This definitive guide to the best pocket knives of 2021 explores everything you need to know to find a pocket knife suited to your needs and includes information on materials, blade type, handle type, other features and price. Scroll past our top picks for additional information on what to consider before buying a pocket knife.

More Great Pocket Knives

    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.

    CRKT Pilar III

    CRKT Pilar III

    Best Overall

    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

    The James Brand The Carter

    The James Brand The Carter
    The James Brand

    Upgrade Pick

    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

    Opinel No. 8

    Opinel No. 08

    Best Cheap Pocket Knife

    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

    Benchmade Bugout

    Benchmade Bugout

    Best Pocket Knife for Camping and Hiking

    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

    Victorinox Mountaineer

    Victorinox Mountaineer

    Best Swiss Army Knife

    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

    Case Mini Trapper

    Case Mini Trapper

    Best Classic Pocket Knife

    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

    WESN Microblade 2.0

    WESN Microblade 2.0

    Best Keychain-Sized Pocket Knife

    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, though, but WESN insured its Microblade is. It has a titanium handle and a 1.5-inch D2 tool steel blade in a drop-point shape that includes a flipper tab for fast deployment. All these characteristics make for a knife that feels far larger than it is, even though it's the size of a thumb drive.

    Blade Length: 1.5 inches
    Overall Length: 3.75 inches
    Blade Material: D2 steel
    Blade Type: drop point
    Handle Material: titanium or G10,
    Weight: 1 ounce

    Leatherman Free K2

    Leatherman Free K2

    Best Multi-Tool Knife

    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

    Quiet Carry Waypoint

    Quiet Carry Waypoint
    Quiet Carry

    Best Super Steel Knife

    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 or titanium
    Weight: 2.7 ounces

    Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31

    Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31
    Chris Reeve Knives

    Best Pocket Knife for Your Wishlist

    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.