Though typically thought of as a fairly modern piece of gear, automatic knives actually date back to the mid-1700s, when smiths in Europe first began equipping flintlock and coach guns with folding spike bayonets. Over the next century, this design would evolve into the earliest handheld switchblades, ultimately kicking off the auto knife segment that continues booming today with an ever-growing array of increasingly capable models.
And while the options in this space were once fairly limited, it’s hugely grown in popularity over the last decade or two, becoming the go-to option for legions of EDC enthusiasts. However, with literally hundreds of available offerings to choose from, it can be difficult honing in on the standout models that objectively tower over the rest. So, with this in mind, we’ve thoroughly scoured the segment to deliver this guide to the best automatic knives you can buy, counting down our picks for the finest available options on the market, while also touching on what factors to consider when shopping.
While automatic models share a great many traits with regular, manually-deployed knives, there is still a small handful of finer points that are crucial to explore when shopping in this area. In an effort to simplify your search, we’ve pieced together this condensed guide on the five most pivotal factors to review before pulling the trigger on your purchase.
Materials & Construction: No matter what type of knife it is that you’re shopping for, overall quality, durability, and performance will largely boil down to the materials used to construct it, with automatic models being far from an exception. As such, when shopping for an auto, it’s imperative to review the material(s) being utilized to craft the model’s handle (and/or frame), as well as the type of steel that the blade is composed of.
Action & Deployment: Just like with normal, manually-opened knives, one major factor that hugely separates truly premium auto models from cheap imitators is the knife’s deployment and action. Whether this is of the slide, switch, or push-button variety, these more high-end autos tend to feature powerful spring mechanisms and equally robust locking mechanisms. It’s also worth checking out the particular type of deployment a knife is using, as there are automatic folding knives as well as spring-loaded OTF — or “out the front” — models.
Aesthetic Design: Just like with their manually-deployed counterparts, automatic knives are produced in an enormous variety of different shapes, sizes, and styles. This means that whether you’re a hardcore minimalist, a fan of busy, involved designs, or anywhere in between, there will almost certainly be an auto model that jives with your personal aesthetic taste. A great many of these knives are also produced in a myriad of different constructions and/or finishes.
Craftsmanship & Quality: Because automatic knives tend to be more expensive, they’re often embraced and produced by more premium knife makers. In addition to an auto knife’s blade and handle constructions, locking mechanism, and deployment, the overall quality of execution and craftsmanship on display can also wildly vary, and as such is another area that distinguishes top-shelf knives from the more budget-friendly blades on the market. Unsurprisingly, with such high levels of quality and fit and finish, quite a few of the more premium automatic knives on the market come backed by generous — often lifetime — warranties.
Legality: As convenient as automatic knives are, they’re unfortunately illegal to carry in some regions — a fact that’s largely owed to the traditional association between criminals and switchblades. There are also locales with specific laws regulating what type or size of automatic knife can be carried, such as California which limits the blade length on legal auto models to two inches or less. And, while the simple possession of an illegal auto knife is no more than a misdemeanor in most states, it can still result in exorbitant fines and even jail time, making the legality of any auto knife that you’re considering well worth looking into prior to making your purchase.
Böker Stubby Strike
Best CA-Legal Auto: Böker’s aptly-named Stubby Strike is a compact, California-legal auto model with a stout, 1.875″ drop point blade that’s crafted from D2 steel before being treated to a black stonewashed finish. Equipped with a righthand side, deep-carry tip-up pocket clip, this knife features a set of stainless steel liners adorned in OD green texture-coated aluminum scales and is armed with a push-button locking mechanism. Measuring 5.325” when open, the Stubby Strike Auto tips the scales at just 3.22oz.
Kershaw Launch 1
Best Affordable Auto: Released in 2015, the Launch 1 has long been one of Kershaw’s most popular — and thoroughly capable — everyday carry knives. The auto model features a black anodized aluminum handle with a Bullseye red push button opener that’s mated to a black stonewashed drop point item made from CPM 154 blade steel. Unfortunately, due to its 3.375” blade length, the Launch 1 can’t legally be carried in some regions, including California, as well as the UK, where automatic knives are banned outright.
SOG Knives SOG-TAC AU Compact
Best Tactical Auto: A tactical powerhouse that lends itself extremely well to everyday carry, SOG Knives’ SOG-TAC AU Compact is a California-legal automatic that’s constructed around a stainless steel frame sandwiched between a set of textured black aluminum scales. Outfitted with a reversible, tip-up deep-carry pocket clip and a safety-equipped automatic version of SOG’s proprietary XR locking mechanism, SOG-TAC AU Compact’s thumb-slide deploys a special cryogenically heat-treated 3.00” D2 tool steel tanto blade that’s fortified via a black titanium nitride coating — and offered in a number of different blade shapes that are available in plain-edged, serrated, or partially serrated variants.
Buck 110 Auto Knife
Best Vintage-Styled Auto: Originally designed by Al Buck in 1963 before being released the following year, Buck Knives’ 110 Folding Hunter has unequivocally been the American heritage brand’s most iconic model for the nearly six decades that it’s been in production. More recently, the Idaho-based outfit opted to bestow the 110 with the auto treatment, arming it with a push-button auto-deployment in its otherwise unchanged handle — which on this version of the 110 Auto is crafted from top-shelf Crelicam Ebony wood and paired with a 420HC stainless steel clip point blade with a satin finish. Made in America, this knife is also sold with an included leather friction-fit sheath.
Gerber Auto 06
Best Self-Defense Auto: The Gerber 06 is a well-built EDC-friendly automatic knife that’s constructed around a handle that’s been machined from a solid piece of aluminum billet into an ultra-ergonomic shape that provides absolutely stellar grip — whether held normally or in a reserve grip. Add to that a beefy razor-sharp 3.625″ (drop point or tanto) blade made from premium CPM S30V, and you’ve not only got an amazing tactically-inspired everyday carry knife, but you also have one of the best auto-deployed fighting knives on the market (for under the $300 mark). A handgun-style safety switch ensures that accidental deployments won’t occur either.
Spyderco Autonomy 2
Editor’s Pick: The second-generation Spyderco Autonomy is an absolutely incredible everyday carry knife that, despite the addition of an automatic blade deployment setup, retains everything that EDC enthusiasts have come to love about the Colorado-based company’s blades. This includes a beefier, 3.50” version of Spyderco’s unique drop point blade shape — which is made from ultra-corrosion-resistant, nitrogen-based LC200N rustproof blade steel — that’s mated to a G-10 handle equipped with an auto version of the firm’s signature compression lock. And, despite no longer being deployed manually, the Autonomy 2’s blade still sports a smaller version of Spyderco’s instantly-recognizable circular thumb opening — another classic Spyderco design hallmark present on this knife.
Benchmade 9400 Auto Osborne
Best Overall EDC Auto: Since being introduced at the Blade Show in 2000, the utterly game-changing Osborne has not only been one of the most sought-after and trusted Benchmade knives, but it’s also unequivocally one of the all-around very best everyday carry knives ever conceived. Spurred on by the 940’s immense popularity, in May of 2020, some 20 years after the original Osborne debuted, the Oregon City outfit released an automatic version of the much-beloved EDC folder, retaining the normal variant’s green-anodized aluminum handle and 3.40” CPM S30V reverse tanto blade, however, Benchmade’s patented AXIS locking mechanism has been jettisoned in favor of a push-button deployment setup. Interestingly, the auto-spec Osborne actually weighs 0.25oz less than the manually-opening version.
Emerson Knives Bullshark
Best American-Made Auto: In late 2020, Emerson Knives unveiled its very first automatic model in the American knife maker’s more than quarter-century-long history with the Bullshark. Legal to carry in Emerson’s home state of California, the Bullshark is a surprisingly capable and utilitarian knife for packing such small dimensions, with the 4oz auto measuring just 5.30” when open. The Bullshark’s hard-anodized black aluminum handle is linked to an auto push-button-deployed 1.90” 154CM blade that’s 0.125” thick and rated between 57 and 59 on the Rockwell scale.
Best Auto OTF: Since the brand’s inception in 1994, Microtech Knives has established itself as one of, if not the single finest producer of tactical auto and OTF knives, as evidenced by the North Carolina company’s blades being the go-to choice for countless elite military operators — as well as being the knife of choice for none other than John Wick, who carries a UTX-70-spec of the Microtech Ultratech on screen, along with one of the brand’s Combat Troodon models. Engineered to withstand a lifetime of hard use in hostile conditions — meaning it’s more than robust enough to stand up to regular EDC duties — the Ultratech S/E (seen here) features a contoured and jimped black-anodized aluminum handle with a milled thumb-slide that rapidly deploys this knife’s blade — a 3.44” drop point item crafted from ultra-premium Böhler M390 steel.