160 price point, and Mantra does work, but its profound lack of spark, along with its flawed fundamental execution, scuttles what could be good here.
Spyderco is famous for thinking their knives through, but the Mantra feels like it’s one or two design revisions away from where it should be. There are better blades at pretty much every price point.
If you are thinking of buying a Spyderco Mantra, please consider purchasing it at Amazon or BladeHQ. Thanks for reading.
It would seem that reviewing a knife with so many biases out of the gate would be a mistake. Reading the review, it seems like it was.
To be fair, Ben disclosed his biases and was then able to examine the knife on the merits. It’s a critical review but I don’t think his concerns are unfounded.
Ben Schwartz says
Part of what appealed to me about the Mantra was its embodiment of so many things I’m not normally a fan of. Wouldn’t say I was stepping out of my comfort zone with it so much as using it to reevaluate some prejudices. Sometimes pushing against your biases can lead to them changing. In this case it didn’t, but I’m still glad I got to check this knife out.
I couldn’t agree more. Luckily I’m a collector so I will keep the Mantra and the Mantra 2 (which I feel the same about) tucked away. I’ll stick with my PM 2 for EDC.
Ben Schwartz says
Glad to hear you agree with me. I still don’t have a great sense of what the general knife community’s ‘verdict’ is on this knife. Maybe it wasn’t quite love at first sight and a lot of people are still formulating their opinions?
Either way, good to hear some feedback on the Mantra 2. I haven’t handled one or seen it in person, so I was wondering if the revised blade shape made much of a difference – sounds like it probably wouldn’t for me. But it is a great collector’s piece, no doubt about that. I can’t get over how nice the titanium looks.
Hello Ben, the blade shape makes no difference since the handles are, for all intent and purposes, the same. I do like the blade shape on the Mantra 2 mainly because it something different, but it eliminates the option of using the Sypder Hole for opening leaving only the flipper, which I’m not a huge fan of but I do prefer a flipper to assisted opening.
IMO, they are both beautiful knives, just not for me for carrying. But then, I own hundreds of knives I feel that way about, as I’m sure all collectors do.
Ben Schwartz says
Flippers definitely feel better than A/Os, I agree. My problem with flippers in general is that they always make a knife’s profile worse, which might not bother others like it does me. Here, however, also affects the grip, which probably will bother others as well.
Very nice (and relatively affordable!) pieces for a collection though, it’s true.
Putting aside the issue with the steel choice (I like M4!), highlighting the flipper tab as a source of many problems (not only does the knife not flip well, but the tab gets in the way of a proper grip) is spot on. This review was harsh but fair.
Ben Schwartz says
Can’t fault you for loving M4 – there’s a lot to like there. Rust, corrosion, and staining are just huge bugbears of mine, so I try to stay away from it these days, although I am still tempted by a few offerings in M4 (the Bradley folder, the forthcoming Advocate), and I’ll always consider it if it comes coated.
Man, that’s disappointing. I was thinking about picking this one up as a sort of higher-end Delica, a “Delica 5” if you will. I have no problem with M4, but looking at where the flipper tab sits, I think you make a good point about the ergonomics. I love my Delica 4, and find it to be one of the most ergonomic knives I have, but that flipper does land exactly where my index finger should be. Bummer, but I’m glad you pointed it out. Thanks for an honest review
Ben Schwartz says
I’ve definitely come around the on Delica 4 ergos myself, and the Mantra just isn’t there, unfortunately. If you get a chance to handle one before you purchase it you might find that it works for you, but otherwise steer clear.
I think a new “Delica 5” with these titanium scales, a more balanced steel like S35VN, and maybe even the ball-bearing pivot would be a pretty sweet knife.
*Very* interesting review.
The more I think about the M4 choice the more it seems like price-point thinking with a dash of marketing hoopla — the sort of thing I associate with KAI.
Spyderco knows we’ve caught on that their rendition of S30V is mediocre, but I sure wish they’d responded by giving the Mantra their excellent CTS-XHP (which I use & love on the Chaparral). It is a well balanced steel for a generalist EDC, which is how a Delica successor will be used.
What jumps out at me from Ben’s pics is that they didn’t really fix the dated ergonomic features of the Delica. That first long choil or arc has *never* been long enough to comfortably fit an average man’s index and middle fingers, which is obviously what it’s attempting to do. You always end up scrunching those fingers together or having the point of the choil transition poke your middle finger. Ironically the long initial choil works perfectly in reverse grip — it is just right sized for a ring and pinky finger. Both the Delica 4 and Endura 4, for this reason, have always felt more natural in reverse grip than they do in normal work grips. (The problem is worse on the Endura.)
This issue should have been an obvious, first-draft fix when Spyderco started refining the Delica into the Mantra. Stretch out that initial choil. Yes it may look odd, but this is Spyderco we’re talking about — their whole identity is designing knives to work well even when the result looks “funny”!
Here it appears that Spyderco not only didn’t fix the Delica’s choil proportions on the Mantra, but the cramped-index-&-middle problem has grown even worse because of the intruding flipper tab!
BTW re: wire clip —
The thing with the wire clip is it needs to be somewhat large and stiffly constructed for its excellence to shine through. It sucks on the Dragonfly, because the tiny wire clip bends out and loses retention. On the Caly 3.5s, though, it was excellent.
Some of the early Taichung knives didn’t do well with the wire clip — I sold my Sages in part because the clips weren’t all that secure.
I believe Spyderco made production changes for the better. My Chaparral’s wire clip works great, has good retention, and does not seem fragile. One reason why I think the Chap is worth the extra dough over the ZDP Dragonfly.
Ben Schwartz says
Great points all around.
CTS-XHP is really what I would like to see on all the Taichung Spydies – if we can’t get S35VN and keep the already high prices where they are. Generalist knives need generalist steels. Getting too specialized is going to interfere with the knife’s intended purpose.
Like you, I find that first choil to be the most problematic element of the Delica. As I said above, I understand the Delica ergos better now than I used to, and I can get a good grip, but there isn’t any room for adjustment – I can hold it in a specific, somewhat cramped way that isn’t too uncomfortable, but any other way it’s a no go, and the choil plays a big role in that. Extending it or turning it into a half-and-half finger choil would make it a lot better – although it might start to resemble other, better Spydie designs at that point. Really, if Spyderco asked me to redesign the Delica right now, it would probably end up looking a whole lot like a Native 5. Maybe they’ve run up against the same problem?
It certainly does work in a reverse grip though, doesn’t it? Weird given its size and purpose, but it’s true. And that goes for the Mantra as well: because my thumb is wrapped around the butt end, my hand is higher up and doesn’t run up against the flipper tab like it would otherwise.
The Dragonfly’s clip is the one I always had problems with too. Not enough meat there to keep it sturdy, and I bent two out of shape, one right after the other. On the Mantra it is sturdy and solid. I’m encouraged by this, because there are other wire clip knives (Chaparral, Slysz Bowie) that I want to try out.
Would you have preferred the Sage 2 over the Mantra? I see on Amazon the Sage 2 is at $180. Would you pay the extra $20 for a knife that does not have as premium steel as M4 steel?
Ben Schwartz says
I think the Sage 2 is really overpriced these days, but even at $180 given the choice between it and the Mantra I would go with the Sage. Better ergos and no flipper. As far as the steel goes, I’m a stickler for corrosion resistance and although S30V is not the latest and greatest anymore, it does stave off rust and staining with aplomb. For an EDC steel, I’d take S30V over M4 every time.
Well-written review. I appreciate that you laid out your biases for us going in, and I think that some people are going to have a similar experience.
I do have to disagree with several points, however. I have this knife, and I’ve never felt the has caused any loss of control or comfortable grip. In fact, it’s more comfortable and more precise for me than my Delica. I think the handle will be one that works for a lot of people, and also doesn’t work for another lot of people.
As for the steel, I haven’t had any issues at all with rust or tarnish. I have some mild patina around the thumb hole, but just keeping it clean and paying a small modicum of attention is enough. I do agree with you that, in general and for most people in most situations, a more stainless steel would be better. I also like the ideas in the comments here about CTS-XHP (which I would rather have than S35VN but that would be ok too). However, I also think that most people that end up with this knife will be enthusiasts on some level and will be able to take care of the M4. I talked to Eric Glesser at Blade about this knife, and he said that they’re working on another version of it, and perhaps they’ll choose a different steel at that point.
Almost all of my Spyderco knives have the wire clip, and I’ve found it to be functionally perfect and aesthetically pleasing. I know some people don’t like the clip on the Dragonfly or the Techno, but I have 2 DFs and the Techno and have had no issues whatsoever. I think that will come down to personal preference and usage, and possibly individual batches of clips.
For a different viewpoint on this knife: http://www.everydaycommentary.com/2016/03/spyderco-mantra-1-review.html
Ben Schwartz says
Appreciate the alternative perspective. I think your comments on the handle encapsulate the Delica/Endura family (of which the Mantra is a member) experience as a whole: it will work for as many people as it doesn’t work for.
There is a lot of good to M4 but the tendency to tarnish just drives me up a wall. I think that, no matter how good care you take of an M4 blade, you’re going to have that patina around the thumb hole, and given that thumb holes are kind of Spyderco’s thing I’m not entirely sure why they chose to use it. I agree to a certain extent that enthusiasts will know how to take care of it, but, as an enthusiast, I still don’t want to have to fret over my EDC knives. If this wasn’t clearly made for an EDC, if it were more specialized like the Bradley Folder, I wouldn’t be so turned off by the choice of M4.
What if they used M4 on the Mantra 2, with its non-functional blade hole, and CTS-XHP/S35VN on the Mantra 1? And maybe make the 2 bigger, so that there’s some real variety between the two? That would be pretty cool.
I would definitely pay attention to any new versions of the Mantra that might come out. Whatever it ends up being, it will be a hard sell for me because of the flipper, but there is a knife design worth having in here somewhere.
I really don’t know how you guys get rust or patina on M4. I have carried my Mantra 2 almost every day for the last two months and have only seen the slightest patina. I have a slightly gray strip, about a milimetre wide and a centimetre long right on the spine, that I can only see if it tilt the knife into the light. I live on the coast where the humidity usually hovers around 80% on most days, and I’ve never seen a speck of rust on my Mantra, or any other knife that isn’t an Opinel. I don’t even oil it. How is that even happening?
For what it’s worth, if you have slightly smaller hands (as I do), and prefer a small and slim carry, the Mantra 2 may be right up your alley. It only took me about 10 minutes to tweak the pivot into a snappy and reliable one.
On this point, I’ll mention that I live in the Birmingham, AL area, and it’s pretty humid here most of the year, esp. in the summer. And like you, I’ve had almost no tarnishing or patina except a little around the hole.
Ben Schwartz says
For my part, if I was unclear: I never had my M4 rust out on me on the Mantra. It just tarnishes quickly. I’m a stickler for tarnishing and patinas anyway, but I also worry about what that tarnishing means/could lead to. To put it simply, I don’t like having to worry about it. My Mantra blade discolored quickly, even with oil, as did my Spyderco Air. M4 offers great performance in return for its quirks, but other steels offer great performance and great corrosion resistance, and that’s what bothers me. But it is definitely a personal taste sort of thing.
I always suspected that the Mantra/Delica/Endura would be better for smaller hands. I think I have medium hands, for whatever that’s worth. I didn’t tweak my pivot either, but I’m leery about tinkering with ball-bearing knives, and I didn’t want to affect the sturdy lockup.
There were a bunch of things I didn’t think I would like about the mantra, and I was hoping your review would convince me otherwise. Instead, it sounds like you’ve confirmed my concerns.
-When it was announced, the Mantra seemed like a knife Spyderco felt obligated to make. There was no in-house ti flipper, so they had to get one in their catalog. It did not seem inspired at all. It seems you feel the same way after holding it in hand.
-The Delica was already an outdated design, long before the Mantra was announced. It seems that every Spyderco design is an improvement over the old delica, including the sage series, the manix, the calys, the para 2, and the chaparral. So, to me, the mantra seemed like a step back from those. I was hoping I was wrong, but your concerns about the ergos seem to confirm that.
The M4 seemed interesting to me, but I already have some staining on my zdp-189 knives, so I’m probably the wrong person for non-stainless.
Ben Schwartz says
Agreed. Market pressure and a need for expediency are probably the reasons the Mantra isn’t all that it could be. As an easily adaptable design they’re familiar with, I understand why Spyderco chose the Delica as the platform for a ti flipper, but that doesn’t mean it was the right choice.
I am kind of bummed out that “titanium frame lock flipper” is now a ‘style’ of knife in and of itself. Lock and deployment method really should be dictated by the design of the knife, and not just incorporated afterwards to chase trends. I think this is the crux of my dissatisfaction with the Mantra.