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The Best Pocket Knives to Keep on You Every Day

By Adrienne Donica, Justin Park of Popular Mechanics | Slide 1 of 13: You want a pocket knife for one seemingly simple reason: to keep on you for when you need to cut things. Still, that can involve any number of tasks, from the mundane to the gnarly. You might be looking to skin an elk or cut fruit from a tree, but a pocket knife can also open your packages, slice off a hunk of cheese for a friend, or cut a loose string that threatens to unravel the whole sweater. The best knife is sharp enough to get the job done and convenient enough to bring everywhere. These are the models worth your hard-earned buck.Best Pocket Knives The Expert: My grandmother once chided me (then knife-less) that a man with a pocket knife was worth an extra dollar an hour on their dairy farm. I never showed up to her house without one after that and I’ve probably carried a pocket knife for 95 percent of the days of my adult life. My preferences for a good pocket knife have evolved considerably over those 30 years, and my collection of pocket knives has grown as well. I now have different knives for different days and activities and have tested most of the top models from the top brands over the past few years. What to Look for in a Pocket KnifeFolderWhen considering knives for everyday carry (EDC), look for a folding option that easily fits on your belt or in your pocket when closed. It should be light enough to carry comfortably but with a blade and handle that are sized to your liking. Most blades in this category measure from 2 to 3.5 inches long and have a drop-point shape. Most handles range from 3.5 to 5 inches. Get a folding knife that locks out. It won’t close on your fingers during use, which makes it safer, and the stiffness of a locking blade lets you manipulate the knife at a variety of angles, like while whittling wood or opening a particularly tricky package. Plus, you can use the back of the blade for things like fire sparking rods without it closing or bending on you.More for Your Outdoor Adventures: Best Hiking Shoes • High-Quality Hiking Socks • Best Backpacking Packs • Best Trekking PolesMetalThe three most common categories for pocket knives are carbon, stainless, and tool steel. Carbon steel is easy to sharpen, holds an edge well, and is durable, but the blade takes more care because the metal is prone to corrosion. Types of carbon steel include 420HC, XC90, and 1095. Stainless steel isn’t as hardy as carbon, but with the addition of chromium, the blade is less susceptible to corrosion. Stainless blades are often cheaper than their carbon counterparts, too. Choose stainless, like AUS-8, VG-10, or 8Cr13MoV and its cousins in the 9Cr and 7Cr series if you will mostly be using your knife on the water, to process game, or to prepare dinner while camping. There’s also tool steel, which can contain titanium, molybdenum, vanadium, or other elements. The result is generally a strong blade with good edge retention and decent corrosion resistance (though not as good as stainless). Popular tool steels include D2, CPM S30V, and CPM S35VN.Fit and FeelMost importantly, find a knife that fits your hand and feels good in your pocket. Even if you ultimately buy online, it can be worth a trip to an outdoor store where you can handle a wide range of knives and get a sense for the size and style that works best for you.Locking Mechanisms Liner: One side of the handle’s inner liner is bent, causing it to act like a spring. When you open the blade, that springing liner slides over behind the tang of the blade to keep it from closing. Pro: Simple and inexpensive. Con: Fingers are in the way when closing.Frame: Similar to a liner lock, this system has one side of the knife’s frame slide behind the blade when you deploy it. Pro: Secure. Con: Doesn’t work with both hands. Lockback: A locking bar runs up the spine of the knife’s handle and springs up into a notch in the tang. To close, press on the bar close to the butt of the handle to pivot it out of the tang. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: Can wear out, causing the blade to wiggle when deployed.Crossbar: A steel bar passes through the knife handle and slots into a notch in the tang. It’s significantly stronger than a liner lock, and you don’t have to adjust your grip to operate it. Benchmade’s proprietary Axis was first to market, but it’s now joined by SOG’s XR mechanism and others. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: More small parts that can break.Collar: A circular collar around the base of the blade twists to lock it closed or open. Line up the gap in the collar with the blade for unimpeded deployment. Pro: Simple. Con: Collar can wear out over time and not operate as smoothly.How We Evaluated Pocket KnivesMy search for the best pocket knives included several favorite knives that I’ve used for months or sometimes years as part of my year-round efforts to test as many knives as possible from the big knife manufacturers. I also relied on the Popular Mechanics editors and writers who, using fairly strict evaluation criteria, tested single-blade, plain-edge knives, and a few smaller multitools built with portability in mind. More than 22 test samples were put through their paces by slicing apples, cutting rope, and busting through zip ties that were secured on a U-bolt. The combination of all these efforts helped us to deliver this roundup of the best pocket knives you can buy right now.

You want a pocket knife for one seemingly simple reason: to keep on you for when you need to cut things. Still, that can involve any number of tasks, from the mundane to the gnarly. You might be looking to skin an elk or cut fruit from a tree, but a pocket knife can also open your packages, slice off a hunk of cheese for a friend, or cut a loose string that threatens to unravel the whole sweater. The best knife is sharp enough to get the job done and convenient enough to bring everywhere. These are the models worth your hard-earned buck.

Best Pocket Knives

The Expert: My grandmother once chided me (then knife-less) that a man with a pocket knife was worth an extra dollar an hour on their dairy farm. I never showed up to her house without one after that and I’ve probably carried a pocket knife for 95 percent of the days of my adult life. My preferences for a good pocket knife have evolved considerably over those 30 years, and my collection of pocket knives has grown as well. I now have different knives for different days and activities and have tested most of the top models from the top brands over the past few years.

What to Look for in a Pocket Knife

Folder

When considering knives for everyday carry (EDC), look for a folding option that easily fits on your belt or in your pocket when closed. It should be light enough to carry comfortably but with a blade and handle that are sized to your liking. Most blades in this category measure from 2 to 3.5 inches long and have a drop-point shape. Most handles range from 3.5 to 5 inches. Get a folding knife that locks out. It won’t close on your fingers during use, which makes it safer, and the stiffness of a locking blade lets you manipulate the knife at a variety of angles, like while whittling wood or opening a particularly tricky package. Plus, you can use the back of the blade for things like fire sparking rods without it closing or bending on you.

More for Your Outdoor Adventures: Best Hiking ShoesHigh-Quality Hiking SocksBest Backpacking PacksBest Trekking Poles

Metal

The three most common categories for pocket knives are carbon, stainless, and tool steel. Carbon steel is easy to sharpen, holds an edge well, and is durable, but the blade takes more care because the metal is prone to corrosion. Types of carbon steel include 420HC, XC90, and 1095. Stainless steel isn’t as hardy as carbon, but with the addition of chromium, the blade is less susceptible to corrosion. Stainless blades are often cheaper than their carbon counterparts, too. Choose stainless, like AUS-8, VG-10, or 8Cr13MoV and its cousins in the 9Cr and 7Cr series if you will mostly be using your knife on the water, to process game, or to prepare dinner while camping. There’s also tool steel, which can contain titanium, molybdenum, vanadium, or other elements. The result is generally a strong blade with good edge retention and decent corrosion resistance (though not as good as stainless). Popular tool steels include D2, CPM S30V, and CPM S35VN.

Fit and Feel

Most importantly, find a knife that fits your hand and feels good in your pocket. Even if you ultimately buy online, it can be worth a trip to an outdoor store where you can handle a wide range of knives and get a sense for the size and style that works best for you.

Locking Mechanisms

Liner: One side of the handle’s inner liner is bent, causing it to act like a spring. When you open the blade, that springing liner slides over behind the tang of the blade to keep it from closing. Pro: Simple and inexpensive. Con: Fingers are in the way when closing.

Frame: Similar to a liner lock, this system has one side of the knife’s frame slide behind the blade when you deploy it. Pro: Secure. Con: Doesn’t work with both hands.

Lockback: A locking bar runs up the spine of the knife’s handle and springs up into a notch in the tang. To close, press on the bar close to the butt of the handle to pivot it out of the tang. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: Can wear out, causing the blade to wiggle when deployed.

Crossbar: A steel bar passes through the knife handle and slots into a notch in the tang. It’s significantly stronger than a liner lock, and you don’t have to adjust your grip to operate it. Benchmade’s proprietary Axis was first to market, but it’s now joined by SOG’s XR mechanism and others. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: More small parts that can break.

Collar: A circular collar around the base of the blade twists to lock it closed or open. Line up the gap in the collar with the blade for unimpeded deployment. Pro: Simple. Con: Collar can wear out over time and not operate as smoothly.

How We Evaluated Pocket Knives

My search for the best pocket knives included several favorite knives that I’ve used for months or sometimes years as part of my year-round efforts to test as many knives as possible from the big knife manufacturers. I also relied on the Popular Mechanics editors and writers who, using fairly strict evaluation criteria, tested single-blade, plain-edge knives, and a few smaller multitools built with portability in mind. More than 22 test samples were put through their paces by slicing apples, cutting rope, and busting through zip ties that were secured on a U-bolt. The combination of all these efforts helped us to deliver this roundup of the best pocket knives you can buy right now.

© Popular Mechanics; Courtesy Benchmade
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