Pocket Knife Buying Guide
To say pocket knives are among the most useful tools known to mankind is no exaggeration. For millions of years, they've helped us cut food, save people from burning vehicles, defend against crimes, hunt for dinner, slice open boxes and accomplish countless other tasks—from the mundane to the life changing.
Intro: Why Picking the Perfect Pocket Knife is So Damn Hard!
So why is picking the perfect pocket knife so damn hard? Since pocket knives have been around for so many centuries, they've evolved and branched out into many different styles, leaving you with thousands of models to choose from. Choices are a good thing, but they can also make it overwhelming.
There are clip-point blades, tanto blades and drop-point blades, stainless-steel blades and carbon-steel blades, serrated blades and non-serrated blades, not to mention Swiss Army knives with enough tools and attachments to aid your escape from a maximum security prison.
So, what's a knife lover to do?
Well, aside from buying every knife you see (not a bad idea if you have the dough), the best approach to finding the right pocket knife is to know a ton about them. Since you don't have time to do that research, we did it for you.
The eleven parts of this guide will teach you every aspect of the pocket knife and help you figure out what works best for you.
Table Of Contents
Part 1: Deciding on the Number of Blades
Part 3: Choosing the Blade Length
Part 4: Price Considerations
Part 5: Blade Types and Ideal Uses
Part 6: Choosing the Right Blade Steel
Part 7: Handle Materials
Part 8: Opening Mechanisms
Part 9: Locking Mechanisms
Part 10: Popular Brands
Part 11: Traditional Pocket Knife Models
Deciding on the Number of Blades
When it comes to pocket knives, less is more, except for sometimes when more is more and other times when it really doesn't matter. Now that you're thoroughly confused, let's break down the differences between single-blade knives, multi-blade knives and multi-tools.
Single-Blade Pocket Knives
Single-blade pocket knives come in many shapes and sizes, but their best qualities are their simplicity and size. Unlike multi-blade pocket knives, single-blade folders focus solely on the design of one larger blade. These knives usually have locking mechanisms that make them stronger and sturdier for more demanding work. They can also have spring-loaded opening mechanisms, allowing them to pop open at a second's notice.
Of course, the disadvantage of a single blade is its lack of variety. These knives are perfect if you're looking for a strong all-purpose knife, but if you're in need of a knife that can saw through wood in one moment and whittle in the next, you're out of luck.
Multi-Blade Pocket Knives
Having multiple blades enables you to carry one pocket knife that can do the job of two or three.
Multi-blade pocket knives generally have two, three or four blades. Two-blade models tend to be very traditional and feature a combination of spey, sheepsfoot, pen or drop point blades.
However, three or four-blade models give you the option of having several blade types at your dispense. You never know when you'll need to carve a piece of wood in one instance and skin a fur-bearing animal in the next. Even though multi-blade models give you a variety, you won't get as much strength or durability as a pocket knife with one blade. It's a trade-off you'll have to consider when deciding which type of knife to buy.
Swiss Army Knives & Multi-tools
Sometimes you need a pocket knife with more than just blades. Saws, toothpicks, tweezers, can openers, nail files, scissors, corkscrews and magnifying glasses are all common features of Swiss Army knives and other multi-tools, which are the most multi-dimensional pocket knives on the market.
The Swiss Army knife was originally created to meet the demand of soldiers in the field who would need to perform a number of tasks a single blade couldn't always handle. Since that original design, Swiss Army knives and multi-tools in general have only become more useful and reliable.
Today, these knives come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from three attachments on basic models to the 87-tool "Giant Swiss Army knife," which was created in 2006. Other multi-tools—such as Leathermans—pack the same punch, though they're usually a bit heftier to carry.
Multi-tools are best suited for the jack-of-all-trades who finds himself needing a whole range of tools within arm's reach at all times.
Pocket Knife Edges: Fully Serrated, Partially Serrated or Plain
You can't buy a pocket knife without pondering the great serrated vs. plain edge debate. What makes this decision even more difficult is that most models come with the option of plain, partially serrated and sometimes even fully serrated blades. To help you parse through the info and figure out which edge suits your needs, we've laid out the pros and cons of each.
For centuries, there was only one type of edge: the plain edge. It wasn't until fairly recently that serrated edges began to grow in popularity. To really understand the basic difference between the two, we first have to look at the types of cuts a knife can make. The first is a push cut. This is done when you push a knife through something, like shaving or peeling an apple. The second is the pull cut. These are cuts that require you to pull the knife across something in order to cut it, like cutting rope or slicing a piece of bread.
Advantages: The general consensus is that having a pocket knife with a plain edge is better at performing push cuts. Along the same lines, the single sharp edge allows you to have better control, more accuracy and cleaner cuts. A separate advantage is that the plain edges are significantly easier to sharpen and don't require you to send it back to the factory for sharpening.
Disadvantages: One of its major downsides is its inability to saw and perform pull cuts. Similar to how you can't cut a loaf of bread with a plain edge knife, you can't slice objects that require sawing motions very efficiently.
Recommended Uses: If you find yourself performing push cuts throughout the day, a plain edge will suit you well. Although it doesn't perform well on wood or rope, it will excel at things like shaving and skinning animals.
Fully Serrated Edge
Advantages: The disadvantages of the plain edge are the advantages of the fully serrated edge. It does a better job with cutting tougher materials. The reason for this is that additional strength comes from the higher pressure per area due to the serrations. Serrations also tend to be thinner, which allows them to cut better than plain edge knives.
Disadvantages: Serrated blades, while better at cutting hard materials, are much clumsier than plain blades. You would, for example, not want a doctor to perform surgery with a serrated blade unless you want jagged punctive cuts in your vital organs. Serrations are also significantly more difficult to sharpen. In most cases, if you to retain the original blade, you would need to send it back to the factory for sharpening. Alternatively, you can follow our guide to sharpening a serrated blade.
Recommended Uses: When you take stock of your everyday tasks and notice there's a lot of hard cutting and sawing, a serrated edge is your best bet. Although it has some limitations, a fully serrated blade is useful in specific situations.
Partially Serrated Edge (Combo Edge)
Advantages: A partially serrated edge is a mixture of both edge types and has overtaken the fully serrated edge in popularity. The combo edge is more popular because it allows you to use part of the knife for push cuts and the other part for rigorous cutting.
Disadvantages: The combo edge has some of the same disadvantages of a serrated edge, such as sharpening difficulties. However, other aspects, like its clumsiness, are fixed by the plain part of the knife. Another thing to consider is the placement of the serrations on the blade because they aren't always useful for certain tasks.
Recommended Uses: If you're looking for the best of both worlds, a partially serrated edge is the way to go. It combats some of the negatives of serrated edges but allows you to keep the sawing ability on your knife.
Choosing Blade Length
When browsing through pocket knives, you'll see a wide range of blade lengths—from the whopping 7.5-inch blade on the Cold Steel Espada XL to small 2-inch blades found on many multi-tools. Even though it may only be a difference of a few inches, the size of your blade can make a huge difference.
Like all the other considerations that go into purchasing a pocket knife, this is usually a matter of preference. Still, we break down some of the pros and cons of the various blade lengths below.
Small blades (under 2.75 inches)
Advantages: It may seem more advantageous to get a larger pocket knife, but knives with blades 2.75 inches and shorter have a number of benefits. The first, and oftentimes most important, asset is that pocket knives with small blades are usually legal everywhere. Many knife laws set the acceptable length arbitrarily below 2.75 inches, so having one of these smaller knives will ensure you're compliant with almost all knife laws.
Smaller blades also have the advantage of being, well, small. Their size allows for an easy carry that's not as burdensome as larger knives.
Disadvantages: The obvious downside of small blades is that they aren't as strong or versatile as larger blades. Due to their size, they are often slipjoint blades, meaning they won't lock into place and are prone to failure during extreme use.
Recommended Uses: These are good for light everyday carry when you only use the knife for basic tasks around the house like cutting string or opening small boxes.
Medium blades (2.75-4 inches)
Advantages: When we put together our best pocket knives guide, every knife fell into this range of blade length. Blades between 2.75 and 4 inches have the benefit of being small enough to be mobile but large enough to handle a wider range of tasks. The blades at this length also have various locking mechanisms that allow you to push it during strenuous tasks.
Disadvantages: There aren't too many disadvantages of medium-sized blades, but some local knife laws may ban knives larger than 2.75 inches, so it's important to be on top of laws in your area.
Recommended Uses: This is the sweet spot of blade lengths for pocket knives. Medium blades are ideal for pretty much any task, from small things to the heavy duty.
Large blades (over 4 inches)
Advantages: Pocket knife with blades larger than 4 inches have many of the advantages of larger fixed blade knives but are much easier to carry discreetly. These knives, like the Cold Steel Espada, are focused mainly on self-defense and are more intimidating than small blades.
Disadvantages: Large blades tend to be heavier, making carrying them more burdensome. The blades also make the knife bulkier and less discreet. In some locales, these knives may not meet certain requirements for the law.
Recommended Uses: A large blade is not always practical on an everyday carry knife. These are often seen as novelty knives for display purposes but can also be used for self-defense. It's important to look at your local laws when carrying a knife with a blade larger than 4 inches.
Pocket Knife Price Ranges
At this point, there's likely one important consideration at the top of your mind: price. The amount of money you're comfortable spending on a knife is a personal choice, but there are five general price ranges to consider. To be clear, this focuses solely on factory knives, so your search for custom folders may yield different price ranges.
This price range encompasses what are fondly described as economical knives. Although the knives are still completely functional, there a few downsides. The selection may be limiting and the knives often lack some of the flourishes you might want. Still, for less than $30, you can get a working knife that gets the job done. Some of the pocket knives in this price range include the Hallmark Lockback, Schrade Old Timer and most knives from Fury Cutlery.
This is the sweet spot for most people who need a knife for basic everyday tasks. You can get nearly anything you want within this price range. When assessing the most highly rated knives for our best pocket knives guide, the majority fell into this price point. These knives are usually workhorses but won't put a huge dent in your wallet in case you need to replace one after excessive use. You can get the Spyderco Tenacious, SOG Flash II, Kershaw Leek and others for this price.
Pocket knives in this price range are usually higher end models made with better materials than the previous category. The materials are improved and the flourishes tend to shine more. These models include the Victorinox SwissChamp, Kershaw Blur, Spyderco Endura and more.
Once you get above $100, you start to see higher quality materials and more flourishes. For example, the Boker Cronidur features Cronidur steel and a handle made of Grenadill. In this price range, you can even find custom-quality folders in many Emerson Knives, including the popular Mini CQC-7.
$250 and up
There is a huge swath of knives that fall under this category, which is considered the premium knife range. Pocket knives with damascus steel can exceed $450, but the finishes are works of art. The true value of knives in this range is often seen in the premium steel and unique handle material, such as the Boker Damascus folder with a 3,000 year old oak handle. Other knives in this range are collector's items, like the SOG Gunny Folder and the Buck Knives 336 Painted Pony Paradigm.
Blade Types & Ideal Uses
All blades are not created equal, especially when it comes to pocket knives. Whether you're purchasing a single-blade pocket knife or a multi-blade model, it's important that you know the blade types in your knife and what their optimal uses are. Here's a quick and easy guide.
The clip point is one of the most popular blades in circulation today. The back (unsharpened) edge of a clip point has a concave shape, designed to make the tip sharper. This creates a "cut out" area that can be straight or curved.
Ideal Use: Clip-point blades are great for everyday needs, but can also be used for hunting. Since clip points have a narrow point, it's better for piercing and the deep belly makes it optimal for slicing.
The drop point is another great all-purpose blade. The dull section of the drop-point blade runs straight from the handle, eventually sloping down gently to meet the sharpened edge and forming the point.
Drop-point blades are usually found on hunting or survival knives, but they can also be found on some larger models of Swiss Army knives.
Ideal Use: Drop points are ideal for skinning and piercing, because they have a large belly and a controllable point that makes it easier to avoid nicking internal organs.
The straight-back blade is also referred to as a normal blade because it's a very traditional blade shape. The front of the knife has a curved edge while the back has a straight, dull back that allows for additional pressure.
Ideal Use: The normal blade is an all-purpose knife great for chopping and slicing, which is why it's a design you often find on kitchen knives.
A needle-point blade is symmetrical and sharply tapers into a point. The thin point is great for piercing objects, but it's very vulnerable and can break pretty easily. Needle-point blades have two sharp edges, but the lack of belly makes it difficult to use for slicing. Needle points are much less common on folding knives, but they can be found on certain knives like stilettos.
Ideal Use: The specialty of the needle point is piercing, so it's not good for much but it can be a great asset for self-defense.
On a spear-point blade, both edges rise and fall equally to create a point that lines up perfectly with the center of the blade. Spear-point blades have an extremely sharp point that is good for piercing, though only if both edges are sharpened.
Spear-point blades can be single or double-edged. They do have a small belly, but aren't nearly as well suited for slicing as drop-point or clip-point blades.
Ideal Use: The spear point is best with piercing, but unlike the needle point, it has a belly that allows for some slicing.
The tanto point, which is also sometimes called the chisel point because of its resemblance to a chisel, is a well-liked point because of its unique look and strength. A tanto has a high point with a flat grind but no belly.
Ideal Use: The tanto point is not an all-purpose blade but its design does make it great for push cuts and piercing tougher materials.
If you're clumsy with a knife, do yourself a favor and get a sheepsfoot blade. Though ideal for cutting and slicing because of its flat cutting edge, a sheepsfoot blade has a dull point that makes it difficult—though not impossible—to injure yourself.
Ideal Use: Sheepsfoot knives are popular among emergency responders, as they allow them to slice away at seatbelts and other restraints without stabbing the victim by accident. They were originally made to trim a sheep's foot, which also makes them good for whittling.
A trailing-point blade has a back that curves upward to make a deep belly perfect for slicing. This design is fairly lightweight, but the point is very weak.
Ideal Use: The large cutting area makes the trailing point ideal for skinning and slicing.
This tiny blade is often found on Swiss Army knives. The dull and sharp sides of the blade slope at the same degree, making it appear similar to a spear point.
Ideal Use: These knives were previously used for sharpening a quill in order to make writing instruments. Though not exceptionally sharp, a pen blade is a great tool to have in your pocket and is perfect for small tasks.
The wharncliffe is nearly identical to the sheepsfoot except for a few minor differences. First, the back of the blade starts to curve closer to the handle for a gradual curve. These blades are also significantly thicker than you'd normally see on a blade this size.
Ideal Use: Perfect for things like carving wood and cutting ability, the wharncliffe is a great all-around blade.
The spey-point blade gets its name from having the dubious honor of once being used to spey livestock. The blade has a mostly straight edge that curves upward and a straight back with a short flat edge that runs to the tip.
Ideal Use: Spey-point blades are often found on knives with multiple blades and are great for skinning fur-bearing animals.
The hawkbill is a very distinctive blade type that resembles the curved shape of a hawks bill. It has a concave cutting edge and the spine of the blade is typically dull.
Ideal Use: The shape of the blade is limiting so it isnt great for everyday carry, but it excels at the jobs its good at, such as opening boxes, stripping wires, cutting cord and more.
Other Blade Shapes
The previous blade shapes are the most common ones that you'll see, but there are also an array of modified versions and completely original designs found in only a few knives. For example, Spyderco has several unique shapes like the leaf-shaped blade not found in this guide. By using the outline of the shapes above, you can figure out what the ideal use of any blade type would be.
Choosing a Folding Knife Blade Steel
Blade steel is one of the most important aspects of a knife, but it's also a complicated subject filled with jargon. You can read thousand-page books on the subject and still lack knowledge. To help parse the information surrounding blade steel, we reached out to Zvi who runs the great site zknives.com.
This next section barely scratches the surface of choosing a blade steel for a pocket knife and we highly recommend checking out the full guide that some of the info is taken from: A Guide to Pocket Knife Blade Steel.
The first version of this guide broke down the steels between stainless and carbon steels (as do most sites), but the reality is that neither term is really correct. All steels contain carbon and not all stainless steels are truly stainless.
So, Zvi broke it down into five very general aspects to consider when selecting a blade steel.
Intended Use: As with choosing any aspect of a pocket knife, you should have a general idea of how you will use the knife. For example, if you're cutting abrasive materials like rope or cardboard, you might want to consider a more wear-resistant alloy.
Blade Geometry: The most important aspect of blade geometry is thickness. Thinner blades sacrifice some strength, but you can make that up in the type of steel the blade is made out of.
Edge Geometry: This concerns edge configurations like the V grind or chisel grind. Certain alloys work better at certain angles.
Corrosion Resistance: If neglected, nearly all stainless steels can rust, but stain-resistant steels can be a good option if you expect humid or aggressive environments for your knife.
Carbon and Tool Steels: If you're not worried about corrosion resistance, there are a lot of great alloys to choose from.
If you're just looking for entry-level alloys with solid performance for mundane EDC uses you can opt for 420HC, 440C, 8Cr13MoV, 8Cr17, 12C27 and many others. After that, it only gets better with high end alloys like ZDP-189, M390, K390, K294, Aogami and Shirogami.
Even though blade steel is really important, it's even more important to keep it maintained. A well-sharpened blade made from low-quality steel will outperform the finest steel that isn't properly kept.
You'll find a comprehensive steel reference chart as well as the effects of chemical elements at zknives.com.
Pocket Knife Handle Materials
A high-quality blade handle is important because it ensures your grip stays tight on the pocket knife. Each material has its own advantage in terms of performance and comfort, but it can also be a matter of aesthetics and personal preferences that dictate what you decide on. Here's a brief breakdown of the most common type of handle materials and their characteristics.
Lightweight and often coated with a protective film, aluminum is frequently used in newer knives. It provides excellent grip and is especially suitable for knives that will be used in harsh weather conditions.
This synthetic plastic is made from cellulose nitrate and is known for its ability to morph into any color of the rainbow. Celluloid can also be fabricated to resemble most natural materials, such as ivory, horn, stag, pearl, amber, agate, tortoise shell and wood.
Another popular type of pocket knife handle, bone comes in a number of varieties, such as giraffe bone, jigged bone (often called stag), scored bone and smooth white bone.
Wood handles come in numerous forms. Stabilized woods are soft woods, like buckeye and burl, which must go through a stabilization process to make them hard enough to function as knife handles. Other woods that are commonly used for knife handles are blackwood, box, elder, bubinga, curly maple, koa, rosewood, snakewood and thuyas.
An extremely durable material, G10 is made of fiberglass, which is soaked in resin and compressed before being baked. G10 is strong, but also lightweight. It is water-resistant and handles well in inclement weather. For this reason, G10 is often used for tactical and survival knives. It is most commonly black, but can have other shades as well.
Micarta is also known for its toughness, though it is not quite as hard as G10. A composite constructed from cloth or paper and phenolic resin, Micarta is especially popular in the plastic industry. Canvas micarta is frequently used in knife handles. It comes in either yellow or tan, though after it ages it will turn red/brown.
Titanium handles are corrosion resistant, highly durable and lightweight. These are mostly found on newer pocket knives, and despite their strength and performance, titanium handles are sometimes perceived as cold and impersonal.
Zytel is essentially unbreakable. Developed by Du Pont, Zytel is thermoplastic that's resistant to impact and abrasion. Its low cost and durability has made Zytel a popular handle material. Although it has some very slight texture, Zytel is often augmented by manufacturers to create a better grip.
The blade doesn't have to be the only thing on your knife made of steel. Handles made from stainless steel have some of the benefits as blades made from stainless steel. The material is corrosion-resistant and very durable. It can be a bit heavier and has a lower threshold to withstand tension than other metals like titanium. Despite unifying the look of a knife, some people find the look cold.
Delrin is another thermoplastic from Du Pont. The material feels like a heavy, dense plastic that's very smooth. Its softer than some of the other materials, so it will occasionally get scratches and scuffs, but it's very durable.
Stag handles, which are made out of deer antlers that have naturally fallen off, have a rough texture that allows for a stronger grip. One of the major downsides of stag is its cost, which can be exorbitant.
The prevalence of rubber in many other products gives rubber handles on pocket knives an instantly familiar feel and texture. Similar to Kraton, the material is usually used as an inlay to other materials but it can also be wrapped around the frame for a full rubber handle. Although it has a nice grip, rubber is not as durable as other synthetic materials.
Mother of Pearl
Mother of Pearl is a composite material made by mollusks. Basically, it's what makes up the outer layer of pearls and is occasionally used in premium knives. It has a white iridescent appearance and is known as a long-lasting material.
Another aspect of the pocket knife you need to consider is the opening mechanism. The speed and comfort with which you engage your knife can be the difference between life and death but also a matter of convenience when doing everyday tasks. Here are the three general categories to choose from.
For most of the centuries pocket knives have been around, there's only been one way to open your knife: with your hands. The hand is a very useful tool (almost matched by the knife) and it was the only way to engage the knife. There are actually a few methods of manual opening. One of the classics is the nail nick. You can normally find these on traditional pocket knives and Swiss Army knives. These are little grooves in the blade that allow your nail to grab the blade and open up.
The other method is the thumb stud. This is typically a protrusion in the blade that allows you to open the knife with just your thumb, allowing you to use one hand. Spyderco has a variation of this with the round hole that acts as an inverse of the thumb stud.
Switchblade or Automatic
The switchblade, which automatically engages with the push of a button or switch, was outlawed in the United States in 1958 because of its perceived danger toward society. Since then, states have slowly been legalizing switchblades, whether outright or with some restrictions. The federal law also has some exemptions that allow use of switchblades for law enforcement, military and those with one arm. Before buying and carrying a switchblade, it's important to research your local knife laws and make sure you are in accordance with the law.
Note: We do not sell switchblade or automatic knives.
The assisted opener is a relatively new addition to the realm of knives, but it's quickly become a very popular mechanism on knives. First built in 1995 by Blackie Collins, an assisted-opening knife has an internal device that engages the blade once a certain amount of pressure is applied to the knife. The key difference between an assisted opener and a switchblade is that a switchblade has a bias toward being open while an assisted opener requires force to be opened.
For a more nuanced description of difference, read our article on assisted openers and switchblades.
Pocket Knife Locking Mechanisms
What's a pocket-knife lock? It's the mechanism that keeps the blade open and prevents it from snapping down onto your fingers accidentally. Pocket knives rely on several primary lock types. Without further ado, here they are:
The liner lock is the peanut butter and jelly of the pocket-knife world. There's nothing spectacular about it, but it gets the job done.
The liner lock works with one section of the liner angled toward the inside of knife. From here, the liner is only able to go back to its old position with manual force, thereby locking it into place.
Meanwhile, the tail of the liner lock is cut to engage the bottom of the blade under the pivot. If the user wants to disengage the lock, he has to manually move the liner to the side away from the blade bottom.
A slipjoint is commonly found on traditional pocket knives but it doesn't actually lock the blade in place. Instead, the blade is held in place by tension from a spring or flat bar. Once enough pressure is applied against the blade, it can move back to the closed position. Slipjoint knives aren't designed for heavy duty work but for light, everyday tasks.
The back lock is one of the most basic and earliest used pocket-knife locks. It works when a locking arm, which sits along the handle spine, is molded with a hook that fits into a notch on the back of the blade behind the pivot.
The hook is dragged by tension from the back spring into the notch, locking the knife with a snap.
In exhibitions by the knife company Cold Steel, mid locks have refused to buckle under hundreds of pounds of pressure, impressing many knife owners. Mid locks resemble back locks, except for the fact that the release mechanism is in the middle of the handle spine as opposed to near the butt end of the knife.
A frame lock works by utilizing the handle to assist in folding the knife. The frame lock is positioned with the liner inward and the tip engaging the bottom of the blade. It's released by applying pressure to the frame; when opened, the pressure on the lock forces it to snap open across the blade.
Ring locks are cheap, long lasting and easy to use. These locks work when the owner turns a ring wrapped around the pivot of the knife to a position where a break in the ring allows the blade to open. After the blade is open, the ring must be turned again, so that the space through which the blade was opened is blocked. These are most commonly found in Opinel pocket knives.
A lever lock is locked by a pin near the pivot bolster, which is inserted into a hole drilled in the base of the blade. When the pin is through the hole, the blade is locked either open or closed. Lever locks are often used on automatic knives, such as switchblades.
Behind every great knife is a great brand. When you see certain logos on a pocket knife, you know exactly what you're getting because many brands have built up solid reputations over the years by making quality knives and keeping customers happy. Here's a list of some of the most popular knife brands, a little background and a few of their top models.
Victorinox is one of the most popular knife brands in the world based solely on the sale of one of the most versatile tools ever: the Swiss Army knife. The company lays claim to the title of the original Swiss Army knife maker and has since become the only official supplier of Swiss Army knives after acquiring rival Wenger in 2005.
Buck's knives are so popular that its name is now used to describe lockback folding knives from any brand. Since Buck was founded in 1902, the company has grown exponentially, releasing a number of different models and designs that have set standards. You could read more in our article on the history of Buck knives.
It's not surprising that Kershaw is one of the most popular and respected brands. Kershaw knives, along with the other brands of Kai USA Ltd, often garner awards in the knife industry, including several Knife of the Year nods at the BLADE show. Although it's only been around since 1974, Kershaw has a solid track record of being innovative and focusing on quality.
After more than 100 years and a number of iterations, Schrade continues to be a popular brand of knives. Schrade products are among our best-selling knives at Knife Depot. Currently under Taylor Brands along with Old Timer and Smith & Wesson knives, Schrade has really started to shine through again with its new line of products.
The origin story of Boker stretches way back into the 1700s when a German tool maker began developing the skills he needed to make knives. Boker, which was officially founded in 1839, has grown and branched out into five different sub-brands, including Magnum by Boker, Boker Plus, Tree Brand and more. But one thing has stayed consistent over the nearly two centuries it's been around: the quality of the knives.
Some of the best-selling pocket knives from "Tree Brand" Boker, which is the original brand, on Knife Depot are the Boker Trapper, Boker Gentleman's Lockback Knife and Boker Beer Barrel Copperhead Pocket Knife.
There's no denying Gerber is one of the most popular brands out there. Gerber Legendary Blades was founded in Oregon in 1939 and created a big following with its boot knives and fighting knives. Still, its pocket knives are held in high regards by members of the knife community.
The unique designs and blade shapes of Spyderco knives give them the reputation of being futuristic. Fans of Spyderco knives are extremely loyal and passionate—for good reason too. Spyderco has a proven track record of being innovative and not afraid to try new things, leading to developing dozens of new blade materials.
SOG Specialty Knives are a relatively new brand, having only been founded in 1986. The company made its name reproducing a specific type of knife used in the Vietnam (which was called a SOG). Since then, the company SOG has branched out into making a variety of tactical pocket knives for military personnel and casual users.
W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co., the long and official name, has been making knives for more than 110 years and have been in the hands of WWI soldiers and astronauts. Although the brand can easily put its feet up and take it easy, Case does not rest on its laurels. The company continues to be innovative by designing award-winning knives. To get a better idea of just how beloved and respected Case knives are, many people collect various models as a hobby.
What helps Cold Steel knives stand out from the rest is the sharpness and durability of their blades. When Cold Steel popped up on the knife scene in 1980, it popularized the use of the tanto blade type and it's since partnered with a Who's Who of knife makers.
Founded in 1994, Columbia River Knife & Tool is the newest brand on this list, but there's a reason it's become so popular. CRKT owns 15 patents and patent pendings, which points to their passion for innovation. A few of their breakthroughs include assisted-opening mechanisms, locking mechanisms and a new type of serration.
When Benchmade originally opened shop in 1988, the company primarily made Bali-Song knives. Not long after that, Benchmade quickly expanded to include more production machines and a more robust product line. Although the company is still fairly new, Benchmade knives are already well-respected and highly sought after.
Fallkniven (which is pronounced Fell-elk-knee-ven) is probably best known for durable fixed blade knives, but Fallkniven actually translates roughly to 'I want that folding knife' in Swedish. Like its fixed blades, the folders feature premium steels and high-quality materials. This means the prices tend to be in the premium price range.
Al Mar Knives
Widely considered on par with custom knives, Al Mar Knives are hand-finished and hand-sharpened by expert craftsman. Many of the knives are made in Japan and feature unique materials like Mother of Pearl and quality steels.
In 1996, custom knifemaker Ernest Emerson founded Emerson Knives Inc. with his wife, Mary. He established Emerson Knives Inc. to mass-produce some of his most respected knives. Some of Emerson's custom folders can sell upwards of $10,000, so it's no surprise that these are premium folders.
Chris Reeve Knives
To many, the Sebenza from Chris Reeve Knives (CRK) is considered the gold standard for pocket knives and for good reason. CRK puts a lot of time and thought into every single knife. Since not many knives are released each year, there is typically a backlog of a few months and most of the products sell at premium prices.
Traditional Pocket Knife Models
Long before modern pocket knives became popular, traditional slipjoint knives were the most ubiquitous knives on the market. In fact, many countries around the world still prefer slipjoint knives over other types because certain laws prohibit knives that lock.
Even though many pocket knives in the United States now have locking mechanisms, the US once produced a massive array of slipjoint knives, each with their own style and advantages. If you're looking for a very traditional folding knife for smaller tasks, these are some of the most common models out there.
The Barlow knife was especially popular with farmers in the early 20th century; it was also the favorite blade of author Mark Twain. A Barlow knife typically has two blades and a long bolster. The handle is long and slender and can be made with a variety of materials; expensive Barlow knives often have handles made of elaborately carved ivory.
The congress knife has a convex front with either a straight or concave back and usually four blades. The blade combinations vary from knife to knife, but one common combination in congress knives is a spear point, coping, sheepsfoot and pen blade.
Canoe knives get their names, predictably, from the fact that they resemble canoes that were used by Native Americans. A canoe knife is equipped with either two spear-point blades or one spear-point blade and one pen blade.
Elephant's Toenail Knife
An elephant's toenail is one of the widest of the slipjoints. The knife, which resembles the shape of an elephant's toenail, usually contains two exceptionally wide blades, often a spear and pen blade.
The stockman knife is a stellar blade for everyday use, as it is lightweight and has three different blades, typically clip, spey and sheepsfoot blades. The body of a stockman's knife is usually straight, although occasionally it may come in either a serpentine or sowbelly shape.
The trapper is a larger knife that typically has a clip and spey blade that open on the same end. The knife gets its name from the trapping and skinning blades on the knife and was a must-have for anyone trapping small game. The trapper knife is a great all-purpose knife with a nice history.
Peanut knives are so called because of their resemblance to the legumes. The knife is very petite with a thin oval shape. It has a clip-point blade and occasionally has a second blade, usually a pen or spey. Both of the blades on this general purpose knife open on the same side.
Conclusion: Pick Your Knife
If you've made it this far, you've learned virtually everything—if not more—that you need to know to purchase a top-quality pocket knife. Now it's time to put that knowledge to use and get out there to find your perfect pocket knife.
The best place to start is by browsing our massive pocket knife selection and picking through the designs that will best fit your needs.
If you'd like some recommendations on the best pocket knives, take a look at our best pocket knives guide.