Practically any Benchmade model carries a fair amount of status among knowledgeable knife users, but the new Anthem is a little more special than most. The handle frame is made from a single billet of titanium, with the company’s patented Axis lock securing the blade open. Its 3.5-inch blade is made from CPM-20CV. This is an extremely high carbon (1.9 percent) and high chromium (20 percent) steel that offers both great edge retention and superior resistance to corrosion. Dual opening pegs allow ambidextrous use, and the carry clip can be reversed for right- or left-hand tip-up carry. I especially like the flat profile of the handle frame and its light 3.66-ounce weight.
The original Japanese Kwaiback seems to have been a smaller version of the tanto dagger and was used mostly for concealed carry. Hoback has taken the basic concept and turned it into a very heavy-duty tactical folder. The katana-style CPM-20CV stainless blade is 3.75 inches long and 0.188 inches thick. There are a number of handle frame options offered, but the knife shown here is a combination of carbon fiber and titanium with a reversible tip-up carry clip. The blade is opened by means of a spin-mounted flipper and held in that position with a massive frame-lock bar. Few tactical folders can match this one for pure strength.
Given Rick Hinderer’s background as a firefighter, EMT and rescue diver, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that his folders are built with an extra margin of strength. The MP-1 (Modular Platform) is an excellent example of this design philosophy. The 3.5-inch blade is made of 0.165-inch-thick S35VN steel mounted on a titanium and G10 handle frame. If you really must pry with your folder, the MP-1’s unique heavy drop point should be ideal for you. The knife is set up for tip-down, right-hand carry and weighs 5.6 ounces.
Spartan Blades has the distinction of being run by a couple of retired Special Forces NCOs who have truly been there and done that several times over. Their designs reflect that combined battlefield experience at a level few cutlery companies can ever approach. When the Kranos tactical folder was awarded “American Made Knife of the Year” for 2017, it wasn’t a surprise. The 3.37-inch blade is ground from S35VN stainless and is mounted on a titanium frame with G10 scales. The blade is opened by means of a spine-mounted flipper, and a Special-Forces-inspired clip provides tip-up, right-hand carry. The Kranos weighs 4.3 ounces.
Over the years, there have been many versions of the Elishewitz Stryker in both factory and custom offerings. This includes a Benchmade military-issued auto that has been carried by thousands of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. True North Knives’ exclusive version is certainly a Rolex-level interpretation of this classic. The 3.85-inch blade is made of CTX-XHP, a high carbon (1.6 percent), medium chromium (16 percent) alloy. The titanium handle has an Elishewitz trademark bolster. The knife weighs 5.5 ounces.
Many would probably put the Chris Reeve family of folders at the top of the list when it comes to status-symbol tactical knives. Adding True North Knives’ special touches to the Inkosi only makes it more noticeable among the knowledgeable collectors out there. The 3.56-inch blade is ground from S35VN stainless and mounted on a titanium handle frame with Micarta inserts. The blade can be opened from either side by ambidextrous thumb studs and is held there by the solid frame lock that was basically invented by Chris Reeve. This knife weighs only 4.8 ounces.
I normally wouldn’t give a runner-up to the aforementioned status-symbol tactical folders, but A.G. Russell’s new Gents Hunter II is one model that deserves to be the exception to that rule. A.G. is a living legend in cutlery circles, and this particular knife is one of his extremely well-thought-out designs. You can start with the handle-to-blade-length ratio. The standard rule is that the blade will be an inch shorter than the handle frame. If the blade is longer than that, it’s considered a plus; shorter, a negative. To that end, the Gents Hunter II has a 4.38-inch handle frame with a 3.63-inch 9Cr13CoMoV blade. A.G. also designed the 1-inch-wide blade to sit as low as possible in the 0.88-inch-wide handle frame. Handle scales are available in carbon fiber, cocobolo and green G10, all with a reversible pocket clip. And all of the handle scales are contoured for added comfort. One of the unusual design features of the Gents Hunter II is its lack of thumb pegs, an opening hole or a spine flipper. There are dual thumb nicks on the blade for conventional two-handed opening, but the way A.G. personally opens the knife is with a snap of the wrist. The butter-smooth fit and finish of the knife makes this incredibly easy. It also uses a traditional rocker-bar lock rather than the more common frame or liner lock. In keeping with the “gents” factor in this design, the pocket clip is set for very low, discreet carry. With the exception of the extreme top of the clip, the knife will be virtually concealed by your clothing at all times. While I would still not recommend carrying this knife in New York City, it should be ideal for everyday carry in most parts of the country. The MSRP for the carbon-fiber model is $145 with the other handle options running from $85.
I was sitting at a SHOT Show press room table with a couple of other magazine editors a few years ago when one of them held up his wrist to show me the watch he was wearing. It was obviously one of those common, inexpensive, digital models—much the same as what I had on at the time. His comment, though, kind of caught me by surprise: “I can see your publisher doesn’t pay you any better than mine does me!” Up until that point, it had never really occurred to me that people in my profession were passing judgment on my status based on the watch I wore.
While I knew the gold standard for “successful in your field” was a Rolex watch prominently displayed on your wrist, the honest truth was that the writing business really doesn’t produce much opportunity to own one of these luxury Swiss timepieces. Eventually, I settled on a Ball Hydrocarbon. You might say wearing the watch to an industry trade show was an experiment, but I was soon surprised at how many people were asking, “Is that a Ball you have on?”
So what do watches have to do with tactical folding knives? Once you gain entry to the world of indulgent timepieces, you quickly notice another obvious fact: The same people wearing those high-end Swiss watches take their folding knives just as seriously.
Now, the conventional wisdom is that custom tactical folding knives are bought by people that think of them as an investment and would never actually use them. I’m here to tell you that is not necessarily true. A well-worn, high-end tactical folding knife can be just another way of saying “I’ve made it. Have you?” My personal example of this is the Bob Terzuola folder I have carried for almost three decades on at least four continents.
There are some that feel Bob actually invented the category of tactical folding knives. His knives are often plain but elegantly functional at the same time. I first decided I needed one after seeing how many of my ex-Ranger brothers that had moved on to other “agencies” carried a Terzuola. Bob’s following has exploded since the early ’90s, and today you need to have your name drawn out of a box at a show for just the chance of purchasing a $1,000-plus folder from the maker. That doesn’t mean you can expect to see mine being retired anytime soon.
Given that there are dozens of potential knife choices these days, I’m setting a few rules for the folders included in this feature. First, the maker needs to be well known and have a following. Second, the minimum blade length is 3 inches. I feel anything under that is too small for heavy use or self-defense. Third, the blade steel should be a modern, high-performance alloy. Fourth, while the handles may be top tier, they should still be functional. The scars a working tool picks up have a beauty all their own and are more impressive to the educated eye than pure bling.
More Information: Folding Knives
Benchmade 781 Anthem
Jake Hoback Kwaiback
Rick Hinderer MP-1
True North Elishewitz Stryker Redux
True North/Chris Reeve Inkosi
A.G. Russell Gents Hunter II
This article was originally published in the February/March 2018 issue of “Tactical Weapons.” To order a copy and subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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