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Quick, what’s the most important tool you’ll ever need? No, it’s not an impact wrench or impact driver. It’s not even a torque wrench or WD-40. No, it’s a pocket knife. Stay with me.
A pocket knife is the most important tool you could ever need on your person or in your car, as they can be regular knives, screwdrivers, and most importantly, life-saving tools. It’s why I’m never without one, except for when I’m on airplanes. I have one when I go ride motorcycles, drive cars, off-road, and whenever I’m in the backcountry. You never know when you’ll need one.
But there are countless pocket knives available online and IRL. How do you choose the best one that’ll serve you well over the years and potentially save your life? Easy, you start here with our buying guide on pocket knives. Let’s talk blades!
- Sharp AF
- Glass breaker
- Great size
- Lifetime warranty
Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops Tanto
- Meant to take a beating
- Glass breaker
- Seatbelt cutter
- Can wear out if used a lot
- Things can get caught in the seatbelt cutter
CRKT Tuna Compact
- Nice size
- Solid price
- Automatic opening
- Lock can be hard to disengage
- On the smaller side
I’ve had a knife strapped to my hip since I was just entering my teen years. That sounds weird, but I fished a lot and a pocket knife continually came in handy. But after a nasty wreck when I was 16, it went from a useful tool to a necessity whenever I got into a car. As such, I’ve had and used a lot of knives in my time.
To put together this buying guide, I grabbed a host of different types of pocket knives of varying sizes, shapes, and styles, and put them through my patented “Hell” testing. They went through water, thrown in dirt, used to slice open box after box to test edge retention, and then did some weird stuff just to see how they’d fair in an edge-case scenario.
That means you can trust this guide and my picks to serve you well throughout your time. I do reserve the right to change my picks whenever I feel, or as new, better products arrive on the scene. So to all the knifemakers out there, if you think you have a better product, let’s talk.
Best Pocket Knife: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Benchmade Bailout
I love Benchmade knives. They’re extremely durable, competent tools. And the Bailout is the best in the bunch, at least according to me.
The Bailout is a great tanto-style straight-edge knife, with a blade that measures 3.38 inches, and 8 inches total when open. Made of PM-M4 Super Steel (62-64HRC), the blade itself is cerakoted to preserve its edge, and is incredibly sharp and durable right out of the box. A deep clip lets it sit, well, deep in your pocket so as to not interfere with any of your daily needs. And it has one of my favorite things any knife can have, a glass breaker.
Why it wins my best overall, however, is how it feels and how it draws me back to it whenever I go into my garage’s knife drawer to grab a new pocket knife. There’s a comfort to it in my gorilla hands that other knives just don’t have. And the action with the thumb button is so buttery smooth, it almost feels like it has an automatic opening.
It is, however, expensive, as at the time of writing, the Bailout will set you back $300. That said, it’s backed by a lifetime warranty, and Benchmade’s awesome LifeSharp services, which will keep it in use for the entire life of the knife. It’s a buy once, cry once deal, but you’ll absolutely be better off for it.
Best Budget: Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops Tanto
Meant to take a beating
Can wear out if used a lot
Things can get caught in the seatbelt cutter
I’ve had a Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops pocket knife, as well as others in this lineup, for more than a decade. It’s my workhorse. It’s the knife I grab when I need a tool that I know I can trust to get whatever job done. It’s been a screwdriver, a prybar, and a knife on more than one occasion.
What I like about it the most is how inexpensive it is, as I can beat the ever-living hell out of it without worrying about the investment of other more expensive knives. At the time of writing, this knife costs around $20, which is nothing. But the quality, at least in terms of $20, is ahead of the pack.
Better still, it has both a glass breaker and seatbelt cutter, which I feel are hugely important for most everyday pocket knives. I will say that the seatbelt cutter can catch on things, as the opening is slightly too big.
Best Automatic: CRKT Tuna Compact
Lock can be hard to disengage
On the smaller side
Columbia River Knife and Tool’s (CRKT) Tuna Compact is a great little automatic knife. I’ve been using it for a while now, and nothing has stopped it from being a tool for nearly anyone.
It features a straight edge, but curved blade design and is a little under 6 inches when fully open. It’s lightweight, weighing in at just 3.8 ounces, but feels heavier than it is thanks to the quality of the steel and handle style. What I really like about the Tuna Compact is how sturdy it feels, even though it’s on the smaller side in my large hands. I don’t feel like I’m losing leverage or power behind it like some others. And the assisted opening is incredibly smooth and fast. There’s weight behind it, too.
The Tuna Compact is also pretty damn affordable, costing just $56 at the time of writing. That’s a solid price for such a solid knife. Likewise, CRKT offers each of its knives with a limited lifetime warranty, which puts a peace of mind you just can’t beat.
Best Full-Size: Benchmade Adamas
I’ve had the Benchmade Adamas and Mini Adamas for a while now, and I reviewed them about a year ago. It remained my go-to everyday carry until the Bailout showed up. Either the full-size Adamas or even the Mini Adamas would make excellent full-size pocket knives, as these are burly things.
The full-size Adamas is a monster knife, measuring a whopping 9 inches when fully opened, and weighing in at an impressive 7.7 ounces. It feels heavy, it is heavy, but that heaviness comes from it being nigh indestructible. I’ve used both the Mini and full-size Adamas a lot, and I’ve put them through the absolute wringer doing things no knife will ever do in most folks’ hands. And they’re still here. I’ve only ever had to sharpen them once, and it was more of a tune-up than anything.
Now, they are big, and not everyone is going to dig that. But in my meaty paws, they feel very comfortable. And even attached to my hip, I don’t feel like I’m weighed down. They’re also expensive, as at the time of writing, Benchmade wants $325 for the full-size Adamas, and $290 for the Mini Adamas. But again, they both come with Benchmade’s lifetime warranty and LifeSharp services, which will keep them in use forever.
Best EDC: The James Brand Carter
Great thumb button action
Sharp out of the box
On the smaller side
Most folks don’t need the utility of the knives above or even below. They need an everyday carry that’ll look good, work, and be durable for everyday use. That’s where The James Brand’s Carter comes in.
This straight-edge pocket knife is compact, lightweight, has a great Micarta handle, a deep pocket clip, is sharp as hell out of the box, and is incredibly durable. I’ve been putting it through all my daily activities, including wearing it while riding motorcycles, driving cars, and even going out into the field to hunt, and so far, it’s none the worse for wear. I’ve also cut boxes, opened mail, and done all the normal things too. The edge is still sharp enough that I need to remember to watch out.
It is, however, on the smaller side for my big mitts. It’s not too small, but I’d like it to be just slightly bigger to fit my hand better. Most people won’t have an issue though. At the time of writing, the Carter will set you back $159, which is pretty average for good quality pocket knives, and is available in a host of colorways to personalize your EDC.
Best Utility Knife: Milwaukee Fastback Utility
Blades wear out quickly
Blades are extra
Just as not everyone needs the utility of most pocket knives, not everyone needs a regular pocket knife. Milwaukee has an answer for that with the Fastback Utility.
I picked up the Fastback Utility because my basement flooded this spring from snowmelt and my old boxcutter was trashed. I didn’t think anything at the time, but the Fastback Utility quickly ingratiated itself with me. This folding utility knife is perfect for nearly everything when you’re working around the house or in the garage, as the folding mechanism keeps you from slicing a finger off, and keeps the blade protected without having to move your thumb up and down like the old styles, and even offers a seatbelt/cord cutter. Neat!
I’ve used it a ton, and though I have a few other utility knives lying around, I always grab this one. That said, it’s a utility pocket knife and the interchangeable razor blades wear out. The mechanism to replace them isn’t that bad, but can get gummed up from drywall dust and debris. It is, however, cheap, as it costs just $13. You’ll just have to grab a surplus of razor blades, too.
Best Custom: Gerber Assert
Custom design available
The lightest knife on this list
On the smaller side
Gerber’s a brand I’ve trusted forever. I’ve had its multi-tools, axes, fire starters, and pocket knives, and the Assert is a great addition to the company’s legacy. It’s also one of the most customizable knives around, as you can get it in a host of colorways, styles, and parts.
When this knife showed up, I was skeptical at first. It’s so lightweight, I felt like I was going to break it. Weighing just 1.87 ounces, it’s a feather and feels not unlike how my carbon fiber and titanium wedding ring feels when compared to other’s more robust tungsten units. But after putting it through its paces, along with treating it like I would any other knife, it never lost a step. In fact, it cleanly sliced off a piece of my finger as I was toying with it one day and didn’t pull my finger in far enough.
I also stepped on it, threw it in water, and fell onto with while hunting. Though it’s lightweight, it’s durable. It is somewhat expensive, as at the time of writing, it’ll cost you $175. But that cost comes with The Gerber Guarantee, which is Gerber’s lifetime warranty. So, it too, is a knife you’ll have for life.
Best Small Pocket Knife: Benchmade Partial Immunity
Last, but certainly not least, is a final Benchmade product. This one I wasn’t sure would make this list, but I found myself getting pulled back to it because I reminded myself that not everyone has hands as large as I do. For those of you who need a pocket knife that’s small, Benchmade’s Partial Immunity is perfect.
The Partial Immunity is an automatic opening pocket knife with a sub 2-inch blade, and a billet aluminum frame. A lock keeps the blade stored in your pocket, and the liner lock activates the blade when you need it. The assisted mechanism itself is crazily sprung, practically jumping out of your hands with the force of the blade opening, as I called out in my initial impressions. And the blade itself is sharper than almost anything on this list right from the factory.
Like all the other Benchmades on this list, it also comes with a lifetime warranty and Benchmade’s LifeSharp services. At the time of writing, the Partial Immunity will set you back $260, which is expensive, but not wildly so.
Our Verdict on the Best Pocket Knife
The best pocket knife you can buy right now is the Benchmade Bailout. It’s sharp, perfectly weighted, has a glass breaker, and a lifetime warranty. You can’t beat it. However, any of the other knives on this list will serve you well throughout your ownership.
Features To Know Before Buying
Here’s everything you need to know.
Blade Edge Type
Pocket knives have a variety of blade edges to fit different needs. The most common edge types are straight edge, fully serrated, and partially serrated. Blades with straight edges are straight along the cutting edge or slightly curved. They are great for cutting, scraping, poking, stabbing, skewering, pushing cuts (like shaving and skinning), and precision work.
Fully serrated blades have tooth- or saw-like edges ground into the cutting surface. They can be used like small saws with a back-and-forth motion. The blades are ideal for cutting through fabric, ropes, belts, and other textured materials. However, they are poor at stabbing because the serrations get stuck on clothing or bones.
Partially serrated blades are serrated from the middle to the handle and have a straight edge from the middle to the tip. They provide the advantages of both blades in a single unit.
A good pocket knife should open and close quickly. You should be able to use it to get yourself out of a jammed seat belt or to cut twine more efficiently. A one-handed opening blade—also called an assisted-opening knife—is the best as it has a thumb stud that allows you to open it easily. This can be automatic or manual, and it is a type of folding knife that uses an internal mechanism to open the blade once you’ve partially opened it using a flipper or thumb stud.
FAQs on Pocket Knives
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: What can I do to maintain a pocket knife?
A: To make sure the knife opens and closes properly and effectively, oil the bearings and screws and make sure they are tightened. Treat it like you like to be treated, but also use it.
Q: How do I sharpen a pocket knife?
A: You can purchase a sharpening or whetstone, as the stones feature both a rough side and a fine-grit side to ensure your knife is properly sharpened. You also need a lubricant that limits the amount of heat produced from the sharpening process. You can also take it to a bladesmith to sharpen, which is what the author does. I've messed around with whetstone sharpening and I'm all right, but a bladesmith is far better suited to get your knives sharp.
Q: Are all pocket knives legal?
A: You’re going to want to check the laws in your state, as while there may be no laws strictly banning or prohibiting pocket knives, there are ones focused on switchblades. Also note that pocket knives are not allowed on school campuses, airports, or courtrooms.