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.
Benchmade’s Mini Presidio II is something of a goldilocks in the folding knife world. Don’t let the name fool you; the 3.2-inch blade is more than adequate for most daily tasks. At just over three ounces, it’s also light enough to carry all day, every day. Weight savings come as a result of the knife’s composite handle, which replaces previous generations’ metal grip. As long as you can accept that more weight does not equate to higher quality, that’s a good thing.
The blade’s metal composition is commendable, but the factory edge leaves room for improvement if you’re comfortable doing your own sharpening. One thing that doesn’t need attention is the outstanding Axis Lock. Once the blade is flicked open, it’s there until you unlock it. That’s nice to know when you’re putting this knife through its paces.
Task & Purpose contributor Matt Sampson used his Mini Presidio II to cut everything from fishing line to camo netting, and he shaved kindling into tinder to start a campfire. He’s done a few repairs in three years of ownership (heads up: don’t expect too much of the pocket clip), but the knife has held up well enough to remain his EDC of choice. Add one to your collection, and you’ll see why.
If you’ve spent more than a heartbeat in a military environment, I’d be surprised if you haven’t laid eyes on a CRKT M16 of some sort. This folding knife is affordable, versatile, and more rugged than the 2.7-ounce weight suggests.
The sub-three-inch blade is compact compared to the older variations that were designed for combat use, but it still incorporates the popular tanto point and serrated section. What stands out about this knife are the oversized thumb tabs. These assist the blade’s opening movement and form a functional hilt when locked in the open position.
At this size, your best bet is to keep this knife in garrison for everyday tasks. It’s too small for heavy field or combat use, but there’s nothing wrong with owning tools for different jobs. Our own Dennis White used his to hack up tree branches to extract his vehicle from half-frozen mud, so you might be surprised by how capable this little knife can be in a pinch.
We haven’t had a chance to write an in-depth review of the Gerber 06 FAST quite yet, but how could we write a folding knife gear guide without it? This knife comes from a mighty fine pedigree, and it’s easy to see that Gerber intended for this thing to thrive in harm’s way. Rapid one-handed opening? Check. Tactical, subdued colors? Obviously. Build quality worthy of a career in the military? No doubt.
With its 3.75-inch blade, this knife provides many of the advantages of owning a fixed-blade knife with the portability and EDC-friendliness of a folding knife. That bespoke spring-assisted opening mechanism is a thing of beauty, even if it isn’t quite as crisp as some of the older, military-only knives we know and love. The nicely contoured handle is super grippy and manages to fit bare or gloved hands comfortably without being too bulky for pocket carry––although, at 5.7 ounces, you might want something smaller and lighter for certain situations.
The Spyderco Para Military 2 is more proof that a good military knife doesn’t have to look like something out of an ’80s action movie. Sure, there’s value in longer blades and an array of tactical features, but a knife’s primary job is to cut stuff, right? If a quality blade is what you’re after, this might be just what the doctor ordered.
Excellent ergonomics result in a small handle that fits well in hands of all sizes. The exaggerated thumb hole makes it easy to get that satisfying opening flick right every time. The blade itself is sharp out of the box, and the steel Spyderco uses is easy for the at-home sharpener to maintain. Some of you may balk at the size or lack of serrations, but there are other knives for that kind of work. This is a rock-solid EDC that’s comfortable in the office or the backwoods.
During 18 months of hard use, Task & Purpose contributor Joe Plenzler has gotten his money’s worth out of this (not inexpensive) knife. It held up to life on the Appalachian Trail and sliced through tough climbing rope with ease. When it comes down to it, the Para Military 2 is aptly named. Strap one to your plate carrier. Toss it in your tackle box. Clip it in the pocket of your board shorts. This knife can pretty much do it all.
My own opinion on the Mule and KA-BAR’s brand in general are well-known, so I’ll cut to the chase: I dig it. Using this overbuilt piece of gear reminds me of driving a diesel Toyota Hilux around Camp Leatherneck (think Tacoma, but somehow tougher): They both feel like they’re physically incapable of quitting.
Compared to the alternatives from companies like Benchmade, Gerber, and Spyderco, there’s a noticeable drop in fit and finish with this knife. It’s not super smooth or refined, and the beefy locking mechanism requires serious effort to open the blade one-handed. The girthy handle and thick blade are a noticeable departure from the compact knives on this list. As a tradeoff, you’ll get a utilitarian device that’s unfazed by splitting wood, digging through frozen dirt, or spending days on end inside a muddy sheath on your plate carrier.
I’ve trusted my KA-BAR Mule for more than a decade. It’s been my EDC in garrison, deployment, on several camping trips, and around my garage. It’s not the sharpest or prettiest, but I can be damn sure it’ll be ready when I need it. Even if all this doesn’t make it a candidate for your only knife or your favorite knife, it deserves a spot somewhere in your collection.
Another piece of equipment I’d love to get my grubby little hands on is the Kershaw Leek––weird name, cool little knife. Instead of joining the crowd with an aggressive handle, serrated blade, and matte black paint that looks like it was built for duty on a SWAT team, the Leek is slim, streamlined, and almost pretty. Consider me intrigued.
The Leek’s clip point blade makes it well-suited for precision cuts; it’s more of a scalpel than a machete (more on that later). The blade deploys quickly with one hand and locks in place with a reassuring safety mechanism. The steel itself is durable, corrosion-resistant, and capable of holding an edge through plenty of use. On top of the blade and handle is olive drab paint that ought to satisfy your tactical itch without going overboard on hyper-aggressive styling.
This slim knife would be a great addition to your collection if you want something that can slice accurately and cleanly. I wouldn’t make it my survival situation go-to by any stretch; it’s more at home being your EDC or an accomplice to your fixed-blade primary knife. At less than $60, it also hits the sweet spot of high-value knives that are built well without costing an arm and a leg.
Zero Tolerance isn’t a household name like the other knife makers on this list, but I’m guessing that’s a function of the price tag. This is no slouch and you can expect to get what you pay for. If you can afford the leap to something of this caliber, the 0223 might be one of the best knives you ever take outside the wire.
So, what does a triplet of $100 bills get you at the knife counter? The CPM 20CV steel used to make this blade is considered a premium material––it tends to be difficult to sharpen but toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance are all excellent. The titanium handle isn’t going to fail anytime soon, either. While the opening mechanism isn’t assisted, its thumb-activated switch and buttery-smooth ball bearings are about as easy to use as you can hope for. Anti-reflective surfaces all around make this a tactically sound purchase. Still, if you wanted to get your money’s worth by making this your EDC, that would be understandable.
It’s worth pointing out that Zero Tolerance is owned by KAI Group. That’s the same parent company that owns Kershaw, but they also manufacture razor blades and medical scalpels. I’d venture to guess they have the whole sharpness thing figured out. Add this to the list of knives the Task & Purpose team is itching to test ourselves.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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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