A trusty pocket knife will come in handy for both the ordinary and the unexpected. Whether you’re springing to action in an emergency situation or just need an easy way to open packaging, you’ll feel confident knowing you’re equipped with a reliable blade whenever you need it.
We think a good pocket knife is an essential everyday tool, so we spent hours researching, pouring over customer ratings, and sifting through specs. Then, we got our hands on each knife and field tested them in real-life situations. Finally, we worked up a detailed side-by-side analysis to determine each knife’s key strengths and weaknesses to make it easy for you to find a knife that suits you.
Check out this quick list of our favorites if you’re in a hurry, or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best overall pocket knife for portability, quality & value: Kershaw Leek
- Best ultralight pocket knife: Benchmade Bugout 535 & Mini Bugout 533
- Best budget pocket knife: Opinel No. 8 & No. 6 (smaller)
- Best premium pocket knife: Spyderco Para Military 2
- Workhorse pocket knife with an ergonomic handle: Kershaw Blur
- Small, stout & affordable pocket knife: CRKT Squid
- Small & quick-opening pocket knife: SOG Twitch II
- Durable & affordable pocket knife: Gerber Paraframe II & Paraframe Mini
What’s Most Important to You in a Pocket Knife?
PRICE – Great quality is often worth paying for when it comes to a knife you’ll use every day. That said, you don’t have to pay a lot for an effective and versatile blade. We’ve tested a range of high quality knives in different price brackets to see how they stack up.
SIZE – The best pocket knives for everyday carry are compact enough to be comfortably stashed in a pocket without feeling bulky or getting in the way. But, the longer the blade, the more leverage you’ll have when working with your knife. Knives with a 3-4 inch blade offer a good balance of cutting power and portability for most situations.
OPENING STYLE – If you know you’ll be using your knife a lot throughout the day, make sure it’s quick and easy to grab and deploy. A few knives on our list have spring-assisted opening and can be quickly opened and closed with a single hand. Others are manual and may require two hands. Manual open knives have less moving parts that can fail and are less likely to accidentally open.
A SHARP BLADE – Stainless steel blades are the most common in pocket knives. They’re corrosion resistant and low maintenance. Knives with premium steel blades tend to be more expensive, but they’re sharper, more finely-tuned, and hold their edge for longer.
ERGONOMICS – A great knife is more than just a good sharp blade. The handle plays a big role in how effective a knife is and how comfortable it is to use for an extended period.
Best Pocket Knives of 2023
BEST OVERALL POCKET KNIFE FOR PORTABILITY QUALITY & VALUE
MSRP: $115 (often on sale for less)
WEIGHT (OZ.): 3oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3 in. / 4 in.
PROS: Very sharp, slim and compact, assisted one-hand open, tip lock, reversible pocket clip
CONS: Blade tip is a bit thin for rugged jobs
BOTTOM LINE: Whether you’re a knife enthusiast or a novice, the Kershaw Leek has an excellent chance of becoming your favorite knife. The parts are fit with expert precision for a svelte knife that practically disappears in the pocket. The razor-sharp blade and dramatic point are ideal for slicing, piercing, and fine detail work. To top it all off, this knife springs fully open and into a locked position with a pull from a single finger. If you want a beautiful and capable knife you’ll be inspired to use frequently, look no further than the Leek.
BEST ULTRALIGHT POCKET KNIFE
MSRP: $180 (often on sale for less)
WEIGHT (OZ.): 1.9oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3.24 in. / 4.22 in.
MINI VERSION: Mini Bugout 533
PROS: Very lightweight, premium steel quality, very sharp, compact, lock keeps fingers clear when closing, inconspicuous (deep pocket carry clip)
BOTTOM LINE: The Benchmade Bugout 535 is one of our all-time favorite pocket knives since it’s both exceptionally lightweight and has a very sharp blade made with premium steel. The marriage of such high-quality blade steel and a slim, ultralight handle is perfect for everyday carry and anyone who wants to keep weight to an absolute minimum. If you’re looking for a knife that’s incredibly sharp, light in the pocket, and easy to wield, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Bugout.
BEST BUDGET POCKET KNIFE
WEIGHT (OZ.): 1.5oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3.25 in. / 4.25 in.
MINI VERSION: No. 6
PROS: Very affordable, very lightweight, secure collar lock, comfortable handle, inconspicuous, customizable engraving available
CONS: Not as sharp as some, slower two-handed open (nail nick and collar lock), no pocket clip
BOTTOM LINE: The Opinel No. 8 is an affordable, utilitarian knife that was originally designed for farmers and railroad workers over 130 year ago. It’s the lightest knife we tested, so it’s extremely portable and well-suited for on-the-go activities like hiking, foraging, picnics, and working in the garden. The No. 8’s carbon steel blade isn’t as sharp as those on some modern knives, but it’s really tough for how thin it is and it’s excellent for slicing meats, cheeses, and produce. The No. 8 may take slightly longer to open and lock, but it’s a beautiful knife at an incredible value that feels like a connection to a simpler time.
BEST PREMIUM POCKET KNIFE
WEIGHT (OZ.): 3.9 oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3.42 in. / 4.82 in.
PROS: Very sharp, large hole for easy one-handed open,excellent grip, ergonomic handle,lock keeps fingers clear when closing,four position pocket clip, unique blade shape
CONS: Expensive, heavier and bulkier than some, size isn’t inconspicuous
BOTTOM LINE: The Spyderco Para Military 2 is considered a staple among knife collectors, and for good reason. It’s a high-quality knife with thick, premium blade steel, burly steel liners, and a strong compression lock. The PM2 also has a large hole on the blade to make it easy to open with one hand and an ergonomic handle with great texture for grip. The downside of the PM2 — it’s a whole lot of knife. Meaning, it may be a bit overkill for the everyday needs of some people. That said, the PM2 is an incredibly cool, rugged knife. If the zombie apocalypse comes, it’s the pocket knife we’ll grab first.
WORKHORSE POCKET KNIFE WITH AN ERGONOMIC HANDLE
MSRP: $160 (often on sale for less)
WEIGHT (OZ.): 3.9oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3.4 in. / 4.5 in.
PROS: Large blade, very sharp, assisted one-hand open, excellent grip, ergonomic thumb studs, reversible pocket clip
CONS: Expensive,heavier andbulkier than some
BOTTOM LINE: The Kershaw Blur is a big, sturdy pocket knife with a wide blade that’s excellent for carving and cutting with minimal effort. The handle is comfortable and has unique rubberized inserts for outstanding grip. We love the smooth action on the Blur too. It’s easy to operate with a single hand and quick to put away when you’re done. Because it’s so strong and easy to handle, the Blur is a great choice for anyone who needs a large blade they can count on for years of daily use.
SMALL, STOUT & AFFORDABLE POCKET KNIFE
MSRP: $32 (often on sale for less)
WEIGHT (OZ.): 3.5 oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 2.16 in. / 3.48 in.
PROS: Affordable,compact, durable (extra corrosion resistant steel), inconspicuous (deep pocket carry clip)
CONS: Small, tough to open with one hand, slightly heavy for its size
BOTTOM LINE: We think of the CRKT Squid as the bulldog of pocket knives. It’s extremely tough for such a little guy and has a short, stout blade made with high-quality steel. The Squid may feel a bit small in hand for some, but we haven’t come across any jobs that it couldn’t tackle. It’s an excellent box cutter and rips through tough materials like butter. The Squid’s small size also means it stays out of the way of keys and other objects in your pocket. If you’re looking for a high-quality, yet affordable knife and don’t need a long blade, the Squid is very well made and is a joy to use.
SMALL & QUICK-OPENING POCKET KNIFE
WEIGHT (OZ.): 2.6oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 2.65 in. / 3.55 in.
PROS: Very sharp, slim and compact,assisted one-hand open, safety lock, reversible pocket clip, inconspicuous
CONS: Small, takes two hands to close
BOTTOM LINE: If you want an inconspicuous pocket knife that’s sharp, fast to deploy, and comfortable to carry, the SOG Twitch II might be your jam. It’s very small and compact, so you can barely feel it in your pocket. The Twitch has assisted open, so it’s fun to unfold, and it works well when you need to use your blade frequently. Our one gripe is that the lockback locking mechanism takes two hands and requires a change of grip. That said, the Twitch is a high-quality knife for the price and an excellent choice for anyone who needs a small knife for everyday carry.
DURABLE & AFFORDABLE POCKET KNIFE
WEIGHT (OZ.): 4.1oz.
BLADE LENGTH / CLOSED LENGTH: 3.5 in. / 4.75in.
MINI VERSION: Paraframe Mini
PROS: Affordable, long blade, slim design, ergonomic handle, durable (all-steel construction), open design is easy to clean
CONS: Heavier andbulkier than some, takes two hands to close, mediocre blade quality, thumb studs are a bit long
BOTTOM LINE: The Gerber Paraframe II looks cool and is easy to clean due to its open all-steel frame, but it’s not a knife you buy to admire or collect. It’s an affordable tool you can put to hard use without having to worry about messing it up, which can be a real asset while camping or on the job. The Paraframe has a sturdy barebones design, and it’s really slim for a knife with such a thick blade. The Paraframe Mini is significantly lighter, and is a good budget option for times when weight savings is important. The Paraframe stands out for it’s budget-friendly price, simplicity, and durability.
The following pocket knives didn’t make our final list, but they’ve still got a lot of good things going for them. You never know, one of these knives might be perfect for you:
- The ULA Alpha Knife – a ridiculously lightweight fixed blade knife that was designed specifically for backpackers and thru-hikers doing everyday trail activities like food prep and opening packaging. Read our full review here.
- Gerber Sharkbelly – affordable, slim, and lightweight pocket knife with a large sheepsfoot blade and great pocket clip
- CRKT Razelcliffe – stout and budget-friendly mini knife with an easy open hammer and a unique chizel-like blade shape
- Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife – affordable folding box cutter with disposable blades
Critical Pocket Knife Considerations
USE – A good pocket knife will certainly come in handy in all kinds of unexpected situations, but consider what you intend to use your knife for most often. If you see yourself sawing through rope or skinning rabbits, you may want to consider a more specialized blade made for climbing or bushcraft. On this list, we focus mostly on well-rounded pocket knives for everyday carry.
SERRATIONS VS. PLAIN EDGE – Serrations are handy for sawing through rope when a knife is dull, but they’re nearly impossible to sharpen at home and eat up valuable real estate on your blade. That’s why we prefer a simple plain edge. If you keep it sharp, it will almost always perform better and be more versatile than a serrated one.
LOCK TYPE – A sturdy lock mechanism on your knife makes them safer to use during rigorous cutting tasks. All of the knives on our list are equipped with strong frame, liner, compression, or collar locks to keep the blade safe and securely fixed in position when open.
SIZE AND WEIGHT – A pocket knife should be compact and light enough that it won’t bother you to carry it in your pocket, but large and robust enough to fit comfortably in your palm and be effective for the task at hand. A good ballpark range for an everyday carry knife size is about 4 inches long when closed and no more than about 4 oz. in weight.
BLADE SHAPE – The knives on our list are equipped with a range of blade shapes, but most are some form of the classic drop-point, which offers excellent versatility for various cutting and slicing tasks. To learn more, check out this Knife Blade Shapes Guide.
BLADE STEEL – There’s a lotto learn about knife blade steel, but the basics come down to these five elements: hardness, toughness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. All of these factors play into a knife’scutting performance and ease of maintenance. Check out the Essential Guide to Knife Steel if you want to know more about a specific blade.
HANDLE MATERIALS – The handle is an important part of the pocket knife equation. The best knives have handles that are ergonomic, comfortable, grippy, and durable. G-10 is a good all-around material for its light weight and texture, but you might also like other materials like anodized aluminum or wood.
STYLING – Once you’ve gone over the considerations above, you can narrow your search to knives that appeal to you aesthetically and fit your style. You might want a tough-looking tactical blade, a sleek knife that won’t scare people at the office, or a traditional, old school design.
POCKET CLIP – Most people carry their knives in their pants pockets. The knife should rest inside the pocket with the closed blade flush with the front or back seam so you can grab the knife easily and prevent the blade from accidentally falling open. Some knives have pre-drilled holes so you can choose the position that suits you best. If you prefer to be inconspicuous and not draw attention to the fact that you’re carrying a knife, look for a deep carry pocket clip that keeps the blade hidden.
Need More Gear Advice?
If you liked this list, you’ll love the CleverHiker Gear Guide where we test and recommend tons of outdoor adventure gear from a variety of categories. here are some links to popular articles:
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We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:
- Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.
- We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.
- We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.
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- We constantly update our guides when new products launch.
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