This review pits the Benchmade Griptilian versus the Gerber Gator Folding Knife. We will be comparing these two knives on a range of different criteria and assigning a mark out of ten for each category.
To familiarize yourself with these two knives, I’d suggest that you take a quick look at both the Benchmade 551 Griptilian and the Gerber Gator on Amazon prior to reading the full review.
The Benchmade model #551 Griptilian is available in numerous different configurations featuring an overall length of 8.07″, a closed length of 4.62″, and a weight of 3.82 oz. Also, it is available with your choice of a serrated or non-serrated, 3.45″, modified drop point blade with a saber grind made from your choice of 154CM stainless steel hardened to 58-60 Rockwell, N690 stainless steel hardened to 58-60 Rockwell, or D2 semi-stainless tool steel hardened to 60-62 Rockwell (available only from Cabela’s), with either a satin finish or a black, BK-1, corrosion preventative coating and an ambidextrous, dual, thumb-stud opener.
The 551 Griptilian features Benchmade’s patented Axis Locking Mechanism, 420J stainless steel liners, and your choice of black, orange, sand, or olive drab Noryl GTX handle scales with a reversible steel pocket clip. Lastly, the Benchmade Griptilian series retails in the $115.00 ~ $135.00 range.
The Gerber Gator consists of five different models (seven if you count the Gator II) which feature an overall length of 8.5″, a closed length of 4.96″, and a weight of 5.4 oz. In addition, they are available with a 3.76″ clip point, drop point, or gut hook, blade shape with a saber grind made from either 154CM stainless steel (Rockwell Hardness unknown) or 420HC stainless steel (Rockwell Hardness unknown) and your choice of a serrated or non-serrated edge. Furthermore, the Gerber Gator features a standard Lock Back locking mechanism and a Glass Filled Nylon handle with an overmolded Kraton rubber coating and Gerber’s “Gator Grip” texture and it includes a heavy duty, nylon, sheath. Last, the Gerber Gator series retails for $44.00 to $56.00.
Personally, I happen to prefer the look of the Gerber Gator over that of the Benchmade Griptilian because my first introduction to the world of knives was as an avid hunter and I am afraid that bias has never left me.
Consequently, I happen to have a distinct preference for the classic clip point blade shape displayed on the Gator over the modified drop point blade displayed on the Griptilian mostly because it has more belly to the sweep.
Also, I happen to prefer the shape of the handle on the Gator over that of the Griptilian because of the highly ergonomic grip shape and the fact the highly curved pommel combined with the subhilt provide the user with a very comfortable and positive grip.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 4/10 vs. Gerber Gator 7/10
Although Benchmade refers to the blade of their Griptilian as a “modified clip point” and, although I suppose that a case could be made for classifying it as a California Clip Point, it appears to me to be more appropriately classified as a drop point. Whereas, the blade shape on the Gerber Gator is definitely a classic clip point design.
However, although I do have a strong preference for classic clip point blades due to my extensive background as an avid hunter and professional guide, I have to admit that the modified clip point used on the Benchmade Griptilian would be more useful as an everyday carry knife because it has a lower point and less belly to the sweep which results in and a longer straight edge.
Consequently, it would be better suited to the many everyday tasks such as opening envelopes, removing tags from clothing, opening merchandise packages, etc. than the classic clip point featured on the Gerber Gator. Plus, I have also noted that both blades feature a saber grind which is my least favorite type of blade grind because it produces the widest bevel and thus, the least sharp edge.
On the other hand though, a saber ground bevel produces a significantly stronger edge than either a flat grind or a hollow grind and thus, it is probably better suited to every day carry than any of the other types of blade grinds.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 7/10 vs. Gerber Gator 6/10
For a thorough introduction to blade steel you should read our article “Blade Steel Composition; what makes one blade steel superior to another?“.
154CM is an American made, high-carbon, high-alloy, space-age, stainless steel first used for knives by R. W. (Bob) Loveless starting in 1972 and it quickly surpassed 440C as the top American knife blade steel. At that time, 154CM (which contains 1.05% Carbon, 14.0% Chromium, 0.5% Manganese, and 4.0% Molybdenum) was a high quality stainless steel developed for use in making turbine blades for jet engines and thus, it was vacuum melted to eliminate air bubbles which could cause cavities in the finished stock. But, after a few years, the manufacturer ceased to vacuum melt the steel and thus, the quality drastically declined. Consequently, most bladesmiths followed Loveless’ example and switched to ATS-34 which is the Japanese equivalent of 154CM. However, the quality of 154CM has since been restored and it is now in common use in high-end production knives as well as among custom knifesmiths.
N690 on the other hand, is an Austrian stainless steel than contains 1.07 % Carbon, 17% Chromium, 0.1% Vanadium, and 1.5% Cobalt and thus, it is extremely corrosion resistant and has a highly refined gain structure which allows it to be honed to a very keen edge.
In addition, D2 is an outstanding American tool steel first used by custom knife smith Jimmy Lile that contains 1.5% Carbon, 1% Molybdenum, 12% Chromium and 1% Vanadium and which is often used for steel cutting dies because it can be hardened far beyond the 60-61 Rockwell commonly favored for knife blades. Also, this air hardening tool steel will accept an extremely keen edge and will hold it even under extreme use. However, the biggest convert to this new steel has been custom knifesmith Bob Dozier whose advances in heat treating this steel have recently made it quite popular.
Lastly, 420 HC is an American made, medium carbon, stainless steel that contains 0.40% – 0.50% Carbon, 12.0% – 14.0% Chromium, 0.60% Molybdenum, 0.18% Vanadium, and 0.8% Manganese and thus, it is reasonably hard, reasonably corrosion resistant, and reasonably tough with a highly refined gain structure which allows it be honed to a very keen edge. But, due to its typical Rockwell Hardness of 56-58, it will not hold an edge as well as the other blade steels mentioned above.
154CM – 7/10 vs. N690 7 /10 vs. D2 7/10 vs. 420HC 5/10
NORYL GTX blends polyamide (PA) and modified polyphenylene ether polymer (PPE) technology to create a material that is dimensionally stable with the low water absorption and heat resistance of a PPE polymer and the chemical resistance of a PA polymer. Thus, the result is a highly chemical resistant material with the stiffness and high impact resistance necessary for making proper folding knife handles. Glass Filled Nylon (aka Glass Reinforced Nylon) on the other hand, consists of a woven glass-fiber fabric that has been impregnated with a liquid nylon resin that is then allowed to cure.
Consequently, because the Noryl GTX resin used on the Benchmade Griptilian is not reinforced, it is the weaker of the two materials. Furthermore, the overmolded Kraton rubber coating on the Gerber Gator has a slightly sticky feel and thus, it provides the user with a more positive gripping surface than the checkering found on the Benchmade Griptilian. Thus, in my opinion, the handle materials used on the Gerber Gator are superior to the Noryl GTX used on the Benchmade Griptilian.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 6/10 vs. Gerber Gator 8/10
On the surface, locking mechanisms can seem simple enough but, the mechanics of motion that happen in the process of opening the knife can make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. For instance, is the knife easy to actuate, can the knife be opened with one hand, is it ambidextrous, and will it be reliable when you need it most?
These are all essential considerations when it comes to knife mechanics. Thus, in this category, the Benchmade Griptilian wins hands down over the Gerber Gator due to Benchmade’s patented, AXIS, locking mechanism and the dual, thumb-stud, opener. A 100-percent ambidextrous design, the AXIS mechanism functions by incorporating a small, hardened, steel, bar which rides forward and back in a slot machined into both steel liners.
Consequently, the bar spans the gap between the liners and is positioned directly over the rear of the blade where it engages a ramped portion of the tang when it is opened and two, omega style, springs (one on each liner), provide the locking bar with the inertia needed to move it forward and engage the blade’s tang. As a result, the tang is wedged solidly between a sizable stop pin and the AXIS bar itself. The venerable Lock Back locking mechanisms on the other hand is a basic yet functional design that is relatively simple and inexpensive to manufacture because it positions a stop bar parallel to, and in direct line with, the blade at the rear of the tang where it engages a notch milled into the tang to lock the blade open.
Therefore, as the blade is rotated open, a spring-tensioned, center-pivoted, stop-bar tracks around the circular portion of the tang until it drops into the notch milled into tang. Consequently, in my opinion, the Axis locking mechanism is far superior to the Lock Back locking mechanism because it is both stronger than a Lock Back mechanism and it is self-adjusting. Plus, the Axis locking mechanism allows the user to both open and close the knife with one hand whereas the Lock Back mechanism requires two hands.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 9/10 vs. Gerber Gator 6/10
When it comes to weighing the value of these two knives, normally I would state without hesitation that Benchmade knives are better quality knives than Gerber knives are and normally, my supposition would be born out by the difference in cost of $115.00 for the cheapest model Benchmade Griptilian versus $44.00 for the cheapest model Gerber Gator.
However, in this particular case, I can’t honestly say that’s true because, while the 154CM, N690, and D2 used on the Benchmade Griptilian are all far superior to the 420HC used on the Gerber Gator, the Gator is also available with a blade made from 154CM. Consequently, a Gerber Gator with a blade made from 154CM at $56.00 is a far better value than a Benchmade Griptilian at $135.00!
* Due to fluctuations in the market, and special discounts – you should check the prices of both knives on Amazon to see the most up to date price. View the Benchmade 551 Griptillian and the Gerber Gator on Amazon to check prices.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 8/10 vs. Gerber Gator 5-8/10
Consequently, as much as I admire Benchmade knives and, as much as I like classic clip point blades, out of all of the different models of these two knives offered by their respective manufacturers, my personal preference is for the Gerber Gator with the drop point blade made from 154CM because I feel like this is the best of the four different blade steels offered and I happen to like the shape of the handle on the Gerber Gator better than that displayed on the Benchmade Griptilian.
In addition, as an avid hunter and professional guide, I am both familiar with and comfortable with a drop point blade. However, the size and shape of the Gator precludes carrying it comfortably in a pants pocket and thus, it is relegated to belt carry in its included nylon sheath. Whereas, the Benchmade Griptilian on the other hand, would comfortably fit in a pants pocket and it includes a pocket clip and thus, I might be inclined to choose it for every day carry instead of the Gator for that single reason.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian – 6/10 vs. Gerber Gator 7/10
A closely run race between two high quality knives; both of which offer significant value for your money. The Gerber Gator just tops the Benchmade Griptilian on the Blade HQ ranking chart.