The 30-Second Review

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 hundreds of knives, spoke with three experts, and left a trail of shredded rope and cardboard in our wake to find the best pocket knives around.

Best Overall Knife

The North Fork has everything we were looking for: smooth one-handed opening, a lock that’s secure but easy to release, and a wood handle that provides excellent grip without sacrificing comfort.

Best Budget Knife

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.

Best Collector's Knife

The pocket knife against which all other pocket knives are measured. Classic, sharp and smoother than smooth, the Sebenza is as much a work of art as a tool.

Others to Consider

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

Our top pick is the Benchmade North Fork ($140). It’s a little bigger than most knives we looked at, measuring 4” 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. 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 felt comfortable to use 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 saving up for.

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.

Our Picks For The Best Pocket Knife

Best Overall Knife

Benchmade North Fork FamilyUltra-smooth deployment in a handsome wood package

What impressed us most about the North Fork is how easy and fluid it is to use. 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.

Benchmade-North-Fork-for-Pocket-Knife

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.

Benchmade Close-up for Pocket Knife

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 what hand size our testers had, 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

Ontario Rat 2Inexpensive with great all-around performance

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.

Ontario Rat 2 for Pocket Knife

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. Like 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 to use.

CRKT-Opening-for-Pocket-Knives

The CRKT Drifter came open far too easily for us to feel comfortable with it in our pockets.

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. 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

Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21A classic high-end knife with a minimalist design.

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.

Chris-Reeve-Sebenza-for-Pocket-Knife

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 reaching for it over and over without even thinking about it.

Others to Consider

Spyderco Sage 1Excellent cutting ability in a tactical package

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.

Grip Options for Pocket Knife

We liked how the Sage 1’s finger notch allowed for different grips depending on the task.

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 knives. Nearly every one of our testers disliked Spyderco’s signature blade shape, with more than one saying it looked like “more of a boxcutter than a knife.” But if you don’t mind the aggressive aesthetic, the Sage 1 worked as well as any knife we tested.

Benchmade Mini Griptilian 556A compact knife with solid performance

The Mini-Griptilian (along with its bigger brother, the Griptilian) ($94) 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.

The Best Pocket Knife: Summed Up

Pocket Knife
The Best
Benchmade North Fork Family
Best Overall
Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21
Best Collector's
Ontario Rat 2
Best Budget
Spyderco Sage 1
Other to Consider
Benchmade Mini Griptilian 556
Other to Consider