A man walks along a lonely road, barely more than a foot-beaten path, nestled into the Scottish mountainside. A long scabbard affixes a claymore to his back to protect him from anything the wilds of the wood may present him on his journey home. The sporran slung around his waist jingles with coin, marking the unsuspecting Highlander as the next target of a bandit, hidden among the rocks further down the path. The highwayman quietly unsheathes the dirk at his waist and waits patiently, crouched behind his cover, for the man to approach. When the Highlander reaches the rock outcropping, the bandit leaps into his path, only feet in front of the traveler, and makes his demands: the traveler’s money, or his life. The Highlander hesitates, scans his environment for possible escape and considers his options. Noting the Highlander’s large claymore safely tucked into its scabbard, the highwayman decides to rob his prey by force and charges the traveler before he can offer challenge by drawing his dangerous longsword. In response, the man sidesteps his attacker, drawing the six inch dagger concealed beneath his armpit, and in a single deft maneuver, uses the thief’s own inertia to bury the spear-like blade under his ribs. The Highlander’s sharp skean dhu saved his life, and he continues homeward, the coin in his sporran still clinking.

The Hold Out blades are styled after the ancient Scottish blade called the “Skean Dhu” (also “Sgian Dubh” [Gaelic]), or “Black Knife” (“black,” in this case, referring to concealment). During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was common for Scots to carry much of their wealth on their person, often in forms of garment decoration, in order to be able to protect it. For this reason, it was also accepted for Scots to always go armed. One typical means of personal protection was to conceal a sheathed blade (usually 9 to 10 inches in length) under the armpit. The courtesy of the culture required those entering a home of a friend to display their concealed weapons (it was considered too dangerous to go completely unarmed, on the off chance that the home was attacked). And so, upon entering, the knife would be removed from the armpit and placed in the hose or boot of the wearer. Over time, the blade was shortened to accommodate regular carry on the lower leg.

Blade

The original skean dhu was a thin, light spearpoint blade, generally four to six inches long with a handle carved of bog oak. Cold Steel has taken the blade and “modernized” it into a lightweight tactical folder. The cues CS has taken from the original knife style are most evident in the blade’s spear point shape and wide belly. This shape allows the blade to be effective for stabbing gestures as well as slicing without deforming. The AUS 8A steel is strong, both in wear resistance and toughness, and it can be sharpened a fine edge. Straight out of the box, the Hold Out is razor sharp, and it retains its edge well. However, when it does dull, it is a time-consuming endeavor to resharpen the blade. The Hold Out II reviewed in this article measures 4”, but it is also offered in 6” (Hold Out I), and 3” (Hold Out III) models. And while unsharpened edge of the blade is thick (3.5mm in the case of the Hold Out II), the hollow grind is not well suited to heavy duty labor.

Grip

The blade of the Hold Out II sits between two 5 inch panels of unlined, textured G10, so when fully deployed, the knife measures 9 inches. Despite the large size, the folder is light weight, weighing in at 4.2oz.A distinguishing characteristic of the Hold Out’s grip is the lack of finger grooves to add to grip ergonomics. The only exception to this is a slight divot on the bottom edge of the grip, where the ambidextrous thumbstuds rest when the blade is closed. But between the jimping on top and bottom of the choil, and the texture on the G10, and the round cutouts within the grip, this reviewer has had no issues maintaining a firm grasp during use.

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Deploy and Locking Mechanisms

The Hold Out can be deployed manually with ambidextrous thumb studs. Once it is deployed, the Tri-Ad lock is a very sturdy locking mechanism that prevents any wobble or blade play. The blade is so tightly retained that it takes extra effort to flick open. This can be adjusted with the loosening of a screw, but out of the box it is a slower deploy than other thumb deployed folders like the Benchmade Adamas. Faster still is the unassisted deploy of the Emerson Knives’ wave method (which uses a notch on the back of the blade to hook onto the pocket, opening the blade). Another of the drawbacks of the Hold Out is that the lockback style locking mechanism does not lend itself easily to one handed closing, unlike Benchmade’s Axis®-locked folders.

Loadout Considerations

With the blade measuring 4”, and the closed knife a lengthy 5”, the Hold Out II is on the outer edge of this reviewer’s preference for concealed carry. The reversible deep pocket clip and thin, light frame almost compensate for the extra length of blade. This reviewer found that when her foolish female fashions were too limited in pocket depth to accommodate the length of blade, the Hold Out was narrow enough to carry within the waistband unnoticed. And the slight 4.2oz of the knife is barely noticeable for anyone whose loadout can accommodate the length of blade.

At the time of this article, this Cold Steel blade has served as this reviewer’s main EDC blade for months. In this capacity, it has been used for day-to-day tasks from cutting up boxes, opening packaging, slicing food. However, describing these mundane tasks do not do justice for expressing just how sharp and effective the Hold Out II is as a cutting tool. Out of the box, the Hold Out can shave hairs, slice paper in fine slivers, and fillet steak, without detectable dulling. The spear point shape is ideal for stabbing, and the razor edge is a threat in and of itself. And the Japanese AUS 8A steel is strong and durable, even at the point (this reviewer has yet to break or deform it). Yet, the grip seems to be designed without regard for the hand of its wielder. The textured G10 is offers a tactile surface for gripping, but the handle lacks features that would accommodate finger placement, in neither traditional nor reverse grip. The only exception to this is the slight divot where the thumb studs rest next to the grip when the blade is closed, and does not offer a significant increase to its fit in hand.

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The old Scottish sgian dubh was first designed as a discreet option for self defense. Hundreds of years later, Cold Steel’s Hold Out has carried on the blade design and purpose, altered to better suit modern needs. Its wide blade and acute point are well suited for slicing and stabbing, while the tactile grip and Tri-Ad lock ensure a firm grip without the risk of the blade closing accidentally during vigorous use. The steel is strong Japanese AUS 8A, and its factory edge is honed to razor sharpness. The Hold Out fits a 4” edge into a slim, lightweight folder. The airy frame, deep pocket clip, and thin profile aid in concealing the large blade with ease. The sharp point, fine edge, and light grip make Hold Out II a bad guy’s worst day in a 4.2oz package.

Specifications

Blade material: AUS 8A

Blade length: 4.0in

Knife weight: 4.2oz

Handle material: G10

Locking mechanism: Tri-Ad lock

Clip: tip up, ambidextrous

MSRP: $115