Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Pocket Knives of 2024

We put a bevy of pocket knives from Benchmade, Kershaw, Spyderco, Gerber, and others through head-to-head testing to find the best knife for your needs
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Best Pocket Knife Review (There is a mind-boggling amount of variety in the Pocket Knife market today, occupying hyper-specific niches, and...)
There is a mind-boggling amount of variety in the Pocket Knife market today, occupying hyper-specific niches, and including a huge range of price points.
Credit: Kyle Hameister
By Jeff Dobronyi, Jediah Porter, and Kyle Hameister  ⋅  Apr 22, 2024

The Best Pocket Knives for 2024


Since 2014, we've purchased and tested over 45 of the best pocket knives side-by-side, with 20 models in our latest review. Our experts test each knife while exploring backcountry terrain throughout the United States: camping, hunting, and preparing food. But they also carry them for general, everyday tasks. In addition to our in-depth field testing, we compare key characteristics to evaluate important metrics like blade integrity, ergonomics, portability, and construction quality. The combination of real-life use and objective analysis allows us to identify the best knife for your needs and the others that simply don't make the cut.

Like finding the best backpack or the best tent, a dependable pocket knife is essential for any complete backpacking kit. If you're looking for versatile tools for your next hunting or camping adventure, our gear experts have also bought and tested everything from the best multi-tools and top-rated axes to the best fishing rods on the market. We've also done a comprehensive review on the best fire pits for your backyard.

Editor's Note: This pocket knife review was updated on April 22, 2024, to reassess our award lineup and metrics and to add a new knife from CIVIVI.

Top 20 Pocket Knives - Test Results

Displaying 6 - 10 of 20
 
Awards  Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $60 List
$50.90 at Amazon
$125 List
$49.86 at Amazon
$200 List
$180.00 at REI
$77 List
$65.00 at Amazon
Check Price at Amazon
Overall Score
67
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71
68
Star Rating
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Pros Great construction quality, light and sleek, sharp and durable blade, blade locks closedBeautifully constructed, smooth assisted open, good valueLight, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-functionNitro-V alloy blade, Button lock is easy and safe, many color/ material combos availableInterchangeable blades, clean, open design
Cons Assisted opening function doesn't open all the way, not the easiest to holdSlender handle makes it hard to apply even pressure, thin blade is fragileExpensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic constructionToo thick for real everyday use, Plastic scales can look cheapRattly blade, narrow handle
Bottom Line This small knife is great for everyday carry and occasional use thanks to its high quality construction, sharp blade, and the ability to be locked while closedA slender pocket knife made from great materials at a reasonable price pointFor a full-function, full-size pocket knife, this is as light as it gets, and is the premier option for all sorts of human-powered adventuresAn undeniable value with blade options available in some very respectable steels and a wide variety of colors, patterns, and material combinations to choose fromYour typical pocket knife design optimized with scalpel-like interchangeable blades, combining compact carry with always-new blade performance
Rating Categories SOG Twitch II Kershaw Leek Benchmade 535 Bugout CIVIVI Button Lock... Havalon Piranta Ori...
Blade and Edge Integrity (30%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Ergonomics (25%)
4.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
Portability (20%) Sort Icon
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Construction Quality (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Specs SOG Twitch II Kershaw Leek Benchmade 535 Bugout CIVIVI Button Lock... Havalon Piranta Ori...
Blade Length (Measured) 2.6 in 2.9 in 3.0 in 3 in 2.3 in
Overall Length (Measured) 6.2 in 7.0 in 7.4 in 7.1 in 6.6 in
Closed Length (Measured) 3.6 in 4.0 in 4.2 in 4.1 in 3.7 in
Weight 2.6 oz 3.1 oz 1.9 oz 3.1 oz 1.9 oz
Thickness w/o Pocket Clip (Measured) 0.4 in 0.3 in 0.4 in 0.5 in 0.4 in
Blade Style Drop point, straight edge Drop point, straight edge Drop point, straight edge Drop point, straight edge Interchangeable scalpel style
Blade Material AUS-8 steel Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel S30V stainless steel Nitro-V S30V stainless steel
Blade locks closed? Yes Yes No No No
Lock Mechanism Lock back Frame lock AXIS Assist (Proprietary) Button lock Frame lock
Handle Material Anodized aluminum 410 stainless steel Grivory G10 laminate Plastic
Opening Style Assisted, ambidextrous thumb studs, back kick Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud, back-of-knife finger tab Ambidextrous thumb stud Flipper, non-assisted Ambidextrous thumb stud
Carry Style Pocket clip Pocket clip and lanyard hole Pocket clip and lanyard hole Pocket clip, lanyard hole Pocket clip and lanyard hole
Other Features or Functions Lanyard hole None None Lanyard hole None


Best Overall Pocket Knife


Benchmade Mini Barrage 585


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 9.0
  • Ergonomics 9.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Weight: 3.4 oz | Blade Length: 2.8 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Legendary blade construction
Smooth assisted opening
Compact-yet-usable size
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Locking mechanism is not intuitive

Built for precision with a design that has helped it maintain its top status for years, the Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 has a blade that arrives razor-sharp, and its LifeSharp sharpening service sweetens the deal even further. If you cover shipping costs, Benchmade will even return the edge to factory specifications throughout the knife's life. The handle fits in the palm well, and its rounded edges slide easily into your pocket. The pocket clip is excessively strong yet still modular; you can swap and wear it on either side. An assisted opening system tied into the proprietary Axis lock reliably snaps the blade to ready status and is deployable by either hand. One can also safely lock the blade in the closed position for peace of mind while carrying it in a pocket or purse.

The Mini-Barrage is pricey, but its value will be realized over its long lifespan (especially considering the LifeSharp service.) However, we recognize that the initial investment may be too much, particularly if you tend to misplace smaller items like knives. You'll likely notice the slightly down-sized stature of this knife for heavy-duty tasks or during extended use. Even if it is a bit on the compact side, the Mini Barrage strikes a nice balance of size, weight, and utility, making it a high-value choice for anyone who needs a high-quality knife. The Zero Tolerance 0450 Sinkevich Carbon Fiber is another excellent option worth considering. This knife is a full ounce lighter and slightly longer, but it will cost you a pretty penny.

Read more: Benchmade Mini Barrage 585 review

The lock on the Mini Barrage is industry-leading, while the action of the blade is engaged by a spring assist mechanism.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

High Performance Heritage Design


Benchmade 15031-2 North Fork


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 9.0
  • Ergonomics 8.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Weight: 3.2 oz | Blade Length: 2.9 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Renowned blade construction
Assisted opening works smoothly
Usable yet highly compact
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Blade-closed lock mechanism requires a learning curve

Exceptionally well made and with a more traditional look that will appeal to many users, we love the North Fork almost as much as the Mini-Barrage. Featuring a top-of-the-line alloy in S30V expected (and really, required) of a knife scoring this well, users can feel confident that their North Fork has a great, all around blade. S30V is known as a very balanced knife steel, offering good edge retention and corrosion resistance, which is also easily sharpened.

The North Fork has a special feature hidden in the blade shape itself - a recurve. This means the knife holds and slices well with a “grip” on the blade's edge not seen on other straight grinds. Ostensibly this is to help with the North Fork's target market in mind: hunters. Ultimately we recommend the Havalon Piranta (read on for more info) as most hunter's knife of choice, but that's only because the North Fork is bulkier and much pricier. Even so, this is one of the best knives out there for dressing a kill, because of that subtle blade recurve, but also because the stabilized wood handle helps to keep grip when things get slippery and messy. It's also worth noting the North Fork is more easily cleaned than its Barrage cousins or any knife with an assisted opening action, like the Kershaw Blur Glassbreaker. There are just fewer mechanics to get gummed up.

Read more: Benchmade North Fork review

pocket knife - the north fork knife is smaller than "full size," which is "just...
The North Fork knife is smaller than “full size,” which is “just right” for the vast majority of tasks while making it an easier choice to carry.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Best Bang for your Buck


CIVIVI Button Lock Elementum II


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 8.0
  • Ergonomics 6.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Construction Quality 7.0
Weight: 1.9 oz | Blade Length: 2.3 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Interchangeable blade
Blade is razor-thin
Open profile cleans easily
REASONS TO AVOID
Blade rattles a bit
Handle narrow in hand

The CIVIVI Button Lock Elementum II is the first knife from the Chinese maker that we have been legitimately impressed with. Their discontinued original Elementum had some major design flaws and scored quite low in our testing. The difference could not be more stark with the Elementum II. From the outside, the knife doesn't look much different. It has a similar shape, with a flipper open action. The G10 Composite scales come in the same wide variety of colors that CIVIVI is known for. Though this is mainly for aesthetic purposes - CIVIVI understands that a knife is a work of art that enthusiasts collect as much as actually use - we find the texture to be pleasant while giving just the right amount of grip.

The main upgrades are in the lock and the blade steel. The Elementum now features an excellent button lock, which is not only easy to disengage but also makes the knife inherently safer than the liner lock of its predecessor (and of roughly 70% of the pocket knife market). It does require the knife to grow a little thicker to accommodate this mechanism, but overall, it's an acceptable trade-off. The real impressive feature of this knife, though, is its blade steel alloy. Nitro-V is among the top knife steels produced today, and to find it in a knife at this price point is the real reason we had no choice but to give the Elementum II our top value award. You'll have to choose if the aesthetics of this knife suit your own sensibilities, but the actual knife metrics of this pocket knife can't be ignored. It is a beautifully functional knife offering quality steel, for a steal. If you're on the hunt for the most inexpensive knife, the Gerber Paraframe Mini is hard to beat. This knife is extremely portable and would make a great backup knife.

Read more: CIVIVI Button Lock Elementum II review

The blade centering is great, and there's surprisingly little-to-no play in the hinge. The Elementum II feels well built.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Best Lightweight Knife


Benchmade 535 Bugout


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 8.0
  • Ergonomics 7.0
  • Portability 8.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Weight: 1.9 oz | Blade Length: 3.2 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Full function
Smooth hinges and lock
REASONS TO AVOID
Flexy handle
Thin handle

The Benchmade 535 Bugout is the best knife we know of for self-propelled outdoor adventures. Long-time top manufacturer Benchmade made this knife precisely for carrying in the backcountry. But its lightweight and low profile make it the perfect everyday carry. This smaller knife still sports a top-quality, full-size blade that opens, locks, and closes with a predictable smoothness we have come to expect from the reliable hardware in Benchmade knives.

The lightweight design, however, comes with a few minor concessions. The handle is a tad flexible: it's entirely plastic without an internal skeleton liner. It's more stable than the weight leads you to believe, but this isn't the tool for intense cutting tasks. However, it's important to recognize that you likely won't encounter the need for extended cutting in your day-to-day life or regular outdoor adventures. Minor criticisms aside, if you want a full-length pocket knife as well-designed for your backcountry kit as it is your pocket, we recommend the Bugout over any other knife in our lineup. The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army is another option worth keeping on your person. Though the knife isn't too impressive, you'll be equipped with a mini multi-tool in your pocket.

Read more: Benchmade 535 Bugout review

The Bugout is so lightweight, you'll want it with you at all times for odd jobs like helping to secure a broken taillight.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Best Heavy Duty Knife


Kershaw Link


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 8.0
  • Ergonomics 8.0
  • Portability 5.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Weight: 4.7 oz | Blade Length: 3.2 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Long and sturdy blade
Solid construction
Modular pocket clip
Comfortable grip
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy and bulky
Expensive

The Kershaw Link features a thick, compound-ground blade of high-quality steel and an ergonomic grip that makes big cutting jobs easier. Whenever we face a daunting task like preparing kindling without an axe – or opening tons of packages of more gear to review – this is the knife we reach for every time. The specific steel alloy used in the blade, CPM 20CV, is known for its stellar hardness and edge retention, so it stays sharp and doesn't bend or flex under pressure. The overall construction is bomber, and the grip feels secure, safe, and ergonomic. This is a top option if you need a knife to carry on the construction job site or just want a large blade for your camping or outdoor kit.

The major downsides to the Link are bulk, weight, and cost all reasonably associated with opting for such a burly knife. The weight of this large, heavy pocket knife is absolutely noticeable in a pocket or backpack. If you are looking for a smaller knife for everyday carry or occasional use, a smaller knife like the Kershaw Leek is likely a better option. Considering the price tag attached to the Link, it is a serious investment, but one that we're sure will pay off in the long run for those who regularly turn to a pocket knife to get the job done.

Read more: Kershaw Link review

The Link is so solidly built that we feel comfortable using it in heavy duty use cases, akin to a larger fixed knife.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Best Everday Carry


Kershaw Leek


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 7.0
  • Ergonomics 6.0
  • Portability 8.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Weight: 3.1 oz | Blade Length: 2.9 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Constructed like a work of art
Adaptable assisted opening
Excellent blade for the price
REASONS TO AVOID
Handle doesn't allow a significant transfer of pressure to the blade
Thin, more fragile blade

The Kershaw Leek packs a pedigreed blade into a compact, assisted-opening knife that costs roughly half the price of other high-end options. The 14C28N alloy stainless blade steel comes sharp and defect-free from the factory. Like the assisted opening on other models, the Leek can be opened with either thumb via the blade studs or via a well-tuned flipper tab along the spine. It is quick to open, impressively well built, and super portable, positioning the Leek as a strong competitor to become your everyday companion.

The Leek is undeniably sleek and beautiful. But while some of our testers appreciated the thin profile for carrying, others really disliked the handle design due to compromises in overall utility. The knife is excellent for light cutting, but we wouldn't trust it for anything heavier-duty. It's not meant for heavy tearing or prying – we even watched the blade deform slightly during testing. For a knife with a similar (but slightly thicker) shape and profile, the CIVIVI Elementum II can better stand up to more medium-duty tasks.

Read more: Kershaw Leek review

Thin and impossibly fast, the Kershaw Leek may just be the perfect EDC (everyday carry) pocket knife.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Best Knife for Hunting


Havalon Piranta Original


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Blade and Edge Integrity 7.0
  • Ergonomics 6.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Construction Quality 7.0
Weight: 1.9 oz | Blade Length: 2.3 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Blade is interchangeable
Razor-thin blade
Easy to clean open profile
REASONS TO AVOID
Somewhat rattly blade
Slightly narrow handle

Every ounce counts, and that's why we ultimately recommend the best hunting knife as the Havalon Piranta Original. Field dressing and processing anything but the smallest wild game can dull a blade partway through the process. Some bring a sharpening kit, some carry multiple sharpened knives, while others simply forge on with an unsafe, dull blade. Or you can carry the Piranta and a few extra blades, which sounds much easier than any of those other options. This knife's crowning feature is its swappable blade ability: 12 spare scalpel blades ship with the unit, and can pop on and off the blade stud, making it a breeze to swap blades whenever one dulls. While other high-end knife companies like Benchmade offer blade sharpening services, Havalon keeps prices low on their knife and provides extra accessory blades. It's up to you what you prefer.

With the Piranta's scalpel-style blades, you can work with a finer edge than any permanent knife blade. However, the interchangeable blades can rattle a bit in the blade stud, which can be disconcerting when bearing down on the knife. This isn't the burliest knife we tested, and the narrow handle on this lightweight knife can feel a little less than adequate for tough cutting. The similarly lightweight Benchmade 535 Bugout offers better ergonomics, and although you won't benefit from exchanging for a fresh blade, at least you can have the company rehone back to factory standard when your hunting season is through. There isn't anything quite like working with a factory-honed blade, but for those who don't have that option, the choice is simple: the interchangeable blades of the Piranta change the game of dressing game.

Read more: Havalon Piranta Original review

The Havalon Piranta features quick-change scalpel blades, easily swappable in the field with the included blade change tool, or by carefully prying off with some pliers.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
86
Benchmade Mini Barrage 585
Best Overall Pocket Knife
$190
Editors' Choice Award
84
Benchmade 15031-2 North Fork
High Performance Heritage Design
$220
Editors' Choice Award
79
Zero Tolerance 0450 Sinkevich Carbon Fiber
$285
78
Benchmade 535 Bugout
Best Lightweight Knife
$200
Top Pick Award
74
Kershaw Link
Best Heavy Duty Knife
$200
Top Pick Award
72
Kershaw Leek
Best Everday Carry
$125
Top Pick Award
72
Spyderco Delica 4
$126
71
CIVIVI Button Lock Elementum II
Best Bang for your Buck
$77
Best Buy Award
68
Havalon Piranta Original
Best Knife for Hunting
$65
Top Pick Award
68
Kershaw Blur Glassbreaker
$185
67
SOG Twitch II
$60
65
CRKT Drifter
$45
62
Petzl Spatha
$40
61
Gerber Paraframe Mini
$17
61
Leatherman Skeletool KB
$40
60
Gerber Fast Draw - Plain Edge
$50
59
Spyderco Tenacious G-10
$92
53
Albatross EDC Tactical
$10
48
Opinel No. 8
$19
41
Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army
$24

pocket knife - in order from left to right by size, the kershaw leek, the mini...
In order from left to right by size, the Kershaw Leek, the Mini Barrage, and the Kershaw Link.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

How We Test Pocket Knives


This review started with a thorough combing of the knife market. We considered upwards of 100 models before selecting 20 of the best pocket knives for side-by-side testing. We purchased each one at retail price from the same retailers you would, which helps keep our review free from bias. Each year, we reassess the market, selecting some new options and omitting old ones. We used a combination of controlled tests and general daily use – each model undergoes 21 individual tests across five rating metrics. Daily use ranged from routine tasks like simple food preparation and opening packages to more specialized applications like home improvements and automotive repairs. Controlled tests included cutting materials like rope and webbing, whittling, and even boring holes with the blade's tip. In the end, we conducted more than 350 individual tests to help you find the perfect knife to match your needs and budget.

Our pocket knife testing is divided across four rating metrics:
  • Blade and Edge Integrity (30% of overall score rating)
  • Ergonomics (25% of overall score)
  • Portability (20% of overall score)
  • Construction Quality (25% of overall score)

We put these pocket knives to the test through performing various day-to-day tasks.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Why Trust GearLab


Aside from testing gear, Review Editor Kyle Hameister's main thing is product design. From building prototypes in his shop in Colorado to (sometimes literally) running around on product installs, his day-to-day is wonderfully diverse, and a well-chosen pocket knife is a necessary tool of the trade. As our resident knife expert, Kyle also leads up testing our top-rated multi-tools. He builds upon the the testing experience of Senior Review Editors Jediah Porter and Jeff Dobronyi who both work as certified IFMGA/American Mountain Guides. Professional mountain guiding changes with the seasons: backcountry skiing and ice climbing during the winter, ski mountaineering in the spring, alpine climbing in the summer, and rock climbing in the fall. This variable line of work requires having the right tool for the job, which always includes a solid pocket knife. During his decade-long tenure of testing pocket knives, Jed claims hands-on experience with over 40 different knives.

The Kershaw Link.
The Kershaw Link.
A selection of our tested pocket knives. Notice the variety of blade...
A selection of our tested pocket knives. Notice the variety of blade shapes, sizes, and finishes. There's a specially designed product for every specialty use case you can think of.
The Fast Draw makes fast work of random tasks around the shop.
The Fast Draw makes fast work of random tasks around the shop.
Our testers know a lot about knives, and after handling them for hours upon hours, they know which are the absolute best.

Analysis and Test Results


The pocket knife landscape is incredibly broad. There are knives with single-digit prices, or you could spend five digits and more on a collectible-grade knife. We focus on the huge middle of this range. We omit unbranded, “knock-off” knives from convenience stores, souvenir shops, promotional retailers, and the deeper corners of internet retail. At the other end of the spectrum, we omit connoisseur and collector products from boutique direct sellers and custom makers.

Our test lineup includes knives that fold for easy carry, have blades between one and four inches in length, are commonly available at various retail outlets, and are optimized for daily or outdoor carry. We put a slight focus on human-powered outdoor adventure pursuits. We also comment extensively on a knife's utility in day-to-day life.


Value


Price and quality can vary, even within this range of products. Your purchase price, generally, 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 steel material for the blade and hinges. You'll also get locking mechanisms that last longer and carry options that blend seamlessly with your life. Less expensive options will probably be a better value for more occasional use or those prone to misplacing smaller possessions. But when it comes down to it, the best value is a representation of price versus performance.

pocket knife - side-by-side of the benchmade mini barrage and the gerber fast draw...
Side-by-side of the Benchmade Mini Barrage and the Gerber Fast Draw. The similarities abound between these two knives: similar resin handle scales, lock upgrades over a standard liner-lock, size, weight, blade style, and spring assist opening speed. The difference is in the quality of craftsmanship.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

You're probably interested in the top-scoring Benchmade Mini-Barrage (and why wouldn't you be?) But if you can't stomach the up-front cost, even a much more affordable knife like the Gerber Fast Draw - Plain Edge offers a surprisingly similar design, albeit at a lower grade of blade and handle quality. The Kershaw Leek is still pretty spendy for many folks, but the steel quality, portability, and stellar assist-open function push it to compete with options well above its price range. The same can be said for the CIVIVI Elementum II, our current top value award winner - mainly for its fantastic button lock and blade steel. For specialty uses like hunting, the Havalon Piranta presents a unique value, considering that it is the only knife in our selection that offers interchangeable blades. And if you're looking to buy someone their very first pocket knife, it's tough to beat the value of the ultra-classic Victorinox Classic Swiss Army knife, or the almost as diminutive Gerber Paraframe Mini.

pocket knife - the gerber paraframe mini is fantastically priced for how well built...
The Gerber Paraframe Mini is fantastically priced for how well built it is. Solid and portable, this value option will serve you well, but won't bum you out (much) if lost.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Blade and Edge Integrity


More or less, we're talking about sharpness in this metric. There isn't a consumer choice more perplexing 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 the raw materials, material treatment, knife geometry, and blade maintenance. These things balance to deliver actual performance and, yes, sharpness.


First of all, every knife will need to be resharpened at some point, as long as it gets regular use and doesn't sit in a trophy case. Different blade steel alloys and designs will hold a sharp edge longer, but all will eventually need some TLC. There are professional knife sharpening services and many commercially available sharpening kits for home use. Or, you could go with a Benchmade knife like the Mini Barrage or Bugout, both of which are covered by the company's “LifeSharp” program. All you have to do is cover shipping, and they'll sharpen these premium knives for the life of the product.

pocket knife - although you'll find a super-sharp factory edge on the benchmade...
Although you'll find a super-sharp factory edge on the Benchmade Mini-Barrage, Benchmade's “LifeSharp” program ensures you'll never run the risk of a dull blade.
Credit: Megan Seel

The process of designing a blade starts with the raw material. All of our reviewed knives have blades made of some variety of stainless steel. Steel is ferrous (iron-containing), and when that iron is mixed (i.e., "alloyed") with certain metals such as carbon or chromium, it creates a new material that has a variety of desirable properties. A knife blade must be hard enough to resist the abrasion and deflection of the material it is cutting. However, it must also be soft enough to deflect (rather than break or crack) at least slightly in the face of significant forces and to respond to commonly available sharpening methods. Too hard, and the brittle steel would 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, from water to more acidic liquids like citrus juice.

pocket knife - the nitro-v steel alloy used on the civivi elementum ii is one of...
The Nitro-V steel alloy used on the CIVIVI Elementum II is one of the best steels you can find on a knife these days. Renown for it's great combination of toughness/ edge retention, and corrosion resistance.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

There is a dizzying array of steel types. We're slowly seeing more and more knives – and not just the ones with premium price tags – move past the longtime standards of blade steel. High-end alloys like 154cm, and S30V are popular on Benchmade offerings. The S35VN steel of the Zero Tolerance 0450 Sinkevich Carbon Fiber and the Nitro-V alloy of the CIVIVI Elementum II are both truly world-class steels. The 20CV steel used in the Kershaw Link's blade is also top-notch, engineered specifically for its hardness and edge retention.


Decent knife steel is so common and inexpensive that all branded knives (even most truck stop or flea market knives) will be made with good enough metal. Most manufacturers of high-quality knives advertise the type of steel they use, with a stamp right on the blade. 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, it will be well above average. The opposite is often true, too; if the actual materials aren't listed, it is probably some pretty poor stuff. The steel hardening method is just 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.

pocket knife - whittle testing the opinel no. 8
Whittle testing the Opinel No. 8
Credit: Jediah Porter

Various types of hardening result in different characteristics. The steel's edge-holding qualities are well established after hardening — provided the blade isn't exposed to enough heat to reverse (or even further) the hardening process. We especially like budget knives produced by companies that also make high-end kitchen knives or other fixed blade options (like CIVIVI started out). A company like this might downgrade the steel to hit a price point, but it doesn't make sense to tool up an independent heat treatment infrastructure.

pocket knife - you know it is a high-end product when it has a serial number. the...
You know it is a high-end product when it has a serial number. The Zero Tolerance knife offers incredible steel to boost its blade integrity.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Once a blade is shaped and hardened, the cutting edge receives its final grind and can be tuned for optimum performance for different tasks. The blade of the hybrid tactical Kershaw Blur Glassbreaker is also sharpened to a steeper angle. On the other hand, the Victorinox Classic SD's tiny blade starts thin and is sharpened thinner, making for a very sharp yet fragile edge. The CRKT Drifter, Opinel No. 8, Benchmade Bugout, and Petzl Spatha are similarly slender. Modern knives like the Spyderco Tenacious G-10 and the Benchmade Mini-Barrage have blade geometry that splits the difference between the above extremes. This middle-of-the-road blade geometry is, predictably, versatile and functional. The procedures, facets, and angles used to finish an edge further influence the blade's initial sharpness and edge-holding ability.

pocket knife - the benchmade 535 bugout has a classic blade shape: a drop-point...
The Benchmade 535 Bugout has a classic blade shape: a drop-point tip, slight swedge grind along the top, and a deep, sweeping belly.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

The Piranta must once again be mentioned, with its novel, interchangeable blades. Havalon is a long-time producer of scalpel blades before they started also making pocket knives (and a few multi-tools). These scalpel blades are undoubtedly the thinnest and sharpest of any in our tested lineup. 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. The knife also makes other compromises not suitable for many users.

pocket knife - the piranta comes with 12 replacement scalpel blades, a quick-change...
The Piranta comes with 12 replacement scalpel blades, a quick-change guide, and a belt sheath
Credit: Kyle Hameister

As with steel hardness, there is no single perfect edge finish. Too narrow of an angle, and the blade's leading edge is too thin to resist deflection and dulling, while too steep of an angle on that leading edge doesn't feel nearly as sharp in actual use. Rest assured that knife manufacturers have this largely figured out. Follow their instructions for proper care, and your knife should serve you for years and years. You probably don't need this review if you know edge angles better than the knife manufacturer.

pocket knife - even high-quality steel is susceptible to damage, particularly in...
Even high-quality steel is susceptible to damage, particularly in thin blades. Though this is a first occurrence over many generations of testing this knife, the tip of the Petzl Spatha snapped off early in our latest test cycle.
Credit: Aaron Rice

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 its maintenance as it does on the materials and initial manufacturing. The pocket knives we tested demonstrate more-than-adequate edge integrity and sharpness, as the manufacturer has balanced numerous conflicting criteria at every step in the process.

pocket knife - simple whittling would be "beneath" the capabilities of the north...
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.
Credit: Jediah Porter

All the knives we tested have some type of drop-point or clip-point shaped blades. There are many common blade shapes. Some are more general, and some are quite specific. These two are the most versatile blade shapes, similar but subtly different.

Note that many blades in our test and elsewhere can be straight or serrated. Serrated blades cut tough materials more efficiently, especially rope and webbing, while straight edge blades are easier to sharpen. The GearLab team generally prefers straight edge blades. Hybrid blades, partially straight and partially serrated, can address various needs and also absolutely be the worst of all worlds. The one setting in which we approve of serrated blades or hybrid blades is for climbing use. The Petzl Spatha has a hybrid blade, which we appreciate on that tool. Use and sharpen the straight portion regularly and save the serrated portion for tougher tasks like cutting carpet or rope.

pocket knife - the skeletool features a long-tapered point but comes with a small...
The Skeletool features a long-tapered point but comes with a small, bent metal handle that doesn't serve the blade particularly well.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ergonomics


Regardless of the blade shape or sharpness, 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, so it can be important to understand the build of a knife. The most ergonomic knife has an elongated rounded-profile handle that fills a loosely clenched fist, while 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 straightforward, and one-handed blade deployment is best.


So-called “assisted opening knives” are even easier to use. In most cases, we prefer the assisted opening blades of knives like the Mini Barrage and two Kershaw products, among others. Backcountry use might be the one exception to our preference for the assisted-opening function. More accurately, we recommend that if you intend to carry your knife extensively somewhere other than clipped to your pants pocket, steer clear of an assisted opening function. An assisted opening knife is more likely to come open inadvertently in any setting unless you deploy its lock-closed function. But doing so, of course, negates any of the convenience of assisted opening. Clipped to the edge of your pants pocket, the likelihood of an accidental opening is very low. In that very common carry mode, we can't think of a reason not to choose an assisted opening knife. If, on the other hand, it will float around extensively in your favorite backpacking backpack, an assisted opening function may be more of a liability than it is worth.

pocket knife - the link's thumb rise is well suited to give continuous cutting...
The Link's thumb rise is well suited to give continuous cutting pressure, and the handle is comfortable and sits fully in your hand. This knife is meant to be used all day, everyday.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

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

Local Laws & Regulations


Note that assisted opening is a knife qualifier that frequently appears in local knife regulations. Some of the knives we have reviewed are illegal to carry or possess in some jurisdictions. Check state-by-state laws on knife possession and carriage.

The Gerber Fast Draw is an example of a more budget offering with a great assisted opening feature. It does open quite fast, but you may notice a subtle scraping sound from the spring action as it does. Higher-end knives will have a smoother action, but we can attest that the Gerber Fast's assist does not fail even after years of abuse.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

The clip is ideally oriented for pocket-clipped knives so that the tool can be pulled from the pocket and thumbed open without regripping. This tip-up carry is the fastest to deploy. The Benchmade and Zero Tolerance 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 knife in your pocket is terrifying but unlikely. We have never, ever, had this happen. The Spyderco Tenacious G-10 and Delica 4 both all have a pocket clip that can be manipulated to hang in your pocket in one of four different configurations: tip-up or down and left or right thumb activation. This attribute alone can favor a Spyderco model for those unclear about how they wish to carry their blade or can't find a knife to match their preference.

Upgrades made between the Gen 1 Elementum (Top), and Gen 2. The opening flipper action is easier, smoother, and has a nice metallic “Clink” into place. The button lock is better than it's predecessors liner lock, though it did require the II's scales to grow thicker to accommodate.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

The Classic SD is the only knife in this lineup that has multiple tools, and while you can't open any of the features with one hand, you should be able to engage them with even the most closely trimmed fingernails. The Opinel No. 8 also opens with a fingernail slot. All other knives have some form of one-handed opening, at the very least a thumb stud at the base of the blade.

pocket knife - opening the opinel requires two hands. this is a little more...
Opening the Opinel requires two hands. This is a little more primitive than some of the newer offerings.
Credit: Jediah Porter

One-handed opening options include a thumb stud, thumb hole, and index finger pull. All have their pros and cons. A thumb stud is the easiest to work with but adds bulk and protrusions that can snag. Also, two thumb studs need to be affixed to the blade for ambidexterity. A thumbhole, as on the Delica 4 and Petzl Spatha, is inherently ambidextrous and removes material and weight from the blade. It is just a little less ergonomic to deploy. The Spatha opens with an ambidextrous thumbhole or a unique ribbed ring inside the hinge, with gloved or bare hands. The Leatherman Skeletool KB is the only knife we have tested that has a one-handed opening but is not ambidextrous. Its thumb hole is only accessible from one side. Right-handers will have no problem with it. Lefties will have to adjust. Finally, the finger flick opening is unique, inherently ambidextrous, and a little less intuitive than the others. Find a finger-flick opening on the Zero Tolerance and as an option on the Kershaw Leek.

pocket knife - you can open the spatha a variety of ways. that grey circle moves...
You can open the Spatha a variety of ways. That grey circle moves with the blade; you can use it to open the blade, which is especially handy with gloves on.
Credit: Jediah Porter

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. A more oval-shaped handle profile, like that of the Benchmade 15031-2 North Fork, is preferred for more substantial use, like extended whittling or cutting of rope and webbing. We also love the grip shape of the Kershaw Link, which is perfectly shaped to fit the user's hand for comfortable all-day use.

The hard blade steel and ergonomic handle make the Link one of the best options for wilderness use.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

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

The Gerber Paraframe Mini is too small and the liner lock is far too stiff, making it difficult to close.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Portability


A pocket knife is only as good as it is handy. Will it be there for you when you need it? You will probably leave a knife that is too bulky or heavy at home from time to time. 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 relatively 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.


The Victorinox Classic SD is the most portable knife we have tested and stands out for its tiny stature while weighing under a single ounce. The Spyderco Tenacious is bulky and cumbersome in comparison. However, bulk and weight can be justified by some in these cases for their function and versatility.

The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is an Everyday Carry...
The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is an Everyday Carry (EDC) must have.
The Gerber Paraframe Mini size reference.
The Gerber Paraframe Mini size reference.
Small options like these are easily portable, with the Victorinox even able to attach to your keychain.

With both large and small knives in the review, the middle of the line Benchmade Mini Barrage is our overall favorite. For most users, the size is manageable while still being functional. The Benchmade Bugout has a blade similar in size to that of these mid-sized options but is much lighter than them all. The SOG Twitch II has a similarly small stature for everyday carry, with a reliable blade.


There is a growing market that knife makers are targeting these days - EDC, or everyday carry. This has ostensibly always be the “reason” to carry a pocket knife, but a surprisingly low percentage of knives are actually engineered to accommodate this specifically. You're looking for a thin knife (not necessarily small, and options like the Leek, and the Skeletool KB are going to be your best bets.

pocket knife - pocket clips can make a world of difference for everyday carry. the...
Pocket clips can make a world of difference for everyday carry. The Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 (right) is way too strong to slip over a pocket edge easily, and sits significantly higher than the Benchmade 535 Bugout (Left).
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Construction Quality


The manufacturing quality of everything but the blade varied far more than the blade's quality in the models we tested. Our evaluation of these knives' construction quality was mainly subjective but equally applied 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 knife's mechanical function 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 immediately and only increased how much we noticed as time and usage wore on. Overall, construction quality was adequate, with no outright failures or breakages during testing.

pocket knife - with a thicker-than-average, scalloped handle, the mini barrage sits...
With a thicker-than-average, scalloped handle, the Mini Barrage sits well in the hand even when taking the blade to stubborn material.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Locking mechanisms are the best window to construction quality. Well-made knives like Kershaw's Leek and Link open and close smoothly every time. These knives both employ liner locks though - that is, locks built into the skeleton liner of the handle. Many (most) knives on the market have liner locks, which we are happy to see manufacturers slowly moving away from since liner locks are inherently dangerous in that your finger is in the path of the folding blade when it's disengaged. Instead, we prefer button-style locks, like on the Elementum II, or the axis-style locks on Benchmades, like the North Fork. These are on the side of the handle, designed so that your fingers are out of the way when closing.

It is generally more difficult to optimize construction quality with a small knife. The 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 for their size. The Classic SD seems to escape some of the other small knives' issues — all its components work well and smoothly. None of the features on the Classic lock, which likely saves some hassle. The Skeletool KB is right in here, too; small but well made.

pocket knife - the carbon fiber handle sets the zero tolerance 0450 apart in our...
The carbon fiber handle sets the Zero Tolerance 0450 apart in our lineup. No matter how you look at it, this knife represents the highest end of construction quality.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The Opinel No. 8 has a unique construction. With only five parts (handle, blade, hinge pin, and two collars that serve as the locking mechanism), it's primitive, but its overall build is very clean. The result is a light and reliable, but a little uninspiring classic folding pocket knife. Opening and locking require two hands.

pocket knife - here the "virobloc" ring of the opinel is turned to allow the blade...
Here the “Virobloc” ring of the Opinel is turned to allow the blade to close and open through its slot.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The spectrum of available pocket knives is immense. We have carved out the important features of knives that fall in the middle of this spectrum and always work to organize our findings better. Hopefully, what we have found and shared has helped you make your eventual selection and make it confidently.

pocket knife - there is a mind-boggling amount of variety in the pocket knife...
There is a mind-boggling amount of variety in the Pocket Knife market today, occupying hyper-specific niches, and including a huge range of price points.
Credit: Kyle Hameister

Jeff Dobronyi, Jediah Porter, and Kyle Hameister