The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

The Best Pocket Knives of 2020

Whittling isn't a common task for your pocket knife  but when you need to do it  a sturdy knife goes a long ways.
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday May 6, 2020
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Seeking the best pocket knife? Over the last 7 years, we've purchased and tested 37+ unique models side by side, with 18 knives in our 2020 review line-up. Our experts test each knife while exploring backcountry terrain throughout the United States, preparing food, camping, mountain climbing, and more. In addition to field tests, we compare key characteristics that help us evaluate five metrics, such as blade integrity and portability, which we use to assign a score to each product. Using both an unbiased and objective approach, we have identified top performers, award winners, as well as products that simply don't make the cut.

Related: The Best Multi-Tools of 2020


Top 18 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 18
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Best Overall Pocket Knife


Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585


Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
Editors' Choice Award

$114.95
(23% off)
at Amazon
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 9
  • Ergonomics - 20% 8
  • Portability - 20% 7
  • Construction Quality - 20% 9
  • Other Features - 10% 0
Weight: 3.4 oz | Blade Length: 2.9 inches
Legendary blade construction
Assisted opening
Compact-yet-usable size
Expensive
Blade-closed lock mechanism requires a learning curve

The Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 is built for precision with a design that has helped it maintain its Editors' Choice status for years now. Its blade arrives razor-sharp, and Benchmade's LifeSharp sharpening service sweetens the deal. If you cover shipping costs, they will return the edge to factory specifications through the life of the knife. The handle fits in the palm well, and the knife tucks easily into a pants pocket. Pocket clip carry is modular; you can wear it on either side. An assisted opening system, deployable by either hand, reliably pulls the blade to "ready" status. For carrying in a pocket or purse, the blade can be safely locked in the closed position.

This is an expensive product. Over a long lifespan, especially with Benchmade's "LifeSharp" service, you will undoubtedly realize the value of the Mini-Barrage. However, if you are somebody who easily misplaces equipment like this, the initial investment may be too much. Also, for heavy tasks and frequent usage, its slightly down-sized stature will be noticeable. As long as you aren't using it for hours and hours a day and as long as you can keep track of it long enough to realize the investment, the Mini-Barrage earns our strongest endorsement.

Read review: Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585

Best Bang for the Buck


Kershaw Leek


Kershaw Leek
Best Buy Award

$53.34
(37% off)
at Amazon
See It

65
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 7
  • Ergonomics - 20% 6
  • Portability - 20% 8
  • Construction Quality - 20% 8
  • Other Features - 10% 0
Weight: 3.1 oz | Blade Length: 2.9 inches
Constructed like a work of art
Assisted opening
Excellent blade, for the price
Handle doesn't allow significant application of pressure to blade
Thinly sharpened blade is fragile

The Kershaw Leek packs a pedigreed blade into a compact, assisted-opening tool at half the price of other high-end knives. The blade is made of high-grade steel and comes sharp from the factory. Like the assisted opening of the Editors' Choice-winning Mini-Barrage, the Leek can be opened with either thumb and can be locked closed. Also, Kershaw has engineered a tab on the rear of the blade that allows blade deployment with the index finger. For handy carry and light to moderate use, the blade and handle hold up well.

The Leek's primary compromise is the narrow handle profile. Compared to our Editors' Choice winner, the Leek is similar in many dimensions, but both the blade and the handle are thinner than those on the Mini-Barrage. Some users will appreciate the lower profile for carrying, though edge and handle thinness requires tradeoffs. The thin blade is nice for soft and light cutting but can deform in heavy use. The thin handle doesn't comfortably support heavy pushing. Still, this is a beautiful and functional knife; quality steel at a steal.

Read review: Kershaw Leek

Best Value on a Tight Budget


Sanrenmu 7010


Best Buy Award

$14.90
(7% off)
at Amazon
See It

56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 6
  • Ergonomics - 20% 5
  • Portability - 20% 7
  • Construction Quality - 20% 7
  • Other Features - 10% 0
Weight: 3.2 oz | Blade Length: 2.7 inches
All steel construction
Good blade steel
Smooth operation
Price
Only one pocket clip option
Heavy for its size

Budget knives keep recalibrating our expectations. Some restaurants charge more for chips and salsa than Sanrenmu charges for the 7010 everyday knife. The construction quality is tight, and the blade is made of excellent value 8CR13MoV steel. Virtually all of the great blades we've tested for less than fifty dollars use this steel because it works well. Some knives well over that price threshold use the same steel. The locking mechanism is sound, and the one-handed opening function works from either side. If the pocket clip orientation works for you (right pocket, tip down), the stiff steel clip and deep carry are just right.

If that pocket clip orientation doesn't work, the Sanrenmu 7010 isn't customizable. You get it this way and this way only. The whole package is just a little smaller than some of our favorite knives, and ergonomics suffer just a little bit. For the size, lack of assisted opening, and limited modularity, 3.2 ounces is pretty heavy. These minor drawbacks are hardly enough to make us steer away from this super low priced, yet solid quality, pocket knife. The price almost takes all decision-making out of the equation.

Read review: Sanrenmu 7010

Best for Keychain-Readiness


Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army


Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
Top Pick Award

$15.72
at Amazon
See It

50
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 4
  • Ergonomics - 20% 2
  • Portability - 20% 9
  • Construction Quality - 20% 5
  • Other Features - 10% 6
Weight: 0.8 oz | Blade Length: 1.4 inches
Tiny and portable
Well-made
Not suitable for heavy usage

The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife earns our Top Pick Award for its keychain readiness. Significantly more compact than your car fob, this Victorinox is unobtrusive and ready for action. When needed, the small blade rises to most occasions. Our lead tester's first pocket knife was a Victorinox Classic, 30-some years ago. His whittling, prying, and poking never bent or broke the blade. Adults love the Classic for its grooming tools and compactness. The scissors appear toy-like but can cut things as stout as rock climbing webbing. For light tasks like paper or fingernails, the scissors excel.

While we never had issues with the durability of the Classic, it is clear that it is not as robust as more substantial and heavier knives we test. Similarly, the tiny blade is a few definite steps down from something like the full-sized knives. If this is okay with you, and you have room on your keychain for another little piece of equipment, the Victorinox Classic will find daily use in your world.

Read review: Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife

Best for Hunting


Havalon Piranta Original


Top Pick Award

$55.00
(8% off)
at Amazon
See It

61
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 7
  • Ergonomics - 20% 6
  • Portability - 20% 7
  • Construction Quality - 20% 7
  • Other Features - 10% 0
Weight: 1.9 oz | Blade Length: 2.3 inches
Interchangeable blade
Razor-thin blade
Open profile cleans easily
Blade rattles a bit
Slightly narrow handle

Hunters need a darn good reason to not use the Havalon Piranta Original for field dressing and home skinning. Processing of any but the smallest of large game will dull any blade at least once partway through the process. You can, and many do, forge on, working with a duller blade. Or you can carry multiple sharpened knives. Or you can carry a full sharpening kit. Or, much simpler than all the above, you can carry a Piranta and a few extra blades. This knife comes with 12 extra blades.

There isn't anything like a well-done factory-honed blade edge. No matter how good you are with your home sharpening system you won't match the edge on a fresh blade. You certainly won't get a super narrow blade repolished to a very narrow edge angle. With the Piranta's scalpel-style interchangeable blades, you can have an edge way finer than any reusable blade and swapped in much, much easier than any sort of effective resharpening. It's this simple; the interchangeable blades of the Piranta change the game of dressing game.

Read review: Havalon Piranta Original

Best for Backpacking


Gerber Ultralight LST


Top Pick Award

$15.05
(6% off)
at Amazon
See It

40
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 4
  • Ergonomics - 20% 2
  • Portability - 20% 10
  • Construction Quality - 20% 2
  • Other Features - 10% 0
Weight: 0.5 oz | Blade Length: 1.6 inches
Tiny
Featherweight
Good blade steel
Flexible handle construction
No fingernail slot

If you need a blade but need it to be as light as possible, you can't do better than the Gerber Ultralight LST. For backpacking, rock climbing, or any other sort of extended human-powered travel, this half-ounce knife is unmatched. It cuts what you need to cut, holds up to light-duty use, cleans easily, and virtually disappears in your backpack.

At this tiny size and low weight ergonomics and quality are going to suffer. Ergonomics is very closely tied to size. A full-size knife fills your fist for maximum control and force. This Gerber knife is just too tiny for maximum control and force. Lightweight and construction quality aren't always mutually exclusive. The LST could be made a little more robust without an impact on weight. The little handle, even under low forces, flexes and bows more than we think it should. You might not even notice and it won't hamper your utility. For the lightest model that's still functional to stuff in a pack, the Gerber is our hands-down recommendation

Read review: Gerber Ultralight LST

Best for Tactical and Rescue Usage


SOG Trident Elite


SOG Trident Elite
Top Pick Award

$71.95
(7% off)
at Amazon
See It

58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 6
  • Ergonomics - 20% 6
  • Portability - 20% 6
  • Construction Quality - 20% 6
  • Other Features - 10% 4
Weight: 3.9 oz | Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Burly construction in a lightweight package
Unique features
Bulkier than some options
Intimidating "look"

We grant Top Pick awards to specialized gear excelling in a subcategory. Among the tactical, rescue-oriented knives tested, the SOG Trident Elite stands out. When compared to close competitors, the SOG is lighter and has a blade made of better steel. SOG is well-known for its blades of powerful AUS-8 steel, even on its most budget-friendly products. The Trident has this material shaped into a burly blade and packaged in a handle that breaks glass, cuts cord, and engages and stows the blade quickly and securely. Serrated and straight-edge versions are available.

The whole package is a little heavier and bulkier than our Editors' Choice product. For everyday carry, the hardened steel "glass breaker" nub is more prone to wearing through your pants pocket liners than knives with a smooth exterior. Over time the wear and tear can be noticeable. You should favor the tactical attributes of the SOG for it to be a better choice than some of the others we assess. This is the definition of our Top Pick Award: a product that does very well for a niche user.

Read review: SOG Trident Elite


A slew of pocket knives for testing.
A slew of pocket knives for testing.

Why You Should Trust Us


Aside from testing gear, Senior Review Editor Jediah Porter's main thing is guiding skiing and climbing in the mountains as a certified American Mountain Guide. Outside of climbing and guiding, he can be found mountain biking, canoeing, hunting, fishing, and trail running. Jed calls Wydaho's Tetons home but frequents Alaska and South America for larger mountain objectives.

We considered well over a hundred knives in the marketplace, then selected the 18 most promising models. Each year we reassess the market and select new knives to add and some to omit. We tested with a combination of controlled tests and daily use. Daily use ranged through routine tasks like simple food preparation and opening packages to more specialized uses like home improvements and automotive repairs. Controlled tests consisted of side-by-side cutting of materials like rope and webbing, whittling, and even boring holes with the tip of the blade. We paid attention to blade integrity, ergonomics, portability, and durability.

Related: How We Tested Pocket Knives

Some of the knives in our "lab"...aka testing garage.
The Victorinox Classic is a favorite among testers for its keychain portability.
Action shot of the Mini Barrage being opened. A gentle flick of the thumb engages the "assisted opening" spring that pulls the blade the rest of the way.

Analysis and Test Results


Our selection is limited to folding knives with blades between 1 and 4 inches. Most have just that one blade. Every product we review is intended to be carried in a pocket or purse for everyday use, and every product can be used in a variety of outdoor pursuits. Beyond these commonalities, specifications and attributes vary. Some are classics with decades of loyalty, while others feature more modern construction that includes the latest and greatest ergonomic and portability attributes. All require care in use.

Related: Buying Advice for Pocket Knives


Value


The quality of pocket knives varies a great deal. On one end of the spectrum are very inexpensive and largely mass-produced pocket knives that are little more than toys, often found at places like gas station checkout counters or county fair booths. These knives do not work well and should be avoided. At the other end of the spectrum are small batch or even "one-off" pocket knives meticulously designed and manufactured by cottage producers. These knives can be very, very good, but ridiculously expensive. What we have tested fits between the two extremes. Our entire selection is widely available and of above-average to high quality.

The Sanrenmu presents reliable quality at bargain-basement price.
The Sanrenmu presents reliable quality at bargain-basement price.

Even within this range, price and quality vary. Your purchase price should correlate with how much you plan on using your knife. If you use it hours a day for decades, spending more will get you better blade steel and hinges. You'll get locks that last plus carry options that blend seamlessly with your life. For more occasional use (or for those that are prone to losing small possessions), less expensive knives work well.

Value appears at various price points and functions. We grant two Best Buy Awards with respect to this. The Kershaw Leek is pretty spendy to most, but you get materials, ergonomics, and function well above the price range, putting it in competition with products that cost at the high end of the market. The Sanrenmu 7010 is priced like a convenience store impulse buy but has sufficient quality that earns it a place in our main list. It's much better than what you'd buy in a checkout line next to the Skittles. Other good deals in our test selection include the featherweight Gerber Ultralight LST and the lifelong interchangeable blade function of the Havalon Piranta. Even the money you would spend on our Editors Choice might be realized as a good value over decades of use and periodic and affordable factory service.

Blade Integrity (Sharpness, More or Less)


There isn't a consumer choice more mystifying than the "sharpness" of a knife. You might just want to know "is this knife sharp?" Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. Sharpness, at any point, is a function of materials, treatment, geometry, and maintenance. All these things balance together to deliver actual performance.


First of all, every knife must 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 our Editors' Choice Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585, Benchmade North Fork, and a whole line of other knives will sharpen these knives for the life of the product for a small handling fee each time.

The factory edge on this knife virtually jumps through ripe tomatoes. And with Benchmade's "LifeSharp" program  they'll tune it up as often as you want and as long as you own it.
The factory edge on this knife virtually jumps through ripe tomatoes. And with Benchmade's "LifeSharp" program, they'll tune it up as often as you want and as long as you own it.

The process of designing a blade starts with the material. All of our reviewed knives have blades made of some variety of steel. Steel is a metal made mainly of iron. In one of several processes, that iron is mixed ("alloyed") with small amounts of carbon and often other elements, the possible variations being 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 (rather than break or crack) at least slightly in the face of significant forces and to respond to commonly available sharpening protocols. Too hard and the brittle steel will be nearly impossible to sharpen. Too soft and the steel will lose its edge rapidly. It must resist corrosion in the face of a wide array of commonly encountered substances. Water alone is a corrosive agent that knife makers work hard to protect against. There are a dizzying array of steel types. In our review, a few knives use highly regarded blade materials. Notably, the SOG Trident Elite's "AUS-8" and the "154cm" and "S30V" on the Benchmade knives are very expensive and well-tuned blade steels.

Cutting corrugated cardboard is deceptively hard on your knife's edge. Impurities in the cardboard matrix dull the edge quite quickly. We accelerated wear on our tested knives with extensive cardboard cutting. Our edge integrity comments draw on this test.
Cutting corrugated cardboard is deceptively hard on your knife's edge. Impurities in the cardboard matrix dull the edge quite quickly. We accelerated wear on our tested knives with extensive cardboard cutting. Our edge integrity comments draw on this test.

Know two things: decent knife steel is inexpensive enough that all branded knives (but not truck stop or flea market knives) are now made with "good-enough" metal. Most manufacturers of high-quality knives advertise the type of steel they use. It is a general assumption, but we've found that it is pretty safe to say that if the manufacturer is willing to tell you what the blade steel is, that steel will suffice. If you can't find out what it's made of, it is probably really, really poor stuff. How the steel is handled is as important as the raw material. Once a manufacturer chooses the steel for a knife, it is shaped and then hardened in some variation of a heating-and-cooling process.

Various types of hardening result in different characteristics. After hardening the steel's edge-holding qualities are well established — provided the blade isn't exposed to enough heat to reverse (or even further) the hardening process. Buck Knives, for instance, is known to sometimes use relatively soft steel but has an industry-leading heat treatment. The Buck Knives Vantage Pro uses one of the stronger steels in their line-up (S30V stainless steel), and adding the excellent heat treatment improves the blade quality.

We especially like budget knives made by companies that also make high-end knives. To hit a price point, a company like this might downgrade the steel but it doesn't make sense to tool up an independent heat treatment infrastructure. The Kershaw Chill is a good example of this. Kershaw makes top-end knives and delivers similar quality control to something much less expensive like the Chill.

Whittle testing the Opinel No. 8
Whittle testing the Opinel No. 8

Once a blade is shaped and hardened, the cutting-edge receives its final grind. Knife edges can be tuned for different tasks. The thick blade of the SOG Trident Elite is sharpened to a steep angle that preserves the edge during heavy cutting, but isn't quite as "sharp" for finer tasks. The blade of the hybrid tactical Kershaw Blur is also sharpened to a steeper angle. On the other hand, the fine tiny blade of the Victorinox Classic starts thin and is sharpened thinner, making for a very sharp yet fragile edge. The Opinel No. 8, CRKT Drifter, and Kershaw Chill are similarly slender. All-around, modern knives like the Spyderco Tenacious G-10, Best Buy Sanrenmu 7010, and the Editors' Choice Benchmade Mini-Barrage have blade geometry that splits the difference between the above extremes. Middle road blade geometry is, predictably, versatile, and functional. The procedures, facets, and angles used to finish an edge further influence the initial sharpness and edge-holding ability of the blade.

The components that come when you buy the Havalon Piranta. The silver "envelopes" each hold a factory-tuned spare blade. The orange thing is the blade changing tool.
Changing the blade on the Top Pick Havalon Piranta requires pliers (as shown here) or Havalon's special tool.

The Buck Knives Vantage Pro has a blade thicker than its stature might suggest. We found it more similar to the robust blade of the tactical SOG Trident than to all-around options like the Spyderco Delica 4. The interchangeable blade of the Top Pick Havalon Piranta Original is definitely the thinnest, with the lowest edge angle, of any knife we test here. They can do this because it doesn't need to be resharpened at home and if it breaks in use you can just slide on a new one. This is a liberating design philosophy.

As with 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 to dull, while too steep an angle on that leading edge doesn't feel nearly as sharp in actual use. Rest assured that knife manufacturers have this figured out. Follow their instructions for proper care, and your knife will serve you for years and years.

Simple whittling would be "beneath" the capabilities of the North Fork if it weren't just so enjoyable to shave precise curlicues with the razor sharp blade.
Simple whittling would be "beneath" the capabilities of the North Fork if it weren't just so enjoyable to shave precise curlicues with the razor sharp blade.

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

All the knives we tested have some "drop-point" or "clip point" shaped blades; these two are the most versatile blade shapes, similar but subtly different. Also, note that many blades in our test and elsewhere can be either straight or serrated. Serrated blades cut tough materials, especially rope and webbing, more efficiently while straight blades are easier to sharpen. The GearLab team generally prefers straight blades. Hybrid blades, partially straight and partially serrated, can address a variety of needs or they can be the worst of all worlds. Use and sharpen the straight portion regularly and save the serrated portion for tougher tasks like cutting carpet or rope. There are many common blade shapes. Some are utterly utilitarian, some are quite specific.

Ergonomics


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 an elongated rounded-profile handle that fills a loosely clenched fist. The most portable knife is the smallest and thinnest. Our scoring reflects that tradeoff. The most user-friendly knives were the least portable, and vice versa. It is up to you to evaluate your needs and choose a blade 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. The Mini-Barrage, SOG, and two Kershaw knives, among others, have assisted opening blades, which we prefer.

Assisted opening function requires at least a bit of a learning curve. Deploying an assisted opening blade is actually best done with one hand, for instance. Opening one with one hand is easier than opening the same knife with two hands. Further, some like their assisted opening knife to be equipped with a mechanism that locks the blade closed. Most have this, but not all. The Kershaw Blur is the only assisted opening knife we tested that doesn't lock closed.

Note that "assisted opening" is a knife qualifier that appears with some frequency in local knife regulations. In some places, some or nearly all of the knives we have reviewed are illegal to carry or even possess. Check state-by-state laws on knife possession and carriage.


Ideally, for pocket-clipped knives, the clip is oriented such that the tool can be pulled from the pocket and thumbed open without regripping. This 'tip up' carry is the fastest to deploy. Tested Benchmade knives are made this way and can be arranged to work that way in either the left or right pocket. Why other manufacturers do not employ this simple strategy is mystifying. The only reasonable argument against tip-up pocket carry is that the blade can be more likely to fall open in your pocket with gravity. An open or, worse yet, partially open, blade in your pocket is terrifying, but a low likelihood. We have never, ever, had this happen. The Spyderco Tenacious G-10 and Spyderco Delica 4 both have a pocket clip that can be user-configured to hang in your pocket in one of four different configurations: tip up or down and left or right thumb activation. For those unclear how they wish to carry their blade or can't find a knife to match their preference, this attribute alone can favor a Spyderco.

The ultra tiny Gerber LST Ultralight Fine Edge isn't sturdy or large  but it can go anywhere with you.
The ultra tiny Gerber LST Ultralight Fine Edge isn't sturdy or large, but it can go anywhere with you.

Both Victorinox knives have multiple tools. While none of the features can be opened with one hand, all can be engaged with even the most closely-trimmed fingernails. The Buck Famous Folder and Opinel both also open with fingernail slots. The Top Pick Gerber Fine Edge LST opens by just pinching the blade between your fingers. In slippery conditions, a fingernail slot would be nice on this knife. All other knives have some form of one-handed opening.

One-handed opening options include thumb stud, thumb hole, and index finger pull. All have their pros and cons. Thumb stud is the easiest to work with, but adds bulk and protrusions that can snag. Also, for ambidexterity, two thumb studs need to be affixed to the blade. A thumbhole, as on the Delica 4, is inherently ambidextrous and actually removes material and weight from the blade. It is just a little less ergonomic to deploy. Finally, finger flick opening, as seen on the Buck Vantage, Kershaw Chill, and as an option on the Kershaw Leek is unique and a little less intuitive than the others.

Opening the Opinel requires two hands. This is a little more primitive than some of the newer offerings.
Opening the Opinel requires two hands. This is a little more primitive than some of the newer offerings.

The Opinel No. 8 has unique ergonomics. The wooden handle, nearly perfectly round, feels nice in hand and is more than adequate for light-duty tasks like cutting food. For heavier use like extended whittling or cutting of rope and webbing, a more oval-shaped handle profile like that of the Benchmade North Fork is preferred.

Whittling isn't a common task  but it is one that we use in testing to draw out certain attributes in a knife. Mainly  it displays how a knife responds in strenuous applications.
Whittling isn't a common task, but it is one that we use in testing to draw out certain attributes in a knife. Mainly, it displays how a knife responds in strenuous applications.

The diminutive James Brand Chapter has a simple design that opens with one hand. Because of a slightly sticky blade and the overall dimensions, the user's thumb is a little vulnerable to cutting on the blade while opening. Users learn to deal with this concern, but our test team had some trouble while riding the learning curve.

The Spyderco Delica 4 is a long-time player on the market with somewhat outdated shape. The handle is narrower than would be ideal, while the wide blade sticks out and takes up pocket space. The wide blade is to accommodate the thumbhole, which assists in opening the blade. While this is a convenient and ergonomically-friendly way to open the knife, it feels larger than necessary in our pockets.

This tester's thumb is opening the blade using the hidden hole in the blade.
This tester's thumb is opening the blade using the hidden hole in the blade.

Portability


A pocket 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 quite small and equipped to hang on a keychain easily, or had a low profile and a tight pocket clip that was, or could be, configured in the user's ideal arrangement.


By far, the Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife and Top Pick Gerber Ultralight LST are the most portable of the knives we tested. Both are awarded for their tiny stature and weigh under a single ounce. The Spyderco Tenacious is bulky and cumbersome in comparison. In these cases, however, bulk and weight can be justified by some for their function and versatility. Similarly, the Top Pick SOG Trident Elite tactical knife is fairly large but doesn't weigh as much as its size suggests.

Eminently portable  the Classic knife virtually disappears on most key chains.
You regularly need a knife while backpacking. You seldom need that knife to be large and you definitely don't want it to be heavy. Our Top Pick Gerber LST Fine Edge is a great choice.

With large and small knives in the review, our all-around favorite, the Benchmade Mini-Barrage, sits exactly in the middle. For most users, the size is manageable while still being functional. The Best Buy Sanrenmu 7010 is just a tiny bit smaller in most ways than the Kershaw Leek. Both of these are pretty close in size to the Editors' Choice Benchmade.

Benchmade's pocket clip. This spring-steel clip can be removed if you like. And replaced to the same side or the opposite side. This means that  whether you are lefty or righty  you can configure the knife to hang in a pants pocket and be readily accessible.
Benchmade's pocket clip. This spring-steel clip can be removed if you like. And replaced to the same side or the opposite side. This means that, whether you are lefty or righty, you can configure the knife to hang in a pants pocket and be readily accessible.

The Opinel No. 8 is also on the compact end of the spectrum. It is similar in overall volume to the Kershaw Leek, but they differ in shape. Both are easy in the pocket, but the Leek is longer and thinner while the Opinel is super lightweight. The Leek and Opinel both have very thin blades. The Kershaw Chill (costing a low price but with excellent construction), has almost the same dimensions as the Kershaw Leek.

The pocket clip of the Chapter is secure. It is also large  befitting the statement the knife wishes to make. You want others to know you are carrying this unique tool.
The pocket clip of the Chapter is secure. It is also large, befitting the statement the knife wishes to make. You want others to know you are carrying this unique tool.

Construction Quality


In the models we tested, the quality of manufacturing aside from the knife blade itself varied far more than the quality of the blade. Our evaluation of these knives' construction quality was mainly subjective but equal across the board. Does it "feel" sturdy and confidence-inspiring? When this assessment came up short for a given pocket knife, it inevitably followed that some aspect of the mechanical function of the knife would act finicky.


Handle, hinges, and locking mechanisms revealed the attention paid to detail. Sturdy parts and materials, tight design, close manufacturing tolerances, and carefully thought out construction stood out right away and only increased in how much we noticed as time and usage wore on. Overall, construction quality was more than adequate for all test subjects. We had no failures or breakages.

The blade of the Buck Vantage we tested is really  really nice. It is a tiny bit thicker than we'd like in a knife this size  but it is sturdy and made of excellent steel. Buck's heat treatment is legendary also  and the overall construction is extremely solid.
The blade of the Buck Vantage we tested is really, really nice. It is a tiny bit thicker than we'd like in a knife this size, but it is sturdy and made of excellent steel. Buck's heat treatment is legendary also, and the overall construction is extremely solid.

Locking mechanisms are the best window to construction quality. Well made knives like the Kershaw Leek open and close smoothly every time. Some less expensive options cut just fine, but the locking mechanism can be difficult to disengage. The Best Buy Sanrenmu 7010 feels like it is made to much more expensive standards than its price indicates.

Head to head testing of recent Best Buy considerations. The Sanrenmu 7010 came out ahead of the Kershaw Chill  both pictured here  for rock bottom value.
Head to head testing of recent Best Buy considerations. The Sanrenmu 7010 came out ahead of the Kershaw Chill, both pictured here, for rock bottom value.

Smaller knives are harder, generally, to optimize construction quality. Our experience with small knives not included here point to issues with smaller sizes. Their miniaturized components don't leave much room for error. A testament to our high selection standards, the small knives we test are better than average. The Top Pick Gerber Ultralight LST is amazing, partially because of its tiny stature. Also quite small, the Victorinox Classic seems to escape some of the issues of other small knives — all its components work well and smoothly. None of the features on the Classic lock, which likely saves some hassle.

The Opinel No. 8 has a unique construction. It is, first and foremost, super simple. With only five parts (handle, blade, hinge pin, and two collars that serve as the locking mechanism), the overall build is very clean. The result is light and reliable, but a little uninspiring; also, opening and locking requires two hands.

Other Features


In our test, only the Victorinox Classic, Victorinox Climber, Kershaw Blur, and "tactical knife" SOG Trident Elite have any functions besides a primary blade.


The tactical knives are designed for rescue usage. Paramedics and firefighters use the burly blade, seatbelt cutter, and glass-breaking punch. The rest of us may fear the need to cut our seatbelt and bash through the window of our car, but we'll probably tire of carrying such a burly pocket knife long before using these features. The SOG Trident Elite is considered a full tactical knife, with both seatbelt cutter and glass breaking punch. The Kershaw Blur is a hybrid tactical knife with just the hardened and pointed glass breaker.

The innovative "v-cutter" (AKA seatbelt cutter) of the SOG Trident  showing the shiny edge of the primary blade.
The innovative "v-cutter" (AKA seatbelt cutter) of the SOG Trident, showing the shiny edge of the primary blade.

The tiny Classic Swiss Army knife packs a versatile punch in a small package. For the day-to-day user, the combination of little 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 will get the owner through most of life's challenges.

Only a couple knives in our review have extra functions. The Victorinox Climber has a few handy extra attributes.
Only a couple knives in our review have extra functions. The Victorinox Climber has a few handy extra attributes.

The larger Victorinox Climber has basically the same features as the Classic, but these features are larger and more functional. The Climber also adds a corkscrew and a couple of other small tools that some may find useful.

One handed opening  interchangeable blade  modern materials  pocket clipped carry  and all in the two-digit price range. Modern knives have come a long  long way and we're glad to be at the forefront. Here  the Top Pick Havalon Piranta.
One handed opening, interchangeable blade, modern materials, pocket clipped carry, and all in the two-digit price range. Modern knives have come a long, long way and we're glad to be at the forefront. Here, the Top Pick Havalon Piranta.

Conclusion


A pocket knife serves many purposes. It is with you for incidental tasks like opening mail or cutting off a frayed shoelace end. It comes along on backpacking trips to cut the carrot or cheese. You might hope to use it in disassembling a deer or elk. It might just be something you fidget with during online video meetings. Regardless of what you intend to use it for, your selection process matters. We are glad to be part of that process.


Jediah Porter