If you spend any time in the outdoors, one of the most important tools you’ll carry is a folding pocket knife. From slicing off a chunk of salami to trimming wood for a survival fire, a good knife is always a useful thing to have by your side. These knives are a dime a dozen though, so it pays find a high-quality one that fits your needs.
|Benchmade 551 Griptilian Knife||REI / Amazon||A|
|Kershaw Leek Pocket knife||Amazon||A|
|Opinel No8 Beechwood Handle Knife||REI / Amazon||B|
|Gerber LST Ultralight Knife, Fine Edge||Amazon||B|
|Buck Knives 112BRS Ranger Lockback Folding Knife||Amazon||A+|
What to Look for in a Folding Pocket Knife
Finding a folding knife that suits all of your needs can be challenging. A knife might have a fantastic blade that keeps a razor sharp edge, but it’s unfortunately paired with a really uncomfortable handle. These are some of the features to look for in a folding knife; think about how you’ll be using your knife and which of the features will be most critical to you.
Blade Type and Quality
While there are a dozen or more different types of possible knife blades, almost all pocket knives have one of two types: drop point or clip. Drop point knives have a dull top edge that slopes down to the point of the knife, and they’re great for most outdoors tasks. Clip point knives are very similar except that they have a chunk “clipped” out of the top edge, which gives the tip a sharper point. Clip point knives have a slight advantage with some hunting tasks, as the sharper tip can pierce a hide easier, but they’re a little less useful for heavier tasks as the blade tip is too weak.
For everyday carry knives, the most popular handle material is probably a composite, usually carbon fiber, Zytel (fiberglass-reinforced nylon), and G-10 (a weaker form of carbon fiber). These handles are lightweight, strong, and resistant to environmental damage.
For anyone wanting a more classic look, wood is also an excellent option. The downside is that, because wooden handles can be quite porous, water may seep in and cause them to swell. To combat this problem, some manufacturers use “stabilized wood,” which has been mechanically pressed or injected with plastic to seal out moisture.
For a really sleek look, some manufacturers use aluminum or stainless steel handles, which can make the knife look like a single piece of metal. While metal handles are nearly indestructible, they provide less grip and can become uncomfortable to handle in extreme temperatures .
This is actually the most important feature to consider; a knife blade coming in or out at the wrong time can lead to serious injury. If your knife will be used in a camping, hunting, or survival situation, a strong locking mechanism is critical.
Some knives use a liner lock, which is a small spring-loaded piece of metal that prevents the blade from folding back in. But low-quality liner locks are notorious for failing, so it’s best to avoid them all together when purchasing a pocket knife.
Lockback mechanisms are also commonly used, and are much stronger than the liner lock. These knives have a lever that locks into the rear end of the blade when it’s deployed. You won’t need to worry about these knives folding unintentionally.
A few knives use a lock collar, or a small ring that goes around the bottom end of the blade. Twisted in one direction, it allows the blade to fold in and out. Twisted the other way, it will keep the blade either fully closed or fully deployed.
The most basic opening mechanism is the nail nick, a small indentation in the blade that you can catch with your fingernail to pull the knife open. But compared to other options, these knives are fairly slow to open. With lockback knives, you can press on the locking mechanism to push the blade out of the handle slightly, which makes it easier to grip the blade and open the knife. This mechanism is a little faster than the nail nick, but not by much.
A much faster option is the thumb stud design, which lets you press your thumb against a stud on the spine of the blade to rotate the blade out. Another feature sometimes seen with the thumb stud design is the spring assist, in which a spring does most of the work of deploying the blade once you’ve pushed on the thumb stud. Assisted knives are a popular option for users who need to quickly open their knife one-handed, like rafting guides and climbers. The downside to these knives is that their their ease of use can backfire and lead to inadvertent opening.
The last important feature to look for in an outdoor knife is durability. If your pocket knife fails while you’re using it at home, it’s no big deal, just grab another knife. But if it fails in the wilderness, you could end up in a life-threatening situation.
There are no hard-and-fast rules on what makes a knife durable. Surely you want one made from high-quality steel and with a tough handle, but almost every knife from a major manufacturer will fit those criteria. To find the most durable option, you need to look at how the knife is assembled. Does the blade rotate in and out smoothly? Does the lock feel firm, or is there some wiggle room when the blade is deployed? If it doesn’t feel right from the get go, you can be sure it won’t be in good shape after you’ve abused it for a year or two.
Benchmade 551 Griptilian Knife
When you’re looking for a top-of-the-line knife, one of the first places to look is Benchmade. The Griptillian 551 continues the company’s long-standing tradition of quality, and it has a price tag to match, costing three to four times more than the average pocket knife. However, as would be expected from Benchmade, the drop point blade holds its edge exceptionally well, and the company offers free sharpening (for life!) for when it does go dull.
The knife’s handle is made from nylon and has a superb ergonomic design that fits well in your hand. Unfortunately, that comfortable grip comes at the cost of space in your pocket. When closed, the knife is over 4.5 inches long and nearly three quarters of an inch thick. That’s going to feel bulky, and it doesn’t come with a sheath to clip to a belt loop or pocket.
The Griptilian is not a assisted knife, but it does open very smoothly and can be operated with one hand using the thumb stud on the side of the blade. If you’re looking for a high quality knife and are willing to pay a little more to get it, you’ll love the Griptillian.
- Free sharpening for life
- Opens really well for a non-assist knife
- Comes very sharp and holds its edge well
- Feels large for an EDC
- Very expensive
- No belt clip
Kershaw Leek Pocket knife
Sometimes you really need your knife in a hurry and don’t have time to be fumbling with a nail nick. That’s where Kershaw’s Leek pocket knife comes in.
To open the Leek, all you do is pull back on the flipper directly behind the blade, and the blade comes flying out using the Speedsafe spring-assisted action. It’s a bit intimating to users unfamiliar with assisted knives and could lead to injury if you’re not careful, but it’s lightening fast when you need it. It does have a safety lock that will stop the blade from deploying even when the flipper is pushed, but it has the tendency to start malfunctioning with time.
The Leek also comes with a very comfortable rounded metal handle, but as with all metal handles, it’s unpleasant to use in colder temperatures. The blade comes quite sharp and retains its edge well. However, the drop point isn’t very strong, so don’t go using it as a screwdriver.
Kershaw’s Leek is the right knife for someone who values opening speed and a sleek design, but will only use it for light duty projects. Trying to do too much with this knife can cause it to fail prematurely.
- Super slim design, won’t get caught on your pockets
- Speedsafe mechanism allows easy one-handed opening
- Rounded handle fits your hand really well
- Safety lock is not secure and can fall out
- Moderately expensive
- Blade tip is prone to breakage
Opinel No8 Beechwood Handle Knife
Your grandfather would barely recognize most of the pocket knives on the market today. Who decided they all needed to look like something the Special Forces would carry, anyway? Opinel’s No8 brings back a classic look with a beautiful beech wood handle and a razor-sharp drop point blade.
The beech wood handle makes it quite a bit lighter weight than most similarly sized knives, but the wood has the downside of swelling whenever it gets wet. Opinel has done a fairly good job of treating the handle to prevent this, but with time, you’ll notice that it doesn’t open as smoothly as it first did. You’ll also want to watch out for rust on the blade, as the wooden handle will hold more moisture than synthetic models.
While the No8 is great for lighter tasks like slicing vegetables or deboning fish, it’s too weak for chopping twigs or pounding in tent pegs. It utilizes a locking collar to keep the blade in the open position, but it won’t last long if you abuse it. If you use this as a hunting knife, you’ll need to watch out for animal parts getting trapped in the mechanism. Overall, this is a great looking knife that will serve you well if it’s not pushed too hard.
- Classic look
- Blade holds a very sharp edge
- Not durable, only for light duty tasks
- Does not open smoothly
- Rusts quickly
Buck Knives 112BRS Ranger Lockback Folding Knife
Buck Knives has been making some of the world’s finest pocket knives for over a hundred years, and they’re figured out a thing or two about how to make a good knife. The 112BRS Ranger comes with a super-strong lockback mechanism that makes the knife suitable for heavier camping tasks like preparing small pieces of firewood.
This knife just has a few minor problems. The first is that it’s moderately expensive, but you’re paying for quality workmanship. Secondly, it comes with a rather cheap case, which is frustrating on a high-quality knife. That’s not a deal breaker, but you’ll want to upgrade if it’s being carried in its case. In addition, it uses a nail nick, so it’s very slow to open. Lastly, at four inches long (when closed) and 5.6 oz., it’s a little on the larger side.
The 112BRS is a great all-around survival knife that will work well as long as you’re willing to accept that it’s slightly bulky.
- Solid locking mechanism
- Classy wood and brass handle
- Razor sharp and holds its edge well
- Comes with low-quality case
- Slow to open
- Slightly bulky
Gerber LST Ultralight Knife, Fine Edge
Not everyone is looking for the absolute best pocket knife on the market; some people really just need something that will do the job without breaking the bank. If that sounds like you, the Gerber LST Ultralight will be your knife.
The LST Ultralight is incredibly affordable, at just a third the price of many similarly sized pocket knives. With a closed length slightly over 2.5 inches and a weight of about half an ounce, you may forget it’s even in your pocket.
While Gerber is known for top-quality knives, the LST Ultralight comes from their budget line. Don’t expect the same level of quality that you’d get from their other lines; if you abuse this one, it will eventually break. It doesn’t have a particularly smooth action, either, so don’t try to pull it out in a hurry. The handle is also fairly brittle, so save this knife for light duty tasks.
- Very affordable
- Compact design
- Handle isn’t very strong
- Hard to open one-handed
- Not the same quality as other Gerber knives
Our Favourite knife
The best pocket knife for the money is probably Buck Knive’s 112BRS Ranger. While it does cost a little more and is larger than some of the other knives on this list, the quality workmanship and rock solid mechanism make it the perfect knife for a moderate price point. It’s only major issue was that it comes with a cheap case, which you can easily upgrade. While some of the other reviewed knives perform better than the 112BRS Ranger, none are as well rounded. If you buy just one folding pocket knife, this would be a solid choice.