The Best Pocket Knives
How We Found the Best Pocket Knives
131 knives researched
36 knives tested
3 top picks
The Best Pocket Knives
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.
How We Chose the Best Pocket Knives
First and foremost, the best knives cut safely through common items like rope and cardboard without too much sawing or effort required. But they should also be sharp enough to help in an emergency situation (cutting through a seatbelt, for instance), and — the true mark of sharpness — should slice through a single piece of paper without snagging.
Pocket knives with blades between 2.75 and 3.25 inches long are the perfect blend of versatile and discreet. For one, 3-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. On the other end of the spectrum, 2.5-inch blades function more like box cutters and struggle on harder tasks like tree branches.
Ease of use
The best knives open single-handedly in one smooth motion, lock securely once they’re open, and close with little effort. That’s rarer than you might think; several knives make unlocking and closing more difficult than it has to be, with frame or liner locks that won’t budge unless you pry them open with both hands.
There’s no perfect pocket knife for every hand type, but some design elements are universally annoying or appealing. The biggest issue tends to be pocket clips that dig into hands, creating spots that are ripe for blisters. The best knives combine clips that contour to the hand with a handle material that’s easy to grip without being too abrasive.
A knife you carry every day shouldn’t look aggressive or threatening; blade shape and opening mechanism impact this most. The popular drop point blade, which aligns the knife tip to the center axis by sloping from handle to blade tip, strikes the right balance of functionality and benign appearance. And rather than spring-loaded automatic opens (which are completely illegal in 12 states and heavily regulated in several others) or assisted opens, manual opens are the most practical, discreet choice for an everyday carry knife.
The 3 Best Pocket Knives
- Benchmade North Fork Family -
Best Pocket Knife
- Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21 -
Best Collector’s Knife
- Ontario Rat II -
Best Budget Knife
Why we chose it
Well-made and stylish
Benchmade uses CPM S30V steel for the North Fork, which is regarded as one of the best steels available for edge retention and corrosion resistance. You’ll notice the quality — no matter how much cardboard we hacked through in testing, the North Fork felt just as sharp as when we got it.
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’s a nice reprieve from the sea of tactical black and cold steel that dominate pocket knife design.
This knife has the most enjoyable opening and closing mechanisms of any knife we tested. The thumb stud pulls the blade open with almost no effort; but it also has a spring biasing it to the closed position, so you never have to worry about it coming open accidentally.
We love Benchmade’s proprietary Axis lock, too. It just takes a quick pull down on the locking stud to release the blade. Benchmades were by far the easiest knives to close that we tested, and they also felt the safest — you never have to put your fingers in the path of the knife to close it.
At 3.9 inches, the North Fork’s overall length is right in the middle of all the knives we tested. 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.
Lifetime warranty and sharpening service
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. Meaning the North Fork could be the only pocket knife you’ll ever need.
Points to consider
Hard to sharpen yourself
With high-end steel like this, there is a bit of a trade-off: In general, the more a blade keeps its edge, the harder it is to sharpen. But since it’s covered with a lifetime warranty and sharpening service, Benchmade will take care of that for you if you ship it in.
High-quality materials often lead to a higher price, as is the case with the North Fork. But since it may just be the only knife you ever need to buy (and we think it’s the best pocket knife on the market), we’re convinced its $140 price tag is worth it.
Why we chose it
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. 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 grilled cheese).
Chris Reeve has a reputation for adhering to extremely 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.")
When you’re buying a Sebenza, you’re buying it for life: 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.
Points to consider
Harder 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. Although, 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.
At $385, there’s no denying this knife is an investment. But 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 Ontario 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.
Why we chose it
Comfortable and discreet
The Ontario Rat II’s pocket clip is one of the least obtrusive we found, 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 nifty 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.
Of the nine knives we tested under $50, the Rat II stuck out for its fluidly opening and closing. Most cheaper knives are a struggle in one area or another — you either have to put a lot of force on the thumb stud to pry it open, or the lock is so unresponsive that it requires both hands to close. The Rat II was satisfying to open and close with one hand, but it never felt too loose, either. It took just the right amount of pressure to get open, while never becoming a chore.
This was one of the sharpest knives we tested right out of the box, slicing through paper in long, clean strokes. It handled 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 everyday carry 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.
Points to consider
Lower quality materials
There’s a reason the Rat II is 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.
Unlike Chris Reeve and Benchmade, Ontario covers its knives with a limited lifetime warranty. The warranty covers failures “due to faulty workmanship or faulty materials” for one year only. We’re confident you’ll be happier with the Rat II than with other knives in its price range, but it’s not a knife that you can send into the manufacturer for occasional TLC (like our other picks).
Guide to Pocket Knives
How to find the right pocket knife for you
Think about how you’ll be using it
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 of a pocket knife. 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."
Consider alternative styles
Keeping those most common uses in mind, we approached this review looking for inconspicuous, all-purpose knives; this ultimately led us to our top picks. But if you want something flashier or especially suited for specific tasks, you might consider other blade styles (like tanto, clip point, or sheepsfoot).
Determine your price range
Once you know how much you’ll use it and what kind of knife you’re looking for, you’ll have a better idea of how much money you’re willing to spend. The knives we considered ranged from $10 to $385. In general, we found that more expensive knives tend to be built with more durable materials and covered by more comprehensive warranties.
Try them out yourself
The knives we chose felt comfortable and ergonomic for all testers; that’s why we feel confident recommending them to you. However, we cut several quality knives along the way for being too bulky or awkward. The best way to know the small aesthetic nuances you prefer is to hold and use them yourself in-store before you buy.
Pocket Knives FAQ
Does steel quality really matter?
The harder a steel is, the longer it’ll stay sharp but the more difficult it’ll be to sharpen. Often, high-end knives will require a professional sharpening service to get back to factory condition (which most high-end companies cover for free). The guides at Blade Reviews and Knife Informer are great places to dive into the qualities of each steel.
What about heat treatment?
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 often should I sharpen my knife?
It depends on the knife and how you use it. As knifeinformer.com creator Matt Davidson explains, "On my cheaper knives, which have softer steel, they need [light touch-ups] every day or two and are 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."
Are pocket knives legal in my state?
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 where pocket knives fit in. Check out the American Knife and Tool Institute's website for laws in your area before making a purchase.
The Best Pocket Knives: Summed Up
CPM-S30V stainless steel
- or -
high-pressure fiberglass laminate