SOG’s been on something of a revival tour recently, dropping dead weight, adding new models that appeal to enthusiasts, and re-imagining classic products with new and updated features to make them better suited to actual use. We’ve reviewed the Terminus XR in carbon fiber and the Flash AT, both of which had good bones but missed some details. With the Terminus, it had the feeling of pocket jewelry and one of the worst clips ever made, but was a very useful small EDC. The Flash AT has great bones but the assisted opening system added onto the XR lock makes the whole product heavier and more complicated with limited benefits, leading to an overall frustrating experience.
Key Specs: SOG TAC-XR
Great blade on this mid-sized folder from SOG. The pronounced clip point from the TAC Auto has been tweaked to be a cross between a clip point and a drop point – the spine of the blade is slightly convex and the point is comfortably above the pivot line in the handle, leaving the blade with a broad, continuous belly and an acute tip. The blade measures in at 3.375”, making it a good bit longer than the Terminus XR but shorter than the Flash AT. It’s beefy too, 0.13” thick at the widest point, and an inch tall. The grind is a nearly full flat grind, with a shallow swedge along the spine, and the plunge line is a curved arc that gradually falls away from the ricasso, terminating behind the very thin choil and leaving just the slightest beard at the trailing end of the edge.
Blade steel, like on the Flash AT, is cryo-treated D2 tool steel, with a thick titanium nitride coating to prevent corrosion. Much like the Flash, the TAC XR changed to this cryo treated D2 from AUS-8 during the update to the XR model. And like the Flash, it’s a trade-off: D2 has much higher carbon content (which primarily determines hardness and edge retention) but lower chromium (toughness and corrosion resistance) so it will hold an edge longer, but generally be more prone to chipping and rust. It’s still a very tough steel that is able to be sharpened on a normal sharpener setup, and it’s worked for years, fitting the hard-use purpose of the TAC XR very well.
Deployment & Lockup
The SOG TAC XR uses SOG’s XR-Lock, which functions similarly to an AXIS lock – meaning there’s a bar that spans the width of the two handles which slides over the tang of the blade in the open position to lock it in place. There are differences, though. For one thing, the XR lock uses dual springs on each side to push the lock bar forward, giving you more secure lockup and faster response. It also utilizes a ball bearing pivot to reduce friction, which isn’t commonplace on AXIS lock knives (other than the spectacular Anthem folder.) The fidget-friendly nature of the XR lock combined with the smooth ball bearing pivot makes this a very satisfying knife to open and close, aided by the heft of the chunky blade compared to the smaller Terminus XR.
Deployment is via either ambidextrous thumb studs or a flipper tab, both of which work fine – although the thumb studs are a bit crowded against the handle, there’s still plenty of room to get your thumb behind them. The flipper tab has jimping where you need it – on the leading edge of the tab – and none where you don’t (on the spine of the blade, a trend I’m glad to see is starting to die.) Deployment on the tab is more light switch (parallel to the spine) than push-button (in towards the spine and down) and the detent is very well executed, typically a weak point on locks of this style. I did have to fiddle with pivot tension more than normal to get a balance between a good action and no horizontal blade play, but once I found the sweet spot, a drop of blue Loc-Tite was enough to hold it in place.
Lockup is secure on this knife, just like on the Terminus XR and the Flash AT – this is a very well executed AXIS Lock bar style lock and there isn’t even a hint of vertical blade play or lock rock on this example. The closed detent is quite strong as well, so it won’t accidentally open in your pocket. A chunky external stop pin anchored in the scales locates the blade when open and closed. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve said in previous XR-Lock reviews, but the fact that this is the very beginning of SOG’s run of those locks is amazing – they’ve seemingly built a bar style lock without all of the inherent flaws of other, more well-known examples of the breed, right out of the gate, and at an affordable price. It’s pretty cool.
Features, Fit & Finish
The TAC XR is well made and has a number of neat features, but it’s also an $80 hard use knife, and not really intended to be put in a glass case and enjoyed from afar. It’s more about function than form. The first thing my eyes always gravitate towards when looking at fit and finish is how well the scales match the liners – normally on higher end products they’re machined flush – but while they’re close on the TAC XR they are definitely made in two different places then just bolted together, never quite lining up. Of course, this bugs me in the same way my refrigerator doors not lining up perfectly bugs me – I hate looking at it, but it doesn’t have any tangible effect on my life. Other than that, no complaints about fit and finish – this knife feels better put together than the Flash AT did, without the cheap feeling plastic scales.
Construction on this knife is beefy, and you can feel that – 5.23 ounces is pretty heavy for a 9” overall length blade. The SOG TAC XR uses thick G10 scales over painted stainless steel liners, which are skeletonized to cut down mass. My example had OD Green scales but it’s also available in black. There’s a grippy checkered texture finish to the handles, and the edges are contoured all around, integrating a set of vertical strakes above the lock and below the clip mounting points. Rounded edges are nice, especially if you’re clumsy and prone to dropping your knife (present company pleads guilty.) It’s got very solid assembly – the body screws thread in from both sides into the raised backspacer for stability. Hardware is all black-painted with standard Torx fittings for easy maintenance, with a Chicago screw for the blade pivot which has Torx fittings on both sides to hold it.
The pocket clip is a bent steel deep carry flat wire clip, which is located to the scales with two shallow slots as well as two holes for the ends of the clip to fit into. A single broad flathead screw secures the clip in place, and it’s configured for ambidextrous tip-up carry only. The whole knife is inherently ambidextrous, with a configurable clip plus the two sided thumb studs and the flipper tab making it an equally viable option for lefties. Branding is much more subdued on the TAC XR than older SOG’s, thankfully. A tiny “SOG” logo on the clip, and small text printed on the blade coating – “Studies And Observations Group / SOG-TAC XR / Cryo D2” are the only markings, a breath of fresh air from all of the beret-wearing skulls of yesteryear. It really fits the “no bullsh*t” nature of this knife.
Actually, a “no bullsh*t” nature pretty well describes carrying and using the SOG-TAC XR. It’s heavy and chunky, like an old ZT. I still don’t love the clip – SOG is trying a variety of new clips and I applaud that, they’re all better than the atrocious old clips on the Terminus XR and Spec Arc, which were simultaneously ugly and also prone to bending, moving, and catching steering wheels and car doors. This one has good tension and moves in and out of a pocket fairly easily, but it’s a bit too short and the handle rides a bit too high for my liking. Still, it works. You aren’t going to forget that this is in your pocket, though: it’s heavy and wide (0.56” across). No BS!
What a great blade, though. Just awesome. This knife came “accidentally cut yourself the first time you carry it” sharp, and stayed sharp for a long time. I mostly cut plastic in my day to day use, but the SOG-TAC XR also got quite a bit of cardboard and tape fed to it during yet another (hopefully the last) mid-autumn moves, and it reveled in the work. The continuous curve to the blade and the nice clean tip make it great for cutting open and breaking down cardboard, and the tough as nails steel never once chipped even after breaking down what felt like an endless line of boxes. It’s not so thick that you can’t fit it in between the flaps and sides of a box, but not so thin you’re going to break it. Such a practical and well thought out blade shape. I’m not normally a huge fan of blade coatings, but it does lower friction in whatever you’re cutting as well as keep the blade from rusting – which I sometimes have issues with here in humid North Carolina.
Ergonomics are the trade-off for the poor carry – it’s a big beefy handle with lots of depth and room to position your hand just how you like. There’s no forward choil, but the jimping on the spine above the thumb stud does a flawless job of holding your thumb or forefinger in place, and they didn’t stick jimping anywhere else because that’s the only place it’s useful. The small pocket clip also presents a minimal potential hot spot, and the knife is chunky enough to use even in thick work gloves. Operating the lock is hard in work gloves, but that’s true of almost any lock.
Having given myself a headache taking apart the Terminus XR as well as the Flash AT, I let prudence prevail and didn’t disassemble the SOG-TAC XR. You totally can, but taking apart knives with this style lock is always a pain, and god forbid you lose a spring. I restricted my maintenance to lubrication, cleaning with compressed air, and adjusting the pivot with Torx bit. And of course sharpening – the D2 blade has a continuous curve and a nicely terminated edge, so it’s a pleasure to sharpen.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The SOG-TAC XR retails for about $80, whether you get this OD Green model or the black PE or SE model. I don’t particularly care for half-serrated blades, but if that floats your boat it’s probably a winner too. It’s just getting harder and harder these days to get a really good knife for under $100, so if you’re tempted by this one I’d recommend it. That being said, there are always alternatives.
The Kizer Sheepdog comes in at ~$90 with Micarta scales and a CTS BD1N blade. It’s suitably beefy, with a tall and chunky flat ground sheepsfoot blade measuring 3.25” long and 0.13” wide. It also has flipper deployment with ball bearings, but uses a more traditional liner lock to secure the blade. Folding cleavers aren’t my thing but Kizer sells these by the boat load so I’m sure I’m wrong. Expect excellent build quality and deployment from Kizer.
There are a lot of Civivi folders to pick from under $100, like the Elementum we recently reviewed. The Durus is a good choice, offering textured G10 scales and a 3” hollow ground drop point blade that opens via a flipper tab and super-smooth ball bearing deployment. It’s smaller and lighter than the SOG-TAC XR, but offers the same D2 tool steel and ambidextrous tip-up carry configurations, and is currently on sale for ~$60 at BladeHQ. Civivi, being the budget line of WE Knives, makes very high quality products at reasonable prices.
If you want a similar Benchmade, it’s going to cost quite a bit more – a full size Griptilian in CPM S30V runs $110 retail, with a 3.45” flat ground drop point. The Grip has been around a long time and has a lot of fans, and while the steel is better, it’s hard to justify the $30 higher price point considering the molded plastic handles on the Griptilian. It’s a known quantity and will always be a good knife but no longer seems like the compelling value it once was.
Another great but considerably costlier option is the G10 handled Spyderco Manix 2. Like the SOG-TAC XR, it uses an ambidextrous lock – but with a hardened steel ball bearing driven by a coil spring, rather than a lock bar driven by a series of torsion springs. It’s ambidextrous and offers swappable tip-up carry too, and like the Griptilian it uses CPM S30V steel. It’s got my favorite blade shape – a tall, full flat ground drop point that’s opened via a thumb hole. The Manix 2 is a heavy duty folder with full stainless liners and it weighs a hefty 5 ounces, but has butter smooth deployment and faultless lockup. But it retails for ~$120, making the SOG seem like a much better value even with the difference in steel quality.
At ~$75, the Kershaw Bareknuckle is one of the other great sub-$100 knives on the market. It’s flashier and showier than the SOG-TAC XR, and the detent is really insanely hard out of the box, but it’s got killer deployment and lockup. The sub-frame lock is a Kershaw patented innovation with the strength of a frame lock and the narrow profile of a liner lock, and the knife carries and cuts with the best of them. 14C28N steel isn’t going to hold an edge as long as D2, but it’s easy to sharpen and less corrosion prone. Kershaw has also made several sprint runs and dealer exclusives in better steels if that’s your thing.
If you’re looking for a heavy-duty folding knife under a hundred dollars, this might be the winner. It eliminates everything I didn’t like about the similarly priced SOG Flash AT – the cheap feeling plastic handles, the byzantine assisted opener with redundant safety, the antisocial blade “thwack”, the difficulty closing it with one hand. This is a much better knife than the Flash AT, and the Flash AT wasn’t a bad knife to begin with. It’s easier to operate one handed, has a much better action, more solid build quality, and it’s basically the same price. This really proves that when it comes to knives, it pays to avoid assisted openers – which add complication and “wow factor” but not actual benefits. It’s the same fantastic lock system from the fancier Terminus XR applier to a beefier, more work-friendly knife, with similarly excellent results.
It’s getting to the point now that I recommend SOG knives first when people are looking for knives under a hundred bucks, because the XR-Lock is such an excellent solution to the age old problem – it’s secure, fast, safe, ambidextrous, and fun to operate. The SOG-TAC XR is a great no-nonsense work knife for anyone.
- Great value in a nearly dead market, solid build quality, no-nonsense design, excellent lock and deployment options, a great knife to do actual work with
- Heavy, wide, clip is too short, no option without a blade coating, scales don’t line up with liners