best lockback knives
Lockbacks have never been so diverse. From left, with manufacturer’s suggested retail prices in parentheses: Spyderco Manbug Lightweight ($79.95), Cold Steel Grik ($59.99), KA-BAR Folding Hunter ($24.21) and Bear & Son Cowhand ($70.95).

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.

examples of lockback folding knives
Lock positions vary on the four lockbacks. The Cold Steel Grik and Spyderco Manbug Salt (from left) have mid-locks or front locks, while the Bear & Son Cowhand and KA-BAR Folding Hunter (from right) have theirs located near the base, which is more common among the breed.
best folding knives with pocket clips
Three of the test lockbacks have pocket clips for everyday carry. From left: Bear & Son Cowhand, KA-BAR Folding Hunter and Cold Steel Grik. The Cowhand’s clip can be removed for loose pocket carry as you would a traditional pocketknife.

Spyderco Manbug Salt Lightweight

spyderco lockback knife

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.

best spyderco lockback folding knife
The Spyderco Manbug is small enough to carry loose in the pocket, or you can use a cord for neck carry if so inclined. Excellent for daily chores such as opening packages, the small folder also makes for a wicked little hideaway knife.

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.

best spyderco lockback folding knife

Bear & Son Cowhand Lockback

best folding lockback knife
With its sleek California clip point blade, the Bear & Son Cowhand is a great slicer for medium size cutting chores such as rope. If you like a blend of traditional styling brought up to modern standards, the Cowhand will fill the bill.

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.

best bear son lockback folding knives

Cold Steel Grik

cold steel lockback knives
The Cold Steel Grik is nothing short of cool and every bit as handy. The deep-bellied grind worked well for slicing sausage for a meal of red beans and rice, and can handle similar
chores around the home.

cold steel south paw
When it comes to pocket clips, the Cold Steel Grik gets the award for thinking outside the box. The company provides a mirror-image clip for left-hand pocket carry with an additional base plate to complete the package.

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.

 

 

best cold steel lockback knife

KA-BAR Folding Hunter

kabar lockback folders
The KA-BAR Folding Hunter’s 3.87-inch clip point blade has ambidextrous thumb studs with an optional long-pull nail nick for blade deployment options. The blade was equally at home slicing leather strips and taking off portions of 3/8-inch rappelling rope.

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.

best kabar lockback knife

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

history of spyderco knives

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