The convergence of custom and production knives continues in 2018 with high-end metals, high-tech grinds, and high-profile collaborations between cutlers and designers. And the trend towards automatic knives is only ramping up. The only bad news: Good luck trying to whittle your choices down to the knife, or three, you want to buy.
On the other hand, I’ve started the process for you below. Here are my top 10 picks from the 2018 SHOT show.
This was the most talked-about knife at the SHOT Show—a skeletonized, whisper-light backcountry blade. Made of CPMS90V steel, with its extra punch of vanadium for toughness, the knife measures 7.38 inches long, with a 3-inch blade, but weighs only 1.67 ounces. Crazy. The handle sports a pair of carbon-fiber-and-G10 bolsters to boost ergonomics, and the knife rides in an equally light and tough Kydex sheath. The Altitude comes in two versions, a black DLC and this drop-camp, drop-dead, blaze-orange Cerakote blade. Plus, when you buy the latter, Benchmade makes a donation to Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Win and win. $230; Benchmade
The Bongo represents the next level up for the South African knifemaker. You still get a full-tang blade of Bohler N690 steel, with a new mirror finish. The big change is in the handles—each scale is set into a recess machined into the tang, for a lighter weight and significant increase in handle stability. There’s also added jimping on the blade spine, and notches in the handle for better grip. The handle scales are made from the inner bone of the kudu horn, a riot of colors and patterns. The Bongo comes with a kangaroo leather lanyard tipped with a kudu horn bead, which slips under a nifty safety flap on the kangaroo leather sheath. $359; Arno Bernard Knives
Designed to meet California’s blade requirements for an automatic knife, this pocket beast is more than a West Coast novelty. The 1.9-inch AUS-8 blade snaps open with authority, has aggressive jimping, and folds into a full-size handle with deep finger choils. The result: A brawny handle and stout blade that you can use with as much force as you can muster. The knife carries with a deep-pocket clip and weighs just a smidge over 2 ounces, so it’s a featherweight with big performance. $134; SOG Knives
This Oregon cutler builds semi-custom knives with a deservedly passionate following, and its foray into folders is a winner. The Liner Lock Gut sports a 2.3-inch blade of high-carbon, high-chromium D2 tool steel with an integrated gut hook, and a hand-filling handle of either elk, caribou, or stabilized burl maple, walnut, and cocobolo. (Three other knives in the series are made with a drop point, modified sheepsfoot, and spear point.) Distinctive, made in America, and surprisingly affordable for a knife with so much handwork. $125; Silver Stag
A full-size, aggressive folder, the 0393 weighs but 5 ounces, thanks to a blue-anodized titanium handle with a G10 overlay. It’s almost enough to detract attention from the 3.5-inch blade. Almost. But Rick Hinderer’s spanto blade—a mashup of a spear point and a tanto—gets a slick dual satin/DLC finish that draws the eye. But this is no glitter knife. The blade is premium CPM20CV steel, and it opens via the famed KVT flipper mechanism that rides on steel ball bearings for effortless opening. $300; Zero Tolerance Knives
There’s not a bit of bling on this knife, nothing over the top, nothing to detract from just how close to perfect a blade they’re making in Michigan. The Small Game Knife is designed to excel on upland birds and small game, but it’s perfectly capable of breaking down a deer-sized animal or better. The full-tang blade is 2.6 inches long, of premium CPMS35V powder steel, with a fetching handle of paper micarta that has a wonderful wood-grain look and feel. The modified drop point shows off the blade’s hunt-oriented cred, keeping the tip away from an animal’s organs while field dressing or skinning. But the spine is pretty straight for a drop-point knife, enabling greater control for finer cutting tasks such as caping or breasting a duck. $165; White River Knife & Tool
There are a blue million everyday-carry knives from which to choose, so the Terrestrial adds something a bit different to the mix. The 8Cr13Mov blade rides open via an IKBS ball-bearing pivot, and the flipper mechanism and deep finger choil give it a sturdy feel in the hand. A modified spear point profile is paired with a dramatic upswept swedge and curved G10 handle, creating a firm spine landing for a thumb or forefinger when you need extra blade control. This liner-lock knife comes with a deep-pocket, tip-up carry clip. $70; CRKT
Near perfection meets near indestructibility. Spyderco’s beloved original Native 5 combines a refined lock-back design with a smooth-cutting full-flat-ground leaf blade and a jimped index-finger choil that results in one of the nicest-feeling knives on the market. Now it’s juiced with rustproof nitrogen-based LC200N steel that is entirely corrosion resistant. The superlight, fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle is gritted with bi-directional texture for a sure grip despite hands slicked with fish slime and pluff mud. The perfect kayak-fishing, surf-fishing, flats-fishing companion. Price not yet available; Spyderco
Marttiini has been making premium Rapala fillet knives for more than 50 years, but the Finnish company showed up at SHOT for the first time ever. What a treat. Its extensive offerings are built along the lines of the traditional puukko knife of Nordic regions, and they are simply beautiful. New for 2018, the Kierinki is a stout all-around knife with a 4.3-inch forged carbon-steel blade with a stunning hammered finish, and a handle of stacked, heat-treated birch and curly birch that only grows in northern climes. $100; Marttiini
Designed by bushcraft expert Joe Flowers, this is the love child of a kukri knife and parang machete. The weight-forward blade is pure parang, and gives the Amalgam some serious swing for slashing and chopping. The compound bevel is easy to sharpen with a file. Close to the handle, the narrow kukri-style waist is perfect for fine cutting skills such as carving and whittling. Built with a full-tang for strength, it is surprisingly light, given its foot-long 4.5-mm blade. A superb lane-clearing and backcountry camping tool. $125; Condor Tool & Knife