If you asked our buyers which Spyderco models they bring in the most of, without hesitation, they will say “Paramilitary 2, Para 3, and a few others”. Spyderco makes several other extremely popular knives, like the Tenacious, SpydieChef, and Bow River, but the two biggest cash cows, by no small margin, are the PM2 and Para 3. If you looked at both pocket knives side by side, you could be forgiven for thinking they were the same model. Why are they so popular? What makes them different? Is the Paramilitary 2 or the Para 3 better? If we want answers to these questions, a little bit of history can help us out.
In 1996, Spyderco introduced the Military, the first production knife with a particle steel blade (CPM 440V, to be precise – we’ve come a long way). Its intended market was obvious, and for years it was a popular pocket knife for soldiers, outdoorsmen, and EDCers alike. Some people thought it was too big and that the liner lock was a little dated, so in 2004, Spyderco released the ParaMilitary. It looked similar to its predecessor but featured the new Compression Lock and upgraded CPM S30V blade steel.
The Paramilitary was a success, but Spyderco’s commitment to Constant Quality Improvement (CQI) led to the creation of the Paramilitary 2 in 2010. They tuned and improved the ergonomics, added a 4-position reversible pocket clip, smoothed out some sharp corners, and tweaked a few other things. The Para 2 was a smash hit, and it remains so to this day, but some folks still weren’t satisfied. Most people’s complaints boiled down to the knife being too big or too heavy.
Spyderco heard their cries, and in 2016, they announced the Para 3. It’s been called the PM3, the Paramilitary 3, and a few others, but its full name is Para 3. When most companies make a mini version of a knife, they scale down the entire knife, but Spyderco had a different idea. They kept the same width as the PM2, and made small trims here and there, making for a smaller knife overall with all the ergonomics and performance of the original.
And to satisfy those who called it too heavy, the Para 3 Lightweight came out with no steel liners, and injection-molded FRN handle scales. As an added bonus, it’s the least expensive Compression lock knife out there!
Which one is better?
I know you’re all sick of this answer, but it depends.
Firstly, the designs are remarkably similar to one another, and for most applications, they perform about the same. They use the same steel materials, the same lock, the same opener, and even the same pocket clip. For most people, the choice is all personal preference. We’ll discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of both knives below, but bear in mind this is very nitpicky.
If you’re a knife modder, the Paramilitary 2 has a much larger selection of aftermarket accessories, like those from Flytanium, Allen Putman, Glow Rhino, and others. There are some for the Para 3, but not nearly as many.
As far as ergonomics are concerned, the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 gets a slight edge, especially if you have large hands. Even when using the finger choil, wide hands just barely fit on the Para 3. The PM2 has more real estate and allows for multiple grips, perfect for our ‘thicc-fingered‘ friends.
Both blades use the same stock thickness and have full flat grinds, but differing blade lengths. Both pocket knives taper in thickness to the point, but because the Para 3 is shorter, it tapers faster. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The slightly more obtuse taper on the Para 3 gives it a thicker tip that will be harder to chip, but it comes at the expense of some slicing and piercing performance. If you want to slice an apple, the PM2 will do it better. If you’re cutting rougher materials, Para 3 has a slight edge.
“But George, you magnificent cutlery aficionado,” I hear you say, “there can’t be any real difference between them, and even if there was, it would be negligible!” Well, my intellectual associate, I took my hypothesis to my friend Science Maya, who did all the trigonometry to prove it. You can check her work below!
Up to this point, it’s been a close match, and all differences are measurable, but the knockout blow, at least in my opinion, comes from the Para 3.
The Para 3 is lighter and fits in shallower pockets, which is a plus, but something about its shrunken down design negated the need for a long guard on the finger choil.
If you pinch the Compression Lock and swing the blade shut, the PM2’s guard can bump your finger. On rare occasions, this will prevent the knife from closing all the way. This used to bother me, but after a while, I found that I didn’t need to keep a finger on the lock for all of closing and it was no longer annoying. On the other hand, the Para 3’s guard is shorter, and you’ll never notice it. As I said earlier, this comparison is nitpicky, but I’m giving a microscopic point to the Para 3 on this one.
In fact, Compression Lock flippers like the Amalgam are no trouble at all, and their guards are big.
These are both excellent knives, with a long pedigree of quality and improvement in addition to the Spyderco reputation. They slice, pierce, and otherwise bisect like the best knives out there, and either one would serve you well in your collection. If you’ve got huge hands, the PM2 is for you. If you’ve got shallow pockets, the Para 3 all day. If you are me, you like the Para 3 a little more, but still have great respect for (and still kind of want) the Paramilitary 2.