The Karambit Is A Historic Utility and Combat Knife From Asia That Has Grown In Popularity Around The World In Recent Decades.
The karambit looks unlike any other knife. The short, swooping curve of the blade dates back nearly a millennium in Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia. First used mainly as a tool for farming and planting rice, the karambit evolved over time into a combat knife. The curve became more pronounced and became a main weapon in pencak silat, an indigenous Indonesian martial art, and Filipino martial arts.
Legend goes that as the knife became more combat-oriented, its shape was inspired by a tiger’s claw. The knife’s tight curve and finger ring allow it to stay securely in the hand in close-quarters combat.
Why Should I Use A Karambit?
The karambit today is very much a self-defense tool. Yes, it can still be used for outdoor tasks, but there are more practical blades available for such purposes. The karambit is a strong, durable combat knife used by law enforcement and militaries around the world.
If you’re looking for a high-quality knife to keep on your person as protection, you can’t get much better than the karambit. The finger ring provides a natural, secure traditional grip or reverse grip to generate more power with each swing.
The folks at Emerson Knives, Inc., have made a great video showing how to use a karambit.
Do I Need A Karambit?
Simply put: no. A karambit is a refined self-defense tool. If you live a life where life-and-death close-quarters combat is an extremely minute possibility then you can probably pass on a karambit.
Additionally, the sharp curve of the blade means it can be difficult to handle without experience or training, even with the finger ring. If it’s uncomfortable to use then don’t use it.
Emerson Combat Karambit
The Combat Karambit folder by Emerson Knives, Inc., was very well received when introduced years ago. It subsequently spawned a larger version called the Super Karambit. It shares the same award-winning features of its forerunner but in a larger, more impressive format. The 3-inch blade is 154CM stainless steel and opens by either the patented Emerson Wave or an oval blade hole. Handle material is G-10 reinforced by dual titanium liners for rigidity. The handle flows seamlessly into the finger ring in the butt. There are a lot of graceful curves on this knife. It’s a feast to behold.
The handle fits my hand extremely well, instilling a high sense of security and user confidence. The Super Karambit carries nicely in a pocket though its presence is a constant reminder of just how big it is. A reverse grip feels exactly as secure as a forward one. Your hand isn’t moving once it’s wrapped around this handle!
To deploy the blade using the Wave remote pocket opener, hook your finger through the finger ring, pull the handle from your pocket and let the Wave hook engage the seam of your pants pocket. Keep pulling and as the handle comes free from the pocket, the hook grabs the seam and deploys the blade open and locked. To my knowledge, this results in faster blade deployment than any other karambit.
One thing I don’t care for is the overly aggressive texturing of the G-10. I like grippy texture but this one is downright abrasive on pants fabric. It might be a good idea to take a small piece of cardboard and rub it over the handle texture to smooth it out somewhat. The knife is offered exclusively in a stonewashed blade finish and a black G-10 handle. Country of origin: USA. Closed length: 5 inches.
TOPS Devil’s Claw 2
The Devil’s Claw 2 by TOPS Knives is a mid-sized fixed blade designed for personal protection. It’s built on the same platform as the company’s original Devil’s Claw but with an extended handle to accommodate a full grip as well as the traditional ring at the end. The 3-inch hawkbill blade is 1095 carbon steel in the company’s Black Traction Coating to help protect against corrosion, as well as provide a low profile. Overall length: 5.75 inches. Five large traction notches machined into the rest portion of the blade spine provide a non-slip grip for the thumb. The handle is blue and black G-10 with red fiber spacers at the tang—very eye catching! The sheath is molded Kydex with loops to carry horizontally on a belt.
The DC2 is also a well-disguised utility knife. It feels agile and capable in hand. If you have jobs that require long, straight cuts, the DC2 is the answer. The angle of the blade makes it easy to use the tip to cut and score, while hiding the knife in a forward grip. The finger ring helps seat your hand during such tasks. The traction notches on the thumb rest aid with precise tasks such as wire stripping, whittling or any task that requires downward pressure on the blade.
CRKT Du Hoc
Sometimes bigger really is better, and that might be the case with the CRKT Du Hoc. This fixed blade designed by Austin McGlaun is a whopping 9.63 inches in length and 9.3 ounces in weight. McGlaun designed the knife to honor his late uncle who earned a Silver Star at Point Du Hoc.
The 5.1-inch blade is made from powder-coated SK-5 carbon steel. The G-10 handle provides an excellent grip, and the included thermoplastic sheath comes with mounting options and makes for easy transport.
Fox Knives 479
We return to folders with this piece from Fox Knives. The 479 is a large flipper that can handle whatever you throw at it. The 2.95-inch blade is made from N690Co stainless with a black Idroglider coating and a G-10 handle. The blade has been treated to 58-60 HRC, making it the hardest blade on our list.
When opened, the knife is 7.48 inches long, and it weighs 4.58 ounces. The finger ring is made from aircraft aluminum to keep weight down without sacrificing toughness. The reversible pocket clip makes for easy carry no matter where you go.
Boker Magnum Spike
At 8.25 inches overall, the Boker Magnum Spike Karambit is a full-size fixed blade. Visually, this one is quite striking! The 4-inch talon-shaped blade is 440A stainless steel coated black for corrosion protection and a low profile. A full-length swedge adds attitude.
The handle is very well executed. Multiple finger grooves aid in seating your hand comfortably. There’s a groove on the handle spine with traction notches to securely seat your thumb and help index your grip. The tan G-10 handle features a 3D texturing pattern for an excellent non-slip grip. The edges of the G-10 are chamfered properly, further enhancing grip comfort. The finger ring has an integral spike at the end for a blunt strike option if needed. When held in the reverse grip, the spike helps form a comfortable thumb rest. A molded Kydex sheath with belt adapter promotes easy carry
Due to its large size, the Spike isn’t as agile in-hand as the smaller test karambits. If you tend to manipulate a karambit, this one isn’t for you. Due to the swedge, the blade is somewhat thin and while sharp and able to penetrate like crazy, it might be prone to bending or breaking if used for rough cutting. A smaller version with a 3-inch blade that is more hawkbill than talon, flat ground and without the spike on the ring could be more agile and more EDC friendly. Still, at an
Spartan Blades Ronin Shoto
Spartan Blades teamed up with Tu Lam of Ronin Tactics to design the Ronin Shoto, a folding karambit that is part of the company’s Field Grade line of tactical knives. The Ronin Shoto design leverages the knowledge of Lam along with Spartan Blades co-owners Curtis Iovito and Mark Carey—all three saw action together in the Special Forces—and their experiences serving the USA overseas in Asia. The trio developed a fascination with the karambit during that time and it wasn’t until years later that their fascination manifested itself with the Ronin Shoto.
The knife adopts 2.5 inches of a tanto blade, rarely seen in karambits. For blade steel, CTS XHP premium stainless provides edge longevity and durability. There’s also the Emerson Wave, the only opening method the Ronin Shoto has. The blade rides on Spartan’s OIBBS (oil-infused bronze bushing system). The bronze washers are permanently impregnated with lubricant to ensure glassy smooth blade operation at all times. Textured G-10 slabs conceal dual stainless liners. A linerlock secures the blade in the open position. A deep carry pocket clip carries the knife comfortably. A contrasting red G-10 handle spacer adds a tasteful pop of color.
The Ronin Shoto sports a very impressive, heavy-duty build. Like the Emerson Super Karambit, the pocket presence is something you will notice, though it’s not uncomfortable. Opening the blade is very similar to the Super Karambit—index finger through the finger hole, pull and the blade opens as the knife exits the pocket, all in one continuous motion. If you prefer the reverse grip, re-orient the clip to the left side of the handle and you can still make use of the Wave.
Whereas the curved blades of standard karambits are limited in use, the short tanto of the Ronin Shoto is more utility friendly. It tackles general cutting tasks and the CTS XHP stainless steel ensures edge quality will go the distance. I wish the folder had an alternate way of deploying the blade other than just the Wave, though it is possible to place your thumb on the Wave and push on it to open the blade as you would any one-hand knife. Closed length: 5.2 inches.
Lionsteel/Emerson LE One
The Lionsteel/Emerson LE One is a collaboration between Ernest Emerson and Lionsteel. It quite possibly is the most advanced folding karambit on today’s market due to several notable features. The 3.23-inch blade is CPM MagnaCut stainless, the latest in high-performance “super steel.” It’s the most advanced steel in terms of edge holding, stain resistance and toughness. The blade opens via one of three methods—blade hole, Emerson Wave and a flipper. If you want to remove the flipper, you can do so using a T6 Torx® wrench. The removable flipper is the REF (removable flipper) system, exclusive to Lionsteel.
The framelock handle showcases another feature seldom seen on factory knives: no assembly screws because it’s machined from one billet of aluminum. The lockbar, semi-open backspacer and finger ring are all one piece of aluminum. The handle boasts a machined crosshatch pattern with milled striations. A stainless steel wear pad screwed to the end of the lockbar results in steel-on-steel lock integrity. A deep-carry pocket clip is reversible for ambidextrous use. Handle color options are black, green, red and brown. Blade finish options are stonewashed and black coated.
A fraction over 5 inches closed, the LE One is one of the larger folding karambits. However, it’s so lightweight and carries so well that its sheer size doesn’t even factor in. I like how your hand is seated comfortably when in the forward grip—it definitely feels secure. All edges and corners are rounded and chamfered properly, making the handle melt in your hand. Even the finger ring is rounded both inside and out. The thumb ramp and blade spine are crowned—I totally dig this. These areas have a rounded appearance, not flat like most other blade spines. Crowning demonstrates that a company is willing to go the extra mile to pay attention to such a minor detail. Lionsteel has detail locked down for sure!
Sharp out of the box, the blade cuts very efficiently and the flat grind pull cuts easily. The framelock engages tight, with zero blade movement in any direction. The blade tip looks different from other karambits. It appears to be dull but is not. Emerson’s design eliminates the very pointy tip, which is prone to break during heavy use, by squaring it off slightly. This creates a strong tip. The Emerson Super Karambit has the same feature as well.
Kershaw Knives Outlier
Anchoring the value end of the spectrum is the Kershaw Knives Outlier. In a somewhat angular handle design, the Outlier’s finger ring is integral with the handle spacer. The only karambit from Kershaw, it features a 2.6-inch blade of 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The blade opens via Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted-opening mechanism designed by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Ken Onion. The opening starts via a choice of an oversized thumb stud and a flipper. The handle is a glass-filled nylon polymer outfitted with a deep-carry pocket clip and a linerlock.
The Outlier feels very secure and comfortable in hand. Your grip is locked in via the large forward finger recess and finger recess at the butt just outside the finger ring. Fit and finish is top notch and an all-black tactical finish presents a subdued appearance. The 8Cr13MoV is a good middle-of-the-road steel, very comparable to AUS-8, which is popular in entry-level-to-mid-range knives. The curved blade is easy to sharpen with a rod-type sharpener and holds a decent edge.
Editor’s Note: Dexter Ewing and Mike Ableson contributed to this article.
Knife Guide Issue features the newest knives and sharpeners, plus knife and axe reviews, knife sheaths, kit knives and a Knife Industry Directory.
Get your FREE digital PDF instant download of the annual Knife Guide. No, really! We will email it to you right now when you subscribe to the BLADE email newsletter.