A pocket knife is a small knife with a compact, folding design that allows the blade to be stored in the handle when it is not in use. You may be familiar with the Swiss Army Knife—with its recognizable red housing, small size, and an assortment of implements in addition to the blade—but it actually qualifies as a multi-tool. A true pocket knife has a larger blade and handle, making it useful for whittling, opening packages, trimming branches, and many other cutting chores around the home, at work, or on a camping trip.
While such versatility is valuable, some pocket knives do have specific functions and features. Take a look at this list to see what are considered among the best pocket knives in their respective categories. Read on to learn how to find the ideal model for your purposes, depending on the knife’s size, shape, quality, and function.
- BEST OVERALL: Fanfoobi Engraved Hunting Pocket Knife
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife
- BEST SMALL: CRKT Pilar EDC Folding Pocket Knife
- BEST GRIP: Opinel No.08 Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife
- BEST MULTI-TOOL: RoverTac Pocket Knife Multitool
- BEST SPRING-ASSISTED: Kershaw Leek Pocket Knife, 3 inch Blade
- BEST FOR WHITTLING: Flexcut Pocket Jack, Jackknife Style Tool
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Gerber Bear Grylls Folding Sheath Knife
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pocket Knife
To find a pocket knife for everyday use, take these important shopping considerations into account.
A pocket knife can be used on a daily basis, or the user may prefer a model to stow in the toolbox for occasional use. Typically, a pocket knife has three broad uses: self-defense, general purpose, and camping.
- Self-defense pocket knives should have a quick, spring-assisted opening so that the owner doesn’t have to fight with the blade when in danger. These knives also have a point that sits at or near the centerline of the blade, making them ideal for piercing thrusts.
- General-purpose pocket knives have a point that sits well above the centerline of the blade to extend the cutting edge. These knives are typically used for cutting and slicing, not piercing, so the blade is more important than the tip or point.
- Camping pocket knives should be durable and water-resistant, helpful for making fire kindling with strips of wood, cutting rope, and slicing through fishing line or netting, which leaves the knife exposed to direct sunlight, cold winds, and water.
Also keep in mind that there may be state and local laws that restrict carrying certain kinds of pocket knives. Check the local government website and consult the AKTI’s guide on state knife laws to ensure that the pocket knife in question is legal to carry.
Like the name says, a traditional pocket knife is small enough to fit comfortably inside a pocket. The average pocket knife will have about a 3-inch-long blade and a 4-inch handle, with a weight of approximately 3.5 ounces. However, larger versions are available for broad-strokes purposes, like trimming firewood, or smaller ones for whittling or precision cutting.
Pocket knife blades are mostly stainless steel and carbon steel, though some are made out of laminated steel.
- Stainless steel blades are a rust-resistant alternative to carbon steel. While stainless steel does not keep an edge for as long as carbon steel or laminated steel, it costs less and doesn’t require much maintenance.
- Carbon steel blades are the most common type of pocket knife blade. They keep a sharp edge with minimal sharpening, which is ideal for working with wood or other tough materials. However, without regular lubrication, routine maintenance, and proper storage, these blades can become rusted, frail, and essentially useless.
- Laminated steel blades result from layering different types of steel during the forging process. This gives them a sharper, longer-lasting edge than stainless steel blades and better rust and corrosion resistance than carbon steel ones.
Certain pocket knives come with a locking mechanism; spring-assisted models typically have this feature. Different kinds of knives use different lock types, including liner, frame, lockback, and collar locking mechanisms.
- Liner locking mechanisms use a simple piece of bent metal that slides over behind the tang of the knife when the blade is opened.
- Frame locking mechanisms are similar to liner locks except that one side of the frame slots in behind the tang instead of just a piece of metal liner.
- Lockback locking mechanisms have a locking bar in the spine of the handle that springs into a notch in the tang when the knife is opened, locking the blade in place.
- Collar locking mechanisms feature a simple, circular collar that wraps around the base of the blade. Twist it to lock it closed, or open it by lining up the gap in the collar with the blade.
The blade of a knife is often the most important feature, but the handle greatly affects the balance, weight, and durability of the knife. It’s also the part of the knife responsible for comfort, and a poor grip can contribute to hand fatigue. Pocket knife handles are normally made of wood, plastic, G10, or stainless steel.
- Wood looks classically attractive and provides a smooth, comfortable grip. But as a porous material, it can absorb excess moisture, causing swelling and splitting if improperly stored and maintained. Hardwood handles are less likely to split but still require maintenance and application of appropriate oils.
- Plastic or fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) is inexpensive, easy to clean, and durable. There’s no risk of splitting or swelling with these handles, which are also lightweight, making them easy to wield.
- G10 is a synthetic material made of fiberglass epoxy laminate. G10 handles combine the light weight of plastic, the durable feel of wood, and the chemical resistance of stainless steel.
- Stainless steel is the most durable and easiest to clean of the four choices, though G10, plastic, and wood are more comfortable to hold and manipulate for long periods of time. The ambient temperature can affect a metal handle, potentially causing it to be uncomfortably cold or hot to the touch until it acclimates to the user’s hand temperature.
Weight and Balance
The weight, balance, and overall control of the knife are determined by three main factors: distal tapering, the tang, and the handle.
- Distal tapering refers to the thinning of the blade from the base to the tip of the knife. Distal tapering changes the shape of the blade, which can alter the weight and balance of the pocket knife.
- The tang of a pocket knife is the metal part that extends from the blade into the handle where it is attached to the pivot. Pocket knives have partial tangs that only extend slightly beyond the pivot point, so they tend to be very blade heavy.
- The handle includes the grip, the bolster, and the pivot. The bolster is the junction between the grip of the knife and the blade, where the pivot mechanism is housed. The bolster can be designed in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights to help steady an otherwise-unbalanced knife, while the grip is typically designed for ergonomic comfort rather than balance. Rear bolsters appear at the rear of a knife handle to provide a counterweight to a heavy blade.
Pocket knives typically have a single blade that unfolds for a variety of cutting, slicing, or piercing purposes, but many models have additional features like a spring-assisted opening, pocket clip, built-in flashlight, bottle opener, or even a window-breaking tool for escaping a car in an emergency.
Spring-assisted pocket knives have a spring mechanism in the pivot or handle of the knife that will increase the opening speed and make it easy to open using only one hand. Pocket clips can be used to hold the knife on the outside of a pocket or belt for easy access, while a flashlight in the handle of the knife can help illuminate a dark campsite.
Our Top Picks
The products below are among the best pocket knives on the market, selected for quality, price, and performance to help you find the right model for your needs.
For a dependable, all-purpose pocket knife, consider this high-quality model. This item features a 3.5-inch black oxide stainless steel blade that’s half-flat and half-serrated for a variety of uses, but that’s just the beginning of this model’s versatility.
It also has a built-in flashlight, fire starter, and bottle opener, as well as a seat-belt cutter and glass breaker, which could save a life in a vehicular emergency. This pocket knife also features a liner lock to secure the knife blade and a 4.5-inch handle for precise cutting and slicing. Choose from one of two customizations to gift to a dad, boyfriend, husband, or partner.
If carrying a full-size pocket knife seems like it would be a bit too heavy, check out this compact, lightweight multi-tool option. This nicely priced knife weighs only 0.7 ounces and the handle measures just 2.3 inches long, easy enough to carry on a keychain.
This Victorinox model has a knife blade, scissors, a nail file, a screwdriver, tweezers, and a toothpick, each made with corrosion-resistant stainless steel. The handle, made of ABS plastic, can be customized with over 25 different visual designs, but the cost changes with different designs, so be sure to get the price prior to purchase.
Despite its small, 2.4-inch blade, this versatile pocket knife can be used for a wide assortment of tasks. When the blade is extended, the entire length is 5.9 inches; folded, it’s a mere 3.5 inches, easy to tuck away in a pocket or purse.
The blade is made of high-quality stainless steel, and it also folds into a stainless steel handle with an indented ergonomic grip. This CRKT knife can be opened in one hand by both left- and right-handed people, but rather than the typical dual-sided thumb stud, it has an ambidextrous thumb slot in the tang to quickly flip open the blade. It also has a frame locking mechanism for security when the blade is in use.
If a comfortable grip is a priority, look into the Opinel Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife. Its durable beechwood handle feels soft in the hand, and there’s a curved tang for a more secure grip. The hard carbon steel blade measures 3.28 inches, sturdy enough to cut through hardwoods and softwoods when carving or whittling.
The blade is flat, with a gentle curve toward the end, making it easy to work with either the edge or the belly of the blade. A locking mechanism keeps the blade in place whether the knife is open or closed, and at 4.31 inches long when closed, it’s a good size to carry in a pocket.
For those seeking a pocket-size toolkit, this RoverTac model might be just the ticket. It boasts a screwdriver-bit adapter and nine different bits, needle-nose pliers, regular pliers, and wire cutters. There’s also a can opener and a bottle opener when it’s beverage time.
The stainless steel blade, coated with a durable black oxide, is 3.3 inches in length and folds into a 4.3-inch handle. The handle features a liner locking mechanism to keep the blade in place while the knife is in use, and its ergonomic shape fits the natural contours of the user’s fingers for a better grip. Carry the knife on a belt, tucked into a pocket or bag, or stowed elsewhere in the included nylon pouch.
In some situations, it’s impossible to use both hands to open a pocket knife, which is where this spring-assisted model can be a big help. It has a thumb stud that extends out from both sides of the blades, so that both left- and right-handed individuals can quickly flip it open. The spring-assisted system pushes the blade out, significantly increasing the opening speed. With practice, the user can have the blade ready in seconds.
This Kershaw knife has a 4-inch handle that comes in a host of color choices and blade textures, including serrated or flat edge. The blade of this knife is made of high-performance carbon steel that has good edge retention, so it won’t need sharpening after every use.
Whittlers who want an all-in-one tool might want to check out this Flexcut offering, designed for woodworkers who are experienced enough to use a multiblade knife. There’s a 1.6-inch detail knife blade, a 1.9-inch straight gouge, a 1.1-inch gouge scorp, and a 1-inch V-scorp blade that folds into a 4.3-inch handle.
The blades are made of hard carbon steel and come pre-sharpened. The handle, made of aluminum with a wood inlay and brass tacks, has an ergonomic shape for long-lasting comfort during use. It includes a lockback locking mechanism to keep the blades in place.
Camping can be fun, especially when you have the right tools for roughing it. This pocket knife from Gerber boasts a half-flat and half-serrated high carbon steel blade that measures 3.6 inches in length, good for taking on a variety of cutting and slicing tasks around the campsite.
The knife has a dual-sided thumb stud for easy opening by either left- or right-handed users. The handle is 4.9 inches long and features an ergonomic, textured rubber grip for better control in poor conditions. The knife comes in a lightweight nylon sheath that’s resistant to moisture and mildew.
FAQs About Your New Pocket Knife
For more info about a new pocket knife, consider these answers to some frequently asked questions.
Q. How do I sharpen a pocket knife?
There are many different ways to sharpen a pocket knife, but the most common method employs a sharpening stone. Lay the blade of the knife flat on the stone, then angle it just slightly while pushing the knife away from the body, like trying to cut off a piece of the sharpening stone. Or lay the blade flat on the stone with a slight angle, then sharpen the knife by applying pressure to the blade and moving the knife in a small circular motion against the stone.
As an alternative to a sharpening stone, consider purchasing a pocket knife sharpener, which is easier to use, but may not achieve the same quality of result.
Q. How do I close a pocket knife?
To close a pocket knife, hold the knife by the sides of the hilt, ensuring that no fingers are over the storage slot for the knife blade, then grip the blade firmly with the other hand and push the knife into the slot slowly. If the knife has a blade lock, unlock the blade before closing the knife.
Q. How do I clean a pocket knife?
Following these simple steps to clean a pocket knife:
- Gather gloves, soft cloths, a scrubbing sponge or toothbrush, dish soap, and a lubricant for the blade.
- Don the gloves and wet a soft cloth with warm water. Use the cloth to wipe down both sides of the knife.
- Use the dish soap and the sponge (or toothbrush for a serrated blade) to scrub the metal blade.
- Rinse the blade with warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.
- Add a few drops of lubricant to the blade to protect it from rusting and moisture damage.
Q. How do I get rust off a pocket knife?
Remove rust from a pocket knife with an abrasive steel pad, a household rust-removal solution such as white vinegar, or a commercial rust remover that uses a chemical solvent to clean rust from the blade.