Pocket Knife Leaderboard
Why should you trust us? We are some of the leading online independent knife review sites, offering consumers with impartial reviews, advice and education around the knife industry. Using more than two decades experience with collecting and testing knives we could demonstrate the most effective pocket knife your money can buy and skip the rubbish. We assess the best folding knives within the top brands and most importantly we’re not just a knife vendor so you can be positive to acquire impartial advice. Our huge pocket knife chart is certainly an excellent resource that allows you to certainly compare today’s most broadly used folding knives in addition to their specs.
|MAKE / MODEL||STEEL||BLADE||REVIEW|
|Ontario RAT II||AUS-8||3.0″||Full Review|
|Kershaw Skyline||14C28N||3.1″||Full Review|
|SOG Flash II||AUS-8||3.5″||Full Review|
|Kershaw Leek||14C28N||3.0″||Full Review|
|Spyderco Delica 4||VG-10||2.9″||Full Review|
|MAKE / MODEL||STEEL||BLADE||REVIEW|
|Spyderco Paramilitary 2||CPM-S30V||3.4″||Full Review|
|Benchmade Mini Griptilian||154CM||2.9″||Full Review|
|Kizer Gemini||CPM-S35VN||3.1″||Full Review|
|Buck Marksman||154CM||3.5″||Full Review|
|Benchmade 940-1||CPM-S90V||3.4″||Full Review|
|MAKE / MODEL||STEEL||BLADE||REVIEW|
|Chris Reeve Inkosi||CPM-S35VN||3.6″||Full Review|
Examples of great pocket knives
Here are some examples of the best pocket knives available on the market today that deserve a mention.
Benchmade is a respected US-based knife manufacturer and their Griptilian range is tremendously popular among pocket knife enthusiasts. In fact, I find myself recommending the Griptilian probably more than any other single folding knife as it’s such a perfectly well-rounded EDC choice for the vast majority of casual users. Arguably the best pocket knife for all-around use at the ~$100 mark. The build quality is solid, the blade steel is more than adequate for most users, it’s well designed, performs well in the field and on top of all that it’s reasonably priced – even for a Benchmade.
Like most Benchmade folders, the Griptilian uses their impressive AXIS lock mechanism which uses a tiny spring-loaded steel bar that shifts forward and back into a special slot cut into the liners and engages a notch machined into the tang section of the blade when opened. Trust me when I say this is one of the best locking mechanisms out there.
What’s more, Benchmade showers you with endless options on the Griptilian to suit everyone’s tastes. First, you get to choose between the standard 3.5-inch blade (551 model) or the smaller Mini Griptilian with the 2.9″ blade (556 model). From there you have a choice of blade styles (drop point, tanto, sheep’s foot), blade edge (plain or partially serrated), blade coating (satin or black), handle material (G-10 or Valox), blade steel (154CM or CPM-20CV) and a wide variety of handle colours.
Seriously, if you don’t own a Griptilian already then it’s practically a no-brainer if you want a do-it-all EDC that blends style, performance and price. Both large and small variants are equally ergonomic and versatile depending on your needs. Check out the Griptilian at Amazon here. Arguably the best way to spend a $100 folding knife budget these days.
The Delica has been a tremendously popular EDC knife for Spyderco for over 20 years now. The reason is simple: it’s damn good for the money. Like the Griptilian, the Delica appeals to both hardcore knife enthusiasts and newbies looking to pick up their first pocket knife that will last a decade or more. Like all good knives, the secret is in the design…and the Delica is a masterclass in knife design. To the untrained eye, it’s underwhelming but I assure you it’s genius. The dimensions just work, the ergo’s just work, the lockup just works…everything just works as it should. It’s lightweight enough to be inconspicuous in your pocket yet the 2.8″ blade is plenty to get the job done.
Most importantly, however, is the value for money aspect here. Sure, I could recommend dozens of superior knives that are twice the price, but we are discerning consumers who want the most for our money – and the Delica delivers in that department. Basically, for about $60 or so you’re getting a well-made knife comprised of decent materials that will deal with light-to-medium duty tasks no problem. There’s plenty of flavours available and you can even upgrade the standard VG-10 to a premium steel like ZDP-189 for another $30 or so. Without a doubt, the Delica has already earned its place in the pocket knife hall-of-fame.
Kershaw is a long time player in the US knife market serving the budget to the mid-range sector with innovative designs. There’s a reason the Leek is one of the best selling knives in existence today. Highly regarded knife maker Ken Onion has designed this beautiful yet affordable pocket knife which hits the sweet spot of price-to-performance. It employs Kershaw’s patented SpeedSafe opening system which ensures a smooth blade deployment with only a single hand.
The Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel blade gets extremely sharp and slices effortlessly but do note the blade tip is somewhat delicate as compared to other knives so we don’t recommend this for heavy duty applications. It’s a true gentleman’s folder that feels at home in either the suit jacket or jeans pocket. The Kershaw Leek is compact, lightweight and comes in a variety of colours in both serrated or plain blade types. At around $40 or so, this is solid EDC choice that you won’t mind getting scuffed.
Spyderco is another tried and trusted US based pocket knife manufacturer which is popular with enthusiasts. Their tactical folding knives are instantly recognizable and ergonomically sound. The Spyderco Tenacious has been around for a good number of years now and is a great example of how this company can produce such a well-balanced knife at ridiculously low cost. Sure, this knife is not going to compete with the higher end offerings and yes it’s made in China but for under $40 it’s amazing value for money.
The tactical looking Tenacious can be used as an EDC and features a leaf-shaped 8CR13MOV stainless steel blade that’s somewhat broad but plenty sharp. The knife performs well in most applications including some heavy duty tasks and with very little blade play in either direction.
For such a low price point the Tenacious has some great features – the distinctive thumb hole allows for smooth and confident blade deployment, the pivot tension can be self-adjusted and a 4-way pocket clip which can be moved to either side of the blade. The knife handle is the practically indestructible G-10 material with skeletonized stainless steel which minimizes weight without expensing too much strength and fits snug in your hand. Overall, it’s impressive to see just how much Spyderco has sunk into this baby for such a low price. A favourite budget choice of ours for sure.
Not everyone wants a contemporary, tactical looking knife. Without a doubt, one of the most iconic and popular hunting-style knives which date back to 1964 and considered to be one of the very first locks back knives is the Buck 110. Created by Buck Knives, this masterpiece is copied the world-over and is admired by both knife-newbies and long-time knife collectors. The reason? For a start, Buck’s heat treatment brings the best out of the 420HC stainless steel which will take an edge relatively easily. The knife is well made and the lock-up is solid with no blade play in either direction.
It’s damn sturdy too, able to carry out heavy duty tasks without succumbing to much wear-and-tear. Most are surprised how large it is at first glance – it’s almost five inches closed and the blade three and a quarter inches long. For huntsmen, campers and general outdoorsmen this is a very affordable knife that won’t disappoint.
SOG is a popular tactical knife manufacturer and their pocket knives have won praise with many in the industry. The SOG Flash II is another excellent affordable choice for the every-day-carry knife. It’s razor sharp with an AUS-8 stainless steel blade which is partially serrated and very durable. The Flash II uses spring assisted opening technology which ensures a fast, smooth opening and the handle is glass-reinforced nylon which results in a lightweight yet strong design. For added safety, the knife includes a locking switch which will ensure the blade does not accidentally deploy.
Again, this knife is a solid all-rounder on the budget end of the spectrum. It may not hold its own against some of the more expensive knives but for around $40 it’s a great buy.
If you have a little more cash to invest I highly recommend the Benchmade 940 Osborne. The is one of the finest mid-sized EDC knives I have ever used and it regularly comes with me most everywhere I go. The 940 Osborne has a 3.4-inch blade forged from the excellent CPM S30Vstainless steel and weighs only 2.9 ounces. It measures just less than 4.5 inches when closed so it’s far from being considered a large knife. In fact, the size is near perfect for me.
Like the Griptilian the 940 Osborne uses the solid AXIS lock mechanism which is one of the best in the business. The anodized 6061-T6 aluminium handle performs exceptionally well and stands up to the most extreme conditions without any sign of deterioration. Design and ergonomics are top notches and this knife feels like an extension of your hand once you get used to it. I think you get the idea! The only downside here is the price but if you’re serious about knives you should check it out.
In the knife community, Chris Reeve is synonymous with quality and innovation and no discussion of best pocket knives is complete without mentioning the Sebenza. The Chris Reeve Sebenza has long been regarded by the industry as one of the best folding knives money can buy. It has a titanium frame lock design that combines simplicity with durability and a blade made from S35VN stainless steel that forever retains its edge. Once opened and locked the knife feels as solid as a fixed blade and holds comfortably in the hand. The quality is truly second to none and it’ll shave the hairs on your chin right out of the box!
The Sebenza is available in large or small and dedicated right or left handed models. This really is considered by many to be the cream of the crop and the price of admission is accordingly steep. Expect to pay over $400 for the full sized model.
Pocket knives are big business these days and the market is filled with brands to suit every niche. Here’s a rundown of the most popular knife brands.
For over three decades, Benchmade has manufactured knives in the US with a focus on quality. Based in Oregon, they have targeted the EDC, tactical, survival and rescue markets with well-made offerings typically falling in the mid-range ($50-$150) and premium ($150-$250) price brackets.
Benchmade is now one of the largest manufacturers of folding knives in the US with established distribution channels in several major retail outlets. They have a reputation for terrific customer service and produce all of their knives in the US, despite mounting pricing pressures from competitors.
Based in Golden, Colorado, Spyderco has been in the business of making knives since the late seventies. Initially focused on serving military and law enforcement personnel, the brand has become one of the leading knife manufacturers in the US in terms of both reputation and sales volume.
Spyderco’s focus is largely on folding knives, most of which feature their trademark ‘spyder-hole’ which allows for one-handed opening and promotes brand recognition. Spyderco is known for collaborating with a multitude of makers and designers while also being an innovative company. In fact, several common features found on many of today’s pocket knives were first introduced by Spyderco.
Unlike Benchmade, however, Spyderco has chosen to manufacturer some of the knives overseas in low-cost hubs like China and Taiwan.
Kershaw is based in Tualatin, Oregon but is owned by Japanese parent company KAI Group along with its sister brand Zero Tolerance. They have a relatively large product portfolio spanning a wide range of styles including everything from flippers to automatics. Like Benchmade and Spyderco, the company has collaborated with several big-name knifemakers/designers on a number of its existing product lines.
While Zero Tolerance aims at the high end of the market, Kershaw is a volume business. Its target market is mainstream consumers of EDC and tactical folding knives with the majority of its offerings falling in the budget (<$50) and mid-range ($50-$150) price brackets. Kershaw manufactures knives both in the US and overseas, largely in Asia to keep production costs down.
Buck is regarded as a classic knife brand, producing fixed blade and folding knives for almost a century with their headquarters in Post Falls, Idaho. Buck’s rise to fame was helped in part by the tremendous success of their Model 110folding hunter, which remains one of their best selling models today. Focused on the value end of the market, Buck now splits production between the US and China but is committed to staying innovative and employing adequate levels of quality control to stay competitive.
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) is another US knife manufacturer based in Oregon and aimed squarely at the mass market for EDC, tactical and survival knives. They are a relative newcomer, starting a business in the mid-nineties and built their success on a series of unique patents and a strong warranty program. They produce almost all of their knives in China and Taiwan but focus their design and innovation efforts here in the US.
The Gerber brand has been producing knives for over half a century with headquarters in Oregon but owned by the Finnish conglomerate Fiskars. Like CRKT their focus is on the budget (<$50) and mid-range ($50-$150) markets and they produce largely in China but with some models manufactured in the US. The company has skewed its focus towards tactical and survival niches and invests heavily in marketing, as evidenced by their recent collaboration with TV star Bear Grylls.
Speciality Knives & Tools (aka SOG) plants itself squarely in the tactical knife and tool market. Based in Lynnwood, WA they produce fixed blade and folders (largely overseas in Asia) with heavy marketing towards the armed forces and their ‘mall-ninja’ counterparts. Perhaps their most recognizable offering was the MACV-SOG bowie knife which was popular with Vietnam war veterans. Today they have a wide product range, largely comprised of budget and mid-range offerings with a recent foray into the multitool market.
A sister company of Kershaw and subsidiary of the Japanese KAI Group parent, Zero Tolerance (“ZT”) is a high-end brand focused on quality and performance. They’re known for overbuilt folders, solid pocket knives built like a tank and manufactured to a high tolerance using top end materials. A huge favourite among knife enthusiasts and collectors, the ZT brand continues to grow in terms of reputation and market share.
Chris Reeve is arguably the single most influential knife brand on the planet. Most consumers will never own one due to the steep prices (think $400+ for their most popular Sebenza model) but the fact remains that no other brand holds the same amount of prestige as Chris Reeve. Whether that accolade is warranted or their knives ‘live up to the hype’ is a debate for another day, but you cannot deny the universal appeal and commitment to US-made quality that Chris Reeve has created over the years.
Swiss-based Victorinox is the 800 lb gorilla of the pocket knife world, with sales basically exceeding all the other brands put together. They owe it all to the Swiss Army Knife, an affordable but indispensable tool which comes in a mind-boggling array of varieties and has a place in every home. Victorinox produces tens of thousands of Swiss Army Knives each and every day – with impressive quality control that has rarely waned over the years.
What to look for in a pocket knife
In choosing the best pocket knife for you there are various factors you should consider. I cover these below, starting with the basics and then some of the more specific areas to focus on.
The pocket knife blade
As you’d expect the blade is the heart and soul of the knife and above all else, it needs to be sharp. Of course, knife makers know this and they put a lot of emphasis on the blade – what it is made of, how it reacts under stress, how easy it is to sharpen if needed, how it will resist corrosion and how strong it is. You’ll typically find the best pocket knives are using the best steel suited to the main application the knife was designed for. The steel will determine properties like toughness, strength, hardness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance and edge retention. Our guide to knife blade steel explores more about the science of knife blades but for now, simply know that the blade is numero-uno when choosing a knife.
The pocket knife handle
A quality knife handle should be tough, resilient, grippy and should not absorb any moisture. A good example of a material that exhibits these properties is G-10 which is a fibreglass based laminate that demonstrates minimal water absorption. Other popular handle materials these days are Titanium, FRN and Zytel. Bear in mind, however, that you can have the best materials in the world and still have a poor knife. What’s more important is the design. Check out my complete guide to knife handle materials here.
Knife design and ergonomics
Nothing else matters if the knife is poorly designed and getting the right ergonomics is a key part of the design process. In basic terms, ergonomics refers to how comfortable the knife feels in your hand. A quality knife designer can create something that feels like an extension of your hand. Also, both the deployment and locking mechanisms are very important. Pocket knives can be deployed using thumb studs, flippers or automatically. For lockup, the knife may utilize a liner lock, frame lock, compression or Axis lock for example. All important considerations which will determine how the knife performs.
Overall value for money
Sure if we were all filthy rich our knife buying experience would be a whole lot easier. The reality for most of us is that we are limited to a budget and want to get the maximum performance within these limits. This is why we pay particular attention to value for money. Many knives on the market today are simply overpriced for what they are. The good news is that there are also plenty of excellent value for money options and if you look hard enough it’s possible to find a number of top quality knives without breaking the bank.
It seems to me that many manufacturers these days are going overboard on blade thickness. A classic case of form over function. Sure, it’s okay to have a thicker-than-average blade on a heavy duty, hard use knife but in most cases, it just isn’t necessary. As your blade gets thicker you will sacrifice cutting ability. Also, pay attention to how thick the blade is right behind the edge. Consider the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 for example – it’s a relatively thick blade at the spine but with the flat grind, it gradually becomes relatively thin towards the edge of the blade. That works well. What doesn’t work well is when the blade maintains it’s thickness too close to the edge. That doesn’t make for an effective slicer.
Manufacturers use different mechanisms to ensure a smooth but sturdy action on the pocket knife blade. You should pay attention to these as they will have a huge impact on the quality of this action. Essentially you want as little friction as possible while maintaining sufficient strength to avoid any side-to-side wiggling of the blade (known as blade play). Here’s a rundown on the different types you’ll see.
- No washers. Examples: Opinel No.8, Spyderco Urban. On one end of the spectrum, there may be no washers at all. In general, it can work but there is relatively quite a bit of friction and it can scratch the blade.
- Teflon washers. Examples: Spyderco LionSpy. Teflon is a decent material for minimizing friction and it’s better than not having any washers at all. Still, it’s considered a lower end solution in most cases. The action is not going to be terribly slick and the Teflon is subject to deformation.
- Bronze washers. Examples: Kershaw Cryo, Spyderco Slysz Bowie. Okay, this is better. Bronze is a decent metal washer which provides a smooth contact surface. Much more durable and stable. Phosphor bronze is a popular modification of the standard bronze washer and works well. Metal is simply not as compressible as Teflon while being very smooth. Friction is reduced and the blade action is improved.
- Washers with pivot bushings. Examples: Shirogorov Hati, Chris Reeve Sebenza. A positive variation on bronze washers is introducing additional washers that surround the pivot hole. The result here is to reduce friction that little bit more that results in a smoother action.
- Bearings. Examples: ZT 0452, Shirogorov Neon. To minimize friction, some knives use bearings instead of washers. A small disc is typically used that contains the metal ball bearings. Friction is minimized simply because the contact area is much smaller versus washers. The downside to using bearings is that they can collect ‘gunk’ and hence need a little more maintenance over the life of the knife to keep them running smoothly. Note the bearings can either be captive or loose with single or multi-rows for differing levels of performance.
Coated blades and handles
Unless you’re a covert ops Navy Seal or whatever, the coated blade is purely for aesthetics – that tactical look which many of us find cool these days. Problem is unless it’s done really well, a coated blade or handle will eventually start to rub off and then the sex appeal begins to diminish real fast. So, bear in mind that your black coated blade may look the business on day one but it won’t stay that way forever.
Pocket clip positioning
Many knives offer 4-way clip positioning which is great because it allows you to move the clip to whatever position works for you. Not in all cases though. On some knives, the clip is fixed in a single position, and it may not be to your liking. I prefer tip-up carry but I understand that’s not for everyone. So, be on the lookout for what options you have with the pocket clip.
Being able to disassemble a pocket knife is a wonderful thing. It allows you to clean it and add lubricant which is going to ensure it operates properly for a long time. Knives that prevent you from disassembling are a poor choice in general in my opinion but even those that do often introduce proprietary hardware which is just plain annoying. What that means is that you have to use the manufacturers a special tool to open up the knife! Look out for regular screw heads or Torx screws which are pretty standard and thus easy to open up.
Questions you should ask yourself
Here’s a summary of some of the additional things you ought to consider before making your purchase:
How do you intend to use the knife?
You wouldn’t buy a machete for slicing tomatoes in the kitchen and the same logic goes for how you choose your pocket knife. Think about how you plan on using the knife. Is it for skinning deer, cutting boxes, self-defence or just an all-around everyday knife? All folding knives are not made for the same purpose so be sure to have this in mind before taking the plunge.
Single vs multi-blade knives
Today’s folding knives come in all shapes and sizes and range from a single blade to a multitool style knife. Heck, there’s one multitool with 87 different implements! My advice here is don’t overdo it. Your default assumption should be that a single blade is all you need. Now, if your intended knife usage calls for some markedly different applications then do consider a multi-blade knife. These tend to be in the classic style from renowned manufacturers such as Case, Buck or Old Timer.
For example, you’ll find two or three-blade pocket knives which include a standard clip or drop-point blade accompanied by a spey or sheep’s foot blade. These are particularly useful for hunters or fisherman who need to carry out a variety of tasks at once. Then you have Swiss Army knives and Multitools which throw in a whole bunch of other ‘tools’ that you may or may not need. Remember, these all add bulk so again I recommend starting simple unless you really need the extra options.
What’s the size of the knife?
I generally categorize pocket knives into three categories: small, medium and large. Small sized pocket knives typically have a blade length of under 2.5 inches. These are perfect for slipping in your pocket and serving as simple utility knives. Sure you won’t be cutting down trees but they’re ideal for those handyman jobs around the house and garden.
Medium sized pocket knives typically have a blade length of between 2.5 and 3.75 inches. It’s the sweet spot that most EDC knives will fall into and the most popular size category. For real heavy duty applications, you should consider a large-sized pocket knife which has a blade of over 3.75 inches. Larger knives in this category are not too common but ideal for mammoth tasks. Note that with larger knives you need to pay close attention to state laws which may prohibit you from carrying them.
What type of blade do you need?
As discussed in our blade types guide, there are plenty of variations on the market to fit every possible usage. This is certainly something you want to consider against your intended usage. If it’s general purpose I recommend going with a drop point or clip point blade. In addition to blade type, you should consider whether you want a plain, serrated or partially serrated edge. Naturally, a plain edge will be unable to perform any sawing cuts but excels at all forms of precision cutting. Rarely will you need a fully serrated edge unless it’s for specific heavy duty work? You may consider the combo edge (with partial serration) and these are getting more popular these days particularly on the tactical knives.
Is the knife brand reputable?
We’re fortunate here in the USA to have some of the world’s finest knife brands on our doorstep. Trusted manufacturers like Spyderco, Benchmade, Kershaw, SOG, Buck, Gerber, Case, Emerson, Victorinox, CRKT and Schrade are all competing to provide us with the best possible quality. Check out my guide to the different pocket knife brands to learn more about these brands.
What style of knife do you need?
You’ll notice the tactical folding knife style becoming more popular these days, especially with younger knife enthusiasts but there will always be a place for the more classic knife designs such as with the Uncle Henry and Old Timer knives. In addition, the Swiss Army pocket knife style is a category all unto itself and continues to be pressured by the multitool category too. Again, think about how you intend to use the knife which will help determine the best knife style for you.
Why I built this website
Our motto is that nobody should be without a pocket knife. Still, choosing the right one can be a challenge as you’ll find literally hundreds of folding knives available to purchase from a bunch of different manufacturers ranging from a cheap $5 penknife to well over $500 for the top of the line models. The information you need is out there but it’s generally strewn all over the place. As a pocket knife enthusiast for over 20 years I wanted to create the best online knife resource with everything in one spot. My team and I have gathered all the information you need to make life easy for you. We consider it our mission to help you find the right knife that meets your needs. As we’re not a knife vendor so you can be sure to get impartial advice.
All too often I hear: “Look, I need to buy a knife but there are way too many to choose from so please just tell me which is the best so I can go and buy it.” We hear it all the time and to be honest, it’s really, really hard to simply tell you what the ultimate pocket knife is. That’s because there are so many different knives on the market today and each one is suited to a different user and application. Of course, there is a bunch of crap out there which we will endeavour to ensure you steer clear of but even after weeding those out you’re left with literally hundreds of choices from top quality manufacturers.
Check out our massive interactive chart of pocket knives which has all the key data points to help you choose. We know the choices can often be overwhelming to the uninitiated: single blade, 2, 3 and 4-blade, Swiss Army knives, jack knives, Barlow, camper, canoe, lock-blade, multitool, etc. Even when you may have figured out what type of knife you want there are a multitude of choices to sift through: tactical or traditional, blade size, type of steel, locking blade or not, natural or synthetic, etc… and the list goes on. So check out the chart and reviews which will help a great deal.
Whether you need a knife for camping, hunting, self-defence or simply an EDC you should be able to find a solid recommendation here. Hopefully, you’ve learned about knife types, different steels and sharpening techniques in our Articles section. No doubt you’ll have read through a bunch of detailed knife reviews in our Reviews section. You should have familiarized yourself with the various different pocket knife manufacturers in the Brands section and finally, you’ve reviewed a complete detailed listing of most all the knives you’ll ever need to consider in our unique Comparison Chart. Now go grab your pocket knife today! If you still have questions, do not hesitate to get in touch.