Automatic knives can make life a whole lot easier if you have a good one. They offer all the convenience and ease of carry you get from a folder, but they also bring the benefit of fast, one-hand opening and an extra cool factor that dazzles non-knife enthusiasts. If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re in the market for an automatic or switchblade knife, and I’m sure you’ve discovered the hundreds of options available to you. If you feel like scrolling through automatic knives at Blade HQ and searching for your perfect knife, go right ahead! There’s a lot to choose from. But if you don’t have that kind of time, I’ve provided some of the best automatic knives for various uses!
A Word About Legality
Automatic knives and switchblade knives are the subject of legal scrutiny. I’d trust my life to each of the knives in this article, but I wouldn’t trust my freedom to any of them. If you have any hesitation – any at all – please seek legal advice for your area. Blade HQ does not claim to understand the minutia of your local knife laws and will not come to save you if you get into trouble.
But don’t let that dissuade you from these knives! You’d be surprised how often you’ll get the legal green light, and if you don’t, many of these knives have non-automatic variants as well.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the best automatic knives!
Best All-Around – Pro-Tech TR-3 X1M
If you’ve spent any time perusing the tactical/outdoor gear corners of the internet, you’ve probably seen a ridiculous number of products that claim to have been designed by/made for/used by United States Navy SEALs. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most of them are lying. Navy SEALs neither have the time to design nor the need to carry the vast majority of these products, and I’ll bet the farm they’re sick of being the industry’s go-to un-verified stamp of approval. But this much I can tell you: The Pro-Tech TR-3 X1M really is carried by SEAL Teams 2 and 3, and some of its features were put there because the SEALs needed them.
Pro-Tech had already sent the TR3 to the SEALs, and they loved it. Its clean design lent itself well to both combat and utility applications. It was small enough to be light and easy to carry but large enough to get some real work done. They only had a few notes, they wanted a secondary safety and a grip texture. Thus, the TR-3 X1M was made, and to this day, it is a favorite of the SEALs. In fact, Dave Wattenburg, the founder of Pro-Tech, gets to attend the annual SEAL Team 3 gathering in California.
If I could only have one knife, not just one automatic knife, for the rest of my life, the TR-3 X1M might just be it. It really is that good.
Best Budget – Boker Kalashnikov Auto
If you combine all its dozens of variations in color, size, blade shape, finish, steel, etc., the Kalashnikov is probably the best-selling knife in Blade HQ history, and for good reason. Boker set out to make the Kalashnikov auto much like its namesake: strong, tactical, affordable, and nigh on indestructible. They cut some clever corners to keep the price down without compromising strength. Instead of expensive milling and anodizing on the aluminum, the Kalashnikov is cast and painted. It’s every bit as strong, but the finish will wear faster. Instead of the fancy brand-new powder steels, it uses D2, a tough, proven steel that has been a staple in knives for the better part of a century.
Nothing about the Kalashnikov is “cheap.” It’s just as rugged and durable as any other knife on this list, and as mentioned earlier, it comes in so many variations that you are guaranteed to find the perfect one for you. If you’re on a tight budget, there is no better place to start your automatic knife journey than the Boker Kalashnikov auto!
Best Military/Police – Microtech SOCOM Elite
If you serve in the Military or Law Enforcement, you can often benefit from the easy use of an automatic. If you find yourself in a situation where you need your knife fast, it doesn’t get much faster than a Microtech SOCOM Elite. Violating the norms of knife design, the SOCOM uses a tip-down pocket clip, so when you pull the knife from your pocket, your thumb is already positioned on the knurled, oversized button and ready to rock and roll. The spring is a bit stronger than average. That way, when the knife fires, you’re already holding on tight because Microtech automatics fire so much harder than you can imagine. That speed of opening not only gets the knife in the action faster but also guarantees a solid lockup every time.
As its name suggests, the SOCOM series was built for military and tactical operations. I don’t know for sure the extent to which it was made with any group or mission in mind, but I do know that many SOCOM Autos have accompanied our brave soldiers to war and back. Microtech spares no expense in making it – the steel is top-grade, the handle is made from the same bomb-proof aluminum alloy as AR receivers, and the grippy texture of the handle guarantees a solid grip, even with wet or gloved hands.
Best Stiletto – Pro-Tech Godson
No automatic knife is more famous than the classic Italian Stiletto. It’s classy, old-school, and makes you feel like a gangster. (Or, at least, in possession of a knife similar to the original switchblade that caused so much fear in the 50s.) While traditional stilettos are still made, they are fewer, further between, and are often more collector pieces than anything else. If you want a modern stiletto with the styling of the classic but the high-tech mechanisms and materials of the new age, the Pro-Tech Godson is the one for you.
Just like the classic stilettos, the Godson has a rectangular handle, a snappy automatic action, and a needle-like point for insane piercing power. If you really want to lean into the style, you can get one of the custom models. Many have Damascus blades, professional engraving, inlays made of exotic woods, and even some crazy materials like mastodon ivory.
I’ll have you know as much as I love the Godson, I think the Pro-Tech Don has even more stiletto vibes. Its dual guards remind me of the swing guard on the originals. I didn’t put it on the list because Dons are rare, and when they come, they get bought up fast. If you see one, get it! I will be jealous! But if you’re shopping right now, you’re more likely to find the Godson in stock.
Best EDC – Benchmade Auto Immunity
We’ve talked a lot about how military and police personnel benefit from the speed and ease of use an auto offers, but sometimes we forget that civilians like you and I can benefit from the same thing! We may not need a large, combat-ready knife, but something small, snappy, and ready to tackle daily tasks is perfect. The Benchmade Auto Immunity is that knife.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Auto Immunity is small. The full-size variant only has a 2.5” blade and a proportionately compact handle. That size is just large enough to get a secure grip, but it’s so small you’ll forget it’s there when it’s in your pocket. The Wharncliffe blade pierces packaging with ease, and the M4 steel is tough enough to tolerate some hard use.
The Auto Immunity has another feature that no other auto on the list has – a fully ambidextrous design. The safety is spine mounted, and instead of a button lock, Benchmade used their famous AXIS Lock! If you’re a lefty, this might be the auto for you!
Best OTF – Microtech Ultratech
OTFs are their own beast, but they are still automatic knives of a sort. I’ve included the GOAT OTF here, but you should know that the world of OTFs is as big as the world of Automatics, and my buddy Jacob wrote an article much like this one to help you find the best OTF for you. If you’re in the market for an OTF, go read his article after I tell you how awesome the Ultratech is!
The gold standard of OTFs to which all OTFs are compared, and which many fall short of, is the Microtech Ultratech. That’s why John Wick carries one. Before its 1999 release, there were double-action OTFs, but none had the game-changing impact on the knife industry as the Ultratech. In the decades since its release, it has taken on over 700 variations in blade shape, finish, color, handle texture, etc. There are the standard versions, Signature editions, full customs, and even some styled after the armed conflicts that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away! Each of them is built to Microtech’s exacting standards, and any one of them will last you a dozen lifetimes. No knife collection is complete without an Ultratech!
A word of caution, however: perhaps no automatic knife has been copied, mimicked, and counterfeited as the Ultratech. Fake ones look the part, but they are cheaply made and sound like a broken trampoline. Only buy Microtech knives from an authorized dealer like Blade HQ.
Best Assisted-Opening – ZT 0350
I’m going to level with you – according to our understanding of the law, the American Knife and Tool Institute, and Blade HQ’s category structure, spring-assisted knives are not automatics. They have a fundamentally different mechanism, and they are treated and categorized as such. But someone was bound to ask, so I’m putting in my pick for the best Assisted Opening Knife.
Spring-assisted knives are more common at the budget level from brands like CRKT and Kershaw, but if you want the cream of the spring-assisted crop, the ZT 0350 is your man. This heavy-duty folder has a broad, slicey blade made from premium S30V steel, a course textured G-10 handle, and the most solid assisted action in the biz. Finishing off the knife is a four-position reversible pocket clip, making it a perfect choice for a strong or weak side, tip-up or down.
The 0350 is as much tactical as it is practical. If you’re looking for a self-defense knife, but you live somewhere you can’t have a true automatic, the 0350 might be the best choice for you!
Best Outdoor – Buck 110 Auto
The perks of an automatic knife are as useful in the forest as they are anywhere else. Whether you’re laying a fire, skinning a moose, or doing other forest things, you often have your hands full, and one-hand opening is a boon. If you spend time outdoors, the Buck 110 Auto is that boon! It’s just like the 110 Folding Hunter, the legendary knife that has dominated the Great American Outdoors for the better part of a century, but it snaps open easily with the push of a button. Other than that, it’s still the great knife you know and love, every bit as tough and every bit as versatile.
Best Rescue/Extrication – Spyderco Autonomy
When I was young(er), I wanted to become a doctor. As part of that path, I took an EMT class, where I learned two important things: First, when seconds count, emergency services are only minutes away. Second, people get stuck in weird places.
A good automatic knife can help you with both of those things. By the time you arrive at the scene of someone in need of help, and you have your legally mandated gloves on, you don’t have the time to fuss with two-hand opening, external mechanisms, etc. You need that knife now. If you have a Spyderco Autonomy, the knife will be open and ready for action before you know it. You also need a knife that will cut through whatever detains your patient quickly and precisely. The serrated sheepsfoot blade will chew through ropes, seatbelts, leather harnesses (don’t ask), etc., in record time without endangering the patient.
The Autonomy was made by request of the United States Coast Guard, who needed the perfect knife for rescue swimmers. Spyderco delivered; the Autonomy is the best automatic rescue knife in existence.
Best CA-Legal – Kershaw Launch 4
I repeat – I am not a lawyer, I am some knife nerd writing blogs on the internet.
That said, it is generally accepted in the knife industry that sub-2” bladed automatic knives are legal in California. Most makers of automatic knives make tiny automatics to that end. We call them CA-Legal Knives!
And by far, the best-selling CA-Legal knife is the Kershaw Launch 4. The Launch series is all made in the USA with premium components and all the trimmings of premium automatic knives, but at a competitive price. The Launch 4 is the best-selling of the bunch, likely because of its competitive pricing and useful design. Its tiny blade launches open (pun intended) at the press of a button, and the handle is large enough to get a solid grip. What I love is that the tip is perfectly indexed with the pommel, so if you had to use the knife in a defensive situation, it wouldn’t twist out of your control. Kershaw knocked this one out of the park!
Why Buy an Automatic Knife?
Automatic knives offer another layer of security. I generally prefer a manual folder, but at the end of the day, I’m counting on my fine motor skills to open the knife. In emergencies, when seconds count, and fine motor skills go out the window, I’d rather have a knife that can open at the press of a button. And even in everyday situations, when I’m using a knife, my hands are usually already busy. It’s nice to have a knife that doesn’t take two hands to open.
As a fun side note, that’s why the Federal Switchblade Act allows people with only one hand to carry automatic knives with blades under 3” on federal land.
Automatic knives might not be for everyone. Legality, political correctness, and personal preference might make you prefer a manual pocket knife or even a fixed blade, but either way, I hope you learned something about automatic knives and can see how they are making the world a better place!