Review: Is the CRKT Provoke a boon or a bust?
Could this tactical toy actually be useful in the field?
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Every so often, a knifemaker attempts to float a novel concept on the stormy seas of the modern marketplace. Many do little more than employ a new finish to an old staple, while others try to reinvent the knife with some crazy new “feature.” Nowhere is this level of “innovation” quite as crazy as in the packed sea of “tactical” knives, a source of marketing and sales feeding frenzies.
After one look at the CRKT Provoke, I immediately got the sense that Columbia River Knife & Tool was trolling the waters, looking to start another frenzy. For a while, I left it in the “cute tactical shark bait” category, but eventually, my curiosity got the best of me. It’s not every day you see a folding knife of any sort that looks and operates like this one, let alone a karambit. The marketing material I reviewed and the karambit’s hawkbill blade shape both left me with the unmistakable impression that this knife was designed primarily as a last-ditch self-defense tool for “tactical operators,” such as police officers, soldiers, and Marines. It certainly looked robust, and slowly, the intrigue grew. I contacted my editor, and the next thing I knew, it was on its way.
Editor’s note: the CRKT Provoke also made Task & Purpose’s list of the best pocket knives of the year.
As far as folding karambits go, the CRKT Provoke plays in a league all its own, both in terms of cost and design. At less than $200, this is a specialty blade with a price tag to match, although it’s admittedly a far cry from the tag on Joe Caswell’s original design of which the Provoke is a direct derivative. Still, there is no other knife like it, which may leave you wondering (like I did) whether or not this knife is worth the cost.
The Provoke karambit arrived in a classic CRKT green paperboard box with white lettering, subtle topo map markings, and the slogan “Confidence in Hand” printed on the front flap. The knife itself came encased inside a protective plastic sheath and was sitting on top of an instruction sheet and a care/warranty pamphlet. Simple fare, but nicely executed.
As knives go, the CRKT Provoke is an odd bird, looking like something a steampunk writer and an industrial designer might dream up on a napkin at Comic-Con: fantasy and function rolled into a single blade. The all-black knife consists of four pieces — a blade, a handle, and two crossbars — all fastened together by four bolts that allow each piece to articulate around the axis. Due to its unusual design and shape, it doesn’t look much like a knife on the clip side, but when viewed from the opposing side, it gives off a more intimidating look.
This “folding” karambit opens with a satisfying snap and locks into place with a small amount of pressure on the outermost crossbar. It opens so quickly and easily that it feels like a spring-assisted blade when opened with a traditional blade-down grip. For me, the lock release was not intuitive, but once I figured out how to use it, it was a breeze to operate. That said, closing the CRKT Provoke with a single hand starting from a traditional grip is extremely awkward and downright impossible in most practical settings.
My test knife came with a little bit of grease inside the finger ring, although it was a clean, clear grease that didn’t spread much before I wiped everything down. The low-profile, stonewashed stainless steel pocket clip looks hard to use with thicker materials (which it is), but once clipped onto a pocket, the Provoke disappears nicely inside, at least to all outward appearances. That said, I found the fold-flat clip design required a lot of well-placed pressure to open due to its stiffness. For me, this made it hard to keep the clip open while positioning the knife in certain locations. While the clip concept certainly has its merits, the stiffness of the stainless steel left me feeling like the clip itself was somewhat of an afterthought.
As for specs, the Provoke is a bit of a tank. It features a 2.41-inch blade consisting of “semi-stainless” D2, a hard, high-quality knife and tool steel known for holding an edge well, but also as a challenge to sharpen. The D2 blade features a black titanium nitride finish, and the mechanical handle is made with 6061 T6 aluminum with a black anodized finish. This karambit weighs a fairly hefty 6.1 ounces, but the entire blade is lighter than it looks.
How we tested the CRKT Provoke
As with every knife I test, I started out with the basics and put the CRKT Provoke through a simple paper test. For those not already in the know, a paper test as I conduct it involves slicing a piece of 24-pound printer paper with a virgin blade to see how far and how easily it will cut through the paper with minimal hand pressure. I mostly rely on gravity and the weight of the knife to push the blade to a stopping point. For comparison, I perform as close to an identical cut as possible with a similar-length stretch of the blade on my Buck 110 which is sharpened to just past Buck factory standards. Not scientific, but a good benchmark.
The results were disappointing. Most knives I’ve tested to date slice at least one full inch of paper before stopping, including the smaller blades I’ve tried. The Provoke barely managed 0.75 inches, and that was after merely “denting” the edge of the paper on multiple occasions. While the factory edge was disappointing in its own right, this poor performance also told me that I would indeed be sharpening this blade if it was going to perform as I thought it should. This means I’d have to wrestle an edge out of the blade’s “semi-stainless” D2 steel, a relatively difficult material to sharpen. Not something that made me particularly happy. (Note: The hawkbill blade of a karambit does make slashing, slicing, and other pulling cuts easier than with a more traditional blade shape, a design theory verified by an unfortunate cardboard box. This in no way excuses the Provoke’s abominable factory edge, but it is a point worth mentioning.)
Since the CRKT Provoke appears to have been designed as a last-ditch defensive weapon, I decided to test it accordingly and launched a counterattack against a watermelon that had invaded my backyard. Unlike traditional knives, the Provoke’s design required me to get dangerously close in order to land a proper strike with the karambit’s traditional reverse grip. Even with the horrific factory edge, my attack was enough to stop the invader in his tracks, leaving a 7.5-inch slice about 1.5 inches deep with long “trauma splinters” wandering away from the main cut. I took some time to clean and sharpen the D2 blade, but no sooner had I finished, the malicious melon pulled himself erect for another threatening charge. Again, I closed the distance and launched three different sweeping attacks. The first two blows were long (7 and 7.5 inches), but I was too far to do any real damage. The third slice, however, matched my initial counterattack, leaving a gash 1.5 inches deep and 7.25 inches long, but the damage was far worse than any of my other strikes with a 7-inch trauma split carrying beyond the blade’s exit point. It was a sight to behold.
Between assaults, I managed to test how quickly and easily the D2 would sharpen. I pulled out my trusty DRET sharpener and proceeded to hone the Provoke’s hawkbill blade. Karambits, by definition, can be a challenge to sharpen due to the inversely-curved blade, but I did my research almost as soon as I received this CRKT in the mail. With a traditional whetstone, sharpening can be a bit of a chore, but thanks to my diamond-encrusted sharpening rod, I was able to speed up the process a bit. Despite D2’s reputation of being a difficult steel to sharpen (one source even goes so far as to say that “you really need to be a master-sharpener to get a fine edge on D2”), I did obtain a good, sharp edge. While I certainly did not achieve a fine edge, my medium-grit sharpener was capable of providing a dramatic improvement on the factory edge, bringing it in line with my Buck 110 standard. However, patience was mandatory, and none came included with either my sharpener or the Provoke.
What we like about the CRKT Provoke
The CRKT Provoke is a fun knife, and it reminds me of a true American muscle car. Closing it is a bit annoying, even frustrating, much like refilling the gas tank on a thirsty Dodge Challenger. That said, the satisfaction of opening the blade with its fast and easy single-handed deployment and the firm, authoritative sound of the lock falling into place, is about as grin-inducing as the idling rumble and open-throttle roar of an American V8. Nothing beats it.
In addition to being fun, this CRKT offering was built to last. Thanks to its all-metal construction, over-engineered design, and durable finish, the thing is a beast. The workmanship and overall build quality is impressive and immediately imparts a sense of confidence in the knife’s ability to accomplish any mission. The additional weight on an all-metal body further adds to this feeling, yet the aluminum body ensures the added heft stays in check.
The Provoke has a few other features going for it, including its ergonomics and a non-offensive* aesthetic. Despite its appearance, this karambit fit surprisingly well in my hand, thanks in large part to the dual finger cutouts adjacent to the finger ring. With a closed blade, these cutouts are visible yet not obvious, especially on the blade side. On the clip side of the knife, the Provoke’s aesthetic is undoubtedly utilitarian but in no way offensive. Both the blade and the crossbars are positioned on the blade side which allows the knife to be carried out in the open, such as on a plate carrier, without drawing the wrong kind of attention. In more peaceful environments, however, the Provoke will still draw plenty of attention no matter which side you display.
What we don’t like about the CRKT Provoke
Despite all the marketing hype and Hollywood hyperbole we hear every day, there is no such thing as perfection on earth, and sadly, the CRKT Provoke bears out this truth. While I love the design concept, the knife’s price tag, the blade’s abominable factory edge, and handful of design and execution elements left me a bit disappointed. That, and I’m not a huge fan of having to sharpen a karambit.
The (seemingly) intended design of the knife as a quick-access blade for tactical emergencies recognizes the needs of law enforcement officers and frontline military personnel in high-adrenaline situations, but for me, a number of details derailed the train almost before it left the station. The knife is clearly built for righties due to the position of the “disappearing” pocket clip and the position of the blade’s folding arms. There are a handful of other details that could be nitpicked, but these two go the farthest in curtailing southpaw usage. Of course, in a desperate situation, a leftie could pull it off, but the odds of accidentally dropping the knife in the process and the deployment time of the weapon both dramatically increase without a proper sheath, a $35 add-on. At this time, there is no left-handed version of the Provoke currently available, a fact pointed out by “Todd” in the Provoke’s review section on the CRKT website.
Another disappointment I had with the Provoke was its ease of deployment. Confused? Once the knife is in hand, the blade is extremely easy to deploy, but retrieving the karambit from a pocket isn’t so much. The (very) stiff pocket clip does seat the knife almost entirely behind the top of a traditional jean pocket, but this position also hides the finger ring and shoves it close against the edge of the pocket. Unfortunately, this makes initial access much more complicated with a pointer finger, decreasing the realistic chances of successfully deploying the blade in a high-stress situation without hours and hours of practice ahead of time. On the flip side, you could hook it with your thumb, pull, and transition to your trigger finger mid-deployment. This will result in a faster draw, but also increases the chance of fumbling the knife at a critical moment. Pick your poison.
One other little thing also caught my attention during my time with this CRKT karambit. When sharing a storage space with another metallic object, such as a pocket, the Provoke scuffs easily, although said scuffs do rub off with minimal effort. It also has a tendency to pick up and hang onto oily fingerprints that won’t simply wipe off with a clean t-shirt. If, like me, you’re OCD about your blades, these things might bother you, but they have no effect on the blade’s functionality. I also am not a fan of the stiff pocket clip and the high price tag.
Overall, I like the concept behind the CRKT Provoke, although I think it caters to a small niche of potential users. Besides mall ninjas and other wannabe high-speed tacticool operator types, few frontline law enforcement or military personnel are adequately trained in the proper use of the karambit to justify buying one, especially with the Provoke’s $200 price tag. That said, those who know their way around this traditional Filipino design may appreciate the idea of a folding hawkbill that can be deployed with minimal manipulation of either the hand or the blade.
Personally, I likely would never buy my own Provoke, mainly because the cost of entry is (somewhat justifiably) a bit too rich for my blood. I also lack the professional need to warrant owning a Provoke and am not trained in how to use such a blade per its design (nor am I really interested in learning). If I’d received it as a gift, I likely would hang onto it for a while, but mostly just to play with it and enjoy the cool factor.
The CRKT Provoke functions as a good proof of concept, but it certainly could use a few improvements, most notably a better edge from the factory. Unfortunately for karambit lovers, the pool of potential buyers for a knife like this likely is too small for most knifemakers to justify spending the resources to improve on the concept. Realistically, the vast majority of Provoke sales likely will come from Facebook frogmen, but for those select few who will actually use this karambit as it was intended, it has the potential to be quite a handy tool in a stressful situation.
While carrying the CRKT Provoke clipped to my jean pockets, I discovered that deployment doesn’t always have to be complicated. My jeans of choice tend to be riveted at the stress points, and the rivets at the outside of each pocket create a slight lip inside the pocket itself. A sharp pull on the knife streamlines the deployment process with the lip inside my pocket acting as a thumb, placing plenty of pressure on the upper crossbar to open the blade as I draw the knife from its resting place. After tens of draws, I have had no damage to my pants or pockets, but be warned: Your mileage may vary.
If your pants lack a pocket lip and you’re interested in trying this technique, then you might consider learning to sew. For external storage situations, you might consider creating a “deployment stud” to serve a similar purpose. That said, make sure to practice your draw, no matter the method. Solid muscle memory is the only way to minimize fumbles and false starts while drawing any kind of weapon.
FAQs about the CRKT Provoke
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the CRKT Provoke cost?
A. The standard CRKT Provoke is pretty pricey with the manufacturer asking $199, although you can find it on Amazon for $175 while other third-party retailers may list it for anywhere between $170 and $225 at regular price. Other variations of the knife go for as low as $65, although these feature a polymer body and a different blade steel.
Q. Where is the CRKT Provoke made?
A. While neither the blade or the box include any obvious markings, multiple sources state that the CRKT Provoke is made in Taiwan.
Q. Is there a smaller version of the CRKT Provoke?
A. Yes, CRKT also makes the Provoke Compact, a knife with a slightly shorter blade, a slightly lighter weight, and a slightly lower price tag. Beyond these differences, it retains all the pros and cons of the full-size Provoke.
Q. Is the CRKT Provoke legal in Canada?
A. According to Canada Border Services Agency Customs Notice 18-01, blades like the CRKT Provoke cannot legally be imported into Canada. Since the Provoke is made in Taiwan, the knife is effectively illegal in Canada.
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For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.