CAMPING & HIKING

Best Pocket Knife: How to Choose A Tool of Practicality

Pocket Knife review
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Every legally allowed and responsible individual can benefit from the ownership of the best pocket knife tool on the market. A pocket knife has multiple uses and serves as a remarkable tool of unquestionable practicality.

The knife comes with some major benefits including the fact that it folds in a sharp blade when not in use and keeps the carrier protected. The knife is small enough to carry in a pocket, purse, fanny pack, backpack, or handbag, and the blade’s multitude of uses make it a tool that can prove something that is put to daily use.

Basic Considerations

Before getting into the myriad features of pocket knives so you can have an easier time choosing the exact tool to serve your specific needs, there are some important factors to consider.

Benchmade 581 pocket knife

Bear in mind that even the best knives have cons associated with them, and these disadvantages should remain in the back of your mind when shopping. For instance some weak points are:

  • the lack of stability sometimes associated with the folding point of the knife;
  • the fact that non-locking selections can end up collapsing closed on the user while the knife is in use;
  • the small knives are convenient for carrying, but again create questionable ergonomics at best thereby leaving the potential for self-injury;
  • small pocket knives are not likely to be a tool that can handle the cutting power necessary for bigger cutting jobs.

All things considered, having a pocket knife on hand for daily use and emergencies is still advised, and can prove a benefit in all situations. It is better to have a small knife than no knife whatsoever when there comes a time you require some cutting power.

Additional considerations: When you are reviewing the absolutely astounding list of features that pocket knives have, keep the question of how you intend to use the weapon in mind. This will help you determine the appropriate blade size, edge geometry, and whether you need a knife that is corrosion resistant or not.

Knowing how you will use the blade the most will give you an idea on what blade openings, size, shape, materials, accessories, and the handle types that will prove the best features in the knife or knives you decide to buy.

The Opening and Locking Mechanisms That is Right for You

One of the myriad features you’ll find every pocket knife has is an opening mechanism. The type you choose is dependent on the speed in which you want to access the blade and your comfort level when handling the knife and using it.

Opening and Locking Mechanisms

The other feature you can count on many pocket knives having is a locking mechanism. This feature keeps the knife blade in position when it is open and in use. You will keep the blade in the locked, open position until you are done using it, at which time you will close the blade down into the knife handle.

In the table below are the knife opening and locking mechanisms to consider.

OpeningsDescription
Assisted OpeningThis feature is one of the newest opening mechanisms, having hit the market in the mid 1990s. The assisted opening function detects the pressure applied on a knife so that an internal device is triggered to help with the opening the blade the rest of the way when the pressure reaches a predetermined level. Unlike a switchblade, the knife with an assisted opening requires a certain amount of force to actually open.
LockingThis opening mechanism forces the blade to lock into position once the blade is fully open: This helps in preventing accidental injury when the knife is in use.
Manual-Opening Blade

 

Through the use of a small groove, sometimes called a nail nick, you can open a blade with your hands with relative ease. Alternatively, some knives are equipped with small thumb studs that are present as a blade protrusion allowing you to slide a blade open with your thumb.
One-Handed OpeningThis type of knife is terrific for an ambidextrous individual (a person capable of using both hands as a dominant hand). A mechanism in the knife allows the use of one hand to open the blade and for the user to pop up the blade with a thumb.
Switchblade or Automatic

 

This type of knife has been marked as illegal in 48 states in the US since the late 1950s. However there are some restrictions in the states where it is legalized and some exemptions for police and members of the military. This knife often has a switch, button, or some push mechanism that pops the knife open and into an upright position quickly.
Locking MechanismsDescriptions and Utility
Frame LockThis type of weapon has a handle that helps in closing up the knife – the locking mechanism has the linter facing inward and the tip engages at the blade’s bottom. Once pressure gets put onto the frame, the blade will pop open. This type of lock is a lot like the liner lock with minor differences.
Liner LockIf you want a simple locking mechanism, the liner lock is a simple as it comes. When you put the knife handle down into the handle it will lock into the liner and stay in place. If you want to disengage the feature, you have to move the liner away from the bottom of the blade to reopen the weapon.
Lever LockThe pivot bolster is near a pin that locks the knife. The pin gets inserted into a pre-drilled hole located in the blade’s base. Once the pin is in position, the weapon locks closed or open, depending on if the blade is open and out or closed into the handle. You can find this type of lock in switchblades and automatic knives.
Lock BackOne of the oldest types of knife locks in use. Along the spine of the handle is a locking arm featuring a hook that slips into a special notch located at the blade’s back and behind the knife’s pivot. A spring will create tension and put the notch into position – the knife locks with a snap.
Mid LockThis lock is incredibly strong and capable of handling hundreds of pounds of pressure. The release is found in the middle section of the handle spine.
Ring LockThis type of lock is durable and affordable. It’s simplicity of use makes it popular. A ring gets wrapped around the knife’s pivot until the break in the ring is reached and allows the knife to open or lock into place.
SlipjointThis type of feature is not a locking mechanism per se; a slipjoint is popular and involves the use of a bar or float to hold the blade into position via the pressure it creates. These knives are best for light duty only.

 

What’s Your Ideal Blade Length?

Blade SizesBest Uses
Blades Under 2.75”/Small

 

 

While limited in use, these knives are definitely portable and are great for light duty tasks like opening small packages and cutting thread, string, and cord.
Blades 2.75” to 4”/Medium/Mid-SizeThe majority of pocket knives falling under the topic of “best” are around this length: This is an ideal length because it gives the blades the most flexibility in terms of task work.
Blades: 4” or greater/Large

While large and great for heavy duty tasks, not everyone wants to lug around the bigger pocket knives on the market – they can prove cumbersome to tote around for daily use, but are better for self-defense purposes than everyday mundane cutting tasks.

It’s all about the Blade Shape

Blade ShapeDescription & Utility
Clip Point

 

 

The clip point starts out with a straight edge back but then has a sudden crescent curve from the middle of the spine of the blade to its pointed tip. This knife is the best for puncturing things due to its sharp tip. The crescent dip in the spine makes the tip even stronger.
Drop Point

 

 

The spine on a drop point blade has a slow dip from one end to the other and the point of the blade is thick so it is suitable for some heavy duty cutting. The shape of the blade helps prevent accidents involving punctures. The shape of this blade is most common on survival and hunting blades as well as some of the bigger Swiss Army offerings. Great for cutting and skinning.
Hawkbill Blade

 

Aptly named because it looks like a bird of prey’s beak the hawkbill blade curves at the tip. The edge is often dull as is the spine, so this knife is best for cutting cords, wire stripping, and harvesting herbs.
Pen BladeAptly named, this knife looks like a pen and they were at one time used for sharpening the writing tool known as the quill pen. This tool is good for minor cutting tasks.

 

Tanto

 

 

 

The tanto blade has a distinct design, a straight spine, angular tip, a groove in the upper edge of the spine, and all of which work together to give the knife extra durability for piercing and cutting. This knife is sometimes called the chisel point. The tool is good for push cuts as well.
Santuko

 

 

Santuko and sheep’s foot are blades used for the purposes of readying food for consumption. The spine has a rounded edge leading into a steep point and a straight edge for cutting. The point is dull so this is a good knife for someone who would consider themselves “all thumbs.”  These knives are used for whittling and for easy cutting tasks.

 

Spear Point

 

 

 

The spear point is so called because of its appearance: To angled edges coming to a sharp point, sometimes called a needle point. This is the kind of blade you find on a sophisticated cutting knife used for survival. The points are also seen on throwing weapons.
Spey Point The spey-point blade is an interesting spin on the Santuko: As if you moved the tip of the knife right to the middle and added a curve to the sharp edge of the knife. This blade is used to spey animals (livestock). It is equally good for skinning.
Straight BackThis knife has a straight spine and curved blade – it is a simple knife design with no outstanding features. The back is dull, the edge is sharp and this is what you might find in the kitchen as an all purpose knife.
Trailing PointA trailing point knife has smooth, curved spine with a lifted tip and a sharp edge. This blade is for slicing and skinning animals, although the tip is weak and the blade is very light.
Wharncliffe

 

The Wharncliffe is like the Santuko blade with a curve that is set back further on the spine and closer to the handle. The curve seems a bit more gradual as well. Ideal for wood carving and general cutting.

 

 

Define the Edge

The knife’s edge also defines how it can be used. For a long time, the pocket knife had a straight edge, but there are now knives that are serrated as well.

Pocket knife blade

Below are some of the features.

Blade Edge DesignDescription and Utility
Plain, Smooth, Flat, Non-SerratedThis is the most common pocket knife blade: straight, no serrated edgework. This knife requires periodic sharpening. This knife is used for cutting and piercing, but doesn’t work well in situations where sawing (back and forth cutting action) is required.
Fully SerratedIf you are cutting tough materials, the serrated edge is what you need. This type of blade is not recommended though in situations where you would be better with a smoother edge. The serration has to be periodically sharpened.
Combo EdgeThis is a knife combining the straight edge and the serrated edge. This is a coveted combination as the knife user gets the best of both worlds and can use the knife for push cutting and more rigorous tasks.

Top Pocket Knives That Could Be Yours

Benchmade Knife 585 Mini Barrage Plain Satin Blade

Benchmade Knife 585 Mini Barrage Plain Satin Blade

Weight: 3.5 ounces

Dimensions: 6 x 3 x 1.5 inches

Specific Features: non-serrated blade, lain blade with a satin finish, black handle, drop point tip, Assist locking mechanism

Best Use: Cutting, Skinning, Heavy Duty Cutting Tasks

Description: The 585 Mini Barrage Knife by Benchmade is priced around $119.00. This is an attractive, well-designed pocket knife with a plain satin colored blade fitted in a durable black-colored Valox handle. The knife has stainless steel liners and features the AXIS assist locking mechanism.

The blade opens with very little force necessary thanks to the assist locking feature where it reveals a sleek blade and a drop point. The knife features a tip up pocket clip that is reversible and this particular knife is manufactured in the United States.

Related: Benchmade 585S Mini Barrage and Benchmade 940 Osborne Axis Lock.

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife

Weight: 1.6 ounces

Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 3 inches

Specific Features: Pocket knife with six tools; Swiss Army design; small convenient, portable design, Switzerland made.

Best Use: Daily uses, mundane tasks

Description: The Victorinox Swiss Army SD is a beautiful price of a mere $15.61, especially for a pocket knife with such a convenient design. The 2.25 inch long blade makes the knife small, portable, and easy to transport.

The knife is sturdy, compact, Switzerland made, and the tools that are included in the knife include tweezers, toothpick, screwdriver tip, nail file, scissors, and a knife blade. The set even includes a key ring, and the knife is made by a long time industry professional company. Even better, it is available in 21 styles with different designs like camo, shamrock, Red Cross signs, translucent handles, and more.

Related: Victorinox Swiss Army Rambler; Victorinox Swiss Army 58mm

Kershaw Leek Knife

Kershaw Leek Knife

Weight: 3.0 ounces

Dimensions: 3 inch blade; 4 inch closed knife; 7 inches overall

Specific Features: USA made, steel blade, clip included, frame lock, assisted lock opening,

Best Use: Survival, hunting, fishing, ambidextrous use

Description: The price of the Kershaw Leek Knife is around $39.54. The knife is a popular selection because of its ease of use; it has a single handed opening mechanism, and it is good for ambidextrous use. SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism ensures greater safety and control. The knife has a super smooth deployment and a stainless steel blade made of bead blasted 142C8N Steel.

The handle of the blade is black and fitted with a Tungsten DLC coating so the surface of the handle is smooth and non-reflective. You can also opt for the double anodized smoked aluminum finish, or the new Pink Leek with pink colored anodized aluminum.

Related: Kershaw Leek Knife – Black; Kershaw Leek Folding Knife with Bloody Basin Handle in Jasper

Black-Handled Benchmade 551 AXIS Lock Griptilian

Black-Handled Benchmade 551 AXIS Lock Griptilian

Weight: 12 ounces

Dimensions: 3 1/2 blade length; 4 5/8 closed; about 7 inches long open

Specific Features:  Drop point, AXIS lock, lifetime warranty, steel liner, plain edge, satin finish. Comes with a free Smith’s knife sharpener.

Best Use: Mundane, everyday use. Light tasks.

Description: The Benchmade 551 AXIS Lock Griptilian is priced at $97.95. The knife has an AXIS lock so you get a solid feel when the knife is in use and locked into position.

The locking feature is patented by the Benchmade Company. The knife comes with two thumb studs for ease of opening, and it has a reversible pocket clip. Stainless steel liners are made with Noryl GTX and the plain edge blade with a drop point feature an attractive satin finish.

Related: Benchmade Knife 556-YEL Mini Griptilian; BenchMade Griptilian 551BKSN-AS

Victorinox Swiss Army SwissChamp Pocket Knife

Victorinox Swiss Army SwissChamp Pocket Knife

Weight: 7.2 ounces

Dimensions: 3.5 inch knife

Specific Features: 3.5 inch blade, 32 tools, lifetime warranty, five designs, Switzerland made

Best Use: Mundane every day use, camping, hiking, fishing, and more.

Description: The SwissChamp Pocket Knife is available in five colors including Red, Black, Sapphire, Hardwood, and Ruby. The knife sports a price of about $67.96.

The knife has a sturdy, durable design, and some 32 tools including a hook disgorger, fish scaler, magnifying glass, woodsaw, wire cutter, bottle opener, screwdrivers, and blades. All of the tools are crafted with stainless steel.

Related: Victorinox Swiss Army SD; Victorinox Swiss Army Rambler; Victorinox Swiss Army 58mm

 

Gerber STL 2.0 Knife

Gerber STL 2.0 Knife

Weight: 0.8 ounces

Dimensions: 5.2 x 4.6 x 0.3 inches

Specific Features: One hand opening; ambidextrous design, Titanium coating, blade made of surgical grade steel blade, lifetime warranty

Best Use: Mundane use, skinning, piercing.

Description: The Gerber STL 2.0 costs a mere $11.99. The knife is made for both left and right handers as it has a one handed opening feature. Surgical-grade stainless steel blade with fine edge.

The knife’s coating is made of titanium and lends a corrosive resistant element to the weapon. The knife has a lanyard hole for ease of carrying and a frame lock to keep the knife tucked away when not in use and locked in place when you are using it. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

Related: Gerber Paraframe Mini Knife, Tanto Point

 

Smith & Wesson SWMP4LS M&P Linerlock Knife

Smith & Wesson SWMP4LS M&P Linerlock Knife

Weight: 7.5 ounces

Dimensions: 5.4 x 2 x 1 inches

Specific Features: Second Generation MAGIC Assit Open; Drop Point; Liner lock; combo edge blade, 4034 stainless steel blade, glass breaker integration

Best Use: Survival, Hunting

Description: The Smith & Wesson SWMP4LS M&P is priced around $35.22. The blade is made of stainless steel and measures about five inches. The knife’s handle is made of durable aluminum materials.

The knife is fitted with a safety lock, and a thumb knob. The knife is ideal for left and right handers with its single handed opening assist function. The blade is a combo edge plain and serrated option. The weapon even hosts a glass breaker.

Related: Smith & Wesson SWBLOP3TBLS Ops

Spyderco Tenacious Plain Edge Knife

Spyderco Tenacious Plain Edge Knife

Weight: 4 ounces

Dimensions: Blade length 3 3/8″ (86mm)

Specific Features: G-10 handle. 8CR13MOV blade (stainless steel). Light design. Steel liner, laminated handle, wide blade; carrying clip

Best Use: Mundane, daily use.

Description: The Spyderco Tenacious costs around $41.97. The knife has an 8CR13MOV blade made of durable stainless steel. The handle is made of G-10. The handle is fully laminated and features a fatigue free, prolong cutting durability rating.

The steel liners increase the integrity of the handle. There is a large round hole in the blade and the blade’s design is extra wide, for a slip proof, easy use of the knife when you are cutting. Comes with a four-way carrying clip.

Related: Spyderco Persistence; Spyderco Resilience; Spyderco Ambitious

Buck Knives 110 Famous Folding Hunter Knife

Buck Knives 110 Famous Folding Hunter Knife with Genuine Leather Sheath

Weight: 7.2 ounces

Dimensions: 10 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches

Specific Features: Clip point, crescent tipped stainless steel blade, wood handle, leather sheath included, lifetime warranty.

Best Use: puncturing, piercing, mundane use

Description: The Buck Knives 110 selection is about $27.99. The knife’s blade is a clip point design and it is made out of 420HC steel. When the blade is closed it measures about 4 7/8 inches in length. This weapon features a lock back design and a super sharp tip thanks to the crescent design.

The handle is made of Dymondwood and it features brass bolsters. It comes with a leather sheath to keep it protected: the sheath has a belt loop and a snap closure. A lifetime warranty comes with the knife.

Related: Buck Knives 0119

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools FSA8-CP Flash II Knife

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools FSA8-CP Flash II Knife

Weight: 3.1 ounces

Dimensions: 8 inch blade, 3.5 inches x .125 inches

Specific Features: Nylon/glass reinforced blade; knife, satin finish, open assist, carrying clip, lifetime warranty.

Best Use: Mundane, everyday use.

Description: The FSA8-CP Flash II is about $38.99 and features a satin finish. The straight blade is a fast releasing folding knife. When locked the integrated safety turns a red color.

The knife comes with a reversible carrying clip, and the edge of the knife measures about 3.5 inches. The knife comes with assist technology for ease of opening. The handle is made of reinforced glass nylon and hosts a black finish. A limited lifetime warranty comes with the knife.

Related: SOG Specialty FSA7-CP

There’s A Pocket Knife for Every Job

Finding the right pocket knife is all about defining your needs. With a clear understanding of how you will use the weapon, you can then narrow down the features you must decide on. The blade design, edge geometry, tip, handle, size, and the accessories you choose will all define the user experience.

To have the best experience possible, you want a knife that will serve you in as many situations as possible. Price is a factor in your purchase, but it is a far cry from the only factor in your buying selection. Take time to compare the different knife models before you buy and let us know which one is your favorite.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Shanna Allain

    Victorinox Swiss army knife is just outstanding! It’s the best! If you’re planing to buy one of these for a gift, you can get engraving on the knife (but only if you order it from their website). I must say, the value of this tool is only limited by your imagination. 🙂

  • Daniel Carraway

    My first pocket knife was a Victorinox Swiss army knife. Even back then, this knife has been a consistent favorite of everyone – backpackers or even couch potatoes. The streamlined design and workmanship make this a top brand.

  • Jack Wilcox

    Bought the Gerber STL 2.0, if I’m honest, because of the price. At first I did wonder whether I would be better off buying a more expensive knife, wrongly thinking a higher price would equate to better quality. How wrong I was! This knife is perfect – and sharp enough – for my needs which, admittedly, mainly consist of opening boxes and cutting zip ties. Interested to hear how this knife deals with other tasks. Only issue I have is that it’s so small I keep misplacing it or simply forgetting I have it on me which can pose a problem!

  • Daniel Carraway

    The Gerber STL 2.0 is really compact, but very handy. I also own this fella and it could be a hassle finding it around the house. Have you noticed the picture of the knife I posted? Yup, I attached a paracord lanyard to it and now, I can happily say, I can easily find it! If not inside my pocket, I usually hang it on a hook besides my keys.

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