Locking folders have been part of the cutlery scene for centuries. As for the lockback, some form of it has been around since the mid-1800s, when it started out as a tabbed lock and progressed over time as the more user-friendly detent style most of us know today.
The simple yet effective lockback mechanism got a massive shot in the arm in 1964 when Buck Knives introduced the now legendary Model 110 Folding Hunter.
These back-locking stalwarts have never left the folding knife scene, they have just been overshadowed by newer locking mechanisms. Lately they’ve been making a nice resurgence and are more diverse than ever.
Spyderco Manbug Salt Lightweight
The Spyderco Manbug Salt Lightweight is a small, pocket carry model bent on defying its weight class. The smallest of the test knives, the Manbug Salt is a scant 4.4 inches extended with 1.9 inches of the total focused on a wicked, fully serrated sheepfoot blade. Spyderco knives come extremely sharp out of the box and this small lockback was no exception.
The bright yellow handle is the company’s classic, molded FRN synthetic, accoutered with the same, bumpy pattern found on its popular Delica and Endura models. The Manbug Salt’s rustfree blade of “corrosion-proof” H-1 work-hardened steel makes for pocket carry worry-free from sweat and moisture. Its midlock positioning is located halfway up the rear handle spine, and there is a lanyard/neck cord hole in the base. MSRP: $79.95.
The Manbug Salt Lightweight is not designed to be a serious knife user’s primary blade, but it is a great secondary carry loose in the pocket. I tested it for a week around the office opening boxes, ripping through corrugated board and other daily functions. The blade is extremely sharp, as Spydercos typically are, and slices through packing tape with ease. I stacked up three layers of heavy-duty reinforced packing tape and it sliced through it like butter—and after a week the edge was as effective as ever. In the pocket you hardly know its scant .8 ounce is there. I also like it as a last ditch hideaway knife should I ever need one. That little 1.9-inch blade is bigger and badder than it looks.
Bear & Son Cowhand Lockback
The Bear & Son Cowhand Lockback has the look and feel of a modernized version of the traditional copperhead pattern. The 3.75-inch handle sports rosewood scales sandwiched between nickel silver bolsters, with the lock located at the lower rear base.
The slender 1095 carbon steel blade, a California clip point, is 2.875 inches long and accessed via an ovate thumb hole. On the back side is an ample 2.5-inch stainless steel pocket clip positioned for tip-down carry, or if you like you can remove the clip and carry the Cowhand loose in the pocket. At about 3 inches closed and tipping the scales at 2.3 ounces, the Cowhand is a medium-size folder that won’t bog you down. MSRP: $70.95.
I gave the Cowhand an initial run on some 550 paracord. The blade sliced through one, two and three lengths of cord with ease on both flat surfaces and pull-through strokes. I moved up to some much tougher waxed quarter-inch lasso rope on a flat surface. Applying pressure, I had no trouble slicing the rope in single strokes. Pull-throughs required multiple strokes but this extremely dense material gives most knives fits. Of the three folders in our lineup with pocket clips, the Cowhand’s is the deepest fitting. If you’re an aficionado of traditional folders, you’ll enjoy the feel of Rosewood in your hand as opposed to a synthetic.
Cold Steel Grik
As cool looking lockbacks go, the Cold Steel Grik rates an 11 out of 10. Cold Steel has been a longtime proponent of the lockback and uses the trademarked name Tri-Ad Lock™ for its mechanism. The aggressively styled Grik is a mid-sized midlock folder—6.875 inches overall, 3.875 inches closed, 3.3 ounces—with a tactical-looking handle profile and a 3-inch spear-point blade of AUS-8 stainless steel.
Adding to its attitude is a heavy, ramped and checkered lug-shaped thumb stud on each side for ambidextrous access. Another cool feature is a tip-up pocket clip that spans the width of the GFN injection molded handle. Left -hand conversion is available for southpaws. MSRP: $59.99.
I liked the Grik’s wide, deep-bellied blade and put it to the test on slicing up sausage for a pot of red beans and rice. The links were approximately 1 inch in diameter and, while the Grik doesn’t have a long blade like a chef ’s knife, it had no trouble whatsoever taking off clean, consistent slices. Similar edibles such as carrots and shallots would be no problem.
As an EDC the Grik would be useful performing other daily chores around the office, and its wicked, double-ground blade can offer up a sweet bit of protection should the occasion arise. If you desire a thoroughly modern mid-sized lockback with a wide range of capabilities, the Grik will serve you well.
KA-BAR Folding Hunter
The KA-BAR Folding Hunter is, simply stated, a modern tactical take on the legendary Buck 110 and KA-BAR’S subsequent Model 1189. The overall design and dimensions are very close, but the new KA-BAR version takes off from there in a hurry. About 5 inches closed, the KA-BAR Folding Hunter has a gray, nonreflective 3.87-inch clip point blade of 420 stainless steel with matching bolsters and black G-10 scales—which combined give it a very stealthy look.
The blade has ambidextrous thumb studs along with an optional long-pull nail nick on the front side for opening. On the backside is a 2.25-inch tip-down reversible stainless steel pocket clip. The cross-section of the handle is a trim .5 inch across, cutting down on weight and signature. The KABAR Folding Hunter is affordably priced at an MSRP of $24.21.
KA-BAR’s Folding Hunter was the only large-sized lockback in the pack and, like its predecessors, has the ability to perform tough tasks. I tested the blade on some 1/16-inch suede leather to see how well it could take off nice, clean strips. Laying the suede down on a flat wooden surface, I used the knife to slice through the material in easy, even strokes. The blade sliced equally well through 3/8-inch rappelling rope. Skinning, meal prep and shaving wood would be no problem with the KA-BAR Folding Hunter.
Lockback Knives are Back
Very much alive, the lockback folder is more diverse than ever, and choices abound. The Spyderco Manbug Salt Lightweight can fulfill many daily chores and also prevent wear and tear on your larger EDC, if so desired. The Bear & Son Cowhand and Cold Steel Grik give you a choice between a lockback with traditional styling versus a modern tactical one. If you want a full-size carry capable of more heavy-duty chores, the KA-BAR Folding Hunter will do the trick.
Choose your lockback!
Learn More About Spyderco Knives
1973 BLADE magazine issues in digital PDF! Delivered straight to your e-mail inbox for instant download. It’s 1973, and the future of the modern knife industry was being forged by a pioneering group of knifemakers with a magazine and a mission. Get these collectible first issues of the World's #1 Knife Publication! Click Here to Get Your Free Issue