The karambit knife hasn’t found widespread use in western cultures, but its striking shape and poignant heritage make it nonetheless interesting. Modeled after the claws of tigers, the karambit was created by the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra.
Much like the Chinese nunchaku, the karambit was created for agricultural purposes. As history moved forward they were weaponized by revolting underclasses, and instead of giving life, they were used to take it in combat.
Still widely considered a hostile item rather than a tool, their legality fluctuates from state to state, only enhancing their deadly mystique.
If you’re a collector or a rather adventurous survivalist, and it’s good and legal for you to own one of these exotic blades, you’re in the right place.
We’ve rated and reviewed five of the very best karambit knives you can currently buy, and put together an in-depth buyers guide and brief FAQ section too. You may already have the eye of the tiger. Now you can wield its claw.
In a Hurry
Easy, tiger. Here’s our top pick so you can get stuck right in.
OUR TOP PICK
OUR TOP PICK
The real beauty of this karambit is in the deployment. The blade purs away in slumber until you apply some downward pressure with your thumb and awaken the beast.
The tiger claw bursts out into place, ready for action, and with the protective finger ring, it’s impossible to be disarmed.
The handle is made of 6061 aluminum which is super lightweight and durable. It features a sturdy pocket clip so you can have it close to hand in times of emergency.
The blade itself is made out of D2 steel which measures between 55 and 62 HRC on the Rockwell scale and holds its edge incredibly well.
The steel is coated by a layer of Ni nitride, an incredibly strong ceramic substance that protects against impacts and oxidization and gives it an awesome matte-black color.
This is a great karambit, but we do have a couple of caveats. It’s quite an expensive blade, and due to the location of the crossbar release mechanism, it’s not really suitable for lefties.
Other than that, with only combat uses, it’s not too versatile.
- Revolutionary, ultra-fast deployment
- Foldaway designs are safer
- Has a low profile pocket clip
- Looks awesome
- D2 steel is pretty hard and holds an edge
- Ni nitrate coating protects the steel
- Lightweight aluminum handle
- Features a finger ring
- No real utility purposes
Our second slicer is made of formidable VG-10 Japanese steel which, as you’d guess, is insanely tough.
VG-10 is a high carbon alloy finished by other metals such as molybdenum, vanadium, chromium, and cobalt.
It's used to make some of the best chef knives in the world. The 2.75 blade is hollow ground, which means there’s a slight concavity in the bevelling.
Made of corrosion-resistant stainless steel, the handle makes an excellent match for the blade. It brings the overall weight up to 0.2lbs, but we actually prefer the hand-feel of a heavier knife. It adds a nice tactility to using it.
While it doesn’t have the kinetic deployment power of our top pick, the Harpy can still be opened and closed using one hand thanks to the circular hole grip.
There’s no finger ring, which some might find disappointing, but this isn’t a combat knife.
Designed specifically for cutting rope, netting, chord, and webbing, as long as it’s oiled every now and again and sharpened sufficiently, the Harpy is perfect for marine use.
- VG-10 Japanese steel is incredibly high quality
- Stainless steel handle
- Foldaway function
- Ambidextrous single hand deployment
- Hollow ground
- Proprietary serrated edge
- Large pocket clip
- Great for marine use
- Quite expensive
- No finger ring
The big difference with the Fox 599 G10 is that it’s double-edged. Both sides of this crescent-shaped blade are sharp, making it quite dangerous to wield, but even more deadly to the opposition.
There are three materials in play in the 599’s construction. The claw itself is made of N690CO steel which is fantastic for everything from kitchen to outdoor survival use.
It’s corrosion-resistant, wear-resistant, has great edge retention, and sharpens up easily.
The handle is crafted from black V10, a high-pressure fiberglass laminate. It’s so strong and moisture resistant that it never needs maintenance.
The final material to speak of is the sturdy aircraft aluminum that makes up the finger ring, which doesn’t just keep the overall weight down, it avoids disturbing the balance between the blade and the handle as well.
It’ll be difficult to find a karambit as sharp and functional as the G10, but it might be worth purchasing a pair of gloves too, as the grip scales are fairly abrasive on skin after a while.
- Very sharp, double-edged claw
- Aluminum finger ring
- Strong fiberglass handle
- Awesome stealth look
- Ergonomic finger grooves
- Single hand deployment
- Grip is quite abrasive
The S-tech is a very popular lower-end model karambit with great specs for the price tag.
Similar to the Fox knife, the ergonomic handle is made out of G10 fiberglass and features an almost identical grip pattern. The finger loop is heavier this time around, giving it a brass knuckle feel.
8CR13MOV steel isn’t technically the best, but for the price, it’s one of the toughest materials out there. It’s known to be highly wear-resistant, so your blade will really hold its edge.
The TS005 is a foldaway design, but it also comes with a sheath and an ambidextrous belt mount. To deploy the blade, you simply draw from the sheath in a quick upward motion. Pretty cool, right?
If you’re looking for a budget blade, you can’t beat this S-Tech creation.
The sheath could be improved as it’s quite chunky, and noisy as you draw the blade, and the grip can feel aggressive on sensitive skin, but all in all, it’s well worth the money.
- Amazing price
- Innovative draw deployment
- Foldaway, sheathed, and belt-mounted
- Quality steel blade
- Strong G10 handle
- Heavy finger ring
- Sheath could be streamlined
- Aggressive grip
Our final karambit is actually the most versatile on the whole list. It features a double-edged D2 steel blade.
The primary edge is fairly linear until you reach two serrated teeth towards the hilt. The outer edge is equal and opposite with a large serrated section.
The handle is ergonomically shaped fiberglass for lightweight and long-lasting performance. It’s a foldaway karambit, but like our fourth pick, comes with a sheath that, with some simple screwdriver work, can be mounted left or right.
It’s a little tight, but after a few months of use, might start to ease up a bit.
This is the perfect karambit for utility use, especially as the sheath prevents a quick draw. If you’re an outdoors kind of person that spends a lot of time exposed to the elements, this little thing will keep you going.
- Amazingly versatile
- D2 steel, double-edged blade
- Ergonomic fiberglass handle
- Foldaway and sheathed design
- Ambidextrous mounting
- Comfortable and effective grip
- Amazing value
- Sheath is tight
Best Karambit Knife Buying Guide
Let’s discuss some pre-purchase considerations...
Check your state’s laws before trying to purchase a karambit.
Fixed Vs Folding
The two basic styles of karambit have either a fixed or foldaway blade. Fixed blades are quicker to brandish as the blade is readily available, making them great in time-sensitive emergencies. They’re also incredibly durable and tend to have an edge on both the inside and outside of the claw.
Foldaway karambits are much safer as the blade edge is concealed in a safe space. Companies use a number of different methods and mechanisms for speedy blade deployment.
They’re easier transported than a fixed karambit, normally fitted with a pocket clip, and they require no sheath. They can be found with a double or single edge.
Traditional safety rings are still a popular addition to the modern karambit. They keep the knife firmly in your hand, making disarmament nigh on impossible, but it would be foolish to underestimate their uses for applications other than combat.
The fact that the ring makes the blade practically impossible to drop makes them a valuable asset in numerous situations. The finger ring keeps your grip steady come rain, snow, or (god forbid) blood.
Single Edge Vs Double Edge
The next factor to consider before you settle on a karambit is whether you want a single or double-edged blade. Single-edged blades are safer and easier to use, especially if they’re a foldaway design.
A double-edged foldaway can be a little dangerous because it’s tempting to push on the outer edge of the blade to sheath it.
Double-edged designs are better for both combat and utility purposes. In combat, you can slash both ways without having to pivot your wrist. For other more wholesome activities, a double-edged blade provides greater versatility as the edges can be beveled differently.
Smaller 6” karambits have more of a utility aspect to them. They’re lightweight so you can carry them on your person without a hassle. You're paying less money for materials so you can fork out on quality instead, and they’re suitable for small to medium-large glove sizes.
Larger karambits can’t be beaten for extremely heavy-duty tasks. They’re a little unwieldy and awkward, but if you need some insanely heavy-gauge rope cutting quickly or perhaps thick wires, a large blade is the way to go. They’re suitable for large glove sizes.
Serrated Vs Straight
Straight edge blades are mostly designed for combat, although a double-edged blade may feature a serrated secondary edge for wounding in more ways than one.
Serrated blades are more useful this day and age because that kind of edge couples well with the curved shape. It adds a forceful tearing motion to a cut that rips through even the strongest of fibers as if they’re nothing.
Your karambit handle needs to have two qualities at the very least: comfortability and durability. Traditionally, they don’t have ergonomically shaped handles because the finger ring was all users required, but there’s no reason to stick to that heritage style when you’re buying modern.
It’s not uncommon for handles to feature wraps of leather or some similar material to provide extra grip and comfort. These are great, but they can run a little pricey. Other styles incorporate finger recesses for a secure hold and to guide your fingers into place.
If you’re interested in purchasing a karambit, we assume you’re already aware that there are many different types of steel alloys used by bladesmiths, and each one has completely different properties.
We won’t bore you with a rundown of hundreds of different steel alloys and the qualities, but here’s something to be aware of.
Hard steels are fantastic. They give you a really sharp, solid edge, but the harder a steel is, the more brittle it becomes. It’s all about balance. Steel that’s too soft won’t retain an edge; one that’s too hard will shatter easily.
Karambits look so cool, it’s easy to get caught up in aesthetics and buy one before checking the specs, but you should always find out what steel the blade is crafted from and do a little digging online to find out how it will perform.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is owning a karambit illegal?
In many states, yes. Always check rules and regulations before purchasing a karambit.
Why is a karambit knife curved?
It was inspired by a tiger's claws. These days, the curve offers great fabric severing qualities.
Is a karambit sharp on both sides?
It can be. They can be purchased with a single or double-edged blade.
The karambit is a wildly underrated tool. Its applications are so wide and it’s aesthetic so unique and enticing, by all rights, it should have a larger presence in the utility knife world.
As long as you heed the advice in our buyer’s guide and always remember to make sure it’s good and legal to own one, a karambit is a great addition to a collection, a crafter’s arsenal, or survivalist’s gear.