The best folding knives for your everyday carry, according to US military veterans

You never need an excuse to add a knife to your collection.

Best Overall

Benchmade Mini Presidio II

Benchmade Mini Presidio II

Best Value

CRKT M16-10SKF

CRKT M16-10SKF

Honorable Mention

Gerber 06 FAST Knife

Gerber 06 FAST Knife

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There I was, alone and unafraid. From my position seated atop a toilet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, I prepared to defend myself from the nearby cucarachas that inhabited the building. Armed with only my RAT boots and a motivated folding KA-BAR, I defied staggering odds and emerged victorious from another perilous head call. With a triumphant flush, I cleaned my blade and departed from the battlefield.

Regardless of your branch of service or MOS, odds are good that a humble folding knife will end up being your most-used piece of gear. Whether on the job or enjoying a long weekend in the backcountry, a reliable, quality blade is something everyone should own. Maybe you’re looking for your first knife, or maybe you’ve acquired a healthy collection already. You can never have too many — and the knives on this list are so good, I wouldn’t blame you if you picked up one of each.

Best Overall

Benchmade Mini Presidio II

Best Value

CRKT M16-10KSF

Honorable Mention

Gerber 06 FAST

Best Camping

Spyderco Para Military 2

Best Tactical

KA-BAR Mule

Best Utility

Kershaw Leek

Best Wildcard

Zero Tolerance 0223

Why you should trust us

The knife-wielding hooligans here at Task & Purpose know a thing or two about what makes a blade battle-worthy. When we recommend something to you, our brothers and sisters in arms, it’s not because we’ve been swayed by clever sales pitches and advertisements. Dennis White used one to split enough wood to free his SUV from a half-frozen bog. Joe Plenzler carried another for 18 months on the Appalachian Trail. I lugged mine all over deserts ranging from southwest Afghanistan to northern Nevada. When we say something is battle-tested, you can trust that it’s been put through the wringer and earned its place as a piece of gear we personally trust.

Types of folding knives

Traditional

Back in the day, pocket knives were used for everything from doctoring calves in the field to slicing up an apple at lunch. They had to be sharp, durable, and slim enough to fit in the front pocket of the owner’s jeans. Classic design cues like bone handles and polished blades make these popular heirloom items. You can still get excellent examples from brands like Case, but they probably aren’t what you’re looking for in a military knife. Blades tend to be on the small side and require two hands to open.

Tactical

Today’s folding knives offer a huge selection of tactical options. If you need weather-resistant materials, smooth operation, and a no-nonsense blade, this is where you need to be shopping. Tactical folding knives are sharp enough to make quick work of everything from 550 cord to MRE wrappers, strong enough to hack through thick underbrush, and sturdy enough to take a beating no matter where Uncle Sam sends you. Look for blades in the five-inch range with or without serration. Most offer some form of corrosion protection, whether in the materials themselves or with some kind of coating. 

Spring-assisted

In addition to run-of-the-mill tactical features, many of the knives designed for military use incorporate a mechanism designed to make one-handed opening easier. Some spring-assisted knives can be opened with the touch of a button rather than the typical wrist-flick you’re probably used to. No, these are not switchblades. It’s never a bad idea to research knife regulations in your area, but odds are you won’t run into problems with this kind of blade.

Key features of folding knives

Blade material

What constitutes a good blade depends on how you use it. Steel is usually combined with carbon or chromium to make a blade harder or more corrosion-resistant. These blends have (not terribly intuitive) alphanumeric names, and Knife Informer has a fantastic breakdown of what all this information means. If you want to really nerd out on what goes into making a quality knife, that’s a great place to start.

Blade shape

The list of blade shapes is almost endless. Most tactical knives feature a clip, drop, or tanto point. All shapes have their advantages and disadvantages, but these three tend to be best-suited for military use. They’re precise enough for detailed work, but strong enough for survival situations and the uglier realities of combat.

Opening mechanism

Older folding knives require us to jam a thumbnail into a notch on the blade to pry it open. More modern designs use thumb tabs to flick the blade open with authority. Spring-assisted blades make one-handed operation even easier. The first option isn’t what I’d recommend for military use. Assisted or not, you need something you can deploy in a hurry without using both hands.

Size

Folding knives are a diverse bunch, so pay attention when you’re comparing the options. Some prioritize portability with small blades like the ones you’d see on traditional pocket knives. Three inches is a pretty common blade length. Others are aimed at more aggressive tactical use, and come with heavy-duty blades and handles that may combine for total lengths in excess of nine inches. 

Benefits of folding knives

  • Save space and weight. Whether you’re kitting out your plate carrier, building a gear list for your next camping trip, or picking a knife for everyday pocket duty, folding knives are more compact and often lighter than their full-sized counterparts.
  • EDC portability. Let’s be honest: Having to ask someone else for a knife does not feel spectacular. Everyone should have a blade of their own to call on when needed. Folding knives are the most portable option, and the ones on this list blur the line between pocket knives and full-sized hunting knives so you can feel prepared for most situations.
  • The original multitool. Before the multitools we know and love came along, people were a lot more creative with uses for their knives. Today, a well-built folding knife can handle everything from tactical use to food preparation and constructing a survival shelter. 

Folding knife pricing

  • Less than $40: Budget knives might be tempting, but be wary of trusting your life to something off the discount rack.
  • Between $40 and $100: Most folding knives will set you back less than a C note and last for years of hard use. These are workhorses, not display pieces.
  • More than $100: Premium folding knives aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny. Expect high-end steel, excellent quality control, and useful features.

How we chose our top picks

If you know, you know––and we know knives here at Task & Purpose. This gear guide is built on years of real-world experience. Forget about slick marketing briefs and absurd product names; we judge knives by their actual performance in situations that matter. A blade that’s more show than go won’t cut the mustard here. You can bet that every knife you see on one of our gear guides earned its place with hard time and heavy use by our writers or other real-life, actual people.

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Scott Murdock

Commerce Reporter

Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. Since 2020, he’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.