Written By
Published Apr 13, 2022 8:59 AM

A neck knife is a smaller fixed-blade knife that’s carried by suspending the sheath from your neck with a cord or chain. Its widespread use is such that it’s almost impossible to narrow down its exact origins, but cultures all over the world had their own variants, from indigenous peoples to the Vikings. They’re frequently used for utilitarian purposes, though there are variants designed as last-ditch blades for self-defense, frequently in the form of a push-dagger or karambit.

Chances are you’ve seen a depiction of a mountain man, Native American, or hunter wearing a neck knife at some point, and I know I personally have worn several during my brief-yet-cringey tenure as a “mall ninja.” They’re a great option for people with limited pocket or belt real estate, such as rock climbers or kayakers. Whether you’re looking for a blade for everyday carry, self-defense, adventuring, or just a backup, to your backup, to your backup, we’re here with some of the best neck knives on the market that made the cut.

Methodology

A self-described knife nerd, I’ve dabbled in blacksmithing, martial arts, and competitive shooting in the past. My past reviews for Task & Purpose include the Cold Steel American Lawman, WE Stonefish, Leatherman Curl, Cold Steel Storm Cloud, and Spyderco Slip Stone.

We chose our top picks by looking at neck knives at various price points, and then assessing which had the best customer reviews and highest ratings. We then examined the durability and versatility, along with the materials and quality control that went into making each knife. Neck knives that had mystery steel, bad ergonomics, or poorly designed sheaths were eliminated.

The Sea Snake, manufactured by Artisan Cutlery, was originally a custom knife designed by Navy veteran Michael Emler as a small EDC fixed blade for general-purpose utility tasks. This production version features durable G10 handle scales available in green, tan, or black, and a generous finger choil that ensures even large hands can use this small knife comfortably. The Sea Snake has a full tang for increased strength, and its redacted-style tang adds increased ergonomics and aesthetics. Large jimping on the spine makes proper, consistent indexing a breeze, even in low-light environments, and the whole handle is comfortably chamfered.

The blade is a flat-ground Wharncliffe with a cutting edge length of 2.5 inches and is available in both satin and durable PVD finishes. It’s made from Artisan’s proprietary AR-RPM9 steel, which was specifically designed for use in folding and fixed-blade knives. It focuses on high corrosion resistance and decent edge retention while remaining easy to resharpen and maintain. The powdered metallurgy process used creates a fine grain structure that improves the edge retention and toughness drastically, while significantly reducing impurities and inclusions in the alloy.

The Sea Snake is complimented nicely by a taco-style Kydex sheath. It comes with a lanyard to allow it to be carried as a neck knife and has a small drainage hole to prevent moisture from collecting in the sheath and causing corrosion. While the Sea Snake has a thin, slice-y blade that might be too small for larger, more abusive tasks, it’s not intended for that. It’s designed as a convenient, easily accessed EDC knife for things like slicing open packages, breaking down boxes, or cutting twine. With its ergonomic grip, breakaway ball chain, and Kydex sheath, you’ll be able to do so quickly and comfortably.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 3.125 inches
  • Blade material: AR-RPM9
  • Blade finish: Bead-blasted
  • Handle material: G10
  • Blade shape: Wharncliffe
  • Sheath material: Kydex
  • Weight: 2.3 ounces
  • Weight with sheath: 3.1 ounces
PROS

Budget-friendly

AR-RPM9 steel is easy to sharpen

Ergonomic G10 handle with generous finger choil

CONS

Lower edge retention than higher-end steel

One of CRKT’s most popular models designed by custom knifemaker Alan Folts, the CRKT Minimalist series has steadily grown over time to include a wide range of blade shapes, including Wharncliffe, cleaver, clip point, drop point, spear point, hawkbill, and tanto variants. All of them have three things in common. The first is being extremely budget-friendly. This is largely due to them being, well, not large, but is also unfortunately due to them typically coming with budget steels like 8Cr13MoV, or even 5Cr15MoV on the older models. Thankfully, Smoky Mountain Knife Works has you covered with this SMKW exclusive bowie, in tough D2 tool steel.

At just over two ounces when sheathed, the Minimalist gets its moniker from the spartan nature of the handle. Full-tang construction, micarta scales, and deep finger grooves ensure that you’ll maintain a secure grip — despite only being designed for three fingers. The micarta scales are an upgrade over the normal green resin-infused fiber scales and make it slightly grippier when wet.

While D2 steel is a little more prone to corrosion, normal blade maintenance should easily prevent rust from forming. The hollow-ground blade allows for a very acute edge and is easily resharpened. And, thanks to the paracord lanyard and adjustable belt clip that it comes with, you can carry it any way you want.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 2.13 inches
  • Blade material: D2
  • Blade finish: Bead-blasted
  • Blade shape: Clip point
  • Handle material: Micarta
  • Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Weight with sheath: 2.2 ounces
  • Sheath material: Zytel
PROS

Upgraded to D2 steel

Ergonomic grip

Lightweight

CONS

Three finger grip

No blade coating

Editor’s Choice

Named after the Vietnamese word for “struggle,” the Dau Tranh is made in the USA from American steel, ready to conquer anything you throw at it. Entirely milled out of a single piece of CPM 20CV, the knife is finished in a durable Cerakote coating, protecting it from both corrosion and wear. The saber-ground drop-point blade features a swedge for easier penetration, a sharpening choil for easy edge maintenance, and a slight cutout on the spine with chamfered jimping for a stable, comfortable platform for your thumb when using a Filipino grip. This thumb-forward grip allows for more support and control than a traditional saber grip, and also allows you to put more force into your cut due to being able to exert pressure directly on the spine of the blade.

The handle is heavily skeletonized, with Attleboro’s triple lightning bolt ensign milled in its center. It also has two extra holes in the handle, allowing you to attach a lanyard, or even turn it into a makeshift spear by lashing it to a pole. The substantial finger groove for your index finger and finger guard easily prevent your hand from sliding forward onto the blade, and the pommel features an integrated bottle opener that comes in pretty handy.

The Kydex sheath is well-formed with excellent retention and includes a breakaway ball chain that’s approximately 30 inches long. The only real downside is that, like many neck knives, its handle is a little on the shorter side, with room for most people to fit 3.5 fingers. The ergonomic handle and jimping ensure that you’re able to maintain a solid grasp in spite of that. Overall, the knife is lightweight, low-profile, and extremely comfortable to wear. Combine that with at least four different-colored Cerakote finishes, and you’re sure to find one you’ll love.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 2.5 inches
  • Blade material: CPM 20CV
  • Blade finish: Cerakote
  • Blade shape: Spear point
  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Weight with sheath: 3.2 ounces
  • Sheath material: Kydex
PROS

Premium 20cv steel

Bottle-opener pommel

Corrosion-resistant Cerakote finish

Made in the USA

CONS

Price

Best EDC Neck Knife

A sub-brand of WE Knife Company, CIVIVI quickly built a reputation for itself as producing high-quality products like its parent company, but at an extremely budget-friendly price point. The main difference is that, where WE uses materials like titanium, S35VN, and 20CV steel, CIVIVI uses G10, brass, and, in this case, 10Cr15CoMoV steel. This stainless steel is similar to VG10 steel and has good edge retention and rust resistance while remaining easy to sharpen.

The Minimus is, as its name suggests, very minimalistic in design. The thin, slice-y drop-point blade melds smoothly back into the milled design of the handle and is finished in a black stonewash. The handle is skeletonized to reduce weight even more and features a lanyard hole on the pommel, which CIVIVI includes a lanyard and titanium bead for.

At an overall length of just under five inches, the Minimus is fairly small, however, the jimping on the spine, pommel, and backside of the finger guard ensure a firm grip. Its small Kydex sheath comes with a breakaway ball chain for neck carry, as well as a reversible pocket clip that allows you to clip it easily to your belt, pocket, or bag. Whatever EDC task you might run into, this petite, versatile blade is the little scalpel that could!

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 2.22 inches
  • Blade material: 10Cr15CoMoV
  • Blade finish: Black stonewash
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Weight with sheath: 0.96 ounces
  • Sheath material: Kydex
PROS

CNC-machined to high tolerances

Good edge retention

Good corrosion resistance

Simple yet attractive design

CONS

Small

Best Backpacking Neck Knife

Another great USA-made knife, the G-Cleaver is a part of Bradford Knives’ G-Necker line. Designed as a more compact, lightweight alternative to their Guardian line, the G-Necker line has a minimalistic skeletonized handle with a three-finger pinch-grip. Combined with a unique thickness, it’s surprisingly comfortable and allows for great control.

The entire knife is machined from one solid piece of Elmax steel, made by Bohler-Uddeholm in Austria. Elmax is a type of stainless steel with better corrosion resistance and edge retention than CPM S30V. It is a fantastic choice, albeit a less common one. The G-Cleaver varies from the rest of the G-Necker lineup by sporting a full flat-grind, cleaver-style blade, and features a modified tip, which gives it a good combination of strength and slicing potential, while also having decent penetration for utilitarian tasks.

The spine has jimping for extra grip, and the handle has a lanyard hole, should you need even more retention. The entire knife is finished DLC, or Diamond-Like Coating, which is extremely wear- and rust-resistant. Bradford Knives rounds this compact package off with a well-made Kydex sheath and length of Paracord, so it won’t rust and you won’t have to worry about losing it as you wear it comfortably around your neck.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 2.75 inches
  • Blade material: Elmax
  • Blade finish: DLC
  • Blade shape: Cleaver
  • Weight: 2.7 ounces
  • Weight with sheath: 4.1 ounces
  • Sheath material: Kydex
PROS

Premium Elmax steel

Extremely durable DLC coating

Sheath accepts G-clips/mini TekLoks

Made in the USA

Thick handle

CONS

Thick handle

Best EDC Neck Knife

A minimalistic, modern take on a traditional Japanese design, the Kiri-EDC is the smallest knife on our list, but don’t let that deceive you. Designed by Alessandra De Santis and manufactured by CIVIVI, this blade is based on the kiridashi, which has an acute chisel-ground blade and tip, making it a popular general-purpose tool.

CIVIVI modified this design by machining it out of a solid piece of 9Cr18MoV steel, which has decent edge retention while remaining rust-resistant and easy to sharpen. They also changed it from the traditional chisel grind to a modern flat grind. While this grind is less acute, it yields better edge stability, further increasing the practicality of this miniature fixed blade for everyday use. The straight edge works great for opening boxes, cutting rope, or even scraping paint in a pinch, and at less than two inches in length, it won’t raise any eyebrows or undue attention. In spite of the diminutive nature of the blade, the skeletonized handle is extremely ergonomic and comfortably accommodates a full four-finger grip. Strategically placed jimping further reinforces your grip, and the bottle opener integrated into the handle is sure to be a hit at the next BBQ.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 1.8 inches
  • Blade material: 9Cr18MoV
  • Blade finish: Black stonewash
  • Blade shape: Kiridashi
  • Weight: 1.55 ounces
  • Sheath material: Kydex
Best Tactical Neck Knife

Based out of Nevada, Hogue Knives has built a reputation for producing quality, American-made knives, and the EX-F03 is no exception. EX-F stands for extreme fixed-blade, and it’s easy to see why. It’s made from a singular piece of 154cm steel, which has a solid balance of edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness.

We went with the Hawkbill model, which, while small, allows for a full grip while maximizing cutting potential. The black, textured G10 grips are as ergonomic as the rest of Hogue’s grips and are slightly hollowed out on the inside. Combined with the skeletonized tang, this helps keep weight down, while providing a space to store smaller items.

The finger ring is actually part of the G10 handles, which means that you can make the EX-F03 shorter and lighter simply by unscrewing the scales. Included with the knife are two sheaths: a black nylon belt sheath and a black Boltaron neck sheath. The sheaths allow you to insert the Hawkbill with the orientation for both right- and left-handed draw, which makes this even more versatile.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 2.25 inches
  • Blade material: 154cm
  • Blade finish: Stonewash
  • Blade shape: Hawkbill
  • Handle material: G10
  • Weight: 3.13 ounces
  • Weight with sheath: 5.2 ounces
  • Sheath material: Nylon/boltaron
PROS

Quality 154cm steel

Finger ring aids unsheathing and retention

Includes two sheaths

Made in the USA

CONS

G10 finger ring slightly less durable than steel

Key features of neck knives

Sheath

Arguably the most critical feature, the sheath is frequently the make-or-break for a neck knife. Older sheaths were typically made from leather, and oriented with the handle up. While gravity kept the blade fairly secure in the sheath, drawing the knife was a two-handed process, limiting its efficacy in emergencies. This was rectified with the innovation of a retention strap that allowed the knife to hang with the handle down, permitting a one-handed draw (though still requiring two hands to resheath it). 

Most modern variants nowadays come with some variant of thermoplastic sheath (Kydex, Boltaron, etc.), which are molded to retain the knife without any need for a retention strap. Thermoplastic sheaths tend to loosen up over time with use, so while you don’t want it to be so tight that you can’t easily draw the blade, it’s even less desirable for it to start off loose.

Additionally, if you’re wearing it under your shirt, you’ll want the sheath to be as small and low profile as possible to keep it from printing through the material. No point in concealing it if everyone and their mother can tell you’re wearing it. The last factor to consider is versatility. The sheath that comes with the Cold Steel Double Agent series is a huge malefactor of this. It uses a polymer tab to hold the blade into the decidedly loose sheath. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t do a very good job at that (I’ve had multiple instances of the blade dropping out of my shirt at the most inopportune time — sorry again, Reverend M.), it’s also limited exclusively to right-handed use. At the end of the day, a neck knife is only as good as its sheath.

Cord/chain

You’ll need something to hang the knife from your neck, whether it’s a length of cord or a breakaway ball chain. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the cord can become a choking hazard if it snags on something; the breakaway ball chain commonly found on dog tags fixes this issue but can be uncomfortable as it can pull chest hair.

Blade

The possibilities for blade types are numerous and are only really limited by how small the neck knife is. For everyday carry or utility, drop point, Wharncliffe, tanto, and clip points are all viable options. For self-defense purposes, however, you’ll need a more specialized blade type to offset the blade length disadvantage, mainly represented by karambits and push daggers.

Benefits of neck knives 

Size

While there are always exceptions, in general, neck knives tend to be rather small, typically between two to four inches in blade length. This not only makes them easier to conceal, but also makes them less ungainly to wear regularly. An unintentional side-effect of this is that they’re easier to sharpen than other, larger fixed blades, as there’s simply less steel to sharpen. This can make it a viable option for hikers, hunters, and adventurers due to being easily maintained in the field.

Lightweight

By extension, most neck knives are also lightweight as a result of their size. You wouldn’t want a kukri hung from your neck, any more than you’d want a bowling ball hung there. This makes them easy to carry comfortably, to the point you almost forget that it’s even there.

Pricing

Budget

Plenty of neck knives are budget-friendly and priced under $100. You’ll find quite a few decent fixed blades in this price range. If you just need something as soon as possible for self-defense, an expendable tool, or if your inner Scrooge absolutely has to pinch those pennies, this might be for you.

Mid-range

If you’re looking for a neck knife that offers the best bang for your buck, you’ll find most of those in the mid-tier range of $100 to $300. These knives will tend to be made with better materials, designs, and overall much better quality control.

Premium

Only accepting the best of the best? You’ll want to look in the $300-and-up price range. Here’s where you’ll find specialized neck knives or customs, and they’ll typically come with premium materials and a great warranty.

FAQs on neck knives

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Are neck knives practical?

A: It depends entirely on what you plan to use it for. If you’re carrying it concealed for self-defense, it will be slower to access than a lot of alternatives, not to mention smaller. If you’re using it for everyday carry, it’ll probably come in handy for the odd job. However, the stereotypically smaller handles aren’t typically comfortable for extended use. I typically only carried a neck knife as my backup, to my backup, to my backup, and it only really got used when I lent it to someone unfamiliar with the various locking mechanisms of folding knives.

Q: Are neck knives legal?

A: Neck knives are legal in most states, but it depends on your state’s knife laws and local restrictions. Laws that limit your blade length or ban carrying concealed fixed blades can severely limit your options. To check out your state’s knife laws, click here.

Q: Are there any alternatives to carrying a neck knife around your neck?

A: Absolutely. I’ve carried a few neck knives on my belt, in my pocket, or shoved in my boot. There are also various shoulder harness setups like the Galco SHUKA that can offer even better concealment.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Learn more about our product review process.

MORE TO READ