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With a resume that includes time spent as a Force Reconnaissance Marine, private security contractor, and former CEO of Magpul, Travis Haley knows a thing or two about guns. His company, Haley Strategic Partners, offers a wide range of supplementary gear — from light mounts and holsters to chest rigs and slings — as well as a variety of firearm training courses. However, he’s not a full-time bladesmith, so when he devised a purpose-built Haley Strategic fighting knife, he made the choice to partner with someone who is. That individual is Marine veteran Connor Toor of Toor Knives. Through this partnership, the two men created The Darter knife, which Haley calls “undeniably the best fighting blade on the market.”
This is a bold claim, so let's take a look at the Toor Knives / Haley Strategic Darter to see how it stands up.
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Blade Length: 4.25 inches
Weight: 5.3 ounces
As a nod to Haley's “son” Garand Thumb, let's start by going tip to butt on this fixed blade. The Darter is constructed from CPM 3V, a powdered tool steel from Crucible Industries. Toor heat-treats the metal to a hardness of 60 HRC (59 to 61, according to the advertised tolerances). This steel is designed for extreme toughness, and offers strong resistance against edge chipping. As with all steels, there's a tradeoff here — it'll stay sharp longer under hard use, but will be more difficult to re-sharpen when the time inevitably comes. For a combat knife, that seems like a reasonable compromise, since it's easier to conduct long-term edge maintenance after missions rather than in the field.
The Darter knife features a 4.25-inch drop point blade shape with a strongly-tapered tip and a swedge that make it excellent for piercing. The edge is exactly as even and precise as you'd hope for on a knife with a near-$400 price tag. A series of scalloped serrations along the spine offer the ability to saw through rope and other tough materials; according to Haley's product description, they also might serve as a secondary cutting edge “while avoiding the restrictions on a double-edged blade.”
The handle begins with a forefinger notch and front quillion on the bottom, and a thumb rise with jimping on top. Combined with a pair of heavily-textured G10 handle scales, a subtle palm swell, and a prominent rear quillion, this handle is clearly made to lock the knife into the user's hand. A flat spot with additional jimping on the butt provides added control for reverse-grip use. There's also a lanyard hole at the trailing edge.
This knife is offered in three colors: Coyote (pictured), Disruptive Grey with black blade finish and red handle liners, and Ranger Green with grey blade finish and black handle liners. The blade is finished in KG Gunkote with Haley's dragonfly logo and Toor Knives' skull logo laser-engraved onto either side.
Each Darter knife arrives as a box set, with the knife, a blunt trainer, and a Toor Knives Flex-Tech sheath. The sheath offers adjustable retention and comes with an UltiClip Slim 3.3 to attach the knife to a belt, waistband, or pocket hem. It's reversible and ride-height-adjustable so you can tailor it to your needs. Adhesive loop material is also included, and it can be used to sandwich the sheath between other pieces of Velcro-backed gear, such as chest rigs or plate carriers.
We appreciate the inclusion of the trainer, an accessory every true fighting knife should have. If you can't train with a safe analogue that's the same size and shape as your live blade, you may not be able to use it properly when your life is on the line.
Although we won't go so far as to call this “undeniably the best fighting blade on the market,” there's no denying it's a solid and nicely-balanced tool. The workmanship is outstanding, all the way down to small details like smooth chamfered edges on the thumb ramp and front quillion. The tip is aggressive and punches holes effortlessly, but it also has enough belly to serve as a good slicer and utility blade.
In general, we're not fans of spine serrations or sawbacks on knives, but it's nice to have a little extra sharpness without a complete double edge (a feature that may lead a knife to be deemed a dagger, which involves legal restrictions in some areas). They're also a decent place to strike a ferro rod for fire-starting. The Darter's handle design offers tons of texture for a strong grip, and the forefinger notch is helpful for indexing the edge. However, it's rather narrow, much like that of a steak knife. Users with smaller hands may find it perfect, but we found ourselves wishing for a bit more material there.
We've carried the Darter knife in several locations, including concealed inside the waistband, outside the waistband on a battle belt, and behind a Haley Strategic D3CRM chest rig. The stick-on loop material makes it a bit more secure for some positions, but we still ran elastic shock cord through the sheath grommets to serve as a retention fail-safe. The UltiClip alone is sufficient for IWB concealed carry.
If you're looking for a trustworthy fighting knife and you're not on a tight budget, the Toor Knives / Haley Strategic Darter is a great choice. Despite its marketing as a limited-edition “work of art,” it's also a highly-functional, American-made tool that can clearly take a beating. For more info on the Darter knife, go to HaleyStrategic.com.