The Ontario RAT-1 is probably the most famous “budget” folder that consistently gets recommended on the forums. I’ve always shied away from purchasing it in the past due to my (somewhat extreme) disdain for its aesthetics, but in January this year, I bit the bullet, deciding I needed to see for myself what all the fuss over this knife was about.
I still think it’s a brute of a knife, but now I also see that the hype over the RAT-1 is in fact warranted. It’s a very high performance brute, and I’ll be the first to admit that though I didn’t think it’d be high up on my list of knives I liked EDC-ing, I’ve actually really enjoyed using it.
Right off the bat, I’ll point out that the Ontario RAT-1 has very traditional design. Nothing in particular stands out about it (besides that hideous bump above the thumb stud, which as you should already be able to tell: I’m not at all fond of). In my opinion, this makes the knife very, very underwhelming with regards to styling – and a bit boring even.
The simplicity and traditional styling isn’t a negative per say, especially if you’re into that kind of look. I wouldn’t say the traditional design makes the RAT-1 have a very common look. as these days, traditional modern folders seem to be pretty rare.
Nonetheless, I think Spyderco, Kershaw and CRKT have spoiled me with crazy out-of-the-box designs to the point that whenever I see a plain-Jane knife like this one, I just get confused and question how it manages to grab anyone’s attention.
Basically, I seem to be like an A.D.D. toddler when it comes to knife styling. If it’s not different enough, often times it’s not getting noticed by me.
Construction of the Ontario RAT-1 is very screw heavy. Lots of torx and stand offs, but I will say that no screw ever stripped and the pivot is nicely constructed with deep, defined grooves.
Taking this knife apart is very easy, albeit time consuming due to the sheer amount of screws. Cleaning the Ontario RAT-1 thoroughly after messy tasks is also trivial.
If you are so inclined, polishing the washers on some micro mesh will greatly improve smoothness of the RAT-1, even though deployment is already very nice out of the box.
The Ontario RAT-1 is surprisingly large. It’s boring (yes, sorry, gonna keep saying it) appearance masks the fact that this is a hefty (5 ounce!) slab of steel. Definitely not a gentleman’s knife, but rather a solid, inexpensive beater for all sorts of EDC tasks, including heavy-duty work.
It seems to me that the Ontario RAT-1 was designed with pure function in mind, like most of Jeff Randalls shinies to be honest. Very little (absolutely zero in my opinion) time has been spent on aesthetic flourishes, and to some degree I find this refreshing. It’s an old school design that just plain works. A knife like this screams to be used roughly, and that’s pretty damn awesome.
I mention that it can be used for rougher work due to its 3.5 inch (9 cm) blade being relatively stout. Obviously, it’s not a Benchmade Adamas competitor, but then again I wager it probably cuts better!
The Ontario RAT-1 definitely sits closer to the folding light saber section than the folding pry bar section, however its tip does not taper to a needlepoint, and the full flat grind of the blade lends itself to tasks that may involve more lateral stress as opposed to a thinner hollow grind. I don’t see excessive torque being able to damage this edge.
Below you can see how the Ontario RAT-1 features dual thumb studs. I’ve gotta say, I personally love them, and even though I’m not a leftie myself, I can definitely see this as being a huge perk for those who are lefties. Thinking about things from a leftie’s perspective, the RAT-1 must actually be pretty ideal, especially considering the cut out for your thumb is almost identically mirrored on both sides of the knife – shouldn’t matter if you’re left handed or right handed, this knife will feel the same regardless.
The RAT-1 is not a flipper or assisted open knife, but I can whip out that blade as if it were with a firm thumb push. Very nice feel and the stepped/pyramid design does not affect function, at least in my experience.
Of course a tough blade needs a tough lock, and the Ontario RAT- 1 has a stainless steel liner lock that is rock solid and nicely implemented with jimping on the liner to ease disengagement. After months of use, I noticed zero travel and it engages every single time with a very reassuring thwack.
I have said it before and I will say it again; I much prefer a good liner lock to a bad frame lock, and this is definitely an excellent liner lock.
The blade is made out of AUS-8A steel and I am quite happy with that. It’s tough and will perform quite well at all that could ask of it for 99% of everyday carry tasks. The grinds are actually pretty damn impressive. I have handled $100+ knives with inferior edge geometry to the RAT-1.
Whilst the Ontario RAT-1 does not feature a true choil, the blade edge does not begin until after a solid half inch of travel, so it does in effect work as a choil should the lock fail. Highly unlikely, but still always nice to know my digits will regardless be safe!
Fit and finish is what you would expect of a well made sub $25 knife. The zytel scales and steel liners do not sit perfectly flush and grind marks are evident on the spine of the blade. However, with everything tallied up, I think it’s quite excellent value with an above average blade grind (very, very even) and solid construction.
I do think G-10 scales would have been a pleasant upgrade, but for the price I understand that compromises have to be made.
My biggest gripe with the Ontario RAT-1 is the lack of skeletonizing of the steel liners. I just don’t understand why companies still cut corners with such a simple step. Drill some damn holes Ontario!
I think the handling and weight would have been significantly improved, but this is an old school, heavy duty knife that weighs like an old school, heavy duty knife.
The pocket clip is average with decent in pocket retention. It should be noted that the scales are tapped for 4 way carry, so that’s definitely a plus for you lefties out there. I wish it was deep carry, but from a functionality stand point, I think its perfectly serviceable.
Yes, I do carry a lot of stuff in my pockets and I think the RAT-1 looks quite at home. Even though it’s not a deep carry set up, its still relatively subtle thanks to its blacked-out hardware. I will say that the coating is not a high quality Cerakote, but rather feels more like paint. It has begun to flake off, but once again, look at the price point!
The balance on the Ontario RAT-1 is wrong. In hand it feels far too handle-biased, and I dislike that very much. I own so many knives, and ultimately I find it hard to reach for the RAT-1 (even though it has excellent ergonomics) when the weight just doesn’t feel natural compared to an Endura or Para-Military. That being said, though I may hesitate to reach for the RAT-1, Elise has reminded me that I do actually tend to give the knife a lot of carry time, a fact I’ll admit to because of just how good it is at being a beater. There is pretty much no task I would hesitate to use this knife for, especially considering I can replace it (if I need to) with less than $25.
The culprit is, as mentioned before, a lack of skeletonizing of the liners. In future, I may drill some holes into the liners myself, but for a sub-25 buck knife, I don’t know if it’s worth spending time and effort modifying it to perform better, especially since I’m not fond of the aesthetics anyway. I’ll probably just settle for being happy with it being a high performance beater EDC, even if it is unbalanced.
The odd sorta choil on the Ontario RAT-1 is pretty interesting. You can choke up on it, and the comfort is at least passable, but the Zytel scales do not offer much (if any) traction, and I fear it would be too easy for your hands to slip up to the edge in this position.
I did attempt to use it, however, and noticed the heel of the edge bites into my pointer finger. That to me is a safety hazard, so I would not recommend this grip, even though some people do use it as such.
In the standard saber grip, the Ontario RAT-1 is pretty glorious. The handles are nicely contoured, unlike the Spyderco Manix 2 FRN, and the gentle slope and choil at the pivot offers quite an organic grip which your hands naturally lean towards. This is definitely a well designed (albeit, traditional) knife. Traditional designs have stood the test of time for a reason: they work.
The jimping is an interesting wave-like pattern. Its bite goes towards your thumb, and I find it to be very functional should you need to make piercing cuts.
The RAT-1 in reverse grip is very comfortable, as is expected from such a neutral handle. I honestly cannot find anything to fault with regards to ergonomics.
The problem with the knife industry is that function far too often comes secondary to branding and styling. We’re all guilty of sometimes looking at aesthetics first and performance second (myself included!). The Ontario RAT-1 flies in the face of this nonsense by disregarding conventional marketing, offering a tool that just works with zero gimmicks of any kind.
No unique lock, scales, blade, steel, or styling. No unique anything frankly, and that’s a good thing to have in an outdoor tool that you’ll want to actually use and not just keep hidden away for safekeeping in your knife drawer.
Too many of my knives have segued as both tool and collection pieces, and I think Jeff Randall is greatly amused by having created such a popular knife that caters almost exclusively to knife users and not merely knife collectors. I think this is basically the modern day Opinel – simple and charming in its own (ugly) way!
I’ll admit, aesthetics are funny things. Elise actually has absolutely no problem with the look of the RAT-1, and has on multiple occasions told me I’m being too harsh about its looks. That being said, she also has huge disdain for the look of the Kershaw Blur (I mean it, she really hates it), which I absolutely love.
I am sure many of you (crazy people) think that the RAT-1’s rugged simpleness is just fine, or even presents its own charm, but I’ll not be won over by the aesthetics of this knife.
That said, my remarks on styling should be taken, not with a pinch or even a handful, but with an enormous bucket of salt. There’s obviously a lot of people who are perfectly happy with the way the RAT-1 looks, my own wife included. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and such, and in this case, the RAT-1’s ugliness might just be something everyone else will disagree with me on.
It is just my own opinion, however, and my inherent biases don’t one bit change the fact that the RAT-1 is a superbly conceived beater knife with excellent edge geometry. This knife punches way above its price point, and is seriously worth the money, even if it’s not the most unique or original design in the book.
At the end of the day, I still own, carry and use the Ontario RAT-1 quite regularly. Taking into account my monolithic collection and my extreme disdain for the RAT-1’s aesthetics, truly, I can think of no higher endorsement.
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