The Best Pocket & Folding Knives (Ultimate Guide)

Home » Gear » Knives

The folding pocket knife is something of an institution among outdoorsmen the world over but it’s not just used for boning fish and opening stubborn tins around the campfire anymore. Today it’s must-have equipment for police and other first responders, rescue crews, climbers, delivery persons, and craftspeople. And let’s not forget that it’s also an increasingly popular means of self-defense in an increasingly dangerous world. The one thing all pocket knives have in common is their utter practicality. Though they have myriad applications they’re able to be toted about in your pocket just like loose change.

Below we’re going to take a closer look at what we consider to be the 10 best pocket knives out there. Ready? Great. Let’s get started.

Our Top Picks for Best Pocket Knives:

Benchmade Crooked River 15080

Benchmade Crooked River

We start right off with the folding knife we consider to be the cream of the crop. The Benchmade Crooked River 15080 is the benchmark by which all other folding pocket knives should be judged by our estimation. The Crooked River exceeds even Benchmade’s typical lofty quality and design standards and sets itself apart from the crowd. While the Crooked River 15080 is not cheap it will likely provide you with a lifetime of trouble free use due to the generally outstanding quality of the materials in play and the thoughtful way in which they’re deployed.

The 15080 has a long, slender clip-point style blade which exudes both aesthetic beauty and immense practicality. The blade is harvested from a 3.15mm thick piece of high-quality s30v stainless and features a beautiful high, flat grind, and the company’s signature duo-toned satin finish. With the 15080 you have the perfect tool for cutting, piercing and skinning. What more do you want from a blade? The Crooked River 15080 doesn’t re-invent folding pocket knife design. What it does do is perfect it. The generous curved handle is an ergonomic joy to behold and hold and the shape works off the curve of the blade to provide you both maximum leverage and maximum comfort. The overall look of the knife is extremely easy on the eye the way any precision instrument should be. And make no mistake this is a precision instrument. Not just a knife for cutting stuff. From the chamfered lanyard hole to the orange pivot collar and aluminum bolsters, you’ll be struck by the subtle beauty of the Crooked River the minute you lay eyes on it and sold the minute you hold it in your hand. There may be another knife out there that can lay claim to being as good or as attractive as the Crooked River, but in our opinion, there aren’t any that can claim to be a better knife.

case small red bone lockback

Case Small Red Bone

Case is not new to the knife business. The company has been around for nearly 130 years since the brothers William, Jean, John and Andrew began making their own knives and selling them to pioneers heading west along one of upstate New York’s wagon trails. The company was officially chartered at the beginning of the 20th century and has been creating high quality cutlery ever since. While the company was sold in recent years to Zippo Manufacturing (they of the Zippo lighter) their commitment to quality is undimmed and their pocket knives continue to impress, like this Case Small Red Bone Lockback Pocket Knife.

The Red Bone Lockback knife is one of Case’s signature pocket knives. It’s obvious, even if this is your first experience with a Case knife, how much attention went into the design and manufacturing of this knife. The corn-cob jigged red bone handle is a thing of beauty as are the lines of the knife from butt to blade tip. Although this type of drop-point blade is not typically considered an all-purpose blade it will actually do an excellent job at a variety of tasks from stripping wire, to descaling, to cutting every sort of rope, twine and cord. The blade itself is fashioned from Tru-Sharp, high carbon stainless that resists corrosion and produces a cutting edge with extraordinary strength. The Case Small Red Bone Lockback knife is the kind of folding pocket knife any camper, hunter, hobbyist, contractor or rescue worker would do well to have in their pocket. It’s a solid, attractive, durable tool that costs about a quarter what the Benchmade reviewed above costs. If we had $50 and could choose one knife to have in our pocket it would be the Case Red Bone Lockback folding pocket knife.

spyderco delica4 lightweight

Spyderco Delica4 Lightweight 

Spyderco has several entries on our top ten list because they deserve to. The Delica4 is a relatively new product for them but is the recipient of the company’s long experience at building quality cutlery. The Bi-directional texturing of the handle produces a nice slip-free grip for when you’re soaking wet on the boat or in the river or it’s freezing out and you need to chop some ice to make water. We found the one-handed opening/closing to be easy and dependable, the refined stainless steel blade to be tough and effective and the four-way clip to be handy as heck.

This is the fourth overall iteration of the Delica since the brand was introduced in 1990 and with each version the company makes subtle changes that elevate both looks and performance. The Delica4 offers screw-together engineering that makes the knife easy to take apart and clean, which is always handy after a long weekend in the woods or on the fishing boat. This newest version is also available in a wide variety of colors some of which we really enjoyed and some purple we could live without just fine. But that’s small potatoes. We like the way the Delica4 feels in our hand. Love the balance of the knife overall. Love the bi-directional texturing on the handle which provides a much better grip than you find with many wooden handles and love the flexibility provided by the four way clip. And oh yeah: we also love the price.

Spyderco Tenacious Plain

Spyderco Tenacious G-10

The Spyderco Tenacious G-10 couples outstanding leading-edge design with the company’s typical retinae of first class materials to produce a combination blade that performs at levels unheard of at this price. The jimped liner lock allows trouble-free, single hand opening and closing and the textured jimping at the base of the spine makes for a slip-free grip when you need it. This is an uncommonly beautiful knife that encapsulates many recent design advances and couples them with materials and engineering that won’t let you down when the going gets tough.

Although the Tenacious is made in China Spyderco do an admirable job of quality control oversight. The blade is capable of retaining a hair splitting degree of sharpness which, when combined with the top-flight ergonomics of the handle allow for nearly effortless cutting. The G-10 Tenacious is also lighter than you might expect so when it’s clipped to your belt or pocket you’ll likely forget it’s there. This is would be a great folding pocket knife at any price point but at about the price of a pair of jeans it’s a truly outstanding value. It’s short and thin enough to slip into your pocket, opens easily with one hand, cuts like nobody’s business and won’t tire out your hand even after holding it for long periods of time. Spyderco deserves a lot of credit for taking the time and trouble to engineer such an outstanding piece of outdoor kit. As such you can’t lose if you decide to make this your next knife.

gerber covert knife serrated edge

Gerber Covert Knife

Gerber has been refining the look and feel of their knives for decades and all their knowledge and experience is evident in products like this unassuming yet incredibly high quality folding knife. The Covert knife partners top-quality materials with classic design and Forward Action Spring Technology to ensure your pocket knife is always there for you when you need it. Single handed opening provides you optimal flexibility and the titanium coated, high grade stainless steel blade is up to whatever the task at hand may be.

We found the G-10 handle to be predictably dependable regardless of conditions or temperature and the size of the blade to be more than adequate to handle a wide array of everyday as well as specialty tasks like whittling tent stakes. The spring assisted opening is quick and reliable which makes it a logical companion if you intend or need to use it for self-defense or close quarter combat. The Covert G-10 is a favorite of police departments and rescue squads the world over and it’s easy to see why. The Gerber G-10 Covert knife has an edgy look some will find very appealing. It’s apparent at first glance that this is no ordinary knife but one designed to stand up to the rigors of a campsite, job site and battlefield alike. Operation is simple and dependable, materials are first-rate and the lightweight construction and solid grip characteristics mean it’s not going to let you down when you need it most. A definite candidate for the best pocket knife under $100.

spyderco manix 2

Spyderco Manix 2

Spyderco make yet another appearance on our list of 10 best folding pocket knives, this time with the stunning Manix2 plain edge knife. The translucent blue EdgeTek Fiberglass Reinforced Co-Polymer or FRCP handle will draw you in but it’s the knife’s easy usability and dependability that will hook you. This knife actually won Blade Magazine’s “Most Innovative American Design” when it was introduced in 2010 and subsequent iterations have done nothing to sully that well-deserved accolade.

The blade is composed of BD-1 steel which has a high carbon and chromium content that staves off corrosion and provides maximum edge retention. The contoured, molded jimped handle makes the knife a joy to hold regardless of the task at hand and the lightweight design means you can hold it as long as you want without tiring out. The lock is a bit different from most other folding pocket knives and incorporates a free-floating ball bearing that allows the lock to self-adjust ensuring a secure lock every time. One thing to keep in mind about the knife however is that, when deployed, it’s a somewhat long 8 inches. That size alone will make some uneasy although most others may find it either comes in handy or is reassuring for whatever reason. The Spyderco Manix2 occupies a kind of grey area between being strictly (and beautifully) functional and being a bit intimidating for some. Regardless, it’s a well-engineered piece of all-purpose cutlery that will make short work of most projects. The single handed operation, the surefire ball-bearing enabled lock mechanism, the contoured translucent blue handle and the variety of carrying options make it an easy choice to join our list as a best folding knife.

buck knives 0379 solo folding

Buck Knives 0379

The Buck 0379 is not a knife you’re going to purchase for your deployment to Afghanistan or for other heavy duty applications. It is instead an everyday blade that will serve you well as long as you don’t ask too much of it. Any handyman or woman understands the value of having a simple, dependable quality blade at the ready if they need to splice wires, open boxes, cut tape or perform any of a hundred types of detail work.

Buck knives have a long, solid reputation for quality and reliability and the 0379 is no exception. It’s not a knife that requires long dissertations on its virtues and benefits. Instead it’s a simple, well-built folding pocket knife that will come in handy time and time again. It may seem strange to some that we included such an unremarkable piece of all-purpose cutlery on our list of 10 best pocket knives but this is the kind of knife that most everyone has owned at one time or another and it remains a staple for craftsmen and women along with hobbyist and do-it-yourselfers the world over.

spyderco dragonfly

Spyderco Dragonfly

The Dragonfly is the inheritor of a Spyderco design aesthetic that dates back to 1990. At that time the first Delica was introduced which provided a compelling combination of light weight, single-handed opening and affordability. Over the years Spyderco have elaborated on details through both the Delica and related designs like the Dragonfly but the basic notions have remained the same.

The Dragonfly is a beautifully balanced compact knife that anyone who requires a high quality all-purpose blade will appreciate. That blade is fashioned from Japanese VG-10 stainless steel that is capable of holding a razor sharp edge for an extended period. While the blade is a modest length the ergonomics of the knife ensure you’ll get the most from it. The handle comes in either matte black or our personal favorite, grey. Opening and closing are made smoother and easier by way of phosphor bronze washer and the clip is both simplicity and versatility combined. Inside, dual skeletonized steel liners buttress structural integrity while keeping the weight down. We love Spyderco products as you may have noticed. They make some of the most visually arresting folding pocket knives around and are constantly upping their game to stay abreast of current material trends. When it comes to design trends they don’t just keep up, they set the bar for others to clear. The Dragonfly is the result of many years of refinement and improvement and is one of the 10 best folding pocket knives you can currently buy.

tac force tf-705

TAC Force TF-705RB

The TAC Force TF-705 Tactical Knife exhibits the best of both worlds: leading edge design and incredible affordability. But it’s more than just a cheap knife. It’s an inexpensive all-purpose blade that displays a high degree of versatility and functionality. We would have been fine if TAC Force had decided to pass on the Swiss Army Knife accouterment (bottle opener and glass breaker) but who knows? There may come a time when such things actually come in handy (like those tiny, tiny scissors on the SAK).

That said there’s a lot to praise about the TF-705 including its thin, compact nature, its compelling visuals, its one handed operability and its surefire liner lock mechanism. We can see where this folding pocket knife would be an ideal pocket tool for everyone from firefighters to rescue workers to dedicated do-it-yourselfers. The makers here have squeezed every last penny out of their design and manufacturing budgets and as such this is a knife most people would imagine costs many times what it actually does. The TAC Force Assisted Opening Tactical Folding Pocket knife (say that 3 times fast) series TF-705 is a slick looking piece of everyday kit that will provide hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers and professionals a simple, effective and incredibly affordable knife with which to augment their tool set. It’s not going to last a lifetime the way top of the line pocket knives will but it should provide several years of effective service for less than the cost of a bucket of fried chicken. And it won’t clog your arteries to boot!

kershaw cryo

Kershaw Cryo Knife

The last on our list of 10 best folding pocket knives is the Kershaw Cryo Knife. Not sure exactly why it’s called a “cryo” as it doesn’t provide you the ability to store things cryogenically but who are we to quibble with the marketing department? The fact is this may be the best looking knife you’re going to find at the low end of the price spectrum, but it’s not all looks either. The Kershaw Cryo knife employs state of the art design and is engineered to exacting tolerances all the way around. Deployment of the blade is fairly effortless and feels sure and secure every time.

The quad carry clip makes toting the Cryo around a painless affair and if you tire of clipping it hither and yon simply slip it into your pocket and get on with your day. The Cryo knife feels like a much more expensive knife and handles like one too. Whether you’re splicing wires, cutting wallpaper or boning fish you’ll be able to complete your task with ease and confidence. If you’ve had your eyes set upon a Rick Hinderer knife for some time but were reluctant to pony up the green necessary, the Kershaw Cryo knife may be your best opportunity to secure one since Hinderer himself collaborated on the design of the Cryo. The Cryo, while it won’t let you store your body in cryo sleep, will allow you to perform a variety of everyday projects large and small. It’s the kind of tool you won’t realize you need until you realize you need it. Kershaw has gone to great lengths to find ways to provide you the most for your hard-earned money and they’ve succeeded spectacularly. The Cryo is comfortable, functionality is smooth and trouble free, the knife is beautifully balanced and the price is right.

Pocket Knife Buyers Guide 

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to folding pocket knives.

pocket knives

What is a pocket knife? – The name is really self-explanatory. The pocket knife is a piece of all-purpose cutlery that is designed to be carried about in your pocket (or clipped to one’s belt or to the outside edge of a pocket) and used for a variety of purposes from cutting rope and paper to opening boxes, stripping wire and even cleaning fish caught in the wild. The pocket knife is typically fairly small and lightweight and has a much more robust blade than the typical table knife.

What is a folding knife? – A folding knife is usually a pocket knife whose blade is designed to fold away into the handle of the knife so that the entire knife can be more easily carried in the pants pocket, fanny pack or on the belt. The better folding knives have a mechanism that locks the blade in place once it is deployed and also have a spring mechanism built in that pushes the blade outward making it easier to deploy with one hand or under trying circumstances.

How much do pocket knives costs? – Pocket knives run the economic gamut from several hundred dollars apiece for the more elaborate, custom-designed knives with hand carved handles etc to less than $10 for some of the ultra-simple mass produced folding blades like the TAC Force knife profiled above. How much you pay will depend on the quality of the materials, the size and composition of the blade and whether or not the knife possesses features like a spring-loaded blade.

Things to Consider When Buying a Pocket or Folding Knife

It might seem like buying a new knife is kind of a no-brainer: you see the knife you like and you buy it. However, unless you’re buying a knife strictly for decorative purposes there are quite a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before you decide on one. Remember that your knife is likely to be with you for years. As such it behooves you to take a bit of time and weigh the various considerations before plunking down your hard-earned money. Those considerations include:

Design – Knife designs range from the super simple to fairly elaborate and from high tech to traditional. Design also technically encompasses any special or extra features of the knife like a special locking mechanism or the width of the blade. At the end of the day, however, design is primarily an aesthetic consideration and which design you choose will be determined by your individual tastes.

Features – While features are certainly part of a knife’s design, which features you opt for are actually a separate consideration. For instance, once you’ve decided you want a knife that sports a high tech design then you can look for one with certain features that will fulfill your needs. Questions you may want to ask yourself regarding features include: will the knife be used as a utility tool? Will it be used primarily for self-defense? Do I want single hand opening? Do I want to be able to clip the knife to my belt?

Fixed or folding blade? – While this is a list of the top 10 best folding knives not everyone who wants a pocket knife wants to bother having to unfold the blade every time they go to use the knife. Some like the convenience of pulling out the knife with the blade ready to go. If you are being deployed in a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan you’ll likely want a large fixed blade at the ready in case of emergency. Patrolmen and women also often want their knife ready to go in a flash should circumstances require. They don’t want to be messing with getting the blade open in split-second life or death situations. The size of the fixed blade you carry will also depend on your circumstances and how the knife is likely to be used.

Folding blades on the other hand have myriad practical advantages over fixed blades and are the preferred type of blade for most people. The folding blade allows you to stow the knife away more easily – right in your pants pocket if you wish – without having to worry about injuring yourself. Folding blades take up less space in the toolbox, often provide better protection for the cutting edge and are also less intimidating than carrying around a fixed blade knife. Keep in mind too that there may be local regulations in place in your community that prohibit the carrying of fixed blade knives in public or at least limit the size of the fixed blade you can carry. The bottom line is generally this: if you don’t have an overriding need for a fixed blade, go with a folder.

pocket knife

Design of the blade – The blade on a pocket knife should have a cutting edge and a point. Now exactly what type of cutting edge and what type of point are questions that will be answered by asking how you intend to use the knife. If you’re going to use it to dig and probe you’ll need a robust blade with a strong point that won’t break off easily. Many a more stylish knife has a delicate point as part of its design. But while this may create an appealing overall look it generally has very little practical application. So decide right up front if you’re going to use your knife to poke around and if you are, get one with a nice strong blade. As for the cutting edge the design of the edge will depend on what you’ll likely be using the knife For instance: if you’re an emergency responder who handles a lot of car accidents, you may want a nice curved blade since this type of blade is preferred for cutting seat belts and freeing trapped victims. The length of the cutting edge is largely up to you but keep in mind that in 99% of cases more than just a few inches of cutting edge is overkill. Also, blade thickness of more than 3/16ths of an inch is typically overkill and will make the folding pocket knife too bulky to be easily carried in your pocket.

Size – The size of the knife you choose will typically have to do with the knife’s ultimate purpose. Most people are after a folding pocket knife to fulfill a few practical needs that may arise in the performance of their job or as they work around the house or at the campsite. As such, a folding knife with a blade longer than 3 to 4 inches and an overall length when opened of more than 6.5 to 8 inches is usually overkill. Before buying anything larger ask yourself what need do you have of a knife that is 9 or 10 inches long when opened or has an enormous blade you’re likely to never fully utilize? Remember you’re looking for something that will help you complete your tasks. Not something that’s going to scare the kids for no reason when you open it up.

Ergonomics – The way the knife is designed to be held in your hand is important because it can affect your grip as well as your ability to use the knife regularly without getting fatigued. The science of designing things in a way that is most useful is called “ergonomics” and ergonomics will differ from person to person. A small person with small hands will require a knife that’s lightweight with a small diameter handle. While a large person will require a more robust handle. The curvature or lack thereof of the handle as well as any contouring will also play an integral part in how comfortable or uncomfortable the knife feels in your hand.

Materials – As with most things in life the more you pay the higher quality the materials involved. Pay $20 for a pair of shoes and you can be pretty sure you’re getting plastic masquerading as leather. The same general rule applies to pocket knives. Although there are exceptions to the rule the less you pay the more likely the steel used in the blade is discount Chinese steel that may begin to corrode pretty quickly. The same can be said for handle materials. If you’re paying short money for a knife you have no reasonable expectation the handle is anything but plastic. Pay more and your handle material options may include titanium, bone or genuine hand-carved hardwood. If you want a handle that is waterproof then you’ll want to shy away from soft materials and stick to high grade stainless or titanium or one of the many composites out there.

Blade locks – Some ‘experts’ will advise you that locks are worthless and you should just train yourself to handle the knife properly so you don’t hurt yourself. It would certainly be nice if everyone were perfect and circumstances never took unexpected twists and turns that will make you extremely glad your knife had a locking mechanism, but that’s not the case. People aren’t perfect. Circumstances do change unexpectedly. And oftentimes people deploying a pocket knife are doing so under duress so they are not in complete command of their faculties and might exhibit tiny errors in technique or judgement that could cause the blade to retract unexpectedly and cause them serious injury. Or serious further injury depending on their circumstances. Look for a knife with a robust locking mechanism. Ideally one that can be slid into place quickly using your thumb. While there’s always a chance the lock may be stressed to the breaking point such occurrences are rare and in general you’ll often be glad the lock mechanism was engaged and you still have your fingers at the end of the day.

Carry options – For many people the pocket knife is something they carry about with them just in case they need it. It’s kind of a “better safe than sorry” thing. These people may be quite content with a small folding knife like the Buck knife profiled above that they can just slip into the pocket of their jeans and forget about unless a need arises. Others though, like electricians or other craftsmen will want their knife to be at the ready at all times and so for them it’s important that they pick a conveniently accessible place to carry their folding pocket knife and stick with it. That way they’ll develop muscle memory which will allow them to deploy the knife without even thinking about it. You may want to carry the knife in a sheath on your belt, but if you do, make sure you pick a sheath that’s well made and won’t impede your ability to access the knife quickly and easily. Many modern pocket knives come with clips built into the handle. This may in fact be all you need. Keep in mind though that if you store your knife on your belt or clipped to the waist of your pants where others can easily see it you may be inviting trouble should your work bring you into contact with unsavory types. It’s for just this reason that many police carry their knife clipped to the inside of their pants pocket.

Price – How much you’re willing to pay for your new knife will be up to you but remember that with pocket knives, as with most things in life, you pretty much get what you pay for. If your knife has a chance of being deployed in life or death situations than it makes zero sense to cut corners and try and save a few bucks. Instead, determine exactly what type of knife you’re going to need and then pay whatever it costs. If on the other hand you’re a hobbyist with no particular need to be carrying around a state of the art tactical knife, there’s no reason to spend your vacation money on one.

Brand – We’re now down to the point where about the only thing left to consider is the make or brand of the knife and the reputation of the manufacturer. Perhaps surprisingly this is an area where ‘knife guys’ tend to get a bit territorial. They believe in certain pocket knife brands and won’t entertain the notion that a company’s attractive knife may also in fact be an outstanding tactical knife. In general though if you stick with the better known makers and their well-known models you’re going to get a pretty good quality knife regardless of what the specialists say. Remember the manliest mens pocket knife on planet earth isn’t worth anything if the person that owns it carries it recklessly or doesn’t know how to effectively deploy it. That said, you should probably be wary of any model that advertises its heaviosity a bit too energetically. If you see a cheap knife with the words “Delta Force” or “SWAT” emblazoned on it you might want to give it a pass as they’re selling an image, not a knife.

Conclusion

The best modern folding pocket knives are a synthesis of quality materials, outstanding design and thoughtful engineering. They’ll be of valuable service whether you’re installing insulation in the attic, boning your latest catch, freeing the occupant of a car that’s been involved in an accident or splicing wires as you hang your new Tiffany pendant lamp over the kitchen table. The best pocket knife for the money will vary from person to person with myriad factors coming into play as we have discussed above. So don’t ever rush into purchasing a knife without first considering all the variables.