Picking the right pocket knife is never an easy decision. In fact, it’s overwhelming and downright frustrating. Even if you asked 100 people what kind of pocket knife they’re currently carrying, you would get 100 different answers.
There are drop, needle and sheepsfoot profiles. Serrated, partially serrated and plain edge blades. Handles made of various materials such as G-10, Micarta and Carbon Fiber. Oh, and let’s not forget the multiple locking systems to choose from!
There is so much to add that even I get dizzy.
Does this mean you go out and purchase every pocket knife you see? Absolutely not!
At the most basic level, your choice depends on its use and what you expect it to accomplish.
Regardless, the pocket knife you carry must be tough enough to tackle any task from the most ordinary to high stress situations.
So before you dive into your pocket and shell out your hard-earned cash for a pocket knife, let’s first understand how to choose the right pocket knife before you suffer from “buyer’s remorse”.
Since you don’t have time to conduct the research, don’t worry we’ve done it for you.
In this ProsurvivalStrategies Guide, you will learn:
- How will you use your knife?
- How to choose the right pocket knife handle material?
- How to choose the right number of pocket knife blades?
- And much more!
OK, so let us help you decide how to choose the right pocket knife for your personal use.
How Will You Use Your Pocket Knife?
One of the most fascinating things about pocket knives is that they can vary drastically from one person to another.
There are so many factors that definitely contribute to one’s choice of pocket knife from another’s, including their profession, the area they live in, activities and personal preferences.
For example, if you are a hunter, your personal needs are different than those of a contractor.
Will this knife be used daily, (at work), on the weekends, hunting, camping or all of the above?
Pocket knives are deceptively useful tools. Each detail from its handle to blade edge is important to know because it determines its ideal functions and performance.
For example, a pocket knife which excels at batoning wood isn't as effective as one used for delicate tasks such as carving wood.
Draft a quick list of the tasks you will be using the pocket knife for. This will significantly help you begin your journey on picking the right pocket knife.
How To Choose The Right Pocket Knife Handle Material.
Never assume the knife handle is solely an aesthetic choice. The handle material is a very important feature to understand when purchasing a pocket knife.
A high quality handle is important because it ensures your grip stays tight.
From metal to mother nature’s resources, each material has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of comfort and performance.
It can also be a matter of your own personal preference that dictates your final decision.
Below is a very brief breakdown of the most common types of pocket knife handle materials.
Aluminum - is usually anodized (or coated with an oxide layer) for color, hardness and protection. Its low-density, provides for a nice substantial feel without weighing the knife down.
Titanium - has many advantages over stainless steel. It is lightweight, provides great strength and corrosion resistance. In support, it has the highest strength to density ratio of any steel.
Stainless Steel - is durable and resistant to impacts. They are heavier than Aluminum and Titanium. Due to its weight, it can be cumbersome to carry.
Micarta - is composed of absorptive fibers such as cellulose paper, cotton fibers, non-woven fabrics and linen soaked in resin. It is naturally smooth and subsequently undergoes texturization to improve the grip on the handle.
Kraton - It is a synthetic replacement to rubber. This artificial rubber has excellent flexibility, high traction and sealing abilities. Additionally, it has an increased resistance to heat, chemical exposure and weathering.
G-10 - Not only is it durable and strong, it is also a low maintenance material. Many knife enthusiasts certify the reliability and strength of G-10 handles. It is often used in tactical folding knives or fighting knives because of its ruggedness and lightweight.
Carbon Fiber - It consists of very thin strands of the element carbon which are tightly woven and ultimately bound with resin. These fibers have high tensile strength and have a superior strength to weight ratio compared to steel.
ZYTEL , FRN, GFN, Grivory, Zy-Ex, Griv-Ex - FRN / GRN - Handles are made of a nylon based plastic that is reinforced with fiberglass and subsequently molded into any shape. FRN is a cheap material to manufacture which makes it ideal if you have a limited budget.
Thermorun - is a high performance TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) commonly referred to as thermoplastic rubbers. They are military tested and approved. They have excellent thermal stability, chemical and water resistant and have a nice warm feel when gripped.
Juma - comes in multiple colors and scaled textures that immediately stand out. It gives the handle a “one of kind look’. For “Juma Dragon Resin or Juma Snake Resin”, give the handle a feel and look of reptile scales.
Wood - is organic, warm to the touch, comfortable to hold and can be long lasting if maintained properly. Knife manufacturers use a wood stabilizing process to develop a more durable handle.
Bone - clearly one of history’s iconic natural materials. It is one of the earliest used on knife handles and commonly seen on pocket and hunting knives. It gives a knife a distinctive look and feel.
Leather - These handles have a warm and friendly feel to them. With a classic and vintage look, it is very difficult to overlook a leather handle. In support, they are naturally textured which provides a secure grip. Some even state these handles get better as they age and compared them to aged baseball gloves.
Mother of Pearl - comes in amazing colors such as white to silver, steel blue, green, bronze and black. It also has a pearl-like iridescent because the calcium carbonate layer is similar to the wavelength of light.
Abalone - Don’t expect these handles to be durable. They are very thin and which makes them prone to cracking and chipping. These shells are applied to a composite like veneer when handles are manufactured.
Stag - dense and relatively durable (not intended for extreme use). They have a rough texture which provides a good grip. The shape of the antler provides a natural curve.
Horn - Mother nature determines how the handle is shaped, textured and colored. Manufacturers go through great lengths to prepare horns for knife handles.
Ivory - a hard white creamy material from the tusks and teeth of mammals. It is made up of dentine, a hard, dense, bony tissue wrapped in enamel. Enamel is the hardest animal tissue which manages wear and tear.
These handles are popular among collectors. However, federal and state regulations have banned the importation of ivory.
For a more in-depth guide check out our article on knife handle materials.
How To Choose The Right Number of Pocket Knife Blades.
Now that you have determined the type of handle suitable for you, let’s look at the number of blades you might need.
We have to break this down into three distinct sections ( single, multi and Swiss army knives / multi-tools).
Single blade pocket knives come in many shapes and sizes, however their best quality is simplicity and overall use.
Unlike multi-blades such as a Swiss army knives, the main focus of a single blade pocket knife is the design and use of one larger blade. These knives have stronger locking mechanisms that are well suited for more demanding tasks and are easier to maintain.
For example, “hard use folding knives” are the tanks of the single blade family. These overbuilt beasts are specifically designed to withstand serious punishment.
If you decide on a single blade pocket knife it’s very important to determine the type of blade profile and edge necessary for your purpose.
The disadvantage of a single blade is its limitation to be used for a variety of tasks. For example, a single straight edge blade will not saw through wood.
Multi-Blade Pocket Knives - allow you to perform multiple cutting tasks unlike a single blade pocket knife. Generally, these models have two to four different types of blades, such as a clip point, spey, sheepsfoot and drop point.
These models give you the benefit of having several blade profiles immediately available. You never know what tasks suddenly come up and having the advantage of multiple blades lets you tackle them immediately.
However, multi-blade pocket knives lack the strength and durability as a single blade pocket knife. They are also more difficult to maintain since you have to sharpen two to four blades.
Swiss Army Knives / Multi-Tools - are the jack of all trades. These are the “go to” pocket knives when you need more than a blade. The Swiss Army knife which is the most versatile pocket knife on the market today. From scissors to magnifying glass, its diversity can’t be disputed.
It was originally created to meet the demands of the Swiss Army from opening cans to disassembling their M1889 rifles which required a screwdriver. No wonder this pocket knife has been standard issue to the Swiss military since 1891.
These tools definitely pack a punch and are available in all shapes and sizes. For example, the Swiss Army Swisschamp Xavt can perform 82 functions unlike the Swiss Multi-tool Army Pocket Swisschamp which performs no less than 33 functions.
Other multi-tools such as the Leatherman Free T4 are more subtle and designed for everyday problem-solving.
DID YOU KNOW?
The largest Swiss Army Knife is the Wenger Giant. It boasts 87 tools which could perform 141 different functions. It was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s most functional knife.
If you need a whole range of tools immediately available a multi-tool is the answer for you.
How To Choose The Right Pocket Knife Blade Edge.
Now that you have an understanding of the number of blades, it’s time to consider the type of blade edge. You simply can’t purchase a pocket knife without considering the type of blade edge.
The three common types of the market are plain, serrated and partially serrated.
Plain - This design has been proven for centuries and serves a much wider purpose for tactical and outdoor operations. This is the most common and versatile blade edge. These blades have one continuous sharp edge.
Serrated - Serrated edges are blades that have toothed or saw-like ridges grounded into the cutting surface. This feature is intended to be used like a small saw with a back and forth motion.
Partially Serrated - It unifies the plain edge and serrated edge giving you the best of both worlds of utility. The serrations are located closer to the handle giving you a better grip to push and pull when the serrations are applied to tougher cuts.
For a more comprehensive analysis, don’t forget to read our article on blade edges.
How To Choose The Right Pocket Knife Blade Profile.
It’s time to determine the type of blade profile for your pocket knife. Not all profiles are created equal. Some designs are more beneficial than others and each has their strengths and weaknesses.
It’s important to understand the optional use of each to make a well informed choice.
So here’s a very quick look at the various blade profiles.
Tanto - This blade style has a very flat and straight belly with a sharply angled tip that almost resembles a chisel point. This reinforces the point of the blade which gives it an extreme penetration power.
Reverse Tanto - Unlike the Tanto. This blade profile has an angle that sweeps backward towards the spine of the knife. The front angle is not sharpened which keeps a constant thickness which increases blade strength.
The belly of the blade has more sweep to the main edge which allows for slicing and more traditional knife tasks.
Clip Point - This profile is one of the 3 most common and popular blade shapes next to Drop Point and Straight Back. As the name suggests, these blade profiles have the appearance of having the forward third back / spine of the blade “clipped off”.
The clip itself can be either straight or concave.
Drop Point - This is another popular blade profile in use today and for excellent reason. This blade shape features an unsharpened spine that slopes from the handle of the knife to the tip of the blade (i.e. a convex curve), hence “drop point”.
The lowered point provides more control, strength and thickness at the tip. The tip is also good for thrust cuts.
Straight Back - This blade profile is definitely designed to be utilitarian and versatile. This blade has a dull straight spine, a curved edge and a long belly.
The spine is not sharp, and its user can apply a finger for added pressure to increase cutting force.
Trailing Point - Immediately apparent in this blade profile is the back edge (i.e. spine) that has an upward curve or upsweep. The belly of this blade provides a large cutting surface which is optimized for filleting, skinning and slicing.
Needle Point - What immediately stands out is the design which features a double-edged blade that gradually tapers to a thin sharp point. These blades are capable of serious cutting performance with either edge and penetrating soft objects due to their tapered point.
Spear Point - A Spear Point blade is similar to a Needle Point blade that makes for excellent precise piercing. The blade is symmetrically shaped and has a point aligned with the centerline of the blade's long axis.
Spear point blades usually have double edges and are considered daggers.
Sheepsfoot - Immediately apparent is the distinct design of the blade itself. This blade shape is characterized by a straight-edge and a spine that curves down to meet at the point.
They can be easily controlled by your fingers when placed on the dull back.
Wharncliffe - Unlike the Sheepsfoot, the Wharncliffe has a thicker blade and the back of the blade begins to curve at an earlier stage than the Sheepsfoot. Therefore, immediately apparent is the blade angle itself.
This profile also has a piercing point unlike the Sheepsfoot.
Hawkbill - This blade profile clearly resembles a hawk’s beak, with its sharp downward curve. The dull spine curves straight down at the end, in the same direction as the sharp edge.
This ultimately creates a sharp point facing downward.
The dull spine allows the user to handle it safely and apply pressure for more force and control.
Spey - This design features a predominantly flat cutting edge with a strong upward curve that leads to a dull point. Its very design prevents the user from accidentally piercing or puncturing anything they don’t want to when performing a cut.
These blades are frequently used by hunters and trappers.
Pen - At first glance, the pen knife blade has a trait similar to a spear point blade because of its symmetrical curves on both sides of a center spine.
Unlike the menacing spear point, this blade is only sharpened on one side and features a more gradual curve. It has a dull spine which allows the user to exert force and control for more precise cutting if necessary.
For further analysis regarding the above-mentioned, I strongly recommend you read our article on blade profiles for a more in depth review.
How To Choose The Right Pocket Knife Blade Length.
Blade length is an important factor to consider when purchasing a pocket knife.
A good EDC knife must be reasonable enough to carry on a daily basis whether in your pocket or pocketbook. Clearly, you don’t want to carry a bayonet or sword around do you?
There really isn’t a right or wrong length of a blade. It all depends upon its’ intended use. However, the length of the blade determines its effectiveness.
Small Blades are under 2.75 inches. The first asset is these blades are usually legal everywhere. Many jurisdictions set the acceptable length of below 2.75 inches. Thus, having a smaller blade ensures you are within the acceptable limitation.
For example, it is illegal to carry a knife in New York City with a blade that is 4 or more inches long.
Their compact size allows for easy carry unlike larger pocket knives. They are a great choice for basic tasks around the house.
The disadvantage of small blades is that they are not as strong or versatile as larger blades and they often have slip joint lock mechanisms.
These locking mechanisms are not “true locks” because the blade doesn’t lock into place. This means they are prone to failing during extreme use.
Medium Blades are between 2.75 inches to 4 inches. They are small enough to be mobile yet strong enough to handle a wider range of tasks. They also have excellent locking systems that ensure the blade is secure when put to use.
A significant disadvantage are the laws of certain jurisdictions that ban knives with a blade length of over 2.75 inches. That’s why you must exercise due diligence and familiarize yourself with your state’s knife laws.
This is the most recommended blade length for pocket knives because they are well suited for any task.
Large Blades are over 4 inches long and have almost the same advantages of fixed blades. Blades of this size range are considered “hard use” pocket knives because they are overly built in every sense of the word.
The blades are thicker, made of quality steel and can withstand punishment.
Overall pocket knives with blades over 4 inches are well equipped with superior locking mechanisms such as Axis, Arc, Compression and Tri-Ad Locks.
These blades are highly sought after by military and law enforcement personnel.
Of course a medium sized blade can accomplish daily tasks as well. It’s a matter of personal preference.
The disadvantage of large blades is they are heavier and more trying to carry. Due to their bulky nature they are less discrete and may not meet certain legal requirements in various jurisdictions.
It’s your responsibility to ensure you comply with your state’s law when purchasing a pocket knife with a blade over 4 inches.
How To Choose The Right Pocket Knife Locking Mechanism.
It’s all in the lock. A very important factor to consider when purchasing an EDC knife is the locking mechanism because it is the heart of any folding knife.
It ensures the blade is firmly in place, reducing the risk of damage to the knife’s structural integrity and ultimately your hand.
So let’s look into the various types of locking mechanisms on the market.
A Liner Lock consists of a side spring bar located on the same side as the sharp edge of the “blade lining” inside the handle. When closed, the spring bar is held under tension.
When the blade is engaged, the tension slips the liner inward and makes contact with the back of the blade.
It is disengaged, by using your thumb to push the liner away towards the inside of the handle or pocket clip.
A Frame Lock uses a portion of the handle to lock the blade securely. As you open the blade away from you, you will notice the left section of the handle move inwards as the blade fully opens.
This section of the frame is cut to engage the bottom portion of the blade under the pivot to prevent closure.
The thickness of the locking portion of the frame securely locks the blade into position.
To disengage the lock, you push the locking handle to the side and out of way.
A Slip Joint Lock has a metal bar spring that holds the blade opened or closed. It slips along the spine of the knife pinned to the handle in the middle of the spine.
The unpinned section near the blade applies pressure to the bottom of the blade tang, which holds the knife either opened or closed.
As the blade is pulled open, the spring presses into a slot in the blade tang holding it open.
To close the blade, it requires enough force to overcome the spring tension on the blade.
A Friction Lock relies on friction to stay open or closed. The friction is created against the washer and the handle material against the blade which keeps it closed.
To engage the blade, you press down on the tab which is added to the tang which operates as a lever to open the knife.
Once opened, the tab also indexes against the back of the blade of the handle where pressure from the user’s hand holds it in place stabilizing the blade during its use.
A Virobloc of Twist Collar Lock is a very clever twisting locking mechanism located at the top of the knife’s handle which opens and closes the blade.
It’s a rotating metal collar with a notch cut into it that once turned into the correct position, keeps the blade from accidentally opening or closing.
A Back Lock is located toward the end of the spine (i.e. back) of the knife.
To engage the blade, you must use enough force to overcome the spring tension when pressing downward. When enough force is applied, the lock bar is pushed out from the tang recess and the depressing lock bar releases the lock.
Once fully opened, the front section of the lock bar comes into contact with the blade tang, locking the blade into place.
To close the blade, the lock bar is pressed downward which puts pressure on the spring which releases the lock bar from the blade tang recess.
A Mid Lock operates the same way a back lock does except the release lock is located in the middle of the spine.
A Tri-Ad Lock is exclusive to Cold Steel knives and one of the top strongest locking mechanisms.
There is a space on the spine of the knife that functions like a button. When it is pressed downward, the blade is disengaged and the spine locks into a notch on the blade.
A “Stop Pin”is located between the lock bar and the tang of the blade. It protects the rocker and its pivots from failing.
To close the blade, the lock bar is pressed downward which puts pressure on the spring which releases the lock bar. Once the lock is disengaged, it allows you to safely fold the blade closed.
Button Locks are designed to provide quick access to a blade with minimum to no effort to the user.
They have a legitimate place in military and law enforcement communities. Numerous situations can arise in which the ability to deploy a blade with one hand is a lifesaver.
Button lock knives utilize a spring tension button located near the pivot of the blade and handle (since coil spring automatics have constant spring pressure exerted on the blade).
When the blade is fully engaged or closed, the spring button pin locks into a recess on the blade tang. Pushing the button depresses the button pin which unlocks it from the recess tang. This allows spring tension to engage the blade immediately.
When the button is pressed, the lockup is released and allows the user to safely close the blade.
Balisong Locks (i.e Butterfly knife) unlike other pocket knives do not have a lock that would cause the knife to fail other than letting go.
It relies on a pivot system which enables the flipping action which made this knife famous.
The handle is split in half down the middle. Each half is attached to the blade so it can pivot. It allows the two handles to swing away from the blade when engaged. A latch at the end of the handles keeps the knife closed.
When closed, the handles act like a sheath to protect the blade.
Lever Locks are automatic switchblades that open with a unique flip of a lever to activate the spring for automatic action instead of a button or thumb slide.
The lock itself is located at the top of the handle folded in a downward position. The lever is pulled down and depressed to engage the blade.
The main component of this system (similar to the button lock) is a tensioned pin that prevents the blade from closing.
When the blade is completely engaged, the pin from the handle fits tightly into a hole located in the tang of the blade.
Once the level is depressed, it lifts the pin out of the tang allowing the blade to close.
Ball Bearing Locks have a ball bearing that is positioned in a slightly curved channel. This channel provides the track for the ball bearing, which is pushed toward the blade due to pressure from a small shaft surrounded by a coil spring.
As the blade pivots, the ball bearing is pushed past the resistance of the closed position detent and follows a circular path until the knife approaches the open position.
When nearly opened, the blade channel drops away which allows the ball bearing to push out into the channel. It rolls forward unobstructed with the outward spring pressure, and allows the blade to swing freely.
Once the blade is fully extended in the open position, the ball bearing locks the blade in place.
To close the blade, the user removes the outward spring pressure by pulling back on the ball bearing allowing the blade to pivot to the closed position.
Compression Locks are exclusively found on Spyderco knives. Many refer to the compression lock as an improved inverted liner lock.
In this system, the lock actually wedges a short tab of metal between the tang on the blade and the pin that stops the blade when opening.
If you try to close the knife when the blade is open and locked, the tang of the blade will actually try to compress the lock tab into the blade stop pin ("compression lock"), making it lock up even tighter.
This system is also considered one of the best locking mechanisms.
Axis Locks are exclusively found on Benchmade knives and considered the strongest locking mechanism of all pocket knives.
The axis locking mechanism is deceptively simple. It operates by using a small, hardened spring-loaded bar that moves back and forth in a slot cut in the handles and liners near the pivot.
The spring loaded bar acts as the button and is positioned at the rear of the blade.
Two Omega-style springs placed on each liner apply equal pressure, so when the blade opens the springs force the bar into a tang recess and between the sizable stop pin. This mechanism definitely provides a solid lock up.
Arc Locks are exclusively found on SOG knives. The lock is positioned toward the spine of the handing in an arching slot shaped like a peanut.
It is equipped with one way spring that is always engaged which exerts forward pressure on the lock bar.
The locking system is operated by the thumb which actually moves the spring loaded piston which serves as the locking bar for the blade tang.
When opened, the piston is pushed into place over the tang by a spring which secures the blade.
The lock itself travels in an arc (hence the name) with a pivot point directly above the resting position of the lock in its open or closed position.
As the blade is engaged the lock bar swings out of the way, then drops into position as the blade is fully extended.
To close the blade, the user pulls back on the Arc Lock and shuts the blade.
For a more in-depth guide on the pros and cons of each locking mechanism, make sure you read our article on locking mechanisms.
How Much Should You Spend On A Quality Pocket Knife.
There are great pocket knives on the market available at any budget. Of course, choosing a pocket knife depends upon your personal taste, budget and intended use.
Budget pocket knives usually start at under the $40.00 range. Mid-range are around $100.00 to $250.00 and high-end pocket knives exceed $250.00.
This all depends on the quality of the blade steel, locking mechanism, handle material, blade edge and blade profile.
For example, the Ontario Rat II is budget friendly with a price tag of $31.59. It is considered one of the best inexpensive pocket knives. It’s a great utilitarian design. The blade is made of AUS 8 steel blade that is easy to sharpen and resists corrosion. The Rat II is manufactured in Taiwan.
On the other hand, the Spyderco Paramilitary 3 is approximately $200.00 due to the materials used. The CPM S30V stainless steel blade is superior to AUS 8 steel in edge retention, corrosion resistance and toughness.
It boasts one of the strongest locks on the market (i.e. compression lock) unlike the liner lock on the Ontario Rat II. The handle is also made of G-10 which is extremely resistant to harsh weather.
The difference between the two above-mentioned pocket knives is the quality of materials from the tip of the blade to the end of the handle.
Despite these differences, it all boils down to how much of your hard earned cash are you willing to shell out. Remember, “you get what you pay for."
Only you can determine your financial comfort zone.
In the end, I don’t want you suffering from buyer’s remorse.
A Final Thought.
Pocket knives are deceptively useful tools. Each detail from the tip of the blade to the end of the handle is important to understand because it determines its ideal functions and performance.
Your decision on a knife’s handle should not be based on aesthetics alone. A high quality handle is important because it ensures your grip stays tight.
The number of blades as you read above is another important factor to consider. By now you clearly understand the different advantages of single blades, multi-blade and multi-tool pocket knives.
We can definitely learn from the Swiss, who still issue the Swiss Army knife to their troops.
Think of the various tasks you encounter daily and base your decision on these tasks. It will make your decision that much more easier.
The type of blade edge should never be overlooked. The edge determines the utility of the pocket knives when cutting materials.
Although plain edge blades are most common, they lack the effectiveness of cutting through tougher material like serrated edges. However, a combination edge provides you the best of both worlds.
Not all blade profiles are created equal. Some designs are more beneficial for slicing and piercing while others serve a more utilitarian purpose.
It is highly recommended you read our article on knife blade profiles to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of each profile.
Choosing the right blade length is very tricky because of the limitations imposed by jurisdictions. It’s your duty to exercise due diligence and research your state’s laws. Regardless, the length of the blade determines its effectiveness.
The locking mechanism is the heart of any folding knife. It ensures the blade is firmly in place, reducing the risk of damage to the knife’s structural integrity and ultimately your hand.
Be extremely careful of button and level locks because they are considered switchblades in almost every jurisdiction and highly frowned upon.
Balisongs (i.e Butterfly knives) are also highly unfavorable in the eyes of the law. With so many other options available, don’t risk it.
Please don’t overlook stronger locking mechanisms such as the Axis, Arc, Compression, and Tri-Ad locks. These mechanisms are considered to be the strongest on the market.
Slip joint and friction locks are not considered true locks because the blade is not securely locked in place.
There are a multitude of great pocket knives on the market to fit any budget. It simply depends upon your personal taste budget and intended use.
If you frequently use your knife, I suggest you consider a mid-range pocket knife.
However, if you are a professional (i.e. military or law enforcement) definitely consider a high end pocket knife. Why? Because these knives will not fail you when you need them most.
Yes, this article was loaded with information. My goal was very simple, to inform you that purchasing a pocket knife is not as easy as it seems.
Now that you understand how to choose a pocket knife, make the right decisions and don’t suffer from buyer’s remorse.