If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: everyone should own and carry (when appropriate) at least one pocket knife as a part of their everyday carry. Truly, the benefits are legion and the drawbacks are easily mitigated. Unfortunately, it’s one thing to say you should have one and another to teach you how to pick the right one.
The world of EDC knives is an incredibly vast and daunting one, even to those of us with a wealth of experience. And that can make it extremely difficult to know how to go about it. While there’s no across-the-board right answer, there are a number of important tidbits of information that can make the process more enjoyable, educational, and easy. We’ve done the grunt work below to teach you what to look for when you’re trying to find the perfect everyday carry pocket knife.
Set A Budget
First Thing's First
We cannot properly express the importance of setting a budget first and foremost regardless of what it is you’re seeking to purchase. In the case of pocket knives, the range of available prices is exceedingly vast — with solid options as low as a few dollars to completely-overbuilt ones that can cost literally thousands. Not only will setting a budget help keep you from getting in over your head, but it can help you set your expectations for the other factors involved in picking out the perfect everyday carry pocket knife — including blade steel, handle materials, locking mechanisms and deployment, and even the country of origin. The more rigid your budget, the more it will narrow down your choices. Furthermore, while you definitely want to set a high-end limit, you should also set a low-end limit to ensure you don’t settle for something below your quality standards. Setting a budget before you even begin your search will also help limit your disappointment if you fall in love with a knife that’s well out of your price range.
Define Your Needs
Pinpoint A Purpose
Once you know how much money you’re willing and/or able to spend, you still have some work to do before you get to shopping. That’s because, after setting a budget, you need to define what, specifically, you hope to accomplish with your blade of choice. If you’re buying your very first knife, don’t worry — you might not get a hang of just how much you use your blade or for what you need it most until you’ve had it for a while. If this is your 12th, you might be trying to fill a gap in your collection. Either way, there are some factors that are immediately worth consideration. They are as follows:
Venue: First, you should take heed of where you’ll be using your knife. If you live or work in the city, that might mean your primary purpose is convenient utility — activities like opening packages, cutting loose strings from clothing, removing those pesky wristbands you get at concerts, etc. For the most part, these tasks can be completed with a fairly simple, uncomplicated blade. However, if you find yourself out in the great outdoors — where you might use your knife to whittle wood, cut up kindling, slice apart paracord for hunting traps, etc. — you’ll do better with something a bit more robust and with fewer moving parts that might get gunked up in the process. Of course, there are always shades of gray between and even outside of these two, but that’s a determination you’ll have to make for yourself.
Size: There are a couple of major reasons why the size of your everyday carry pocket knife should be toward the top of your list of considerations. For starters, a blade that doesn’t feel good in your hand — either because it is too big or too small — will limit its utility and, therefore, its overall usefulness in your life. Similarly, the size of a knife will determine how easy it is to carry, with smaller blades being more pocket-friendly. Of course, that also changes by how you intend to carry it. If you have a bag or backpack in which you plan to keep your knife, the overall size is less important than it would be for pocket carry. Lastly, there are legal implications of knives with longer blades. Some places outlaw carrying knives with blades over 3″ in length whereas others have no size regulations whatsoever. Make sure you educate yourself on your local laws.
Accessibility: This factor tends to be more personal preference than anything else. A knife that requires manual opening simply takes longer to deploy than one with a flipper or assisted-opening deployment. Unless you find yourself in frequent emergency situations, there’s no real benefit to a faster-opening blade outside of convenience. Of course, if you intend to use your knife for self-defense purposes, one that opens faster is going to suit your needs better. But if you’re not in a hurry all the time, one that opens by different means should be just fine.
Legality: While this is not something many might consider when shopping for a knife, the legality of blades in your place of residence is of extreme importance. As mentioned earlier, some cities, states, and regions completely outlaw carrying knives with blades over 3″ in length. Similarly, automatic knives (ones that open with the simple push of a button or slider) are also completely outlawed and carrying one could get you a stint in the slammer. The rules vary from place to place, so make sure you look into your local laws before you ever purchase a folder.
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The Cutting Edge
Some might argue that the blade of any knife is its most important part. After all, without a cutting edge, a knife is just a handle. That being said, there are a huge number of factors to consider when it comes to the steel, shape, edge, and finish of a knife’s blade. We touch on the importance of each and some of their options below.
Steel: The primary material out of which any blade is made, its steel will determine many factors of a knife — including its toughness, durability, cutting power, how well it holds an edge, and even price. The higher the quality of a given steel, the more expensive it will be. But higher-end steels also boast more beneficial features often not found in those of lower quality. For instance, powdered metallurgy steels often combine high edge retention, durability, and more — but they’re also very pricey. Lower quality steels will save you a good deal of scratch, but they are more prone to chipping, require more frequent sharpening, etc. Unfortunately, it’s a wide world of steel out there, which makes for a daunting amount of learning if you hope to become an expert.
Shape: There are some arguments to be made for the importance of a blade’s shape in regards to its usefulness. For instance, Wharncliffe and sheepsfoot blades have a very straight edge with a similarly sturdy back allowing for usefulness in unique tasks like whittling and woodcarving. But a drop point or clip point blade with a longer, more sloping edge is said to be more useful as an all-around cutting tool. Similarly, tanto blades with their angular edges are perfect for piercing and self-defense applications. While drop and clip points are the most common varieties by far — thanks to their overall versatility — most any blade will suit you just fine in your day to day life. So, if you prefer one style over another and you don’t have a specific reason you need a certain shape, you can choose which you like the best without much issue.
Edge: Probably a good deal more important than the shape of your blade is the style of its edge. For our purposes, we’ll break this factor down into three basic categories: straight, serrated, and combination. Straight edges are the most common, especially when it comes to everyday carry because they are as straightforward (no pun intended) as they are useful. For most cutting tasks, a plain or straight edge works just fine. Serrated edges, with their jagged teeth, are not as useful in the day-to-day but are a good deal more rugged when it comes to tougher cutting tasks — like sawing wood or dressing game. If you find that your requirements sit somewhere in-between those two categories, then the combination edge is for you, as it features an edge that’s partially serrated and partially straight — giving you the best of both worlds but at the expense of a more abbreviated cutting section for each edge type.
Finish: The least important of the determining factors of a blade, the finish can be looked at as a bonus when it comes to appearance and, sometimes, durability. A blade that has no finish will function just fine. But those that have a DLC finish, for instance, might look black and have a bit of added durability. There are a number of different kinds of finishes, but most of them come down to personal style preferences. Even those that make claims of increased durability should be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, they add some durability, but it’s truly not enough to make a difference to the overall quality of your blade.
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Hold Your Own
While we’d probably agree that the blade is more important than the handle of a knife, the distance between the importance of both parts is pretty slim. Still, there are fewer firm arguments to be made about handle styles and materials than there are for blades. Of course, that doesn’t mean the variety isn’t there — it is, in abundance. We touch on the two most important determining factors below:
Base Materials: Every knife handle is made from a base material, but there’s a lot of variety therein. You’ll see many that are made from stainless steel — which is plenty sturdy and versatile — but you might also come across those crafted from aluminum (lighter and slightly less sturdy), titanium (stronger, but more expensive), brass, and more. If a knife features scales — pieces of material that adhere to the exterior of the handle — it usually features a stainless steel liner, but the liner might also be made from titanium or another material.
Scales: Attached to the outside of a knife liner, the scales of a knife can be made from an extremely wide variety of materials including natural ones, metals, and synthetics. Like different metals, there are different benefits and drawbacks. For instance, a knife with wooden scales might look beautiful, but it will be more prone to wear and tear — especially when it comes to damage caused by moisture. Other typical materials include G10, FRN (Fiberglass-reinforced nylon), GFN (Glass-Filled Nylon), Micarta, bone, and even (in rare cases) leather. Alongside the liner, the scales (if your knife features them) can determine the grip, long-term durability, comfort, and overall strength of your knife. They will also have a noteworthy impact on the overall cost of a given everyday carry pocket knife.
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Arguably more vast and complicated than the world of knife steel, handle materials are wide-ranging and can feel extremely daunting to the uneducated. Get cued into their differences, benefits, and drawbacks on our complete guide to knife handle materials.
Locking & Deployment
The final primary determining factor you should consider when looking for a knife, the lock (or lack thereof) will determine how much you can trust and rely upon your knife when it is deployed and can directly impact its usefulness to a degree. Some knives have nearly unbreakable locks, whereas others have none of which to speak at all. Like the other factors, this will come down to your own personal preference and needs, but there are a number of common styles — each with their own benefits and drawbacks — we’ve outlined below:
Slipjoint: Technically, slipjoints are non-locking. But they do feature a spring-loaded mechanism that helps hold the knife in place when deployed. Although they’re not very secure, they’re reliable and can still be found on a number of new and classic knife styles — including the likes of Victorinox’s Swiss Army Knives.
Frame: One of the sturdiest locking mechanisms around, frame locks are integrated into the handle of a knife, sliding into place when the blade is deployed to keep it from closing on your hand when in use. These are very popular with hard-use pocket folders but can be difficult to disengage when you’re done using your knife.
Liner: Think of liner locks like a pared-down version of a frame lock. They operate on the same principle, but they’re slimmer and arguably less reliable, as the locking mechanism doesn’t have the same heft found in frame locks. Still, these are abundantly common, plenty trustworthy, and easier to disengage one-handed than their frame lock counterparts.
Back: Rather than being built into the front and/or liner of the handle, a back lock is built into the spine of a given knife’s handle. The upside to these is that they are remarkably sturdy — even more so than frame locks in many cases — but they’re extremely difficult to disengage with one hand. That means, most of the time when you want to close a back lock knife, you’ll have to use two hands.
Button: There are varying types of button locks, some of which are proprietary designs for specific knife-making brands, but they all operate on the same basic principle. When a button lock knife is deployed, the locking mechanism slips into place, preventing the blade from closing. In order to disengage, you simply press the button to release the blade. Slider locks operate similarly, but (as the name suggests) they slide rather than push down like a button lock. These locks are also reliable, but they have more moving parts and can be prone to jamming if they get too dirty.
Etc: As mentioned, these are only a select number of the available options (although they are the most common). There are brands and knifemakers, however, that have proprietary locking systems that are far less common. Sometimes they are based on the above kinds, but more avant-garde varieties are unlike anything you might have seen before. Just make sure you look into the functionality of these lock types and any available reviews if you’re interested in a knife that has one.
We know it seems daunting that there are so many factors to consider when purchasing a pocket knife. What’s worse is that the above doesn’t even encompass all of them. Outside of this, there are still plenty of other factors to consider — but you can worry about that more when you’ve become a bit more acquainted with the world of knives and everyday carry.
At the end of the day, there’s only one thing that really matters: the knife you buy is your knife. Yes, there are a lot of potential pitfalls — which is exactly what we’re hoping to help you avoid with this article — but you’re the one who has to carry around this folding blade at the end of the day. As long as you’re satisfied with what you’re getting, that’s all that really matters. Anyone can tell you which is the best knife for them, but only you will be able to figure out which one is the best for you. And if you end up picking up something you don’t love, you can always try again until you find that perfect pocket knife.
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