Our overall scoring matrix rewards the all-purpose product. With a long, well-reputed history and decades of subtle refinements, the Opinel knife design brings a very high overall performance, given its low price.
For camp cooking, the Opinel is just what the doctor ordered.
Blade and Edge Integrity
On some level, you get what you pay for with blades. However, in an economy of scale and with careful materials selection and design, a great blade can be made for a low price. Opinel has refined the blade of their knives for over 100 years. With patience and an eye to value and all-around function, the result is a thin, convex-ground, clip point blade shape. The stainless steel, straight edge blade we tested (they also sell serrated and carbon steel designs) holds an edge but responds well to attentive resharpening.
The overall blade grind is so narrow that the final edge bevel is virtually indistinguishable. Again, the most salient characteristic of this blade, especially as compared to the more "contemporary" designs we test, is its narrow profile. For cutting food and other softer items, this is a dream. The blade virtually cuts under its own low weight. For more robust tasks, like rope and webbing, the narrowness of the blade, the friction-hinge, and the natural give in a wooden handle feel a little flexible. It does the job, but it sometimes feels as if you are pushing harder than the knife is designed for.
The Top Pick Victorinox Classic SD and the Old Timer Mighty Mite have narrow blades like the Opinel. It is no surprise that both of these knives references their older design or the narrowness of their blade. It is a modern phenomenon to thicken the blade of pocket knives. In many ways, thicker blades are indeed nice. However, they aren't perfect. There are good reasons to choose a narrower blade. First, it weighs less. Next, cutting food with a narrow blade is nicer than with a thick blade. Of course, there are cons. For heavy cutting and prying, the robust cutter of the Editors' Choice-winning Benchmade Mini Barrage or the CRKT Squid knives do better. The blades of the CRKT Squid and Opinel are worth comparing more closely, as these two knives are close in price. The short and thick blade of the CRKT is best suited for heavy use, but compromises in softer materials. The Opinel balances these demands on the opposite end of the spectrum. Since day-to-day use means using your knife more frequently in cutting softer materials, of these two, it is the Opinel we prefer.
For a picnic, the Opinel is just right. The thin blade slices through all kinds of food with ease.
Open and in use, the Opinel No 8 is similar in dimensions to a small steak knife. (Opinel makes this same general design in a whole range of sizes. You can get an Opinel blade from 3.5 cm to 22 cm. The "No 8" we tested is the most popular size and has an 8.5 cm blade). The blade opens with a traditional fingernail slot and locks with a proprietary "Virobloc" safety ring. The Virobloc is essentially a rotating steel collar with a slot in it for the blade.
With the collar slot lined up with the blade, you can open and close the blade. With the collar slot turned aside, the blade cannot be opened or closed. This is elegant in its simplicity. The disadvantage of the opening method and locking collar is that all operations essentially require two hands.
Opening the Opinel requires two hands. This is a little more primitive than some of the newer offerings.
Most knives with a more "modern" design can be opened and locked with one hand. Assisted opening springs in our favorite knives make deployment easier. The top scoring knives in our review have assisted opening function and one-handed thumb stud blade deployment. Comparing to the other inexpensive knives reviewed, the Opinel doesn't stand out quite as much. The Top Pick Victorinox Classic requires two hands and has no lock option. The giant Buck Knives 110 Folding Hunter opens with a fingernail slot, just like the Opinel. A close competitor, the CRKT Squid, opens with a one-handed thumb stud operation but does not feature assisted opening function.
With the wide range of sizes available, you should be able to fit an Opinel knife into any part of your life. As the "standard" size, the No. 8 is fairly "average" regarding portability. At 1.5 ounces, the weight will be barely noticeable. The round profile handle takes up more pocket space than a flatter-handled style. The main disadvantage of the Opinel is that it has no pocket clip nor lanyard hole. The only viable way to carry it is loose in your pocket. Thankfully, the low weight and smooth wooden external profile make this a reasonable proposition.
Among the knives with blades this long, the Opinel is super lightweight. Most models with such a long blade weigh twice as much as this knife. The only knives coming close in weight have much shorter blades. We do wish that the Opinel had a pocket clip, though that would interfere with the classic, simple design appeal.
The classic, enduring design of this Opinel knife is visually pleasing, unassuming, and backed up with a serviceable design.
In a field dominated by sturdy, stiff "tactical" tools, the lightweight and wooden construction of the Opinel feels a little underwhelming. When pressed to cut rope or in whittling, the flex inherent in the wooden handle, friction-fit hinge, and narrow blade profile is noticeable. That said, our long-term testing and the thousands of Opinel knives still in use after decades and decades proves that the simple design, though lightweight, holds up to heavy use.
Something is appealing about wood and steel construction. The all-metal construction of the Kershaw Blur lends a very different "feel" and a different assessment of construction quality than the Opinel. The fact is that these two products, used within their respective limitations, will likely last just as long as one another. The assisted opening blades of the Blur, the Benchmade Mini Barrage, and the Best Buy Kershaw Leek are nice to use but require more moving parts. With springs and rivets and hinges we don't even know how many pieces something like the Leek would be. We can easily tell, though, that the Opinel is just five pieces; blade, handle, hinge pin, and the two metal collars that serve as the "Viroblok" locking mechanism. This simplicity is lightweight and proven to be reliable.
For whittling we wish for a thicker blade and more robust overall construction. Clearly the Opinel works, but a more rugged knife feels better.
There are no other features on the Opinel No. 8. Opinel makes versions that include bit drivers or a corkscrew. However, the simplicity of the version reviewed here is its primary appeal.
Very few pocket knives we assessed have additional features. If you want a few things to help with nail grooming or small household tasks, the Top Pick Victorinox Classic has scissors and a file, among other things.
For everyday carry and as part of your backpacking or picnic kit, the Opinel is perfect. It is affordable enough to have a few in different places.
Somehow Opinel is selling this well-made, functional, and stylish piece of equipment for about what you'd expect to pay for a mass-produced, low quality "gas station counter" pocket knife. It has its limitations, but the overall value to performance scoring is very much worthy of your consideration.
We don't always recommend that children play with knives. But we did get your attention. Arwa and the Opinel, grilling in Grand Teton National Park
It took us a few years to get an Opinel included in our review, and we ask forgiveness for that oversight. For many OGL readers, the Opinel No. 8 will be an excellent value and all you need for camping and household use.