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If you’re looking for a lightweight, EDC friendly envelope opener that can double as a office lunch room apple slicer, the Microtech Socom Elite is the antithesis of your best option. This is a heavy, tough, tactical knife that slams open with authority and commands respect. With first responders and military personnel in mind, this knife is built and designed to hold up to some heavy use, and looks good doing it, too. But don’t be afraid of it’s intimidating looks, it’s a decent user, despite some caveats.
Key Specs: Microtech Socom Elite
Here at the soul of the Socom Elite, is a 4” blade, with a genetic makeup of M390 steel. And it is awesome. There’s some pretty loud branding and billboarding on the blade’s broad side, but it still looks analogous to the knife’s overall style. Available in a drop point or tanto, with or without serrations, the Socom’s blade is a real performer in every sense of the word. The grind of the blade, specifically in the drop point variant, is very thin behind the edge, but maintains the overly blade stock thickness of 0.19”. This means this blade is closer to 1/4” thick than most other folders out there, save for Rick Hinderer’s offerings. This translates to a blade that has exceptional strength, and can cut really well in most scenarios. We’ll get into more examples of cutting in the field test section of the review later, but the overall grind of the blade is great, for its intended use.
The spine of the blade, our tanto variant to be specific, begins it’s departure from the handle at its full thickness. It then tapers with a swedge until the last 1/4 of the blade, and ends with a reinforced tip becoming thicker again. This gives the blade lots of strength in just about any real world, or theoretical use. If you were to stab the tip of this knife into a slab of lumber, repeatedly, and then pry laterally, you would have no problems.
This is where the whole “hard use” idea comes into play. The ability to use the knife in alternate ways is not much of a worry with this blade. Now I’m not suggesting that the knife is meant to be a sharpened pry bar on a constant basis, but if it were necessary to beat on this knife, in ways your wouldn’t even consider with something more common like a Spyderco Delica, it could take it. Light prying and punching through various material is where this type of knife shines.
And where it doesn’t particularly shine, is in EDC tasks. Can it cut open a box, or shave down a small piece of wood? Sure, but it’s just so thick behind the edge, it feels a bit more like a chore than a pleasurable task. The drop point blade is much better at these particular things, and yes, I’ve had the opportunity to try it, but this is referring more to the tanto. The finish on the blade is also available in multiple choices, from satin, to apocalyptic (our test variant’s sporting this one, and we feel it looks the best of the three), and the coated version. The apocalyptic finish is kind of a darker, heavier stone wash, and has a little more of a gray color than a silver. It matches the knife’s overall look, which I’d consider more tactical than anything else.
There is an automatic version of this knife available, which is sort of Microtech’s gig, but our review sample is a manual. I generally prefer manuals to autos, for the simple fact that there’s no resistance against the blade when closing the knife. And this particular knife is an absolute joy to deploy, even in the manual. With a nice crisp detent, and a heavy blade to boot, this blade flies open with authority. It’s a feeling and a sound comparable to racking the slide on 12 gauge pump action shotgun.
The thumb studs, which double as blade stops in the open position, are large, and easy to use. They’re comfortable, with their large size and stepped shaping makes them comfortable to use, and sure footed in feel. And since the blade stops are up against the handle when the blade is deployed, they stay well out of the cutting path, even when using the blade close up near the handle. The handle also has a nice slanted milled section near the thumb stud, giving the user plenty of guidance and room to hit the thumb stud with assurance every time.
Lockup is another story. I’ve had a couple of these knives, and 2 were solid as a rock when locked open, with no blade play in any direction. Then, there’s the current unit we’re discussing here. And it’s very hit or miss. The lock bar seems to choose a new position to settle on every time the blade opens. Sometimes at 15%, sometimes at the more standard 30% range, and sometimes in the 60-70% range. And that drives me crazy. These knives seem very well built, in every aspect, but “variable lockup” isn’t something I’m ok with. And to top it off, the will sometimes stick pretty badly, and in any place it chooses to lock up, there’s up and down blade play. Is this one a lemon? Perhaps. But I’ve read quite a few instances of this on various knife forums. It seems to be an issue from time to time.
I’m partial to washers on a knife, when it comes to the pivot system. Whether Teflon or phosphor bronze, I’d rather have a solid surface for the blade to run on, rather than bearings. And the Socom is a bearing system knife. It does have a somewhat smooth action, which bearings are well know for, but I’m just not a fan. I also don’t like that when the knife is unlocked, the blade is literally free-falling down onto whatever finger is closest. This is avoidable, of course, by either using two hands to close the blade, or by practicing getting your fingers out of the way. Another personal gripe I have with bearings is their tendency to get gritty much more easily than washers, and they seem to run badly when dirty. Sure, any knife eventually needs to be maintained, cleaned and lubed. But bearings seem to be a lot more finicky. And why is that the choice of pivot system with a hard use knife? It seems to contradict itself in this regard, and I just don’t understand that choice.
Features, Fit and Finish
The Socom Elite has a great fit and finish to it, with the exception of the aforementioned lockup issue on this particular sample. The screws fit snugly and are all recessed. The handle scales are milled very well, and line up great, but not perfectly. Along the back side of the handle, there are certain spots where the meeting points of the slabs don’t line up perfectly. Yes, this is only cosmetic, and is virtually undetectable in normal use, but when you’re in the $300 price range, there’s going to be some scrutiny.
The aluminum handle scales are great. Not only are they made from a material that has durability and is fairly light weight, they’re also tapered down to the butt of the handle, and have 2 sections of rubbery grip tape for traction. Looking at these handles gives the impression that they’re bulky and awkward, maybe suggestion they’re made to be used only with gloves or callused man hands. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re very well executed and comfortable in just about any grip. We’ll get a little more detail on this later, but the handles are generally very pleasurable to use.
Another feature of the Socom Elite is a glass breaker on the end of the handle. It is removable if you’re really against having one, but it’s functional as far as I’ve seen. I’ll admit to not having used it, without any spare glass panels around, but I’d have no worry using it to at least attempt to break myself or someone else out of a car or house if it was the only tool around. I figure it doesn’t hurt having it on the knife, why not?
The construction of the Socom is frustrating, to say the least. Can it be taken apart? Yes, but there’s a total of 7 screws to remove to get to the innards. And, on top of that, there’s 3 different length of screws. and according to what I’ve discerned from Microtech’s website info, they just don’t really want you to take the knife apart. Or sharpen it… what? Yes, really. I just don’t understand. Why sell a tool that you don’t want the user to be able to maintain? I understand wanting to limit warranty, with how badly people treat things sometimes, but voiding the warranty for sharpening? That’s a deal breaker.
To keep my testing consistent with all knives I review, we’ll get into our 3 part test here. This involves an apple slice, cardboard cutting, and pine wood 2×4 shaving. The test isn’t meant to see if the knife will hold up to any of the tests, but rather check the blade geometry, ergonomics, edge retention, and then subsequent sharpening.
This knife is obviously not made to be a kitchen companion. When attempting to cut an apple, which performed just like it looks like it would. Terribly. Can it cut the apple into slices? Kind of, but it’ll crack them into multiple pieces along each slice. And with the tanto blade, it just doesn’t feel like there’s any good place to begin a cut. I do earnestly acknowledge this knife is not designed to be a food prep champion, but the blade just really isn’t ground to be a decent cutter in this regard.
When it comes to a flat sheet of cardboard, the Socom isn’t as bad as I expected. It really zips through the material quite well, and the drop point definitely excels even more. The edge bites well into the cardboard quite well, especially after putting my own edge on the blade. And it seems quite wear resistant too, with the Bohler M390 blade steel fighting back against the rigors of cutting dirty garage boxes. What it’s not good at- is puncturing cardboard. The tip is so thick, it’s not so easy to push the knife into a box to begin a cut. The blade’s edge lends itself to initiating a cut much more easily than the tip.
And with the pine 2×4, we come to a point of seeing how fine a feather stick we can make, and how the handle feels when pushing hard into a material. With the uber-thick edge on this knife, it sure doesn’t like to bite into wood as easily as most other knives. It’ll do, and can shave down the wood with not too much effort, but the slices end up quite thick and chunky. But here, with some purposeful effort, the handle once again shines as a great user. The taper down toward the end is great, and the more broad end of the handle being up near the blade spreads the force out over a larger area. This is something many other manufacturers could learn from. Having a narrow handle top makes the knife hard to control with the strongest part of your hand. Mr. Marfione seems to really get this idea, and implements a handle with great ergonomics in every way.
The pocket clip on the Socom is top tier. Yes, it’s tip down carry only, and right hand carry only. So lefties, sorry, you’re left…. out. Pun intended. But if you’re inclined to carry the Socom, you’ll almost surely appreciate the double retention point clip, that allows the knife to carry somewhat deep in the pocket. This knife honesty carries better than most knives of any size. It feels like a much smaller knife than it is, in terms of carry. Although it’s 5.36 oz, it really feels more like something in the 3.5-4 oz range. It carries well, and is easy to retrieve from the pocket when you’re looking for it.
Sharpening M390 isn’t for the feint of heart, especially 4” of it in tanto form. Tantos are notorious for being difficult to sharpen, mostly for having the 2 separate edges meet to create a secondary tip. But, with some masking tape, decent diamond sharpening stones, and some patience, this knife can get to a great level of sharpness. The primary edge was at 20° per side, and the secondary edge near the tip was at 25-30° per side. Those are some steep angles, and they help to explain the lack of slicing ability. It may make for a durable edge, but it sure is obtuse. But here again, we’re looking at a big, heavy knife, with first responders and military in mind. And it shows.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The Socom seems to stand alone in its own little area of knives. There aren’t many in the $300 range with these features. The Spyderco Military comes to mind though, albeit a good chunk of change less than the Microtech. The “Millie” also sports a 4” blade, and well, it’s called the “military”. Spyderco’s knife in this range definitely excels in different areas, with the lighter weight of the two at 4.2 oz, and about $100 less. It runs on washers instead of bearings, but also features a liner lock. The Military’s lock interface is superior in my estimation, what with a contoured blade tang to lock into. This gives an extremely positive lockup, and is a little more confidence inspiring. The blade of the military is definitely ground more for cutting and slicing, as it’s not nearly as thick as the Socom. Different knives for different purposes, but I’d say they’re comparable in some ways.
The Hinderer XM-18 is another knife that is in the same league as the Socom. The pricing is, again, quite a bit different, coming in around $100 over the Socom. And this is where it seems Microtech does a great job pricing their product. The sit comfortably between Spyderco and Hinderer, but generally have quality that compares closer to some knives around $75-100 more. The XM series definitely has more options in blade types, blade steels, sizes, and pivot systems (especially with the 6th generation tri-way pivot), but Hinderer’s products seem much more consistent in quality, and we don’t see any warranty issues with maintaining your knife normally.
The Socom Elite is a big, bad tough knife, that you aren’t supposed to maintain, and runs on the more finicky bearing system. It has a big, strong blade that is too thick for many daily tasks, but can take a beating with the harder use philosophy. But what does that really mean? I don’t really have to stab into 2×4’s with my pocket knife very often, or break open a window to a car or building. I don’t generally use a knife for what the Socom was made for, but I do appreciate it. It’s nice to know that what’s in my pocket will rise to the occasion if things get serious, and that’s where I think these knives are meant to be used. In the field, military and police, first responders, or just an everyday person that wants a tool, a knife, and a weapon all in one. And for those uses, it’s a great knife.
- Tough as they come, well built, comfortable handle, top pocket clip
- Inconsistent lock-up, some fit/finish issues, can be tough to sharpen, awkward to disassemble