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“Little Big Knives” is a contradiction of a term, an oxymoron of sorts. Sort of like “jumbo shrimp” or “deafening silence,” how can a little knife be big? The idea behind “Little Big Knives” is knives with dimensions that make them easy to carry and in a lot of cases legal to carry, but design properties more intended for large, heavy duty knives.
Some people aren’t particularly fond of Little Big Knives – why would you want the weight and the bulk of a heavy duty knife without the long cutting edge? I personally find them charming, their bulbous looks and construction giving them an almost comic appearance, and they bring portability to a knife you can depend on. While it’s a relatively recent trend in the market, there’s enough competition to warrant a closer examination of the options available to consumers that want to put something big – but small – into their pocket.
The Spyderco Techno series is probably the best known “little big knife” among enthusiasts. Here we see the Techno 2 which is a slightly matured version of the original Techno (slightly thinner blade stock, standoffs vs backspacer). The Marcin Slysz designed runt of a knife has a blade that only stretches 2.55” long, but is built to hold up to heavy duty use like most of Marcin’s designs. Resembling a shrunken down Slysz Bowie, the handles are two slabs of thick titanium with an integral frame lock.
Spyderco’s unique deep carry wire pocket clip keeps weight down and buries the Techno deep in your pocket. There’s a deep cutout on the show side of the handle for the user to access the oversized thumb hole. On the sharp side of things, the short blade makes the most of its length offering a 2.33” cutting edge out of 2.55” total, and the full flat grind and thumb jimping on the spine make it a great user for day to day tasks. The modified wharncliffe blade has a double curve shape to the spine which allows you to press further down on the spine with your thumb, and an actual sharpening notch means you can sharpen the entire length of the blade.
The Techno has been around for a few years now, and along the way an interesting thing happened: Spyderco made a production run of Techno’s “accidentally” with CPM S30V steel instead of CTS-XHP, and after that returned to using XHP steel. These “Oops Technos” were priced the same as the regular models, considering that S30V and XHP perform very similarly, and are correctly marked on the tangs unlike some other less fortunate steel switching accidents. Regardless of S30V or XHP steel, the Techno offers big knife durability and high-end construction and fit and finish in a compact, pocketable package. It’s the standard bearer of little big knives for a reason.
The DPx Gear H.E.A.T./F is a miniaturized version of the brand’s popular H.E.S.T./F folder, also built for the brand by Lionsteel in Italy. The acronym stands for “Hostile Environment At-hand Tool/Folding” (yes, seriously) and the idea is to offer the same overbuilt tough design as the larger folders but in a more pocket friendly shape. While the blade is only 2.375” long, it’s made from the same super-beefy 0.19” blade stock as the full sized H.E.S.T./F knife, which has a 3.25” blade. The drop point blade has a “bottle opener” cut into the spine which also coincidentally functions as an Emerson-style pocket opener.
There are multiple versions of the H.E.A.T./F available as well as a myriad of special editions and limited production runs. There are two main versions: both with titanium framelocks, one with a G10 scale on the show side and a flat titanium framelock, and a premium version with contoured 3D-machined Titanium on the both sides, both with Niolox steel.
There’s also a G10 handled “Milspec” version with Sleipner steel. Both steels are relatively unheard of even in the metallurgy-obsessed cutlery world, but Niolox is similar in composition to AEB-L while Sleipner is more of a modified stainless D2 tool steel, trading wear resistance and toughness for corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening/edge structure.
There are also some desirable limited run models, the coolest of which undoubtedly is the Shred – which has a handle scale made of shredded carbon fiber made into a single piece. There’s also a “Mr. DP” edition 3D Titanium, an OD green G10 handle, a grey PVD coated 3D Titanium with Elmax, and many more – with new versions coming out frequently if you’re of the “collect them all” persuasion.
The Boker Plus Subcom F (Folding) has been around for quite a while now, and it continues to draw fans to this day. The Chad Los Banos designed micro folder offers a stout lock and ultra-concealable dimensions with a tiny 1.875” blade. The party trick of the Subcom is the shape – with the blade closed, it’s only 2.75” long, and with a basically square profile and a super-deep carry clip that runs almost the whole length of the handle, it can hide in a fifth pocket, or even serve as a money clip. While you wouldn’t want to use a Subcom to dismantle a Jeep, it’s the ideal backup blade to a primary carry, able to be stuffed into a coin pocket and forgotten.
The Subcom comes in a variety of materials and shapes, including a skeletonized fixed blade that this guide doesn’t cover. The standard Subcom F has a stainless steel lock side and an FRN handle scale, with a clip point blade made from AUS-8 steel. These are available in a number of colors and finishes, including partially serrated (just don’t), black coated, grey handles, and more.
There’s the Rescom with its interesting hollowed-out Hawkbill blade shape, with a belt cutter towards the front of the blade and a serrated section in the middle designed for first responders. A higher-end version of the standard Subcom is available, featuring solid titanium handles (no scale on the show side, just titanium machined with the same pattern as the normal models) with an upgrade to VG-10 steel and almost a half-ounce weight reduction. If you want a less traditional blade shape, there’s also the Subclaw with its hawkbill shaped blade, or the exceptionally strange looking Wharcom with a straight-edged Wharncliffe blade that is ideally suited for utility tasks.
An Emerson that’s not a giant folding machete for tactical operators? Say it ain’t so! The CQC-14 (which stands for Close Quarters Combat) Snubby is designed to bring Emerson’s brand of tactical features and ergonomic design to the sub three inch knife market for people that can’t legally carry something that big where they live – or someone attracted to the concept of a full-fat Emerson with a shorter, more manageable blade.
The blade – measuring 2.75” with a 2.625” cutting edge – is made from 154CM steel, stonewashed for corrosion resistance. Like most Emersons, the blade is chisel-ground, which Emerson says is done to make his knives easier to sharpen in the field – only having to work on one side of the blade makes the process easier! Chisel grinds are a love it or leave it sort of thing, but the knives do cut well when properly sharpened. The blade shape is a useful drop point with a medium flat grind, leaving lots of blade stock for strength at the expense of slicing ability – not that Emerson users are necessarily concerned with such mundane tasks. The CQC14 Snubby is equipped with the Emerson Wave opener – a protrusion along the spine that pulls the blade open when pulled out of the pocket, an Emerson invention.
There are four varieties of CQC-14 Snubbys with only minor variations in price: satin finish or black coated blade, and plain edge or serrated. All come with black G10 handles over stainless liners, and use “normal” hardware – a large straight screw for the pivot pin, and smaller Phillips screws for the body, also with the idea that the knives are supposed to be easy to service in the field. It’s usually easier to find a Philips and straight screw driver than it is to find a variety of torx bits and a driver, or even worse, the bizarre proprietary hardware that is becoming so popular with custom makers lately! The CQC-14 uses a black coated stamped steel clip configured for tip up right hand carry only – which is disappointing for left handed users, but tip up is the only configuration that a wave opener will work.
While I’m always a proponent of buying an Emerson design made by someone besides Emerson (such as the fantastic ZT 0620 and 0630 series) for reasons of fit and finish as well as cost to features ratio, ZT hasn’t seen fit to make an Emerson design in a small size yet, so the CQC 14 “Snubby” – with all of its quirks and character – is it for the time being.
While it hardly seems accurate to call a knife that weighs over 5 ounces(!) a Pipsqueak, this high end offering from Boker in Germany has certainly got the appearance to suit the name. It’s not a light duty knife, mind you: while the blade is only 2.50” long it has a 0.16” thick spine, and the drop point shape is hollow ground for maximum cutting ability, while a recurve increases the effective cutting length. The Pipsqueak has a unique two tone finish to the blade, with a dark stonewash for the primary bevel and the swedge while the flats are satin finished for contrast. Blade steel is S35VN, so you won’t need to worry about sharpening that recurve for a while!
On the other side of the knife, green canvas Micarta forms the show side of the handle, deeply contoured for a full grip. The lock side is stonewashed titanium with an integrated framelock, and the deep carry pocket clip is styled to look like the profile of the blade when opened. The pivot is a satin finished oversized piece on the show side, but is adjustable on the lock side with a hex key. The Pipsqueak stretches out to only 6.125” when open and weighs in at a hair over 5 ounces, so it’s a dense knife but a solid one.
The Pipsqueak was designed by Neil Blackwood, who also designed the sensational Skirmish and Rukus series for Benchmade years ago. Some people are still upset the Skirmish left production (including your humble author) so the Pipsqueak is a chance to slip a Blackwood design into your pocket again, without breaking the bank or scaring any children. Highly recommended.
Look, you’re running out of excuses. A CRKT Squid is literally under $25 US dollars at Blade HQ. That’s less than you spend picking up Starbucks for your office friends. That’s less than you spend at lunch for a good burger and a beer and a tip. That’s about what it costs to fill up the gas tank of a Mitsubishi Mirage. If you can get some of the Little Big Knife action with some real design flair and supreme usability for $18, what are you waiting for?
Yes, the Squid isn’t the perfect knife. The 2.25” blade is venturing into “ok, that’s too short” territory. 8Cr13MoV requires frequent re-sharpening even if it’s heat treated by an expert, which it usually isn’t. Full stainless construction means the Squid is a dense knife, weighing in at 3.50 oz despite a petite overall length of 5.75” open. It’s not meant to be a high-end conversation piece, it’s meant to take up minimum space and get work done. The stainless steel framelock means you can use the Squid way harder than most tiny 2” knives, and a deep carry clip buries the Squid in your pocket. The Squid is the brainchild of Lucas Burnley, who also designed the intensely popular Boker Kwaiken folder, and the Squid is well on its way to the same level of popularity with the modding crowd as it’s slick brother.
There’s a variety of Squids, too: beyond the standard satin finish and acid stonewashed finish, there are also limited production variants as well as a few G10 handled variants. CKRT has produced multiple limited runs of the Squid as exclusives for BladeHQ, including a cool Carbon Fiber scale/Titanium handle variant with Sandvik 12c27n steel, and one with a “frag grenade” pattern display side handle. There are also G10 variants incoming from BladeHQ, with a choice of black or orange G10 with a satin finish or stonewashed blades for only 3 more dollars. At these prices, why the hell not?
Here is the Tuff-Lite from Cold Steel. A combination of a modern folding knife and a utility blade, the Tuff-Lite is a unique proposition. Ringing in at only 2.50 oz but equipped with arguably the strongest lock in the world (the Andrew Demko-designed Tri-Ad lock, a lockback with the addition of a stop pin between the tang and the lock bar for stability) the Tuff-Lite cuts out its own corner of the market. The blade is a wharncliffe shape that’s only 2.50” long, with a completely straight cutting edge and a single smooth arc from the spine all the way to the tip, creating the folding knife equivalent of a utility blade shape much like the discontinued and dearly missed Kershaw Needs Work. It’s high hollow ground up to the oval thumb hole, creating a blade shape that’s ideal for day to day tasks like opening packages.
The handle is injection molded plastic (called Griv-Ex by Cold Steel) and has a stainless pocket clip that can be mounted tip down, left or right hand. While the lack of tip up carry is unfortunate, what the Tuff-Lite has going for it is ergonomics: despite its diminutive size, it features a pair of deep finger choils, with a full forward 50/50 choil integrated into the blade making the most of its 3.50” long handle. There’s a slot in the handle for a lanyard, and a line of wide jimping that runs from the handle halfway down the spine for a positive grip.
The Tuff-Lite is available in a variety of different handle colors – black, red, OD green, brown, and bright blue – as well as a black handled version with a serrated blade if you cut a lot of rope. There’s also a Mini Tuff-Lite, ironic giving the small size of the Tuff-Lite, with a 2” blade and a 5” overall length. The Tuff-Lite presents an interesting idea: why buy a utility knife (like the Stanley FatMax folding knife) and deal with quickly dulling utility blades when you can buy a real knife that does the same job for the same money?
Discontinued but honorable mentions (still available on secondary market):
The ZT 0900 is a hard knife not to like. The Les George designed knife is the smallest offering Zero Tolerance has released, a half inch shorter in blade length than all other offerings from the brand that was once the purveyor of hilariously overbuilt 10 ounce knives that you adjusted with a 3/8” socket and a grunt, while you crushed a beer can on your forehead. (Kidding, of course: I love the 0200 as much as the next knife nut.)
While it’s a half inch shorter than other flyweights by ZT standards (the slim Sinkevich designed 0450, the shrunken down Hinderer 0566, and the popular 0350 line) the 0900 doesn’t skimp on materials: the frame is a beefy stonewashed slab of titanium, contoured to maximize your grip. The blade is a stonewashed clip point shape with an exaggerated belly, and although it’s only 2.75” long it’s cut from thick 0.16” stock, with a long convex swedge along the spine.
Like most modern ZT’s, it’s an exemplary flipper, benefitting from KAI’s patented KVT (Kershaw Velocity Technology) which is a paired of caged ball bearings in the pivot, allowing a friction-free deployment. As is expected these days, the titanium framelock features a bolt-in stainless steel insert for the lock face, to prevent galling of the titanium that creates lock stick. A deep carry pocket clip as featured on the 0900 is a great idea on little big knives – with a lot of mass concentrated in a small space, anchoring the mass as far out as possible helps control pendulum motions in the pocket and keep the knife firmly secured. Decorative pivot hardware rounds out the goodies, and the 0900 features ZT’s new, more subtle logo embossed into the handle itself.
Monochromatic, stubby and purposeful, the 0900 is one of the most interesting products in ZT’s lineup – its miniaturized bowie profile and organically curved handle creating a chunky Little Big Knife in a sea of tactical looking heavy duty bruisers that stows away without a thought and snaps open with surprising smoothness. Expensive, but worth it.
Sadly the Benchmade 755 MPR (or “Mini Pocket Rocket”) has been discontinued, but they can be found on the secondary market if you look long enough. The Shane Sibert design is almost cartoonishly overbuilt – not a surprise from the man who penned the legendary Adamas folder, one of the beefiest hard use knives ever made.
The blade is striking – a deep fuller groove runs part of the way down the flats, and the chunky drop point shape is accentuated with a short swedge along the spine. Blade stock is 0.16” thick with a shallow flat grind, making the MPR more of a sharpened pry bar than a scalpel – almost Strider-esque in its proportions. Made from Bohler M390, still one of the top tier super steels on the market today, Benchmade really pulled out all the stops for the MPR – when it was new, it retailed for ~$215 for a satin finished blade or $225 for a black blade although used prices are usually around $140-$160 depending on condition.
Construction of the MPR is interesting – the show side is a single piece of OD Green G10 that includes a molded in backspacer, while the lock side is similar in execution to Kershaw’s Sub-Frame Lock: a piece of green G10 covers the bottom of the titanium lock bar, which widens out past the scale to form a full-width lock face. Another interesting thing about the MPR is that it incorporates Benchmade’s controversial adjustable stop pin – a hexagon shaped pin that can be loosened and turned to adjust how far in or out the blade locks up. Some people are fans of the adjustable pin, saying that it can be tweaked as the knife ages to adjust for wear on the lock face. Others (myself included) believe it allows unnecessary adjustment that is likely to cause lockup issues if you move it at all. Your mileage may vary. There is also a super-beefy 3D machined pocket clip – which sadly is configured only for tip down right hand carry. Despite its eccentricities, the Benchmade 755 MPR is still worth seeking out if you’re looking for a heavy duty super-overbuilt folder that’s under a 3” blade.
Heh, Chubby. Michael Burch of Burchtree knives gave a provocative name to a provocative knife. It was short lived, only being in Spyderco’s catalog for two years (2014-2016) before being discontinued, but it’s a compelling buy if you can get a good deal on one. The Chubby was a fat little dwarf of a knife that didn’t skimp on materials or details. The Burch-designed Chubby features an S30V blade that measures only 2.3” long. It’s not actually much longer than it is wide, stretching 1.5” from edge to spine at the thickest point, with a stout profile befitting the name. Making the most of the short blade length (it’s the motion of the ocean, not the size of the boat, right?) the Chubby is hollow ground and has a dramatic sweeping spear point profile for rolling cuts, and a swedge for piercing power. The blade is satin finished and like everything else from Spyderco’s Taichung plant it’s a stellar example of fit and finish.
The handle is slab sided Titanium with a set of 3 decorative round carbon fiber inlays on the show side, while the lock side has a broad, sweeping bent clip that’s a Burch design rather than a Spyderco design – unusual for a production collaboration. If you like the design of the Chubby you’ll have to scour the internet for a rare remaining NIB example or keep an eye on the secondary market, because they’re not making any more – much like the Benchmade 755, a cool product cut short.
We hope you found something that piques your interest in our Little Big Knives top ten list – there’s a wide variety of knives that pack a punch greater than their small package would have you believe, available at every budget. Like our list? Did we miss your favorite? Let us know, send us an email!