One of the most hotly contested categories in the world of EDC and tactical products is the tactical folding knife – the most “tactical” folding knife. Putting aside the argument about whether or not a folding knife is truly appropriate for that sort of circumstance (and believe you me, there’s plenty of discussion to be had there), I want to look at what I would consider to be one of the best tactical folding knives on the market today.
Now, I’m talking about stuff that’s currently in production and available off the shelf, and I’m excluding things like karambits from this discussion – there are certainly some fantastic knives available from custom makers, and yes, even a few on the Max Venom site that are absolutely worthy of consideration (the Dimachaerus of course springs to mind), but as of this writing it’s not in stock.
First, let’s look at what makes a tactical folding knife valuable – first and foremost, will it “KEAL” (Keep Everyone Alive – thanks to Doug Marcaida for that one). Second, how solid is the lock? There are loads of knives on the market with supplemental locking mechanisms for “heavy work” because most locking mechanisms simply won’t tolerate the kind of hard use a tactical folding knife is likely to encounter – the DPx HEST/F is one example, as is the CRKT “AutoLAWKS” system found on knives like their M-16 series. Finally, is the blade long enough and sturdy enough (both size-wise and steel-wise) to be useful?
Historically, CRKT has been one of the most unique knife manufacturers, both in their willingness to try seemingly off the wall ideas, and in their ability to split the difference of quality and cost, to bring their unique products to market at a price point people can afford. This has led to a bit of a reputation (not entirely undeserved) as a “budget knife company”. The good news is that they’ve been moving beyond that reputation in recent years with knives like the Clever Girl Folder, a very respectable entry to the tactical folding knife marketplace, and indeed one of my personal favorites.
Yes, the Clever Girl will “KEAL” – it’s got a robust construction and textured but not aggressive G10 handles. It also sports a nice low-ride pocket clip, which allows the user to carry a lot of knife without hassle, and without the appearance of being geared up to go to war. Many of the common users of tactical folding knives are regular folks in jeans, or others who may be dressed in more “standard” attire, sans duty belt and uniform, where many of the tactical folding knives on the market may end up drawing unnecessary attention. Thankfully, the Clever Girl does not suffer from this issue.
As for locking, the Clever Girl has one of the most unique locking mechanisms on the market today, and is the only tactical folding knife I am aware of that uses the Deadbolt technology that Flavio Ikoma developed – it’s a very unique design that uses a solid piece of metal penetrating both the handle and the blade of the knife, locking them both together. I have personally placed the blade of a Deadbolt knife in a bench vise, and (somewhat indelicately) set a chain on the handle that was connected to a 250 pound anvil, weighing down the handle while the blade remained trapped. The mechanism suffered no damage, and continues to work flawlessly. Needless to say, that experience made me a believer in the Deadbolt, especially as it pertains to tactical folding knives.
The Deadbolt also confers a few other advantages – it’s easy to disassemble and clean, easy to put back together, and low maintenance. Furthermore, it allows the user to keep their finger clear of the travel path of the blade while closing the knife, preventing injury. Finally, there are easy adjustments available to users of Deadbolt knives, controlling blade drift and opening pressure with only a couple of screwdrivers. Check out this video on the matter if you’re curious on the specifics.
The biggest (only?) complaint I can find about the Deadbolt knife is that it only requires a single button press to disengage the lock, which could be problematic if the button gets bumped during heavy use. I would remind users that the travel depth required to disengage the Deadbolt is unlikely to happen by mistake (although admittedly nothing is impossible), and in my experience, the torquing pressure created by using the knife creates additional resistance to the button press, making an accidental disengagement unlikely. Finally, if you’re holding the knife as you would a tactical folding knife, your fingers are not in a position to press the button, accidentally or otherwise.
As to blade length and sturdiness, this is probably the largest weakness of the Clever Girl as it pertains to the world of tactical folding knives – the gorgeous “Persian” curve to the blade also leads to a relatively narrow tip. If I know anything about our friends in law enforcement, it’s that they seem to love prying things with their knives for some reason. If you invest in a tactical folding knife, just don’t, friend. No prying with knives, and no knifing with pry bars. But I digress. If your plans do not involve prying, the G10 handles and D2 steel of the Clever Girl will serve your tactical folding knife needs quite admirably, as will the length and width of the blade itself. The D2 provides high resistance to wear and good edge retention, coupled with moderate corrosion resistance – all useful attributes in a tactical folding knife.
Finally, the designer, Austin McGlaun, a US Army veteran, has elected to have part of the proceeds from each sale donated to benefit a veterans’ charity through the CRKT Forged by War program – a program allowing veterans to design for the company and donate some of the proceeds to a worthy cause of their selection. It’s really nice to see companies like CRKT partnering with veterans and charities like this, and if you are unfamiliar with the program, I’d highly encourage you to browse their offerings.
Overall, the Clever Girl may not be the only game in town for tactical folding knives, but it stands out from the pack in many ways – its locking mechanism, low visual signature in the pocket, and quality materials all contribute to its position in my mind, but just as importantly, it’s a readily available production knife and it’s squarely sub-$200 on the open market (in some cases it even gets down near the $100 range). This allows it to leave the land of “boutique” knives that many people in service professions simply cannot afford, and brings it into the realm of affordability for most, if not all, LEO/fire/EMS/military personnel. Pick one up when you get a chance!