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Usual Suspects: Small Folding Knives

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This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 41

When given the choice, we’ll pick a big blade over a little one most of the time. But some circumstances call for a small edged tool. Shorter knives weigh less, are easier to conceal, and take up less pocket real estate. Plus, with less materials needed, they’re generally cheaper than their bigger brothers.

And, unfortunately, myopic politicians in certain regions have outlawed blades of medium to large sizes. Because they fear (or envy?) longer lengths, these mouth breathers in power have neutered knives in their jurisdiction. While the exact maximum length varies from nanny state to nanny state, we’re zeroing in on blades that max out at about 2.5 inches.

After all, even if you live in a free state, you could find yourself vacationing in or going on work trips to places with Draconian knife laws.

So, take a look at our lineup of small folding knives and see if one fits your needs when your large blades need to stay home.

MAKE: Columbia River Knife & Tool
MODEL: Snicker
OAL: 4.688 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 1.8 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 420J2 stainless steel
WEIGHT: 2.3 ounces
MSRP: $35
This might be the baby of this bunch, but the Snicker ain’t no joke. Its petite size, decent cutting edge, and good craftsmanship make this folder a solid choice if you’re looking for a flipper knife that can be concealed in the palm of your hand. It might not win any awards, but it’ll perform if you don’t have any other edged weapons on hand, and yet you won’t cry if you lose or break it in the field thanks to its low price tag. Made in Taiwan.

-Despite being made of cheapo 420J2 stainless steel, the modified drop-point blade came out of the box sharp.
-Easy on the wallet
-Faux carbonfiber texture on the injection-molded glass-reinforced nylon handle provides added traction.

-Pocket clip isn’t adjustable, meaning it’s right-handed and tip-down only.
-Handle is less than 3 inches long, so there’s not much to grab.
-Flipper tab is the only means of opening the blade.

MAKE: Magnum by Boker
MODEL: Black Lightning
OAL: 4.9 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 440 stainless steel
WEIGHT: 3.4 ounces
MSRP: $19

Boker’s Magnum brand takes its German designs and manufactures them overseas to keep the prices down. In this case, Black Lightning was produced in China, but the quality control is spot on. It can open using either the flipper tab or the thumb-stud, both of which act as dual finger guards once the blade’s out. Meanwhile, the handle is constructed from beadblasted stainless steel and G10, our favorite handle material.

-Simple lines and quality materials equal a visually appealing yet functional tiny tool.
-Dual finger guards
-Spear-point blade is great for piercing.
-Cheapest option in this buyer’s guide

-Conversely, cutting edge did more pushing than slicing in our testing.
-Tip-down-only orientation slows blade deployment in emergency situations.
-The handle is too short even for our medium-sized paws.

MAKE: Spyderco
MODEL: Lil’ Lum
OAL: 5.41 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.31 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: VG-10 stainless steel
WEIGHT: 1.9 ounces
MSRP: $220

In the mid ’70s, the late Bob Lum was arguably the first to bring Asian blade aesthetics to American tactical knives. For the Lil’ Lum, Spyderco takes his popular Chinese patterns and shrinks them to a crazy small frame meant for daily carry. Though only 2.31 inches long, the blade features Lum’s iconic bamboo-leafshaped profile, giving more cutting edge on a shorter span. This is a beautiful puppy with a ferocious bite. Made in Japan.

-The VG-10 steel is razor sharp and tough as nails.
-G10 scales are grippy without being abrasive.
-Pocket clip is super sturdy and allows for a tip-up carry for both right- and left-handed users.

-Our pinky barely fits on the handle, meaning those with large hands won’t find enough purchase.
-Look for deals online, because the retail price is on the higher end for such a small knife.

MAKE: Camillus
MODEL: Erupt 5.5” Folding Knife
OAL: 5.5 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.45 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: AUS-8 stainless steel
WEIGHT: 1.5 ounces
MSRP: $27

While we’re not feeling the geometric pattern on the surface of glass-filled nylon handle, we do like that on the inside its liner-lock can be disengaged by pushing on a pad rather than a thin sliver of steel like on most folding knives. On the business end, the Erupt has a drop-point blade that slices and stabs with ease. It also features a carbo-nitride titanium surface treatment for increased durability, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. Made in China

-The Japanese AUS-8 steel blade made short work of our test medium.
-Opens with either a smooth flipper mechanism or dual thumb-studs
-Affordable price
-Sturdy ambidextrous pocket clip

-Though it’s adjustable for lefties or righties, the clip can only be worn with the tip pointed down.
-Short handle leaves our pinky hanging out by itself.

MAKE: Cold Steel
MODEL: Tuff Lite
OAL: 6 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.5 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: AUS-8A stainless steel
WEIGHT: 2.5 ounces
MSRP: $51

While its finger groves are a tad too deep, the Tuff Lite is still the most comfortable to grasp among those reviewed here due to its handle length and ergonomics. The polymer Griv-Ex handle is 3.5 inches long, just enough for our pinky to grasp hold. The blade works like a light saber, thanks in part to its Wharncliffe profile — the long straight edge allows for more penetrating follow-through on slices while also providing strength during thrusts. Made in Taiwan.

-FA short knife that doesn’t feel dwarfish in our hands
-AUS-8A stainless steel blade cuts and stabs like a laser
-Tough pocket clip and overall construction

-Though for both righties and lefties, the pocket clip is tip-down only.
-The lockback feels gritty and requires extra pressure to push down in order to close the blade.

MAKE: Kershaw
MODEL: Shuffle II
OAL: 6.3 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.6 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 8Cr13Mov stainless steel
WEIGHT: 3 ounces
MSRP: $31

This sequel improves on the first Shuffle by lengthening the handle and shifting the integrated bottle opener from the handle’s spine (where it digs into the palm) to the bottom of the handle. Though the blade profile is now a tanto instead of the more versatile drop-point, it features a black-oxide Black Wash finish that’s durable and appealing. And though it’s made in China, the Shuffle II is a quality production knife

-Glass-filled nylon handle is both long enough for a full grip and ergonomic enough to feel comfortable -Great value
-Comes with integrated flathead screwdriver, integrated bottle-opener, and lanyard hole

-A drop-point, instead of a tanto blade, would have been more practical.
-Due to the placement of the tools, the ambi pocket clip must be carried tip down.

MAKE: Buck Knives
MODEL: Rush Knife
OAL: 6.438 inches
BLADE LENGTH: 2.5 inches
BLADE MATERIAL: 420HC stainless steel
WEIGHT: 2.4 ounces
MSRP: $92

The largest of these small knives is also the fastest to deploy. The Rush features an assisted-opening mechanism that lets it blade fling open with lightning speed and an authoritative thwack sound. It’s kept in check with a useful safety just below the flipper tab that activates the blade. Meanwhile, the skeletonized aluminum handle is strong, lightweight, textured for additional grippyness, and long enough for most users. Made in the USA.

-Quality construction and design
-Handle should be long enough for even large hands.
-Assisted-opening is fast and smooth.
-Opens with either the flipper tab or the thumb-studs

-Though tip-up, the pocket clip is for right handers only. It also flexes a bit more than we’d prefer.

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