Formally known as Columbia River Knife & Tool, CRKT is a relatively new company in terms of big knife brands, having only been established in 1994.
However, over the two decades the company has been around, it’s put out hundreds of different knives. There’s a lot to love about CRKT, from its truly innovative designs to its collaborations with some of the top knifemakers. Unfortunately, the use of inexpensive materials leave a lot to be desired by the knife community.
Picking the 10 best CRKT knives was easy at first, until I realized all the knives I was forgetting. The company puts out dozens of new knives every year and discontinues a ton. Unlike many of the other brands, this list is a mixture of new and old.
Let us know if you think we missed any.
We’ll start with the flagship series from CRKT: the M16. The late great Kit Carson, who pioneered the flipper tab, helped propel CRKT to where it is today, thanks to his M16 series. His knife was named one of the 10 best tactical knives of the decade by Blade Magazine, and the CRKT interpretation is nothing to scoff at.
These days, there are dozens of variations on the M16, so much so that it’s hard to sort out all the models available and the confusing numbering system. The M16-14SFG is a crowd favorite.
The Drifter is an unlikely addition to this list. In many ways, the Drifter is an unspectacular folding knife, but it is exactly the knife that anyone can use and enjoy. In fact, the knife was named the best folding knife for the masses by The Wirecutter. It’s dirt cheap, features a reasonable sub 3-inch blade length, and uses a no-nonsense liner lock.
The blade steel is 8Cr14MoV and there are fancier knives you can get, but this is one of the best values for a workhorse folder.
If the M16 helped make CRKT more popular, the KISS is what helped put the brand on the map. Standing for Keep It Super Simple, the KISS was designed by Ed Halligan and was instantly popular in the late ’90s when it was released. The knife itself is very simple: it has a blade and a frame. Although the blade is exposed, it rests against the frame, so you won’t get cut.
Even after all these years, the KISS remains a great knife from CRKT.
The Pilar is one of the newest knives on this list. Jesper Voxnaes has quickly become one of the best designers out there, creating user-friendly knives with unique designs. His knives are often Spydercoesque in their design and appearance. The Pilar is no exception.
This knife has a small 2.4-inch blade with an oval opening cutout. The stainless steel handle keeps the blade engaged. Voxnaes has an eye for ergonomics as you can feel when you hold this knife. Yes, the knife uses 8Cr13MoV steel and it’s a little heavy, but it’s one of the best new production knives of the past few years.
The Minimalist is an unusual knife. The knives almost look incomplete and the blade shapes, whether the Tanto or Wharncliffe are not your typical fare. However, Alan Folts was able to create a knife design that works well on so many levels. Despite being almost nonexistent, the handle fills out the hand nicely. The small blade is roughly two inches and comes in different styles.
The knife comes in at a weight under 2 ounce. When accompanied by the sheath, the Minimalist can be carried around the neck without much notice.
It was quite a shock when Ken Onion left Kershaw and even more shocking that he went to CRKT. Since his arrival at CRKT, he’s created a number of solid knives, including the Swindle, Hootenanny, Shenanigan Z, and Eros. But the Ripple is probably his most popular and best knife.
The Ripple and Ripple 2 are essentially the same knife in different sizes. The Ripple has a 3.125-inch blade made from 8Cr14MoV steel. It opens quickly via flipper thanks to the help of the IKBS ball bearing pivot system. The handle uses 6061 aluminum.
On top of being a functional and inexpensive folder, the Ripple is a good-looking knife.
A.G. Russell is a legend. Here’s a brief bio from CRKT: He was the first member of the Knife Digest Cutlery Hall of Fame, a founding member of the Knifemakers’ Guild, founded the Knife Collectors Club, and started the first mail order knife business.
Russell designed the Sting back in 1975 and eventually allowed CRKT the right to make the knife. Even all these years later, the knife remains one of the best boot knives you can buy. The blade is about 3.2 inches and made from 1050 carbon steel. A black powder coat finish was applied to the entire knife to help resist corrosion. It fits into a simple yet effective sheath you can put around your leg or attached to your hip for when you need it most.
Lucas Burnley is probably best known for his Kwaiken knife design, which is a beloved folder that Boker calls “probably one of the most influential designs of the 21st century.” So when Burnley essentially created a fixed blade version, CRKT jumped at the chance to bring it to the market. It was a good decision because the Obake is an excellent knife.
The knife is simple, functional, and unique-looking. The blade is 3.64 inches and is a throwback to the Japanese Kwaiken sword (a smaller self-defense weapon used by Samurai). The blade features a great titanium nitride finish with an etch pattern that is almost reminiscent of Damascus. It has a nylon cord-wrapped handle that’s surprisingly comfortable and grippy. The sheath can be attached to the belt.
It’s hard to beat this fixed blade at the price.
Innovation is alive and well in the knife community and few brands are as willing to take risks as CRKT. Sometimes they miss the mark but other times they hit the bullseye. That’s the case with the Homefront. The Homefront is a collaboration between CRKT and Ken Onion. The knife itself has an interesting design that harkens back to WWII with a star on the pivot, a blood groove on the blade, and an aluminum handle.
But the real attraction is the Field Strip technology. EverydayCommentary had a great review of the Homefront about how the ability to fully take the knife apart without the use of tools wasn’t an unnecessary gimmick but something that actually improves the knife.
Since the Homefront, there have been a few additional models to utilize the Field Strip technology.
The Squid is another Lucas Burnley designed knife that’s earned a reputation as a solid knife for the price. The knife is compact with a small 2.14-inch blade made from 8Cr13MoV steel. It has stainless steel handle scales with a frame lock to keep the manual folding blade open.
So what makes this knife so good? Aside from the dirt cheap price, the design is simple and well done. In 2015, guest reviewer Beau Shelton gushed over the knife and how it evoked feelings of nostalgia and understanding in him. Others have reported the same thing — likely due to its design that’s based on a compact pistol that’s small but fierce.
Is the knife flawless? No. It’s a bit too heavy, the steel is nothing to write home about, and it’s not the sexiest knife. But at the price, this small EDC knife has earned its place as one of CRKT’s current 10 best offerings.