There’s no denying it: I’m a knife knut. I have a large collection of pocket knives, and I carry one pretty much every day. These are the best pocket knives in my kit.
When it comes to my knife collection, I admit it might be a little, um, extensive. At any given time, I have 20 to 30 knives, some of which I’ve had for years, while others are brand-new. With testing through different scenarios and sharpening them to test tools, a lot of my knives filter in and out of storage. Some of them only see the light of day a couple of times a year.
But through lots of trial and error, I’ve come up with a few knives I love. They live on my nightstand and wind up in my pocket on the reg.
By definition, my favorite pocket knives are all folding knives. They’re all moderately small and make a great everyday-carry knife. A few of them are a little larger, and some cost just a few bucks. Others can be darned pricey.
And at the risk of leaving out some great knives, I’ll go out on a limb to say these are the best pocket knives you can buy on every budget.
The Best Pocket Knives of 2021
Right now, the Benchmade 535BK-2 Bugout ($150) might be my favorite overall pocket knife. This version is a modest upgrade from the original Bugout. It has graphite black molded CF-Elite carbon fiber–reinforced nylon handle scales, making the knife stiffer than the original, but it’s still crazy light at just 1.8 ounces.
While no longer leading technology, CPM-S30V steel is still an exceptional performer that will hold an edge a long time and stand up to the rigors of the field. The deep-carry pocket clip is reversible, so you can easily carry on the left or right.
The locking system is rock solid, the blade shape is versatile, and the knife opens quickly and easily. It’s a bit pricey for such a light knife, but having used this one time and again, I’ve come to love it.
And for those who want to save a few bucks, the original version of the Bugout is very, very similar, just a few grams heavier and with oh-so-slightly softer handle scales.
The Gerber Fastball ($105) is a great little knife with a wonderfully fidgety opening motion. The S30V Wharncliffe blade flicks open authoritatively with a pronounced finger flipper. The aircraft-grade aluminum handle provides a sturdy grip. And the deep-carry, ambidextrous pocket clip provides deep, secure pocket carry.
The main negative of this knife is I’ve had clip screws come loose. Get some Loctite, treat the screws upon purchase, and set your pocket carry to your preference. It’s worth noting you can customize the Fastball with all sorts of graphics, logos, or text to make it one of a kind for an eye-catching gift.
At 1.5 ounces, the Opinel No. 8($17) qualifies as an ultralight pocket knife. Amazingly, it competes in weight with super-high-tech titanium-alloy knives. And while it lacks some of the modern qualities of flip-open super-steel blades, it still works as well as it always has.
For those who just need a simple folding pocket knife to cut string, slice some lunchmeat, or maybe clean a trout, the Opinel No. 8’s 3.5-inch blade is a proven design that costs less than a 20 dollar bill.
The Swiss Army Knife is about as classic as knives get. And there are hundreds of variations on this original multitool. But when it comes to these old standbys, simple is best.
The Spartan Knife ($24) has the simple tools you’ll actually use over and over: large blade, small blade, can opener with a small screwdriver, bottle opener with a large screwdriver and wire stripper, tweezers, reamer with sewing eye, corkscrew, toothpick, and a lanyard ring. Nothing wasted — this is the essential Swiss Army Knife.
If you need any more implements, it’s time to step up to a full-size multitool.
The Buck 110 is one of the most classic knives of all time. The brand caused quite a stir last year when it updated the classic 110 with more modern lines and materials in the form of the 110 Folding Hunter Slim Pro. And while the classic is still an amazing knife, I personally love the new, much slimmer (yet fully capable) modernized version.
The Folding Hunter Slim Pro ($90) upgrades the classic clip point with a slightly less pronounced curve on the spine, resulting in a more usable shape in my opinion. The G10 handle is light but strong in the hand. And the S30V blade holds an edge for a very long time yet is possible to resharpen by most home sharpening systems.
It’s worth noting that some other knife aficionados really dislike this knife, so it may not be your cup of tea. But I’ve used one many days for at least a year and have enjoyed its excellent daily use characteristics.
Pick up the SOG Aegis AT ($85), and you’ll have no doubt the brand engineered this knife for rough outdoor use. This beauty is burly and clearly ready for action. Even though it feels very robust at 5.15 ounces in your hand, it sits nicely in the pocket and isn’t too overwhelming for EDC use.
With a 3.13-inch Cryo D2 steel blade, it’s small enough to be legal in most cities. The versatile drop-point blade shape will do any job, from opening boxes and letters to gutting a deer. For the outdoorsperson who needs a big, capable knife that can transition into the workday, this is a good option.
James Brand is a relatively new player in the knife market. But in just 8 years, it’s developed a reputation for making highly refined pocket knives and tools at a reasonable price. The Ellis ($99) is the brand’s answer to a minimalist, knife-based tool.
At its core is a drop-point, partially serrated blade of Sandvik 12C27 steel. Add a multitool-seque screwdriver/scraper/bottle opener and lanyard bail, and you have a slick everyday-carry pocket knife.
And at just 2.8 ounces, the G10 handle sits small in the pocket. It fits well even in a coin pocket (or in its included carrying case if you’re into that kind of thing) for a perfect little blade for every day.
If you had to pick a single pocket knife to do everything, the Paramilitary II ($175-228) would be hard to beat. It’s super tough and able to handle borderline abuse. It has a medium-size blade, with a 3.44-inch cutting edge.
The locking system is as close to perfect as you can get in a pocket knife. And you can get one in many configurations and blade steels. It’s a fairly expensive knife, but if you need one do-all pocket knife that you can open letters with at the office and press into tough use on the weekends, this should be the top of your list.
I’m adding this at the end of the list because, inexplicably, Kershaw discontinued this genius knife a year ago, and it’s now hard to find. But dang it, it doesn’t change my opinion of the cheap Barge ($35), the only knife I’ve ever known that has a built-in prybar.
With a stubby 2.625-inch blade and a burly handle that doubles as a prybar on the end opposite the knife, this tool rides in my pocket whenever I’m doing housework or chores. Pop open paint cans, slice open packages, cut shingles — you know, do the stuff that destroys your more expensive EDC knife. This one is made for hard work.
Sadly, even with exceptional ratings, Kershaw quit making it. But if you can find one, nab it on sale for about $20.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Pocket Knife
Use and personal preference play a role in the best blade edge.
Plain edges are easier to sharpen and work for most uses. Instead of sawing, a plain edge excels at push cuts or slicing.
Serrated edges excel at sawing. This is a great choice if you regularly need to cut rope. They retain a sharp edge well, but the sharpening process is more complicated and time-consuming.
As the name implies, this style includes both a plain and serrated edge. The James Brand Ellis is an example of this style. It’s serrated toward the handle and plain towards the tip.
One of the key features of a pocket knife is the ability to store the blade away. With this comes the need to easily and quickly deploy the blade.
This classic opening method involves simply opening the knife with your hands. Many knives, like the popular Swiss Army Knife, have a nail nick. This small depression in the blade is used to pull it open.
These automatic-opening blades pop open at the press of a button. Switchblades are restricted in many states and countries. Be sure to check local laws before purchasing or carrying a switchblade.
Originally developed to get around switchblade restrictions, assisted-opening knives have become quite popular. Basically, it’s a combo of the two previously mentioned designs. To open, simply put pressure on the blade, and the spring-assisted mechanism will do the rest.
The SOG Flash AT-XR is one of our favorite spring-assisted knives.
This is the system that keeps the blade from folding in once deployed. Some countries (like the U.K.) have banned locking knives, so be sure to check local laws.
Also referred to as a “backlock,” a lockback uses a spring to lock the blade into place. To close the knife, you simply press down on the exposed part of the spine, which is generally located on the butt of the handle.
One positive is that this is out of the way while using the blade, so it’s unlikely you’ll accidentally fold the knife when in use. On the flipside, it takes two hands to fold, which can be annoying.
The Buck 110 Hunter Slim Pro is a classic lockback knife.
A liner lock puts a small piece of metal alongside the blade of the knife when it’s in the folded position. When you open the blade, the steel piece inside this liner pops over and blocks the knife from closing.
These are usually quite effective in quality knives but are not the most secure locking mechanism because they usually use a fairly small piece of metal to lock the blade. But for lighter-duty knives and EDC use, they are a good choice.
The Gerber Fastball is a good example of a liner-lock knife.
Framelock knives work similarly to liner locks, but they use a piece of the entire frame, not just the liner, to lock out the blade. This makes them more secure than liner locks. On the downside, they do affect the aesthetic of the blade.
The CRKT Pilar is a good example of an affordable framelock knife.
Pioneered by Benchmade (and found on many other brands under other names now that the patent has expired), the AXIS lock is an excellent locking system that you can operate one-handed, and with either hand.
It works with a spring that slides a pin in front of the blade to block its closure. To shut the knife, you just slide a small mechanism located in the handle to the back to move the spring and pin backward, then shut the knife. It’s very secure, light, and effective.
The Benchmade Griptillian is a classic AXIS-lock knife.
Pocket Knives: FAQ
Pocket knives are a fundamental piece of outdoor gear. Humans have been using pocket knives in some form or another for, well, forever. But fortunately for modern outdoorspeople, today’s knives are miraculous tools.
Thanks to advanced metallurgy, smart designers, and literal eons of development, you can get a spectacular knife that will hold an edge a very long time and not corrode.
Here, we break down a few of the common questions people have when purchasing a pocket knife.
What Is the Best Knife Sharpener for Pocket Knives?
Many common knife sharpeners will work great on pocket knives. My favorites are the Work Sharp Guided Field Sharper (for quick touchups) and the Wicked Edge GO (for serious resharpening to get knives into razor-like condition).
Regardless of which sharpener you have, just use it! It’s always easier to maintain a knife and keep it sharp than to let it get dull and have to reprofile the blade.
What Is the Best Steel for Pocket Knives?
Knife steel is a surprisingly complicated subject, but if we had to pick one best overall knife steel, we’d start with S30V. Please keep in mind there are literally dozens of very common knife steels, and some do have better performance than S30V.
But for a combination of reasonable price, excellent edge retention, reasonable toughness, and corrosion resistance, it’s hard to beat without spending a lot more money.
Of course, there are “super steels” like S90V, Maxamet, and SM100. But these come with sky-high price tags and are hard to find. Want to learn more about knife steel? Check out our complete guide to knife steels.
What Should I Look For in a Pocket Knife?
An everyday-carry pocket knife should be fairly light and comfortable to carry. It should be easy to hold and have a handle that is pleasing to use. For most people, a blade length just a little under 3.5 inches is great, as 3.5 inches tends to be the legal maximum to carry in many cities.
That length gives you plenty of blade length to do almost any common job outside of bushcraft-heavy chores. Most users will also appreciate one-handed opening and a securely locking blade.
Have a favorite pocket knife we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.