This post was originally posted in August 2018 and is updated every year.
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 nearly three decades the company has been around, it’s put out hundreds of different models. 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 leaves a lot to be desired by the knife community. In the last few years, CRKT has tried to remedy these failings.
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 models 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 M16-14SF 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.
CRKT has frequently collaborated with the now late Jon Graham. Some of those earlier collaborations were hit-or-miss, but the CRKT Razel is a truly remarkable knife.
This fixed blade boasts Graham’s famous chisel-like blade profile with a resin-infused handle. Sure, it may look pretty strange, but the knife is functional and original.
You can’t ask for much more in a knife.
CRKT Pilar IV
When we first made this list, the Pilar was in this spot. Then we picked the better Pilar III as a replacement last year. Finally, we had to put the Pilar IV on here.
It’s not often a knife gets better and better as it gets more iterations, but the Pilar IV managed to accomplish this feat.
The original Pilar, designed by Jesper Voxnaes, quickly became one of the most respected user-friendly knives out there. While still a best-seller and beloved knife, there were a few issues. The Pilar IV addresses them all.
The Pilar IV stretches the original 2.4-inch blade to a 3.09-inch blade. The heavy, smooth steel handles are replaced with a G-10 front scale. Even though the Pilar IV is larger the original, it actually weighs less.
This version also has D2 steel, which is an upgrade to the old 8Cr13MoV steel. While the original Pilar remains an excellent budget knife at a compact size, the Pilar IV is just better in every way.
The Minimalist series is unusual.
The knives almost look incomplete and the blade shapes 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.
With Ken Onion’s CRKT Ripple getting a bit long in the tooth and so many new knives coming out, we unfortunately had to push the Ripple off this list. The knife that dethroned the Ripple is none other than the CRKT LCK.
The LCK was actually a Ruger by CRKT model a few years back and was a companion of the Lightweight Compact Pistol. Despite being a hit, the LCK (which is one of the only CRKT knives to get gem status from Nick Shabazz) disappeared with the Ruger line. But, the knife came back with a vengeance under the CRKT brand.
The LCK + is as lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to carry as ever. It has a 3.31-inch assisted blade with a black glass-reinforced nylon handle.
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.
CRKT CEO Flipper
The hardest part of narrowing down the best CRKT knives is that there are so many perfect knives in its back catalog and then new great knives are added every year. In the first iteration of this list, we had to give the Lucas Burnley Obake fixed blade the boot to replace with the CEO.
However, in 2021, CRKT put out a flipper version, which somehow managed to improve upon the design. It’s a slim and specialized folder made primarily for office workers because of its low profile and unassuming design when closed.
Sales on the CEO continue to climb, and so does the positive reception.
People were initially nervous about the flipper mechanism added to the knife, but it works flawlessly with the design. But you can still grab the original if you prefer.
There’s even the CEO Compact now for those who want a smaller knife.
In the first few iterations of this list, we had the Homefront and then the Provoke. While these two knives were good, they were a little gimmicky and not necessarily CRKT’s best.
So, we decided to eschew the specialty knives and go back to the basics with the M4-02 series. These three folders from Kit Carson have been mainstays of the CRKT lineup and for good reason: they are modern classics that look and feel timeless.
The M4-02 with white bone handle is a particularly good-looking knife that’s among our best-selling CRKT knives.
CRKT Squid XM
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. In 2015, guest reviewer Beau Shelton gushed over the knife and how it evoked feelings of nostalgia and understanding in him.
However, just like how the Pilar got better and better as time went on, the same thing happened to the Squid. The culmination of the Squid design is the Squid XM.
This model fixes all the flaws of the original. It is longer but almost as light, it uses D2 steel, it has a G-10 scale to decrease its slickness, and it has an assisted opener with flipper.
For the price, it’s one of the best EDC knives you can buy.
Out of all the major brands, CRKT has one of the most diverse catalogs that range from user-friendly pieces to absurd designs to all-time classics.