Pocket knives have been elevated over the last few decades, with technology and design bringing incredible upgrades to this once-humble tool.
In the world of outdoor gear, pocket knives have become almost ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, from the display cases at REI to the checkout lanes at your local hardware store. And with companies like Spyderco and Benchmade offering hundreds of models, it’s easy for buyers to feel like they’re positively drowning in pocket knives.
To keep you from that especially unpleasant-sounding fate, we’ve assembled a list of the best pocket knives of 2022. But rather than simply showing you the newest or most expensive blades, our testers and researchers have prioritized cutting performance, in-hand comfort, and ease of carry.
Below you’ll find a roster of blades offering the best mix of capability, construction, and value the industry has to offer.
The Best Pocket Knives of 2022
Best Overall: Spyderco Chapparal Lightweight
Few companies offer a better stable of knives than Spyderco. And of all their hits, none has resonated quite so much as the Chapparal Lightweight ($135). One reviewer dubbed it the “collection killer,” as it prompted him to stop buying knives altogether. After experiencing the apex of cutting prowess and carryability, what was the point?
While it lives up to its lightweight billing, the Chapparal is in no way cheap. Spyderco included skeletonized stainless steel liners within its FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) slabs as well as a full steel backspacer.
Its back lock mechanism is a classic, as simple as it is reliable. Add in one of the company’s excellent wireframe pocket clips, and you’re left with a paragon of comfort and function.
If there’s a caveat here, it lies in the blade steel. While CTS-XHP is an incredible material, it presents itself as (pun incoming) a kind of double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you get affordability, superior hardness, and great edge retention. It can, however, be more prone to staining than other similarly priced steels. But you can avoid this by simply wiping down the blade after each use and hitting it with a touch of oil every now and then.
It’s light, it’s discreet, and it cuts like hell. If you’re in the market for a pocket knife that just works, look no further than the Chapparal Lightweight.
- Blade length: 2.8 in.
- Blade steel: CTS-XHP
- Overall length: 6.4 in.
- Handle material: FRN
- Lock type: Back lock
- Weight: 2 oz.
- Great size and slicing performance
- Blade slightly prone to staining
Best Budget Pocket Knife: Civivi Elementum
When it comes to budget blades, no one does it better than Civivi. As the discount wing of WE Knives, the brand has become known for releasing quality tools without the premium price. One of the best among these is the Elementum ($50), a truly great all-around knife for everyday carry.
Its 3-inch blade is composed of D2 steel, one of the best options in this price range. And the knife’s “action” (opening of the blade via its flipper tab) is on par with alternatives costing twice as much.
If there’s a downside here, it’s the steel. D2 will hold an edge for quite some time, but it isn’t exactly the most rustproof of materials. It’s kind of the older cousin to the CTS-XHP found on our top pick, which means you’ll need to take the same kind of precautions. Be sure to dry the blade before tucking it back between the liners to avoid any sort of discoloration.
But overall, it’s hard not to like the Elementum. It comes in a wide array of materials, colors, and configurations. So if you’re a fan of the design but want to make an upgrade to the blade steel, Civivi has you covered. We like its budget configuration as well and wholeheartedly recommend it as an EDC option.
- Blade length: 3 in.
- Blade steel: D2
- Overall length: 7 in.
- Handle material: G-10
- Lock type: Liner lock
- Weight: 2.9 oz.
- Great action
- Purchase options
- Prone to blade staining
Best Lightweight Pocket Knife: Benchmade Bugout
Aimed specifically at hikers, the Bugout offers 3.24 inches of sharpened S30V steel, textured grips, and a perfect deep-carry pocket clip in a package weighing under 2 ounces. Add in the snappy, fidget-friendly action of the Axis Lock, and you’re left with something truly special.
There are a few pitfalls here, though. To save ounces, Benchmade designed the Bugout with only the smallest of steel liners. This means most of that gorgeous blue handle is purely plastic.
While the spacer posts will keep it from collapsing, a hard grip will squeeze the slabs together. But this is a light-duty knife, so you shouldn’t be bearing down on it in the first place.
For what it is, we consider the abbreviated liners to be only a minor issue. More troubling is the price creep. When we first reviewed the Bugout in 2018, it cost $120. A few years later, and the price has grown to $144.
But even with the added cost, it’s hard not to enjoy the Bugout. It’s a straightforward, eminently carryable knife with a wonderfully slicey blade. Heck, there’s even a mini version out there if you’re looking for a sub-3-inch blade. And if you feel like building your own, Benchmade offers an excellent customizer tool.
- Blade length: 3.24 in.
- Blade steel: S30V (Others available)
- Overall length: 7.46 in.
- Handle material: Grivory
- Lock type: Axis lock
- Weight: 1.85 oz.
- Strong design
- Easy to carry and customize
- Price creep
Best Outdoor Pocket Knife: Cold Steel Finn Wolf
This isn’t the first time this particular Cold Steel ($65) has graced the pages of GearJunkie. When putting together our list of the Best Bushcraft Knives, the Finn Wolf was the lone folding knife to make the cut.
The tall bevel of its Scandinavian-style edge is a riff on the classic Puukko style, which is made for cutting through wood. The textured Griv-Ex handle conforms wonderfully to the hand, allowing for a secure and natural grip.
There are a few issues here, starting with the steel. AUS8 was all the rage a few decades ago, but it’s now a decidedly lower-tier material for pocket knives. It’ll cut for longer than super-budget steels like 8Cr13MoV, but its edge retention will be the lowest of any knife on this list.
Then there’s the Tri-Ad lock. While arguably the strongest of the mechanisms featured here, it can be fairly stiff to operate when new. So watch your finger when closing the knife, lest the Wolf snap you in its jaws. It also rides a bit high in the pocket, though this does make it easier to draw.
But at under $40, it’s really hard to argue with the value here. You’re getting a solid workhorse of a knife, with better-than-baseline materials in an outdoors-forward design. If you’re looking for a folding knife for your next trip to the woods, the Finn Wolf is a worthy companion.
- Blade length: 3.5 in.
- Blade steel: AUS8
- Overall length: 7.875 in.
- Handle material: Griv-Ex
- Lock type: Tri-Ad lock
- Weight: 3.4 oz.
- Great for wood
- Cheapish steel
- High pocket ride
Best Small Pocket Knife: Civivi Baby Banter
For a couple of years there, it felt like knife companies were releasing new designs every few weeks. Perhaps no one has been more guilty of this than Civivi, who erupted onto the scene with a massive and scattershot catalog. But out of this confusion came one of the great new designs of the last couple of years — the Baby Banter ($59).
Designed by Ben Petersen, a longtime personality in the pocket knife industry, this particular model has a lot going for it. It’s the downsized version of his original Banter, offering a leaf-shaped blade in just under 2.5 inches of Nitro-V steel.
The handle is sculpted from G-10 and is available in several different colors. And see that inward curve where the blade meets the handle? That’s called a finger choil, and it lets you choke up your grip for added control. Add in a smooth-running liner lock and a deep carry pocket clip, and you’ve got a truly wonderful tool.
If you’re looking for negatives here, there’s not much to complain about. It’s small, sure, and probably won’t be a fit for people with extra-large hands. But for others, its approachable size will be a feature, not a flaw.
In the end, this is an excellent choice for daily carry. Civivi’s magic brew of quality designs and materials is on full display with a price tag that’s relatively easy to stomach.
- Blade length: 2.34 in.
- Blade steel: Nitro-V
- Overall length: 5.46 in.
- Handle material: G-10
- Lock type: Liner lock
- Weight: 2 oz.
- Easy to carry
- Comfortable in the hand
- Maybe too small for some
Best Multitool Pocket Knife: Victorinox Cadet
Any list of the best pocket knives wouldn’t be complete without an entry from Victorinox. As ubiquitous as the idea of a “Swiss Army Knife” has become, a few of its offerings stand out from the crowd. One such model is the Victorinox Cadet ($43). Beyond its well-ground blade, users will find a wealth of other tools tucked inside its durable aluminum frame.
A quick word before we perjure ourselves: In the buyer’s guide below, we’ll generally try to steer you away from no-name stainless steel. Victorinox gets a bit of a pass here, as its knives have shown to hold up well over time.
The company seems to prioritize stainlessness over edge retention, but the thinness of its blades helps them cut for longer. Plus, they’re easy to sharpen. There’s also no locking mechanism, so you’ll want to limit it to simple cutting tasks.
But really, you know what you’re getting into with a Victorinox. And the Cadet is one of the best offerings in its lineup. If you like the idea of all this added capability, be sure to check out our overall list of the Best Multitools.
- Blade length: 2.5 in.
- Blade steel: Victorinox Stainless Steel
- Overall length: 3.3 in. closed
- Lock type: None
- Handle material: Aluminum
- Weight: 1.6 oz.
- Great versatility and slicing performance
- Non-locking blade
Best Rustproof Pocket Knife: Spyderco Salt 2
Spyderco’s Salt 2 ($125) comes with an incredible pedigree. Based on the iconic Delica4 design, its exterior will look familiar to anyone who’s browsed the company’s catalog in the last decade or so. But it’s the details that make the Salt 2 one of the most intriguing knives on the market.
Where other knives may boast a stainless steel blade, the LC200N on the Salt 2 is more accurately described as rustproof due to the chemical composition of its metallurgy. Spyderco has also done away with the stainless steel liners, incorporating a webbed pattern into the inner side of the FRN.
Any downsides here will be the same as those found on its ancestor. The Delica4, while lauded for its cutting performance, was known for its just-okay pocket clip. And we hope you like green, because that’s the only color available with the LC200N.
But nitpicks aside, the Salt 2 is an incredible marriage of utility and technology. Whether you’re working in the rain or slicing limes on the beach, it’s a knife you can rely on in all conditions.
- Blade length: 3 in.
- Blade steel: LC200N
- Overall length: 7.2 in.
- Lock type: Back lock
- Handle material: FRN
- Weight: 1.9 oz.
- Won’t rust
- Excellent cutting performance
- High pocket ride
- Limited color options
Why You Should Trust Us
Here at GearJunkie, we’ve been reviewing pocket knives for years. Some of our reviewers have spent more time and money on the hobby than they’d care to admit.
But out of that obsession has come a real appreciation for what makes a great pocket knife. And while we could type whole volumes on the merits of various blade steels and handle materials, what we’ve done here is boil it down to the essentials, focusing on value and utility.
The knives you’ll see listed above may not all be the latest or flashiest models, but each one offers outstanding performance for a reasonable price. These blades are capable, approachable tools, not just pocket jewelry.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Pocket Knife
Blade Steel and Length
In general, 3 inches is the sweet spot for blade length on pocket knives. Not only does this offer the best compromise of utility and ease of carry, but it’s also a legal boundary in certain places. Unless you’re absolutely in need of something longer, 2 to 3 inches is ideal.
What those inches are made of, however, can be a bit trickier. In the higher-priced category, we’d steer you toward steels like S30V, S35VN, M390, SPY27, or LC200N. Also, anything using CPM (crucible particle metallurgy) as a prefix should be solid.
These are great all-around stainless steels, with LC200N crossing into basically rustproof territory. On the budget end, look to steels like D2, Nitro-V, or VG10. Each of these has been around for decades, offering excellent value for the money.
With so many options out there, it’s actually easier to tell you what to avoid. Steels like 8Cr13MoV, 440HC, AUS8, and anything listed as “surgical” or basic “stainless steel” — these are materials whose times have passed. Unless you’re looking to spend less than $30 on a knife, they’re not worth the money and frequent resharpening time.
Other than blade steels, no component in the pocket knife world is as hotly debated as the lock. Button, back, compression, Axis, liner, Tri-Ad — these are just a few of the mechanisms out there. All have their devotees, and arguments about the relative merits or toughness of each have been raging for years.
For 99% of the work you’re doing, any of these will work just fine. While gear reviewers (several of our own writers included) love to test the durability and failing points of various locks, pocket knives are light- to medium-duty tools.
And while Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad lock is the closest thing you can get to a folding fixed blade, heavy-duty users will be better suited to ponying up for one continuous piece of full-tang steel.
That being said, there are a few other factors to consider. While almost everyone knows how to operate a back lock, they may struggle a bit more with the spring of a liner or frame lock.
Button, axis, and compression locks can be a touch fiddlier, but they offer the consideration of keeping your fingers out of the path of the blade as it closes. In the end, it’s up to you and your comfort level.
As with blade steels, there are a wealth of options when it comes to handle materials. Spyderco, for instance, utilizes fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) for most of its lightweight models.
You’ll see it implemented on the Chapparal LW and Salt 2 listed above, both with textured grips. These knives are rock-solid in the hand, allowing you to work with confidence. Grivory, another such material, appears on several Benchmade models, including the Bugout.
Both of these are excellent for situations in which your cutting hand may encounter some moisture. G-10, a popular glass-based resin found on the Civivi Elementum, is another strong candidate for everyday use.
But plastics and laminates aren’t the only games in town. Titanium makes for an excellent handle material, thanks to its durability and lightweight nature.
Aluminum, such as that found on the Victorinox Cadet, is another worthwhile option. And while we didn’t list a knife using carbon fiber, it’s another high-tech, low-weight option popular on the high end of the spectrum.
These may have a bit less of a warm feeling in the hand and may impair your grip when slippery. But their durability and rigidity are not to be overlooked.
What you’ll want to avoid, for the most part, is anything utilizing rubber or plain slabs of steel. These types of handles can be sticky and overly heavy, making the knife a general bother to use and carry.
While they may not garner as much attention as locks or blades, pocket clips should be a critical part of your shopping process. Whether you prefer tip-up or tip-down carry, it’s important to find one that allows the knife to ride comfortably in your pocket. Generally, this means finding a clip that limits the amount of knife that peeks out of your jeans.
Not only is this unsightly, but it can hinder your range of motion when climbing hills or stairs. No one wants to scale a mountain with the handle of their pocket knife prodding them in the hip. The Benchmade Bugout and Civivi Elementum, for instance, are excellent examples of deep-carry clips done well.
Once the blade is open, you’ll want a clip that disappears against the palm of your hand. Sharp edges and strange angles are the enemies of comfort here.
Most makers include some sort of adjustability in their design, as well. Take the clip on our top pick, the Spyderco Chapparal Lightweight — its wire frame can be easily swapped for left- or right-handed pockets.
What Is the Best Pocket Knife?
Like so many things in life, the answer to this question lies with the questioner. Do you spend most of your day in an office? You’ll want something lightweight and discreet, like the Spyderco Chapparal, Civivi Baby Banter, or Victorinox Cadet above.
What you want, in general, is a knife that’s reliable, comfortable to use, and easy to carry. And while many pocket knives can serve as multi-role tools, it never hurts to pick up another one for specialized circumstances. Just be careful, as picking up a new piece of gear here or there can quickly develop into a new hobby!
What Is the Best Pocket Knife Steel?
This question is only slightly less complicated than the one above and involves most of the same use factors. If your daily tasks involve slicing paper and breaking down cardboard, you’ll be well-served with the hardness of a steel like the CTS-XHP on our top pick. But if you find yourself dealing with wet material or environments, the LC200N on the Spyderco Salt 2 is pretty hard to beat.
There are plenty of great all-around options as well. S30V, S35VN, M390, Nitro-V, CPM-154 — all of these are respectable choices. What you want to avoid are the no-name stainless steels as well as just about anything that has the letters “CR” near the beginning of its title (8Cr13MoV, we’re looking at you).
Go even deeper in our knife steel explainer.
What Is the Best Lock for a Pocket Knife?
As you’ll notice, most of the knives listed above feature a back-lock mechanism. It’s a simple, tried-and-true option just about everyone has operated at some point or another. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the best. Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad lock, while similar, is one of the most robust locking mechanisms on the market.
Liner locks are another popular option. This variant uses a leaf spring on the inside of the handle, which pops into place once the blade is opened. This is another strong design, though perhaps a touch more finicky than the back lock.
Spyderco and Benchmade also feature their own mechanisms with the compression and Axis locks, respectively. Both of these provide good security for the blade while also upping the fidget factor.
In short, each of these locks has something to offer. If you’re looking for simplicity, it’s hard to beat the back lock. But if you’re one of those people who enjoys snapping your knife open and closed just for the fun of it, the Axis and compression setups have a lot to offer.
What Type of Pocket Knife Clip Is Best?
Over combined decades of carry, we’ve found that a low-profile, tip-down configuration suits most people’s needs. The reasons here are relatively simple. The lower the knife rides in your pocket, the less likely it is to impede the movement of your hip and leg.
Plus, the less it peeks out of your pocket, the less likely you are to draw unwanted attention. Wire-based or painted clips further boost your conspicuousness.
As for tip-up, this is a no-brainer. While it sounds scarier, having the tip of the folded blade facing upward while riding against the back seam of your pocket is overwhelmingly safer. This way, the rear of the pocket prevents the knife from opening when stowed, ensuring that you don’t jab yourself in the palm.
Are Serrations Good on a Pocket Knife?
The answer to this question is a resounding no 99% of the time. While many brands include these little metal teeth, they usually diminish the overall functionality of a knife.
Serrations break up the edge of a blade, reducing your capacity for long, clean slices. That’s not to say they’re useless, however. If you find yourself dealing with a lot of rope or cordage, serrations are actually quite beneficial. But when breaking down cardboard, opening packages, slicing food, or carving, they’re definitely more of a nuisance.
What's the Best Size for a Pocket Knife?
For most individuals, we’d recommend a pocket knife with a blade near 3 inches. This comes from a variety of factors, not the least of which is legality. Many urban areas have restrictions when it comes to blade length, and some frown upon locking mechanisms altogether. Be sure to read up on your local laws before making a purchase decision.
But beyond the legal complications, 3 inches tends to be the sweet spot between carry-ability and function. It gives you enough reach to complete most daily tasks while still folding comfortably in the pocket.
And don’t forget to check out the handle! You’ll want something long enough to nearly fill your palm or at least provide a solid three-finger grip.
Are Automatic Knives Good for Everyday Carry?
In general, the answer is no. Automatic pocket knives are expensive, challenging to maintain, and almost certainly illegal if you plan to travel to any kind of population center.
While there’s a certain appeal to the click-clack deployment offered by some of the more famous brands, many automatic pocket knives utilize tactical-fantasy marketing that, at the very least, is disingenuous or misleading.
However, many reputable companies such as Benchmade offer a variety of assisted-opening pocket knives. These can offer a more comfortable middle ground with less of the questionable legality.
Why Should I Carry a Pocket Knife?
From opening packages to slicing up food, pocket knives offer a wealth of utility. Rather than using your fingernails, a car key, or half of a pair of scissors, pocket knives are a natural piece for people with a lot of tasks on their hands. This is especially true for outdoor enthusiasts, who deal with materials like rope, wood, and canvas all the time.
One reason you won’t see on this list is self-defense. Despite what some industry marketing material would lead you to believe, carrying a pocket knife doesn’t turn you into a commando or modern-day gladiator.
Unless you’re a trained weapons expert, you’re just as likely to injure yourself as any would-be attacker. If you feel the need to carry something for protection, you’re far better off with a can of pepper spray. Pocket knives are best treated as tools — not weapons.