The oldest known folding knife that's been discovered dates between 600 and 500 BC, and is believed to be of Celtic origin, featuring an iron blade and a bone handle. (And no, it didn't have a liner lock.) Since those storied times, pocket knives of all flavors have undergone serious evolution; today's EDC-ready picks are constructed in innumerable variations of steel, titanium, aluminum, micarta and more. If you're looking for a new hobby or interest to occupy your free time, knife collecting is a rich ore to mine.
As yet, there's no technical term for knife collecting, but that doesn't make the pursuit any less serious. Peruse any knife forum or Reddit thread and you'll find strong and varying opinions on what makes a knife good, how to pick the knife for you and which brands to shop for. In the spirit of condensing the wide world of internet research, we've done it for you. What follows are the most popular knife brands, and a standout knife from each.
Editor's PickBenchmade Bugout Read More
Most Popular James Brand KnifeThe James Brand The Carter Read More
Most Popular Chris Reeve Folding KnifeChris Reeve Sebenza 31 Plain Drop Point Read More
Most Popular Kershaw Pocket KnifeKershaw Knockout Read More
Most Popular CRKT Pocket KnifeCRKT Pilar III Read More
What to look for in a pocket knife
More than anything, the most important factor in choosing the right pocket knife is all about design. It may sound superfluous compared to materials and cost, but at the end of the day, if you don't like the feel (and to a lesser extent, look) of your knife, you won't be as committed to using it. Because today's pocket knife market is saturated with an array of high-quality materials that are widely available, you don't necessarily have to shop by functionality or material anymore; the knife that catches your eye is the one you'll be most drawn to using, and thanks to modern abundance and manufacturing, it'll probably come in a version that uses the materials you're looking for.
How to care for your pocket knife
Regular maintenance is key here, especially if your pocket knife is going to be your EDC mainstay for the foreseeable future. You'll want to clean and service your knife often; this includes keeping the blade sharp, keeping the entire knife clean by carefully washing and drying it and making sure you keep it lubed and in proper working order.
Additional contributions by Sean Tirman.
If you're familiar with pocket knives, you'll know about Benchmade. Since 1987 the brand has cemented a reputation for itself in the industry thanks to a focus on quality, a dedication to using a wide variety of materials in its knives and its performance. Benchmade's own site says it's the "world leader in automatic knife manufacturing", but don't chalk this up to pure marketing fluff; plenty of other independent websites and forums espouse the brand's accessibility, quality and variety as well.
The Bugout is not only one of Benchmade's most popular knives, but it's also a top seller on BladeHQ, which sells a huge variety of EDC-ready blades. The reason for the Bugout's supremacy? It's just as quality as some of the brand's more premium knives but comes in at half the cost. It's constructed with a CPM S30V blade and polymer handle; this allows it to weigh in at less than two ounces, yet maintain all the performance needed for tough, daily jobs. If you're only going to use one knife, make it this one.
The James Brand
Modern Minimalism: TJB's self-described ethos about sums up its suite of EDC-ready knives and accessories, ranging from pocket knives to boxcutters, with plenty in between. The brand may not use the highest-end steel in the game, but its performance doesn't necessarily suffer as a result; sure, there are more capable knives for lower costs, but when it comes to The James Brand, when you buy one of its knives you're buying mostly beauty and (some) brawn, without breaking the bank.
Sure, the pocket clip can be a bit of a pain — but when your knife looks this good (and functions a cut above its competitors) — you'll give it a pass.
The pinnacle of quality for its time, Chris Reeve knives continue to demand respect in the knife world. Although innovation has shortened the distance between CRK and other companies like Benchmade and Spyderco, the high-quality build of Chris Reeves knives — as well as it customer service and optional "spa treatment" continue to set CRK apart from the crowd.
The Sebenza is a seriously nice tool: while The James Brand focuses more on image and presentation than performance, Chris Reeve has long been known to prioritize both, and the Sebenza is a demonstration of that commitment. It comes with one of the best warranties around, is able to be disassembled and reassembled and had beauty in simplicity: there aren't gimmicks or "special features" on this knife, and that's what makes it so appealing.
Kershaw is the champion of budget-friendly knives and is a great brand to get into for beginning collectors - consider its knives the intersection of affordability and quality. The brand is owned by KAI Group, whose roster also includes Zero Tolerance. Fans of Kershaw are quick to point out that the brand's use of aluminum and steel in its handles, instead of more premium materials like titanium and carbon fiber, helps keep costs down without sacrificing performance.
Kershaw makes a selection of its knives in its facility in Tualatin, Oregon, with the rest of its inventory coming from China.
The Knockout is lightweight but solidly built — an ideal combo when considering your next EDC pick. Featuring what it calls the "Sub-Frame Lock" — where the aluminum handle has been "knocked out" and replaced with an inset stainless steel plate — the Knockout is a strong, stable and slim knife ready for everyday use.
CRKT brands itself as a brand that focuses on innovation, integrity and design, but a quick trip down the rabbit holes of Reddit will paint a slightly different picture. The popular opinion on CRKT knives is that they're beaters of semi-cheap quality that benefit from licensing "some cool designs with some cool designers". According to one reviewer, CRKT's downfall is in its components; in their experience, the folding knives can't hold up to the task, but its fixed knives are somewhat better. It's worth noting that CRKT doesn't make junk knives; in fact, we've reviewed them in the past and been plenty happy with our experience. The bottom line with CRKT is that when you're buying one of its knives, you're buying budget components and budget build. And if you're looking for more reliability, steer clear of the folders and keep with the fixed blades.
The Pilar III is slightly heavier in hand than some of the other picks that grace this list, but it's hard-working: the G10 with stainless steel handle is durable and strong, and the high carbon stainless steel blade takes an edge with the best of them.
Arguably more popular for its multitools than its knives, Gerber still has a solid reputation for well-built and rust-resistant designs. Sitting in the middle of the pack, Gerber isn't as affordable as Kershaw, nor as premium as Benchmade; for anyone looking for a quality knife at a reasonable price, Gerber certainly fits the bill.
Gerber's EDC fave is one of its most premium. It's built with an aluminum handle and a CPM S30V blade and is one of the brand's most pocketable designs at 7.10 inches. It's not going to win performance awards against a Benchmade or Spyderco, but for the beginning enthusiast or outdoorsperson who is tough on their gear, this is a great knife to grab.
Detroit-based WESN is popular for its wide range of pocket knives as well as its successful Kickstarter campaigns. Reviewers across the Internet are quick to point out its impressive quality, precise design and higher-than-average price point. WESN's knives are great for minimalists and knife collectors alike.
One Reddit discussion about the origin of the knives manufacture (China) brings up one major consideration: if you're looking for Made in America knives for your collection, WESN won't fit the bill, but as one commenter points out: "I fully understand the 'buy American' thing and I'm a proponent! Having said that, if you've gotten into the knife collecting business for real, you are doing yourself a big disservice if you automatically discount offshore knives and specifically certain Chinese brands."
One of our editors waxed eloquently about the Allman, essentially abandoning all other knives in favor of it. That's due to a few key factors: the feel in hand, both in action and inert; the shape of the blade, which is stocky, curved and fun to use; and the variety of material and color combinations. At less than two hundred bucks, we'd say the Allman is well worth investing in.
Opinel knives could be considered basic, but for their very good quality. A long history lends authority and experience to its designs and has been around since 1890, clearly knows how to give consumers what they want. If you haven't used one yet, Opinels are great for survivalists — fans of charcuterie on the go. They do take two hands to open and close, which can be a negative for those looking for the quick action of a knife like Spyderco, but in terms of its overall quality and affordability, this factor is easy to overlook.
At less than twenty bucks (!!!) it's hard to ignore the Opinel No. 08, especially if your collection doesn't already include one. Built with XC90 Carbon steel and a wood handle and weighing in at 1.6 ounces, the No. 08 has been an icon since its introduction in the late 19th century and is simplicity, defined.
If you're in the market for a Swiss Army Knife, there's realistically only one brand to buy from for the best pick around: Victorinox. Developed in 1891, the original multitool boasts a strong fan following and industry dominance, thanks to a well-performing knife accompanied by a suite of useful, bite-sized tools.
Another iconic design, the Swiss Army Knife (commonly referred to as SAK by knife enthusiasts) is a performance-based pocket knife combined with a few useful tools — for reference, multitools like Leatherman are a selection of tools with a knife thrown in for good measure. Arguably Victorinox's most popular model, the SAK features a textured aluminum handle, a non-locking slip joint mechanism and at less than three inches long, fits a lot of performance into a tiny package.
Quality, durability, attractiveness. Steel nuts love Spyderco for its almost dizzying array of options and varieties.
For anyone interested in folding knife history, Spyderco was the first brand to come out with the pocket clip for its folding knife, back in the 80s. That same pioneering spirit continues in the brand today, manifesting in unique designs and plenty of material choices.
The name may be a little intimidating, but actually using the Paramilitary 2 is approachable and some might say, easy. The one-handed opening and closing mechanism makes it easy to use in the field, and the satin CPM-Cru-Wear steel blade, canvas micarta handle scales and four-way pocket clip continue the theme of functionality and ergonomic performance.
There are a lot of justifications you can make when buying your next EDC pocket knife, but when it comes to Microtech, things are pretty simple: if you want the beautiful, fun-to-play-with option, front that cash and buy one of these knives. It's great for easy-to-medium everyday tasks and given Microtech's smokin' aesthetics, we're betting you'll find more excuses than not to use the dang thing.
Fans of Microtech will tell you this is the best tanto blade you can buy, and we'd be hard-pressed to find a worthy rebuttal. The Ultratech Tanto OTF features a reliable design, is easy to sharpen and can handle just about as much abuse as any pocket knife out there. Sure, regular maintenance is required if you want yours to last 20 years or more, but the same could be said of any knife you chose: treat it with care, and it'll last.
Along with Benchmade and Spyderco, Zero Tolerance is one of the "big three" in mid-to-high-end knives; it's the more premium sibling to Kershaw and has made a name for itself in a relatively short window of time. Founded in 2006 with a focus on meeting the needs of professionals in the military and law enforcement, in the last 16 years the brand has amassed a following thanks to its use of high-performance materials and made-in-the-USA craftsmanship.
There are plenty of Zero Tolerance knives to get excited about, but we've decided to highlight the 0450 for a few reasons: its popularity with consumers, who value it for its ability to make a premium build relatively affordable; because it's the compact version of the award-winning 0454 Zero Tolerance Folder; and because of its bevy of useful features. The o450 comes stock with a two-tone, satin-finished and stonewashed drop point blade made from CPM S35VN, a titanium handle and frame lock and a reversible, tip-up pocket clip. For knife enthusiasts looking for something a little outside the box, you can't go wrong with this choice.