The Best Pocket Knife
The best pocket knife needs to check a lot of boxes — portable, safe, comfortable to use — but most importantly, it has to be really good at cutting. We pored over 131 knives, spoke with three expert knife reviewers, and left a trail of shredded rope and cardboard in our wake to find the best pocket knives around.
The North Fork has everything we were looking for: smooth one-handed opening, a lock that’s secure but easy to release, and a handsome wood handle that provides excellent grip without sacrificing comfort.
Ontario Rat II
There’s nothing flashy about the Rat II’s black nylon handle or practical thumb stud. It just works really well, beating out knives that cost ten times as much in our tests.
The pocket knife against which all other pocket knives are measured. Classic, sharp, and smoother than smooth, the titanium and steel Sebenza is as much a work of art as a tool.
Spyderco Sage 1
A standout in testing, with polarizing tactical aesthetics.
Benchmade Mini Griptilian
Well-made and discreet, but with a less comfortable handle than our top picks.
The Best Pocket Knife
- Benchmade North Fork Family -
Best Overall Knife
- Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21 -
Best Collector's Knife
- Ontario Rat II -
Best Budget Knife
- Spyderco Sage 1 -
Others to Consider
- Benchmade Mini Griptilian 556 -
Others to Consider
Our top pick is the Benchmade North Fork ($140). It’s a little bigger than most knives we looked at, measuring 3.9" closed, but it never felt bulky in our pockets. What you get for that added size is a more comfortable and stable handle (we ordered the wooden one) and a blade that can handle tougher assignments, like rope and cardboard, with ease. The North Fork received some of the most positive reviews from our testers on its ergonomics and usability, and we agreed. We loved using Benchmade's proprietary Axis lock, which lets you close the knife without putting your fingers in the blade's path, and gave the North Fork one of the most effortless opening and closing actions of anything we tested. Among the dozens of knives on our desks, we found ourselves automatically reaching for this one whenever the opportunity came up to open a package.
If you want a quality knife without investing a ton of money, the Ontario Rat II is a fantastic choice at around $43. This knife shocked us with how well it performed compared to more expensive options — it aced every one of our tests and the perfectly contoured pocket clip felt comfortable in our hands the entire time. The steel isn’t as high quality as that in high-end pocket knives — you’ll have to sharpen it more often — and the handle is made from cheaper nylon. But if you’re looking for a solid first pocket knife (or just one you won’t feel bad about beating up), consider the Rat II.
We were skeptical about the need for a $365 knife. Then we got our hands on the Chris Reeve Small Sebenza. The opening and closing mechanisms are legendary: "Sebenza smooth" is sought after praise in the knife world. With its finely sharpened steel blade sandwiched between two thick slabs of titanium, the Sebenza is as close to pocket knife perfection as it gets. It’s the Cary Grant of pocket knives. If quality craftsmanship and attention to detail are your thing, this knife is worth the price tag.
In terms of cutting performance, the Spyderco Sage 1 ($132) was every bit the North Fork’s equal. The real difference between them is in the design and operation. The North Fork opened and closed in a way that actually made it fun to use, while the Sage 1 didn’t feel that different from every other knife we tested. The woven ridges in the carbon fiber/G10 create a strongly textured handle that some of our testers didn’t like. Similarly, the Benchmade Mini-Griptilian ($94) didn’t necessarily disappoint in any one area. We just liked the handle feel and ergonomics on the North Fork better. Still, this is one of the most popular everyday carry knives for a reason: it’s sleek, discreet, and versatile enough to handle any cutting task.
How We Found The Best Pocket Knife
The best everyday carry pocket knife should be able to handle any routine task that pops up throughout the day and fit comfortably in your pocket the rest of the time. Most of the time, these tasks are pretty mundane. All three of our experts, knife enthusiasts with years of industry experience and sizable personal collections, cited opening boxes as one of their most common uses. Dan P. of bladereviews.com told us that, as a lawyer sitting at a desk most of the day, his everyday carry knife is "mostly a glorified letter opener."
The best pocket knife needs to be many things: letter opener, box cutter, and emergency tool, all in one portable package. We decided to focus on knives that excelled purely at being a knife, without comparing them to tools that boasted dozens of other functions. So we excluded all-in-one tools, like Swiss Army knives, because their knife functionality simply isn’t in the same league as a single blade pocket knife — they take two hands to open, don’t lock into position, and are generally much smaller.
“It’s a great time to be a knife enthusiast. The market is chock-full of reputable brands.”
But with a staggering number of companies producing thousands of pocket knives, we wanted to home in on those with good reputations for quality craftsmanship. So we polled knife experts from review sites like bladereviews.com and knifeinformer.com, scoured user reviews on popular retailers like Knife Depot, and consulted message boards like Blade Forums to pull together our list of knifemakers. We ended up with 131 knives from 32 highly-rated brands that represent the best of the best in the pocket knife world.
We wanted tools, not weapons
If we’re carrying these knives every day, it’s important that they don’t seem aggressive or threatening when we’re using them. With the help of our experts, we identified three components that affect this the most: the shape of the blade, the length of the blade, and how the knife is opened.
We ruled out certain blade styles, like the tanto or clip point, because their sharp, pronounced points (designed for piercing) suggest "weapon." We also eliminated more specialized blades like the sheepsfoot, which has no point at all, making it poorly suited for an all-purpose knife. That left us with the drop point blade, which slopes from the handle to the blade tip aligning the tip to the center axis. Our experts agreed a drop point blade is the best choice for an everyday carry knife. According to Dan P., "It’s a good all around blade shape…[and] typically non-threatening. It doesn’t scream, ‘This is a weapon.’ It’s more of a tool." Since almost all of the pocket knives that were being recommended on review sites and in expert interviews featured drop point blades, this was clearly a style well-suited to everyday carry knives that we could feel good about zeroing in on.
Folding knives are an obvious choice here: If you’re going to be carrying a knife around in your pocket, a fixed blade with a sheath isn’t really practical. But a pocket knife’s opening mechanism can also have a big impact on how it’s perceived. Automatic opens (think: switchblades) have a button that instantly shoots out a spring-loaded blade. It’s probably the most threatening way possible to open a knife, and these knives are completely illegal in 12 states (and heavily regulated in several others). Assisted opens are also spring-loaded, but instead of using a button or trigger, the user has to initiate the action with their thumb. We ruled both of these out because there’s really only one way to open them: fast and loud.
We also restricted our search to manual opens, which typically come in three forms: flippers, thumb studs, and thumb holes. Flippers have a small lever on the end of the blade that you push down with your index finger to open in one swift motion. Thumb studs and holes provide a leverage point on the blade that lets you move the knife open with your thumb.
We focused on single blade pocket knives between 2.75 and 3.25 inches
We wanted something that could handle any cutting task that might come up while still being portable and discreet enough that we wouldn’t mind carrying it around all day. While our expert opinions varied on the perfect blade length, they all suggested something between 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Typically, 2.5-inch blades function more like box cutters and struggle on harder tasks like tree branches, while 3.5-inch knives are hard to use discreetly, and since the handle increases in line with the blade size, they’re also a lot to carry every day for most people.
Pocket knives with around a three-inch blade turned out to be the perfect blend of versatile and discreet. For one, three-inch blades generally have handles around four inches — anything bigger than that starts to get bulky in a pocket. The longer a blade, the more attention it’s going to draw, too. Like many aspects of pocket knives, a lot comes down to preference. But no matter what you’re using it for, we found blades around three inches (we gave ourselves a range of half an inch to garner the most options) to be the perfect everyday carry length.
We didn’t cut any knives because of steel quality
Blade steel is one of the most crucial, but confusing, aspects to consider when choosing a pocket knife. They all have specific strengths and weaknesses, but it’s impossible to tell from simply looking at a name like 8Cr14MoV. Some steels excel in keeping their edge, some in corrosion resistance, and some in ease of sharpening. There is a tradeoff in edge retention: in general, the harder a steel is, the longer it will stay sharp but it will be more difficult to resharpen on your own. Often, high-end knives will require a professional sharpening service to get it back its factory condition (which most high-end companies cover for free).
How the knifemaker heat treats the steel can have a huge impact, too. Heat treatment is the process of heating raw steel to a critical temperature and subsequently cooling it so the new, stronger steel is solidified. Steel types all have a range of hardness to which they can be heat treated, but it’s up to the knifemaker to choose how hard or soft they want the knife. How the knife will be used is also a factor: a softer steel that’s great at chopping wood won’t do as well opening envelopes. That's because the harder and sharper a steel gets, the more brittle it is, giving it greater risk for cracking on heavy duty tasks. Since the heat treatment process has such a big effect on the blade’s attributes, we didn’t want to cut any knives based purely on steel type. All of the knives we picked feature well-known, high-quality steels like CPM-20CV and 8Cr13MoV. We go into more detail on the steel of our top picks, but the guides at Blade Reviews and Knife Informer are great places to dive into the unique qualities of each steel.
We brought in our finalists for hands-on testing
It was important that we brought in a good range of pocket knives for hands-on testing. Since knifemakers have a lot of turnover in their product lines, and knives can have almost identical specs and only small aesthetic differences, we relied on expert input to help us choose essential models with staying power. We made sure to include classic knives with well-earned and long-standing reputations, like the Benchmade Mini-Griptilian and Chris Reeve Sebenza (in production for 30 years), but we also wanted to test out some lesser known models recommended by review sites and our experts. In the end, we brought in a total of 36 knives from 18 different brands. More than anything, we wanted to find out which knives were not only functional and comfortable to use, but actually enjoyable.
We graded on smooth opens, easy closes, and comfortable handles
As soon as we started using these knives, it was clear that some just worked better than others, especially when it came to opening and closing. The best knives can be opened single-handed in one smooth motion, and several knives failed that test right out of the gate. The Coast FDX302 was the worst offender for a bad open: once we did manage to budge it out of the handle, the blade was still sticky and uneven all the way to the locked open position.
While we didn’t expect to be able to close each knife using only one hand, we did want it to be a relatively effortless task. Most pocket knives lock into place when you open them to prevent the blade from closing on your fingers while you’re using it. Every knife we tested had a substantial lock — some brands, like Benchmade, have even created their own proprietary locks — and we felt safe using all of them. However, several knives made unlocking and closing more difficult than it had to be, with frame or liner locks that wouldn’t budge unless we pried them open with both hands. The Gerber Moment was especially cruel; not only does it have the most difficult lock to move, it also has sharp ridges where you push the lock over, so it’s actually pretty painful to close.
After we weeded out some of the worst offenders, we had seven testers evaluate the in-hand feel of our finalists. With our maximum blade length of 3.25 inches, none of our handles were particularly huge, but some did have design elements that made them unnecessarily bulky to use and carry. As one tester described the Kizer Active Bantam, "This knife feels like it was designed for someone with bigger hands and bigger pants than me." There’s no perfect pocket knife for every hand type, but we did want to catch elements that our testers found universally annoying or appealing. Over and over again, the biggest issue was pocket clips that dug into our hands, creating spots that were ripe for blisters over extended use. The best knives combined clips that contoured to our hands with a handle material that was easy to grip without being too abrasive.
We tested blade sharpness by slicing through paper
The paper test is one of the most tried-and-true methods of gauging a knife’s sharpness. As Cook’s Illustrated advised, "A properly sharpened knife will glide through paper with minimal pushing, no snagging." We could see the difference in our contenders immediately. Dull knives skidded along the top of the paper without cutting into it and most that did cut couldn’t get all the way through a standard printer page without snagging. The best glided through in one uninterrupted motion with almost no effort. We were surprised to find that price isn’t necessarily the best indicator of sharpness — in a few cases, $30 knives like the CRKT Drifter and Blue Ridge Esee Zancudo outperformed models costing over $240, like the WE 605I.
We challenged our knives to cut everyday items like seat belts, rope, and cardboard
Most of us are not looking for a pocket knife to cut through paper all day, so we pushed our contenders to handle some more challenging materials: seat belts, rope, and cardboard. We used seat belts as a baseline test because it’s one of the most common emergency uses for pocket knives. And good news — they all cut through like it was a piece of thread.
Next, we tested if our knives could cut through 0.5" thick polypropylene rope without too much sawing or effort on our part. The best knives, like all of the Benchmade and Spyderco models, made an incision as soon as the blade met the rope and sliced through in mere seconds. Some knives, like the Böker Marlowe KMP22 and Kizer Vanguard V3 Vigor, took a lot more work — we really had to force the knife through, sometimes taking five times longer than the top performers. We also took note of how safe each knife felt during this more difficult task, for instance whether the blade was solid and secure or wiggled in the handle.
We saw similar results with our cardboard test. We made about fifteen cuts through each box (with and against the "grain"). As we went along and the blades dulled, it became harder for some knives to continue in one smooth motion, and many started snagging halfway through a cut. The best knives, like the Benchmade North Fork and Spyderco Sage 1, felt just as effortless on the tenth cut as they did on the first.
That left us with 13 versatile, comfortable knives
Our remaining 13 contenders were all high-quality knives. They were easy and enjoyable to open and close, cut through everything we threw at them with ease, and felt comfortable in our hands the entire time. To narrow down our short list, we dug into subtle differences that came up throughout our tests: knives that cut through cardboard like it was paper, had a pocket clip that didn’t dig into our hands, and were a pleasure to open in a fluid, one-handed motion. Our final top picks checked every box.
Our Picks For The Best Pocket Knife
Best Overall Knife
For an all-purpose, everyday carry pocket knife, the Benchmade North Fork is as good as it gets. It’s incredibly comfortable to handle, had the most enjoyable opening and closing mechanisms of any knife we tested, and aced every test we put it through. For $165, we think this is the best pocket knife on the market.
The thumb stud pulls the blade open with almost no effort, but it also has a spring biasing it to the closed position, so we never had to worry about it coming open accidentally, like with the CRKT Drifter. We loved Benchmade’s proprietary Axis lock, too; instead of struggling with a stiff liner or frame lock, Benchmade knives just need a quick pull down on the locking stud to release the blade. They were by far the easiest knives to close that we tested, and they also felt the safest — unlike liner or frame locks, you never have to put your fingers in the path of the knife to close it. The whole process was so effortless that we found ourselves absentmindedly opening and closing the North Fork whenever it was within reach.
Everything about this knife just feels well-made. Benchmade used CPM S30V steel for the North Fork, which is regarded as one of the best available for edge retention and corrosion resistance. It does push the price a little higher, but you’ll notice the difference — no matter how much cardboard we hacked through, the North Fork felt just as sharp as when we got it. With high-end steel like this, there is a bit of a tradeoff, though: In general, the more a blade keeps its edge, the harder it is to sharpen. But Benchmade covers each of their knives with a lifetime warranty and sharpening service — just ship it back to them and they’ll tune it up and get it back to factory sharpness.
The North Fork’s handsome dark wood handle won us over immediately (it’s also available with a G10 handle, a high-pressure fiberglass laminate); it was such a nice relief from the sea of tactical black and cold steel that dominate pocket knife design. It also just felt good in our hands. At 3.9 inches, the handle length was right in the middle of knives we tested, but it felt a lot more substantial. No matter the size of our testers hands, they all reported the same thing: this was a smooth and comfortable knife that didn’t sacrifice any grip. With Benchmade’s lifetime warranty and sharpening service, the Benchmade North Fork could conceivably be the only pocket knife you’ll ever need.
If you’re looking for something especially discreet, consider our budget pick, the Ontario Rat II, or the (pricier) Benchmade Mini-Griptilian.
Best Budget Knife
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Rat II. There’s nothing particularly flashy about it — it has the same black nylon grip, thumb stud, and liner lock that come standard on hundreds of other budget knives. But this thing just works: it aced every test we put it through, and was consistently one of the most comfortable and enjoyable to use.
Of the nine knives we tested under $50, the Rat II stuck out for how fluidly it opened and closed. Most of these cheaper knives were a struggle in one area or another — you either had to put a lot of force on the thumb stud to pry it open, like the Buck Lux Knife, or the lock was so unresponsive that it required both hands (and sharp metal teeth digging into our fingers) to close, like the seemingly spiteful Gerber Moment. The Rat II was satisfying to open and close with one hand, but it never felt too loose, either (unlike the CRKT Drifter, which easily snagged on our keys and partially opened in our pockets). The Rat II gave us none of those fears: it took just the right amount of pressure to get open, while never becoming a chore.
It also performed incredibly well in our usability tests. It was one of the sharpest knives we tested right out of the box, slicing through paper in long, clean strokes. And it handled the rope and cardboard easily, too: where most budget knives took a lot of sawing to get all the way through, the Rat II cut through everything in one smooth motion. It’s a little more slender than most EDC knives, so we could see it struggling with some jobs — you might not want to hack off live tree branches, for instance — but for everyday use, it’s hard to imagine anything the Rat II couldn’t handle.
We loved how comfortable this knife felt while we were putting it through our tests. The pocket clip was one of the least obtrusive, with a nice contour where your middle finger rests, so you never feel it digging into your hand. The clip is also adjustable to four different positions, a nice option that we wish more knives offered. And because of its slim size, we hardly noticed the Rat II when it was clipped in our pockets.
That’s not to say that everything about this knife is perfect — there’s a reason it's less than $50. For one, the handle is made out of nylon instead of the more expensive G10, so it’s not quite as grippy as a lot of knives. Like many budget knives, it also uses AUS-8 steel for the blade. But as Dan P. writes in his in-depth review of the Rat II, "Steel snobs may turn their nose up at AUS 8, but my own testing and use has proven again and again that AUS 8 takes a great edge, is super easy to maintain, doesn’t chip out easily, and resists rust and corrosion." We found the same thing: even after beating up the Rat II with all of our tests, it was still one of our sharpest knives, cutting through paper nearly as well as it did out of the box.
Best Collector's Knife
What makes a knife worth $365? A Chris Reeve knife is like any other luxury product: you’re buying high production standards and better materials, which lead to improved durability and performance. Chris Reeve has a reputation for adhering to insanely tight tolerances, meaning the blade is as perfectly centered in the handle as possible, giving the Sebenza its signature opening and closing. (The highest compliment you can bestow in the knife world is "sebenza smooth.") And if anything ever feels off, just ship it back to them — all Chris Reeve knives are covered by a lifetime warranty that includes free tuning, cleaning, and sharpening.
We brought in several other high-end knives, like the WE 605I and Spyderco Domino, but the Sebenza stood out from all of them. The blade is made from CPM S35VN steel — regarded as one of the best knife steels available — and comes sharper than anything else we tested, slicing through sheets of paper easily from every angle. It made quick work of the cardboard and rope, too (although this felt a little like asking a renowned chef to make us grilled cheese). No matter how much cutting we did, it always felt comfortable and easy to grip.
Full disclosure: the Sebenza wasn’t the easiest knife to open and close. This is a slow and deliberate knife: you’ll need to put more pressure on the thumb stud to budge it open, and the frame lock (which Chris Reeve invented with the Sebenza) takes two hands to push over as well. But surprisingly that never bothered us. We loved the look and feel of the titanium handle so much, that it was still a pleasure to use. The Sebenza simply has an elegant minimalism that’s unparalleled. It won’t open boxes or cut fruit any better than our other top picks. If you’re looking for something that will simply get the job done, go for the Benchmade North Fork or Rat II instead. But if exquisite attention to detail and premium materials are your thing, the Sebenza is worth the upgrade. We found ourselves happily reaching for it over and over.
Others to Consider
Spyderco is one of the most well-respected knife companies around, and it’s not hard to see why. We weren’t crazy about the look — Spyderco has a very tactical aesthetic we found a little cheesy — but we tested five of their knives, and every one of them embodied high performance. We ultimately picked the Sage 1 for its relatively low price point ($132), comfortable feel, and excellent balance.
We really liked the ergonomic handle design, too. Unlike other knives, the Sage 1 has a notch in the blade so you can inch your grip higher for more control. It went a long way in making this smaller knife feel comfortable in bigger hands. Like the Benchmade North Fork, the Sage 1 uses high-end CPM S30V steel for its blade, so you can expect it to keep its edge and resist corrosion very well. (Spyderco also provides a lifetime warranty and free sharpening service on all of its knives.) The Sage 1 excelled in our tests: slicing through cardboard and rope in one continuous motion, without any of the sawing that lesser knives required.
Ultimately, there were a few reasons we opted for the Benchmade North Fork over a Spyderco as our top pick. The Sage 1 was fine to open and close, but it rarely had us reaching for it, either. It was closer to the Ontario Rat II than the Chris Reeve Sebenza — functional, sure, but also a little joyless. The liner lock wasn’t as effortless as the Benchmade’s Axis, and the whole motion felt sticky and a little less smooth. We also disliked the wire pocket clip, which seemed to dig into our hands more than most. Nearly every one of our testers disliked Spyderco’s signature blade shape, with more than one saying it looked like "more of a box cutter than a knife." But if you don’t mind the aggressive aesthetic, the Sage 1 worked as well as any knife we tested.
The Mini-Griptilian ($94) (along with its bigger brother, the Griptilian) is one of the most popular everyday carry pocket knives around. Dan P. calls it "a modern classic," and we’d have to agree — there’s not really anything bad to say about this knife. The Benchmade North Fork is just better.
The Mini-Griptilian has everything we loved about the other Benchmade knives we tested: smooth opening and closing actions, their wonderful Axis lock, and high quality materials. (You can upgrade the handle from nylon to G10 for an extra $40, and the steel from 154CM to CPM-20CV for an extra $50.)
While they performed about the same on our tests, we thought the North Fork provided a better overall experience. It was a little more fluid to open and close, and we preferred the feel of the wooden handle. The Mini-Griptilian’s pocket clip dug into our hands a little awkwardly as we were cutting through cardboard, too — not a dealbreaker, but a problem we didn’t have with our other top picks.
Did You Know?
Knife laws vary by state
Knife laws are incredibly complicated, and there’s no quick rule of thumb to follow when purchasing a pocket knife. Every state has its own rules, and they aren’t always very clear on what’s allowed and what’s not. Most restrictions are based on opening mechanism or blade length, but some states have much hazier definitions. For instance, Maine doesn’t allow a person to conceal "any dangerous or deadly weapon" but it’s not entirely clear how pocket knives fit in this space. There are also exceptions made for hunting, fishing, and government employees in a lot of states. We recommend checking out the American Knife and Tool Institute's website for laws in your area before making a purchase.
Regular sharpening is required
No matter how often you’re using your pocket knife, eventually you’ll find yourself with a dull blade that needs to be sharpened. How often depends on the steel and what you’re using it on. As Matt Davidson explained to us, "On my cheaper knives, which have softer steel, they need to be stropped (light touch ups) every day or two and fully sharpened about once a week. My higher end knives with super steels, like CPM-S110V or M390, can hold a sharp edge for several weeks." Most reputable brands offer free sharpening if you send it back to them, but for more regular touch ups, it’s worth investing in a good knife sharpener.