There's no questioning the utility of a good pocket knife. You don't have to be a wilderness survivalist or a working handyman to appreciate one either; a sharp blade has a broad range of everyday applications, from opening packages to harvesting herbs from your garden to slicing up food for a picnic.

But pocket knives number in the tens of thousands, and choosing one that balances features with your needs can be tricky. Our team has had a hands-on with hundreds of them and have spent hours (if not days or even weeks) communicating with knife experts and pouring over reviews to research many more, all so that we can confidently produce a list of the pocket knives we believe are the best ones available today.

Best Overall

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CRKT Pilar III
bladehq.com
$51.95

CRKT and knife designer Jesper Voxnaes named the Pilar after the boat that Ernest Hemingway used to monitor German U-boats in the Caribbean during World War II. It's intriguing background, but it's a well-balanced combination of materials and form that make the most recent iteration a fantastic pocket knife for nearly any application.

The original Pilar had a cleaver-like blade, but it's smoothed out for the Pilar III to create a sleeker shape with a finer point. It's also longer at just under three inches and made of D2 steel that'll hold an edge through lots of use before it needs resharpening. Other features include a thumb slot for one-handed opening, a frame lock for safe usage, and a G10 handle plus an oversized choil for a solid grip. No, it's not the cheapest pocket knife out there, but go cheaper, and you'll start to sacrifice the characteristics that make it a great one.

Blade Length: 2.97 inches
Overall Length: 7.25 inches
Blade Material: D2 steel
Blade Type: spear point
Handle Material: G10 and 2Cr13 stainless steel
Weight: 3.8 ounces

Upgrade Pick

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The James Brand The Carter
$159.00

Start seeking higher-quality pocket knives, and you'll quickly find yourself in very expensive steel. High-end knives can cost hundreds, and while many of those blades are great, you don't have to pay so much to get something premium that'll last for years. That's what makes The Carter a great upgrade and a gateway into the world of luxe knives — even at $139 (and up), it's quality at a fair price.

What do you get for the extra cash? For one, sleek, styled-out aesthetics that are a result of a clean form factor and machined handle scales available in materials like G10 and micarta. Then there's the drop-point blade, which opens with a thumb disc and secures with a smooth sliding switch lock. It's made of VG-10, a high-end steel that's low maintenance thanks to excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention, which means you can use it freely without fear of messing up something you just spent a wad of cash on.

Blade Length: 2.75 inches
Overall Length: 6.55 inches
Blade Material: VG-10 steel
Blade Type: drop point
Handle Material: Micarta or G10
Weight: 3 ounces

Best Cheap Pocket Knife

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Opinel No. 08
$16.80

Opinel's folding No.8 is about as simple as a pocket knife gets: it has a 3.25-inch steel blade, a wooden handle and a rotating collar that locks it open or closed. Nevertheless, the knife has become an icon since its release in 1890 and is remarkably handsome despite an apparent lack of over-the-top features. You can get one with a carbon steel blade or with premium wood handles — all of them are nearly as affordable.

Blade Length: 3.28 inches
Overall Length: 7.59 inches
Blade Material: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel
Blade Type: straight back
Handle Material: beechwood
Weight: 1.5 ounces


Best Pocket Knife for Camping and Hiking

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Benchmade Bugout
$180.87
$144.99 (20% off)

Backpackers and serious campers prize ultralight gear, but it has to stand up to heavy use, and the Bugout makes that grade. Benchmade has made it in various constructions over the years, but the standard is with a Grivory handle and CPM-S30V drop-point blade that operates on the company's sliding AXIS lock. The whole thing weighs just 1.85 ounces, and yet the 3.24-inch blade is plenty hefty to handle any number of trail tasks. If you want to go even lighter, check out the 1.5-ounce Mini Bugout, which has a 2.8-inch blade.

Blade Length: 3.24 inches
Overall Length: 7.46 inches
Blade Material: CPM-S30V
Blade Type: drop point
Handle Material: Grivory
Weight: 1.85 ounces

Best Swiss Army Knife

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Victorinox Mountaineer
$45.99

All Swiss Army Knives are classic in their own way, so we're probably splitting hairs by picking a favorite, but with so many implement options, it's also necessary. The prize goes to the Mountaineer, which packs 18 functions in half as many implements. Despite its outdoorsy name, this SAK is among Victorinox's most versatile: it has two knife blades, can and bottle openers, multiple screwdrivers, a sewing tool, scissors, file, toothpick, tweezers, corkscrew and more. Other models can get remarkably bulky, but this one is still small enough to remain practical for your pocket.

Blade Length: 2.28 inches (long blade), 1.42 inches (small blade)
Overall Length: 5.87 inches (long blade open)
Blade Material: X55CrMo14 stainless steel
Blade Type: modified spear point
Handle Material: ABS / Cellidor
Weight: 3.8 ounces

Best Classic Pocket Knife

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Case Mini Trapper
$40.31

A lot of modern pocket knives are, frankly, ugly. They're overly tactical or practical, sacrificing looks for fully-loaded function. Case Knives, a company that dates back to the 1800s, continues to produce patterns that reflect that heritage. The Mini Trapper is a perfect example; its side-by-side, double-blade construction includes a 2.75-inch clip-point and spey-point blades (the latter a shape not often produced in new designs). It's available with a variety of handles, from bone to colorful synthetics. Each one comes with Case's unique tang stamp, denoting the year it was produced in for an added element of collectibility.

Blade Length: 2.7 inches (clip), 2.8 inches (spey)
Overall Length: 6.3 inches
Blade Material: Tru-Shar Stainless
Blade Type: clip point, spey point
Handle Material: various
Weight: 2.7 ounces

Best Keychain-Sized Pocket Knife

Huckberry
The James Brand The Elko
$75.00

The best pocket knife in the world is no good to you if you don't have it on you, and that's the best case for owning one that can fit on a keychain. That doesn't mean tiny knives are always useful, but the elegant Elko sure is. Its Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel blade is notable for its hardness, wear resistance and edge retention, while the keyring loop is cleverly designed for prying, scraping, twisting screws and opening bottles. These features add up to a knife that feels much larger than something the size of a flash drive.

Blade Length: 1.74 inches
Overall Length: 4.33 inches
Blade Material: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel
Blade Type: drop point
Handle Material: micarta
Weight: 1.3 ounces

Best Multi-Tool Knife

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Leatherman Free K2
$84.95

Leatherman's known for multi-tools that put pliers front and center, but its recently released Free K tools put all emphasis on the blade. The K2's is a 3.3-inch sheepsfoot made of 420HC steel. Embedded in its handle are a couple of shorter, highly useful implements that fill in on jobs where a knife's not enough — the list includes a pry tool, package opener, awl, bottle opener and three screwdriver heads. All of them swivel open smoothly with one hand thanks to magnetic integration.

Blade Length: 3.3 inches
Overall Length: 7.8 inches
Blade Material: 420HC stainless steel
Blade Type: sheepsfoot
Handle Material: aluminum
Weight: 4.9 ounces

Best Super Steel Knife

Quiet Carry
Quiet Carry Waypoint G10
$245.00

Remember when we mentioned that higher quality, more expensive pocket knives are out there? This is one of those. Quiet Carry built this deceitfully straightforward folding knife with some of the best materials available. That includes a blade made of Vanax SuperClean, a type of steel that's highly resistant to corrosion and wear and is considered among a distinguished category known as "super steel." Quiet Carry gave it marine-grade hardware to match that rust resistance too, and handles made of G10 or steel are available in multiple colors and finishes.

Blade Length: 3.31 inches
Overall Length: 7.52 inches
Blade Material: Vanax Super Clean
Blade Type: drop/clip point
Handle Material: G10
Weight: 2.7 ounces

Most Haptically Satisfying One Hander

SOG
SOG Knives Kiku XR Blackout
$189.95

Even if you never actually use this knife to, you know, cut stuff, you’ll derive endless pleasure from opening and closing it, with just one hand. A forefinger on the tab and deft flick of the wrist flips the blade out cleanly, while a forefinger and thumb sliding the XR lock brings it back into place with a smooth click. Oh, and the CTS-XHP steel blade boasts excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention, so actually cutting stuff with it is pretty damn delightful too.

Blade Length: 3.03 inches
Overall Length: 7.375 inches
Blade Material: CTS-XHP premium steel
Blade Type: tanto
Handle Material: linen micarta
Weight: 5.6 ounces

Best Pocket Knife for Your Wishlist

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Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31
$675.00

The Sebenza 31 is the latest version of a pocket knife that was first released in 1987 and is widely considered among blade enthusiasts as the best pocket knife ever made. Chris Reeve Knives is known for its precision manufacturing, and the Sebenza has won the Manufacturing Quality Award at the annual Blade Show 16 times. It was also the first knife to incorporate a frame lock, a mechanism in which a piece of the handle falls into place behind the butt of a blade to secure it open.

History and iconic status aside, the Sebenza 31 is a fantastic albeit expensive pocket knife. It's available in two sizes — a small model with a 2.99-inch blade and a large one with a 3.61-inch blade — with various wood or micarta inlays. The base, however, is a premium CPM S35VN drop-point blade, a titanium handle that includes a pocket clip and a knotted lanyard.

Blade Length: 2.99 inches (small), 3.61 inches (large)
Overall Length: 6.98 inches (small), 8.4 inches (large)
Blade Material: CPM-S35VN
Blade Type: drop point
Handle Material: titanium, various inlay options
Weight: 3 ounces (small), 4.7 ounces (large)

What to Consider When Picking a Pocket Knife

There are many reasons to buy a pocket knife, and those will guide you to the critical considerations to keep in mind while picking one. Is the knife for work? For camping? For collecting? A gift?

There's nothing wrong with buying a pocket knife for looks alone, though if you do have a specific knife in mind, you'll want to consider its size, weight, blade shape and the characteristics of its steel (more on that below). You'll also want to research what laws are in place that regulate what type of knife you can own and carry where you live.

We should also make a note of price. Generally speaking, if you're buying a pocket knife from a respected brand, a higher price will get you a knife made of better materials. There are exceptions — bad knives can still be expensive. The inverse is less deceptive; lower-priced knives are typically the result of cheaper materials. Don't expect a $30 knife to last long enough to become a family heirloom (unless you take really, really good care of it).

What Is the Best Pocket Knife Steel?

The short and, admittedly, annoying (but expected) answer: it depends. Blade steel is characterized by a list of primary elements — corrosion resistance, edge retention, strength, toughness, wear-resistance and ease of sharpening. Each one is the result of the chemical makeup of the steel in question. Chromium, for instance, is a key ingredient in stainless steel and generally lends corrosion resistance to the recipe.

The downside is that many of these traits tend to operate inversely with one another. Edge retention, a steel's ability to stay sharp through lots of use, typically comes at the cost of toughness, a steel's ability to resist cracking and chipping under sudden impacts. Steel with high edge retention typically isn't as easy to sharpen, either.

There's always a tradeoff, which is why it's wise to consider what you want to use the knife for and seek one out that has steel to match those needs. That said, premium knife steels like CPM-S35VN can maximize most of these traits while keeping them relatively balanced, though they're also the primary contributor to an expensive pocket knife's high price, so there's a tradeoff there too.

For more on knife steel, click here to read our guide.