How SOG Reinvented Itself, One Tool at a Time

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With more and more EDC brands popping up as of late, it’s tempting to only focus on the new kids on the block. Or if you’re loyal to the old school brands, it’s easy to keep supporting your favorites and know what to expect. But what about brands who’ve been around for decades, only to slowly get excluded from the conversation?

If there’s one brand that’s been on a redemption arc and should definitely be on your radar lately, it’s SOG. Back when we first started covering EDC in 2009, SOG had a reputation for being popular with the tactical EDC crowd, thanks to their all-black designs decked out with aggressive styling, skulls and all. That isn’t the reputation SOG had initially, and it’s one that the brand has been working hard to move away from. 

In a triumphant return to form, SOG’s latest and upcoming products have demonstrated innovation, attention to customer needs, and improved quality across the board. I’ve personally seen the transformation take place year by year with each new knife or tool I handle from the brand and after having the opportunity to speak to the team at different trade shows. In this retrospective I’ll highlight how SOG reinvented itself by returning to its roots, one tool at a time.

Our story begins in Vietnam, where members of a highly classified US special ops unit—known as MACV-SOG—carried a unique combat knife into the jungle on covert missions. Years later, in 1986, that knife inspired a young designer named Spencer Frazer to found SOG Specialty Knives. His mission: to reproduce the original SOG Bowie knife and pay tribute to the special ops unit that created it. The knives were high quality and purpose-driven for the most demanding clientele. As time went on and the company underwent changes in management, the premium design and innovation that put SOG on the map took a back seat in pursuit of rapid growth. As a result, they pivoted their product offering to cater to a more mainstream crowd.

During this time SOG did put out a few beloved knives and easy recommendations for EDCers, like the Flash and Twitch models. But along with those hits were several products that took risks that didn’t quite succeed and certain design motifs that were a far cry from the sleek SOG offerings we see today. It was common to see their knives from the 2010s with heavy-handed “SOG” branding all over the knife (from the blade to handle to pocket clip) or the Beret-wearing MACV-SOG skull emblem making an appearance.

SOG Topo Meridian

It became clear that SOG’s initial mission and later designs didn’t align — there were some instances of innovation, but for niche or questionable use cases. There were plenty of designs, but each one would position the brand further and further from the premium niche they carved for themselves from the outset.

Foreshadowing Change

After year-after-year declines, SOG brought in new leadership to right ship. In 2017 we saw some foreshadowing of SOG’s new direction. I first saw SOG’s willingness to change with the Baton series of multi-tools. While it might not resemble where SOG is today, it was a radically different form factor for multi-tools that came as real innovation at the time, and a markedly different design direction for the mostly tactical status quo for the brand. 

This was echoed in the Terminus, a decidedly less tactical knife option from the brand whose lineup was saturated with blacked out, aggressive tactical knives. The ultra-compact Sync II, which could be worn as a belt buckle, was another example of a return to innovation and thinking outside the box. These products were the first early steps in the right direction for the brand—towards their roots—and they haven’t stopped since.

Wave 1: Making Waves from Ripples

By 2019, the new SOG was in full force. The transformation wasn’t just shown in the products, but in the brand image as well. The first wave of SOG products were recategorized for the end user, with distinct segmentation between outdoors, professional, and civilian EDC use. 

The Terminus XR was a personal standout for me and an excellent example of everything SOG had been going for: new lock technology, premium materials, and sleek design language with both function and form for demanding EDCers. I awarded it Best Knife of SHOT Show 2019 in my coverage of the event; it made that much of an impression. 

Other standouts that debuted that year include the Aegis AT, an impressive assisted folder positioned for the outdoor segment with its high-contrast color combinations and grippy handles, and the Ultra XR, a sleek update to their credit card-sized knife for the urban everyday carry crowd who don’t compromise performance and style. 

Rounding out the three distinct product categories is the Professional segment, which SOG knows best—offering top-notch materials and features for the most demanding tactical applications to satisfy the needs of the pros.

Wave 2: Widening the Scope

At SHOT Show 2020, SOG had officially rebranded and wanted the world to know. They debuted the LTE series, featuring lightweight versions of their successful prior models. The Terminus XR LTE was a strong showing from the brand: its carbon fiber handles improved upon the original Terminus XR by shaving weight and adding some style and elegance. It really proved SOG was able to move away from some of their clunky designs that were more tactical than practical, while still moving forward. 

SOG brought this new energy and design ethos beyond their knives, too. They brought on a new industrial softgoods designer to revamp their bag offerings and the result exceeded expectations. The Surrept series combined tactical features and modularities that EDCers and professionals alike looked for, imbued with materials and performance from technical outdoors packs. The new line of bags had something for almost any use case thanks to the many different capacities and carry styles, from pouch organizers to sling bags to three-day packs. 

In this second wave last year, SOG didn’t stop there. In a surprising but totally fitting collaboration, SOG partnered with PopSockets to spread the EDC philosophy of preparedness to a more casual demographic. The PopGrip multi-tool was a clever way to bring the utility-driven mindset to basically anyone with a smart phone. This is just one example of SOG’s user-first design process, where they identify a need and design a product to fulfill it.

Wave 3: Dialing In

This year, SOG’s sights were set on better serving the Professional market. Knives like the Pentagon OTF and SOG-TAC AU automatic were designed with tactical and personal defense applications in mind, offering lightning-quick deployment only automatics and out-the-front knives could deliver. 

Even in this more niche space, SOG showed their dedication to innovation with the Pentagon OTF. Its Dynamic Locking System provides secure lockup and eliminates rattle, resulting in a reliable switchblade that inspires confidence in use. SOG’s third wave doesn’t exclude civilian EDCers entirely, though, with Compact and CA-legal versions of their SOG-TAC AU automatic knife on the way.

What’s Next for SOG

After a few rocky years, we see SOG back in top form. It begs the question, where do they go from here? I reached out to SOG’s VP of brand, Jonathan Wegner, for some insight. According to Wegner, “there is still a lot of opportunity in the EDC space. As most readers of Everyday Carry will attest, when we walk out the door each day we consciously—or even unconsciously—make a deliberate decision on how we prepare for the day. We’re already making choices on how prepared we’re going to be with what we carry in our pockets and pack—wallet, keys, we add a cell phone as a modern part of our tool kit. But where go above and beyond is that we carry a knife, a tool, a certain pack set-up, a pistol, a light, a medkit, or a combination of these things to tackle whatever the day might throw at us. We carry not because it’s pocket bling, but because we take responsibility for our personal preparedness.”

“I don’t want to overly romanticize it, but I think a lot of us feel it is our personal duty to be self-reliant, part of this is that most EDC folk are avid problem solvers. Having said that, as EDCers we want things that suit our needs, having these items be an extension of our personal style is important, not just in aesthetics, but also use modes. So, there’s many layers to EDC, and lot so much opportunity for innovation and idea development, I think this is an area that you will see SOG push some more in the near future.”

It’s clear to me that Wegner deeply understands the needs of the EDC community at a personal level, so I’m especially excited to see their next wave focus on the EDC space. As the brand is set to reveal their upcoming 2022 line-up later this month, we’ll be keeping them on our radar. In the meantime, you can check out their current offerings at their website linked below.

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