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Ever wondered why no one seems to carry a pocket knife anymore? For centuries, people from all walks of life have relied on a folding knife to navigate life’s challenges, and today, countless first responders, regular joes, and G.I. Joes do the same every single day, day in and day out. Need to draw a tactical diagram in the dirt? Skip the stick, and use a blade instead. Using steel to draw on nature’s whiteboard saves time and effort while creating a consistent focal point for weary eyes and tired minds. Want to open boxes at your child’s birthday party? Need to help extricate a crash victim from a rolled vehicle? Whatever the application, a compact folding pocket knife is ready to handle just about anything life throws your way.
Get things done. Be a leader. Carry a pocket knife.
Looking for a pocket knife with a solid combination of price, performance, ergonomics, and quality? The Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight achieves all these benchmarks while throwing in a few extra goodies for good measure. This version of the Delica 4 features a 2.875-inch blade, making it a legal choice in most jurisdictions, yet it weighs a mere 2.5 ounces, an impressive feat for such a substantial blade. The locking blade consists of VG-10 stainless steel blade, a very nice, well-rounded Japanese steel that holds an edge well, and the handle is constructed with a stainless steel liner and textured, fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) scales. For ease of carry, this Delica 4 Lightweight includes a four-position removable pocket clip, and the large thumb hole makes one-handed opening impressively easy. Thanks to the knife’s handful of niche blade shapes and edge variations, multiple handle color options, and impressive factory edge, there is Delica 4 Lightweight for just about everyone.
- Blade Length: 2.875 inches
- Weight: 2.50 ounces
- Material: VG-10 stainless steel (blade), FRN (handle scales)
Excellent build quality, factory edge
Takes and retains an edge well
High manufacturer MSRP
Few knives pack in as much bang for your buck without breaking the bank as the Ontario Knife Company RAT II. This folding knife comes with a full three-inch blade made of AUS-8 stainless steel with a satin finish, although a D2 steel option is also available. The RAT II includes dual thumb studs and a traditional liner lock for easy, safe deployment and a traditional form factor. The textured fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) handle scales help keep the weight down, allowing this pocket knife to tip the scales at a mere 2.4 ounces. It also features a four-position, deep-carry pocket clip and a lanyard hole for convenient carry. With a versatile design, good quality workmanship, and a price tag well below the $50 mark, the OKC RAT II certainly is worthy of your hard-earned cash.
- Blade Length: 3 inches
- Weight: 2.4 ounces
- Material: AUS-8 stainless steel/D2 tool steel (blade), FRN (handle scales)
Spine may have sharp corners
Despite a tough battle against some incredibly fierce competition, the Benchmade Mini Adamas managed to earn the title of “Task & Purpose Editor’s Choice”. The Human Knife Wringer, Jonathon Klein, put the entire Adamas family of knives through the wringer and came to the conclusion that every single one “feels like the last knife I’ll ever have to buy.” Thanks to its tough, capable Cru-Wear tool steel blade, corrosion-resistant finish, and textured G-10 handle scales, the Mini Adamas is built like a tank, just like its bigger brothers. Its factory edge sharpness borders on the obscene, setting you up for success from the get-go. This “miniature” knife sports a 3.25-inch blade which locks securely into place with the AXIS locking system, and the entire knife weighs in at a sturdy 4.6 ounces. The dual thumb studs and dual-position deep-carry pocket clip ensures a fully-ambidextrous package. Add in Benchmade’s top-notch customer service and complimentary LifeSharp service (minus shipping costs), and Mini Adamas provides respectable bang for the (hefty) buck. Need something even bigger? Pick up the full-size Adamas instead.
- Blade Length: 3.25 inches
- Weight: 4.6 ounces
- Material: Cru-Wear tool steel (blade), G-10 (handle scales)
Good edge retention
Easy to open
While the initial investment may trigger a cringe or two, there is nothing quite like a top-quality knife, particularly one like the Benchmade North Fork. This hybrid EDC/hunting knife has quality baked into its very DNA, starting with the shallow clip point blade made of CPM-S30V stainless steel. Measuring just under three inches long, this blade provides an excellent balance between toughness, durability, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening. The knife relies on Benchmade’s AXIS fully ambidextrous locking system for safety, while the beautiful wooden handle scales give it a timeless aesthetic. (A G10 handle variant is also available for use in moist environments or locales with extreme temperatures.) The dual thumb studs make this knife easy to manually deploy with a single hand, while the lanyard loop and the reversible pocket clip make it easy to carry. Best of all, the North Fork is backed by Benchmade’s limited lifetime warranty and LifeSharp blade sharpening service.
- Blade Length: 2.97 inches
- Weight: 3.16 ounces
- Material: CPM S30V stainless steel (blade), Dymondwood (handle scales)
Amazing factory edge
Excellent fit and finish
Backed by Benchmade’s free LifeSharp service
Not a first-choice hunting knife
In most situations, self-defense knives rely on fixed blades for maximum strength, but the CRKT Provoke Kinematic is a folding self-defense knife designed to increase blade strength by way of a unique mechanical design. Most traditional pocket knife blades terminate just past the folder’s pivot point, resulting in a virtually non-existent tang. However, CRKT’s “folding” karambit uses two arms to extend and retract the blade while allowing the tang to stretch past the usual termination point, providing the strength of a fixed blade into the size of a folder. The blade itself consists of edge-retaining D2 steel, while the rest of the knife relies on 6061 T6 aluminum for lightweight strength and durability. When deployed, the knife uses a discreet lock for user safety. The low-profile clip virtually disappears when not in use, and the 2.4-inch blade deploys rapidly, using human biomechanics to its advantage. Of course, this karambit comes with CRKT’s limited lifetime warranty.
- Blade Length: 2.41 inches
- Weight: 6.1 ounces
- Material: D2 tool steel (blade), 6061 T6 aluminum (handle)
Excellent build quality
Dedicated fighting knife
Poor factory edge
Boating can be an absolute blast, just ask the SWCC guys. At the same time, it comes with its fair share of hazards too, which is why the Spyderco Atlantic Salt is a must have for any maritime adventurer. This folding Salt series knife takes full advantage of Spyderco’s nitrogen-based H-1 steel for the 3.7-inch blade, perfect for its intended use in corrosive environments. The fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle is tough, durable, and lightweight and comes in either an easily visible yellow or a low-profile black. The sheepsfoot blade features Spyderco’s SpyderEdge serrated blade, an ideal design for cutting through tough materials, such as seat belts, nylon tiedown straps, and similar items. In addition to the manufacturer’s trademark thumbhole in the blade, the metal pocket clip makes this knife easy to use, while the back lock ensures safe use even in high-stress situations.
- Blade Length: 3.687 inches
- Weight: 2.75 ounces
- Material: H1 stainless steel (blade), FRN handle (scales)
Excellent build quality, factory edge
Does not hold an edge well
High manufacturer MSRP
Looking for a high quality, highly versatile blade available for the least amount of money? Then check out the Buck Cadet. This traditional design serves as an EDC knife, an outdoorsman’s knife, and a woodworking knife all in one, thanks in part to its three blades. The 2 1/2-inch clip point blade is perfect for common tasks and carving while the smaller 1 3/4-inch sheepsfoot blade makes clean cuts, especially on flat surfaces, and the 1 11/16-inch spey makes sweeping cuts and skinning jobs a breeze. Each blade consists of Buck’s unique strain of 420HC steel for an excellent, affordable combination of strength, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, and the rosewood handle creates a sharp visual contrast to the brass bolsters. Like all Buck knives, the Cadet is American made and backed by Buck’s Forever Warranty.
- Blade Length: 2.5-inch clip point, 1.75-inch sheepsfoot, 1.68-inch spey
- Weight: 1.9 ounces
- Material: 420 HC stainless steel (blades), black Valox or rosewood (handle scales)
Good factory edge
Easy to sharpen
Not the best edge retention
When performance, weight, and edge retention matter, nothing beats the Spyderco Para Military 2. This star from Spyderco boasts a 3.42-inch blade with a full flat grind and a straight edge. The blade is constructed with top-end CPM S110V steel, a steel known for amazing edge retention, and it locks open thanks to the easy-to-use back lock. Despite its tough, durable design, the Para Military 2 tips the scales at a lightweight 3.8 ounces, and with a removable, four-position pocket clip, you’ll hardly notice this pocket knife. This knife features an easy-to-clean open back design and comes with a lanyard ring to further increase carry and retention options. Spyderco’s Para Military 2 includes excellent balance and ergonomics as well, making it an excellent, low-maintenance pocket knife for just about any application. Looking to shave a few bucks off the price tag? This version of the Para Military 2 comes with a CPM S30V blade and a $50 savings.
- Blade Length: 3.42 inches
- Weight: 3.8 ounces
- Material: CPM S110V stainless steel (blade), G-10 (handle scales)
Excellent build quality, factory edge
Amazing edge retention
If shaving ounces is your thing, the Benchmade Bugout is the perfect blade for you. This knife features a 3.24-inch drop point blade crafted with high-end CPM S30V steel, known for its combination of edge retention and corrosion resistance. The Bugout was designed with outdoorsmen and women, and it shows, tipping the scales at a mindblowing 1.85 ounces! The lightweight grivory grips include a diamond weave texture for added security, and the reversible mini pocket clip was designed with tip-up deep carry in mind. The dual, thumb studs and generous lanyard hole help round out this Benchmade knife’s outdoor-oriented design. To round things out, the Bugout comes in a variety of handle colors for a look you’re sure to like, and it can be had with either a plain straight edge or a combination straight and serrated edge for enhanced versatility.
- Blade Length: 3.24 inches
- Weight: 1.85 ounces
- Material: CPM S30V stainless steel (blade), Grivory (handle)
Amazing factory edge
Backed by Benchmade’s free LifeSharp service
Some flex in the handle
Many knife owners either love or hate tanto, but either way, there’s a lot to like about the CRKT M16-10KSF. This new take on an old CRKT classic features a 2.94-inch tanto blade with a combination straight and serrated edge, constructed with 8Cr14MoV stainless steel and finished with a handsome black oxide coating. The blade includes two meaty flippers and dual thumb studs to make deployment of this blade quick and easy. Once deployed, this CRKT’s frame lock secures the blade in place. When it’s time to head home, the reversible pocket clip ensures an equally secure, comfortable ride for both righties and lefties. Weighing in at only 2.7 ounces and less than $40 apiece, this member of the M16 family does no harm to your pocket and barely leaves a dent in your pocketbook, and thanks to its durability, the only chance you’ll ever need to spring for another is if your original M16 sprouts legs.
- Blade Length: 2.94 inches
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Material: 8Cr14MoV stainless steel (blade), black oxide stainless steel (handle)
Easy to open
Good tool for deployments
Single-bevel edge complicates sharpening process
Not the best edge retention
Why you should trust us
After receiving my first pocket knife as a young kid, I’ve never been able to get enough. Usually, I’m a bit of a tightwad, saving dough for a future rainy day, but when it comes to pocket knives, my wallet has been known to take quite the hit. Whether I’m writing buying guides for EDC knives, rescue knives, and old school slip joint knives, I’m cranking out full-fledged reviews of folding blades like the Buck 110 or learning the lost art of creating legendary Damascus blade steel.
Of course, I don’t test all the knives at Task & Purpose. My fellow gearheads have put their own fair share of blades through the wringer, both at home and downrange, and they’ve found their own share of diamonds worth sharing here. Rest assured that these knives have been tested by the best and brightest, both in the Marine Corps and out (but don’t tell anyone).
Types of pocket knives
To many people, a pocket knife is just a knife, a simple tool for a simple job. The fact of the matter is, however, that a pocket knife is much like a wrench than a fork or a spoon. Just as you would pick a crescent wrench over an oil filter wrench to turn a bolt, you would also choose a rescue pocket knife over a woodworking knife to free someone from a burning car at the scene of an accident if you had the choice. Choosing the right pocket knife for you has much more to do with your daily life than most might imagine.
An EDC pocket knife is the (usually) single-blade alternative to the multitool. Like a multitool, this traditional design provides users with a combination of durability and capability, but these pocket knives lack all the folding extras, such as screwdrivers and pliers. Often, this design uses a clip point, drop point, or tanto blade with either a straight or half-straight, half-serrated edge in order to provide the best all-around performance for accomplishing common, everyday tasks.
A reliable, practical EDC pocket knife includes a handful of valuable features as well. A lightweight knife rides nicely in the pocket, while a pocket clip is particularly valuable for EDC use, especially removable/multi-position and deep-carry clips. After all, if you can’t access your knife quickly and easily, why bother carrying it at all?
Outdoorsmen of all kinds rely on their knives for any number of common duties. The outdoorsman’s knife includes any number of hunting knives and survival knives, each with its own unique abilities.
Not surprisingly, hunting knives are excellent tools for field dressing game and usually include finer clip point blades. Hunting pocket knives are often intended for cleaning and skinning small game or as a backup to a dedicated fixed blade hunting knife.
Survival knives tend to be tougher and more versatile and often employ a slightly wider variety of blade patterns, such as drop point, clip point, and tanto shapes. These knives are tough and have a bit more flex than most other blades in order to withstand the abuses that come with outdoor use.
Rescue knives are a breed of their own. This design is tough and durable like its tactical, EDC brother, but they rely on radically different features. Often, rescue blades feature a sheepsfoot or other blunt-tip pattern for use in safely cutting clothing or other materials located close to flesh and bone. Serrated blades, seat belt cutters, glass breakers, high-visibility coloring, extreme blade hardening, and salt resistance are other common features that first responders and emergency personnel will require from their knives.
Some “rescue knives” fall somewhere between the rescue and EDC or tactical knife categories with features from both. Usually, the key difference between these multi-purpose knives and professional-grade rescue knives is the blade shape. Instead of a sheepsfoot or similar blade shape, these knives usually will feature clip point, drop point, tanto blades instead, requiring more careful use in emergency situations. Of course, these knives frequently include glass breakers and seat belt cutters.
As the name implies, the self-defense knife exists primarily for use in life-threatening situations when retreat is no longer an option. This (usually) straight-edged design is tough and durable yet exists with a single purpose in mind, ignoring unnecessary extras. While most self-defense blades rely on fixed blades with their stiff blade design, a folding self-defense knife may be the best or only option for a given use case.
Commonly, self-defense blades rely on blade patterns that lend themselves to thrusting and slashing motions. Frequently, these knives rely on tanto, spear point, Bowie, and hawksbill or talon blades to accomplish their mission. Often, these knives emphasize an aggressive yet muted aesthetic and often only do one task well: fighting.
The tactical knife attempts to combine the versatility of an EDC knife with the capabilities of the self-defense knife. Like the fixed-blade Ka-Bar first issued to U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater of World War II, this knife design can accomplish everyday tasks with ease, is tough enough for more demanding roles that require leverage, and, in a pinch, can be used defensively.
Most often, tactical pocket knives employ drop point or tanto blades in place of more specialized patterns, increasing their versatility. These knives usually come in “tactical” colors that adhere to various uniform regulations, such as tan, green, black, and gray, and their blades always include a reflection-resistant finish, such as black oxide.
For many of us, our first pocket knife was a woodworking knife, such as a Buck or an Old Timer. The woodworking pocket knife design is a multi-blade take on the traditional folder and usually boasts two or three blades with each featuring a different length and pattern than the other(s). This design makes for an excellent EDC knife thanks to a variety of specialized blades that can complete a variety of tasks better than a single jack-of-all-trades blade.
A woodworking pocket knife’s most common blade designs include some combination of the clip point, pen, straight back, spey, sheepsfoot, and wharncliffe blades. In addition to its own specific blade combination, this pocket knife may also include very specialized tools, such as a hook blade, nail puller, gouge, scorp, and even a chisel. When it comes to woodworking, the more the merrier!
Key features of pocket knives
A knife is not just a knife. Much to the surprise (and chagrin) of some, knives can come in a wide variety of blade shapes and sizes. Even more confusing is the fact that each blade shape was created to accomplish specific tasks, and sometimes, only a single task.
Most blade owners cannot go wrong with a drop point, tanto, or clip point blade, as these tend to be more versatile than other patterns. On the flip side, specialized blade shapes tend to do one or two jobs very well, making them perfect choices in various situations. Some, such as the hawksbill and spear point, make excellent choices for dedicated fighting knives, while others, such as the spey and sheepsfoot patterns, were designed for use in close proximity to skin and muscle tissue, making ideal choices for rescue and livestock use. For a deeper dive, we recommend you do some reading.
Most knife blades consist of carbon steel, tool steel, or stainless steel, each of which varies from the others in terms of toughness, corrosion resistance, edge retention, and ease of sharpening. Additionally, heat treated blades are considerably harder, increasing its durability and performance.
Generally, carbon steels tend to be very tough and retain their edges well, but suffer from poor corrosion resistance and a higher susceptibility to chipping and snapping when abused. On the flip side, stainless steels resist rust much better, (usually) take an edge more easily, and have a little more flex to increase their durability. Finally, tool steels tend to fall somewhere in between, attempting to strike a balance and achieve the best of both the carbon and stainless steel worlds.
Blade safety mechanism
A safe pocket will never open or close without permission, but an insubordinate blade can create a sticky situation. Most pocket knives rely on springs, locks, and little friction to maintain safety. Spring systems use high spring tension (shocker, we know) to keep the blade from folding down onto your fingers, while blade locks usually rely on friction or spring pressure to keep the blade closed and a simple mechanical lock to keep it open.
By and large, the most common locking system is the inexpensive liner lock, an almost ubiquitous feature on budget-friendly knives with the exception of lockless slip joint knives. Upgrading to mid-tier or high-end knives will reveal a whole new world of knife locking mechanisms and a landscape almost barren of slip joints. Each system comes with its pros and cons, and some manufacturers prioritize one mechanism over all others, such as Benchmade’s and its AXIS lock.
Benefits of pocket Knives
Pocket knives are as American as baseball, apple pie, and the Ma Deuce and are more practical than any of them (except the .50 cal, of course). A traditional or EDC pocket knife can tackle a variety of common tasks, such as opening boxes, MREs, and more. More specialized knives can handle these tasks and more.
A survival pocket knife can be a solid fallback option for dealing with tough outdoor chores, such as preparing food, creating improvised shelters, field dressing game, and even digging small holes. Dedicated self-defense blades are a valuable backup tool in tactical applications, and emergency knives are must-haves for first responder applications. Of course, a good whittling or woodworking blade is always ready to help you pass the time on a land nav course while you wait for your lieutenant to catch up. Due to the pocket knife’s insanely practical value (and a shortage of M2s), we think pocket knives should be standard issue for every American high school graduate.
Pocket knives enjoy another major advantage over their inflexible fixed blade brethren: size. The laws of nature dictate the reality that a fixed blade knife takes up more vertical space than a folding pocket knife, giving folders a definite advantage when it comes to ease of carry.
The fact of the matter is that a concealed tool (or defensive weapon) attracts less attention. Day to day, this translates into less hassle as no one, friendly or unfriendly, will stop you to ask why you’ve got a knife dangling from your hip. In a life or death situation, a pocket knife’s compact size lends itself well to the element of surprise, a significant advantage no matter the environment.
Fun and Fidgeting
What good is a knife if you can’t have any fun with it? Sure, a knife is a tool designed to do a job (or three), but let’s face reality: adults need fidget toys too. Fidget spinners have come and gone (sorta), and while they may be fun, a plastic toy designed for a 12-year-old fails to deliver the rush you crave.
Admittedly, pocket knives are not all made equal in this department. Some blades, like the Spyderco Delica (an otherwise excellent knife), open easily enough and perform flawlessly when called upon, but they fail to provide that feeling of pure ecstasy when a blade snaps into place with authority and purpose. Sometimes, all you need is the right knife to wash your stress away. Just be smart, and go with the fidget spinner while you’re waiting for your next parent-teacher conference.
Pricing considerations for pocket knives
Budget-friendly: $20 to $50
A pocket knife can be a very affordable tool, depending on what you need it to do. Often, budget-friendly blades usually run at or below $50. This means that even E-1s who blew their deployment pay on a brand new Camaro can still find an affordable blade that can accomplish the basics.
Most blades in this price range tend to be EDC knives, woodworking knives, or other multi-purpose offerings from brands like Buck, Case, and Old Timer, although some big-name brands, like Kershaw and Spyderco, do have budget options at this price point as well. Virtually all of these knives feature stainless steel blades, usually of the affordable (i.e., easily mass-produced) variety. As such, edge retention, toughness, and even corrosion resistance tend to be lacking.
Happy middle: $50 to $100
Mid-range knives will run you between $50 and $100 and feature good quality designs, materials, and components, although they may not be the longest-lasting or most impressive blades available. Frequently, these knives feature blades made with nicer stainless steels, like 440C and VG-10, although tool and carbon steels, such as D2 and 1095, earn starring roles as well.
Once again, the majority of these pocket knives tend to be EDC knives, although some of them qualify as reliable budget options for tactical use, rescue roles, and other more specialized applications. Frequently, these knives are more than enough for the non-power user. Whether you serve in the Ivy Division or the 1st Civ Div, these mid-tier knives are capable of serving you faithfully for a lifetime.
High-end: Over $100
If you want a high-quality knife, be prepared to shell out at least $100 for a mass-produced blade. While these blades may not be custom, one-off productions, they still boast well-engineered designs, high-end steel, top-notch components, and excellent workmanship. Short of ordering from a custom bladesmith, these are the best that money can buy.
Pocket knives with triple-digit price tags feature high-end stainless and “semi-stainless” blade steels, like Carpenter’s Maxamet and Crucible Industries’ Cru-Wear and CPM series. They tend to specialize in certain roles, although $100+ EDC knives are far from being unheard of commodities.
How we chose our top picks
For this review, your Task & Purpose gear writers got their hands on each of these knives and put them through the wringer. We tested and tortured these knives over weeks, months, or even years, and the blades that managed to both survive and impress gained a hard-earned spot on this list.
When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sort through it all, keep the gold, and dump the rest. For this review, we received plenty of valuable input from the folks at EDC Ninja, The Firing Line, Gear Junkie, KnifeBuzz, Knife Informer, and KnifeUp.
FAQs on pocket knives
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Disclaimer: Task & Purpose is staffed by knowledgeable, enthusiastic knife-lovers, not knife lawyers. All answers to legal questions are our best guess, and nothing more. Want legal advice? Call your lawyer.
Is it legal to carry a pocket knife with you?
A: In most situations, carrying a reasonably sized pocket knife is legal (usually) with the exception of a few locations, such as public schools, airports, and many government buildings. That said, American knife laws are a patchwork of legislation, so make sure to check your state and local statutes to keep everyone happy.
Can I carry a pocket knife for self defense?
A: To the best of our knowledge, the answer is “usually”. That said, self defense with a blade is both a skill and an art, so make sure you get proper training in self-defense law, de-escalation techniques, and knife fighting tactics. Again, laws vary, so do some research specific to your city and state.
How big of a pocket knife can you carry?
A: Once again, this varies depending on where you live. Almost all jurisdictions seem to allow pocket knives with a maximum blade length of 2.5 inches, but many states allow for a three-inch blade maximum (or longer). When in doubt, err for a shorter knife, as longer blades tend to attract unwanted attention, legal and otherwise.
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For more than 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.