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Unusual Suspects

Photos by: Patrick Vuong

Let's take a closer look at “pocket-opening” folding knives. Like overly excited male teens, these models whip out their pointy ends as soon as you pull them from your pants.

Upon hearing the term “pocket-openers,” most of you will no doubt think of the father of this genre: Emerson Knives' wave-shaped opening feature. But not everyone will know that, like many of history's innovations, this patented feature was actually created by accident. In the late 1990s, knife-maker Ernest Emerson was tasked by some Navy SEALs to create a “knife-catcher,” a little hook on the spine of a blade that would bind an opponent's knife. (For more, see his Zeroed In profile in Issue 22.) He quickly found that it snagged on his pocket as he pulled out the knife, opening the blade in the process.

The advantages of such a knife are pretty obvious. They let you get a live blade into action quick-like with one hand. There's no fiddling with a thumb-stud, finding a button, or digging your fingernail into a nail nick.

But there are cons to consider. Confined spaces can impede a pocket-opener's draw. It's possible to partially open the blade in your pocket if you don't seat it properly. (It's also best to keep these types of knives in a dedicated pocket and move your keys to another one). Plus, you're liable to cut anyone standing behind you, such as a loved one you're trying to protect, because you need to pull the knife up and back so it snags just right on your pocket. And the type of pants you wear could affect the opening; jeans seem to be the best, while you might get varied results in chinos, slacks, and other trousers with different-shaped pockets. Also, martial artists who like to use the Filipino grip (thumb on as much of the blade's spine as possible) will find the hooks and nubs of this type of knife get in the way, forcing you to use a hammer grip or saber grip.

However, a pocket-opening folder can be an excellent weapon or a helpful everyday-carry (EDC) tool. Check out the models in these pages and see if there's one that can't wait to jump out of your pants.


MAKE: Kershaw Knives
OAL: 6.5 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.75 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 8Cr14Mov stainless steel
WEIGHT: 3.8 ounces
MSRP: $53


MAKE: FOX Knives
OAL: 7.38 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.5 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: N690Co stainless steel
WEIGHT: 3.5 ounces
MSRP: $179


MAKE: DPx Gear
OAL: 7.63 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 3.1 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: D2 tool steel
WEIGHT: 5.1 ounces
MSRP: $219


MAKE: Browning Black Label
MODEL: Speed Dial Pocket Deploy Knife
OAL: 7.69 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 3.63 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 8Cr13MoV stainless steel
WEIGHT: 4.4 ounces
MSRP: $55


MAKE: Emerson Knives
OAL: 8.9 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 3.9 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 154CM stainless steel
WEIGHT: 4.8 ounces
MSRP: $250; $255 (shown)


MAKE: Cold Steel
MODEL: Talwar
OAL: 9.25 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 4 inches
WEIGHT: 5 ounces
MSRP: $170


MAKE: Southern Grind
MODEL: Custom Bad Monkey
OAL: 9.38 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 4 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 14C28N stainless steel
WEIGHT: 4.97 ounces
MSRP: Starting at $250; $260 (shown)



What happens when Kershaw Knives gets it on with Emerson Knives? They give birth to blades like this puppy, a Kershaw production model designed by Ernest Emerson himself. It's ideal for blue-collar users who can't afford a $250 Emerson, but still want a lightweight EDC tool with his patented wave-shaped opener.


  • Opens smoothly and quickly.
  • We—re not huge fans of frame-locks, but this one's easy to disengage. Our thumb (which pushes the lock over) doesn't fight against our middle finger (which holds the frame in place).
  • Large thumb-stud (if you prefer to open it the traditional way).


  • Might be just a tad too small for those with large mitts.
  • To keep costs down, it's made in China.



The Direct Action Response Tanto (DART) was designed by Doug Marcaida, a kali expert and a judge on History Channel's TV show, Forged in Fire. It combines a karambit-style handle with a folding straight blade and Emerson's opening mechanism. Made in Italy by FOX Knives, it's ideal for those who practice Southeast Asian martial arts.


  • The frame's ring helps with retention and can be used as a blunt striking surface.
  • N690CO blade is no slouch and easy to sharpen.
  • A Smart design for practitioners of Filipino and indonesian fighting styles and those who favor a reverse grip.
  • Features FOX'S usual quality construction and workmanship.


  • It's a tad uncomfortable while using a forward grip due to the handle's short length, forcing our pinky to wrap around the ring. and if we slide our pinky through the ring, we have to change our grip awkwardly to maintain positive traction.
  • There's no thumb-stud or secondary opening mechanism.



The cutout in the blade's spine is actually a bottle opener, but it can snag a pocket and deploy the blade just the same. Add that to a litany of its other integrated features, including a hex driver and jimping that doubles as wire strippers. Available in various configurations. Assembled in Italy from U.S. and German materials.


  • The multi-functional design by adventurer Robert Young Pelton is purpose-built.
  • Though not stainless, the D2 steel has a Mil-spec phosphate coating for wear and corrosion resistance.
  • It features the patented RotoBlock dial (pictured above) that locks the frame-lock, turning the knife into a virtual fixed blade.


  • Like most glass-breakers on knives, this one sticks out, which could snag or poke you if you're not careful.
  • We admit this is not a particularly fair comparison considering it wasn't designed to be a pocket-opener, but it'll take some practice to get this knife to open consistently on every draw.



This mash-up of a karambit, modified tanto blade, and pocket-opening mechanism (the patented SNAG System from Krudo Knives) was designed by Russ Kommer with input from Jared Wihongi, a combatives master and RECOIL contributor. It'll please practitioners of kali, silat, and similar fighting systems.


  • One of the more affordable options here.
  • Feels good in hand with either forward or icepick grip.
  • G-10 scales are textured without being painful.
  • The brilliant folding thumb ramp provides a comfortable grip, an impact surface, and additional leverage when utilizing a reverse grip.


  • To Keep it within the proletariat's reach, it's made in china.
  • It might take some time to learn how to deploy the blade reliably in an icepick-grip setup.



Who wouldn't want to go straight to the source? This Emerson knife — with authentic Emerson wave-shaped opener — lives up to its lineage. A combination of the CQC-7 and the Commander, this model is available with various upgrades at additional costs. You can also get a stonewash finish for $5 less. Made in the USA.


  • The wave-shaped opener works flawlessly.
  • The recurve/tanto combo blade, made of 154CM stainless, cuts like a lightsaber.
  • Quality construction makes it incredibly durable.
  • Thumb-disc works great if you prefer a traditional opening method.


  • The G-10 scales are practically indestructible and a tad abrasive, so it's like we're sandpapering our jeans every time we seat or pull the knife.



Though just shy of being the biggest cat in this pride, it's certainly the most fearsome looking. Inspired by sabers from ancient India, it features a flat-ground curved blade with a sharp edge along its 4 inches. I comes with G-10 scales, a Tri-Ad lock, and Andrew Demko's thumb-plate. Comes in various configurations and blade lengths.


  • The thumb-plate provides not only excellent support for a Filipino grip, but also snags on your pocket to open the blade as you draw.
  • Though made in Taiwan, this knife can take a serious beating.
  • The blade's CTS XHP steel is sharp and durable, acting as a sort of stainless-steel version of D2 tool steel.


  • The Tri-Ad lock-back system, while crazy resilient and safe, does require two hands to close the blade.
  • Not exactly a discreet or compact EDC tool.

SOUTHERN GRIND Custom Bad Monkey


You can construct a Custom Bad Monkey from various profiles, handles, and blade coatings — kinda like Build-A-Bear, but without bratty kids annoying the stuffing out of you. There are more than 40 configurations, all made in the USA. Our test sample features a plain-edge drop-point blade with a black PVD coating and a G-10 jade ghost green handle.


  • Despite being barely noticeable, the nub on the blade's spine works perfectly as a pocket-opening mechanism.
  • Though it's the longest model in this group, it's surprisingly light and slim.
  • The textured G-10 scales offer just enough grip without being too aggressive.
  • Handle feels great when held in an icepick grip.


  • When using a forward grip, the finger choil is a little too deep and alters our grasp just enough to bother us.
  • We're not fans of the short-by-wide pocket clip.

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