I first became aware of Columbia River Knife and Tool blades when my wife was preparing to deploy to Iraq in the fall of 2004 with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Okinawa, Japan. I spied her recently-purchased M16 knife clipped to the front of her body armor and, of course, I picked it up and messed around with it. It seemed like a pretty cool little knife and I liked its patented flip-to-open mechanism and handy pocket clip. She absolutely beat the hell out of that knife during her tour in Al Anbar: I don’t know what she did to it, but when she came back in June of 2005, the edge was dull, the pocket clip was loose and missing one of three set screws, and the blade had a few small chips in it. It was an obvious work-horse and it was clear she got her $40 worth of use out of it and then some. I think she ended up giving it away to our 11-year- old nephew later that summer.
As a Spyderco fan, CRKT fell off of my radar for many years until last week when the editors at Task & Purpose sent me the M21-04G folding knife to review. I’m known for my obsession with lightweight equipment and, for a moment, thought that my editor might have mistakenly thought I told him my 2021 goal was to join an outlaw biker gang because those are the first three words that came to mind when I opened the box.
Editor’s note: the CRKT M21-04G folding knife also made Task & Purpose’s roundup of the best EDC knives of the year.
The M21-04G is a heavy, big-ass knife, over nine inches in total length, and its tactical, blackened spear-point blade gives off a very, very stabby wanna-be operator vibe. Here’s what you need to know before you make it your everyday carry blade of choice.
The CRKT M21-04G arrived in a forest green cardboard box decorated with topographic map lines communicating a decidedly tactical yet woodsy effect. Boldly printed on the front were the words: CONFIDENCE IN HAND. As I felt the weighty heft of the box, I was immediately skeptical. Why the hell would I want to carry a knife this big and this heavy, and what would I use it for? I slit open the packaging tape and opened the box, which revealed the plastic-wrapped CRKT M21-04G and two brochures, one about manipulating the locking liner and automatic liner safety and another ad for a CRKT tomahawk that looked very Vikingesque.
I unwrapped the knife, and attempted to open the blade with my right hand using the thumb lugs on the side of the blade. I fumbled a bit and the blade was harder and slower to open than I expected. Then I remembered my wife’s M16 and, with my thumb and middle fingers positioned in handle holes on opposing sides of the knife and my index finger on the blade stud, I flipped it open easily with the eye-dazzling speed of the switchblade comb I carried back in the sixth grade. It was that fast.
Closing it was a bit more difficult. The M21-04G is designed with a liner lock to prevent the blade from closing and chopping off your fingers, and the liner lock also has a liner safety that sets a pin between the locking liner and the frame for additional security. It took me a second, but I got it and was able to close the blade without the ego-bruising necessity of actually having to read the directions.
How we tested the CRKT M21-04G
I committed to carrying the CRKT M21-04G with me everywhere every day for a week and using it exclusively for all of my cutting needs. It would be my everyday carry, and I resolved to become one with the M21-04G. I should note that back in 2017, several veterans and I wrote about our EDC for Task & Purpose when everyone was dunking on Seb Gorka’s EDC. Both articles are funny and you should read them.
Mission #1: Carry it around. The first task was to see how easy the M21-04G was to carry, so I put on my Italian-made Castelli cycling bibs and jersey, clipped the knife in my back jersey pocket alongside a few spare innertubes, and hit the road for 30 miles. As I was walking out the door with my carbon-fiber Neil Pryde Alize bicycle, I was concerned the M21 would ride like a boat anchor on my right kidney. Surprisingly, I didn’t even notice it after the first few minutes and I was actually happy to have it along. I live in a rural area and had to fend off a stray pit bull on my run the day prior using the dog whistle app on my cell phone. I usually use the dog whistle app to mess with our cats, but the app and a loud, calm, firm voice served me well that morning yet left me wishing for something more. Maybe something like the M21-04G? In its own way, the M21-04G did lend me an increased sense of security. My 1.5 hour ride along country roads through bucolic farms and forests was restorative, and I attribute the fact I was not accosted by the Hells Angels, Mongols, or AMVETS Rolling Thunder riders who were in town that weekend to the M21-04G’s superior and obvious threat deterrence capabilities.
Mission #2: Make dinner. My wife, the aforementioned destroyer of the CRKT M16, is no chef, as her version of cooking is opening a can and eating out of it. As I was gathering ingredients to prepare for the night’s meal, I reached for my New West Knife Works 9-inch chef’s knife (which is an elegant weapon of a more civilized age), and then remembered my EDC promise to become one with the M21-04G. I put my favorite chef’s knife back into its wood block and snapped open the M21-04G with a flourish and began to dice. The G10 handle felt snug in my hands, well-sized for larger meathooks like mine, yet the deep belly of the spear-point blade made it difficult to establish a good rock when dicing. To test the factory sharpness of the blade, I sliced grape tomatoes at 1/16 inch thickness and the blade cut with ease. With the farfalle primavera well in hand, I set about the eggplant parmesan only to find the eggplant was well past its prime. It had to go.
Mission #3: Stab something. As I walked out into my backyard towards the compost bin, I began to contemplate the stabbiness of the M21-04G. It is evident from the design that retired Army Master Sergeant and legendary knife artiste Kit Carson had self defense in mind when he drew it up on the drafting board. With no immediate friend or neighbor volunteers nearby, I realized the eggplant was a perfect proxy. I set the eggplant atop the 4×4 inch pressure-treated post that forms the corner of my compost bin, quickly rehearsed a few knife moves I learned a decade ago during my Marine Corps Martial Arts green belt training, and, with a quick roundhouse, thrust the M21-04G into the eggplant effortlessly. The blade slid in two inches and the eggplant remained in place. Stab check complete.
Mission #4: Make a bamboo garden trellis. The next morning, I pulled on a well-worn pair of shorts and an old t-shirt, and headed out to the garden. I had just transplanted my cucumbers two weeks prior and needed to build a trellis so they could grow vertically and, hopefully, avoid the Downy mildew that plagues Southern Maryland. To do this, I needed three eight-foot bamboo poles and some rope cut to length to lash them into a tripod. The bamboo poles I poached earlier this spring weren’t the same length. I reached for a hand saw, but remembered my EDC pledge and, with the M21-04G in my left hand positioned perpendicular to the bamboo pole atop a stump and a hunk of firewood in my right hand, I hammered down on the knife and split the finger-thick bamboo rods with a few stout whacks. Typically, it’s advisable to use a fixed-blade knife or machete when batoning, but the M21-04G performed well and also easily cut the jute cords I used to lash the tripods together.
What we like about the CRKT M21-04G
After having (stupidly) invested in a SOG Desert Dagger as a boot second lieutenant, I’m a skeptic of big, heavy knives. I can hardly remember using the Desert Dagger, or the Marine Corps-issued KA-BAR for that matter, for anything other than opening MRE boxes or MRE bags. I’ve always found greater utility in smaller, lighter knives.
Out of the box, I was dubious of the CRKT M21-04G, but it grew on me over the course of a week. Is it big? Yep, with an overall length of 9.25 inches. Is it heavy? Yep: At 181 grams (6.4 ounces), it’s 68 percent heavier than my beloved Spyderco Para Military 2. But can it take a beating? Yep: I wouldn’t dream of batoning with any of my other folding knives. And, it’s a good value, too: at $89.99 MSRP, it’s also 68 percent less expensive than the Spyderco.
Indeed, Kit Carson did a fine job designing the knife. For the size of the knife, it fits comfortably in a pocket, and the pocket clip can be positioned in four different configurations. The one-handed open is lightning fast (and fun as hell to deploy) and the knife is comfortable in larger hands. The textured G10 handle grips hold fast when wet, and the flick-open stud serves as a finger guard when the knife is open. The 3.98-inch spear point blade is designed for stabbing and penetrating and I could easily see how people who carry knives as defensive weapons would be jazzed about that and it’s big blade intimidation factor.
What we don’t like about the CRKT M21-04G
First, it’s a heavy knife. I generally carry a pocket knife while backpacking and climbing, so every gram matters to me. If I’m going to carry a knife that’s 68 percent heavier, it’s got to deliver 68 percent more utility, and I couldn’t find that in the M21-04G. In my opinion, for most of my backcountry needs, there are lighter options that will suffice.
Second, while the one-handed opening is lightning fast and so satisfying that your significant other will easily become annoyed with the repeated flicking while you are sitting together on the couch watching TV, the knife isn’t easily closed with one hand due to it’s additional locking liner safety.
Finally, the knife’s lower price is due, in part, to CRKT using mid-range quality steel in the M21-04G. The knife I currently carry is more expensive but has much higher-quality CPM S110V steel.
Despite the M21-04G’s impeccable ability to deter outlaw biker gangs on my long bicycle rides down country lanes, it’s a pass for me. I can entirely appreciate and respect its attractiveness to other users, and the longevity of the M21 product line is a testament to its popularity. Unfortunately, it’s just too big and too heavy for my needs when I’m backpacking, climbing, kayaking, or cycling, as lighter, equally capable options are available.
FAQs about the CRKT M21-04G
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the CRKT M21-04G cost?
A. MSRP is $89.99, but it can be found for less on the internet.
Q. What type of steel does the CRKT M21-04G have?
A. CRKT uses 1.4116 stainless steel in the M21-04G which is similar to lower mid-range 420HC for you metallurgy nerds. Essentially, this means it won’t keep an edge as long, but is easier to sharpen and is one of the most corrosion-resistant steels available. For more on knife steel, here’s a good primer.
Q. Can the CRKT M21-04G be operated with one hand?
A. Yes, technically. I found the knife to be wicked fast and wicked easy to open with one hand while using the stud along the knife’s spine. The studs on the sides of the blade were tough to manipulate and slow to open. I’m not sure why they’re there. It was super difficult for me to close the knife with one hand, and I had to do several contortions to be able to replicate the one-handed close the dude in the CRKT video used to make closing with one hand look so freaking easy. Thanks CRKT dude. Thanks a lot.
Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors
Joe Plenzler is Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.
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