Best of the Rest: Tactical Knives of Ontario, Spyderco, and Buck


by Greg Quinn

photography by Greg Quinn

January 28th, 2004




SHOT 2003 allowed me to view some of the best tactical blades in existence.  While there, we contacted every tactical knife manufacturer at the Show, and asked many to participate in our tactical knife tests.  These were to be a series of articles comparing tactical knives, while coordinating this effort with firearms testing of tactical weapons (AR-15 and 1911 comparison tests, notably.  See our Articles Archive for many tests of AR rifles and 1911 tactical pistols).  At the time, we didn’t realize that, in lieu of having expensive test equipment like Cold Steel, KA-BAR, SOG, and others, to truly do justice to field testing of tactical knives, it would be a labor of love that would take months instead of days as originally planned.  We at take our work seriously.  Instead of doing some rapid testing over a few days or weeks that would coincide more with the testing of the AR’s and 1911’s in similar articles, we elected that to best represent a field trial of good tactical knives, these tests would need to be long-term tests and evaluations conducted over a period of months.  So, here we are, some 9 months after receiving the product from the participating manufacturers, providing real-world test articles about the performance of these products.

That said, I’m sure the knife manufacturers whose products we tested will be glad we took our time.  And, so should our readers.  You know that we at Gunblast tell it like it is.  We are not swayed by advertising.  Money doesn’t buy good reviews from us.  If a product is bad, we say it’s bad.  If it’s good, we say it’s good.  If it’s real good, we say go buy one.  We get no kickbacks from manufacturers.  In fact, we’ve yet to figure out how to make money with this website.  It’s not about the money, or we’d do something else.  Our role is to be one of the few true “spokesmen for the sportsmen”.  We want to speak the truth about new firearms and related products to those regular folks like us who spend our hard-earned money on guns and knives and such, without being convinced to purchase by some well-meaning marketing guru out there somewhere.

We get the feeling oftentimes that some manufacturers do not want to test their products.  We’ve asked some companies, and they either refuse or keep putting us off.  I don’t think it’s because they are too busy, do you?  Too busy to want the truth of their products being viewed by some 180,000 or so people per day on our website?  If they make a good product, they want us to review it.  They know we’ll say its good.  There’s a large list of manufacturers out there that will be quick to tell ya that really helped their business and sales of certain guns or other products, even though that was not our intent.  Conversely, if they make an inferior product, they probably do not want to test it.  And, there are many products we simply will not test because we truly don’t like to report that some products are not worthy of our readers’ money.

Now that I’ve concluded this dissertation as to why you should question purchase of a product not tested on (if you want one, and we haven’t tested it, ask us, yourself, or the manufacturer “why not?”), let’s move on to the final knife test article from SHOT 2003.

As we were putting together our final list of tactical knife manufacturers to approach at the Show, Buck never crossed my mind.  Yes, we’ve all had Buck knives. I grew up with them.  I’ve had Buck skinners, Buck lock-blades, and Buck pocketknives.  They’ve all been good knives at a low price.  But “Buck” and “tactical knives” never entered my mind in the same sentence.  I was surprised at SHOT 2003 to discover that Buck, combining with custom knife makers Mick Strider and Duane Dwyer, were getting into the tactical knife business. 

We tested two Buck tactical knives, the Buck Strider Tactical Folder and the Buck Strider Solution, a fixed-blade tactical knife.  The end result of this team’s combined resources seems like a good collaboration, especially for a first effort.  The Strider team had a good reputation for building excellent custom-made tactical knives, and Buck has developed the high-volume manufacturing expertise and strong quality control that has been evident for years in their hunting and folding lines.  The end result is two very well-made, very tough (but ugly), somewhat pricey tactical knives. 

The Buck Strider tactical folder is a big lock-blade.  It is some 9 ¼” open, with a 4” tanto-design blade.  The quality of materials is excellent: ATS-34 steel, G10 resin laminate handles, and titanium liners and lock.  I’d mentioned earlier that the knives were ugly, and that is especially true of the folder.  However, beauty is as beauty does, and this thing really grows on you, especially when you handle it for a while.  The blade has an excellent finish, but is thick and at first glance, somewhat bulky-looking.  It is very sharp, however, and the edges on the steel, and the quality of the steel itself, are very impressive.  The handles, when compared with some of the beauts coming from the likes of SOG or Kershaw, looked kind of cheap to the eye.  But, all changed when handled for a while.  The material of the handles, the G10 resin as Buck calls it, is tacky to the touch and has a great ‘feel’.  I don’t think these things would slip out of your hand if covered with pig grease.  The “checkering” in the grips is sharp and really hold the hand.  So, while not the most beautiful things your eyes will behold, these things work!  For a lock-blade, the grip offered this knife in a tactical situation was much superior to “prettier” knives such as the Spyderco, and even most other polymer-handled lockbacks.  In fact, no knife in our tests, from any of the other manufacturers, had handles as tacky in tactical situations than either Strider (fixed or lock-blade).  The closest second was perhaps the Ontario RTAK (described later in this article). 

If the Strider folder is considered a serious duty knife, the Strider 888 Solution is its equal or superior in a fixed-blade partner.  Again, this knife is ugly to the eye, but pleasing to the hand.  The drop-point blade is not polished, but dull.  Yet, the thing is sharp, big, and very tough.  The blade on this thing is wide (1 13/16”), thick (3/16”) and of decent length (4 ¾”).  It is the thickness of the blade that first impressed me.  You can pry with this thing, throw it, drop it, cut about anything you can muscle through, and I don’t think it’ll fail you.  It’d make a good sharp-edged crowbar.  The steel is ATS-34, hardened to Rc60 (that’s hard).  It has Buck’s Edge2x technology edge system, which is reportedly a sharper out-of-the-box blade and tougher to hold an edge longer.  I didn’t get to play with this knife as much as I wanted to; I wanted to try to get the edge to fail but it might have taken me till this time next year.  The handle on the Strider Solution is the same G10 product as on its folder sister, but actually has a much better grip due to the design of the handle (finger grooves near the blade heel make for an extremely comfortable and secure grip even when pushing very hard).  I’m somewhat partial; I don’t think any folder has the grip feel of a good fixed-blade knife.  The “tacky” surface of this material is excellent in wet weather.  Again, it’d be tough to lose a grip on this knife.

To summarize these two tactical entries from Buck, let me put it simply:  if you are wanting a pretty knife to impress your friends, then look at something else.  If you seek a streamlined, modern-looking design, go elsewhere.  If you want to name-drop the tactical knife crowd, then Buck (for now anyway) won’t get you much more than a chuckle.  However, if you want a serious-duty, well-made tactical knife that’ll work, that’ll hold an edge, that puts quality first, then you need to take a serious look (no, forget looking, feel) of the Strider duo from Buck.  You’ll be impressed.  I was, and certainly didn’t expect to be. 

The retail price of the Strider 880 Tactical Folder is not cheap at $194.  The price of the fixed-blade is $230.  Again, not cheap.  But, if your life depended on a good blade that’s built to last, then it’s a bargain.

Check out Buck's product line on the Web at:

For 25 years, Spyderco has been building fine lock-blade knives.  When I saved the money to buy my first Spyderco in the early 80’s, the company and their products was a novelty in our neck of the woods.  Who ever heard of a lock-blade knife with no grips?  You heard the jokes, “where’s the rest of the knife?”, “forget the grips?”.  But, I loved my little clip-pocket Spyderco Pilot.  Its serrated edge never failed.  It held an edge like no other I’d ever had.  And, its uniqueness was part of its virtue.  Now, some 20 years later, the design and the quality has only changed for the better.

We asked for 2-3 knives to test, but I guess the Spyderco folks in Golden, Colorado didn’t know what to think about us Gunblast boys.  They entrusted us with just one, the Spyderco Police Model, a big 9 7/16” folder that they’ve been making for cops since 1984. 

Out of the box I liked the thing for nostalgic reasons.  It looked like the big brother to my much beloved Spyderco Pilot.  It had the same 100% steel finish (yes, all stainless handle) as the Pilot.  It has the big “eye” on top of the blade, the thumb-hole for quick opening.  Spyderco was the first company to utilize this design, and one that they’ve stuck with through the years as pretty much their chief identifier.  It had the same serrated-edge blade that I loved so much, but just much bigger (the Police Model blade is 4 1/8”).

I like the Spyderco blades, and this one is no exception.  The hollow-ground VG-10 steel has a 3 13/16” cutting edge, and is 1/8” thick.  The serrated edges are sharp, extremely sharp.  And, they hold their edges exceptionally well.  These knives are designed for serious-duty.  The Police Model is one of their best-sellers, and for good reason.  It has a good clip that didn’t fail, its locking mechanism is tough yet smooth, and its blade is the main beauty of this knife.  The Spyderco Police is the knife one thinks about when asked about a cop blade.  It has proven itself in duty for many years, yet its timeless design is just as beautiful today as it was 20 years ago.

What’s not to like about the Police?  Well, it depends on the use.  If used as a pocket-clip lockblade that’ll be used in good weather or with tacky gloves, it’s a great knife.  If the steel handles get wet though, just try holding onto them.  It’s like, well, holding onto polished stainless steel (which they are).  And, if “tactical” to you means “covert”, forget the polished blade and handle.  They’ll shine in the moonlight.  I’d stretch this knife to put in the same category of tactical knives as those by other manufacturers tested, for these very reasons mentioned.  The slick handles and shiny blade certainly don’t befit military use.  If none of this matters, and you want an easy-opening, dependable, big but streamlined, pocket-clip lockback with an excellent blade, then the Police may fit the bill very well indeed.

The Police Model retails for $132.95.

Spyderco does, by the way, make a similar model with a better handle, the Military Model C36GE.  Similar to the Police in blade design, the Military has a good slip-proof G10 handle that is better for tactical applications.  We just didn’t get to test one of these.  Maybe next year.

You can find Spyderco on the Web at:

Ontario Knife Company has been around since 1889.  Based in Franklinville, NY, Ontario makes a wide range of cutlery products.  You’ve heard the trade names, “Old Hickory”, “Queen Cutlery”, and “Spec Plus”, among many others.  They make medical cutlery, kitchen knives, hatchets, swords, pocket knives, and yes, even tactical knives.  Pretty darn good tactical knives actually.  Especially for the money.  The Ontario knives tested are at the lower-end of all the tactical knives in our tests, yet they performed decently in comparison with more expensive models from other manufacturers.  And, they make 38 (yes, thirty-eight) different varieties of tactical knives. 

The good folks at Ontario sent us 4 knives to test, the MK3, SP13 Tanto 8, SPII Bolo, and RTAK. 

Let’s start with the most unique first, their RTAK.  This stands for “Randall’s Training and Adventure Knife”, named after Randall’s Training and Adventure facility and program.  This knife is big; it’s actually a cross between a machete and a knife.  It has a 10” clip point smooth blade and is 17 1/8” long overall.  See, a machete.  The blade is .1875” thick, is made of 1095 carbon steel, and has been treated with Zinc phosphate to resist rust.  Don’t think of it as a cheap machete, as one look at the blade construction will tell you otherwise.  This is a seriously big tactical knife with a high-quality edged blade.  Finish of the blade is reasonable for tactical purposes, meaning that it’s not very pretty but functional.  The steel is uniform and very tough, and the edges are great, and that’s what’s important.  It has Micarta handle slabs that, like the handles of the Buck Striders previously mentioned, grip well when wet (but not as well as the Striders).  The handles are held on with 3 big hex-head screws, the blade steel goes the length of the knife, and it has a lanyard hole in the end.  This, my friends, is a serious-duty knife.  This knife is good for the purpose designed, and that is to be a jungle survival knife.  It is currently in use by foreign jungle training schools, foreign military in tropical environments, and drug eradication teams around the globe.  For a small machete that’s made with the quality of many tactical knives, the RTAK is a good choice for a big (no, huge), inexpensive sheath knife.  For many tactical purposes, it’s just too big.  For its intended use, however, it’s a winner.  It comes with a quality Cordura sheath.  Retail is around $83.

The Mark 3 Navy has a 6 ½” blade and an overall length of 10 ¾”.  The blade is .165” thick, is made of 440A stainless, and has a good black oxide finish.   The handle is straight with a slight bulb in the middle for a comfortable grip, and is made of high-impact plastic.  This knife looks like a tactical knife.  It has a smooth drop-point blade with serrated edge on top.  The edge is good on the knife, and held up very well with reasonable use.  It is blunt-ended at the back of the grip, with a lanyard.  The sheath is plastic with brass liner.  This knife is a solid-performing military-style knife that’ll serve one well for tactical duty.  Suggested retail is $48.99.

Their SP13 Tanto 8 is an 8” bladed, tanto-design military knife.  It has a .1875” thickness 440A blade with a very good edge.  The grips on the knife are military style WW2-like grips, but of modern polymer materials.  The grips handle well, even when wet.  The Tanto held its edge very well, the finish on the steel was excellent, and the knife was comfortable and practical to use.  It’s just hard to beat an 8” tanto blade, and this model from Ontario is no exception.  While not having quite the finish and edge of the similar model from SOG or Cold Steel, it is nonetheless a very good tanto-blade knife for the money.  Suggested retail is $41.99.

The SPII Bolo is a bolo-blade design that’s over 15” overall, and with a 10” blade.  Like the RTAK, it’s a bit big for many applications, but if the need is for a big knife with a big smooth edge, then this Bolo will fit the bill very nicely.  The blade construction and grips are very similar to the Tanto 8.  Nicely finished with a good edge that holds up well under fairly harsh use, this would be an excellent comparison to the KA-BAR Kukri, just not finished quite as well and not quite as large.  Retail is around $50.00.

Check Ontario out on the Web at:

The past 9 months have taught us a lot about tactical knives.  For one, we tested some very good ones.  Each manufacturer’s product tested performed well in a variety of field conditions.  Some were better than others, and some were pricier as well.  If your pocketbook can stand it, you can pay more and often get better quality, but not always.  Our tests and evaluations took into consideration the quality of the product first, and effectiveness for its desired use.  Money wasn’t too much of an issue unless the value didn’t justify the price.  None of the knives tested, in this article and the preceding ones, were overpriced for the quality of the tool, yet some are better values than others.  As you can tell from reading these four articles, the result of over 9 months of handling a multitude of tactical knives, we have presented a variety of options for those seeking a quality tactical knife, in a variety of price points.

I hope that, through this series of articles, we have presented the reader with a good variety of tactical knives and a good review on each.  Looking back, there wasn’t a dog in the bunch, yet it’s pretty apparent that I have some favorites.

Looking forward, in a few short weeks we head off to Vegas for SHOT Show 2004, where we’ll get to once again ponder over the new products in the world of firearms, knives, optics, and related things of wonder.  We can’t wait!

Greg Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.


High-quality Buck Strider knives pictured from top, Strider Tactical Folder, and bottom, Strider fixed-blade.



Another view of the Striders, left is the Folder, and right is the Strider fixed-blade.



Spyderco Police with Sig P229 .357SIG; a top-cop combination.



Shown with Colt Match HBAR, a pre-ban SKS, and a SW4505, are the excellent value-tacticals from Ontario, the RTAK, MK3 Navy, SP13 Tanto 8, and the SPII Bolo.



A very dangerous combo: brother Jeff and an Ontario RTAK.