The Best Pocket Knife Review

Which knife should you be carrying? We narrowed a thoroughly mystifying and huge field to eight of the best pocket knives available. We carried, cut with and critiqued these high quality tools for months of use. Occasionally they sat unused for the day in our pockets and purses. However, most days in every tester’s life required the application of at least a simple blade. The additional features of some of our tested knives also went well tested. We also conducted, at the same time, a review of the best multi-tools. We have found that many users will prefer a pocket knife, while others will desire a multi-tool. Some will even want one of each. Consult our pocket knife buying advice article and multi-tool buying advice to see which will be right for you.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab October 2, 2013

Top Ranked Pocket Knives Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
Read the Review
Video video review
Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
Read the Review
Video video review
Kershaw Leek
Kershaw Leek
Read the Review
Video video review
Benchmade Griptilian 551
Benchmade Griptilian 551
Read the Review
CRKT Mount Shasta
CRKT Mount Shasta
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $108 - $119
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $13 - $20
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $45 - $75
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $94 - $175
Compare at 5 sellers
$28
Compare at 1 sellers
Overall Score 
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Legendary blade construction, assisted opening, compact-yet-usable size.Tiny and portable, well made.Constructed like a work of art. Assisted opening.Proven and well-respected blade. Smooth, comfortable ergonomics.Light, compact and durable.
Cons Expensive. Blade-closed lock mechanism requires a learning curve.Not suitable for heavy usage.Slender and sharp edged handle doesn’t allow significant and extended application of pressure to blade.Large.Fiddly in hand and hybrid blade.
Best Uses Every-day carry for the discerning tool user.The best knife for the reluctant knife owner.Everyday carry.Everyday carry for big people and big tasks.Backcountry trips, rock climbing, general outdoor use.
Date Reviewed Sep 29, 2013Sep 29, 2013Sep 29, 2013Sep 29, 2013Sep 29, 2013
Weighted Scores Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife Kershaw Leek Benchmade Griptilian 551 CRKT Mount Shasta
Blade Integrity - 30%
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Ergonomics - 20%
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Portability - 20%
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Features - 10%
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Quality - 20%
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Product Specs Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife Kershaw Leek Benchmade Griptilian 551 CRKT Mount Shasta
Blade Style Drop Point, Straight drop Point, Straight Drop Point, Straight Drop Point, Straight drop point, straight/serrated combo
Opening Style Assisted, thumb stud fingernail Assisted, Locks closed. Ambidextrous thumb Stud thumb stud
Lock Mechanism Proprietary (Axis) none Frame Lock Proprietary (Axis) liner lock with proprietary secondary lock
Blade Material 154CM proprietary Stainless (between 440A and 420) Sandvik 14C28N 154CM 420J2
Handle Material plastic plastic Stainless Steel plastic Zinc Alloy
Blade Length (in) 2.9 1.4 3 3.4 2.3
Closed Length 4 2.3 4 4.6 3.3
Overall Length 6.9 3.8 6.9 8 5.7
Thickness (w/o pocket clip) 0.55 0.35 0.4 0.6 0.45
Weight (oz) 3.38 0.75 2.5 3.88 2.75
Other Features or Functions scissors, nail file, small screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products

Our selection, and most knives on the market, are of excellent quality. The tools we have evaluated represent a spectrum of materials, size, ergonomics and features. All are designed for multi-purpose “every day carry." Subtleties in that design, however, make some knives stand out. Additionally, varying design emphasis means that there is a knife out there virtually custom made for your needs. Our pocket knife buying advice article elaborates in much greater detail on using the information in our review to find the best blade for your purposes.

Why a Pocket Knife?
Readers of this review can be lumped into two categories. Those that are avowed lifelong pocket-knife carriers and those that will soon be. Pocket knife carriage, in many circles is currently “out of fashion," if not outright non-politically-correct. We would be remiss, also, to overlook the gender stereotypes associated with knife ownership. The editors of OutdoorGearLab are practical, forward-thinking individuals in a modern world. We believe that the utility of a simple blade carried with the owner basically every day transcends fashion, gender, and stereotypes. Try carrying any one of our reviewed pocket knives for a week, and we promise it will be easier to count the days you don’t find at least one use for it.

Criteria for Evaluation
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The same knives, in their closed arrangement. L to R: Smith and Wesson Extreme Ops, Benchmade Griptillian, Victorinox SwissChamp, Benchmade Mini Barrage, Kershaw Leek, CRKT Mt. Shasta, Gerber STL Fine Edge 2.0, and Victorinox Classic SD.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Blade Integrity (Sharpness, more or less)
Little confuses knife shoppers (and reviewers and designers and manufacturers) more than the over-simplified “sharpness” of a blade. The user’s experience of the sharpness of a blade is a function of many variables.

First of all, and despite what infomercials may suggest, every knife will need to be sharpened after some amount of use. Different materials and designs will hold an edge longer, but all will eventually need some TLC. There are professional knife sharpening services as well as a whole host of commercially available sharpening kits for home use. Additionally the manufacturer of Editors' Choice Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 and Benchmade Griptillian 551 will sharpen these knives for the life of the knife for a small handling fee each time.

The process of designing a blade starts with the material. All of our reviewed knives (and virtually all knives on the market) have blades made of some variety of steel. Steel is a metal made of mainly iron. In one of a variety of processes, that iron is mixed (“alloyed”) with small amounts of carbon and possibly other elements. The possible variations are virtually endless. Steel for a knife must be hard enough to resist the abrasion and deflection of the material being cut. However, it must be soft enough to bend at least slightly in the face of significant forces. Too hard and the steel will be brittle. Too soft and the steel will lose its edge rapidly. For an absolutely dizzying array of steel types, useful to the knife shopper only in an entertainment sense, visit this page.

However, in order to understand the quality of the blade you may purchase, understand two things: good knife steel is inexpensive enough that all knives now are made with good-enough metal. Most manufacturers of high quality knives advertise the type of steel they use. Trust us when we say that it’s all good. How the steel is handled is as important as the raw material. Once a manufacturer chooses the steel for a knife, it is cut to the rough shape and then hardened in some variation of a heating-and-cooling process. The various types of hardening result in different characteristics. After the hardening process the edge-holding characteristics of the material being used are well established. Provided the user doesn’t expose the blade to enough heat to reverse the hardening process, the steel now has a fixed mechanical nature. With hundreds of types of knife steel, and tens of varieties of hardening, there are thousands of permutations. In short, trust in the manufacturers.

Once a blade is shaped and hardened, the cutting edge receives its final grind. The procedures, facets and angles used to finish an edge further influence the initial sharpness and edge-holding ability of the blade. Like steel hardness, there is no single perfect edge finish. Too narrow an angle and the blade's leading edge is too thin to resist deflection and dulling, while too blunt an angle on that leading edge doesn’t feel nearly as sharp in actual usage. Like questions of material and hardening, feel free to investigate the different characteristics of the hollow grind, the edge angle and single vs. double bevel. Or you can rest assured that knife manufacturers of all types have this figured out. Follow their instructions for proper care, and the knife will serve you years and years.

In summary, knife “sharpness” is a function of a wide array of virtually invisible variables. A user’s long-term experience with the knife depends as much on his or her maintenance regimen as it does on initial manufacturing. The manufacturer has balanced numerous conflicting criteria at every step in the process, and all of the knives we tested demonstrate more-than-adequate edge integrity and sharpness.

Lastly, a few notes on blade shape and cutting edge design. All but the Smith and Wesson Extreme Ops have some sort of drop-point shaped blade. This is the most versatile blade shape. The tanto-shaped blade of the Smith And Wesson sacrifices some versatility in exchange for a slight increase in strength and significant increase in the intimidating appearance. Also, note that blades in our test and elsewhere can be either straight or serrated. Neither is in any way better than the other. Serrated blades cut tough materials more easily while straight blades are easier to sharpen. The OutdoorGearLab team prefers, generally, straight blades. Hybrid blades, like on the Smith and Wesson and the CRKT Mt. Shasta, can address a variety of needs. Use and sharpen the straight portion regularly, and save the serrated portion for tougher tasks like cutting carpet or rope.

Construction Quality
In the knives we tested, quality of manufacturing aside from the knife blade itself varied far more than the quality of the blade. Handle, hinges and locking mechanisms reveal the attention paid to detail. Sturdy parts and materials, close manufacturing tolerances and carefully thought out construction really stand out in a piece of equipment the end user will handle and use every day. In our testing, tight design considerations stood out virtually right away and only increased in value as time and usage wore on. Our evaluation of these knives’ construction quality was mainly subjective. Does it “feel” sturdy and confidence-inspiring? When this almost-aesthetic assessment came up short for a given knife, it inevitably followed that some aspect of the mechanical function of the knife would act finicky. Locking mechanisms are the most vulnerable to construction quality. Well made knives like the Kershaw Leek open and close smoothly every time. Less expensive options like the Gerber STL 2.0 Fine Edge cut just fine, but the locking mechanism can be difficult to disengage.

Portability
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Eminently portable, the Classic knife virtually disappears on most key chains.
Credit: Jediah Porter
A knife is only as good as it is handy. Will it be there for you when you need it? Bulky and heavy knives will be left at home. Small knives floating around in a glove box or crowded jeans pocket will be too time consuming to dig out. The most portable knives in our test were either overall small and equipped to easily hang on a key chain, or had a low profile and a tight pocket clip. By far, the Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is the most portable. The Victorinox SwissChamp Swiss Army Knife and the Smith and Wesson Extreme Ops are both bulky and heavy. In both these cases, however, this bulk and weight can be justified by some for their function and versatility.

Ergonomics
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The Benchmade Griptillian in what we consider heavier usage. Wood carving and whittling requires a sturdy blade and a handle that will push that blade around. We looked for rounded handles that fill the users loosely clenched fist.
Credit: Jediah Porter
Properly sharpened, and there-when-you-need it, a knife still needs to be usable. Heavy cutting requires a sturdy handle that doesn’t pinch or pressure the user’s hand. In many ways, portability and ergonomics are direct competitors. The most ergonomic knife has a rounded-profile handle that fills a loosely clenched fist. The most portable knife is the smallest and thinnest. Our scoring reflects that tradeoff. It is up to you to evaluate your needs and choose a pocket knife that strikes the balance you seek. The tool needs to be easy to open and smooth to deploy and stow. The locking mechanisms should be intuitive and simple. One-handed blade deployment is best. So-called “assisted opening” knives are even easier to use. Ideally for pocket-clipped knives the clip is oriented such that the tool can be pulled from the pocket and thumbed open without regripping. Both Benchmade knives are made this way and can be rearranged to work that way in either left or right pocket. Why other manufacturers do not employ this same simple strategy, if only for the majority of right-handed users, is mystifying. Both Victorinox knives have multiple tools. While none of the blades can be opened with one hand, all tools are easily engaged with even the most closely-trimmed fingernails. All the other knives have some form of one-handed opening.

Other Features
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Navigating the minefield of knives on the market is much like figuring out what this photo represents. How many tools are there? Which is which? How do I find what I want?
Credit: Jediah Porter
In our test, only the Victorinox and Smith and Wesson knives have any functions besides a primary blade. Depending on your intentions and usage, these functions may be the deal maker for you. The Extreme Ops knife is designed for rescue usage. Paramedics and firefighters will use the burly blade, seat belt cutter, and glass breaking punch occasionally. The rest of us may fear situations where we’d need to cut our seat belt off and bash through the window of the car, but we’ll tire of carrying such a burly knife long before using these features, statistically speaking. The tiny Classic Swiss Army knife packs a versatile punch in a tiny package. For the day-to-day user, the combination of tiny tools on this knife could be almost perfect. From office tasks to personal grooming to light home maintenance, the Victorinox Classic’s simple combination of features gets the owner through most of life’s challenges. The much beefier SwissChamp is almost too featured. While our lead tester has owned this very knife for 25 years, he long ago gave up on carrying it every day. The plethora of tools are all designed well and purpose built to serve the user. However, the shear mass of the knife puts it almost into novelty category and certainly past every day carry status.


Editors Choice: The Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
Click to enlarge
The Benchmade Mini-Barrage is almost overkill for fishing usage. However, if you carry a knife for every day carry anyway, why not one that will slice almost effortlessly?
Credit: Jediah Porter
The Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 is a precision-crafted, impeccably designed piece of high-end machinery. Benchmade carries a long history of excellent blade materials and construction. From the factory the blade arrives razor-sharp and ready to tackle tough tasks. Their “LifeSharp” sharpening service merely sweetens the deal. For the cost of shipping the knife back to them, Benchmade will return the edge to factory specs, throughout the length of your ownership. The handle fills a fisted hand but sits mainly unnoticed in a front pants pocket. The assisted-opening system, deployable from either hand and handy from either pocket, reliably pulls the blade to “ready” status. Finally, if you choose to carry the Mini-Barrage in a purse or loose in a pants pocket (where it could more easily jostle open) the blade can be locked closed. We do not hesitate to recommend this Benchmade model for general purpose. Further, in an endorsement of this knife’s fine-edged prowess, our hunting testers carry this as their primary blade for backcountry deer missions.


Top Pick Winner: Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
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The Classic is an excellent and manly way to carry a manicure kit in your pocket.
Credit: Jediah Porter
The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife earns our Top Pick award for its keychain-readiness. Far more compact than your car’s door remote, this Victorinox will sit unobtrusive and ready for action. When needed, the diminutive blade rises to most “civilized” occasions. Our lead tester’s very first pocket knife was a Victorinox Classic 30 years ago. His childish whittling, prying and poking never bent or broke the slender blade. Adults love the Classic for its grooming tools and compact stature. The scissors appear toy-like, but are easily pressed into duty cutting things as rugged as rock climbing webbing. For more routine tasks, the scissors excel.

Best Buy Winner: Kershaw Leek
Click to enlarge
The same narrow profile blade that can roll under pressure serves to pull stitches in an improvised sewing repair.
Credit: Jediah Porter
The Kershaw Leek packages a pedigreed blade into a compact, assisted-opening tool at a price half that of what other high-end manufacturers ask. The blade is made of excellent steel and comes from the factory extremely sharp. Like Benchmade’s assisted opening, the Editors' Choice-winning Mini-Barrage, the Leek can be opened with either thumb and it locks closed. In addition, Kershaw has engineered a tab on the rear of the blade that allows, with some practice, deployment of the blade with the index finger. To unlock and close the blade requires two hands. The Kershaw Leek’s primary compromise, in our opinion, is the narrow handle profile. As compared, again, to our Editors' Choice winner, the Leek is very similar in most dimensions. It weighs about an ounce less and is considerably thinner. That thinness significantly affects the in-hand comfort and ergonomics for heavier tasks and extended use. However, many will appreciate the lower profile for carrying. Also, in routine use one of our testers “rolled” a portion of the edge dull. This is a common issue with knives sharpened to a very narrow edge. As with most blade construction decisions, edge thickness requires inherent tradeoffs. The narrow profile of the Leek makes for a very sharp blade that cuts with minimal pressure. However, as our testing showed, that same thin leading edge can be rounded dull easily. This particular dulling event was easily remedied by a quick session with a standard kitchen honing steel.

Jediah Porter
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