The term “pocket knife,” especially in this day and age, is exceedingly expansive. It can mean anything from a simple, utilitarian, Boy Scout-friendly Swiss Army Knife to an ultra-high-end Damascus steel and titanium cutting tool that’s more of a showpiece than a utilitarian blade. As such, there are quite a few sub-categories well-suited to a number of uses, styles, and even levels of convenience.
One such sub-category is OTF knives. An offshoot of automatic switchblades, these knives (when well made) are quick, convenient, and frankly pretty cool. And while they’re not as numerous regarding available options as, say, flipper knives, there are still quite a few out there to choose from. With that in mind, we rounded up what we believe are the eight best OTF knives you can buy right now.
What Exactly Are OTF Knives?
OTF stands for “Out-The-Front,” which is actually a handy descriptor for what these knives actually are. You see, whereas folding blades (as their name suggests) fold in half, OTF knives don’t fold at all. Rather, the blade (when collapsed) is actually housed inside the handle itself. When deployed, the blade is extended outward and into open position via an automatic mechanism (also housed within the handle) — usually via a button or slider. Then, once the user is finished with his or her cutting task, the blade slides back into the handle for secure and safe carry until the knife is needed again. For reference, OTF knives are also sometimes known as telescoping or sliding knives.
Things To Look For
As is the case with any gear purchase, there are a few key things you want to look for when picking up an OTF knife. In this case, we mean more than just the normal things you’d watch for in an EDC blade — e.g. blade steel, handle material, etc. In fact, there are a few specs specific to OTF knives that are important to keep in mind. We’ve outlined them below:
Price: While price should be a determining factor in any knife purchase, the starting range is especially important for OTF knives. This is because their internal mechanisms are complex devices that require sound engineering and a sturdy construction — both in how they function and in their materials. As such, OTF knives tend to be on the pricier side of the spectrum. In fact, we’d suggest staying away from anything that falls under a $150 point, as there’s a fairly solid likelihood that these knives are not well-built verging on being dangerous to you, the user. It’s worth noting that a low price is not always an indication of poor quality, but the risks (in this case) far outweigh the benefits. The last thing you want is for your OTF knife to fail and/or break when you need it most.
Mechanism: There are two things to look for in regards to the deployment mechanism of OTF knives. The first is whether or not a given knife features a “double-action” mechanism — meaning the button or slider will both deploy the blade into the open position as well as retract the blade to the closed position when you’re done using it. Not all OTF knives are double-action; some will deploy the blade but then require manual retraction to close it again. This does not necessarily affect the overall value of an OTF knife, but it will make a difference in how it functions. Second, you’ll want to look for the position of the deployment mechanism. This is more personal preference than anything else, but some OTF knives have the deployment mechanism on the front of the handle, whereas others have a slider on the spine or side of the handle. You will find, however, that the majority of OTF knives feature a spine-mounted slider.
Edge Type: Obviously, you’d want to keep an eye on the edges of any knife in which you’re interested. However, in the case of OTF knives, we’re specifically looking for whether a given knife features a single-edge or a double-edge (alternatively: S/E or D/E). Single-edged OTF knives are more well-suited to EDC usage, as users can place a thumb on the spine of the blade to increase pressure at the edge, which is helpful for utilitarian cutting tasks. However, D/E daggers are better for penetration and slashing — making them more aligned with fighting and combat knives and serving better for self-defense usage.
A Note On Legality
Know The Laws
Because of the nature of OTF knives — which, legally, are a type of automatic switchblade — the laws regarding carrying them and/or using them are fairly strict. In places where you might be allowed to carry a manual folding knife, you might not be able to legally carry an OTF knife. While we don’t agree with the categorization, many governments view automatic knives of any type to be weapons first, especially when it comes to the OTF variety. As such, users need to be very cautious and well-informed as to whether or not they can rightfully add one to their everyday carry loadout. That means learning whether you can carry automatic knives at all, if the length is a determining factor, and/or the legality of any other defining features. If you choose to ignore the seriousness therein, you could face fines, confiscations, and even jail time. As far as we’re concerned, that is not a risk worth taking, so stay informed before you try to purchase and carry an OTF knife.
California has some of the strictest laws in the country regarding the legality of carrying automatic knives. In fact, most of them are just banned altogether, especially when it comes to OTF knives. Microtech’s Exocet, however, jumps through the legal loopholes by being exceptionally small. Crafted from high-end CTS-204P steel, the blade measures up at just 1.98 inches in length — making for a total length, including the aluminum handle, of 5.625 inches. This double-action OTF knife also comes with a reversible pocket clip that does double-duty as a money clip and is has a double-edge on its dagger blade. If you’re looking for an out-the-front knife that’s both sturdy and discreet, you can’t go wrong with the Microtech Exocet and its many color options.
Total Length: 5.625″
One of the most popular OTF knives around — and, therefore, an industry staple — Microtech’s Ultratech is a pretty superb blend of affordability and quality in a category where much of the competition starts at sometimes hundreds of dollars more. This particular version comes equipped with a double-edge dagger CTS-204P steel blade mated to a 6061-T6 aluminum handle complete with a glass-breaker tip (perfect for emergency survival situations). It also features a double-action mechanism with a spine-mounted slider, a bit of handle jimping for better grip, and more.
Total Length: 8.50″
Hogue Knives Compound
The Compound from Hogue Knives has several things going for it that help set it apart from the competition. For starters and like all Hogue offerings, it’s made entirely in the USA. Second, it benefits from an aggressively-angled tanto-style, black-finished CPM-S30V steel blade — which, while not entirely unheard of, is a bit unusual to find in OTF knives. Third, the G10 handle boasts a unique hexagonal geometric handle that does double duty — serving both to look interesting but also offering up some extra grip. Complete with a double-action spine-mounted slider, tip-down reversible pocket clip, and an all-black appearance, it’s pretty clear why this automatic knife is one of the best OTF blades around.
Total Length: 8.40″
Guardian Tactical RECON-035
In case you haven’t already noticed, most OTF knives feature a fairly similar silhouette. That means its the smaller details that have to serve to set noteworthy ones apart — at least visually. Thankfully, in the case of the Guardia Tactical RECON-035, there are plenty of those little details to enjoy. For starters, though the bulk of the handle is crafted from black-anodized aluminum, it also has carbon fiber inlays for a little modern tactical touch. Furthermore, the high-end Elmax drop point blade has a unique black-and-silver finish that gives it an almost sci-fi appearance. Of course, it also has plenty of exceptional features that you can’t see, like an innovative friction-eliminating deployment mechanism, a steel and ceramic ball bearing thumb slider system, and more.
Handle: Aluminum & Carbon Fiber
Total Length: 9.75″
If you’ve never heard of Piranha before, it’s probably because you’re not intimately acquainted with automatic knives, as that’s the style this brand specializes in. And while they don’t solely make OTF blades, their designs for the sub-category are some of the absolute best. Take the Rated-R, for example. For starters, the long-and-thin tanto-style blade — crafted from 154CM steel — mated to a black-finished aluminum handle somewhat resembles a samurai sword, which is a fact we can’t imagine was unintentional. This particular automatic OTF knife also has a slider on the upper-front quarter, which makes for easy, ergonomic access when deploying it. Finally, the handle is also textured and has chamfered edges to ensure you can grip it tightly in any conditions. Finished off with a titanium pocket clip, this quick-deploying samurai sword is sure to serve you well day-in and day-out.
Total Length: 8.125″
One of our favorite everyday carry knifemaking brands, Benchmade is no stranger to the OTF style of cutting tool. In fact, they craft several that are amongst the best out there. Take their Phaeton family of OTF knives, for example. Subtle in their styling and exceptional in their construction, Phaeton OTF knives are offered with a drop point CPM-S30V steel blade either raw or black DLC-finished, as well as your choice of a black or Dark Earth anodizes aluminum handle. Regardless of what you choose, your knife will also come with a spine-mounted double-action slider mechanism, a deep carry pocket clip, and unique handle texturing that serves both to increase its grip as well as offering a bit of bonus styling. Best of all, however, these knives are made entirely in the USA.
Total Length: 8.08″
Like its Phaeton brethren, Benchmade’s Autocrat family of OTF knives were made entirely in the USA from high-grade materials. And while they share several features, there’s also a lot to set this option apart as a standalone OTF well-deserving of a spot on this list. For instance, while the blade of the Autocrat is also crafted from raw or black DLC-finished S30V steel, this one features a distinctly-different double-edged dagger shape — making it just a bit more tactical than practical. Similarly, the Autocrats are also offered with G10 handle scales in your choice of black, OD green, or Coyote Brown. It also features a deep-carry Malice pocket clip that’s MOLLE compatible, so you can add this offering to your tactical loadout if you wish.
Total Length: 8.75″
Microtech Combat Troodon
If there’s a Holy Grail of the OTF knife world, it would have to be the fabled Microtech Combat Troodon. This legendary model, while expensive, is also offered in plenty of different variants — ranging in color, finish, and even materials. In fact, there’s likely an option out there for everyone. This particular one is equipped with an ultra-high-end CTS-204P steel blade with full serrations and a two-tone black-and-silver finish, a spine-mounted double-action slider, a durable textured anodized aluminum handle, and a hefty glass-breaker tip on the butt. It’s also worth noting that the “Combat” designation means this is the largest of the Troodon family, measuring up at a whopping 9.5″ in total. It’s a hefty and expensive OTF knife, but it’s definitely not going to disappoint anyone brave enough to wield it.
Total Length: 9.5″
The 10 Best Automatic Knives
If the idea of an OTF blade is a bit too aggressive for you, but you still appreciate their speed and convenience, you might find something more up your alley on our list of the best automatic knives.