Best Budget Knife Ever: Ontario RAT Model 1 — Keen Insights

The Ontario RAT Model 1 just might be the single best knife-for-the-money. This is a beast of a knife that has everything you would want for EDC, especially if you’re the budget-conscious type. And you aren’t going to cry buckets if you lose it.

Ontario Rat model 1 knife
Open, the back edge of the Model 1 sits proud of its scales.

What makes it so solid? Usually, with a knife in this price range, I’d begin with an in-depth analysis of the actual cost and then make apologies for the features the knife is missing. I’ll do a bit of that, but no more than I would for any imperfect knife.

With the RAT, cost still comes first. These are regularly on sale for under $30. I see them sometimes under $25. And that’s nuts. I don’t know how Ontario can pull that off.

Ontario RAT model 1 knife, closed
The scales on the Model 1 are textured plastic. FRN. Other materials are available as upgrades and cost more.

The price can go up depending on the features. Upgrades to the blade steel and the scale material will bump up the price, but the sales will always bring them down. And for the basic design, this one can’t be beat.

The Ontario RAT Model 1 Features

I hate the word features. This knife, though, has some nice things that come with it and things it can do. For starters, the scales are over stainless steel. They are removable, which allows you to take this knife all the way down for cleaning or drying.

Ontario RAT Model 1 folding knife clip attached by three small hex screws
Three small hex screws hold on the clip for tip-up or tip-down carry.

And the pocket clip can be positioned in four different ways or removed. This one pictured has Nylon 6 scales. Those are very plastic feeling, but rugged scales. G10 scales are an upgrade option for those who don’t like the feel of nylon. And there’s a whole sub-culture of aftermarket scales that are available in titanium, brass, copper, or fancy G10.

Details

  • Blade Length: 3-1/2″
  • Thickness: .115″
  • Blade Grind: Full Flat Taper
  • Blade Material: AUS-8 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Finish: Black or Satin
  • Blade HRC/Hardness: 55-56 HRC
  • Handle Material: Nylon 6 or G10
  • Handle Length: 5″ (Closed Length)
  • Knife Handle Color: Black
  • Knife Overall Length: 8.5″
  • Knife Carry System: Removable Pocket Clip

The Ontario RAT Model 1’s Lock

This isn’t an apology, really, though I would like to have one of these in a lock-back. But the liner-lock works. The stainless liners are almost thick enough to allow this to cross over into the frame lock category. And the lock is strong.

Ontario RAT model 1 folding knife steel liner lock
The steel liner lock is thin, which isn’t a bad thing. Just don’t baton the back of the blade. The knife will fold.

I have forced a failure by batoning on the blade. This is my number one recommendation for my Scouts when they ask about pocket knives (again—cost and function). So I show them what it will and won’t do. And like 99% of pocket knives, you need to keep your wood-splitting expectations realistic.

Blade Shape

But the blade shape (a basic drop point) is great for everything else you’ll do in the woods. There are no serrations (at least on the model I recommend) to prevent you from sharpening it in the field. The edge of the blade is sharp enough to strike a Ferro rod. And the tip is fine enough for the removal of splinters.

The Ontario RAT Model 1 is a straight flat grind that slices well. It is light enough to carry, large enough for practical use, and the clip is solid enough to hold the knife where you put it—be that on a pack, in your pocket, or even over a belt.

Ontario RAT model 1 adjustable steel clip
The Model 1 has a stout steel clip that can be positioned in four different ways.

The image below picks up a couple of details on the build. Fit and finish isn’t perfect, but it is better than any other knife I know of in this price range. I’d like to have a back spacer to keep the crap out of the knife when it is in my pocket, but this is easy enough to clean.

open back between the liners on the Ontario RAT Model 1 folding knife
The steel liners extend down through the scales, and—as it is with most liner-locks—the back is open. This means pocket junk and coins can get in. Coins are a no-go, as they will tear up the blade’s edge and can wedge the knife in the shut position.

The Ontario RAT Model 1 Origin Story

There’s a huge movement in the knife world that celebrates the specific designs of individual knife makers and field-use experts. Jeff Randall, of the Randall’s Adventure and Training Team (RAT), had a hand in the design of this one. More than 20 years ago, the RAT team set out to build an EDC version of the fixed blades they were using in their training and survival courses in South America—and they wanted it to be a folder.

lanyard hole on pocket knife
There’s even a lanyard hole on the Ontario RAT Model 1. The other holes are for repositioning the clip.

The Model 1 was the first of these. The line has expanded into smaller versions (the RAT 2 and 3), and new steels (stainless, D2, AUS 8—mostly the lower cost, higher chromium/higher carbon steels) and grips (as previously mentioned).

And the design has evolved into other companies, too, like ESEE. But the OKC line still is the one every other knife company wishes they’d pioneered.

jimping on the back of the blade
The back of the blade has some jimping that has been polished so that it isn’t overly aggressive.

Why is it the one knife I’d recommend?

I mentioned the Scouts earlier. I have 30+ kids in my troop. Boys and girls. And we never go anywhere (except the airport and the courthouse) without knives.

I take the whole be-prepared thing seriously. I make the kids show me what’s in their pockets at meetings. And if there’s not a knife and a light, at the least, they get a dose of stink-eye.

I’ve carried one of these RAT knives off and on for more than a decade. I keep one in my backup kit when I’m hiking or canoeing, just in case. They are 100% capable.

Model 1 blade made of AUS-8
The AUS-8 is an upgrade. This is a harder form of stainless steel and a popular choice for working knives.

They also don’t look scary. I can pull one in a crowded place to do some basic task without scaring the sheep. They don’t have the aggressive tactical look, though they’re more than capable of being deployed for self-defense.

The steel is serviceable, which is a great way to teach responsibility to new knife owners. The knife is serviceable, which allows for solid sterilization and maintenance.

Ontario RAT Model 1 folding knife ambidextrous opening studs
The RAT Model 1 has ambidextrous opening studs that make it look like a weird bug from some angles. This isn’t about how it looks, though. The Model 1 just works.

In the end, I’d say the Ontario RAT Model 1 is like some of the newer 9mms from Taurus. The GX4 would be a good comparison. What Taurus has done with its guns of late Ontario has been doing with this knife design for years.

edge of AUS-8 blade
The edge of the AUS-8 blade as it comes from the factory. I’ve been using this knife now for more than a year and have yet to sharpen it. It is ready for a serious working over.

In a world where some of the best factory knife designs start around $200, OKC is killing it with a design that comes in at 1/10th of that. And we’ll end where we began. That means something, still.

I could have bought nine or ten of these for what I have paid for lots of other knives. That is absurd.

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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