Best Overall Pocket Knife
Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
: 3.4 oz | Blade Length
: 2.9 inches
Legendary blade construction
Blade-closed lock mechanism requires a learning curve
The Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 is built for precision with a design that helps it maintain its Editors' Choice status. 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. 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. Finally, our hunting-focused testers endorsed the knife's fine-edged prowess, carrying it as their primary blade for backcountry hunting missions.
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 strong endorsement. Up-size to the Benchmade Barrage for more functionality but bulkier carry.
Read review: Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585
Best Bang for the Buck: High Quality, Low Price
: 3.1 oz | Blade Length
: 2.9 inches
Constructed like a work of art
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 just fine.
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 anyway. Still, this is a beautiful and functional knife at a steal for quality steel.
Read review: Kershaw Leek
Best Bang for the Buck: Bargain Basement
: 3.2 oz | Blade Length
: 2.7 inches
All steel construction
Good blade steel
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. 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 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
Top Pick for Keychain-Readiness
Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army
: 0.8 oz | Blade Length
: 1.4 inches
Tiny and portable
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's door remote, 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 routine tasks, 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-size and sturdy Top Pick SOG Trident Elite. 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
Top Pick for Tactical and Rescue Usage
SOG Trident Elite
: 3.9 oz | Blade Length
: 3.5 inches
Burly construction in a lightweight package
Bulkier than some options
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 their 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. From left to right: Victorinox Climber, James Brand Chapter, Kershaw Chill, Benchmade Mini Barrage, Opinel No 8, SOG Flash II, Benchmade Barrage.
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 19 most promising models. 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
Analysis and Test Results
Our selection is limited to folding knives with blades between 1 and 4 inches. Most have just that one blade. Only a few products tested include features beyond the 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. These aren't toys.
Related: Buying Advice for Pocket Knives
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 high-quality.
The newest Best Buy winner, the Sanrenmu. This presents high-end 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, and 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.
Blade Integrity (Sharpness, More or Less)
Little confuses new pocket knife shoppers more than the over-simplified "sharpness" of a blade and the fact that it declines with use and must be augmented and maintained over time.
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 Editors' Choice Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585, Benchmade Barrage, Benchmade Griptilian 551, Benchmade North Fork (all reviewed here), 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 process of designing a blade starts with the material. All of our reviewed knives have blades made of some variety of steel, a metal made of mainly 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 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.
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 pretty safe to say that if the manufacturer is willing to tell you what the blade steel is, that steel will suffice. If you 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 use relatively soft steel ("420hc") but has an industry-leading heat treatment. The result is that the Buck 110 Folding Hunter we tested has an excellent and powerful blade, despite its cheaper materials.
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 and Kershaw Chill are both similarly slender. The procedures, facets, and angles used to finish an edge further influence the initial sharpness and edge-holding ability of the blade. 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.
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. Feel free to investigate the different characteristics of the hollow grind, the edge angle, and single vs. double bevel. Or 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.
Close up of the Leek's simple "liner lock". Also, but not shown, the Leek has a clever and simple sliding "tip lock" to hold the blade closed.
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.
Notes on blade shape and cutting-edge design: 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. Neither is better, overall, than the other. Serrated blades cut tough materials, especially rope and webbing, more efficiently while straight blades are easier to sharpen. The OutdoorGearLab team generally prefers straight blades. Hybrid blades, partially straight and partially serrated, 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. Like any hybrid piece of equipment, hybrid straight/serrated blades can be seen to have either the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds. There are many common blade shapes. Some are utterly utilitarian, some are quite specific.
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. Knife ownership and carriage are regulated locally in the U.S. (state, county, and municipal laws and rules apply), and the laws vary considerably. 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. We have never, ever, had this happen. The Spyderco Tenacious G-10 has 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 the otherwise average Spyderco.
The Editors Choice Benchmade Mini Barrage just above its full-size sibling Benchmade Barrage. We like the smaller one, overall. Otherwise they are identical.
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, Old Timer 180T Mighty Mite, and Opinel also open with fingernail slots. 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 thumb hole 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 CRKT Jettison, 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.
The CRKT Jettison is a large pocket knife with challenging ergonomics. A disproportionate amount of its bulk is in the Jettison's blade. The handle is similar in size to that of the Kershaw Leek, but the blade is larger than most. This unusual balance makes for a knife that is tricky and a little uncomfortable to use.
The Opinel No. 8 also 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 Griptillian 551 is preferred.
Whittling (here, lead test editor Jed Porter fashions an improvised fork deep in the Wind River Range) isn't a common task, but the way it requires extended exertion of precise force can highlight many ergonomic factors in a knife.
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.
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 is the most portable of the knives we tested. The Buck 110, Jettison, Benchmade Barrage, and the Spyderco Tenacious are all bulky and cumbersome. In these cases, however, bulk and weight can be justified by some for their function and versatility. The Benchmade Griptillian is similar in size to the SOG Trident Elite but is a little lighter. Similarly, the Top Pick SOG tactical knife is comparable in size to the Buck but is quite a bit lighter. With large and small knives in the review,our all-around favorite award winner, 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.
Eminently portable, the Classic knife virtually disappears on most key chains.
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 light. 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.
It is the smaller closed profile of the Benchmade Mini Barrage that sets it ahead of sibling, unqualified Barrage. In your pocket this small size difference is significant.
In the models we tested, the quality of manufacturing aside from the knife blade itself varied far more than the quality of the blade. 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 more than adequate for all test subjects. We had no failures or breakages.
Our evaluation of these knives' construction quality was mainly subjective. 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. Locking mechanisms are the most vulnerable 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. Similarly, the expensive Benchmade knives, whether the assisted opening Mini-Barrage and regular Barrage or standard opening Griptillian 551, open super smoothly with all the various locks and options working efficiently every time. 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.
Smaller knives are harder to get fine-tuned. Their miniaturized components don't leave much room for error. An example is a comparison between the somewhat classically designed Buck Famous Folder and the Old Timer. They look similar and are made with similar materials and designs. The Buck has a massive construction and works smoothly. The Old Timer is tiny, and the locking mechanism sometimes takes some fiddling. 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.
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.
Only a couple knives in our review have extra functions. The Victorinox Climber has a few handy extra attributes.
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.
Close up of the added features of the Black Kryptonite knife, showing the dedicated v-cutter blade and steel glass breaker nub.
The larger Victorinox Climber has basically the same features as the Classic, but these features are larger. The Climber also adds a corkscrew and a couple of other small things.
Hopefully your imminent pocket knife purchase is now much better informed. We take pride in our testing. We work, long term, to test thoroughly and with due consideration to how you will actually use your knife. Our team isn't made of the most passionate knife connoisseurs. Instead, we assemble a knowledgeable team whose primary strength is in discerning what matters to you in your day-to-day and special situations use.