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Published Mar 12, 2021 1:02 PM

Among the overwhelming selection of possible EDC knives on today’s market, the classic slip joint knife has gotten lost in the shuffle. Sadly, many people’s first knife uses anything but this simple, easy-to-use design for fear of being “bitten” by a blade without a mechanical lock. While grandpa may have never owned a smartphone, he certainly knew his way around knives, and there are plenty of reasons why he always kept a handy slip joint in his pocket. Uncle Sam may no longer be issuing folding knives to the majority of U.S. troops these days, but you can bet your challenge coin that the Joes at Anzio and Chosin had their trusty slip joint knife handy should the need arise, because sometimes, a Ka-Bar is overkill, even for a Marine.

Best Overall Slip Joint Knife

One of the best classic slip joint patterns available today is the Buck 301 Stockman (not to be confused with Buck’s 371 Stockman). This American-made knife includes a 2.75-inch clip point blade, a two-inch spey blade, and a two-inch sheepsfoot blade, each made with 420HC steel and finished with Buck’s proprietary heat treatment in order to create a reasonably priced blade with next-level performance. The handle consists of two beautiful rosewood scales with brass pins and bolsters to complete the traditional look. Coming in at only 2.9 ounces and measuring 3.875 inches long, the 301 Stockman creates minimal bulk while providing maximum performance. Whether you need an all-around blade capable of detailed work, one designed for skinning and other sweeping cuts, or an edge capable of clean cuts without a sharpened tip, this knife does it all. Of course, it’s a Buck, which means it’s backed by a lifetime warranty and free sharpening service which make it one heck of a bargain.

Best Value Slip Joint Knife

The Case Sodbuster Jr. was designed for those of us who spend our time in the great outdoors hunting and fishing. This slip joint knife comes with a 2.8-inch skinner (straight back) blade made with Case’s Tru-Sharp stainless steel, a high-carbon steel designed to hold an edge better than similar stainless competitors. The blade shape is perfect for completing a number of chores both inside and out, making the Sodbuster Jr. an excellent EDC option for those who prefer life without a roof. This American-made knife includes full-length synthetic scales with a textured black surface, paying homage to Case’s WWII-era Gum Fuddy knives. With a weight of only two ounces, a length of 3.625 inches, and a price tag well below the $50 mark, this knife is both compact and affordable.

Best Premium Slip Joint Knife

Combine the best of the old and new schools with the Benchmade Proper 318. This slip joint knife boasts a 2.82-inch clip point blade made of high-quality CPM-S90V stainless steel, giving it an excellent combination of edge retention, ease of sharpening, toughness, and corrosion resistance. When closed, the Proper measures 3.85 inches long and weighs just 2.28 ounces. The gray carbon fiber handle and steel pins signal this design’s break with traditional aesthetics, yet the overall design stays true to the functionality that makes slip joint knives an enduring element of American cutlery. As one might expect, this knife comes with Benchmade’s Lifetime Warranty, LifeSharp Service, and an eye-watering price tag. Quality doesn’t come cheap.

Most Compact Slip Joint Knife

Looking for a high-quality slip joint for everyday carry that no one will notice? Check out the Spyderco Dog Tag Folder, a knife that knows how to stay hidden until duty calls. This compact knife sports a 1.23-inch sheepsfoot blade made with high-quality CPM-S30V steel and Spyderco’s signature thumb hole. The blade comes with a straight, smooth edge and a full flat grind. The handle consists of a carbon fiber/G-1o laminate and measures only two inches long. It hosts a convenient hole for ball chains, making it easy to include in a wide variety of EDC setups. With an overall weight of only 0.9 ounces, the Dog Tag Folder may just be the ultimate backup knife on the market today. While it may still be a bit pricey, it won’t nuke your budget — at least, not completely.

Related: The 6 best pocket knives for your everyday carry

Why should you trust us

Ever since I got my first pocket knife at the ripe old age of eight, I’ve had a fascination with knives that borders on the obsessive, and while the Old Timer OT18 may come with a liner lock, I’ve owned my fair share of lock-free, slip joint knives. Regardless of the blade shape, blade edge, or any number of features available on a blade, chances are good that I’ve owned one (or two or three) over the years, and I just can’t seem to get enough of them. See Exhibits E (EDC knives), F (folding saws), P (pocket knives), S (Spyderco EDC knives), and T (throwing knives) as evidence for the prosecution.

Different kinds of slip joint knives

Single-blade knife

Slip joint knives frequently appear in a single-blade variant. Most often, these little blades are pen knives, descendants of the original blades used to sharpen quill pens and similar writing tools. That said, some single-blade slip joints employ other blade shapes, such as the versatile clip point or the handy straight back, an ideal tool for skinning and similar outdoor chores.

Multi-blade knife

Due to their creation as early EDC blades, slip joint knives most often house multiple blades in order to increase their overall versatility. Each blade will differ from the others, usually leveraging a unique shape and size compared to its roommates. One classic example is the stockman pattern knife, an old standby among cowboys and ranchers. This traditional slip joint knife usually includes three blades, including a large clip point or pen blade accompanied by shorter spey and sheepsfoot blades.

What to consider when buying a slip joint knife

Blade shape

Slip joint knives often come with multiple blades, each with its unique shape and function, and understanding the differences between various blade shapes could save you plenty of time, frustration, and maybe, a trip to the ER. Slip points frequently use the classic pen knife blade due to its compact size and versatility, although spey, sheepsfoot, Wharncliffe, and other blades make plenty of appearances depending on the knife’s intended use.

Blade steel

Due to their shorter blade lengths, many slip joint knives tend to have lower requirements from their blade steels, resulting in a market flooded with budget to mid-range steels. That said, the occasional folding slip joint, such as those offered by Benchmade or Spyderco, may use slightly higher grade blade materials, such as CPM-S30V. To get a better understanding of the pros and cons of different steels, check out these guides at Blade HQ and Gear Junkie.

Do you need a slip joint knife?

Now, it’s time to answer the million-dollar question: Why own a slip joint knife? Despite its simplistic, lock-less design, this classic knife pattern makes for an excellent EDC option. Whether you own a single-blade or multi-blade variants, slip joint knives are versatile tools that are quick and easy to both deploy and put away. The look, feel, and function of a wood or bone-handled slip joint folder fits perfectly with the classic blades carried by the boys of the Great Depression who grew into the men who ground in out at Monte Cassino, stormed the beaches of Normandy, and raised the Stars and Stripes over Mount Suribachi.

With its combination of history and simplicity, the slip joint is an excellent first folding knife. Their lock-less design requires users to think wisely about how to apply pressure to their blade, eliminating any false sense of security that might accompany locking blades. With blade length being the only limitation, slip joint knives are legal virtually everywhere, from California to Europe, with airports and government buildings being the major exceptions.

Pricing ranges for slip joint knives

Slip joint knives tend to be very affordable due to their basic construction and minimal engineering requirements. As such, you can easily find one for under $25, although such blades tend to use lower-quality materials, such as synthetic handles and budget blade steels. Looking for something with a nicer finish, something you can brag about? Expect to drop $25 to $50 instead. While these knives may not use top-shelf materials, their fit and finish tends to be very good, and you can count on them to last for quite some time. Genuine wood handles and higher-quality steels tend to start appearing in this price bracket. Slip joint knives over $50 tend to be more high-end fare with big name markers, such as Bendmade, Chris Reeve, or Spyderco, frequently costing $100 or more.

How we chose our top picks

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 Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest.

In addition to our own experience with slip joint knives, we found the folks at A.G. Russell Knives, Blade, Blade HQ, Gear Junkie, and Knife Buzz to be extremely helpful in completing this review.

Related: 9 of the best survival knives worth carrying