Some knives are born from necessity, others imagination. And then there are those inspired by the claws of tigers in Southeastern Asia. Meet the karambit.
The karambit, originally an agricultural tool which was then weaponized – because who wouldn’t weaponize this bad boy – has grown from its roots in Asia to being a unique self-defense tool used worldwide.
Its curved blade and ergonomic design allow it to make slicing, tearing and hooking motions where straight blades can’t, and for that it’s grown a legion of devoted users.
Sure, it looks like it’s made to sever large veins, but things don’t have to escalate quickly to make it useful. The karambit is a versatile, utility-driven knife that offers multi-direction flexibility above all else.
Today’s karambits have evolved toward convenient everyday carry, with folding blades and lightweight materials replacing fixed blade, double-edged blades of the past. Here’s a look at the best folding karambit knives for every budget.
Best for Self-Defense
Fox 479 Folding Karambit
The Fox 479 is a sharp-as-hell tactical karambit that’s built for quick deployment and precision slashing. If that doesn’t get you going, we don’t know what will.
What makes the Fox 479 stand out? The Emerson Wave, a small, patented “wave” on the blade’s spine that automatically deploys the blade when it catches on your pocket.
In the field, this thing popped out faster than anything else we tested, and it wasn’t particularly close. The Emerson Wave makes the 479 perfect for self-defense situations that require quick, intuitive action and no time to spare.
As specs go, the Fox 479 holds up with the best of them: the blade’s made from NC690Co Stainless Steel with a beautiful black Teflon coating, and the knife’s G10 handles offer texture and ergonomic grip that lasts.
It’s easy to conceal, looks as mean as it is tough and it’s made in Maniago, Italy, where we can only assume they practice the sort of mysterious karambit-magic that mortals can only dream of. Thank you, Fox Knives. Thank you.
- Length: 3″ blade, 7.5″ extended, 5″ folded
- Weight: 133.8 grams (4.7 ounces)
- Adjustable clip allows multiple grip positions
- Retention ring for security and protection
Best for Scaring Your Daughter’s Boyfriend
Gladiators Guild Damascus Steel Karambit
This is the type of karambit you clean on the porch even if it’s a hot summer day, simply because the way light glints off the brass handle is more badass than anything else you could possibly do that day.
This custom damascus steel karambit isn’t particularly powerful the way the Fox 479 is, but it’s a beast of a weapon and we’d be lying if we said it doesn’t look like something our grandpa would carry around in his back pocket, just to scare folks.
It might not win any performance awards at Karambit Internationals, but it’s a hefty 283 grams – more than half a pound – of brass and steel. It’s a bear of a blade that focuses on detail and eccentricity over streamlined convenience.
“Owning and using a Damascus blade is about personal style and respect for the time and process of developing such a blade,” writes William Woods at The Truth About Knives. “A well-made Damascus blade will stay sharp for longer than most production quality knives, but if you’re looking for the ends-of-the-earth best performing blade steel, look elsewhere.”
Will it scare people? It should. Will you need a separate handkerchief just to wash blood off its 3″ blade? That call is yours, friend.
- Length: 3″ blade, 5″ closed, 8″ open
- Weight: 283 grams (.62 lbs)
- Damascus steel blade, brass handles
Best Budget Choice
Tac Force TF-620DM Karambit
Those of you unwilling to drop $100 on a karambit: we salute you. For quick and dirty karambit speed and tactical power, consider the TAC-FORCE TF-620DM, a lightweight spring-assisted knife that wins points for being cheap and durable.
It’s the lightest karambit we tested, and despite its lower-end materials – an aluminum handle rather than our preferred G10 Micarta scales – it performs well, stays sharp and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Unless you want to hold it that way. The stainless steel blade won’t blow your mind, but it will keep up with the rigors of everyday cutting needs.
The shape of the karambit is more curved than the others we tested, but this actually allowed it to hook and tear at angles that the others weren’t. The Smith & Wesson below, for example, is barely curved more than a traditional knife, which means these two blades offer very different results.
For less than $10, you can’t go wrong: the TF-620DM isn’t built to last, but when you don’t need heirloom quality goods – just something to get dirty and do the job – then TAC-FORCE has your back. This is the utility infielder of karambits, and there’s always a need for a reliable journeyman.
- Length: 2″ blade, 4″ inch handle, 7″ extended
- Weight: 107.7 grams
- Spring-assisted convenience and speed
- Stainless steel blade with anodized aluminum handle
Best for the Outdoorsman
Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops Karambit
When a company’s been around for 150 years making firearms, knives and other tools, they’re likely to make a solid karambit as well. Such is the case with Smith & Wesson, whose Extreme Ops Karambit is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a unique blade while hunting, camping or backpacking.
The Extreme Ops is sturdy, weighing in at nearly 7 ounces, but its bulk feels good in your hands, and the grippy texture of the handles gives the whole knife a nice, solid feel to it. The stainless steel hawkbill blade is ideal for cutting up whatever you need in the field, and hunters find it just as useful as the casual camper or survivalist.
Because the blade isn’t quite as curved as many karambits, it offers the benefits of a traditional knife with the flexible range of motion and grips that the karambit features. It’s closer to a hunting blade than anything else, and though it’s sharp and durable, it’s less stealthy than the Fox 479, making it ideal for outdoor scenarios that don’t require concealment as much as convenience.
With a secure finger guard and direction-adjustable clip, it’s easy to carry and use this karambit as needed, and when it’s folded away, it feels like any other traditional outdoor knife rather than having the more curved profiles of its karambit brethren.
- Length: 3.5″ blade, 4.9″ closed, 7.9″ extended
- Weight: 196 grams
- Hawkbill blade with beadblast finish