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Compact Cutters: The Best Small Pocket Knives

Best Small Knives For EDC 0 Hero

Because they are still widely regarded solely as weapons by governing bodies around the world, knives are often met with many restrictions. One of the most common sanctions is a limit on the length an everyday carry blade may be. While the rules can vary from place to place, the most typical acceptable length a pocket knife may be is 3 inches.

Since said restrictions are so widespread, we’ve decided to put together the following list of EDC knives with a blade length of three inches or less, total. Without sacrificing on quality, preparedness, or functionality, these small knives fall within the guidelines set by just about every state in the U.S.A. – and are certainly going to meet requirements elsewhere. As a side note: this list does not include keychain knives – only blades that can be pocketed and measure up at 3″ or less. Whether you want a top-quality knife but wish to continue abiding the laws or you just aren’t interested in carrying a sword by your side, there’s a folding blade here for you.

The Best Small Pocket Knives Breakdown

Cutting Tool Traits

What Factors Should I Consider When Buying A Compact EDC Knife?

There’s a huge number of factors that can be considered when shopping for any pocket or EDC knife, however, a myriad of these areas undoubtedly stand above the rest in terms of significance — especially when shopping for a more compact cutting tool. In a bid to help streamline your search, we’ve broken down the most pivotal factors to take into account when buying a small everyday carry knife with a sub-3” blade. 

Blade Size & Shape: Both a blade’s profile and size will play monumental role in how a knife performs, and what type of cutting tasks it lends itself to. For this guide, every blade will be limited to 3.0” or less in length, though there’s still a decent range of sizes even within the sub-3” segment. You’ll also want to look at the shape of the blade, as different silhouettes — such as a drop point, clip point, tanto, reverse tanto, or sheepsfoot — will also profoundly impact how the knife performs. Additionally, you’ll also want to review the thickness of the blade, as this factor will play a decent role in determining how conducive the knife is to hard-use applications. 

Blade Grind: Whether a blade has a straight edge or is serrated will massively effect its cutting abilities, as well as what type of cutting tasks it best lends itself to. As a result, this is another area you’ll want to review when shopping. Though admittedly more difficult to sharpen, knives with partially-serrated blades typically offer the best of both worlds in this regard, as they give their user the option to select between either type of edge depending on the task at hand. 

Blade Steel: A blade’s shape, size, and edge will play huge roles in how it performs, though the blade’s ability to hold and retain a razor-sharp edge is owed almost entirely to the material that the blade is composed of — i.e. its blade steel. It’s also worth pointing out that more high-end blade steels — like CPM 20CV, Böhler M390, and XHP — do admittedly do a much better job of holding an edge compared to cheaper blade steels — like D2, AUS-8, or Sandvik 12C27 — though are significantly more difficult to sharpen once the time finally comes to service the blade’s edge. 

Blade Deployment: Another element that hugely impacts the overall user experience is the manner in which the blade is deployed from the handle. Alongside assisted-openers and fully-automatic setups, some of the most commonly-used blade deployment methods on contemporary knives include thumb-studs, thumb-hole openings, and flipper tabs — though there are also knives that sport more than one of these items, providing their user with multiple blade deployment options. And, while they’re largely limited to more old-school friction folders and slip joints, you do occasionally see some modern EDC knives that feature two-handed nail nick-opening deployment setups. 

Locking Mechanism: Also of tremendous importance when shopping for a small knife — or really any EDC knife for that matter — is the locking mechanism, as this element holds (or “locks”) the blade in place while it’s being used. Some of the most commonly-used locks on modern everyday carry knives include liner locks, frame-locks button locks, and lock-backs, though there are also plenty of knives that feature proprietary locking mechanisms such as Spyderco’s Compression lock or Benchmade’s AXIS lock. 

Handle Construction: Because it plays such a large role in determining a knife’s overall durability, level of grip, and overall user experience, it’s massively important to look into the material or materials used to construct a knife’s handle. What’s more, you’ll want to pay close attention to both the handle’s scales, as well as the underlying material used to construct its liner or frame. Some examples of common contemporary handle constructions include G-10, Micarta, and various polymers, as well as alloy constructions such as brass, aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium, just to name a few. 

Ergonomics & Grip: The shape of a knife’s handle and how well it fits in your hand unsurprisingly play major roles in how that knife will perform. While a handle’s level of traction and grip largely comes from the material used to craft its scales, the thing’s ergonomics largely boil down to its shape and contours. And while this area is always of extreme importance when shopping for any type of knife, it becomes even more crucial when dealing with compact knives, as it’s markedly more difficult to design a small handle that delivers stellar ergonomics — though there are plenty of reputable knife brands that have pulled off this illustrious feat. 

Secondary Elements: Though a knife’s blade, lock, and handle should get most of your attention when shopping, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be keeping a close eye out for smaller secondary elements, as these items can play a massive role I distinguishing more premium blades from their more budget-focused counterparts. Secondary elements to consider when shopping include a knife’s back-spacer,  thumb-stud construction (if applicable), pocket clip, and the actual hardware used to piece everything together. 

Build Quality: Another factor that helps to separate the more high-end knives on the market from more value-focused blades is craftsmanship and build quality — making this another crucial area to consider when shopping. While there are some exceptions, the more boutique brands that hand-build and hand-assemble their knives tend to feature much better fit and finish compared to mass-produced knives. 

Price: The should always be taken into account when shopping for any knife, though small EDC knives present an interesting opportunity, as the fact that they’re smaller and require less raw material to produce, means manufacturers can both ship and sell them at lower prices than normal full-size knives. As such, you can acquire a surprisingly high-end knife when shopping in the more compact end of the spectrum. On the other side of the coin, smaller knives from more budget-focused brands can often be had for a bargain — again, making this yet another important area to review when shopping. 

Opinel No.06 Carbon Steel Folding Knife

Opinel No 06 Carbon Steel Folding Knife
Photo: Opinel
  • Made in Savoie, France
  • Design dates back to 1890
  • Great blade steel (12C27) considering the price
  • Offered in wide variety of handle materials & colors
  • Lacks ergonomics & grip of more modern knives

Best Gentlemen’s Knife: One of the great things about Opinel – besides the fact that they’ve been making utilitarian yet unmistakably elegant knives for over a century – is that each of their folding blades shares the same classic silhouette. So, if you want one of their knives, but need one that is under 3 inches in length, you can get their signature style in a pocketable package. The No. 6 is their smallest that still has a Virobloc Safety Ring (so it locks both open and closed), has a carbon steel blade, and comes with a smart beech wood handle.

Blade Steel: High Carbon Steel (12C27)
Handle Material: Beechwood
Blade Length: 2.90”
Total Length: 6.50”
Lock Type: Virobloc (Bolster Lock)

CRKT Pilar

CRKT Pilar
Photo: CRKT
  • Modern Jesper Voxnaes-designed EDC knife offering fantastic value
  • Features ultra-beefy, 0.15” thick workhorse of a blade
  • Equipped w/ frame lock mechanism
  • Slips in & out of pockets very easily
  • Offered in several different generations & sizes
  • Would benefit from jimping at blade spine & coil

Best Value Knife: Named after Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat (aboard which he lived out the tail end of his life), CRKT’s Pilar is a design from master knife maker Jesper Voxnaes. It’s also a premium example of a micro-sized cutting tool that doesn’t skimp on style or capability. With a unique sheepsfoot blade shape, contrasting bead-blasted handle and satin-finished blade, thumb hole for easy one-handed deployment, and a frame lock. As far as tiny folders go, this is one of our hands-down favorites.

Blade Steel: 8cr13Mov (or D2)
Handle Material: Stainless Steel (or G-10)
Blade Length: 2.40”
Total Length: 5.94”
Lock Type: Framelock

Ontario RAT II

Ontario RAT II
Photo: Blade HQ
  • Made by a brand that’s trusted by U.S. Navy SEALs
  • Excellent ergonomics even when reverse-gripped
  • Offers great bang for your buck
  • Makes for great budget EDC knife
  • Build quality leaves something to be desired

Best Tactical Knife: Like Kershaw’s Cryo, the OKC Rat II is one of the greatest everyday carry knives ever to grace this Earth. It also happens to have a blade that meets most length regulations – meaning you can pocket it if you live somewhere that any knife over 3″ is illegal. While the original comes with a black handle, the very fact that the handle scales are made from nylon means that they are available in a wide variety of colors. It also features an unobtrusive liner lock for easy and reliable deployment and security during use.

Blade Steel: D2
Handle Material: Nylon
Blade Length: 3.00”
Total Length: 7.00”
Lock Type: Liner Lock

Victorinox Fieldmaster Swiss Army Knife

Victorinox Swiss Fieldmaster SAK
Photo: Victorinox
  • Redesigned, everyday carry-specific take on a classic SAK
  • Can be upgraded w/ aftermarket scales, blades, & other add-ons
  • Boasts 15 tools & functions
  • Weighs only 3.5oz
  • Doesn’t have a pocket clip & carrying pouch is sold separately

Best Multi-Tool: The original purveyor of the Swiss Army Knife, Victorinox certainly knows what they’re doing when it comes to comprehensively useful everyday carry tools. And their Fieldmaster SAK is certainly no different. Apart from its stout cutting blade, it also features another 15 built-in functions that range from a corkscrew, to scissors, to a bottle opener, and so much more. And the stainless steel tools are housed in a durable ABS handle small enough to fit in just about any pocket. If you don’t already own an SAK, now is the time.

Blade Steel: Martensitic Stainless Steel
Handle Material: Cellidor
Blade Length: 2.75”
Total Length: 6.35”
Lock Type: Non-Locking

The James Brand The Folsom

The James Brand The Folsom
Photo: The James Brand
  • Beautiful modern minimalist design
  • Has great ergonomics
  • Affords solid bang for your buck
  • Also great for outdoor use
  • Offered in 8 color options & w/ or w/o partially-serrated edge
  • Build quality leaves something to be desired

Best Minimalist Knife: Literally everything The James Brand makes is worth carrying. But the Folsom holds a special place in our hearts. At a reasonable price, you get a killer EDC blade made from superb Carpenter steel – which holds an edge well and is easy to make razor sharp – and featuring a handsome and lightweight G10 handle, offering superb grip in any condition. It also features an ambidextrous thumb hole for easy deployment, a handy liner lock, and weighs just 3.4 ounces overall.

Blade Steel: VG-10
Handle Material: Micarta or G-10
Blade Length: 2.75”
Total Length: 6.75”
Lock Type: Liner Lock

WESN Allman

WESN Allman
Photo: WESN
  • Modern take on an heirloom-quality EDC knife
  • Stellar materials & craftsmanship
  • Beautiful minimalist — yet highly functional — design
  • Super smooth flipper deployment & solid lockup
  • Offered in 9 different handle & blade finish options
  • Can sometimes be difficult to find in stock between drops

Best Titanium Knife: An absolute masterclass in minimalism, the WESN Allman is a beautifully-designed piece of everyday carry gear that combines a sleek minimalist form with top-shelf materials and expert craftsmanship. Shaped similarly to WESN’s Microblade — albeit with larger dimensions — the Allman is crafted around a frame-locking titanium handle-set (or a liner-locking G-10 set) that’s been mated to a stubby 2.80” blade composed of premium CPM S35VN — a construction that’s widely regarded as one of the all-time best blade steels for everyday carry use. Offered in nine different blade and handle finish options, the Allman also boasts fantastic build quality, and a flipper tab-deployment setup that’s buttery smooth right out of the box. 

Blade Steel: CPM S35VN
Handle Material: Titanium (or G-10)
Blade Length: 2.80”
Total Length: 6.65”
Lock Type: Framelock (or Liner Lock)

Benchmade Mini Griptilian

Benchmade Mini Griptilian
Photo: Benchmade
  • Made in America & designed by Mel Pardue
  • Super utilitarian design
  • Sold in multiple blade shapes
  • Offers pretty great value for a Benchmade
  • Cost includes lifetime warranty & Benchmade’s LifeSharp Service
  • Available w/ huge number of aftermarket upgrades
  • Thin blade at only 010” thick

Best USA-Made Knife: If you’re familiar with the Benchmade knife brand, you’ve probably realized the brand has a pretty high entry price point for their knives. And there’s a reason for that: they’re of unbelievable quality. On the more affordable end of the spectrum, you’ll find the Mini Griptilian. And while it’s a smaller blade, don’t let its economy fool you – this blade is one of the best EDC knives ever made. From its 154CM blade steel to the glass-filled nylon handle, the Griptilian (in any size) is a favorite of knife fanatics everywhere.

Blade Steel: CPM-S30V
Handle Material: Glass-Filled Nylon
Blade Length: 2.91”
Total Length: 6.78”
Lock Type: AXIS Lock

Spyderco Para 3

Spyderco Para 3
Photo: Spyderco
  • Made in America
  • More compact, EDC-friendly version of legendary PM2
  • Has stellar ergonomics
  • Features premium & rugged materials
  • Also makes for great self-defense option
  • Available w/ huge number of aftermarket upgrades
  • Expensive price

Best Overall Knife: Spyderco’s Paramilitary 2 is an impressive folder, to be sure. But it’s also a bit too far on the beefy end of the spectrum – measuring up at just under 8.3″ overall with a 3.44″ blade. If you’re looking for a similar style, but with a more compact form, the Para 3 is a superb substitute. The blade is made from extremely high quality Crucible Powder Metallurgy steel (excellent for years and years of use), it has a lightweight and durable G10 handle, and it’s plenty discreet compared to its much larger cousin.

Blade Steel: CPM S45VN
Handle Material: G-10 (or FRN for Lightweight-spec)
Blade Length: 2.92”
Total Length: 7.21”
Lock Type: Compression Lock

Sebenza 31 Small

Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31 Small
Photo: Chris Reeve Knives
  • Widely recognized as grail EDC knife
  • Unparalleled craftsmanship & build quality
  • Super top-shelf materials
  • Offered w/ myriad of super premium handle inlay options
  • Can be hard to find in stock between drops
  • Very expensive price

Best Premium Knife: Chris Reeve is legendary in the everyday carry world. As is his Sebenza 31 folding knife. Ask any EDC fanatic what their top 5 pocket knives of all time are and you’ll almost certainly see the Sebenza at the top of the list. This knife is sleek, minimalist, but packs in the features where it counts. And the fact that there is a large and small version means that, regardless of your length restrictions, you can carry one of these heirloom-level knives along with the rest of your carry gear.

Blade Steel: CPM S45VN Or CPM MagnaCut
Handle Material: Titanium
Blade Length: 2.99”
Total Length: 6.98”
Lock Type: Reeve Integral Lock (Framelock)

The Best EDC Pocket Knives

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Interested in checking out a list of stellar EDC knives that aren’t limited to models with blades spanning less than three inches? Then be sure to check out our broader guide to the best everyday carry pocket knives for the latest and greatest EDC cutting tool options that money can currently buy.