In the world of outdoor gear, pocket knives have become almost ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, from the display cases at REI to the checkout lanes at your local hardware store. And with established makers like Spyderco and Benchmade competing with upstarts like Civivi and Artisan, it’s easy for buyers to feel like they’re drowning in pocket knives.
To keep you from that especially unpleasant-sounding fate, we’ve assembled a list of the best pocket knives of 2023. But rather than simply showing you the newest or most expensive blades, our testers, and researchers have prioritized cutting performance, in-hand comfort, and ease of carry.
Below you’ll find a roster of blades offering the best mix of capability, construction, and value the industry has to offer. Check out our top picks at the links below or scroll through to browse for yourself. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide, comparison chart, and frequently asked questions.
The Best Pocket Knives of 2023
- Best Overall Pocket Knife: Spyderco Dragonfly 2
- Best Budget Pocket Knife: CRJB Ekko
- Best Multitool/Knife Combo: Victorinox Hiker
- Best Hiking Knife: Benchmade Bugout
- Best Rust-proof Knife: Spyderco Native 5 Salt
- Best Outdoors Knife: CRKT Squid XM
- Best Gentleman’s Knife: CRKT Crossbones
- Sharp, precision cutter
- Straightforward action and locking
- Light and easy to carry
- Wide range of steels, colors, blade styles, and price points
- May be small for large hands
- Light-to-medium duty
- Versatile blade
- Strong cutting performance
- Multiple opening methods
- Unrecessed pocket clip
- Proven, affordable materials
- Strong design
- Excellent, versatile blade
- Whip-snap opening action
- Non-reversible pocket clip
- Slightly heavier than similar options
- Legal baggage of assisted openers
- Blades Large, small, and wood saw in Victorinox Stainless Steel
- Weight 2.7 oz.
- Length closed 3.6"
- Proven Victorinox build and materials
- Excellent tool variety
- Friendly appearance
- Non-locking blade and tools
- Somewhat softer steel
- Very light for a full-size knife
- Versatile design can do anything
- Virtually disappears in the pocket
- Expensive relative to materials used
- LC200N is practically rustproof
- All-weather ergonomics
- Proven, accessible locking mechanism
- Swappable pocket clip
- High-ish pocket ride
- Back locks don’t have the snappiest action
- No sharpening choil
- Easy to carry
- Luxurious appearance
- Blade will require re-sharpening after hard use
- 3.54" blade may run afoul of the law in some cities
- Good steel
- Easy to carry
- Screws can loosen over time
- Impressive engineering
- Premium materials
- Easy to carry
- $500+ price tag
- A bit thin for large hands
- Scalpel precision
- Steel liners and premium feel
- Easy to carry
- CTS-XHP is hard, but may stain
- Lack of brick-and-mortar availability
- Massive trim options
- Solid everyday performance
- Easy to carry, use, or replace
- Market overexposure
- Right-hand only carry
Pocket Knives Comparison Chart
|Spyderco Dragonfly 2
|2.25″ VG-10 drop point
|3.23″ AR-RPM9 wharncliffe
|CRKT Squid XM
|3-inch D2 drop point
|Large, small, and wood saw in Victorinox Stainless Steel
|3.24″ S30V drop point
|Spyderco Native 5 Salt
|3″ LC200N drop point
|3.54″ AUS 8 drop point
|3″ S30V Wharncliffe
|3.44″ Bohler M390 drop point
|Spyderco Chaparral Lightweight
|2.4-inch CTS-XHP drop point
|2.96″ drop point, available in multiple steels
Why You Should Trust Us
Here at GearJunkie, we’ve been reviewing pocket knives for years. Some of our reviewers have spent more time and money on the hobby than they’d care to admit. Josh Wussow has been nerding out about knives since finding an Old Timer stockman on the beach when he was 9, and has been reviewing blades since 2016. Nick LeFort has been in the game even longer, with years of professional writing and tool testing to his credit.
Out of these obsessions comes a real appreciation for what makes a great pocket knife. And while we could type whole volumes on the merits of various blade steels and handle materials, what we’ve done here is boil it down to the essentials, focusing on value and utility.
The knives you’ll see listed above may not all be the latest or flashiest models, but each one offers outstanding performance for a reasonable price. These blades are capable, approachable tools, not just pocket jewelry.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Pocket Knife
Blade Steel and Length
In general, 3 inches is the sweet spot for blade length on pocket knives. Not only does this offer the best compromise of utility and ease of carry, but it’s also a legal boundary in certain places. Unless you’re absolutely in need of something longer, 2 to 3 inches is ideal.
What those inches are made of, however, can be a bit trickier. In the higher-priced category, we’d steer you toward steels like S30V, S35VN, M390, Magnacut, SPY27, or LC200N. Also, anything using CPM (crucible particle metallurgy) as a prefix should be solid.
These are great all-around stainless steels, with LC200N crossing into basically rustproof territory. On the budget end, look to steels like D2, Nitro-V, or VG10. Each of these has been around for decades, offering excellent value for the money.
With so many options out there, it’s actually easier to tell you what to avoid. Steels like 8Cr13MoV, 440HC, AUS8 (though we made an exception with the CRKT Crossbones), and anything listed as “surgical” or basic “stainless steel” — these are materials whose times have passed. Unless you’re looking to spend less than $30 on a knife, they’re not worth the money and frequent resharpening time.
Other than blade steels, no component in the pocket knife world is as hotly debated as the lock. Button, back, compression, Axis, liner, Tri-Ad — these are just a few of the mechanisms out there. All have their devotees, and arguments about the relative merits or toughness of each have been raging for years.
For 99% of the work you’re doing, any of these will work just fine. While gear reviewers (several of our own writers included) love to test the durability and failing points of various locks, pocket knives are light-to-medium-duty tools. If you’re looking for something “hard use,” reach for a fixed blade instead.
That being said, there are a few other factors to consider. While almost everyone knows how to operate a back lock, they may struggle a bit more with the spring of a liner or frame lock.
Button, axis, and compression locks can be a touch more fiddly, but they offer the consideration of keeping your fingers out of the path of the blade as it closes. In the end, it’s up to you and your comfort level.
As with blade steels, there are a wealth of options when it comes to handling materials. Spyderco, for instance, utilizes fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) for most of its lightweight models.
You’ll see it implemented on the Dragonfly 2, Chapparal LW, and Native 5 Salt listed above, all with textured grips. These knives are rock-solid in the hand, allowing you to work with confidence. Grivory, another such material, appears on several Benchmade models.
Both of these are excellent for situations in which your cutting hand may encounter some moisture. G-10, a popular glass-based resin found on the Civivi Elementum, is another strong candidate for everyday use.
But plastics and laminates aren’t the only games in town. Titanium makes for an excellent handle material, thanks to its durability and lightweight nature.
Aluminum, such as that found on the Victorinox Cadet we recommended last year, is another worthwhile option. Carbon Fiber, such as that shown on the CRJB Ekko, is a lightweight material that provides durability and visual interest, when done well.
These may have a bit less of a warm feeling in the hand and may impair your grip when slippery. But their durability and rigidity are not to be overlooked.
What you’ll want to avoid, for the most part, is anything utilizing rubber or plain slabs of steel. These types of handles can be sticky and overly heavy, making the knife a general bother to use and carry.
While they may not garner as much attention as locks or blades, pocket clips should be a critical part of your shopping process. Whether you prefer tip-up or tip-down carry, it’s important to find one that allows the knife to ride comfortably in your pocket. Generally, this means finding a clip that limits the amount of knife that peeks out of your jeans.
Not only is this unsightly, but it can hinder your range of motion when climbing hills or stairs. No one wants to scale a mountain with the handle of their pocket knife prodding them in the hip. The Civivi Elementum, for instance, is an excellent example of deep-carry clips done well.
Once the blade is open, you’ll want a clip that disappears against the palm of your hand. Sharp edges and strange angles are the enemies of comfort here. Most makers include some sort of adjustability in their design, as well. Take the clip on our top pick, the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 — its wire frame can be easily swapped for left- or right-handed pockets.
Like so many things in life, the answer to this question lies with the questioner. Do you spend most of your day in an office? You’ll want something lightweight and discreet, like the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 or Victorinox Hiker above.
What you want, in general, is a knife that’s reliable, comfortable to use, and easy to carry. And while many pocket knives can serve as multi-role tools, it never hurts to pick up another one for specialized circumstances. Just be careful, as picking up a new piece of gear here or there can quickly develop into a new hobby!
This question is only slightly less complicated than the one above and involves most of the same use factors. If your daily tasks involve slicing paper and breaking down cardboard, you’ll be well-served with the hardness of a steel like the CTS-XHP on our top pick. But if you find yourself dealing with wet material or environments, the LC200N on the Spyderco Native 5 Salt is pretty hard to beat.
There are plenty of great all-around options as well. Magnacut, S30V, S35VN, M390, Nitro-V, CPM-154, and AR-RPM9 on the budget side — all of these are respectable choices. What you want to avoid are the no-name stainless steels as well as just about anything that has the letters “CR” near the beginning of its title (8Cr13MoV, we’re looking at you). Go even deeper with our knife steel explainer.
As you’ll notice, many of the knives listed above feature a back-lock mechanism. It’s a simple, tried-and-true option just about everyone has operated at some point or another.
Liner locks are another popular option. This variant uses a leaf spring on the inside of the handle, which pops into place once the blade is opened. This is another strong design, though perhaps a touch more finicky than the back lock.
Spyderco and Benchmade also feature their own mechanisms with the compression and Axis locks, respectively. Both of these provide good security for the blade while also upping the fidget factor.
In short, each of these locks has something to offer. If you’re looking for simplicity, it’s hard to beat the back lock. But if you’re one of those people who enjoys snapping your knife open and closed just for the fun of it, the Axis and compression setups have a lot to offer.
Over combined decades of carry, we’ve found that a low-profile, tip-down configuration suits most people’s needs. The reasons here are relatively simple. The lower the knife rides in your pocket, the less likely it is to impede the movement of your hip and leg.
Plus, the less it peeks out of your pocket, the less likely you are to draw unwanted attention. Wire-based or painted clips further boost your conspicuousness.
As for tip-up, this is a no-brainer. While it sounds scarier, having the tip of the folded blade facing upward while riding against the back seam of your pocket is overwhelmingly safer. This way, the rear of the pocket prevents the knife from opening when stowed, ensuring that you don’t jab yourself in the palm.
The answer to this question is a resounding no 99% of the time. While many brands include these little metal teeth, they usually diminish the overall functionality of a knife.
Serrations break up the edge of a blade, reducing your capacity for long, clean slices. That’s not to say they’re useless, however. If you find yourself dealing with a lot of rope or cordage, serrations are actually quite beneficial. But when breaking down cardboard, opening packages, slicing food, or carving, they’re definitely more of a nuisance.
For most individuals, we’d recommend a pocket knife with a blade near 3 inches. This comes from a variety of factors, not the least of which is legality. Many urban areas have restrictions when it comes to blade length, and some frown upon locking mechanisms altogether. Be sure to read up on your local laws before making a purchase decision.
But beyond the legal complications, 3 inches tends to be the sweet spot between carry-ability and function. It gives you enough reach to complete most daily tasks while still folding comfortably in the pocket.
And don’t forget to check out the handle! You’ll want something long enough to nearly fill your palm or at least provide a solid three-finger grip.
In general, the answer is no. Automatic pocket knives are expensive, challenging to maintain, and almost certainly illegal if you plan to travel to any kind of population center.
While there’s a certain appeal to the click-clack deployment offered by some of the more famous brands, many automatic pocket knives utilize tactical-fantasy marketing that, at the very least, is disingenuous or misleading.
However, many reputable companies such as Benchmade offer a variety of assisted-opening pocket knives. These can offer a more comfortable middle ground with less of the questionable legality.
From opening packages to slicing up food, pocket knives offer a wealth of utility. Rather than using your fingernails, a car key, or half of a pair of scissors, pocket knives are a natural piece for people with a lot of tasks on their hands. This is especially true for outdoor enthusiasts, who deal with materials like rope, wood, and canvas all the time.
One reason you won’t see on this list is self-defense. Despite what some industry marketing material would lead you to believe, carrying a pocket knife doesn’t turn you into a commando or modern-day gladiator. Unless you’re a trained weapons expert, you’re just as likely to injure yourself as any would-be attacker. If you feel the need to carry something for protection, you’re far better off with a can of pepper spray. Pocket knives are best treated as tools — not weapons.