I cannot speak higher praise than for the Benchmade line of folding knives, specifically those with the Axis Lock mechanism.
$100 may seem steep to some for a folding pocket knife, but its one of two tools I use every single day, and potentially might have to trust my life to some day. The only folding blade I’ve found with a lock I trust that much is the axis.
The two specific models I favor are the Ares and the AFCK. I have done things with these knives one should probably never attempt with a folder, but they continue to go strong. As always, thank you for the insight and information you offer through SurvivalBlog. – Pat R.
I’ve been making and selling knives for 25 years, and you’re spot on with folders. They’re easy to keep on the person, convenient, generally not seen as weapons, and sturdy enough with modern materials to be quite useful. CRKT is one of the best values for the money. Cold Steel is a little pricier. Benchmade and Emerson are top of the line, since the CUDA line was largely discontinued by Camillus.
I wouldn’t rule out all the imports. Even some of the Chinese ones are decent. However, that’s the catch–some of them (I’m not thrilled at supporting the Chinese, but price speaks to so many people. I stock them to pay the bills). It takes a moderate amount of experience to know a good one. Check for smooth function. Easy isn’t necessarily good if it doesn’t lock open or closed with authority, and fit and finish should be near perfect. Look at how the blade is ground and the balance, and
compare to known quality. For people on a budget, there are knives in the $10-30 range that are near as good as name brand. But I’d check with a knowledgeable person to be sure (I’ll always answer questions, even in regards to stuff I don’t sell, BTW). But if in doubt, save up and go with the name brand. Your life is too important for second rate tools.
On fixed blades, Ontario Spec Plus are US made, no-nonsense (no saw teeth, hollow handles, gimmicks or gadgets. Just honest carbon steel with a solid handle) and very reasonable–most are available under $50 from dealers, no more than $80 on the largest. They have both a Crash Axe which is standard on most aircraft, and exceptional for breaking
through wreckage (on cars, too), and a survival machete with a chisel tip. I like the 14 inch tanto and the “fighting knife” (though I’ve never fought with one, it’s an excellent utility blade) that they offer.
On larger folders or fixed blades, I would avoid stainless steel. Few of the commercially used stainless steels are tough enough to withstand chopping or prying. AUS 8 and ATS 34 hold up decently, and while not completely stainless, are certainly enough so to reduce maintenance. Avoid 440 and 420 stainless steels in anything longer than 4 inches. They were not originally intended for cutlery, and are quite brittle in long sections. (440 C is a marine bearing steel. It can take outrageous
amounts of saltwater and holds a good edge, but will not flex under stress. It shatters.) – Michael Z. Williamson