There are thousands of folding knives out on the market, and the outdoor gear reviewers here at Task & Purpose have evaluated dozens of them in the last few years. We get sent a lot of knives and put them through their paces in the field and at home. Choosing the perfect blade can be a mind-boggling task, and if you have ever walked into a knife shop and experienced the paradox of choice, you are not alone. Deep analysis is hard and takes a lot of time, and we know from research that, after a certain point, people are less satisfied with their purchases when the number of available products exceeds their ability to evaluate. Bottom line: you need the right gear for your kit, and we’re here to help.
To that end, we’ve taken a look at the major knife manufacturers’ current offerings for 2021 and picked our “best of” to help you get closer to finding the perfect folding blade for you.
Hands down, my favorite EDC knife is the Spyderco Para Military 2. I’ve owned this knife for several years now, and it is still my number one pick. The Para Military 2 is a more compact, more comfortable to carry derivative of Spyderco’s earlier Military Model knife. Not only did Spyderco shave ¾ of an inch off of the prior knife’s overall length, they increased the quality of the steel to Crucible’s CPM S110V which has the best wear resistance and edge retention on the market. The Para Military 2 offers exceptional blade size to weight ratio with its 3.42-inch blade nestled into an overall knife weight of 3.8 ounces (108 grams). It has high-quality G-10 textured handles and a four-position hourglass ambidextrous clip for right or left side tip-up or tip-down carry. While the Para Military 2 doesn’t weigh much and packs a tremendous amount of utility, at an MSRP of $280.00, it will set you back a pretty penny. I still think it’s worth it. If that’s too much, you can purchase the knife with CPM S30V steel for $174.99.
One of the best EDC knives under $50 I know of is the Ontario Knife Company RAT II. This knife is a proven workhorse, and the RAT II offers a 3-inch AUS-8 stainless steel blade in a 2.4-ounce package. It’s not the best knife steel on the market, but it does offer good corrosion resistance. While it doesn’t have the best edge retention, it is much easier to sharpen than premium CPM S110V steel. You’ll enjoy the textured nylon handles, ambidextrous pocket clip, and solid liner lock. It’s straight back blade is aesthetically pleasing, and the dual thumb studs enable one-handed operation. For the price, you can’t go wrong.
If the cost of the Spyderco Para Military 2 is a deal-breaker, we recommend you take a look at the Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight. The Delica line has been around since 1990, and this proven knife is worth a look. The Delica 4 Lightweight offers a 2.9-inch VG-10 full flat ground steel blade that has an excellent balance of edge retention, ease of sharpening, and corrosion resistance. It also has an ambidextrous pocket clip that enables both right and left side tip-up or tip-down carry. The fiberglass-reinforced nylon handles contain skeletonized stainless steel liners to provide lightweight rigidity and Spyderco nailed the ergonomics, providing comfort and safety. The Delica 4 Lightweight also comes in eight colors to provide aesthetical options.
Earlier this year, I fell in love with the Benchmade Bugout 535S. At 1.8 ounces (52 grams), it’s the lightest full-frame EDC I’ve come across yet. In fact, it’s ridiculously light and ridiculously sharp out of the box. Benchmade used excellent CPMS30V steel in the construction of the Bugout, and you’ll appreciate the ergonomics of the knife. The plain drop point blade is pleasing to the eye, and the AXIS(R) opening and closing mechanism is super smooth and makes the knife easy to open with one hand. While the model I tested had a half serrated blade, I recommend going with the plain blade as it is easier to sharpen than serrated blades. While the Bugout 535S rests at a mid-grade price point of $155.00, Benchmade also offers an upgraded Bugout with premium quality S90V super steel and carbon fiber handles for $300.00.
Let’s face it: Members of the military and veteran communities have a thing for knives that most civilians don’t understand. Being immersed in a culture of weapons, we often forget that the kinder, gentler side of American society might start to pick up some pretty sketch vibes if you whip out a 4-inch tactical blade at a romantic picnic. Don’t do it. Show some class and do what the French do: Get an Opinel No. 8. Whether you are opening a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or slicing Camembert cheese and apples, the high-value low-cost Opinel No. 8 will add some style to your game. It has a fetching beech wood handle and 3.28-inch blade made from Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel which allows for excellent edge performance, high hardness, and corrosion resistance. At $17.00, just buy one, throw it in the picnic basket and forget about it.
If you are looking for a big, heavy, EDC knife, the CRKT M21-04G is the ticket. With an overall length of 9.25 inches, the M21-04G is the largest EDC knife we’ve reviewed this year. It’s a heavyweight bruiser at 6.4 ounces and its 4-inch spear point blade, designed for stabbing and penetrating, provides enough intimidation to ward off the creeps. The Kit Carson designed opening action is lightning fast and sets the blade with a satisfying click. The M21-04G also has an added liner safety that sets a pin between the locking liner and frame for additional security. The blade is made from mid-range 1.4116 stainless steel which can take a lot of abuse, and it comes with some quality G10 handles. Lastly, the M21-04G feels good in the hand. I really like the ergonomics of this knife. So if you’re looking for a big-ass knife with a tactical, blackened wanna-be operator vibe to survive the upcoming zombie apocalypse, this might be the trick for you.
Why you should trust us
The reviewers here at Task & Purpose test the products we review at home and in the field. We have years of experience living and working outdoors with the tools we recommend. We don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. That enables us to provide you our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make. Learn more about our product review process.
Types of EDC knives
- Folding knife: An EDC knife must be compact and lightweight, so you may find yourself looking at a folding knife. Unlike the Army’s M9 bayonet or the Marine Corps’ OKC-3S, a folding blade can easily disappear into most pockets yet still be at the ready. Except for the smallest designs, quality folding knives include a locking system designed to keep your fingers attached to your hand under even the most strenuous exertions.
- Fixed blade knife: While folding knives tend to be lighter and more compact than their fixed blade counterparts, there are times when a rigid fixed blade knife is the only tool for your EDC application. A stiff, single piece of steel lends itself particularly well to use for prying and other heavy-duty applications, and when it comes to self-defense, no option is better suited to the role. Of course, for personal safety reasons, make sure to find one with a quality sheath.
Key features of EDC knives
- Blade construction: The majority of a knife’s cost comes from the metallurgy of the steel and design of the blade. Manufacturers use different kinds of steel and alloys to produce blades around the following five properties: hardness, edge retention, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and toughness. If you want to know more about blade steel, here’s a good primer.
- Blade shape: We’ve come across more than 19 different types of blade designs, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. For EDC, we prefer the non-exotic straight back or drop point blades as they are more general in purpose.
- Blade edge: You’ll find blade edges come in plain bladed, full serrated, or a combination of the two. Plain-bladed knives are way easier to sharpen as they don’t require special files as do serrated blades.
- Grip: Most EDC knife handles are made of wood, nylon, G10, or aluminum, and each has its own pros and cons. It’s important that you handle the knife before you buy it and see how it feels in your hand. Some knives work better in larger or smaller hands. It’s also important to get a sense of how grippy the handles are and if there is any architecture in the way to prevent your hand from slipping down the blade. Ouch!
- Carry: Most folding EDC knives rely on a pocket clip to keep them affixed to your body in a tip-up or tip-down orientation. Good EDC knives will come with the pocket clip screwed to the handles and have pre-drilled holes on the other side to enable left or right-hand carry.
Benefits of EDC knives
Despite being perceived as a men’s tool, the EDC knife has got to be the best tool anyone could ever buy, regardless of their testosterone level. An EDC knife can accomplish the most mundane of daily tasks, from opening letters and boxes to removing loose thread. Even the least experienced knife user can find solid uses for a small Swiss Army knife. That said, larger EDC knives are plenty capable of much more serious applications. In emergency situations, they can (carefully) slice through seat belts following an auto accident, and blades purpose-built for first responders can break windows for quick extractions. Many people also rely on their EDC knife for self-defense, sometimes buying blades designed specifically for that role when a defensive firearm is difficult or impossible to access. Of course, the number one survival tool is a quality knife, making your EDC knife a must-have asset in a worst-case scenario.
EDC knife pricing
Everyday carry knives generally fall into three price points:
- Affordable: Under $50
- Mid-range: Between $50 and $100
- Premium: $100 and up
How we chose our top picks
All of the knives recommended in this review were field-tested by your trusty crew of Task & Purpose gear reviewers. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each knife and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything.
Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.
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