Sometimes the best knife is the one that lives in your truck’s center console.
If you spend enough time adventuring out of your vehicle, you’ll eventually squirrel away a lot of tools in your vehicle for the “just in case” moments. I keep a couple of lighters, a headlamp, and recovery equipment in my truck for just those occasions. And while I carry a pocket knife just about everywhere, I always keep one knife at arm’s reach in my truck.
From the mundane (cutting a tag off a piece of new gear) to the extreme (breaking a window or slashing a seatbelt after an accident), a knife has more possible uses than I can count. But when it comes to picking a knife for your console or glove box, there are a few factors to consider.
The first, for me, is price. I would tend toward cheaper knives for this job, because let’s face it, cars get broken into all the time. Next, I look for a versatile knife that can handle everything from batoning wood to mechanical tasks like scraping battery terminals. And of course, it should handle those alfresco lunches, removing insulation when doing quick wiring fixes on the road, or opening a package the easy way.
These are some of my top choices for a glove box knife.
Editor’s note: Laws about carrying a knife in your vehicle vary dramatically from state to state and even town to town. Be sure to research the laws where you intend to travel if you have a knife in your car or truck to avoid breaking the law.
The Best Knives for Your Car
The Mora Companion is on more best-of lists than probably any other knife on the market. That’s because it’s cheap, functional, and time-tested. Basically, it’s really hard to find a better knife for about $15.
The Mora Companion has a high carbon steel clip-point satin-finished blade. Its rubber handle is grippy and easy to use however you want to hold it. Fitted with a polymer sheath, it’s secure and safe when stowed. The 4-inch blade is about ideal for darned near any job.
No, it won’t win any beauty contests, the steel is only OK, and it doesn’t have a full tang. But for a cheap knife that won’t make you cry if it gets stolen, it’s about as versatile as they come.
Grab one, toss it in your console or glove box, and be glad you have it when you arrive at camp and realize someone forgot their pocket knife at the trailhead.Check Price at Amazon
The Gerbert Zilch is a significant departure from the heavier knives on this list. But I include it because it is really affordable, easily carries in the pocket, and is a lot nicer than similarly priced garbage that you’ll find in gas stations.
The Gerber Zilch blade is 3.1 inches long, and it’s made of 7Cr17Mov stainless steel. With an overall open length of 7.2 inches, this slender and stripped-down package weighs just 2.2 ounces. It features a liner lock, lanyard hole, exposed barrels, and a sturdy clip to make it an easy pocket carry. The Gerber Zilch can be had in three handle colors: drab red, black, and coyote brown.
Toss one in your glove box and forget it’s there — until you need it.
A modest step up in price, the Coast DX330 also brings a lot more utility in an emergency. Packing a 3.25-inch, partially serrated 7Cr17 stainless steel blade, the DX330 will cut through rope or spread mayo on your sandwich with the best of them.
But at just $30, it also packs features that could save a life. It has a seatbelt cutter and glass breaker, both of which can help free someone from a car if they’ve rolled over a cliff or broken through the ice. Again, this knife isn’t going to win any beauty pageants, but it’s functional and affordable.
As a backup tool in your center console, it’s a great choice. Just keep the cheap steel touched up on a knife sharpener so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The Gerber Hinderer CLS is another step up on price, and is about as expensive a knife as I’d personally leave in a car 24/7. Available for about $80 most of the time, it brings some significant performance improvements over the previous selections.
The Hinderer CLS has a 440A steel blade coated in a stealth nonreflective black finish. While this steel is only OK, it’ll do the job. However, the oversized thumb stud allows this blade to deploy quickly and reliably. Add a seatbelt cutter, partial serration, window punch, and oxygen tank tool, and you’ve got a knife that will serve darned near every function you could need at a moment’s notice.
Sometimes the best knife isn’t exactly a knife, as is the case of the Leatherman Wingman multi-tool. Sure, the Wingman has a knife. But it also has so much more. And at $70, it’s one of Leatherman’s more affordable full-size offerings capable enough to do modest mechanical repairs.
The Wingman packs so much utility into an affordable tool, the only real downside is that the knife and rescue capabilities are somewhat muted. The blade is only 2.6 inches, so it’ll struggle to baton firewood or fillet a fish.
But where it shines is in the ability to do pretty much anything, a true jack-of-all-trades. It packs 14 tools, including the blade, bottle, can, and package openers, small, medium, and Phillips screwdrivers, a 1-inch ruler, and regular and needlenose spring-action pliers into a tiny package. If you need to do minor roadside repairs or fix a piece of gear, this is the best “knife” your car can carry.
Finally, the Leatherman FREE K2 knife is a blend of multitool and knife. It’s a bit of the best of both worlds and brings more knifelike capabilities while giving up a few functions of a multitool. That said, it packs some automotive repair abilities with a pry tool, package opener, awl, bottle opener, Phillips screwdriver, medium standard screwdriver, and an extra-small standard screwdriver.
The Leatherman FREE K2 tools are accessible from the outside for easy one-handed opening. It has a magnetic locking system, and all the tools and the blade lock into place when fully opened. A removable pocket clip makes the FREE K2 convenient to carry.
The FREE K2 has a 3.3-inch modified Wharncliffe-style 420HC stainless steel blade and a closed length of 4.5 inches, plus it weighs 4.9 ounces. The Leatherman FREE K2 would be a good choice for anyone looking for a pocket knife with some bonus capabilities at a reasonable price.
Leaving a Knife in the Car: Legal Concerns
A knife is first and foremost a tool and one that is indispensable in many situations. But knives carry some legal baggage that can create real problems if not addressed properly.
Before storing a knife in your car, make sure to check the laws in your state and local jurisdictions. There is no simple overarching law on which knives you can legally carry. Some cities ban the concealed carry of any knife with a blade over a certain length, often 3.5 or 4 inches. California bans automatic knives with blades over 2.5 inches. And the definition of concealment varies from state to state and town to town, too.
So, ensure you don’t run afoul of the law, especially if you’re taking a long trip across state lines.
This article from the American Knife and Tool Institute provides some guidance on knife laws.
The next concern about carrying a knife in a car is theft. I address that in this article by keeping the price relatively low. I would not recommend storing any expensive knives (or anything else for that matter) in a car. Keep them cheap, but functional. And keep knives or other valuables out of view.
Knife Buying Tips
Available from many manufacturers, the best knives can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, configurations, blade styles, and materials. But when you’re considering a pocket knife to live in your vehicle, look for knives that are versatile, affordable, and carry well in your console or glovebox. Many come with sheaths, which work well in a car. Folding knives make another good choice.
You’ll find a multitude of examples in the EDC category with blades in the 2- to 4-inch range. Straight or serrated edges are most common, and you’ll find some combo blades that offer both. Serrated edges come in handy for sawing through tougher materials like a rope. Straight edges make slicing objects a breeze, and they’re easier to maintain.
Blade shapes range from the ubiquitous drop point to tanto (a chisel-shaped point inspired by Japanese swords), each having unique characteristics offering different piercing or slicing capabilities.
The most common blade materials are carbon steel, stainless steel, and tool steel, but there are dozens of variations of each of them. In short, carbon will stay sharp longer but is more expensive. Stainless offers better corrosion protection and a friendlier price.
Tool steel is generally less expensive and has good edge retention but with less corrosion resistance. Almost all the knives reviewed are offered in various coatings to better protect the blade steel. If you’d like a deep dive, check out this article on knife steel.
Ultimately, the best knife is the one you have when you need it. And by storing an affordable, versatile knife in your car or truck, it’ll be there when you need it, every time.