PSK Knives: A Look At Mini Lockblades
It’s common to provide some sort of blade in most Personal Survival Kits (PSK). Generally this isn’t a primary tool, but a backup, or one for when you really don’t have anything else available. In many commercial kits this might be something as basic as a scalpel blade or a folding razor. While this is better than not having any sharp implement at all, these tiny blades don’t have much strength to them, and can be difficult to use with cold, weary hands in an emergency. A common replacement for the scalpel with folks making their own kits is the Swiss Army Knife. Many people go with something small like the 58mm Classic model as it takes up the least space. Personally, while I appreciate the utility of the Classic, or better yet the Rambler, for a key chain knife, I don’t find the main blades on them durable enough for emergency use. They’re a step up from a scalpel, but still not something I’d really want to bet my life on. Something I have used is an 84mm Alox handled Lumberjack model that has a larger blade and a saw. The Alox Lumberjack is a great PSK blade as it’s very thin and packs a lot of utility into a small space. The problem with these is that they’re hard to find, as they were limited runs made by Roger Remund at Swissbianco.
So, if you aren’t going to use a razor or a scalpel, you want something more substantial than a SAK Classic, and you can’t find a Lumberjack, then what do you do? Well, while browsing the various booths at the SHOT show this year, I began to take note of a number of small locking folders available from a variety of companies. I started thinking about this and realized that a small lockblade knife makes a lot of sense for a PSK. As noted above, in a survival situation there are decent odds that you might not be at your peak of performance. Those same tired, cold hands might be more prone to slipping than they would be normally. It was with those thoughts in mind that I started thinking that a small folder with a locking blade might be a good option for these kits. Luckily, there are a plethora of designs out there now from the main players in the cutlery industry to choose from.
So, once you decide to go to a lockblade, what kind do you get? Something substantial like a Buck 110 would be great, but its probably going to be too big and too heavy for most pocket kits. I used a Pelican 1010 case as my guide. This is a common box used for PSK’s and probably the upper limit of practical size for most folks. If a selected knife will fit in this, it’ll likely work in most kits. Although for the Altoid tin based ones we’ll probably have to look at some of the smaller selections available. I also factored price into my selection criteria as well. I wanted to take a look at knives that were affordable enough that folks could by a few of them to sprinkle through their kits without breaking the bank. It isn’t uncommon for folks to have a kit stashed in each car, one for regular use, and possibly one for each member of the family. Costs can add up quickly if you’re trying to stock multiple kits. With that said, price alone wasn’t enough to make the cut (if you’ll excuse the pun). All the knives selected are from reputable manufacturers and have something more going for them than just being economical. With that said, lets see what I came up with.
Starting in alphabetical order, I first went to Benchmade for a compact PSK knife. The model that really stood out in the line to me was the Benchmite II. The Benchmite has a 1.8 inch drop point blade of AUS 8 stainless steel and the closed length is only 2.85 inches. The stubby blade is rather wide in profile and makes the Benchmite look bigger that actually is. In hand, it’s quite compact and rather thin, and would fit well in even the smallest of kits. Lockup is by means of Benchmade’s LEVITATOR system, which locks the knife both open and closed. Depress the inset in the handle scale to open or close the knife. It’s simple, and very sturdy, and the lock is rock solid. Even with its stainless steel handles, the weight on the Benchmite II only runs at 1 ounce on the money. This is a stout little knife that could easily fill the role as a gentleman’s folder if it wasn’t spending time in your kit. The Benchmite II is made in Taiwan for Benchmade to their usual exacting standards. Suggested retail on the Benchmite II is $35.00 but some judicious shopping can knock about $10 off of that.
I ended up with two selections from Buck. The first, and smallest, is the Nano Bantam. As it’s name implies, this one is pretty small. It has a 1.875 inch drop point blade of 420J2 steel, and is 3 inches long closed. It features a traditional lockback mechanism located out of the way towards the rear of the knife handle. The Nano Bantam is one of Buck’s import models and features a very modest suggested retail price of $14.00, with street prices running closer to $10. Despite the low price, it’s solidly built and feels good in the hand for such a small knife. Buck is looking to bring the remaining overseas production lines back to the U.S. so look for American made Bantams in the future. The Bantam is a good choice if you have a smaller kit, like one based around the Altoids type tin or something similar. It compares in size very favorably with a Victorinox Classic. Weight on the Nano Bantam is only 0.6 ounces. This is one knife that you can literally forget you have on you, and won’t turn your PSK into a brick in your pocket.
If you’re using a slightly bigger Pelican 1010 case, or Otterbox or the like, then the U.S. made Small Bucklite Max becomes an attractive proposition. While a fair bit larger than the Nano Bantam, the Small Bucklite is still easily compact enough to fit into many kits. It carries a 2 ¾ inch 420HC blade, and is 4 inches closed. The handle is black glass reinforced nylon and once again features a rear positioned lock along the spine. The Bucklite has a pocket clip, which is somewhat superfluous in a PSK knife, but might come in handy once you break into your kit and have the knife in use. Weight is a scant 1.6 ounces. The Bucklite Max carries a suggested retail price of only $20 and when you look at street prices, is only a few dollars more than the imported Bantam. The Bucklite is part of Buck’s efforts to make American made products that are very competitively priced to within a few dollars of import models.
I have a long history with Gerber knives, and one of the first models I thought of when this article came into being was the LST. The LST was my first Gerber knife and the one that I purchased in Basic Training over 20 years ago. I carried that knife regularly until I replaced it with another Gerber a few years later, an ATS-34 E-Z Out. That was actually my first one hand opening knife, and my first knife with a pocket clip! But I digress, back to the LST. Once I did replace the LST for every day carry, it found a home in one of my early PSK’s. It’s lightweight and thin profile made it a great choice for this purpose. I still have that old LST, but being that has some sentimental value to me, I picked up a new one to use for my tests. The LST falls in at the larger end of the scale of test knives but it still easily fits in that Pelican 1010 or a Witz box. Its thin profile is a great help in this regard. The LST features a 2.63 inch drop point blade of 420HC stainless steel and a rugged Zytel handle. The LST also features a traditional lock back mechanism, similar to the Bucks, although placed slightly more towards the center of the handle. Closed length is 3.61 inches. Weight comes in at only 1.2 ounces, not bad for a knife of its size. Suggested retail on the LST is $26.00 but they can be found for more like $17 online. I really don’t think that’s much more than what I paid for my original one 20 years ago!
If you need an even smaller option than the LST, but you like its general lines or the Gerber product line, then you need look no further than the Ultralight LST. The Ultralight is basically just a shrunken down LST. It shares the same blade style and handle materials but has a shorter 1.96 inch blade and is only 2.65 inches closed. Its profile is equally thin and the weight on the Ultralight is only 0.6 ounces. Suggested retail is $19.85 with street prices running right about $12. Both Gerber LST’s are made in the USA and stamped Portland, Oregon.
The name KA-BAR might conjure up images of the big USMC fighting knives, but KA-BAR has a lot more to its stable than just those. One of the real bargains in their line is the Bob Dozier designed series of folders. I picked up a regular 3 inch blade Dozier folder, as well as a 3.66 inch bladed Large Dozier, at the BLADE show in Atlanta last year and have been very impressed with their build quality and performance, especially in relationship to their very reasonable price. When I saw the new Mini Dozier at SHOT this past January I knew it would be perfect for use in small PSK’s. In fact, it was this knife with orange handles that really got the whole process going. The Mini Dozier has a 2 ¼ inch drop point blade of AUS 8A steel, and is about 3 3/8 inches closed. Weight is 0.8 ounces. It has Zytel handles available in bright orange, black, or pink. The orange handled models have black blades, while the pink and black models have satin finished blades. It too features a traditional lockback design with a center positioned lock. Like the Bucklite it has a pocketclip. The Dozier clip is reversible and easily removed if you choose not to use it. The Mini Doziers are made in Taiwan for Ka-Bar and carry a retail price of $25.95 but can be found for about $18 without much trouble.
Kershaw provided two models for my round up, one that’s something of a staple of the line, and another newer model that wins the award for the best budget knife of the group. We’ll start with that one, and it’s the Ace Model 1710X. The Ace is an import with a flat ground 2 5/16 inch drop point blade of 420J2 steel. Closed length is 3 1/8 inches. It features a rear mounted lock back and injection molded Zytel handles. Weight is right at 1 ounce. The Ace has a suggested retail price of $19.95 but can be had online for as little as $4.95! I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about a $5 knife I was going to put in a PSK but the Ace seems like it’ll do just fine. Lock up is good and the factory edge would shave hair off of my arm. With its compact size and ridiculously affordable price the Ace might well be a good choice if you had to make a larger number of kits for a youth group, Boy Scout troop or something like that.
The other Kershaw that I tested is their DWO Classic. The DWO is a very sturdy Japanese made folder featuring a 2 3/8 inch slip pointed blade of AUS 6A stainless steel. It features a rear mounted lockback, which is unique in that it’s actually covered by the slightly flexible co-polymer handle. The co-polymer has a resilient feel to it that provides a very solid grip even when wet, and doesn’t seem to translate the cold like metal or even harder plastics would. My example came in safety orange, but black, blue, and red models are also available. While the DWO is again one of the larger knives tested it still is only 3 ¼ inches closed and easily fits into the Pelican 1010 box. The DWO is a solid knife that performs like a much larger blade. More than once I felt myself thinking that it might be too big for my intended kit use, but then I’d compare it to other knives in the group and I’d realize it wasn’t even the largest of the group. A knife that feels bigger in use, but still packs away compactly isn’t a bad thing at all! At 1.6 ounces it was one of the heavier knives tested, if you can consider 1.6 ounces really heavy. The DWO is also very affordably priced with a suggested retail price of $29.95 and street pricing running right about $19.
Last, but certainly not least in my round up, is Spyderco along with their import line under the Byrd name. The obvious choice from Spyderco’s lineup for a PSK lockback is their extremely successful Ladybug 3 model. The one I had on hand is well suited to PSK use in that it’s outfitted with bright orange FRN handle scales. While I liked this version personally, some shopping around will find other color scales such as basic black or even a charming purple if that suits your fancy, or perhaps for if you’re building a kit up for the wife or daughter. The Ladybug 3 has a 1 15/16 inch VG-10 stainless steel blade complete with Spyderco’s trademark opening hole. Closed length is 2 7/16 inches and the weight is a feathery 0.6 ounces. Lockup up is once again via a traditional lockback mechanism. The Ladybug looks much like its larger Spyderco siblings but is petite enough to fit in even the smallest of kits. While its suggested retail price of $44.95 puts it a bit higher than the other knives in the round up, it’s fair to point out that its also the only micro lockback featuring a high end premium steel as well. Street prices typically bring that down under $30 so it isn’t as far out of the range of the other models as it might at first seem.
If you like the size and general layout of the Ladybug, but would like to save a bit of cash, then you need look no further than the Byrd Finch. The Finch carries a 1 7/8 inch blade of 8Cr13MoV steel with the elongated Byrd hole. It too shares the same type of lockback mechanism as the Ladybug. Scales on my example are of textured G-10 and give the look and feel of a knife costing much more than the modest $18 that you can find these models running for. Even the suggested retail price on this import is only $26.95. The Finches steel liners and G-10 scales bump the weight up slightly over the Ladybug and it comes in right at 1 ounce. If you selected an FRN handled version of the Byrd instead you’ll see the weight drop down to 0.6 ounces again, like the Ladybug, and you’ll also shave a few bucks off of the price.
A final Spyderco option for your PSK is the brand new Ladybug Salt. The Salt has the same basic specs as other Ladybugs but comes with bright yellow FRN handle scales and an H1 steel blade. The H1 steel is not just stain-less, but actually rust proof, having extremely low carbon content and being impregnated with nitrogen. (See our review of Spyderco’s Atlantic salt featuring H1 steel) Between the bright handle scales and the ultra weather resistant blade the Ladybug Salt should be a great option for survival kits. Especially for those folks operating around fresh or salt water much of the time. The H1 steel does bump the cost up a bit and these ones are running at a suggested retail price of $51.95. I’m seeing some initial pricing online in the low $30 range though so, while at the upper end of our PSK round up range, they still certainly aren’t beyond the budget of most folks building a decent kit or two. The Ladybug Salts should be available either by the time you read this or shortly thereafter.
Well, the one main thing I found out doing this round up is that there are a heck of a lot of great choices out there on the market right now! If you’re looking at putting something more substantial in your PSK than a scalpel blade or a folding razor, and you’d like to go with a locking folder, there’s no shortage of models to choose from. All of them are priced reasonably enough to allow for the purchase of multiple examples, if you have a number of kits or are making them for your family or outdoors group, and some are downright outstanding bargains. Even if you don’t necessarily need a small lockblade for a PSK, they all also make excellent lightweight backpacking knives, or even just a nice EDC blade that you could very well forget you’re carrying!