Here we’re taking a close look at some of the best side opening automatic folding knives on the market today. We’ll try and hit on the bigger names and popular models, and give some insight on what might be the best choice for your use.
Why an auto? Well, many users prefer a deployment method on their carry knife that’s positive, and sure-fire every time. The last thing a Military personnel or Law Enforcement Officer wants, is to pull a knife for any particular reason, and have an issue getting the blade open. And, some commonplace EDC users just plain prefer a strong, snappy action to their pocket knife, and so long as it’s legal to own and carry, an automatic folder is a great choice for that user as well.
Best Automatic Knives: Summary
- Benchmade 9400 Osborne
- Benchmade CLA
- Boker Mini Strike
- Spyderco Autonomy 2
- Microtech Socom Elite
- Kershaw Launch 10
- Buck Impact
- Pro-Tech TR-3
- Gerber Auto 06
Here’s a list of ten OTS (out the side) auto folding pocket knives to consider in this niche sector.
For 20 years now, the Benchmade 940 has been a staple in the company’s lineup. With an easy to carry package complete with S30V steel, a slim profile, reverse tanto blade, and a fidget friendly Axis lock, there’s no question as to why it’s still a popular model now, in 2020. And, for the 20th anniversary, Benchmade went ahead and put a new engine under the hood and put the 940 in full automatic, resulting in the 9400.
Lining the 940 up on a tabletop next to the 9400 will give pause to many with an untrained eye as to which is which. But look a little closer, and the signs of something new start to reveal themselves. A push button lock in place of the Axis lock is the dead giveaway, the split arrow clip rather than the standard Benchmade clip, and a larger pivot to house the spring assembly give the 9400 away in looks.
It’s available in the standard green aluminum handle with the purple backspacer, complete with a safety switch on the spine of the handle to prevent accidental discharges. It’s also offered with a DLC black coated blade, too, for the more tactical minded users (although the purple might be a little flashy in some situations). If you like the 940, and want a little more spice in your pocket, tuck this one in close and take it for a spin.
Since we’re already on the Benchmade train, let’s go for one more before we deviate on to other brands. The Compact Lite Auto (known henceforth as the CLA) is a very versatile and capable auto to consider. This model is one that has a more classy feel to it, with more chamfering around the edges, a factory installed deep carry clip, and a sleek overall appearance. It still remains comparable to the 9400 in terms of price, with an MSRP of ~$225 at most major online retailers.
With a few different color ways available, the blacked out version with the black blade is sure to impress those looking for a stealthy automatic folder. It’s also available with a satin blade, and both blade offerings have the choice of a plain edge, or partially serrated. Mounted to the side of the handle is a safety, just like the previously mentioned 9400, and in similar fashion to almost all of Benchmade’s other automatics.
The steel choice on the CLA is a bit old school, utilizing 154CM, but I’ll be honest in saying that this steel composition is still quite well rounded for this type of knife’s intended purpose. It’s fairly tough, which is a great attribute considering the blade’s 0.11” thick blade steel (which is definitely on the thinner side for a tactical minded knife). This model keeps the weight in mind, but has a little more heft to accompany the overall feel in higher quality, coming in at 3.47 oz. This is still fairly light by most users’ opinion, but has just the right amount of weight for it’s size. For a knife that’ll fill out your hand, snap open reliably, and look damn good doing it, the CLA is a great choice for EDC auto lovers of all walks of life.
Not everyone wants to spend an arm and a leg for a decent automatic pocket knife. Boker agrees, and wants to offer a couple knives in this range. The Mini Strike is a slightly smaller version of their Strike line, with a very capable yet compact package. With a 2.6” blade, and an overall length of just 6.3”, it’s a quick EDC knife that’ll get the job done without breaking the bank.
The D2 blade steel composition is sure to hold a decent working edge for most users, and with it’s available black stonewashed blade, it’ll keep itself from corrosion even in humid environments. The flat ground drop point blade shape is one that’s sure to be versatile enough to pop open a package, cut a piece of rope, or shave down some excess material on any given project. The green aluminum handle has decent texturing to keep the knife securely in-hand while in use, and has some jimping cut into the back of the handle for secure traction.
Just like the Benchmade CLA we mentioned earlier, the Boker Mini Strike also has a side-mounted safety to prevent the push-button deployment from popping off unintentionally. With a weight of 3.1 oz and a handle thickness of 0.51”, it’s sure to fill the hand even in it’s compact form, while still maintaining an overall feel of quality. Complete with a factory mounted deep carry clip, and an overall color scheme that I’m a sucker for, and this ~$42 auto is sure to please the budget minded buyer, and will get the job done in almost any scenario.
With a company like Spyderco, who makes just about every type of knife ever imagined, you can be sure to find a great automatic offering in their lineup. The Autonomy is offered in 2 versions, the original, and the Autonomy 2. The first generation featured an all serrated sheepsfoot blade with either an orange or black color scheme, and 4 finger grooves. The Autonomy 2 streamlines things with a plain edge blade and a more traditional handle shape. There are some other notable differences, such as steel type and the grind of the blade, but we’ll focus in on the Autonomy 2 for this automatic roundup.
Using NASA’s own blend of high tech steel, the Autonomy 2 is boasting LC200N blade steel composition. This steel is used on some of Spyderco’s knives, such as the Spydiechef, Dragonfly, Native 5 Lightweight, and Caribbean series. It’s well known for being nearly rust-proof, which is different altogether from stainless. I greatly appreciate this steel’s ability to take a supremely keen edge, but is also known for showing light scratches from use fairly readily. This drop point, full flat ground blade is sure to perform without complaint, and without worry of corrosion no matter the environment it’s being used or carried in.
Coupled with a neutral shaped G10 handle, and a tip-up, left or right hand carry, the deployment button is raised to ensure a purposeful deployment, and the safety located just under the deployment button gives peace of mind that the blade won’t open up in your pocket or pack. Spyderco continues their design continuity of always having the spyderhole deployment, by implementing the feel of a hollow opening hole into the deployment button. The only drawback here, is that the deployment button is raised away from the handle scale, leaving the potential for the blade to accidentally deploy in the pocket. Of course the optional safety removes this potential issue, but not everyone wants to engage and disengage the safety on the knife every time it’s used.
This knife checks many boxes for those looking for a quality automatic knife, with corrosion resistance and high quality at the forefront. The Autonomy 2 retails for just about $200, which is a very comparable price for the premium blade steel, and a big name like Spyderco. At 5.5 ounces, you’ll know it’s being carried, but a little heft to an auto folder isn’t a bad thing in my view.
We’ve given our thoughts a review on the Microtech Socom Elite here on our site in the past. It’s a great knife, albeit a big bruiser of a folder. And of course, no automatic knife list of any kind is complete without a Microtech. It’s a company that’s well known for their tactical minded OTF’s (out-the-front) autos, but their “out the side” variants are nothing to skip over. The LUDT is a great knife, too, but with proprietary hardware and less than perfect ergos, we’re going to let the Socom shine once again.
If you’ve never looked at a Socom Elite in person, or compared to other common knives, you may be a little taken aback when handling one for the first time. It’s not unwieldy, but with a 4” blade, it’s one of the larger auto folders on the block. Microtech skips around on blade steel composition from time to time, but their more recently made knives have been using either M390 or 20CV, which are extremely similar. It’s surprisingly “light” for it’s size, at only 4.6 ounces, and has a handle thickness of 0.56”. That may sound a little on the thicker side, and it is, but the handle tapers to a more narrow profile near the butt of the handle, which fits the hand beautifully. Speaking of the handle butt, there’s a glass breaker built into the handle as well, to keep this knife tactical from top to bottom.
These beautiful beasts come in many different blade finishes, and are available with a tanto or drop point blade shape. The aluminum handles, complete with rubberized inserts, also comes in tons of color options. Whether you’re looking for a plain edge or serrated blade, this knife has some of the most plentiful options of any auto folder around. This one is hard to beat, although you’ll pay a heftier price tag for it than many others on this list, with most models hovering either just under, or just over $300. But, at least you’ll have standard Torx headed hardware on this one, compared to it’s little brother, the LUDT.
Kershaw’s Launch series of automatics is well known for the middle ground between quality and price. All of these models carry the same “Launch” moniker, with a number following the name. Now up to the 11th iteration, the Launch series really has something for everyone, from 1.9” blades, to hawkbills, stiletto’s, drop points, and sheepsfoot blades, the options are all over the board for this popular series.
One of the more subdued and EDC centric Launch knives is the Launch 11. It keeps itself humble with a 2.75” blade length, comprised of CPM-154 steel. This is an upgraded, modernized version of the tried and true 154CM steel of yesteryear, which still is used today in some manufacturers’ facilities. The CPM variant ensures the steel matrix is evenly dispersed throughout the blade, ensuring every last molecule is in it’s right place. This particular Launch auto has a black stonewashed blade, to hide use and scratches along it’s life, while looking good, too.
With an extremely light weight of just 2.1 ounces, this is a knife that’s sure to find it’s way in the pocket on a frequent basis, and will come in handy for any common EDC task. The clip point blade (which I’d call more of a sheepsfoot, but I digress) is a saber/flat ground style, with versatility in mind. The deployment method is a push button plunger lock, similar to most others on this list. With 3.8” of handle length, it should be enough for most medium to large sized hand users, save for heavy use tasks, which this knife was clearly not meant for.
This particular Launch model has a couple interesting aesthetic aspects to it. One is the pivot and push button area. They’re both housed in a small recessed oval, that’s larger on one side, giving it the look of a belt between two pullies. And the other is a long cutout in the center of the handle, aiding the knife is it’s lightweight properties, and keeping things a little interesting, design-wise. It’s always tough to choose a knife when there are so many options, but in the Launch series, the 11 seems to cover most bases for most users. And keeping itself just under the $100 mark allows it to remain on the short list, too.
Since the introduction of the Buck 110 in 1963, this knife making company has made a solid, reliable knife for real knife users. And since the 110, commonly known as “grandpa’s knife”, Buck has made many different models in their lineup to continue to compete with other manufacturers in the folding knife market. The Buck Impact is one of their more recent offerings, as an automatic push button folder to appeal to an even greater target market for today’s saturated knife world.
Buck Knives has a great reputation for their heat treat on their blades. That should come as no surprise if you know the company’s origins. Anyone who becomes a blacksmith apprentice at the ripe old age of 10 years old, and who develops a new method of heat treating tools at the age of 13 like Hoyt Buck did, can be expected to know their steel, and how to properly heat treat it. And when using a modern steel like S30V, which is being utilized on the Impact, you can carry that knife with the confidence of knowing it’s going to hold up to whatever your daily use may call for. With a blade thickness of 0.12”, and a blade length of 3.125”, this drop point, hollow ground blade is a well rounded geometry for EDC use, from cardboard box destruction to opening up a stubborn blister pack from the hardware store.
With an aluminum handle construction, and textured rubberized handle inserts, this compact auto will be sure to stay put in the user’s hand no matter the environment. The push button found near the top of the handle is recessed into a milled groove, waiting for a purposeful push for deployment. Near the deployment button is the sliding safety button, with a red inlay that’s exposed when the safety is off. This safety, like many on this list of autos, doubles as a secondary lock when the knife is open, if the user decides to engage the lock with an open blade. Rounding out the handle at the bottom, is a deep carry, right hand tip up only pocket clip. It’s curved to follow the lines of the knife, and should hide well in-hand when the knife is in use.
The overall look and design nature of the Buck Impact is along the tactical line, but is EDC friendly in almost every way. Weighing 4.1 oz, its got just enough heft to it to have a quality feel, but remains light enough to be tucked away in the pocket without too much thought. For a USA made automatic knife, using a steel that’s on the higher end compared to many other autos, $175 feels like a very fair price for a well made knife that’ll surely see lots of carry time, should you grab one for your next EDC auto folder.
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for simple lines, and a clean design on knives. And the TR-3 (Tactical Response version 3) follows that design style perfectly. With a very neutral handle, simple yet elegant blade shape, and a reputation for a strong firing spring, this popular Pro-Tech model is sure to fit the bill for many knife users in the auto category.
Very competitively priced at $150 for the base models, this knife has tons of options from different handle colors, blade finishes, plain edge or serrated, unique scale graphics and patterns, and even Damascus blades. As with many auto folders, this one was designed with Law Enforcement and Military use in mind, or so at least the marketing says. With a 3.5” blade, comprised of 154CM steel, it’s tough enough, and large enough to be used in just about any tactical situation, as well as EDC use for us commonplace citizens.
With 3 places of jimping around the handle, it’s sure to stay in hand whether gloved or bare handed, and with the anodized aluminum scales, the texturing should be enough to feel grippy when you need it, yet smooth in and out of the pocket. And, for the first time on this list, this model is offered in either a right or left handed model, which is surely a welcome offering for the lefties out there. Many of the standard offerings for this model are made without a safety, however Pro-Tech does make them with the safety, they’re just a little harder to find. This knife’s blade shape suits EDC tasks well, but may be less stout near the tip for some of the more reckless users, as it’s a tapered blade out at the tip. This potentially leaves the tip of the blade more prone to snapping off if you’re used to using your folder as a temporary screwdriver, but the advantage is a tip that will pierce well into materials, and will be a great slicer for daily cutting tasks.
Another favorite of mine in design, is a handle that is wider at the top, and more narrow at the bottom. If you’re making a fist, the space in your hand at the index finger is bigger than the space at your pinky. There are very few knives that have this design to their handle, and I’m glad to see Pro-Tech’s design team using this style to the TR-3. This 3.6 ounce knife is an incredibly good value for another USA made knife, with great materials, a company with an awesome reputation, and a simple design that’s made to work without over-complicating things.
Prometheus Design Werx (PDW) is known for supplying EDC tools, apparel and accessories. They’ve had knife manufacturers make a special design (using their SPD team – special design division), based on a design that PDW has made. The Invictus automatic is a knife made by Pro-Tech, designed by Prometheus Design Werx, and sold through various knife dealers. PDW-designed knives tend to sell out very quickly, and are typically made by manufacturers with high quality machining and finishing. And the Invictus is no exception. With simple lines and PDW’s signature horizontal milling along the handle scales, and a high demand for a knife that many struggle to find for their personal collection, this is one auto you should consider, if you can find one.
With a price tag of about $280, this will be a knife that’s going to be cut off the list for some buyers right out of the gate. But, if you’re willing to drop a little more on a long lasting, high quality automatic pocket knife, this is a knife to consider. With a very capable 3.5” stonewashed blade made from 154CM steel, it’s sure to handle some abuse in most cases. Again, the 154CM steel isn’t a composition to write home about, as it’s been outclassed by CPM-154, but it’s one that’ll get the job done, and remains to be a fairly tough steel. With a fuller (or groove) milled into the blade, and an overall blade shape that’s more along the lines of a spear point, it’s one that’s polarizing, meaning you’ll either love it or hate it, but probably not somewhere in between. There’s a small forward finger choil for a choked up grip, but it’s likely too small for any real use for most users.
It does allow for an easier time sharpening the blade, though. The push button for deployment is found more in the center of the blade, near the pivot, for a natural positioning when removing the knife from pocket. The Invictus does feature a safety as well, and is optional like most of the other knives on our list. The push button is recessed down into the handle, giving it a safer carry than something like the Spyderco Autonomy 2 we showcased earlier. The pocket clip, which is not reversible, is set for tip up, right hand carry. It is, however, a deep carry clip, and has a very notable feature; recessed screw heads. This is almost definitely not a big deal to most users, but I find it to be refreshing to see a knife manufacturer like Pro-Tech use their top notch level of care in this knife. This small feature allows the knife to go in and out of the pocket without snagging the pocket seam, which in turn allows your pockets to last much longer than with many other knives. Rounding out the specs, we have a weight of just 3.78 ounces, which is fairly light for the overall size of the knife.
This is a knife that boasts a high level of fit and finish, utilizes a great USA based knife manufacturer, and has an overall feel of quality and smoothness. If you’re looking for a knife with a little more allure in it’s design and specialty in it’s origins, this collaboration is a great offering for tactical or EDC users alike.
Rounding out our list, we’re going to take a look at the Gerber Auto 06. This offering from the USA based tool company is likely the most tactical minded knife on our automatic list. It’s big, heavy , blacked out, and looks like Optimus Prime designed a gun that could transform into a knife. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but it’s a noteworthy characteristic.
With a blade length of 3.6”, a weight of 7.1 ounces, and a handle thickness of 0.59”, this is the definition of a “tank” when speaking of knives. This no-nonsense auto has an oversized push button for deployment (with a large safety button just underneath), a sinister looking drop point blade, and heavy finger wells for a very positive grip. And the top of the handle has large flairs on both sides, to ensure your hand doesn’t slide up on the blade when using the knife in heavy tasks or stabbing motions. This knife is also available in the drop point variant, tanto blade, and either in plain edge or serrated. All variants are using CPM-S30V blade steel, with higher edge retention than the 154 series steels, but with slightly less toughness.
The branding on the back side of the blade is also something that gives this knife a tactical appearance, with “MADE IN USA”, and “PORTLAND, OR” laser etched on the blade surface. With a blade thickness of 0.13”, I don’t think this blade is going to be too fragile for anyone’s heavy-use tasks. The base of the handle features a pommel strike, for the times you need to break out a window on a search and rescue, or just to break apart any material in a law enforcement or military application. The pocket clip is reversible, but many lefties may be left behind with the deployment button set up for right hand use.
If you’re in the line of LEO or Military, this is a great duty or field knife. Sure, it’s heavy, tactical, and aggressive. But, if you’re looking for something to accompany a handgun, or just want a knife that’ll handle any heavy use task in an automatic folder, the asking price of ~$170 for this beast should be an easy purchase.
That wraps it up for our roundup of some of our favorite automatic knives. Again, please remember to check your local knife laws before purchasing. Stay safe, stay sharp.