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Whether you’re looking for a pocket knife to help you when you’re in the great outdoors or one for those little uses that seem to pop up every day (opening Amazon packages, stripping a wire, sharpening a pencil — the list goes on), there are a ton of options to choose from. And no, they’re not all by a brand called “Swiss Army” — plenty of manufacturers now make a huge variety of options that come with the quality you came to expect from the fabled Swiss Victorinox.
Of course, pocket knives are a highly personal choice, even if this is just for your city everyday carry versus a rugged machine for on the trail: You might be someone who only plans to use this in an emergency — or, just as likely, this might just be a staple that you rely on every day for life’s little obstacles. Of course, it depends on how fancy you want to get — you can spend $25 on one just as easily as you can spend $100 more, though each has its own purpose. We’ve rounded up the best pocket knives out there, from ones with a vintage look to a Japanese knife that’s as beautiful to look at as it is to use. Read on for our top picks.
Best Overall: Benchmade Crooked River 15080
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Everyone wants something different from their pocket knife, so there’s no true one-size-fits-all out there. But if there’s something that hits all the bases, and hits all of them well, in a mild-mannered fashion that’s not too rugged but not too urbane, this is the knife you want. Benchmade is known for design and for quality, and it delivers on both fronts: The long blade is razor-sharp and built to last, made from 3.15mm-thin stainless, finished off with a high grind and two-tone satin finish. Whether you choose the wood or gray handle, there’s no question that it’s a beautiful tool. The handle is ergonomic to a fault, directing the 5.41-ounce heft of the knife to sit comfortably where it ought to for maximum leverage. And did we mention this knife is built for precision? It takes top ranking in that alone.
Best Budget: CRKT Drifter
For the best everyday knife — the one that will do it all, and do all of it well — the CRKT Drifter can’t be beat. It measures up to the competition with a standard 3-inch blade that you can open with one hand. And when we say “open,” we mean open like butter (it’s great for lefties or righties too, thanks to the ambidextrous thumb stud). As reviewers have pointed out in the past, there’s not a single standout feature, but when it comes to the little things that make a knife great, it excels at each. The handle is ergonomic no matter your hand size, with extra gripability built in via a textured design. We love the addition of a partially serrated blade toward the handle, which gives it a little extra oomph for more challenging tasks. Plus, it clocks in at the very wallet-friendly price of $25, making this great value all around.
Best Custom: Kizer Gemini by Ray Laconico
This custom tool from knifemaker Ray Laconico’s collaboration with Kizer is perfect for anyone looking for a piece of eye candy in their everyday carry, but it goes beyond looks with its incredibly smooth flipper open (almost like it’s an assisted-open) and 3.125-inch, flat-ground, stonewashed S35VN blade, with a beautiful drop-point shape. Speaking of blades, Kizer is known for theirs: Made from both Japanese and American raw materials, they’re among the best to come out of China, and it shows (we also love it how doesn’t wobble in the handle). The matte silver titanium handle and blue detailing make this knife a real showstopper — and lend it exceptional balance in the hand. It doesn’t come out of the box as sharp as some of the others on this list, but it doesn’t take much to get it shaving sharp. Those who use it enthusiastically point out that it’s great for everything from box-cutting to dressing deer.
Best Vintage-Look: Case Mini Copperlock Knife
For a real vintage look with thoroughly modern quality, Case’s Amber Bone mini Copperlock Knife brings a lot to the table in a relatively small package. You can choose from a huge variety of handles on Amazon, from pricey but gorgeous Abalone to a more inexpensive Amber Bone, but all of them give this pocket knife a heaping helping of vintage-style charm. The rest of the knife doesn’t disappoint, with a Tru-Sharp surgical stainless steel blade with a locking clip — or you can choose Chrome Vanadium folding blades with either bone or synthetic handles. At 3.63 inches closed and a slight 2 ounces, it’s a great everyday carry knife for around the house or for projects outdoors. Quality is at the heart of these knives: Each goes through a minimum of 160 manufacturing processes to be produced and have been made in the U.S.A. since 1889 — meaning that you’ll be the next owner in what’s become an American heritage tradition.
Best Spring-Assisted: Benchmade Mini-Barrage 525
If you’ve decided to just all-out go for an assisted-opening pocket knife, this is the one to drop some cash on. And that you will—this isn’t a small price tag—but you’ll have it for years, thanks to its blade quality. Although the blade lock mechanism takes some getting used to, the benefits of this knife outweigh that little imperfection. It’s engineered and built well — primarily for precision — meaning it holds up through the toughest tasks over the years, and the heft and handle both feel great in the hand. As far as the blade? Absolutely razor sharp — and it will stay that way, thanks to the company’s LifeSharp sharpening service: If you cover shipping, they’ll get your blade back to as sharp as it was the day it came out of the box for the lifespan of the knife. With the built-in locking system, you can safely stow this knife in pocket or purse.
Best Higo-Style: Higo no Kami 7 Pocket Knife
The higonokami (“Lord of Higo”) style of pocket knife originated in Japan—the Hyogo Prefecture, to be exact—in the late 1800s. In 2018, they’re revered around the world for the quality of their design, which hasn’t changed much over the centuries (hey, why mess with a good thing)? Sleek and minimalist, the friction folder on these doesn’t have a locking system; instead, it’s said that a blacksmith added a simple lever to a pocket knife to set it apart from its brethren. Nagao Seisakusho continues to make some of the best, historically speaking — in fact, it’s the only remaining maker in the guild established to oversee this kind of knife’s production. This model is handmade (you can tell by the blade), and with its Warikomi steel, three-inch, gorgeously angled blade, and parkerized black satin handle, it isn’t just a pocket knife — it’s a conversation-starter. (And yes, it’s incredibly sharp.) Best of all? It’s yours for under $20.
Best for Tough Jobs: Blue Ridge Knives ESEE Zancudo
If you’re looking for something to handle the toughest jobs (i.e. not just open endless Amazon packages), the Blue Ridge ESEE Zancudo delivers. It’s designed by Randall's Adventure and Training School of Survival, too — so you know it delivers. This knife runs a little larger than your normal knife and is built with more metal in it, which gives it a nice, robust feeling in the palms. It has a stronger blade lock to protect the razor-thin AUS-8A stainless blade (and, well, you), and opens incredibly smoothly in the palm—it also comes out of the box super-sharp and ready to go. The teardrop-shaped, G-10 front handle fits in the hand nicely for projects around the house—or out on the trail—that require a little extra effort. Hunters have used it—and sworn by it—out in the backcountry, leaving a ringing endorsement of this knife’s capabilities. And we have to say: the black-on-black finish is super-sleek.