Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite Review

When you get into collecting knives it is easy to get caught up in the moment. There is so much cool stuff out there that if you aren’t careful you can easily get sucked away in a torrent of carbon fiber and titanium. And really there is nothing wrong with that (although your bank account/significant other/retirement plan is free to disagree).

But sometimes you just want a tool that will get the job done without having to spend a ton of money. This is how a lot of us got started with collecting knives, and for some level-headed individuals it remains their approach to this day. Personally, I try to strike a balance when building my collection. I like smart designs that provide great value, but also am known to indulge in the new and shiny. So this time around we are going to head back to earth and check out a cool, reasonably priced knife from Cold Steel – the Mini Tuff Lite (or “MTL”). It isn’t the sexiest blade in the collection, but for those who don’t wish to shell out $200, $100, or even $50 for a quality knife, the MTL brings you edged excellence at a sub $25 price point.

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite is 5″ long, sports a 2″ blade (1.25″ edge), and weighs a mere 1.7 ounces. What drew me to this knife are the striking similarities to one of my favorite little EDC blades, the Spyderco Dragonfly II. It’s right around the same size and weight, and also features thumb holes and a back lock. The biggest difference is the price – the Dragonfly goes for $45+ while the Mini Tuff Lite can be had for right around $25. Needless to say both knives make for great little EDCs. I like pairing the MTL with a larger knife although it easily accomplishes 95% of my EDC tasks. It is also a nice little option for a first aid kit, pocket survival kit, or any other place you would like to stow a small folder.

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite compared with Spyderco Dragonfly 2

The blade is a wharncliffe shape. It’s a very functional shape, with a precise tip and razor edge. The steel is thick enough for serious use (2.5mm thick), and the hollow grind makes for a capable slicer. I will say that the sharpening choil and ricasso can get caught up on material that I am cutting (eg, cardboard), especially if I’m trying to really blast through it. That is to be expected from a 1.25″ edge. If you have a big job, I recommend a larger knife.

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite Blade

Steel on this knife is Cold Steel’s AUS8a. Stainless and relatively soft, AUS8 won’t hold an edge forever, but it gets very sharp very fast. I have no problems maintaining a hair shaving edge with this knife, and it doesn’t require any special skills. No issues with rust or corrosion either. Given the price, AUS8 is a great choice here.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip

The handle of the Mini Tuff Lite is some sort of plastic (Griv-Ex™ according to Cold Steel). It’s tough and lightweight – entirely adequate for my mostly suburban purposes. Construction is very good. Three bolts hold the small handle together, and everything is nicely finished. There is a large lanyard slot for those who like lanyards, and all the corners are nicely rounded.

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite Handle

From an ergonomics perspective the MTL is very impressive. Much like the Dragonfly II, the MTL makes use of a forward choil. This allows you to really choke up on the blade, but it also affords you a full four finger grip. I really like to have a full grip on my EDC knife so for me this is exceptional. The plastic handle is lightly textured, and the spine of the blade is sparsely jimped. I find that this is plenty of traction and makes the knife both comfortable and practical to use.

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite Pocket Clip

The pocket clip is where you start to feel the budget aspects of this knife. Satin finished, and positioned for right side tip down carry only, it’s not as feature rich as some of your higher end knives. That said, there is still a lot to like here – retention is excellent and the knife is very discrete. I tend to forget it is clipped to my pocket, often having to double check before heading out the door. I think the lack of multiple carry options is a really minor issue as the clip generally works well, and the knife carries like a dream.

Deployment and Lockup

The Mini Tuff Lite makes use of a oval thumb hole for deployment. It’s small, but the sharp edges of the thumb hole make it easy to get at, and with a little effort you can manipulate the blade open. This isn’t the fastest draw in the west, but once again given the intended use I find it adequate. There is a firm backspring holding the blade closed, so you don’t need to worry about accidental deployments, but care should be taken when closing the knife as the blade tends to snap down with speed.

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite in hand

For the locking mechanism Cold Steel went with their most excellent Tri-Ad lock. For the uninitiated, the Tri-Ad lock is an overbuilt lockback with an added stop pin. This makes for an extremely strong lock, and is far superior to your regular lockback. You can really feel this when aggressively carving. I tested both the Mini Tuff Lite and the Dragonfly out on some 2x4s, and you can feel the the lockback on the Spyderco flex under the pressure of a strong push cut while the Tri-ad lock remains rock solid under pressure – a testament to the exceptional design of this locking mechanism.

Final Thoughts

Lets face it, the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite wasn’t designed to win any beauty contests. This is definitely an instance where form follows function. But there is something endearing about the MTL. A face only a mother could love. And if you need a small, lightweight, and inexpensive tool to get the job done I think you will be hard pressed to find a more outstanding value. This little knife is rock solid and capable of providing years of service. Plastic and AUS8 are a far cry from cutting edge knife technology, but the MTL will still happily satisfy the vast majority of your EDC chores.

For those interested in a Spyderco Dragonfly or a Benchmade Mini Griptilian, but are unwilling to pay the $50 and $80 price tags I give the Mini Tuff Lite my full endorsement. In fact, this is a great small EDC knife regardless of what you compare it to.

I recommend purchasing the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite at Amazon. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

List Price: $48.78
Current Price: $19.12
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  1. ONCBOY says

    I couldn’t agree with you more on your review of this excellent/underated EDC. It and it’s bigger brother, the Tuff Lite, are incredible. Still amazes me how well its edge holds up, how easy it resharpens and what a powerhouse cutter it is. The TL is in my weekly EDC rotation, when I switch off from my Hold Out II (nice as a backup folder, too). Gave a review on both, not long ago, on YouTube. I’ve been raving about the Tuff Lite, since I got it! Keep up the great reviews.

    • says

      Thanks for dropping by OncBoy, glad you are a fan of the Tuff Lite series as well. I haven’t checked out the full size version but after posting the video you and a couple other guys have me thinking that the regular Tuff Lite should be on my list as well (or should have been on there in the first place to compare with the mini!). Anyhow thank you for the great feedback – I am off to go watch your video now. Plenty more reviews to come, thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment. :)


    • says

      Hey Kain,

      I think the MTL would be perfect for that kind of application – hope it serves you well! Thank you for stopping by.


  2. Kyle says

    On my campus there’s a “keep it under 3 inches” rule for pocket knives. This bit me in the butt with a Kershaw Clash that I thought was close enough and a campus police officer who saw me snap it out did not. It wasn’t confiscated and I wasn’t disciplined or anything but it was made clear that the 3″ rule was serious business. So I don’t even want to carry a delica, as some will take the whole “blade” instead of the cutting edge for measurements and I don’t want to- forgive me- cut it that close. This is a knife you can carry happily and legally in the middle of downtown Chicago if you like, and it gets anything done you’d need a knife outside your home for outside of self defense- and I think knives are strictly offensive weapons, myself.

    Thanks for the review, Dan, I rarely find myself considering a knife purchase without running to see what (if anything) you’ve had to say about it first!

    • says

      Hey Kyle,

      Thank you for sharing some of your experiences! Having spent a fair share of time on college campuses myself I totally feel your pain (and I am glad to hear that Clash wasn’t confiscated). This and the Dragonfly II spent a lot of time in my pocket while getting my education for the very reasons you described. The (sad) reality is, we can’t always carry a nice medium or large folder. That said, you are absolutely right – this knife will get all of your utility work done. If the jurisdiction you are in allows you to carry pepper spray, then this paired with some Cold Steel Inferno gets most of your bases covered.

      Thanks so much for stopping by man and considering my opinion – not saying it’s the right opinion, but it’s certainly one guy’s take on it! Seriously, thank you and much respect.


  3. Chuck B says

    Thanks for the review! I just ordered one of these and your opinion had done influence. I got the mini with serrated edge. I imagine it will do what I need it to and I am a Cold Steel fan. This makes my fifth CS knife, all meet and exceed my expectations in a good blade. Thanks for your review, will be returning for future reference.

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