A good pocket knife is a staple for a solid everyday carry setup. Whether you want a knife for self-defense or opening packages, it’s a good tool to have on hand. However, not all knives perform the same, and modern folding knives come in a host of price ranges and styles. The Ontario RAT I and Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31 are great options at completely different prices. Which one’s better? What does your money get you? And how much knife do you really need?
Ontario RAT I Features
The Ontario RAT I is the knife I most often recommend to friends who want a solid blade but don’t want to spend much. At around $35 for the base model and $50 for the upgraded model with D2 steel, the RAT I is a no-brainer. Even if you have several other knives, these are great to just leave around in a tackle box or center console of your car.
The no-nonsense RAT I has a utilitarian 3.5-inch drop point blade that securely locks into place with a steel liner lock. The textured nylon scales do a decent job of mimicking G10 and, when paired with the jimping on the spine of the blade, provide a fair amount of traction both with and without gloves. At 5 ounces, it isn’t a featherweight, but it won’t weigh down your pockets either.
Though it’s not the best, the knife has a great action for running on nylon washers. Smooth, with a good detent and minimal maintenance required. There was good blade centering on my example, but I’ve seen them slightly off to either side before. This is nice, but it’s just aesthetic and definitely not a big issue for such an inexpensive knife.
The two main issues I find with the RAT I (and RAT II) involve the overall design. First off, the knife doesn’t have the best blade-to-handle ratio. The grip is large compared to the size of the blade. This does little in the way of functionality, but does make the knife a bit harder to carry, as it takes up more real estate in the pocket. Additionally, the knife is also not great at cutting on flat surfaces. The guard area at the top of the handle juts out and prevents the entire blade from accessing what you’re cutting. Tasks like these don’t come up often — for me at least — so this isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is worth noting.
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Locking Mechanism: Liner Lock
Blade Steel: AUS-8, D2
Blade Shape: Drop Point
Handle Material: Nylon Scales, Steel Liners
Weight: 5 ounces
CRK Large Sebenza 31 Features
The Chris Reeve Sebenza (Zulu word for “Work”) is a grail knife for many — it certainly was for me. The simplistic style and full titanium handle construction appeal to many knife enthusiasts. The Large Sebenza 31 features a 3.6-inch drop point blade with a finer tip than the RAT and utilizes S35VN steel (though CRK is starting to transition to S45VN). Further, the blade comes with a convex edge from the factory, which prevents chipping and maintains a working edge for longer before needing to be resharpened. Many wish that the Sebenza had 20CV blade steel, but the S35VN is actually better for the harder “work” it is designed for because it will not chip as easily and can be resharpened easier.
One key feature of the Sebenza is the Reeve Integral Lock, or frame lock, that was developed by Chris Reeve. This has been further improved with the inclusion of a ceramic ball detent and lock face. Ceramic is harder than steel and titanium, and prevents damage to the lock bar while providing a smooth detent to deploy and retain the blade. This provides that bank vault-like lockup you feel and solid locking click! you hear. Phosphor bronze washers and aerospace-grade tolerances give you that glassy, “Sebenza smooth” action.
One huge benefit to the Sebenza lies in the small details. The rounded blade spine and fine jimping scream high-quality. This is not something you get with most production knives. Additionally, the Sebenza is made to be used and maintained. The screws are much higher quality and will not strip out easily. CRK also offers its spa treatment to refresh your knife to how it looked when it was brand new.
Though I often sing its praises, there are some cons to the Sebenza. I’m going to have to get nitpicky here, but a knife this expensive deserves it. The flair at the end of the clip can catch on the end of an untucked shirt and pull your knife out of your pocket as you bend over and stand up. By no means does this happen often, but I’ve had a few days where it’s happened several times. The thumb stud will poke your finger and cause fatigue. This isn’t so much in general use, more when you’re fidgeting with your new blade. Your thumb will eventually get used to this and I’m fully aware this is a whiny complaint. Finally, there’s no steel lock-bar insert. Does it need one? Apparently not due to the ceramic insert (the Sebenza never had one, even on the model 21, which had a carbidized titanium lock face. I trust the man who invented the frame lock knows more about this than me.
Blade Length: 3.6 inches
Locking Mechanism: Reeve Integral Lock (Frame Lock)
Blade Steel: S35VN, S45VN
Blade Shape: Drop Point
Handle Material: Titanium
Weight: 4.7 ounces
Both the Sebenza and RAT come in large (3.5-inch blade) and small (3-inch blade) versions. They’re also available with different handle colors and materials. The plain-looking and utilitarian designs will attract the same crowd. The drop point blades are ground thin enough to slice well, while retaining thick enough blade stock to take some serious use. Though one’s a liner lock and the other’s a frame lock, the mechanisms and designs are similar.
The main differences between the Sebenza and RAT are in the materials and construction. The RAT features cheaper blade steel that has worse edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. However, this makes the RAT easier to resharpen, especially for novice sharpeners.
The RAT incorporates steel liners and lock bar, as opposed to the more expensive full titanium handle and lock found on the Sebenza. There’s also more manufacturing time spent on the Sebenza’s details such as the rounded blade spine, fine jimping, and tighter tolerances. The Sebenza is built to be used and maintained for a lifetime whereas the screws on the RAT will likely be stripped after a few disassemblies. That’s not to say the RAT is disposable, you can certainly spray it with CLP and clean it out, it’s just less of an investment piece. One final difference, which may or may not matter to you, is that the RAT is made in Taiwan and the Sebenza is made in the United States.
High-end vs. Budget Knives
Of course, the deciding factor between the two knives will probably be the price. At over 1,000% increase in price over the RAT, the Sebenza is not for everyone. I’ll use my Sebenza because that’s what I bought it for, but some may have reservations about using a knife this expensive. If you’re uncomfortable using your knife, then it is useless to get the more expensive knife. Spending more on your knife tends to get you better blade steel, craftsmanship, and materials. However, there is a point where your money gets you less and less. This is called the law of diminishing return. The difference between a budget $35 knife and a $150 knife is far greater than a $150 knife and a $450 knife.
The Sebenza is still my favorite knife that I own, but that may just be because I lusted after it for so long. Sure, it’s comfortable to use and works well, but I don’t think it’s exponentially better than other popular options. Knives such as the Spyderco PM2 and Benchmade Griptillian provide you with a lot of the same benefits of a higher-end knife for around one-third of the cost of the Sebenza. The law of diminishing return is real. There are plenty of options out there; in the end, it’s your decision whether or not the RAT I, Sebenza 31, or another knife is for you.