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Sometimes survival preparedness means having the tools and know-how necessary to scratch out a living from an untamed wilderness environment. Other times, it might mean getting stocked up to ride out a temporary calamity, such as an extreme weather event. But in a few drastic cases, your survival might come down to something as raw and decisive as pure self-defense—fending off an attacker. And while bush knives, hunting knives and EDC’s all have their rightful place in your survival kit, when it comes to self-protection—whether against a bad guy or even an attacking animal—having a knife designed specifically for tactical purposes can sometimes be a survivalist’s best friend. In this article, we take a look at the best Emerson knives to help you decide which one is the right for you.
At a Glance: Our Choices for The 8 Best Emerson Knives
Click on one of the links to go directly to our overview, opinion, and features of each knife.
About Emerson Knives
Ernest Emerson founded his knife company in 1996. Based in Torrance, CA, the business prides itself on Made in the USA products and the quality materials it puts into its folders, karambits, and fixed blade knives. All of these models are designed with primarily tactical purposes in mind.
The main focus of Emerson, however, is its folding knives, and it is upon these that the company has built its reputation.
Emerson does not do a whole lot in terms of mechanical innovations from knife to knife. You will notice that most feature the same Titanium Walker linerlock mechanism, as well as Emerson’s patented “wave shaped” opening mechanism. This deployment system is a protrusion at the base of the blade’s spine that can be used for one-handed opening as the knife is being drawn from the pocket. It is a design that Emerson has licensed out to a number of knife manufacturers and also features on most of its folders.
Of the knives that we will be reviewing today, only the A-100 does not have the wave shaped opening mechanism. The only other slight exception is the Sheepdog, which utilizes a flipper deployment that works off of a ball bearing system—but this is in addition to the wave shaped opening mechanism.
Along those same lines, Emerson does not vary things up too much in terms of materials either. For example, Emerson stays exclusively with G-10 for the handle material on all of the knives reviewed here. And other than a few specialty runs over the years, Emerson has stuck doggedly with Crucible’s 154CM stainless steel for their blades. This in spite of calls from some in the knife community that an upgrade is necessary for the price point that Emerson hits. Regardless, all of the knives featured in this article (except for the Kershaw collaborations that use 8Cr14MoV) have blades made of 154CM.
So as you read through, you will notice a lot of similarities among these tactical folders. Emerson does not feel the need to jump on trends that come and go in the knife industry. Ernest Emerson is a traditionalist in most respects and typically waits to see what represents true innovation—versus what is merely a fad—before committing to a design feature for one of his knives.
The result is consistency throughout the model lineup. This is good in the sense that the quality elements that people love about Emerson knives appear again and again. For example, Emerson is known for having terrific handle ergonomics, and this trait remains basically consistent across its entire lineup.
The drawback, however, is that if there is something you don’t like about a particular Emerson model, there is a chance that that particular feature is also going to reappear again and again. In this way, Emerson knives, while of very high quality, can be a little bit polarizing to knife buyers. The company tends to have either super fans or those who respect the brand but consistently go in a different direction when buying.
On a final note, over its history, Emerson has been involved in a number of collaborative efforts with other companies. In some cases, this has been with other knife manufacturers, such as with Gerber in the creation the Gerber-Emerson Alliance—the first automatic knife for both companies. They have also partnered with SureFire Flashlights, making a CQC-8 that featured the SureFire logo. And in this article, we will be taking a look at two collaborative efforts with Kershaw knives, the CQC-7K, and the CQC-8K.
Our Top Emerson Knife Picks
|Blade Thickness:||0.125 in|
(+) Excellent tactical folder
(+) Chisel grind makes for a strong tip
(+) Extremely sharp out of the box
(-) Heavy compared to other knives
(-) Tanto profile and chisel grind not very versatile
The CQC-7 is a tactical folder and one of the classic Emerson designs. On the large side of the scale for a folding knife, it has an overall length of 8” (20.32cm) and weighs 4oz (113.4g).
The CQC-7’s blade is 3.3” (8.4cm) long and has a thickness of .125” (3.2mm). It is treated to an HRC of 57-59. The profile is Tanto and it has a Chisel grind.
This knife’s handle is made of G-10. It has an “aerospace grade” Titanium linerlock. The length of the handle is 4.65” (11.8cm), and it features jimping at the thumb rail. It also has a lanyard hole at its base and Emerson’s patented wave shaped opening mechanism.
These knives are heavy when judged against comparable folders that you will find on the market. For some buyers that weight is not an issue, as it gives them the secure feeling that they are carrying a tank of a knife—which they are. However, those who prefer a lighter carry usually end up going for something with similar features, but maybe with a skeletonized handle to lower the weight.
It should also be noted that these knives are razor sharp out of the box. In addition, the Tanto profile makes for a very durable tip that is great for tactical purposes.
For those looking for more value in a folder, however, the Kershaw 6034T is a budget version of the Emerson CQC-7. It also features the wave-shaped opening mechanism that allows for one-handed deployment when drawing from the pocket. The blade is slightly shorter and thinner than the Emerson version, with a length of 3.25” (8.3cm) and a thickness of .11” (2.8mm). It is also made of the lower grade 8Cr14MoV steel.
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(+) Excellent ergonomics
(+) Solid construction and fit for heavy use
(+) Versatile design
(-) Jimping on the frame lock might be too aggressive for some
(-) Jimping on the handle spine is not highly functional
The A-100 is a plain blade knife, although there is an option to add serrations for a $5 upcharge (this is true of all of the knives reviewed here). It is described by Emerson as the grandfather of all of their subsequent tactical designs.
The handle on the A-100 is G-10 and it features Emerson’s Titanium lock mechanism. It has a length of 4.75” (12.1cm) and has a right-hand carry only, tip-up clip. (Emerson does offer a $25 drill and tap kit to convert the clip to a left-hand carry. Otherwise, lefties are out of luck.)
The blade is 154CM. It has a conventional V grind and is treated to 57-59 HRC. The length of the blade is 3.6” (9.1cm) and the opened length of the knife is 8.4” (21.3cm). Blade thickness is .125” (3.2mm). It features a thumb disc as its lone one-handed deployment mechanism.
You may find that the G-10 on this knife is aggressively coarse. It is grippy and comfortable enough to hold, but just be aware that it can get hung up in your pocket.
One other criticism is that the jimping on the handle is not the most functional, which is somewhat out of character for an Emerson. However, since the A-100 does not have a wave mechanism that also acts as a thumb ramp, it makes this jimping stand out for being a bit on the wimpy side. Overall, though, this handle is very comfortable to grip and feels intuitive in your hand. It is a simple, highly effective design, and its simplicity ensures that it will feel comfortable for almost any hand size.
The Sheepdog is a mid-size folder with a flipper that has a smooth opening ball-bearing system rather than washers. It is available in two different blade styles (Bowie or Spear Point) and two blade colors (Black or Stonewashed).
This knife was designed in collaboration with Lt. Colonel David Grossman, who is a former Army Ranger, instructor at West Point, and a highly regarded figure in military and tactical circles.
The Sheepdog’s blade (regardless of which profile you choose) is 3.5” (8.9cm). The blade thickness is .125” (3.2mm) and the 154CM steel is treated to 57-59 HRC. The knife has an overall length of 8.4” (21.3cm) and weighs a hefty 5.54oz (157.1g).
The handle is made of textured G-10. It features jimping along both the thumb ramp and finger choil.
Emerson has gone with a flipper design here and that makes the Sheepdog the first flipper to be introduced by the company. Besides being a first for Emerson, it also represents a departure from Ernest Emerson’s stated philosophy of being opposed to flipper mechanisms. However, this mechanism is extremely well executed and gives a very smooth and fast deployment. In addition, the blade can also still be opened using Emerson’s thumb disc and wave shaped mechanisms.
A final design difference of note is that the Sheepdog does come already tapped so the clip can be reversed for left-hand carry. As was mentioned earlier, in most cases you will have to actually order a drill and tap set, at a $25 charge, to change the clip over.
Emerson Super Commander
As the name implies, the Super Commander is a scaled up version of Emerson’s regular Commander line. True to its name, it has an overall length of 9.5” (24.1cm).
The Super Commander blade has a pronounced re-curve, which gives the knife a cutting edge that is slightly longer than the blade itself. There are a couple of other advantages to this blade shape. You will notice that it has very good leverage when cutting materials like cord, webbing, clothing, and doing other similar jobs. Also, the dynamics of the edge focus the cutting force on the front end so that slicing and slashing require a minimal effort. The Super Commander’s blade features a V grind. It is 4” (10.2cm) long and the spine .125” (3.2mm) thick.
The handle on this knife is G-10 and it has a Titanium frame lock mechanism. It features a deep finger choil and jimping along the spine.
The G-10 on this knife is again very grippy and also might want to grab your pocket when you are drawing the knife. You might also notice that the texturing seems to act like a magnet for dirt and grime. While this does not affect functionality to any great degree, it may be an inconvenience to those who try to keep their knives looking spic and span.
The blade design on this knife also does very well for close cutting. It is versatile and makes this knife more attractive to those who are looking for something that is more than just purely a tactical knife—although it definitely works well in that capacity too.
Emerson CQC-8 Horseman
The Horseman is a combat designed knife that is well balanced for both forward and reverse grip. In fact, some folks consider it to be the quintessential combat folder. It is a big knife, weighing in at 4.6oz (130.4g) and having an overall length of 9.3” (23.6cm).
The blade on the CQC-8 is 3.9” (9.9cm) and it has a thickness of .125” (3.2mm). As with all of the other Emerson knives reviewed here, it is made of 154CM stainless steel. It has a V grind and the handle is G-10 with a Titanium lock.
Again, this is going to be primarily a tactical knife. Also, like most Emerson knives, it is on the heavy side. You will notice, though, that the blade has a nice sweep from the spine. It makes for a great slashing and puncturing tip. The Titanium linerlock also secures the blade well with no up and down or side-to-side play.
One other important feature to note is that the handle on the Horseman has a well-executed ergonomic design. It is definitely large enough to accommodate those of us with big mitts and has a great feel across a number of grips.
Like the CQC-7, Emerson has worked in collaboration with Kershaw on this knife also. The Kershaw Emerson CQC-8 features many of the same design elements but employs 8Cr14MoV steel. It has a single bevel Tanto profile. Overall, these Kershaw knives do an excellent job of allowing buyers to get a great design (with a few compromises on materials) without having to pay full Emerson prices.
The CQC-15 is hybrid of Emerson’s Commander and the CQC-7B in that it has the CQC-7’s Tanto profile and the Commander’s recurve. The overall length of the knife is 8.9” (22.6cm) and it weighs 4.8oz (136g). It also features the wave shaped opening mechanism that allows for one hand deployment as the knife is being drawn.
The blade has a conventional V grind and is 154CM steel treated to 57-59 HRC. The length of the blade is 3.9” (9.9cm) and the thickness is .125” (3.2mm). A serrated version is available for a small upcharge.
The handle on the CQC-15 is G-10 and it features a Titanium lock. It also has a lanyard hole, although it is a little on the small side. There is a finger guard as well, which is very handy for tactical considerations.
The re-curve blade shape on this knife and its V grind enhances its versatility beyond just tactical use. You will notice that you are able to easily perform all types of cutting tasks with the CQC-15. If not for its hefty weight, this would be the ultimate EDC for many.
Some final considerations: The liner lock mechanism is very solid when the blade is deployed. The G-10 is also heavily milled on this handle so it is very grippy, and might be grippy to a fault for some tastes. However, if you find yourself in a wet or otherwise slippery environment, it is going to be a very practical knife for your purposes.
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(+) Menacing looking knife, if that is your thing
(+) Very intuitive ergonomics
(+) Big, solid, well made
(-) Menacing looking knife, if that is not your thing
(-) Pretty much limited to tactical
The Roadhouse is a rugged and simple design that is meant for everyday carry—assuming your job is the bouncer at your local biker hangout. But in all seriousness, this knife is a personal favorite in terms of design for company founder Ernest Emerson and does have a bit of a nasty streak to it.
The Roadhouse’s blade features a Tanto point, a V grind at the edge, and is made of 154CM stainless steel that is treated to 57-59 HRC. The blade is 3.8” (9.7cm) long and has a thickness of .125” (3.2mm).
The handle is G-10 and again features a Titanium linerlock. The closed length is 5.1” (13cm) and the knife has an overall length if 8.9” (22.6cm).
This knife has a great intuitive feel for your tactical purposes. The handle is extremely comfortable. The strong Tanto tip and overall design will make sure that you are prepared for any unforeseen mayhem where self-defense is a top priority.
Aside from functional capabilities, the Roadhouse is marketed as a kind of outlaw biker’s special. This is meant to be a bad looking knife and it pulls off this intention quite well. The Tanto profile plus the stonewash and satin blade finish give it an “all business” appearance. This is a knife that will certainly raise some eyebrows if you whip it out to open boxes at your office job.
On another side note, one thing that we have failed to mention is that Emerson also offers a skull adorned black lanyard with its folders, available for an extra $15. And while this accessory is definitely in keeping with the overall tactical concept of Emerson’s knives, it seems to be an especially good pairing for the Roadhouse.
|Blade Thickness:||0.125 in|
(+) Liner lock has jimping making it easier to manipulate
(+) Good balance and intuitive feel
(+) Versatile blade that is very sharp out of the box
(-) The blade is big and bulkier
(-) The finger grooves are uncomfortable
The CQC-10 is another folder with a straightforward design that can be used for EDC but also has a Spear Point profile to give it more self-defense appeal.
The dimensions of the blade are 3.6″ (9.1cm) in length and .125” (3.2mm) in thickness. It is treated to 57-59 HRC and features a thumb hole, rather than Emerson’s usual thumb disk, for deployment. This knife also has a V grind.
The CQC-10’s handle is G-10 and it has a Titanium frame lock. The closed length is 4.75” (12.1cm) and the overall length is 8.5” (21.6cm). The CQC-10 weighs 4.7oz (133.2g).
The design of this knife makes it a great choice for those in the military or in law enforcement. While the handle is shaped very well for standard grip, the jimping and the contour along the base of the spine also make it a very comfortable reverse grip knife. The hold feels very secure and natural.
The CQC-10 has a smooth and easy deployment action with either the wave opening mechanisms or the thumb hole. When deployed, there is absolutely no wiggle with the linerlock.
This knife is also a little bit smaller than many Emersons, which might appeal to those who are looking for something a bit lighter. Make no mistake, though, this is still a healthy sized knife that is built to last and stand up to heavy-duty use.
Although Emerson does put some variation into their knives, they are primarily going to appeal to those with something oriented toward self-defense in mind. If you are looking for a high degree of versatility, you might want to check out some other folders.
The big advantage is that Emerson has so much experience building tactical designs that are simple, yet highly effective, and proven in real world combat situations. These knives can truly be lifesavers if you are expecting to encounter this type of environment.
The only other big drawback can be the price point. For many, this is simply too much to spend on a folder. There are also options that use a little bit better grade of steel at that level. But those criticisms aside, if you choose to go the Emerson route, you will be buying an extremely durable, extremely well designed and dependable knife that will more than get the job done.
Image by savan sekhon