- Review Parameters
- Blade Material
- Best Stainless Steel for Knives
- Best High Carbon Steels For Knives
- Bring on those cheap knives!
- Under $20
- Sanrenmu 710
- Enlan EL-01A
- Opinel No. 8 Carbon
- Kershaw Shuffle
- Svord Peasant
- Kershaw 3/4 Ton
- Coast FX350
- Bucklite Max (Small)
- CRKT Drifter
- Byrd (Spyderco) Robin2
- Ganzo G720
- Under $30
- Byrd Finch2
- KA-BAR Dozier Folding Hunter
- Kershaw OSO Sweet
- Kershaw Chill
- Bucklite Max (Medium and Large)
- Byrd Meadowlark2
- Kershaw Swerve
- Coast FX352
- Byrd Tern Slipit
- Ontario Rat I
- Kershaw RJ Tactical
- Ontario JP Utiliac
- Byrd Cara Cara2
- Ontario Rat II
- Kershaw Brawler
- CRKT M16
- Cold Steel Voyager (Medium Tanto)
- Kershaw Thermite
- Under $40
- Blue Ridge Knives Zancudo
- Blue Ridge Knives Avispa
- Boker Plus Trance
- Kershaw Cryo
- Kershaw Cryo II
- Spyderco Tenacious
- CRKT Heiho
- CRKT Ripple
- CRKT Swindle
- Spyderco Persistence
- My best value recommendation
- Wrap Up
First, let us define “cheap”
“Cheap” gear is always a popular topic for discussion and I’m always looking for budget gear options to test and review. Now I put emphasis on cheap, because it can mean different things for different people. For common people, like myself, “cheap” means inexpensive. Other people automatically discount “cheap” items as junk, thinking anything that’s inexpensive and isn’t made in the US, can’t be worth exploring. I’m here to tell you that cheap knives are an exception.
“Cheap” and “low quality” are synonymous for a lot of items these days…but not everything. You can indeed get quality, inexpensive gear…as long as you know what to look for. I’ve said before, that you should get the best gear that you can afford. That still stands true, and if you research gear before you buy it, you can definitely spend less money on items that you can rely on. You can get cheap clothing, cheap packs, cheap shelter options…and you can definitely get cheap knives!
Kick back and relax folks, this is a huge article! I hope you enjoy it.
I would never recommend something to you that I didn’t believe in. The only way I can recommend an option is if: A. I’ve owned it or tested it myself or B. It’s been recommended or reviewed by someone that I trust. So, I’ve came up with a list of 38 cheap knives here, nearly all of which are from reputable companies that everyone has heard of. I personally own several of these knives (I’ve got a knife problem) and the options on this list that I do not own, have been recommended to me by trusted friends who have owned and tested them.
Also, a side note…I chose primarily traditional blade profiles with straight cutting edges. With that being said, many of these knives are offered in partially serrated options for close to the same price listed. I personally hate serrations on any blade that isn’t a saw blade…again, that’s my personal preference. If you like serrations on your cutting edge, you should have no problem finding that option in the same or similar model.
Let’s touch on steel a little bit. I won’t bore you too much, but I think it’s important to know what materials your knife is made out of. The vast majority of these knives are made from stainless steel, with the exception of 2 options which are made from high carbon steel. There are pros and cons of each, and preferences have been debated to death.
In short…stainless steels have superior corrosion resistance but are a little more difficult to sharpen, and high carbon steels stain and rust, but are easy to sharpen and maintain a great cutting edge. I prefer high carbon steel in my fixed blade knives due to easy maintenance and superb fire-starting capabilities. A high carbon steel blade with a proper 90* spine, will throw hellacious sparks from a ferrocerium rod.
With that being said…more folding knife makers are using stainless steel, and modern stainless offerings are quite easy to sharpen and maintain. With a little bit of practice, you can put a hell of an edge on a stainless blade. Below is a list of the materials used in these options and a brief description of the material. That way you’ll have some knowledge of what you’re getting, which may help you make a more informed decision.
Best Stainless Steel for Knives
AUS-8: A stainless steel produced in Japan with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-58. It’s super tough, has good edge retention, fairly easy to sharpen, and has excellent corrosion resistance.
AUS-8A: Similar to AUS-8 and produced by the same Japanese company. It has a little higher carbon content and a Rockwell Hardness of 57-59. Again, very similar to AUS-8, but it’s a little better steel.
420HC: A stainless steel with a high carbon content and a Rockwell Hardness of 58. High corrosion resistance, fairly easy to sharpen, and has decent edge retention.
440C: A stainless steel with a high carbon and chromium content, and a Rockwell Hardness of 58-60. It’s very easy to sharpen, has good edge retention, and is a nice balance of hardness and corrosion resistance.
MoV: 8CR13MoV, 8CR14MoV, 8CR15MoV, and 9Cr17MoV are fairly similar. The first number (8 or 9) represents the carbon content (which is 0.8 or 0.9%), and the other numbers are the chromium content (13, 14, 15, and 17%) which basically determines their corrosion resistance. They’re pretty similar to AUS-8.
Best High Carbon Steels For Knives
X90: Opinel uses this steel in their knives. It’s basically the European equivalent of 1095, which has a .95-1.03% carbon content. It’s insanely easy to sharpen and tough as hell, but offers no corrosion resistance…it will rust and stain if you don’t maintain it.
L6: Swedish tool steel used by the Svord company. It is a low-alloy, special purpose tool steel that’s incredible tough and used mainly in dies and machine parts for it’s excellent wear resistance.
At the time of writing this article (12/26/16), every one of the knives are listed on Amazon.com for less than $40. However, knife prices tend to slightly fluctuate within $1 – $2 on Amazon, depending on what day you look at them. So depending on when you read this article, the prices might not be exact.
I figured $40 was a good cutoff for the budget. Honestly, with as many great options that are in this list, there’s no reason to spend more money on a folding knife…no reason at all. Considering proper care and maintenance, it would be nearly impossible for any of these options not to hold up to a lifetime of use. These really are high quality, cheap knives.
For those of you with an even lower budget, I’m breaking them down in to 3 categories: Under $20, under $30, and under $40, and I’ll list them from cheapest to highest in each category. I will also recommend my personal favorite from each price point.
Bring on those cheap knives!
The cheapest knife on the list is the Sanrenmu 710. If you’ve ever researched cheap knives before, you’ve probably came across it. No, it’s not made in the USA, like the majority of knives on this list…and no it doesn’t matter. It’s less than $12, comes out of the box super sharp, and all 3 of the 710’s that I own have all had excellent fit and finish. Everything is nice and tight, and the blade’s were centered in the frame.
The blade is 2.8″ long and made from 8Cr13Mov steel. The handles are also stainless steel, and the “decorative nail file” provides decent grip performance in wet conditions. It’s fairly light at 3.1 oz and has a closed length of 3.74″ closed. It does come with a removable clip that’s oriented to carry tip-down, and has dual thumb studs.
Bottom line…don’t be scared to buy one. They make an awesome gift or stocking stuffer for any knife nut, and they won’t break the bank. If you need more assurance, you can find dozens of positive reviews on YouTube and several different forums.
Another offering for under $12, the Enlan EL-01A is an awesome value. This is a larger offering, for those who might want a bigger knife. The blade length is 3.66″ and is also made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The handles on the Enlan however, are G-10 which is a compressed fiberglass. You will see a lot of knives on this list with G-10 handles, and they’re plenty strong. There are no thumb studs on this model, but it is equipped with a removable pocket clip (tip down) and a lanyard hole.
Like I said before, it is an all around bigger knife than the Sanrenmu. It weighs in around 5.5 oz and the closed length on mine is just shy of 4″. The fit and finish is also surprisingly good for this cheap Chinese knife. The blade on mine came very sharp and perfectly centered. The lack of thumb studs may be a deal breaker for some, but I’ve found it’s pretty easy to open with a flick of the wrist once it’s broken in.
Opinel No. 8 Carbon
This Opinel No. 8 is one of the 2 offerings available in high carbon steel, although it is available here in stainless for $14.00. Opinel is a French company and they’ve been manufacturing knives since 1890. Chances are, you’ve seen this particular style before…it’s a classic. The Carbon version’s blade is 3.25″ long and made from X90, which is basically 1095 high carbon steel. The Stainless version’s blade is also 3.25″ and is made from 12c27 Sandvik (.60% carbon content, very hard and tough, but a little more difficult to sharpen). The handle is made from Beechwood.
What’s unique about the Opinel is the stainless steel locking collar. The system is simple, but prevents from accidental opening and closing of the blade. Once it’s open and locked, it’s super solid…but this is NOT a quick opening knife. It’s not assisted by any means, so it’s not going to be a quick deploying knife. So it’s not a fast opening, “tacti-cool” knife…but it’s a damn solid, practical folder that’s insanely light at 1.6 oz. I’ve had my old No. 8 Carbon for years and I’ve abused it…rigorously. It’s never failed me.
If you’re skeptical about cheap knives that perhaps you’ve never heard of, fear not. Kershaw has made quite a name for itself and they offer tons of options for those of us on a budget. This Kershaw Shuffle comes in at under $14 and it’s packed with features. This particular model is on the small side, which may be great depending on your situation or preference.
The closed length is 3.25″ and it weighs in at 2.8 oz. The blade is 2 3/8″ long and is made from 8Cr13MoV. The handles are made from glass-filled nylon and feature Kershaw’s “K-Texture” which provides excellent wet weather performance. It comes with a reversible pocket clip (tip up), a lanyard hole, and a built-in bottle opener. Comes out of the box with a good edge and the fit and finish is great.
So it’s a great option for those in an area with blade-length limitations, or if you have smaller hands. I’m a pretty big man with decent sized hands and I still find it to be functional, but I do prefer a little bigger knife. With that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it in a small EDC kit or in the glove box as a redundant tool option. It’s also pretty handy to have if you’re stuck with a “beverage” that doesn’t twist-off cap!
The Svord Peasant is an old-school, low tech bruiser crafted in New Zealand, and is the 2nd high carbon steel offering in the list. Now when I say old-school, I mean it…there’s no locking system. The tang protrudes when in the closed position, and can be used to open it quickly. The style and operation are much like an old straight razor.
The blade is 3″ in length and made from L6 Special Purpose high carbon tool steel. The steel is wonderful to work with and if ground correctly, will produce and insanely sharp edge. The handles on this particular model are polypropylene (plastic), but it is offered with wooden handles as well. It’s a rather large folder, measuring a 6.75″ closed length and weighing in at 6.2 oz…so keep that in mind.
I do enjoy my Peasant, but it’s not something I carry every day. I actually bought it as a cheap beater to experiment regrinding and sharpening with. The tang is a bit cumbersome when in the close position. With the being said, I find it’s a good knife to rough in things that I’m carving.
Kershaw 3/4 Ton
The Kershaw 3/4 Ton is another smaller offering from Kershaw with a little more streamlined style than the Shuffle listed above. The blade length is 2.75″ and is made from the same 8Cr13MoV steel. The handles are also made from the same glass-filled nylon. The 3/4 Ton doesn’t have the multiple finger grooves or “K-Texture” stippling, but the handles do feature rubber inserts. Closed length comes in at 3 7/8″, weighs 3.8 oz., and does feature thumb studs and a wrench shaped pocket clip.
The fit and finish is good, but the edge on mine wasn’t that great out of the box…but it did clean up easily. I have talked to other 3/4 Ton owners who’ve said the edge on their knives were quite good out of the box, so it may have just been an isolated incident. Not a big deal considering how easy it was to clean up, and I usually work the edge on any knife I buy to some extent. It’s a great buy.
The Coast FX350 is a fantastic folder for the money. The blade length is 3.5″ and is made from 9Cr17Mov steel, which has a high carbon and chromium content, making it extremely tough with excellent corrosion resistance. The handle is made from G-10 and features pretty aggressive stippling, providing good slip resistance in wet weather. The reverse side, however, doesn’t feature G-10…it’s just the exposed frame with the pocket clip. It does feature thumb studs and the pocket clip can be moved to allow tip-up or tip-down carry. I included an additional image, so you can see what I mean.
The fit and finish on the model I bought is great and I really like the G-10 front handle. It came very sharp out of the box, is easy to sharpen, and holds an awesome edge. I’ve put this thing through the paces in what time I’ve owned it, and it has yet to disappoint. It weighs just over 5 oz and the closed length is 4.5″, so it’s not a small knife by any means…so if you have to abide by blade length limitations or prefer a small knife, it may not be the best option.
Bucklite Max (Small)
Buck knives have been a staple for hunters and enthusiasts for years. The Bucklite Max comes in 3 sizes, all 3 of which are contained in this article, and for good reason. The Bucklite is one of very few cheap knives on this list that are made in the USA and they offer a lifetime warranty. You just can’t beat that!
The small model features a 2.75″ blade length, which is constructed from 420HC stainless steel. The handles are glass-filled nylon and feature a lanyard hole and a pocket clip. Total weight on the small version is 1.6 oz. The pocket clip is riveted, which I do not like. The locking system is the traditional bottom lock design that Buck has used for as long as I can remember. Do to it’s location, one-hand closing is cumbersome at best. But if you’re on the hunt for a more “traditional” folder, the Bucklite Max series might be right up your alley.
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) is another company that offers several cheap knives that fit the criteria for this list. Every CRKT knife I’ve owned has had excellent fit and finish and are fairly easy to maintain, and the CRKT Drifter is no exception. Every knife that I’ve purchased from them has also came with a lifetime warranty, which provides a great peace of mind.
The Drifter’s blade is 2.875″ long and is made from 8CR14MoV stainless steel with a tough titanium nitride coating. The handles are G-10 with very nice and fine stippling, featuring a lanyard hole and a removable pocket clip (tip down). Closed length measures out at 3.625″ and it weighs only 2.4 oz. Overall, it’s a damn fine little knife for EDC.
Byrd (Spyderco) Robin2
Byrd is Spyderco’s solution for those of us searching for cheap knives. They’re labeled under the Byrd name, but Spyderco wants consumers to know that they’re behind things. I just wanted to alleviate any confusion, because a lot of offerings from Byrd will be labeled Spyderco and vice versa. If you’ve ever seen Spyderco’s earlier models, the design resemblance is pretty obvious…they’re nearly identical.
The Robin2 is a pretty small little folder. The blade length measures out at 2.4″, but the actual cutting edge only measures 1.875″, and it is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless. The remainder of the blade (at the base) is curved and stippled, which is designed to mate up with a corresponding shape at the top of the handle to provide a finger groove. It’s a nice idea that allows functional use for those of us with larger hands. It does sacrifice the usable cutting edge of the blade, however.
The handles on this model are glass-filled nylon, but it is offered with G-10 handles, as well as a fully stainless version. It features a four-way oriented pocket clip, which allows full functionality (tip-up or tip-down), regardless of what your dominant hand is. There are no thumb studs, instead (in classic Spyderco design) there is a cut out in the blade, allowing use of your thumb without protruding studs. The closed length measures 3.3″ and it weighs in at 2.2 oz, so it’s very light.
The Ganzo knives, as far as I can tell, are fairly knew to the market. They took off like crazy and there are tons of models, and reviews of those models on YouTube and various forums…they also cause a lot of controversy. Just to be clear, the Ganzo G720 is nearly identical in design to the Lionsteel and the frame lock design is said to be stolen from Benchmade. So this Chinese company ripped off two designs…from companies that charge a hell of a lot more money than $20 for a knife. So with that information, you can choose whether or not you want to purchase from that company.
Now that we got that out of the way, *cough cough* I own two of these. The blade length is 3.5″ and is made from 440C stainless steel. Both of the knives I received had good edges and fit and finish out of the box. They were both a little stiff, but after playing around with them for a while and oiling the frame locks, they’re smooth as glass. The handles are full G-10 and both knives I own are just solid as a rock.
The pocket clip has a small “spike” on the bottom, butting up against the bottom of the frame, allowing it to be used as a glass breaker in an emergency situation. Given all the features, it’s a great contender in the sub-$20 category. If you’re looking for a smaller, lightweight knife…this probably isn’t the best option for you. Being built like a tank has a drawback, and this model weighs in at a little over 7 oz and has a closed length of 4.7″…so keep that in mind.
My winner(s) in the sub-$20 class: Ganzo G720
Ah, this is tough! There’s not really a “bad” knife in this entire article, but the sub-$20 category is loaded with good options. So, given the size differences in this class…I’m going to give you my favorite of the larger and favorite of the smaller. Believe it or not, I carry the Ganzo G720 more than any knife I have these days. That’s not to say it’s the best knife in this article, because I don’t think it is. But for someone who can carry a larger, heavier folder…it’s the best in the sub-$20 class in my opinion.
Now if you have small hands, or are in an area with blade length restrictions (2.5″ length in some areas)…I would recommend the Kershaw Shuffle. I just love the handles with the “K-Texture”, it has a more usable cutting edge than the Robin2, and I prefer thumb studs. So there you have it…if you only have $20 to work with and I could only recommend one option (per size), these would be my two favorites.
Ok, the little Finch2 is very similar to the Robin2, except it’s actually smaller. The overall design is identical. The blade length is 1.91″, with a cutting edge of 1.57″ and is constructed from the same 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The closed length is right under 2.5″ and it weighs only 1.1 oz!
The other difference is the handle material. The Finch2 has G-10 which many people prefer over glass-filled nylon…myself included. G-10 just feels better to me, I dunno. Due to it’s “tiny” size and solid construction, it actually makes a really good key chain knife, but if you’re looking for something to baton firewood with…this isn’t for you.
KA-BAR Dozier Folding Hunter
The KA-BAR name is legendary, a name that isn’t usually synonymous with cheap knives. They manufactured what is arguably the most iconic knife in military history, which are still preferred by people today. The KA-BAR Dozier Folding Hunter was designed by Bob Dozier (who is also a legend) and this thing is a tank. Fit and finish is wonderful and mine came out of the box with a really great edge. The blade length is 3″ and is made from AUS-8A stainless steel and features a single, reversible thumb stud.
The handles are made from Zytel, which is a glass-filled nylon…albeit these are higher quality handles than a lot of the other Chinese offerings in the list (The Dozier is actually made in Taiwan if that makes a difference). The knife also features a reversible pocket clip, so it’s a perfect option for you lefties out there. The closed length is 4.25″ and it weighs in at 2.3 oz. Bottom line…it’s an incredible value.
Kershaw OSO Sweet
Yet another good budget offering from Kershaw, the OSO Sweet lives up to it’s name…it’s a sweet looking knife. The blade length is 3.1″ and is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The blade does not feature a thumb stud, instead it is equipped with the “SpeedSafe flipper” on the back of the blade. The SpeedSafe technology is an assisted-opening feature used in a variety of Kershaw knives, and they do open quite fast.
The handles are glass-filled nylon and feature a really nice looking “scale” texture that is quite functional. It fits really well in my hand, and feels totally secure. The fit and finish again, is great. The blade came nice and centered, and once it was broken in a little, it became quite a pleasure to use. The edge on my knife was great out of the box and required very little work to be “perfect”. You can’t go wrong here.
The Kershaw Chill was designed by RJ Martin, who is another legend of the folding knife world. This guy has built and designed four “Best Tactical Folder” award winners from the Blade Show…he knows his shit. The Chill has a gorgeous, sleek design and is built amazingly well. The blade is 3.125″ long, made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel, and features the SpeedSafe flipper for fast opening.
The grips are made from beautifully CNC machined G-10 and feature a lanyard hole and a reversible pocket clip for tip up or tip down carry. The closed length measures 3.9″ and it weighs in at a surprisingly light 2 oz. It’s an insanely good value at a little over $21.
Bucklite Max (Medium and Large)
Since they’re both in the same price category and basically have the same features, I thought I’d list both the medium and large models together here. They feature the same construction and materials as the Bucklite Max Small listed above, the only difference is size and weight. The medium model features a 3″ blade and weighs in at 2.6 oz, while the large model features a 3.625″ blade and weighs in at 3.1 oz. Same good quality and the same lifetime warranty, made in the USA.
Finally, we have a decent sized offering from Byrd on the list. The Meadowlark2 is basically identical to the Finch2 and Robin2 listed above, just a little bigger. The fit and finish are the same high quality you should expect. The blade length is 2.875″ with a 2.375″ cutting edge and is made from the same 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. This particular model also features the same glass-filled nylon handles, but can be found in G-10 and full stainless offerings as well.
Could it be another Kershaw on the list? Get used to it…there’s plenty more to come. The Kershaw Swerve has a blade length of 3″ and it’s made from 8Cr13MoV stainless. Like many other models, the Swerve features the SpeedSafe technology along with dual thumb studs. The handles are glass-filled nylon and they do feature the K-Texture for a good solid grip. The Swerve has a very small, reversible pocket clip (tip up) so it’s lefty-safe. The closed length comes in at 4.25″ and weighs in at 4.8 oz. The fit and finish is awesome as usual with Kershaw knives.
The Coast FX352 is absolutely identical to the Coast FX350 listed above, other than the color difference. Same 3.5″ blade length, same 9Cr17Mov stainless steel, same aggressive G-10 handle construction, same 4.5″ closed length, and the same 5.1 oz weight. Literally, the only difference is the black G-10 handle.
Is it worth the extra cost? It isn’t to me, but it might be to you. It’s a damn solid knife for sure.
Byrd Tern Slipit
The Byrd Tern Slipit is a very nice slipjoint folder option. Slipjoint knives do not feature a locking mechanism, rather they rely on a spring to “pull” them toward the open or closed position…so keep that in mind when considering a folder. The Tern’s blade measures 2.75″ long with a 2.125″ cutting edge and is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel.
The nice feature of the Tern is the G-10 handles, which are great. It does not feature a lanyard hole, but it does have an ambidextrous pocket clip (tip up) with a smooth “wire” construction. The closed length measures 3.625″ and it weighs in at a light 1.7 oz.
Ontario Rat I
The Ontario Knife Company was formed in 1902 and has made tons of great knives over the years. Have you ever heard of Old Hickory knives? Of course you have…Ontario Knife Company has owned Old Hickory since the beginning. Point being, they’ve been in the game for a long time and know what they’re doing.
With the history lesson aside, let me just say that the Ontario Rat I is an absolute masterpiece. The blade length is 3.5″ long, made from AUS-8 stainless steel, and features dual thumb studs. The handles are glass-filled nylon, which is a slight downside to this knife. The four-position pocket clip and lanyard hole are standard features. It has a closed length of 4.5″ and weighs in at 5 oz. The Rat series is made in Taiwan, and OKC only offers a one-year warranty it’s overseas products…which is another downside.
With that being said, the Rat I is probably my favorite budget folder of all time…I’ll just go ahead and admit it. The fit and finish is amazing, the blade is razor sharp out of the box, and it just feels great in the hand. Again, this is my personal opinion…but I don’t think anyone can go wrong with one.
Kershaw RJ Tactical
The RJ Tactical is another Kershaw offering designed by RJ Martin. The all black design is very sleek and screams “tactical” if that’s what you’re looking for. The blade measures 3″ on the money and is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. It also features the same SpeedSafe technology with the flipper for fast opening.
The handles are glass-filled nylon with subtle finger grooves and texturing, but a nice aggressive jumping on the back for a secure grip. The RJ Tactical also features a lanyard hole and a very beefy ambidextrous pocket clip for tip up carry.
Ontario JP Utiliac
Yet another great offering from Ontario Knife Company! The Joe Pardue Utiliac is a collaborative design from Joe Pardue and OKC. Joe Pardue is the son of legendary knife maker, Mel Pardue…these guys have been in the game for a long time and create really expensive custom knives. The Utiliac features a 3.5″ blade, which is made from AUS-8A stainless steel, and features dual thumb studs.
The handles are made from Zytel (glass-filled nylon) and feature a very nice stippling, finger grooves, and comfortable jumping on the back. It also features a 4 way pocket clip for any carrying orientation that you prefer, and comes from the factory with an attached lanyard.
Fit and finish on my model is amazing, and the blade came very sharp out of the box. The AUS-8A is a pleasure to work with and only required very light stropping to be up to my standards. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.
Byrd Cara Cara2
My favorite offering from Byrd is the Cara Cara2. As I said before, I prefer a larger knife and the Cara Cara2 definitely doesn’t disappoint. The blade measures 3.75″ long with a 3.2″ cutting edge and is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. My Cara2 came very sharp out the box!
The handles on this model are glass-filled nylon (G-10 version here) , which feature a 4 way pocket clip and a lanyard hole. The lanyard hole is really in an awkward position in my opinion, as it can interfere with the pocket clip if you have it oriented for tip up carry. While it may not be a huge deal for some users, I just find it somewhat cumbersome.
Ontario Rat II
The Ontario Rat II is a great option for those who want a smaller, more compact version of the Rat I that we talked about earlier. It’s basically identical, other than the size. The blade length is 3″ (rather than the 3.5″ on the Rat I) and is made from the same AUS-8 stainless steel.
The handles are the same glass-filled nylon, with the same 4-position pocket clip and lanyard hole. The closed length measures 4.125″ on the money and it weighs in at a much lighter 2.8 oz. So it’s a great option for someone looking for the same quality of the Rat I, with a smaller and (much) lighter package.
The Kershaw Brawler is an awesome looking and well built knife. I decided to put a couple of tanto options in here, for those who might be fans. I own a few tantos, but I honestly don’t prefer them in an EDC situation. I’m not trying to stir the pot here, just stating my personal preference…so if you want to rock a tanto blade, I’ll give you some quality options. The blade on the Brawler measures 3.25″ and is made from black oxide coated 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. It features dual thumb studs and Kershaw’s SpeedSafe technology, which allows for….you guessed it, fast opening.
The grips are glass-filled nylon and feature some nice stippling and unique texture work, which looks really great in my opinion. It also features a sturdy 4-position pocket clip, but no lanyard hole. Closed length measures 4.1″ long and it weighs in at just under 4 oz. This is a beefy little tanto, right here.
First off, the CRKT M16 design is offered in a plethora of different blade lengths, profiles, colors, etc. So if you prefer a different blade design, shop around a little bit and you’re sure to find it. This particular model features a 3″ spear point blade. Even more confusing, is the fact that CRKT has used at least 3 different steels in the M16 design, so I can’t tell you for certain what steel you will receive. The steel information is included in the paperwork in your corresponding box. The three steels that I know have been used are AUS-4, AUS-8, and 8Cr15MoV.
One unique feature of the M16 is the “AUTOLawk” system which is a redundant safety feature that locks the blade. The AUTOLawk must be depressed, along with the liner lock for the blade to be closed. The handles on the M16 are glass-filled nylon and feature a 4-position pocket clip. The closed length measures 4″ and it weighs in at 2.3 oz.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the M16 at all. I do like the design and the fit and finish of the few that I have handled, but the fact that they don’t stamp their steel type combined with the “over-safe” AUTOLawk feature…it’s not for me. With that being said, I know people who own them and swear by them and they’re one of the most popular offerings from CRKT…so I’ll let you be the judge.
Cold Steel Voyager (Medium Tanto)
Two words can describe the Cold Steel Voyager line…pure beef. The construction is solid, the blade is 3 mm thick, and the Tri-Ad locking system is unbelievably strong. The beefiness comes at a price unfortunately, and only one model can be mentioned in our “cheap knives” discussion here. The medium-sized tanto blade model listed here is an absolute steal at less than $30. The blade measures 3″ long, constructed from AUS-8A stainless steel, and features dual thumb studs.
The handles on the Voyager are also unique, as they’re constructed from Grivory, which is a high performance polymer material. Grivory has been used by Becker in their popular BK line for years if that tells you anything. The handles on the Voyager are deeply stippled with finger grooves, which provides great wet weather performance. It also features an ambidextrous pocket clip for tip-up carry. The medium line does not include a lanyard hole.
Fit and finish is great on the model I received, and the blade came out of the box insanely sharp. The closed mength measures 4.25″ and weighs in at 3.2 oz. The medium line is a touch small for my preference, but is still very functional and this thing is just SOLID. If you like tantos, you can not go wrong with this beauty!
Our last offering in the sub-$30 class is the Kershaw Thermite. The Thermite was designed by Rick Hinderer who makes some of the toughest folders in the world. Just do some research on the name and you’ll find everything you need to know. The guy builds amazing knives.
The Thermite has a blade length of 3.5″ and is constructed from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The blade design is a hybrid that Kershaw refers to as a “spanto”, which is a combination of a spear point and a tanto. The blade is equipped with dual thumb studs and a flipper, and the Thermite is equipped with Kershaw’s SpeedSafe technology.
The Thermite features a very nice, single side G-10 handle…with the reverse side being 410 stainless steel. It is also equipped with a 4-position pocket clip and a lanyard hole. Fit and finish is amazing and the blade comes very sharp out of the box. This is yet another great value from Kershaw.
My winner in the sub-$30 class: Ontario Rat I
Deciding a winner in the sub-$20 class was tough…but the sub-$30 class is an even more difficult task. Choosing a knife is such a personal preference, it’s really hard to make a single recommendation. My personal favorite knife in this list is the Ontario Rat I, but I could just as easily recommend several others that are shown. For instance, I think the Voyager is the beefiest knife on the list, but I prefer a drop point or spear point blade, which isn’t offered in this budget range. Honestly though, every knife that I’ve mentioned in this article is worth the money…so you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
Blue Ridge Knives Zancudo
You may have seen or heard of the BRK Zancudo before, perhaps even heard it called the ESEE Zancudo? Perhaps even furthermore, you noticed it’s resemblance to the RAT series from Ontario we mentioned earlier? That’s because they were both designed by Mike Perrin and Jeff Randall who own ESEE knives. The duo also own and operate Randall’s Adventure Training, hence the name RAT. The Zancudo is NOT manufactured or warrantied by ESEE knives, but it is fully endorsed by Mike Perrin and Jeff Randall. Just wanted to clear up that fog for anyone that’s interested.
The Zancudo is a well built folder, manufactured in Taiwan. The Amazon ad is misleading for this knife, and the material specs that are listed here ARE correct. The blade measures 2.94″ long and is made from AUS-8 (not AUS-8A) stainless steel, and features dual thumb studs. It features a single sided glass-filled nylon (not G-10) and a stainless back panel, with a reversible pocket clip and a lanyard hole. The closed length measures 4″ and it weighs 3.2 oz…so it’s very similar in size to the Rat II.
The fit and finish is pretty good on the Zancudo, but not as nice as either RAT folder that I own from Ontario. The blade came nice and sharp out of the box, only required a little stropping to “get right”. Overall, it’s not a bad little knife…but for the money, I’d take an Ontario Rat II any day.
Blue Ridge Knives Avispa
The Avispa is the bigger brother to the Zancudo listed above, much like the Ontario RAT I is the bigger brother to the RAT II …there seems to be a little coincidence here. We have similar models, with similar designs, from separate manufacturers. I’m not sure on the relationships with ESEE and Ontario or BRK, but it’s just kinda strange. These things happen in the knife world. Anyway…
The Avispa features a blade length of 3.5″ versus the 2.94″ (let’s call it 3″) blade length of the Zancudo, made from the same AUS-8 stainless steel, and the same thumb studs. The handles are made from the same glass-filled resin, with the same lanyard hole, but it does feature a 4-position pocket clip. The closed length measures 5″ and it weighs in at 4.4 oz. Again, very similar in size to the RAT I.
Boker Plus Trance
Boker is another legendary name in the folding knife world, and the Trance is a nice little modern offering from them. The Trance was designed by Chad Los Banos, who has designed a number for knives…primarily for Boker. The design (like his others) is certainly unique, and very functional for an EDC folder. The blade measures 2.75″ long, is made from AUS-8 stainless steel, and features dual thumb studs and a flipper.
The Trance features a single-sided, glass-filled nylon handle with nice stippling and grooved texturing. The reverse side is stainless steel, and features a reversible pocket clip for tip-up or tip-down carry. The closed length is 3.75″ long and it weighs in at 3.2 oz.
One of today’s most popular options from Kershaw, is the Cryo series…and for good reason. This thing is packed with awesome features and the design/overall look is just plain sexy. The Cryo was designed by Rick Hinderer (who we mentioned earlier) and was named “Best Buy of the Year” by Blade Magazine in 2012. It’s a badass little knife for EDC purposes.
The Cryo has a blade length of 2.75″ and is made from 8Cr13MoV with a super tough titanium carbo-nitride coating. It features dual thumb studs, a flipper, and it’s equipped that that SpeedSafe that we’ve talked about so much…so it’s fast as lightning.
The handles are made from 410 stainless steel and coated with the same titanium carbo-nitride finish as the blade. It features a 4-position pocket clip and a lanyard hole. The closed length measures 3.75″ and it weighs in at 4.1 oz. The handles are the only “downside” to this knife for me. They’re sexy, yes…but in my opinion, they’re a little slick in wet weather conditions. If that’s not a concern to you, and you’re looking for a smaller EDC option…you can’t go wrong with the Cryo.
Kershaw Cryo II
If the Kershaw Cryo sounds like the knife for you, but you wish it was a little bigger…the Cryo II is the answer. Identical in design and features, it’s the big brother to the Cryo. The blade length measures 3.4″, has a closed length of 4.4″, and weighs in at 5.5 oz. It’s a damn fine offering for those of us with large hands.
Our first true Spyderco makes the list! The Tenacious seems to be in everyone’s top 5 list for EDC folders. It has all of the classic design and offerings that Spyderco is famous for. The blade length measures 3.375″, is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel, and features the infamous “Spyderco hole”.
The handles are made from G-10 and feature nice, subtle stippling, as well as a 4-position pocket clip and a lanyard hole. The closed length is just under 4.5″ and it weighs in at 4 oz. The fit and finish is what you would expect from Spyderco…great. The blade on my particular model came very sharp out of the box, as well. Definitely a contender in the sub-$40 list!
The Heiho is one of the unique folder, designed by James Williams and offered by CRKT. I’m a traditional guy, so I was a little turned off by the design at first. However, the more I looked at it…the more I realized how gorgeous it really was. James Williams is a former U.S. Army Officer, who has trained countless guys from Special Operations and Government Security personnel. The Heiho was the answer for guys who couldn’t carry their firearms or fixed blade knives in certain duty conditions.
The Heiho features a modified tanto blade that measures 3.125″ long, is made from 8Cr14MoV steel, and features an ambidextrous thumb “disk”. The Heiho also features CRKT’s OutBurst assisted-opening technology for super quick deployment.
The handles are where the beauty comes from, in my opinion. The G-10 used in the Heiho is gorgeous, and features subtle texture and engraving work, and is equipped with a reversible pocket clip. The main drawback for me is the damn “LAWKS” system they use. You may love the added security, but to me it’s a nuisance to close the blade…and frankly not needed. That rant aside, it’s a beautifully made, high quality knife for the money.
If you’re looking for legendary design and butter-smooth operation, you need to look at the CRKT Ripple. The Ripple was designed by Ken Onion, who probably doesn’t need an introduction. Just for shits and giggles, he was the premier designer for Kershaw for years and actually developed the SpeedSafe technology they use in all of their best sellers. He also makes custom knives for basically any use, and has pioneered a lot of things in the knife world.
The Ripple’s blade measures 3.125″ long, is made from 8Cr14MoV stainless steel, and features a flipper. What makes the Ripple and exceptional knife (and value) is the IKBS ball bearing system. Most traditional folding knives (all of those listed thus far) use washers or bushings made from nylon, Delrin, or bronze; which the blade pivots on during opening and closing. While this is a time tested construction method, and is still featured in VERY expensive folders, nothing is quite as smooth as ball-bearing operation.
The handle construction of the Ripple is also unique. The handles are made from 6061 aluminum, that are lightened as much as possible from over 40 lightening holes and machined “ripples”. They are then hard anodized and the ripples are buffed, which exposes the shiny aluminum. The Ripple features a stainless pocket clip and a lanyard hole. The closed length measures 4.33″ and it weighs in at only 2.5 oz.
I’m going in to detail on the construction process not only so you can see the quality of the materials, but also the time they use in the construction. Cheap knives usually don’t receive this high quality, elaborate construction…it’s rare. I am well aware that it’s manufactured in China, but it’s still a lengthy and unique process…with a lifetime warranty.
Yet another award winning design by Ken Onion…literally. The Swindle won “The Most Innovative Imported Design on the Year” at the 2013 BLADE show. The Swindle has a blade length of 3.2″, is made from 8Cr14MoV stainless steel, and is equipped with a flipper. The Swindle features the same IKBS ball-bearing system discussed above in the Ripple.
This particular model features flat and smooth handles, which are constructed from 2Cr13 stainless steel. The pocket clip is a unique design, integrated into the rear spine. The closed length measures 4.25″ and it weighs in at 3.3 oz. If you’re looking for a sleek and sophisticated design, with insanely fast and smooth operation…this is the ticket. Again, cheap knives aren’t synonymous with this kind of construction.
Our last offering on the list comes from Spyderco. The Persistence is basically the little brother to the Tenacious listed above. It features the same construction and quality materials, with a blade length of 2.75″, a closed length of 4.1″, and a total weight of 3.3 oz. If you love the Tenacious, but need a smaller and lighter EDC, the Persistence is for you!
My winner in the sub-$40 class: Spyderco Tenacious
Decisions, decisions…why must I make difficult decisions? My personal favorite in the sub-$40 class is the Spyderco Tenacious. Again, that only comes down to personal preference, rugged use, and lots of carry time. If you’re looking for a unique design and super smooth operation, the CRKT Ripple is an absolute steal for the money.
My best value recommendation
Having owned, tested, and/or abused most of the knives on the list…my favorite folder of all time is the Ontario Rat I. It’s been used in basically every scenario I’ve thought to use it in and it’s never failed me…ever.
The AUS-8 steel is a pleasure to maintain, the blade size is ideal for me, the construction and design is simple and rugged, and the fit and finish is amazing.
For less than $25, I think it’s the best folder for the money…no question.
Whew, this article was a doozy! I’d like to thank you for taking the time to come by the site and check it out. If you could, I’d love for you to share it on social media or e-mail it to your friends…it would mean a lot to me. I’m always down for talking gear!