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Dexter Ewing

EDC Gear: Rescue Knives Save Lives


The author discusses rescue knives, blades purpose-built with materials and features meant to aid people in need.

Rescue knives are an integral part of first responders’ most important gear. They serve as multi-purpose cutting tools like other knives and are heavily relied upon during various rescue operations. Let’s look at the latest rescue knives available on the market. 

All photos by Marty Stanfield.

Emerson Knives took its existing SARK (Search and Rescue Knife) folder, adapting it to the U.S. Navy’s specifications, and thus the NSAR (Navy Search and Rescue) was born. The 3.5-inch 154CM hawkbill-style blade features a blunt tip and a recessed cutting hook ground into the spine. Other features include an integral thumb rest and Emerson’s signature Wave remote opener designed to catch on the hem of a pants pocket and pull the folding blade open as the knife is withdrawn. 

This is an excerpt from Knives 2024, 44th Edition, available now at GunDigestStore.com.

The ergonomic G-10 handle showcases an integral front hand guard, palm swell in the middle, and grooves at the thumb rest and rear positions to provide a non-slip grip in any condition. At a little over 8 inches long, the NSAR is a knife that can handle many emergency cutting tasks. A steel pocket clip secures the folder tip-up in the pocket, a configuration that works well with the Wave remote opener. An optional ambidextrous thumb disk deploys the blade more traditionally. 

One of the things I like is the hawkbill blade with a reverse curve that gathers material as it cuts. Customers have a choice of a plain or partially serrated blade, the latter ideal for cutting through tough, fibrous materials. The blunt tip makes it easy to work around accident victims without fear of further injury.

In my tests, the recessed hook worked well, cutting anything that would gather inside its curved diameter. The flat-ground blade is sharpened on one side only like a chisel grind, yielding a keen and easy-to-hone edge. At the local scrapyard where I conducted real-life tests, the NSAR ripped through materials with ease, including seatbelts. It is a major league rescue tool in terms of design, construction and function. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the Emerson NSAR is $299.95. 

Anchoring the budget end of the spectrum is the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2. A value brand belonging to Spyderco, Byrd knives incorporate the same innovation and style of construction as more expensive Spyderco models, but with different materials that yield amazing value. Most folding rescue knives are on the high end of the price spectrum, placing them out of reach financially to many front-line blue-collar workers. 

Measuring 3.9 inches long, the Cara Cara Rescue 2 blade is ground from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel and sports a fully serrated edge that munches through fibrous materials. The comet-shaped hole in the blade permits ease of one-handed opening and provides a more secure thumb purchase than a standard round hole, especially when wearing gloves. 

Blunt Point Prevents Punctures

The blunt point of the sheepsfoot blade prevents accidental punctures during use. The fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) handle promotes a comfortable, non-slip grip thanks to the unique bi-directional texturing along with grooving, or jimping, on the handle spine. The handle feels solid and showcases dual nested steel liners and screw-together construction. A four-way pocket clip allows the user to select from left- or right-handed, tip-up or tip-down carry. Once open, the blade locks into place solidly. The mid-handle placement of the lock release itself makes it possible to unlock the blade and close it using one hand.

I noticed the handle’s lack of significant chamfering and contouring. Less machining is necessary with a moldable FRN handle, translating into a lower price point. Yes, the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 can feel a bit blocky in hand, but the straightforward design results in a secure grip and a knife that is easy to manipulate when wearing thick gloves typical to a first responder. 

Spyderco engineers some of the finest fully serrated folding knives on the market, with the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 being one of them. The blade easily eats through the toughest materials—cardboard, seatbelts and thick tie-down straps being no match. The comfortable, ergonomic handle rests securely in the palm to instill user confidence. Comfortable to carry in a pants pocket or inner waistband, the thin profile doesn’t add bulk, yet feels good in the grip.

The 8Cr13MoV steel is a Chinese equivalent to Japanese AUS-8, a good mid-range alloy that balances edge holding with ease of maintenance and cost. To those looking for a quality rescue knife on a budget, the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 is the answer. With an MSRP of $53, it is made in China to Spyderco’s exacting specifications. 

When it comes to high-end rescue knives, the Benchmade Auto Triage 9170SBK is a serious piece in any emergency kit. A member of Benchmade’s Black Class line of professional rescue and tactical knives, the Auto Triage packs a bunch of innovations into one comprehensive tool. The 3.5-inch Bohler N680 stainless modified drop-point blade sports a partially serrated edge for cutting versatility. Benchmade’s dual-purpose Auto Axis Lock secures the blade open and seconds as a blade release for the auto-opening folder. Pulling back on the lock release opens the blade automatically. 

The heavy-duty Benchmade Auto Triage integrates features that allow it to double as a rescue folder and a versatile work knife. The partially serrated, modified clip-point blade can handle any utility cutting chore.

The Auto Triage rests securely in the hand and is easy to operate and completely ambidextrous. An ergonomic handle is constructed of T6-6061 aluminum with a Type III hard-coat black anodized finish. Black G-10 handle inlays provide additional hand purchase, and the grip also features a safety cutting hook for seatbelts and clothing. Pulling back on the lock release button close to the rear of the handle activates the cutting hook that is otherwise tucked away until needed. This is the only cutting hook on the market that is automatically deployed.

The cutting hook of the Benchmade Auto Triage is the only such tool on the market deployed automatically. An effective cutter, the hook deploys instantaneously in high-stress rescue operations.

At first blush, I thought the automatic cutting hook might be overkill, but in considering the thick gloves first responders wear, combined with the stress and adrenaline rush of being in the moment, having an auto-deploying hook makes total sense. The pull-down release works well with gloved hands as opposed to fumbling around while attempting to use a manual rescue hook. A deep-carry pocket clip allows tip-up right-hand carry and a carbide glass breaker at the end of the handle shatters car and other windows with ease. 

Overbuilt Handle

Right off the bat, from the build of the handle, users can see the Auto Triage is a stout knife easily manipulated wearing gloves. While it might feel blocky in hand, when gripping the handle with gloves, one becomes aware of its presence and the knife feels secure. Because there is a secondary cutting hook to manage seatbelts and clothing, the main blade is designed with a sharpened tip. The true rescue tool that it is, Benchmade’s Auto Triage is every bit as much a working folder for general cutting tasks. 

The semi-serrated, modified clip-point blade of the Benchmade Auto Triage rescue folder can handle any utility cutting task.

Partial edge serrations on the modified drop-point blade easily power through stubborn materials. The flat grind of the blade is another aspect of its exceptional cutting performance, with a thin but strong edge that sails through cutting media with little effort. The Auto Axis Lock release is intuitive and truly ambidextrous, allowing for quick and easy blade release with either hand. It is especially crucial in emergencies for professionals who use whatever hand is available to deploy the blade or cutting hook.

The vanadium and nitrogen inherent to the N680 steel help boost its anti-corrosion properties. The cutting hook works quickly, gathering material as it cuts and slices through seatbelts as easily as pulling a zipper. The keen hook bites into webbing and clothing with little effort and a sliding switch safety on the main blade prevents the Auto Axis Lock from inadvertently deploying the blade. Located on the handle spine just behind the lock release buttons, the sliding safety switch is easily accessed. 

Overall, the Benchmade Auto Triage 9170SBK is a professional, high-quality tool that feels great and secure in the hand and doubles as a general-use folding knife, which further makes it that much more attractive. The Auto Triage isn’t a single-purpose tool like other rescue knives. With an MSRP of $350, the Benchmade Auto Triage is a high-end rescue tool.

Leatherman Tool Group, the company that pioneered pliers-based multi-tools, takes a different approach to a rescue tool in the form of its Raptor Rescue Shears. Modeled after high-leverage emergency medical technician (EMT) trauma shears, the Raptor Rescue incorporates several features that make it a unique rescue tool. 

The Leatherman Raptor Rescue Shears is a unique tool that can cover a wide range of lifesaving tasks and has advantages over a rescue knife.

The Raptor Rescue features several of the most used implements for removing clothing from rescue victims. For starters, the blades of the main shears are each over 1/8-inch thick, and sport super sharp cutting edges. This tool quickly cuts through thick material like nylon webbing and jeans. The full-size handle’s finger loops accommodate gloved hands and folding the Raptor Rescue allows easy access and employment of the tools and other built-in functions. 

Such tools and functions include a carbide glass breaker for shattering side windows of vehicles, a fold-out cutting hook for seatbelts and other fibrous materials, and an oxygen bottle wrench. There’s even a built-in wire cutter behind the pivot of the shears, taking advantage of leverage at that location. The Leatherman Raptor Rescue folds into a compact, easy-to-carry package. The handle halves fold onto themselves, and there’s an ingenious lock on each handle that prevents the tool grips from folding up while in use. 

The heavy-duty plastic holster accompanying the Raptor is designed to keep the tool close at hand until it is needed and does so in one of two positions. First, when the tool is folded, the Raptor slides into the holster and is secured by a pocket clip fastened over the lip of the sheath. A second carry option is with the handles fully open. The blade inserts through a specially shaped hole in the bottom of the sheath, and the shears are locked into place inside the holster for carrying the Raptor in the open position and secured with a locking tab. This method is the most ideal, as one doesn’t have to fiddle with opening the handles. Just grab the shears and go. 

Leatherman’s Raptor Rescue Shears is an effective emergency tool built around a full-size pair of EMT shears. The heavy-duty shears can take on tough tasks like cutting up this thick hose. The bottom blade is serrated, which helps to hold the cutting medium.

Speaking of being on the go, the MSRP of the Leatherman Raptor is $89.95 in case you want to take one home with you.

Tactical And Rescue Knives

Hogue Knives is a major player in the tactical and rescue knife market. The company designed its Trauma First Response Tool from the ground up as a full-service rescue knife that has all the tools any first responder could need on a call. The Trauma is offered in a choice of a sheepsfoot blade or an opposing-bevel blunt-tip configuration. For this article, Hogue sent the opposing-bevel blade with a partially serrated edge and an orange G-10 handle.

Blade serrations on the Hogue Trauma First Response Tool (top) aggressively eat through fibrous materials, while the Leatherman Raptor Rescue Shears (bottom) quickly cuts through thick media like nylon webbing and jeans.

The Bohler N680 blade is corrosion resistant with additional nitrogen added to the alloy mix. The opposing-bevel grind of the 3.4-inch blade gives it additional strength in the cross-section, and a blunt tip helps greatly reduce injury to accident victims while cutting seatbelts and clothing. Dual thumb studs permit it to be easily opened with either hand, and the blade is secured open by Hogue’s ABLE Lock, a truly ambidextrous crossbar design that is strong and safe. 

The highly visible, ergonomic orange G-10 handle integrates dual stainless liners for strength, and a large finger groove helps index the user’s grip. The thumb rest area of the handle spine has traction notches for a non-slip grip. The handle also incorporates a few important tools that are handy for rescue personnel. First, there is a fold-out cutting hook for performing pull-cuts through seatbelt webbing and clothing as easily as pulling a zipper. A single thumb stud deploys the cutting hook easily, and though a detent secures the hook in the open position, unlike the Benchmade Auto Triage, it doesn’t fully lock open.

There’s also an oxygen bottle wrench incorporated into the left side of the handle, and the final tool on board is a carbide glass breaker in the handle spacer. The glass breaker easily shatters vehicle side windows. Hogue offers two convenient carry options for the Trauma—a deep-carry, tip-up pocket clip and a sturdy ballistic nylon belt sheath. 

The Hogue Trauma First Response Tool has a rescue hook that folds out manually from the rear of the handle to provide quick cutting of seatbelts and clothing.

The Trauma’s cutting performance is top-notch, with the partially serrated blade easily zipping through tough materials. The plain edge portion of the blade is sharpened on one side only, making it easier to maintain. Being a rescue tool, not a working utility knife, edge dings are not a primary concern. The straight-line edge makes the blade perform like a sheepsfoot model, and the serrations aggressively eat through fibrous materials. The cutting hook works nearly as well as the Benchmade Auto Triage, but as noted, does not lock open. This could be a slight inconvenience so long as the user does not lift it accidentally when employing the hook. Any cutting media is easily severed inside the hook. While using the knife with gloved hands is a cinch, accessing the hook can be a bit deliberate, as one needs to open it with the thumb. 

I particularly like the look of an orange handle with a black blade. While orange makes the knife stand out, the Trauma is also available in a black G-10 handle. The MSRP for the Hogue Trauma tested here is $199.99.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt of KNIVES 2024, 44th Edition.

More On EDC Gear:

Dapper And Deadly: Urban EDC Knives (2021)


Flashy good looks with the heart of a fighter, Urban EDC knifes turn heads without raising eyebrows.

Folding knives are versatile carry pieces. They can be toted daily whether you’re a mechanic, carpenter, plumber, police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, hunter, hiker, a member of the military or even an office worker in a corporate setting.

In an office, one needs to be careful with the selection of his or her EDC (everyday carry) knife. It’s best to remain on the conservative side of things, not wanting to whip out a large tactical flipper folder for opening boxes or mail.

A new class of folding knife has emerged over the past few years that addresses environments such as this. The knives borrow traits that made tactical folders popular and distill them down to small and compact forms for easy carry and unobtrusiveness, particularly when blades are opened in public settings.

Urban EDC knives are easy to acquire and use once an enthusiast becomes familiar with the features and quality pieces available on the market. The knives blend in well in the office, but also have substance for tackling tough cutting chores. They’re equally at home in a pair of dress slacks or jeans and can perform most daily cutting tasks.

Quiet Carry Lives Up to Its Name

The Quiet Carry IQ folder combines sleek styling with one-handed opening, a frame lock and high-performance blade steel. The knife’s ultra-slim and compact form allows it to blend in easily and carry well in jeans.
The Quiet Carry IQ folder combines sleek styling with one-handed opening, a frame lock and high-performance blade steel. The knife’s ultra-slim and compact form allows this EDC knife to blend in easily and carry well in jeans.

Quiet Carry is a new knife brand that embodies the urban EDC trend. The company’s IQ frame-lock folder is a slender and compact model that carries so easily, one’s apt to forget it’s there. The blade of the IQ is ground from ELMAX stainless steel and is a user-friendly sheepsfoot shape. Measuring 2.9 inches, the blade is just long enough to be compact and pocket-friendly but sports enough length to get work done.

The IQ puts a unique spin on the tried-and-true sheepsfoot blade shape with the inclusion of a slight belly. Typically, sheepsfoot blades have straight-line edges, making them precise utility cutters. The slight belly of the IQ allows the knife to be an effective slicer even with the handle held at an upward angle when cutting media on a bench or tabletop.

The blade nests fully inside the handle in the closed position and is opened via a flipper. A small flipper tab protrudes from the end of the handle, with the blade riding on ceramic caged bearings to promote ultra-smooth rotation. The handle is 6AL-4V titanium, and the folder includes a travel limiter that prevents the lock bar from being pushed past the blade tang. There’s also a steel wear pad on the end of the bar to provide secure steel-on-steel lockup. All these innovations are common to quality tactical frame-lock folders.

A small but sturdy titanium clip is attached to the handle of the IQ for tip-up pocket carry. Of deep-carry design, no part of the knife handle remains visible above the seam of a pants pocket. The clip is small but thick and sturdy, with no danger of springing through forced outward pressure while securing it to a pants pocket.

The IQ tested for this article sports a black PVD-coated handle, and the non-lock side has a carbon-fiber overlay for a classy touch. Four tiny holes on each side of the handle are aesthetic and serve no functional purpose. Overall, the manufacturing quality of the knife is excellent with fine fit and finish. It’s comfortable, thin and carries well, but those with large hands might consider it a bit awkward to use with little girth to the grip.

Regardless, the unique sheepsfoot blade makes this knife a workhorse. With its low profile, the IQ is a great candidate for an office carry piece and equally comfortable in a pair of jeans. It will slice cardboard, strip wire and cut webbing with ease. Don’t let its slender profile fool you, this knife is built for work. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) as of this writing is $198 for the black PVD-coated handle/carbon-fiber overlay version, and $182 for a bead-blasted titanium handle piece.

More Knife Info:

Front Flipper Barlow

Enrique Pena is a custom knifemaker best known for merging styles. His Front Flipper Barlow offers the traditional styling of a hard-working folder paired with the modern convenience of one-handed deployment and a sturdy LinerLock.
Enrique Pena is a custom knifemaker best known for merging styles. His Front Flipper Barlow offers the traditional styling of a hard-working folder paired with the modern convenience of one-handed deployment and a sturdy LinerLock. Excellent choice for an EDC knife with some flare.

Enrique Pena from Laredo, Texas, is one of the hottest custom knifemakers working today. Specializing in folding knives of the lock-blade variety, Pena’s style merges the traditional with modern flair. Case in point, his Front Flipper Barlow looks like an average traditional folder, parading a 3-inch, modified clip-point blade and a substantial handle that fills the hand comfortably. Barlows are work knives, ideal for utilitarian knife chores.

Yet Pena’s version showcases top-of-the-line materials all around. The blade is premium CPM-154 stainless steel for edge-holding power. When closed, the tang protrudes slightly and features deep finger notches. The design allows for thumb motion, like that in actuating a BIC lighter, to be used on the exposed tang, rolling it and causing the blade to rotate and snap into the open and locked position. The blade rides smoothly on caged ball bearings in the pivot area. The result is ultra-smooth action that needs to be experienced.

Pena offers the Barlow in an OD green handle with tan Micarta single bolsters. Black titanium liners lend the knife some class and delineate the green and tan Micarta. A propeller shield is a traditional touch on an otherwise modern piece. A LinerLock secures the blade in the open position, and a tan Micarta handle spacer rounds out the handsome good looks.

The Front Flipper Barlow is a hot seller from a popular maker. The piece showcases Pena’s eye for detail and superb craftsmanship. One of the things I liked was the ease of deploying the blade. With the average flipper folder, the opening tab protrudes from the bottom of the tang. Pena’s flipper adopts a low profile with nothing protruding to disrupt the classic lines of the knife. And unlike classic flat-sided Barlows, contoured handle scales are palpably comfortable. A little over a half-inch wide, the knife naturally nestles in the user’s palm.

The contoured handle scales also ride better in a pants pocket, making it feel less bulky and therefore more comfortable to carry. In this modern era of pocket clips, it’s refreshing to see a knife that slides into a pants pocket for traditional carry. I found the front-flipper Barlow to be a pleasing intersection of the old (Barlow pattern) and new (one-hand flipper opening mechanism and LinerLock). Quick to deploy, the clip-point blade is utilitarian with a tip that can be used for cutting or scoring, and a bit of belly for slicing and cutting easily through any material.

Pena’s custom Barlow adds flash and panache to a traditional design, as well as high utility function. So, you might ask, what would it cost you to place one of these Pena Barlows in your pocket? The maker’s list price for one like the test sample, which comes in a variety of Micarta colors, is $850. Contact Pena for specific materials and pricing.

Flash & Panache

The Rick Hinderer Knives XM Slippy combines tactical folder styling and construction with the convenience of a slip-joint folder. One of the most rugged single-blade, slip-joint folders on the market, it comes with an elongated nail nick and a thumb disk that can be removed via a small hex wrench that’s included.
The Rick Hinderer Knives XM Slippy combines tactical folder styling and construction with the convenience of a slip-joint folder. One of the most rugged single-blade, slip-joint folders on the market, the EDC knife comes with an elongated nail nick and a thumb disk that can be removed via a small hex wrench that’s included.

The XM-18 has been the signature and best-selling folder line for Rick Hinderer Knives. Knife enthusiasts everywhere have come to describe the XM-18 with adjectives such as “overbuilt,” “rugged,” “built like a tank” and other descriptive terms that denote rock-solid engineering. Offering the XM-18 in several sizes, Hinderer also designed a slip-joint version—the XM Slippy. The XM Slippy takes the concept of a non-locking, slip-joint folder and gives it the same rugged, built-tough treatment that’s a hallmark of the series.

Currently offered in 3-inch CPM-20CV stainless steel sheepsfoot and Spanto (Hinderer’s own reinforced blade shape) versions, the ergonomic handle features 3D-machined G-10 scales for a solid grip. Color choices include black, blue, gray, red and OD green, and Hinderer sent me a gray-handle XM Slippy with a sheepsfoot blade. Getting it in hand, I was immediately impressed by the excellent quality of the build. Everything fits together nicely, and the blade’s action is smooth. A heavy-duty titanium pocket clip is easily mounted to either side of the handle for ambidextrous tip-up or tip-down carry.

For all intents and purposes, the Slippy looks much like the rest of the Rick Hinderer XM-18 models. Two options for blade deployment include pulling it open manually using a long nail nick like other slip-joint folders or via a thumb disc, the latter of which can be attached or detached from the blade spine using an included Allen wrench. Once open, there is more than enough spring pressure on the blade to secure it during use.

Which blade shape is for you? For general, all-around use, it’s hard to beat the Spanto—a shape conducive to many uses with a reinforced tip that adds strength to the blade. The sheepsfoot is more of a working blade shape, something you can use on a jobsite stripping wires, opening packages and for other cutting tasks that come up. Overall, the Rick Hinderer Knives XM Slippy looks like a tactical knife, but upon closer inspection is an urban EDC for folks who will put the knife to work without hesitation about its durability over the long run. Be sure to check out the XM Slippy. Its MSRP: $275.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Zero Tolerance’s first slip-joint folder, the ZT 0230 is designed by Danish knifemaker Jens Anso with advanced materials like carbon fiber and CPM 20CV stainless steel, giving it a high-tech edge.
Zero Tolerance’s first slip-joint folder, the ZT 0230 is designed by Danish knifemaker Jens Anso with advanced materials like carbon fiber and CPM 20CV stainless steel, giving the EDC knife a high-tech edge.

The Zero Tolerance 0230 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Slender and lightweight, it sports a 3-inch CPM-20CV stainless steel sheepsfoot blade and an extremely lightweight, durable, all-weather carbon-fiber handle. Best known for high-end tactical folders, Zero Tolerance offers the 0230 slip-joint in high-tech materials and a no-nonsense working knife configuration.

Designed by Jens Anso, a popular custom maker from Denmark, the straight edge of the sheepsfoot blade is easy to sharpen and the blunt nose is non-threatening and eliminates accidental punctures. Instead of a traditional back spring, the 0230 slip-joint folder employs a special double ball-bearing detent system. Much like the ball bearing detents of LinerLock or frame-lock folders, the double detent system not only holds the blade closed, but also secures it in the open position. It doesn’t lock the blade, but rather holds it open.

Cutting force is applied in the opposite direction from which the blade rotates, so regardless how hard you bear down on the blade, it should never accidentally close. Like traditional slip-joint folders, a half-stop pauses the blade when it’s partially open, allowing the user to index and manipulate the blade without necessarily having to look at it.

In use, the 0230 is a capable cutter. The sheepsfoot blade is a great pull-cut tool and wire stripper that would make a fine companion on home improvement projects. It has no bulk in the pocket and carries exceptionally well. The only problem is that you may forget you even have it! The carbon-fiber handle gives it a cool, futuristic look, and a blue anodized aluminum spacer adds a nice touch of color. If you’re a fan of ZT knives, the 0230 will make a great old-school addition to your collection. Certainly, this knife won’t disappoint. Available now through ZT dealers, the MSRP is $180.

Don’t Stop Here

Urban EDC folders pair low-profile characteristics with modern materials and mechanisms, making them the perfect daily companions, particularly in office or corporate environments. Less bulky than tactical folders, urban EDCs are ideal for everyday carry and blend into any scenario. Having proper tools is a must for those who are serious about tackling daily tasks at home or in the office.

Editor's Note: This excerpt is a small taste of the information available in Knives 2021The full-color 41st edition features everything from factory trends to advice on how to make money making knives. Need the book? Find it at: GunDigestStore.com.