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 M16-14SFG 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.
CRKT Pilar III
Last year the Pilar was in this spot, but I knocked it off the list for the brand new 2021 Pilar III.
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 III addresses them all.
The Pilar III stretches the original 2.4-inch blade to a 2.97-inch blade. The heavy, smooth steel handles of the original are replaced with a G-10 front scale. Even though the Pilar III 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 III is just a tad bit better.
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.
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.
The Homefront is the only knife that truly got the boot from the 2020 list. While the innovation remains excellent, Ken Onion has put out an even better Field Strip generation. I imagine one of those knives will be on this list next year too.
But, for now, it’s hard to beat the innovation of the CRKT Provoke.
A collaboration between Joe Caswell and CRKT, the Provoke isn’t just a folding karambit but it’s essentially a morphing karambit. It somehow doesn’t seem like it would work but it does. The blade is 2.41 inches in D2 steel.
It just goes to show that innovation is alive and well in the knife community and few brands are as willing to take risks as CRKT.
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.