Pocket Knife Buyer’s Guide

It’s always smart to be prepared for any situation. 

I’m not saying you have to be a doomsday prepper or anything like that, but it is always smart to expect the best and prepare for the worst. 

For this reason, I am of the impression that everyone needs to have a pocket knife. 

Pocket knives are one of the most useful and versatile tools in anyone’s repertoire. Common uses range from simply cutting open boxes and using them as an impromptu screwdriver to being a replacement locking mechanism at the office stall that doesn’t quite lock correctly (this is a popular use on reddit.com if you ever venture on there).

How To Choose a Pocket Knife

Regardless of your reasoning, you need to know the basics of pocket knives before you go buying one. They can vary in price from as cheap as a few dollars to all the way up into the thousands from custom makers.

The breakdown begins with there being 2 main knife categories: Fixed blade and folding knives.

Both kinds are pretty popular, but fixed blades tend to be a little more expensive. They are more like the kind you would see Bear Grylls use, or the kind that get issued in the military. 

Folding knives will be the focus for this post. Yes, you can get a fixed blade knife as a pocket knife, but it’s not as practical. For that reason, we will talk about folding knives.

Even when discussing folding knives, there are, again, 2 main types. You can have tactical pocket knives and traditional pocket knives.

Tactical Folding Knife

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Tactical pocket knives are really cool. I think they are more common when people use pocket knives frequently because of a few factors. You often see them used by military, first responders, and people that just have to use knives a lot. They have a few features that make them easier to use than a traditional knife, while being a little quicker access to make sure they can be accessed in an emergency.

The first identifying factor would be a pocket clip.

Pocket clips are interesting because they come in a few varieties, and are customizable. The most obvious purpose is that they allow for a higher sitting location in your pocket for ease in grabbing the knife and pulling it out quickly.

Tactical knives then have a way to flick the knife open really fast. There is usually a thumb stud for you to use to flick the knife open with your thumb. If there’s no stud, then there may be a thumb hole for the same purpose. The third option, though the knife may also have a thumb stud or thumb hole, spring assisted or spring loaded button or flicker on it to get the blade out really quickly. These kinds of knives often have a way to lock the blade so there is no accidental launch in a pocket or with a less experienced operator. 

Another important factor when choosing a tactical knife is the steel type of the blade. The 2 most common types are S30V and 8Cr13MoV.

I know those both sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to someone that hasn’t researched pocket knives or steel, but the gist is that the S30V is popular (and more expensive) because it holds its edge really well and is extremely rust resistant. 8Cr13MoV is less rust resistant, but it gets sharper than the S30V. It does not maintain the edge well and would need to be sharpened more frequently.

To kind of give a frame of mind here, I haven’t needed to sharpen my Benchmade with S30V in almost 3 months with daily use; whereas, I have to sharpen my Kershaw with 8Cr13MoV steel just about once every 2 weeks. 

The most popular brands for tactical knives are: Benchmade, Spyderco, and Kershaw.

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In my opinion, Kershaw is the best knife maker for the money as far as tactical knives go. You can find them for relatively cheap at a sporting goods store or on Amazon. 

Traditional Pocket Knives

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Traditional pocket knives are less common nowadays, but they are easily identifiable and hold a special ‘old school cool’ factor you can’t really get from a tactical knife. 

They have a traditionally western look, and when a generic pocket knife image comes to mind, it is most likely a traditional style pocket knife. 

It’s possible to make a third kind of pocket knife that is a multi-tool, Swiss army knife, or camping knife, but I will include that as a traditional pocket knife because they’re so popular and can be traced pretty far back in history.

When looking at traditional pocket knives, there are 3 main blade locking mechanisms. Of course, there are plenty of different kinds for tactical knives as well, but they all generally work the same. The traditional pocket knives styles change with the locking mechanism, so I have to highlight them. 

The most common is slipjoint knives.

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They are most commonly found in those 2-4 blade pocket knives and work by having a spring at the joint that locks the blade into place. It can easily be overcome with force against the backside of a blade, which is how they are closed. A slipjoint is one of the first ever kinds of locking mechanism, and are still used today. It’s less common because if something happens and your fingers are in the way of the blade when it is hit from the back, it can result in a seriously painful knuckle cut. 

An older style of locking is the peasant lock. This is classified by having the blade extend, in a blunt extension, that, when opened, can be used as part of your grip. This makes your hand the mechanism that locks it in place. An updated version is most commonly seen on Opinel knives which utilize a ring lock.

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It is the same a peasant lock, but it has a ring around the base of the blade than can be rotated to lock it in place. 

The last style of lock is one of the most popular designs since its inception. It is the lockback blade locking mechanism.

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It became popular when Buck created the uber popular Buck 110 pocket knife. That is the most popular pocket knife in history. It’s prized by collectors and users alike. The locking mechanism is one of, if not the safest created. Many companies still use it today for both tactical and traditional style pocket knives. It uses a slipjoint style to open, but then it locks the blade in place and can only be released by pressing on the finger groove on the back of the knife to release the lock and allow it to close.

When it comes to steel types, there are really only 2 classifications: stainless and carbon. The stainless is known for a strong level of rust resistance and ability to hold an edge. It’s just really hard to get it to the really sharp level. Carbon steel is less rust resistant and is a softer steel. This means it rusts, but it gets sharper than stainless. It requires more maintenance to keep the edge and keep the rust away, but many people are willing to make the trade off. 

The most popular traditional knife brands are Case, Buck, and Camillus.

In my opinion for traditional knives, Camillus offers the best quality to price ratio. You can find a really nice one on ebay for incredibly cheap. I’ve gotten some for as low as $1.

So what do I get?

When you’re buying your first pocket knife, I always recommend looking at your goals of the knife. 

You need to take into account if you want an everyday carry, or EDC, that you can use forever, or if you want something as just in case tool, or maybe you want an expensive knife that can be seen as classy. 

What your reason is will determine the kind of knife you should get. 

If you want an EDC knife that you can beat up and it will last, start with a Kershaw. They can be found online for around $20. It can take a beating and keep coming back. When you’re ready to step up a bit, you can upgrade to a Benchmade or Spyderco. These knives will start getting closer to $100-$200 range. The higher end knives will last longer and usually have a lifetime warranty.

If you want something for emergencies, I would recommend either a Kershaw or a Camillus because of their value. You can get a really good pocket knife that requires little maintenance for little monetary cost.

If you just want a knife that is really classy, I recommend going with a Case knife. They’re easily recognizable and collectable. They run typically at about $50 or more. They offer incredible functionality, but they also can look classy as hell.

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Written by Josh Whitworth

A native Texan, I got my bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas in Arlington. I am now a flight attendant by day (unless I get stuck working a red eye) and a freelance writer by night. My dad is a southern baptist pastor and my mom is a teacher. Their upbringing has taught me to be a God fearing man that is always looking to improve and learn. I am also a huge Disney fan, so when I’m not flying or writing, I can be found with my wife visiting the Disney Parks all over the world.

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