Opinel is the quintessential French field pocket knife. I was first introduced to the brand by a foreign exchange student I met in college — a French particle physics major who shared my love of spelunking. On our first trip to Kentucky together to explore a few caves, he pulled out a nicely fashioned, simple, folding blade knife with a beechwood handle and began to slice his lunch of pears, cheese, and bread — so French. I asked to see the knife, and immediately thought it was an antique — a family heirloom. I inquired about it and he told me that just about every French person who takes to the field carries one and that the company, Opinel, had been around for more than 100 years. Furthermore, the Opinel is featured in Roger Frison Roche’s novel First on the Rope about climbing in the Alps that every French school kid has to read. He handed it over and I remember admiring the natural feel of the rounded wooden handle, the sharpness of the carbon steel blade, the simple design, and the cool 19th-century vibes. It felt like an earnest farmer’s tool and stood in sharp contrast to the overly aggressive knives I had seen for sale around town, especially at the truck stops in Kentucky. That’s another story.
Editor’s note: the Opinel No. 8 also made Task & Purpose’s list of the best EDC knives of the year.
The Opinel No. 8 has an elegance in its simplicity. In many ways, it’s one of the most honest tools I’ve ever used. It also delivers ridiculously good form and function at a bargain-basement price of $17. Despite its low price, the Opinel No. 8 shines as an EDC knife and a cultural artifact. Let’s find out why it might be your next blade of choice.
The Opinel No. 8 arrived in a plain brown envelope artfully decorated with simple line drawings of the knife and text in blue ink proudly proclaiming Opinel has been made in the French Alps since 1890. Near the top of the package was a curious logo: an upward pointed hand and crown. I was curious about the trade mark, so I did some research and found that King Charles of France released an edict in 1565 directing all French knife makers to brand their blades with an emblem to serve as a mark of their origin and quality. Opinel’s founder, Joseph Opinel, made the Crowned Hand the company’s official emblem in 1909. He lifted the design from the coat of arms of the town of St. Jean de Maurienne, the ancestral home of the Opinel family. If the hand appears saintly with the middle and index fingers and thumb extended, it’s because it is a representation of the blessing of St. John the Baptist. The crown on the logo is a nod to the fact that the region of Savoie is a duchy, meaning dukedom. I appreciated the simple understated packaging. It stood in stark contrast to the many overly packaged knives I’ve received lately. I also loved that Opinel did not use any plastics in the packaging of the No. 8.
The Opinel No. 8 measures 7.59 inches open and sports an XC90 carbon steel traditional Tatagan blade 3.28 inches in length. The blade has a convex profile and nail nick to assist with opening. The handle is crafted from varnished beech wood. The knife is simply constructed of only five parts: the handle, the blade, the pivot or axle, the metal collar, and the locking ring, which is also called a Virobloc.
Beginning in 1897, Joseph Opinel offered a range of pocket knives from his smallest, the No. 1, to the largest, No. 12. The tiny No. 1 had a ring for affixing it to a pocket watch chain. In 1935, Opinel stopped making the No. 1 and No. 11, so if you find them, they’re probably worth a pretty penny. Today, the range runs from No. 2 (3.5 cm blade) to No. 12. (12 cm blade), and Opinel offers a wide variety of blade shapes to meet virtually every purpose from woodcarving to general field use to gardening.
In 1985, the Victoria and Albert Museum named the Opinel as one of the 100 best-designed items in the world along with the Rolex watch and Porsche 911. Today, Opinel is a well-recognized artifact of French cultural heritage and a design icon. It’s even been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That’s pretty cool.
How we tested the Opinel No. 8
I committed to carrying the Opinel No. 8 with me everywhere every day for a week and using it exclusively for all of my cutting needs. It would be my everyday carry, and I resolved to become one with the knife.
Out of the envelope, the Opinel was very hard to open and close. I suspected this was due to residual moisture in the beechwood handle. To dry it fully, I popped the knife in my oven at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes. My hack worked like a champ and the Opinel opened and closed easily. The blade arrived with a nice factory edge, so no additional sharpening was needed.
Test 1: Gardening. I maintain a sizable vegetable garden in my backyard, and the Opinel proved to be very handy in trimming tomato vines, harvesting beans and cucumbers, and cutting back asparagus fronds. I also used it to cut twine to repair a few climbing vegetable trellises. It easily sliced through plants and cordage and made my garden maintenance tasks a snap.
Test 2: Prepare dinner. I used the Opinel No. 8 in lieu of my New West Knife Works chef’s knife (they are THE best!) for a week. While not designed for cutting vegetables or prepping food, it did an admirable job of slicing through carrots, beans, zucchini, and more. I did notice some discoloration when slicing acidic foods like citrus and strawberries. I find a handy test for blade sharpness is to thinly slice tomatoes. The Opinel No. 8 did so with ease. As opposed to stainless steel, you can expect carbon steel to develop a patina over time. Also, they will rust, so you need to make sure to clean and lubricate it frequently. If you use your Opinel for food, then consider lubricating it with olive or mineral oil.
Test 3: Open a bottle of bubbly. Hey, it was a Sunday afternoon, so we popped open a bottle of Marquis de Sade Cava that my mom gave me. In retrospect, it’s funny (and a bit cringey) that the bottle was from the winery of the descendants of the famous French libertine. In any case, the Opinel made quick work of the foil and cork and the juice was pretty good. I don’t believe in tool abuse, so I didn’t try sabrage with the No. 8. You really should do that with a sabre or a heavy knife. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it doesn’t make you a bad person. Chef Alton Brown can hook you up with a demo here. Master this technique and you’ll impress your dinner guests.
Test 4: Support a climbing trip to Mt. Rainer. I took the Opinel No. 8 along on a recent trip to Washington State to hike in the Northern Cascades and make a summit attempt on the heavily glaciated Mt. Rainier (14,410 feet). The No. 8 served as a trusty travel companion and was handy at punching additional holes in the straps of my boot gaiters and crampons, and cutting up hard cheeses and dried sausage at lunch stops. I try to eat as much real food as I can in the backcountry instead of a bunch of processed bars, candy, and other bullshit. One member of our climbing team was French and she immediately recognized the No. 8 and had nice things to say about it, so it proved to be a good conversation starter. In addition to its sharpness and utility, I appreciated that the No. 8 only weighs 45 grams (1.5 ounces). I hate a heavy pack, especially when I have to do 9,000 feet of vertical gain while hopping crevasses and navigating seracs, so the featherweight No. 8 was a welcome addition in the pack.
Test 5: Opening cardboard boxes. Being a gear reviewer, I frequently get shipping boxes sent to my home. The sharp carbon steel blade cut through packing tape with ease.
What we like about the Opinel No. 8
Straight up, I love this little knife. Sure, it isn’t the most rugged knife I’ve ever owned, but it’s a pretty damn fine, utilitarian blade — especially at a $17 price point. It’s a ridiculously good value. The blade is sharp, holds an edge, and is easy to sharpen. The beechwood handle feels great in hand. The rotating collar locks the blade securely in place, open or closed. And the design is first-rate and offers a more sophisticated vibe than even my beloved Spyderco Para Military 2. I also love that it weighs only 45 grams, which is even lighter than my Benchmade Bugout. If you love 19th-century vibes and an honest knife made for working people, you’re gonna love the Opinel No. 8.
What we don’t like about the Opinel No. 8
When I unwrapped the Opinel, I didn’t dig the difficulty of opening the blade. I feel that Opinel should address this at the factory and ensure the wooden handles are thoroughly dried. With that said, I was pretty proud of myself that my oven baking hack worked. It’s also important to note that carbon steel blades will rust, so you have to maintain them properly. It’s like the old saying: Take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you. If your blade shows a little rust — as mine does now — use a metal brush to take off the oxidation and use a light oil to condition the blade. Mineral oil and olive oil are two good food-safe options. If you don’t use the blade for food preparation, go ahead and hit it with WD-40. If you’re not up to doing a bit of maintenance (you lazy bastard), check out Opinel’s 12c27 stainless steel INOX blade options. They’ll withstand rust better, but will also be harder to sharpen.
The Opinel No. 8 is a HELL YEA! Vive la France! Where else can you get a sharp-ass blade that only weighs 45 grams for $17? For that price, you can get four and give them away to your friends. They make great gifts and can also be cool steak knives at your next dinner party. Buy a dozen for that matter! You’re worth it.
FAQs about the Opinel No. 8
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Opinel No. 8 cost?
A. You can get it on Amazon for $17.80.
Q. Joe, I know you love the No. 8. What other options does Opinel offer?
A. Opinel has a wide range of knives to choose from. They have garlic knives and knives with corkscrews in the handles. Mushroom knives! Oyster knives!! Folding fillet knives!!! Mon dieu! Sacre bleu, mon ami! Where to begin?!?
Q. Joe, will the Opinel No. 8 make me look cool?
A. Yes. It’s been clinically proven that carrying the Opinel No. 8 will make you appear to be way more sophisticated than when you carry that ridiculous CRKT M16-14SFG that’s your current EDC. Up your game, my friend.
Q. Joe, what’s up with the Francophilia? Didn’t we rename French fries as freedom fries in 2003?
A. Mon ami, without France, there would be no America. Their support was a key strategic element in our victory over the British during the American revolution. An American battle cry during World War I was, “Lafayette, we are here!” to repay the debt we owed our French brothers and sisters.
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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 is currently section-hiking the Appalachian Trail with his partner, Kate Germano. 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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