Review: the Ontario Knife Company RAT II is a modern classic at a great price
You can pick up an Ontario Knife Company RAT II for the cost of a good dinner.
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Ontario Knife Company hit a home run with us back in May with its RAT 3 fixed blade knife, which is a thoroughbred entry-level outdoor survival knife. Today, we’re testing one of the two folding knives that are part of the same line, namely the Ontario Knife Company RAT II. The immediate question regarding the RAT II is whether or not it lives up to the “Adventure Training” reputation of its fixed-blade counterparts, and if OKC has kept up its perceived mission to provide durable, effective utility knives at a low cost. With features like blade steel that’s easy to re-sharpen, easy one-handed opening, and specific design choices to make this a pocket-sized utility knife, it appears that the OKC may actually have the low-cost pocket knife market cornered.
As we’ve seen in past tests, however, appearances can be deceiving, so we’ll have to thoroughly test the RAT II before I can give it my full seal of approval. Full disclosure: this knife was provided to me free of charge — and obviously that means that I don’t give a damn about destroying it in the service of providing as thorough a review as possible.
Editor’s note: the Ontario Knife Company RAT II also made Task & Purpose’s list of the best EDC knives of the year.
The packaging of the RAT II is probably the most disappointing aspect of the entire knife, despite being pretty consistent with knives at this price point. You’re not expecting a quality knife to come in a box like this, especially given the fact that the design language of this box is remarkably different from those of the company’s RATs 3,5, and 7. It’s a simple paper box featuring a full-color Randall’s Adventure Training Logo, contact info for the Ontario Knife Company, and a warning that the knife is sharp. No kidding!
Opening the package, the RAT II is wrapped in bubble wrap and comes pre-configured for a right-handed user who prefers to carry the knife tip-down. While not the most impressive packaging, I’d prefer an easy-to-open cheap paper box over a plastic clamshell package any day.
The knife itself is a liner-locking folder with a full flat grind drop point blade, plain edge, ambidextrous thumb studs, and four sets of standard-style pocket clip holes on both sides of the plastic grips, top and bottom, so that you can configure the pocket clip however you like. The RAT II is light, at just shy of three ounces, and sits at roughly four inches closed.
After unboxing the RAT II, I immediately switched the clip to a right-handed tip-up carry, since that’s what I’m used to, using a small Torx bit that you can find in most knife maintenance kits. The pocket clips are cross-compatible with the clips used for Spyderco, Benchmade, Zero Tolerance, Tops, and many other premium knife brands, so you’ll always have the luxury of choice, should you ever need to replace a broken pocket clip, or desire a different style. From the pocket clip to the grips, those are, as I mentioned above, made of plastic, which OKC coyly calls “nylon fiber.” Cute. The included grips are fine and do a good job of providing purchase for your hand, but if you prefer something with a bit more class and pizzaz, Etsy is full of replacement options for you to customize to your heart’s content.
The 3-inch blade is made of AUS-8, and has the Randall’s Adventure Training logo printed on one side of the blade, along with a label showing that this particular example was made in Taiwan. Towards the pivot of the knife, the spine of the blade features ridges or “jimping” for you to get thumb purchase, stability, and be able to apply additional force while in use. The spine of the knife also features very sharp corners, which are ostensibly for striking a flint or a ferro rod, but in my case just ended up slicing into my finger while closing the knife in a hurry. Two divots are cut into the grips and the liner, one on each side, for your index finger to rest in, allowing you to hike up on the knife for carving, as you would on the choil of a larger knife. One side is cut deeper than the other, to allow you to more easily disengage the liner lock to close.
Operating the knife is remarkably easy, with the prominent thumb studs allowing quick opening with either hand. The blade flies open due to the pivot design of dual washers — one copper, one teflon on either side of the blade — which will definitely prolong the pivot mobility and reduce the need for cleaning. The opening action is remarkably smooth, and if you open the knife by flicking the thumb stud forward, rather than outward from the handle, it should snap open without any need for any wrist movement. The factory edge is astoundingly sharp, evenly ground, and free from burrs or dull portions, meaning this knife is ready for action right out of the box.
How we tested the Ontario Knife Company RAT II
I’m Matt Sampson, and this is one of my Task & Purpose knife reviews, so the first test is always going to be seeing if the knife cuts through paper on the bias and shaves hair. On the paper-slicing test, not only did this knife slice cleanly through standard printer paper, but it also sliced a mailing envelope on the bias, easily slicing through the folding point of two sheets of paper. The knife handily sliced a piece of cardstock like one of those samurai sword rice mat thingies (Googling revealed that these are called Tatami mats), allowing me to slice it into dozens of tiny pieces. Cardboard didn’t provide any resistance either, as while trying to slice the taped portion of a large box open, I veered into the actual cardboard and finished my cut without feeling much in the way of a tactile difference. Additionally, I was able to slice an expired credit card on the bias just as easily as the paper, and perhaps even a little easier, since it provided enough tension to give the knife a solid object to slice through. To round out the cutting test, I whittled a wooden dowel to a point, which was easy, aided by the aforementioned finger cutout and spine jimping for me to place my thumb on.
The real test of endurance was yet to come since I know that the Ontario Knife Company doesn’t make knives to be coddled, even at this price point. Edge retention was first up, since although AUS-8 is a great steel for beginners to learn resharpening with, I was curious how long it would hold the wickedly sharp factory edge. To test this, I sliced through strands of 550 cord to see how long the blade kept its paper-slicing edge. The answer was approximately 50 strands, since fibrous things like cord, line, and even paper are very hard on a plain knife edge. Then, I subjected this knife to the salt test, where I soak the knife in warm water, roll it in salt, and leave it in open air. This will not only test whether or not corrosion permanently mars the blade, but will also test how much corrosion will affect the pivoting mechanism. It also tests whether or not the edge stands up to saltwater corrosion, simulating not only exposure to maritime air, but also things like sweat or slicing through corrosive things like acidic fruit or cleaning an animal carcass, and then going a long period of time without cleaning your knife afterwards.
After 12 hours of soaking in salt, the blade showed minor surface corrosion, which was easily wiped off with a dry towel. Opening and closing the knife in this corroded state was still easy to accomplish, and after scrubbing the blade with some Ballistol and a toothbrush, as well as treating the pivot with some WD-40 to ensure that no water remained trapped inside, the knife was as good as new. The edge showed no sign of degradation due to corrosion, which is an advantage over carbon steel options that lose their edge aggressiveness simply by being exposed to air. I tested this by cutting a cardboard box from a 12-pack of beer around the circumference of the box, or as best as I could. With only minor forward pressure, I was able to slice the box cleanly with no tearing or rough edges. Even after all this abuse, and with only the minor touch-up that I did after the paracord test on my Lansky sharpener, the RAT II was back to paper-slicing shape.
For the final durability test, we had the dreaded enemy of liner-lock knives: the “spine whack.” Spine whacks are where you deliberately target the locking mechanism of a knife by securing the knife in a vise, take a hammer, and strike the knife on the spine repeatedly. THIS IS NOT NORMAL AND SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A TEST TO FAILURE, AND NOT INDICATIVE OF NORMAL FUNCTION. Liner lock knives particularly hate this, because barring things like slip joint knives, liner locks are down there in terms of durability. To perform this test, I secured the knife in a pair of vice grips (I don’t have an actual vice) and took a claw hammer to the spine of the knife, gradually increasing the striking force from a light tap to a nail-driving hit. Until I gave it five hits at full force, the lock withstood all impact stress without breaking, and even after breaking the liner lock, the knife returned to full function. This test shows that the tolerances between the liner lock and the flat portion of the blade where the lock engages are reasonably tight, and the fact that the liner doesn’t show significant damage after being forcibly broken shows that it’s made of at least a decent steel.
What we like about the Ontario Knife Company RAT II
In terms of value for the money, the RAT II is a tough act to follow. At an average retail price of around $30, you’re in the territory of bargain bin throwaway knives in terms of pricing, and yet OKC gives you so much more. This knife is practical, very well thought-out in terms of design, and tough enough to serve as a utility blade in a pinch. This knife is versatile, with a good beginner all-round steel blade, a handy form factor, and flexible pocket clip placement, really allowing you to make this thing work for you. There’s no telling if the quality control on these is as good as on this particular example, but the design still stands.
What we don’t like about the Ontario Knife Company RAT II
The choice of AUS-8 is probably my biggest practical issue with the RAT II, since it’s considered a cheaper option and can be found on lower-quality knives. However, OKC appears to have done a good job with the construction and heat treatment, so this is just a personal quibble. They do offer it in D2 as an option, which will be my go-to when I purchase one of these for myself. Additionally, the corner edges on the spine of the blade are very sharp, and while some people will say this is a feature, not a bug, I was pretty irritated when I sliced my finger open while closing it.
Buy one. Why not? It’s an inexpensive, versatile, and handy knife, and punches well above its weight in terms of features. I’ve bought knives double and triple this cost that overlooked things like the finger groove for getting a better purchase on the knife while carving, or the multiple pocket clip attachment points, or the use of a standardized pocket clip style. This is also a great first knife for you to buy for a young first-time knife owner, since it’s small, actually performs well, and is cost-effective. Additionally, it’s a great knife to learn the basics of knife ownership on, like sharpening your own blade, swapping pocket clips and grip scales, and so forth. Even if you’re a serious knife owner or someone on a budget, this knife will not disappoint. However, as I said above, I personally will be opting for the D2 option for the purpose of increasing durability. It’s not a perfect knife, and obviously something with a similar level of care and consideration that’s made of higher-quality stainless steel like S30V, M390, Elmax, and so forth will be leaps and bounds better, but you’re not getting that for under $30. Perspective is key here, and this is a knife that even the hard-wearing enthusiast can respect because the effort was clearly put into the design and manufacturing process.
Some people may notice that the RAT 3 performed slightly worse in my edge retention test in that particular review, despite technically being made of a somewhat more edge-retaining steel. The answer is twofold, first because that’s comparing apples to oranges, a stainless steel to a carbon steel, and secondly because carbon steels do lose their edges due to simple air exposure and oxidation, so a better way to have conducted that test would have been to get the knife to hair-shaving sharpness using a precision sharpening apparatus, and then immediately perform the edge retention test, rather than doing that test in field conditions with a simple pocket whetstone. That’s something I’ll note for my next test involving a carbon steel blade, and should not be considered indicative of the actual capabilities of the RAT 3 being worse than the RAT II, or reflective of 1075 steel overall.
FAQs about the Ontario Knife Company RAT II
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much does the Ontario Knife Company RAT II cost?
A: The Ontario Knife Company RAT II MSRPs for $24.99 on Amazon.
Q: What is AUS-8 steel?
A: AUS-8 is a midrange Japanese steel, produced by the Aichi Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of the Toyota Group. A true stainless steel, it offers good edge retention and good toughness, with reasonable corrosion resistance. However, AUS-8 is also very sensitive to heat treatment, so the actual quality of the blade will depend on the manufacturer, as AUS-8 knives can range from cheap offerings to cryogenically-treated blades with Rockwell hardnesses of 58 or more.
Q: Are RAT knives good?
A: The design of RAT knives was developed with consultation from their namesake, Randall’s Adventure Training. To earn this endorsement, they have to maintain a certain standard of quality to be affiliated with a respected outdoors training school. Having owned both a RAT 3 and RAT 5, and now evaluating this RAT II, I can safely say that the RAT line is a modern classic in its price range.
Q: Did you study the blade?
A: Yes. While you were out partying, in fact.
Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors
Matt Sampson is an 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native. In his past life, he worked in tactical gear retail and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is Oklahoma.