In this article, we’re going to examine the CRKT Drifter knife, as we’ll review the knife’s blade, handle, its many uses and reliability, and even see how it compares to the blades like the Cryo and Skyline.
Below, use the table to compare the CRKT Drifter against the Kershaw Cryo, Skyline, and other popular budget knives:
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
The Growth of the Knife Community
Now, due in large part to an enthusiastic blade-loving community, the upper end of the knife market has exploded in ways that would be unthinkable ten years ago. The fact that something like the ZT0560, with its ELMAX super steel, 3D-machined handle scales, ball-bearing flipper, and titanium framelock can be had for $200 is incredible. This is the kind of machining prowess that has come to define the last few years in the knife industry.
This prowess has also contributed to equally incredible changes in the budget knife world. For a long time, there simply wasn’t anything good to be had for less than $50. Today, because of community leaders like Nutnfancy, and respected information (and opinion) aggregates like Bladeforums, knife companies realized that their customers wanted great knives at great prices.
Thus, the design, quality, and machining of budget knives greatly improved.
That rapid growth slowed as knife companies realized that the biggest profits were to be had in the premium knife market. Materials like titanium and carbon fiber are expensive, but because they are also perceived to be expensive, companies can charge a super premium on knives that are made from them. Case in point, one of Spyderco’s newest designs is coming in with a suggested retail price of $700–more than many a custom knife costs.
Yes, innovation in the budget realm is becoming increasingly scarce. Carrying and using something like the CRKT Drifter really drives home what a shame that is. It is well-built, performs well in a variety of different circumstances, and costs just $20. If the ZT0560 shows us what high-end manufacturing can achieve when cost is no object, the Drifter shows just how much modern knifemaking can achieve, even while working under cost-conscious constraints.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
The Drifter was one of the first fruits of CRKT’s rebirth. For many years, CRKT seemed to be a quiet, uninteresting, slightly out-of-touch knife maker. The truth of course was more textured than that, but there was a length of time during which CRKT just wasn’t putting out anything innovative or exciting.
The Drifter was different: it seemed designed specifically with the Internet knife community in mind. They wanted a light, inexpensive knife, and CRKT made them one—or several, really. In fact, here’s the full Drifter line:
- Drifter in G10, with a liner lock and a plain edge
- Drifter in G10, with a liner lock and a partially serrated edge
- Drifter in stainless steel, with a framelock and a plain edge
- Drifter in stainless steel, with a framelock and a partially serrated edge
- Large Drifter in stainless steel, with a framelock and a plain edge
- Large Drifter in stainless steel, with a framelock and a partially serrated edge
The Drifter is most likely made by Sanrenmu, a large Chinese knife company that works as an OEM for other knife makers, as well as a producer of knives under their own brand. Interestingly, there is a Sanrenmu-branded knife, called the 707, that is nearly identical to the Drifter.
CRKT markets the Drifter as a “no-nonsense” knife, and this designation is particularly apt when discussing the ergonomics, because the Drifter’s handle is devoid of all of the nonsense that knife makers are so eager to clutter their designs with: there are no finger grooves, no notching, no outrageous gimping; just a simple handle that works well.
Funnily enough, excellent handle design is a running theme in budget knives. The Kershaw Cryo and Skyline, two other canonical budget knives, have similarly unfettered handle shapes, as does the Ka-Bar Mini Dozier, an early innovator in the budget knife market.
The Drifter’s blade shape is a mostly traditional drop point. The drop point is, to my mind, the most useful all-purpose blade shape. There are designs that are better for specific tasks, but as something that you can count on to perform well, if not perfectly, in most situations, the drop point is without a peer in this field.
I say “mostly traditional” because the Drifter’s blade does have a slight recurve to it. Recurves are supposed to help with cutting performance, and I would say that in my experience they do, but they are more trouble to sharpen than that incremental performance increase is worth. That is all generalities, however, and in the Drifter’s case the recurve is barely perceptible. This means that it won’t cut that much more aggressively, but it also means that sharpening won’t be unbearable.
The Cryo’s blade is also a drop point but, because it is designed by Rick Hinderer and needs to have a certain look, is ground with a swedge and all sorts of unnecessary facets. It cuts well, but not as well as the Drifter. The Skyline, by contrast, has a spear point blade. It is a good slicer, but at 3” seems a little bit large for the sort of cutting tasks that you would use it for; the Drifter, at 2.8”, seems about right.
The Mini Dozier is a different story. With a blade shape that references the classic Loveless drop point, it gets my vote for best-performing blade of the bunch. The grind seems to be thinner behind than edge compared to any of the others, as well, so it slices quite well.
8Cr13MoV is to budget knives as S30V is to high-end knives: the expected, unexciting choice.
The Drifter, in a slight twist, is made of 8Cr14MoV. This is a theoretically better formulation of regular 8Cr and, although the upgrade is appreciated, I haven’t noticed any performance difference between 13MoV and 14MoV.
The Cryo is made of 13MoV and, although the Drifter cuts better, that’s a matter of grind and blade shape, not steel. The Mini Dozier is made of AUS-8, which I prefer to either 13MoV or 14MoV, simply because it seems to be a little more rust-resistant, although CRKT addressed the rust issue by coating the Drifter’s blade in (thankfully not obnoxious) gray titanium nitride.
The Skyline is made of 14C28N, a steel that is unquestionably better than either AUS-8 or the 8Cr variants. It has been compared to S30V, actually, and while I would say that it doesn’t retain an edge quite as long as that steel does, it comes close—and, again, it is an indisputable upgrade over most budget steels.
There is both good and bad here. The Drifter itself is very small, meaning that it is out of the way when clipped to your pocket, and the G10, while still being grippy, is not so textured as to ruin your jeans. However, I do find the clip to be too tight. I prefer a tight clip to a loose one, of course, but the Drifter’s clip, at least out of the box, was too much, and beyond that I don’t like its wide, money clip-esque shape.
The Mini Dozier’s clip is a better shape, but too loose. The Cryo and the Skyline both have excellent clips, and they both offer different positions for the clip, which the Drifter does not. There is nothing about the Drifter that could be called a fatal flaw, but its wide, tight clip is about as close as it comes to having one.
The more locking pocket knives I use, the more I prefer simplicity over dubious, overstated gains in “durability.” Framelocks, supposedly some of the strongest locks available, are temperamental and overrated. Lockbacks, even good ones, tend to develop blade play. A liner lock is simple, wears well, and is adequately tough for all but the most demanding tasks. For a knife of the Drifter’s size, I am tempted to say that there is no better choice.
The Skyline has a similarly clean, simple liner lock. And for as much as I think the framelock is overrated, the Cryo’s steel framelock is tighter and more reliable than that of customs I’ve handled (no joke). The Mini Dozier has a serviceable lockback, but I would hesitate to use it for anything more demanding than breaking down boxes.
Cheap pocket knives are such an interesting segment of the market. You can pay very little and get a knife that is not just functional, but genuinely great. No knife better embodies this truism than the Drifter. It is made of humble materials, but through the quality of execution it transcends them. Even if it cost $40 it would be worth talking about. If you want a new knife but don’t have a lot of cash, or if you just want a good knife, regardless of price, the Drifter should be on your short list.
Please visit Reliable Knife for more helpful blade articles and reviews.
- If you enjoyed this article, please join the Reliable Knife Facebook page!