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Ranking the Best Pocket Knives of 2020

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Ounce for ounce there are few tools more useful to the prepper than a quality pocket knife. They can be used for everything from preparing wood for a fire to cutting up your meal, and can even save your life while using them as a self-defense tool. 

We checked out tons of the best and most impressive pocket knives on the market. Our top ten picks are below, representing some of the most effective and useful pocket knives you can find.

Rankings 

1. Chris Reeves Sebenza 31

chris reeves sebenza 31

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The Sebenza 31 from Chris Reeves Knives was built with a simple goal in mind: To craft the best pocket knife in the world. It’s made from the best materials available, with craftsmanship that would make a master bladesmith smile. Even better, it offers several customization options that allow you to pick out the Sebenza that’s right for you.

Why we like it: It’s the best. That’s a bold statement to make, but it’s been proven over and over again with the absolute quality that the Sebenza showcases. Everything from the finish on the grind to the tolerances within the ball bearings and lock is perfect. It’s highly corrosion resistant and made using several different high-end blade steels for the perfect mix of toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance.

Flaws: It’s almost too perfect to actually be used. The Sebenza is closer to a functional work of art than a tool you’d actually want to get into the backcountry with. The high price can also turn off folks looking for a functional beater knife, which this decidedly is not.

2. DPx Aculus Flipper

DPx aculus flipper

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The DPx Aculus is a beauty of a blade. It’s made from Bohler M390 steel with a drop point blade and a handle precision-milled from a single piece of titanium. It flips open with a buttery smooth sensation and reaches a razor sharpness that’s hard to beat. 

Why we like it: The Aculus provides similar quality to our number one pick and has a stylish exterior to boot. It’s not quite the match for the Sebenza, but it is the kind of knife anyone would be happy to carry into any situation. The Aculus looks just as good paired with a three-piece suit as it does on your tactical belt.

Flaws: It’s a very, very expensive knife. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of dollars. It provides a very high level of performance, but not everyone is looking to drop that much cash on a pocket knife.

3. Benchmade Bugout 

Benchmade bugout

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The Benchmade Bugout is a lightweight pocket folder designed for EDC and outdoor use.  It combines a CPM-S30V drop point blade with a Grivory polymer grip. It’s a quality knife designed to handle frequent use in day to day life and emergency situations.

Why we like it: The Bugout offers some of the best handle ergonomics we’ve seen before. It’s comfortable in your hand no matter what use you’re putting it to and has the strength to get the job done. The mini deep pocket clip is one of the lowest profile pocket clips we’ve seen yet holds the Bugout securely in place.

Flaws: The Grivory scales aren’t comparable to the strength of something like G10. They’re sturdy and lightweight, but won’t handle the same level of heavy use. They’ll also take marks and dings a lot faster than a comparable G10 polymer grip. 

4. Boker Kwaiken Flipper

Boker kwaiken flipper

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The Boker Kwaiken Flipper is a long-running design of pocket folder from one of the most respected names in the knife industry. It combines a seriously sleek design with high-end materials for an excellent and extremely affordable EDC knife. You can choose from a variety of materials such as titanium and carbon fiber. Even better, the flipper makes it easy to open with one hand.

Why we like it: The Kwaiken is one of the sleekest and most lethal-looking pocket folders we’ve seen. The premium handle materials combine with the aggressive blade geometry to give you a knife that looks lightning-fast and utterly devastating. As a bonus, it’s also a really nice utility blade that won’t let you down even under hard use.

Flaws: The smooth scales on the handle leave something to be desired where grip is concerned. It’s not like you’ll drop it every time you pull it out, but it does lack the knurling or grooved patterns we like to see on EDC pocket knives.

5. Spyderco Paramilitary 2

spyderco paramilitary 2

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Spyderco is one of the most respected names in the American knife and tool world. The Paramilitary 2 is one of their most popular and widely used designs of tactical and EDC knife. It has Spyderco’s distinctive thumbhole opening aid and is made from CPM-S30V steel with a durable G-10 handle. It’s basic, to be sure, but basic in the same way all truly excellent tools are.

Why we like it: The Paramilitary 2 is without a doubt one of the best practical pocket knives you can find. It’s a real workhorse that’s perfectly priced as a high-end tool that you don’t mind really getting into the mess of hard use.

Flaws: It doesn’t offer a whole lot of choices for those who like to really make a knife their own. You can choose from several handle patterns and finish/style for the blade, but it isn’t nearly as distinctive looking as some other high-quality EDC knives.

6. Benchmade 940 Reverse Tanto Blade

Benchmade 940 Reverse Tanto Blade

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The Benchmade 940 is a lightweight EDC pocket knife with a really interesting reverse tanto style blade. It’s made from high-end carbon steel with durable carbon fiber scales that also look seriously nice. The blade is designed specifically to bridge the gap between outdoor survival style use and effectively blending in with an office setting.

Why we like it: The CPM-S90V reverse tanto blade provides a ton of value in a survival situation. It holds a razor edge and has a great shape for doing both utility work like preparing firewood and more delicate work like cleaning and filleting a fish. It’s a great EDC knife for folks who are frequently in the outdoors.

Flaws: Given the tight tolerances that go into making a knife like this work it’s possible there will be some quality issues on a very few knives. The Axis locking system is great, but if there’s anything wrong with it you’ll know it instantly. On the bright side, Benchmade has always been crystal clear about their lifetime warranty and will make it right if you have any issues at all.

7. Opinel No. 8

Opinel no. 8

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Opinel has been making high-quality knives from fine French steel since the 1890s. The No. 8 has been continuously available for purchase that entire time. It’s a stylish classic pocket folder that still provides a high carbon steel blade with excellent corrosion resistance properties. It’s also by far the most affordable pocket folder on our list.

Why we like it: For the price, you can’t beat it. The No. 8 is a living piece of history, yet it still provides a lot of utility in day to day life. It’s great for people who work in fields that wouldn’t allow you to carry a visibly tactical knife but who still want the benefits a pocket knife provides.

Flaws: While the No. 8 is undeniably a good knife, it doesn’t offer the same level of tactical and practical flexibility many others do. It’s smaller and made to a more traditional design than modern EDC pocket folders. If you’re looking for the pocket knife that can do it all, this isn’t it.

8. Spyderco Salt 2 

spyderco salt

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The Spyderco Salt 2 is a refinement of the company’s well-known corrosion-resistant pocket folder. It’s made entirely from parts and materials designed with high levels of corrosion resistance, including saltwater. At the same time, it’s a really nice pocket knife with a 3-inch blade that provides you with plenty of room for utility work.

Why we like it: The Salt 2 can truly stand up to any kind of conditions. You can take this bad boy into the wettest, saltiest areas for hard use and still open it up cleanly in the morning. It’s a great folder for those who work in and around the water or other corrosive environments frequently.

Flaws: The high corrosion resistance of the nitrogen-based H1 steel on the Salt 2 makes it markedly softer than other carbon steels. It takes an edge easily but will dull a lot faster than other high-end pocket knives.

9. Zero Tolerance 0452CF

Zero Tolerance 0452CF

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The Zero Tolerance 0452CF is a knife seemingly designed to be as premium as possible. It used both a carbon fiber and a titanium scale, one on either side, and has a blade made from S35VN blade steel. It’s definitely a great knife, but the design is kind of odd to look at.

Why we like it: There’s no denying that the 0452CF is a large and capable pocket knife. The blade comes razor sharp and holds an edge extremely well. If you like the two-tone design it’s also a very attractive knife.

Flaws: With a blade length of 4.1 inches long, this knife is quite large for a pocket folder. It makes it kind of cumbersome to fit into your pocket comfortably. More importantly, the length can affect its legality depending on your state and local laws.

10. MicroTech UTX-85

MicroTech UTX-85

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The MicroTech UTX-85 is a modern refinement of a classic design. It’s a real deal automatic knife ala old-school switchblades and features a variety of blades designed for defending yourself. That does limit its overall usefulness for some other tasks but gives you a tactical edge if you need one.

Why we like it: The UTX-85 has a lot of high-quality touches you don’t find on other automatic knives. It’s precision milled from anodized aluminum and features a blade made from M390 steel. That makes it highly durable and allows it to hold an edge beautifully. 

Flaws: As a true automatic knife there are a lot of places where this knife isn’t legal to carry. Make sure you double and triple check your local laws before walking around with this in your pocket.

What’s new with Pocket Knives

The ‘Gravity Knife’ Led to Thousands of Questionable Arrests. Now It’s Legal….

Hone a Knife Sharp Enough to Shave….

Cuomo signs law making ‘undetectable’ knives illegal….

Who should buy a Pocket Knife? 

We’re very much of the opinion that anyone and everyone can benefit from carrying a pocket knife, but there are some folks who really need to pick one up.

EDC enthusiasts – You can’t talk about everyday carry without mentioning pocket knives. They’re the original EDC tool and one of the best tools you can have on your person to face life’s challenges.

A pocket knife can be used to open envelopes, cut string or cordage, peel a piece of fruit, slice cake, and do pretty much anything else you can think of. When properly cared for a high-quality pocket knife is an investment piece that will be on your hip for years or even decades.

Hikers and campers – Anyone who was a Scout when they were younger remembers the day they got their whittling chip. That special moment when you earned the right to carry a pocket knife on scouting trips and use it while out in the great outdoors.

There’s a reason it was such a big deal too, a pocket knife is an essential tool to have in the outdoors. You can use it to trim branches for the fire, make a feather stick for kindling, cut paracord, make emergency repairs to clothing, and all sorts of other useful tasks.

Preppers – One of the most important mindsets to have as a prepper is to always expect the unexpected. Preparedness requires you to take steps beforehand that put you in a better position to deal with emergencies big and small.

One of the best and most basic steps you can take is to consistently carry a quality pocket knife. It’s a tool that provides value in too many situations to count. You can perform basic tasks better in your day to day life, better survive if lost in the wilderness, and even use it as a last-ditch self-defense tool should your life depend on it. 

Outdoor workers – Hunting guides, rafting instructors, and anyone else who works in outdoor recreation should always have a pocket knife on their person. It allows you to perform a lot of basic tasks much easier and fulfills the role of a bunch of other more specialized tools.

Tradesmen – Electricians, plumbers, and others who work in the skilled trades understand the importance of a quality blade on their hip. Having a good pocket knife allows you to do more tasks with just the gear on your person and cuts down on additional trips and the hassle of pulling out highly specialized gear.

A good pocket knife can be used to strip a wire, cut PEX tubing, slice open boxes, and do all kinds of other useful tasks. There are few pieces of gear that provide the same level of overlapping value and convenience as a pocket knife.

Fishermen – Any fisherman knows the value of a quality pocket knife. There are tons of tasks involved in fishing that benefit from a good sharp knife.

Just getting started you need to trip line, cut bait, and open up packs of hooks and other gear. If you’re lucky enough to catch a tasty fish you’ll need to scale it, gut it, and fillet it for the skillet. 

A good pocket knife in your kit cuts down on the number of other tools you have to bring with you and allows you to streamline your gear.

Hunters – Hunters should always carry both a pocket knife and a fixed blade skinning/gutting knife with them. Processing a game animal properly requires a good sharp knife, having a pocket knife with you gives you a backup in case your primary gutting knife goes dull or has a problem.

How we ranked 

When putting our list together we looked at four key factors. These were the overall size and blade type, durability and corrosion resistance, sharpening and edge retention, and the opening and locking systems. 

Size and blade type – The size of both your overall knife and the blade itself is very important to the functionality and legality of a pocket knife. The vast majority of folding pocket knives have a blade below 3.5 inches.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, anything with a blade larger than that rapidly becomes too large to comfortably carry in your pocket. Somewhat more importantly, 3.5 inches is the point in many states where a pocket knife goes from a tool to a concealed weapon.

The type of blade also plays a major role in how useful it can be. Some of the most popular blade types for pocket knives are drop point, clip point, and tanto style blades.

Durability and corrosion resistance – With pocket knives durability comes down to the handle, inner workings, and the blade itself. You want a material that’s both light enough for comfortable carry yet tough enough to stand up to rigorous use. Polymers like G10, anodized aluminum, and titanium or carbon fiber on the high end are commonly used for this purpose.

Another important factor is corrosion resistance. High carbon steel is excellent from the perspective of sharpness and durability but susceptible to corrosion. Look for steel alloys that combine the strength and hardness of high carbon steel with the corrosion resistance of stainless steel (1).

Sharpening and edge retention – With high-quality pocket knives there’s a constant balance between the ease of sharpening and the retention of an edge. Softer steels are much easier to sharpen but lose their edge a lot faster as well.

Modern steel alloys are getting better and better at providing high corrosion resistance, an easier sharpening experience, and a much longer-lasting edge. Even so, you’ll still need to decide whether you prioritize ease of sharpening on edge retention when picking out your pocket knife.

Opening and locking system – Depending on your specific needs there are more opening and locking systems than you can imagine. Everything from thumb holes and studs to assisted opening and full spring open designs are available from a range of manufacturers.

For a quality EDC pocket knife, we looked for one-handed opening at a minimum. Depending on where you live you may look for a knife that can be flicked open with your wrist or one that has an assisted opening mechanism.

We absolutely think a quality pocket knife should have a blade lock of some type. It vastly improves safety and usability. The best locking systems not only protect you, but they also allow you to close your knife with one hand.

Brands we trust – There are more names in the knife industry today than ever before. Picking through them to find the very best can be a real challenge, but thankfully there are several excellent manufacturers you can always count on. 

Three we wanted to highlight were Chris Reeves Knives, Benchmade, and Spyderco. Chris Reeves Knives is widely renowned as one of the best knife makers in the world. Their knives are all built to exacting design standards using the highest quality materials available. They’re not cheap, but when taken care of they’ll last you a lifetime. 

Benchmade and Spyderco are two names any knife enthusiast will be instantly familiar with. They both make a vast selection of fixed and folding blade knives with excellent performance records and innovative features. They’re also a step down in the pricing scale from Chris Reeves Knives, making them a lot more accessible to your average prepper.

Things to avoid – The biggest thing to look out for when ordering quality pocket knives are counterfeits. Always place your order through an approved distributor in order to make sure you’re getting the real deal. 

We looked at each of these issues in turn while compiling our list. Any of the blades above provide excellent performance and pretty good value.

Benefits 

Pocket knives are some of the most useful everyday tools you can carry – There’s a reason most people in the past carried a pocket knife, it’s one of the most useful multipurpose tools out there. A simple knife blade can, of course, be used for cutting and slicing, but it also fulfills dozens of other roles.

You can poke holes in cloth, open envelopes and boxes, carve useful objects, and pass time whittling on wood. It can open up a package, help you cut rope and other cordage, and do all sorts of other useful tasks.

Having a quality pocket knife in your pocket makes you that much more prepared for all the little events and emergencies that happen in everyday life.

Pocket knives pull double duty as a utility tool and as a last-ditch self-defense weapon – If you’re willing to put some effort into developing the skill a pocket knife can be a reliable last-ditch self-defense too. It’s important to remember that skill aspect.

A pocket knife doesn’t have the same level of deterrent force that a firearm does. If you pull a knife while being attacked you need to know the proper way to hold and use it. If you practice a bit you can become just as proficient at using your pocket knife as a defensive tool as you are with your handgun (2).

A pocket knife gives you a ready utensil in a pinch – There are few acts more satisfying than peeling and cutting up a piece of fruit with your pocket knife. There’s a good reason nearly everyone carried a knife with them in the past, it’s one of the most versatile eating tools out there (3).

Having a pocket knife on your person gives you a way to eat most food effectively when needed. If you’re out on a hike you can even eat things like pasta or oatmeal with your pocket knife if careful of the blade. 

Where it really excels is at cutting and peeling things. Fruit, vegetables, fish, and even game animals can all be easily processed and prepared to eat.

Pocket knives are incredibly useful for wilderness survival – Ounce for ounce there are few tools more useful in a survival scenario than a reliable knife. If you’re lost in the wilderness you can use your pocket knife for everything from preparing a fire to building shelter. 

A quality pocket knife allows you to break down wood for a fire, shave off tinder to get it started, slice bark from trees to roll into cordage, and even do things like dig a hole for a latrine or hammer in wooden stakes. It’s a true multipurpose EDC tool (4).

FAQ 

Q: Should I carry a pocket knife?

A: Yes. We firmly think everyone can benefit from carrying a pocket knife on a daily basis. Throughout history, people have carried folding knives for their incredibly diverse range of uses. There are few single tools you can keep with you that provide the same level of value as a quality pocket knife (5).

Q: Why do I need a pocket knife?

A: When we’re talking about tools, there are few things as useful as a pocket knife. It lets you open packages, cut tape, peel and quarter a piece of fruit, whittle away the hours, and can act as a last-ditch self-defense tool should worst come to worst. Basically everyone can benefit from a high-quality pocket knife, whether you’re an attorney or a forest ranger.

Q: What pocket knife holds the best edge?

A: Pocket knives made from high-carbon steel alloys hold the best edge. They’re made from harder steel that can stand up to the rigors of life a lot better than softer steel can. One thing to keep in mind though is that harder steel alloys are also more difficult to sharpen than softer ones. If you’re uncertain about your sharpening ability we recommend you practice on a cheap knife to get it down before trying to put a new edge on your EDC pocket knife. Remember, a dull knife is much more dangerous to use than a sharp one (6).

We recommend the Chris Reeves Sebenza 31 as the best knife to hold a razor edge.

Q: How often should you sharpen a pocket knife?

A: The best answer is: It depends. Everything from the hardness of the steel used to how frequently and intensely you’re using your knife effect when it needs to be sharpened. It may sound obvious, but you should sharpen your pocket knife when you notice it’s getting dull. How you sharpen your knife is just as important as when. Make sure you’re maintaining the original angle of the blade and using plenty of lubricant (7).

Q: Are pocket knives allowed on planes?

A: No. Whether we’re talking in the U.S. or abroad, knives and bladed implements of any kind are strictly prohibited on your person or in your carry on. Depending on where you are in the world it may be legal to have a knife in your checked bag, make sure and double-check with local regulations first though (8).

Q: What are the benefits of serrations on a pocket knife?

A: The biggest benefit to serrations on a pocket knife is for cutting tough or irregular objects. Smooth knife blades can slice like a razor and easily cut through thin objects or things like animal flesh for hunters. Serrated blades are ideal for cutting rougher, tougher objects like cardboard, plastic, or rope. Serrated blades also keep an edge better and longer than a smooth edge, but are also substantially more difficult to sharpen.

Q: What pocket knives are legal in NYC?

A: NYC has some of the harshest and most confusing knife laws in America. They’ve banned, then unbanned, then rebanned, everything from fixed blade knives to ‘gravity knives’. Keeping track of the current stance of the NYPD on what is and isn’t a legal knife can give you whiplash. Whether you live in NYC itself or in the rest of New York state will heavily impact what kind of knives you can carry. A good rule of thumb when in NY is to avoid any knife that can flip open and definitely any knife that has assisted opening features. We included links to several NY and NYC specific knife statutes that can help you find out if your knife is legal to carry there (9)(10).

Q: Are pocket knives legal in California?

A: Yes. While California is well known for its complicated laws relating to weapons, the vast majority of pocket knives are legal. The main restrictions within California relate to switchblades and the concealed carry of ‘offensive’ knives like dirks or daggers. Generally speaking, you can carry just about any folding pocket knife without worry, though you should always double-check your local city and county laws to be sure (11).

Q: How much does a pocket knife weigh?

A: Pocket knives for EDC use shouldn’t weigh more than a few ounces. It’s a careful balancing act between being light enough to consistently carry yet strong enough to provide real value. The knives on our list were generally between 1.5 and 4 oz, with a few that were a bit heavier. 

Q: What’s the best steel for a pocket knife?

A: Asking someone what the best steel for a pocket knife is can be a lot like asking whether they’re a Ford or a Chevy man. The best we can do is to recommend you look for high-carbon steels that are alloyed with additional metals like manganese or vanadium for corrosion resistance. This gives you a very hard metal that can hold an edge much longer. There are literally hundreds of specialized steel alloys now in use by bladesmiths around the world. Some quality steels to look for include: CPM S110V, 400, AUS, 154CM, CTS, VG, CPM S90V, Sandvik, MoV, M390, and Crucible SxxV lines of steel.

Q: When is a pocket knife considered a weapon?

A: The best answer is “it depends”. Any item when used to attack someone is legally considered a weapon. If you use your pocket knife as a tool for self-defense it will be treated as such. Beyond that, it’s heavily dependent on where you’re located. Generally speaking any knife with a blade over 3.5 inches long will be legally considered a weapon in most jurisdictions. Other things that can cause a knife to transition from a tool to a weapon is a blade lock, certain “tactical” features, and the ability to flick it open one-handed. Check your local laws to find state, county, and city-specific restrictions (12).

Q: What pocket knife does the military use?
A: Currently no branch of the U.S. military has a single issue pocket knife. Some troops are issued bayonet-style fixed blade knives, but pocket knives are usually provided by the troops themselves. Many of the most popular brands among America’s soldiers include Benchmade and Spyderco. They make robust working knives that don’t cost a fortune and won’t let you down when it counts.

Recap

Pocket knives are about the most useful single tool you can carry. If you’re only going to EDC one thing we highly recommend it be a pocket knife.

They can be used in your day to day life and still provide tremendous value as a cutting and chopping tool in a survival situation.

For Survival At Home’s #1 pocket knife recommendation, click here.

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