Lifestyle

Everyday Carry: How to Choose a Pocket Knife

When it comes to thoughts on including a knife as part of your everyday carry, most men fall into one of two categories:

Those who don't carry a knife and can’t understand why anyone would.

And those who do carry a knife and can’t imagine life any other way.

Those of us who do carry a knife know that we do it mostly for fun as it satisfies an innate desire to use tools to solve problems.

Carrying a knife simply feels right and you’ll always find a use for it.

Plus the value of being prepared for an emergency situation can't be overstated.

But before you dive in and shell out your hard-earned cash for an everyday carry knife, let’s take some time to identify your requirements so you end up with the perfect blade to suit your needs.

Start by answering the three questions below.

1. How will you use your knife?

If you’re a mechanic, your needs will be different than those of an accountant or a police officer or a contractor.

Will this knife be used every day (at work perhaps), just on the weekends, on camping trips, all of the above?

For such a simple tool, knives can come in many different forms, and each detail helps determine the ideal functions and performance characteristics.

A knife that excels at heavy duty chopping won't be the same as one used for more delicate tasks.

Also consider the environment in which you may be using your knife. Will it be exposed to high humidity or salt water?  Will it need a large handle to accommodate the fumbling grip of a gloved hand in cold conditions?

2. How will you carry it?

everyday carry pocket knife clip

A uniformed worker with an abundance of pockets will have a different carrying capacity than an office worker or a bartender.

Your main considerations for carrying your knife will be:

(a) how big of a knife do you want to carry? and

(b) how will it ride it in your pocket (loose or clipped)?

Most modern folding knife designs are equipped with a pocket clip. This allows the knife to remain vertical for comfort and ride higher in your pocket for quick access.

However, the common tactical design of these modern knives doesn’t suit everyone’s taste.

If it’s a classic design you’re after, you’ll most likely have to make due with a clip less knife.

On the plus side, knives without a pocket clip tend to be smaller in diameter and can take up less space in your pocket.

The disadvantage is that they tend to slide all the way down into your pocket and ride in a  horizontal position against your thigh (see below). If this happens, it can make carrying the knife uncomfortable.

everyday carry pocket knife clip less

3. What style of knife do you like?

Once you have a sense of what you want and need out of your knife and know how you’ll carry it, it’s time to become familiar with some of the different designs and features so you can choose the perfect knife.

The two main categories of design to choose from are tactical and classic.

everyday carry pocket knife classic modern

Classic style knives:

  • Are typically going to be two-hand manual open
  • May or may not be locking
  • Likely won’t have a pocket clip, and
  • Commonly use handle materials like wood or bone

What classic knives lack in modern conveniences they make up for with timeless good looks and nostalgia.

An example of a great classic style knife is the Buck Knives Lancer.

On the other end, tactical knives:

  • Are almost always one-hand open
  • Feature a blade lock
  • Will likely have a pocket clip, and
  • Often have handles made of modern plastics, composites, or metal

What tactical knives lack in charm, they make up for with increased functionality and a certain cool factor.

An example of a great tactical knife is the Benchmade Contego 810.

Features to Consider When Picking Your Knife

Before marrying yourself to either design style, you should consider the various features I’ve laid out below to get a feel for those that best fit your needs, wants, and personal style.

Opening system of your knife

Manual Open

Opening the knife is 100% dependent on the user. This encompasses both single and two-hand opening knives.

Two-hand opening knives (think of the one your grandfather carries) are generally operated with a fingernail.

Single-hand opening knives are usually operated with the thumb via a stud or hole in the blade and can be opened lightning fast.

Automatic Open

Much like the popular switch blade of the 1950s, automatic knives open with the press of a button. These tend to be more expensive and aren’t legal in most places.

Assisted Open

This type of knife is a hybrid of the two previous systems. It requires the user to initiate the opening with their thumb, then a spring kicks in and fully deploys the blade.

Assisted open knives were created to get around the law in places that prohibit automatic open knives, but proceed with caution. Some areas don’t differentiate between assisted knives and automatic. Both could lead to equal legal trouble.

The bottom line – take some time to consider whether you prefer classic aesthetics and are willing to commit to two-hand opening, or if you want to take a modern approach to gain the speed and simplicity of one-hand opening.

Locking system of your knife

everyday carry pocket knife lock type

A lock blade knife is a folder that essentially becomes a fixed blade once it’s opened.

First you’ll have to decide if you want a locking blade or not. In places such as the UK, locking knives are illegal to carry in public places, so familiarize yourself with your local laws first.

If locking knives are legal in your area, you should strongly consider them for safety reasons.  You can imagine what it would be like to stab into something only to have the blade close across your fingers.

Lockback knife

This is one of the earliest designs and probably the one that comes to mind when thinking of a lock-knife.

Along the spine of the knife, there will be a little notch in the handle in which your thumb is used to depress the locking mechanism before the blade can be stored.

This is a tried and true method, but doesn't suit one-hand operation as well as the following designs.

Frame-lock knife

On a frame-lock knife, one side of the frame slides under the blade when it’s fully deployed, locking it into place.

This is the gold standard knife locking system. It's extremely secure and easy to operate with a singe hand.

Liner-lock knife

A liner-lock functions in the same way as a frame-lock. But rather than a whole side of the frame moving into place, one side of the liner shifts and locks the blade. The remainder of the handle stays in place.

Liner-locks are the most common locking system on modern knives. They're very secure and functional, but slightly cheaper to manufacturer than a frame-lock.

Number of blades and functions

Multi-tool/Swiss army knife

If odd repairs are a possibility in your line of work, this choice may be right up your alley everyday carry. If you work in an office, the extra tools will probably be more trouble than they’re worth.

An example of a great multi-tool knife is the Leatherman New Wave.

Multi-blade knives

These knives can be ideal if your work requires both blunt and surgical cutting ability.

You can keep one blade extremely sharp and reserved for delicate tasks while using the other freely for heavy chopping.

Single blade

The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” applies perfectly to knives.

In general, knives with a single blade will be of better quality than those with multiple blades and other tools.

It simply isn’t possible to produce a knife with 15 functions to the same quality as a single blade knife at a given price point.

So if you want an excellent blade and can live without the extras, a single blade is for you.

Blade considerations for your knife

Size of your knife blade

Regardless of intended use, one of the biggest factors to consider here is the legality in your area or occupation. For example, I’m limited to a 2.5-inch blade in Chicago.

If you work in a government building, the rules may be different from the surrounding area.

Small blades – Anything under 2.75 inches

These are great for intricate tasks, are lighter and easier to carry, and are legal in most places.

Medium blades – Range from 2.75  to about 4 inches

As long as the law is on your side, this is the perfect range for everyday carry. Small enough to make detailed cuts and large enough to handle some heavy chores.

Large blades – Anything over 4 inches

These big knives can handle many of the same tasks as a fixed blade, but have the convenience of being able to fold for easier carry.

Something this large may feel a little clumsy for smaller tasks, though. So take the time to decide if you really need a blade this large for every day carry.

Material of your knife blade

everyday carry pocket knife blade material

Pictured knife: Spyderco Persistence

This is one of the most heavily debated topics I’ve ever come across. At first glance, it appears to be a simple debate of stainless steel vs. high carbon steel.

As it turns out there’s a thing called high carbon stainless steel.

On top of that, each of these categories has a number of variations.

Not to mention, a huge factor in blade performance is how the steel has been heat treated and that information isn’t available on the spec sheet.

So even if two manufacturers use the same steel, the competing products could still have different toughness, edge retention, and sharpening characteristics.

So how do you find a high quality knife without searching endlessly for the perfect blade material?

The first step is to look for a knife with a specific alloy name. The specification sheet will list a compound such as 440C or 8Cr13MoV under blade material.

NOTE: The consensus in the knife community is that if the manufacture doesn’t list the alloy and simply states “stainless steel” or “surgical steel” don’t pay more than $20 or $30 for that knife.

The second step is to just pick a knife you like from a respected manufacturer (listed below), spending at least $30.

While this isn’t a guarantee, it definitely increases the odds that you’ll select a quality knife.

Knife Edge

Plain edge – Plain edges are great for push cuts and slicing. To illustrate push cuts, think about cutting an apple or whittling a stick. These two actions don’t require you to saw at the material, but rather, that you push the blade through.

Plain edges are easy to sharpen and are great for cutting softer materials.

Serrated edge – Serrated edges excel at pull cuts. To illustrate pull cuts, think about cutting a piece of rope. To start, you’ll wrap the rope around the blade, apply pressure, then pull the blade through the material.

Serrated blades are also great at cutting tougher materials that require a little sawing to get through. They tend to hold their edge longer, but require special tools and technique to sharpen.

Combination edge – To get around making the decision between plain and serrated, you can have a blade with both. Combo blades are usually serrated towards the handle and plain edge near the tip.

While many find this convenient, I always want to use the base of the blade for things like sharpening a stick and the serrated edge seems to get in the way.

Knife handle considerations

Material of your knife handle

This section could get unnecessarily complicated rather quickly. There're numerous materials available, all of which have slightly different performance and durability characteristics, but I’m going to simplify things a little.

If you like the look of classic knives, go with bone, wood, or a plastic that resembles either of those.

If you want a sleek, modern looking knife, opt for a clean metal design.

If it’s a tactical appearance you’re after, choose a rubber or composite material for your knife’s handle.

Shape of your knife handle

The ideal shape of a knife's handle is going to be determined by user comfort and carrying preferences.

If you have large hands or plan to wear gloves while using your knife, you’ll want to opt for a larger handle.

If grip isn’t an issue and it’s compact size you seek, go with a slim handle.

How much do you want to spend on your knife?

Now that you’ve identified the style of knife and features you want, it’s time to consider price which, of course, will be a major factor in your buying decisions.

While great knives can be found at a bargain and junk knives can come with a hefty price tag, in general, you get what you pay for in the knife market.

$30 or less

The economical range, otherwise referred to as “flea market knives.” There are a few really great knives in this price range, but most are made from cheaper materials and with less attention to detail.

$30-$60

The ideal price range for most. Once you hit the $30 mark, you’ll find that higher quality steel is used for the blade, better handle materials are available, and overall design improves significantly. This is the perfect entry-level or budget-minded range.

$60-$100

Here you’ll find another jump in material quality as well as some small improvements in design and functionality. Anyone looking to take a step up from their first knife purchase will probably find themselves looking at various options in this price range.

$100+

Knives in this price range will most likely be made of excellent quality materials and have every detail worked out perfectly. This is where the knife enthusiast or collector will spend most of their money.

Trusted Brands

everyday carry pocket knife brands

Here's an abbreviated list of some of the most trusted manufacturers in the industry. With much of their business being based on reputation, it’s unlikely that any of these companies would put out a knife that’s complete junk and risk ruining their name.

  • Benchmade
  • Spyderco
  • Buck Knives
  • Kershaw
  • Cold Steel
  • CRKT
  • Leatherman
  • Case Cutlery
  • SOG
  • Schrade
  • Boker

Recommendations for everyday carry

If you aren't interested in spending hours and hours trying to find the perfect knife, have a look at the options below. These knives are excellent quality, highly regarded by knife enthusiasts, and are the best bang for your buck in each category.

The best versatile multi-tool Knife – Leatherman New Wave

The best classic folder Knife – Buck Knives Lancer

The best tactical marvel Knife – Benchmade Contego 810

The best general every day carry knife – Spyderco Persistence

The best workhorse knife – Cold Steel Recon 1

Any one of these knives would make an excellent everyday carry. But I have to warn you, once you start carrying a knife, you're probably never going to want to stop.

You may just find yourself going from a casual knife owner to collector in no time.

What do you carry?

Nate

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Jacob
    June 24, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Love SOG. Great knives. Another brand you might look into are Ka-Bar. They have some nice tactical blades.

  • Reply
    Carlos
    June 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    What about Victorinox, Nate? Are they any good or I just watched too many MacGyver episodes when I was a kid?

    • Reply
      Nate
      June 24, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      I have a two blade Victorinox and it’s a really good knife.

      If you’re talking about the Swiss Army Knives, a modern multi-tool is going to be better in most ways, but they’re still cool.

      The most important thing is that you enjoy your knife so it it’s something you like, go for it!

  • Reply
    Amar
    June 25, 2015 at 1:24 am

    I have only used my knife once since I bought it, but I cant leave my house without it now. Every man (and woman for that matter) should always carry a knife.

    Word of advice for knife buyers: Go quality. Spend a little more on a knife, trust me it is worth the price.

    • Reply
      Nate
      June 25, 2015 at 1:35 am

      Great advice Amar! Especially if you only buy one, there’s no reason to go cheap with your knife. You’ll only be disappointed and end up spending more on a replacement.

  • Reply
    Blake
    July 24, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Good article. I love my Spyderco delica 4.

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 25, 2015 at 10:17 am

      That’s an awesome knife, Blake! I’m really happy with my Spyderco Ambitious, but I know that the Delica 4 is a higher end knife. Would you happen to have experience with both and could you compare the blade material/overall quality?

  • Reply
    Neil M White
    December 31, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    A great article with so much information. I’ll need to bookmark it for later. I’m a big fan of knives and pack a Kershaw (I forget the model) for outdoors and bushcraft/rifle cleaning. At my desk in my office I’ve got a Humvee Recon which is a bit like a toy but useful for office tasks like opening boxes.

    I’ve always liked single blade lock knives and have owned at least one since the age of 12. I like the look of the shorter tactical blades featured here which would be useful.

    Keep up the good work. The blog looks and reads great.

    Neil

    • Reply
      Nate
      January 1, 2016 at 9:54 am

      Same here! My great aunt walked back to the car from a gas station and handed me my first pocket knife when I was around 8 years old, haha.

  • Reply
    Tim Huggins
    March 1, 2016 at 6:40 am

    I carry an Old Timer 2 blade. It has a very classic look and was a gift from my wife. I do not have much need for anything tactical in my daily life so this knife fits perfectly. Classic and clean looks to match my professional daily attire.

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 1, 2016 at 9:21 am

      That’s the best kind of EDC, one with meaning. The Schrade pictured above was my Grandfather’s. I may not carry it with me everyday, but I’ll always keep it!

  • Reply
    Freddy
    April 5, 2016 at 4:00 am

    After almost 30 years of different edc choices, from my dad’s old stockman pocket knife, to buck 110, to a boot knife to a Emerson to balisongs to benchmades, customs, cold steels, leatherman, I now have to laugh to find myself choosing a stockman again, and a buck 110 for chores, (always a leatherman in the bag though). Kinda funny if you think about it.

  • Reply
    Robert
    June 24, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Nate

    I love the website. I know I’m a year late but here are my recommendations. I’m a knife collector so I hope that this info is constructive for some!

    I carry two knives every day. One for EDC cutting and one for self-defense that I hope I never have to use.

    For the EDC knife I recommend:
    – Opinel number 6
    – Spyderco Delica
    These are both small and unassuming pocket knives that don’t look scary opening boxes or cutting apples. The opinel is a beauty of style and simplicity. An absolute work of art.

    For Self defense:
    – Spyderco Matriarch 2 with emerson wave feature and all black blade and handle
    – Spyderco Endura with wave
    – Cold steel Rajah III
    – Cold steel Ti lite 4-inch
    – Cold steel spartan for times when you want a large knife.
    These knives should NEVER be used for cutting anything. Their sole use should be self-defense. As an avid shooting and knife enthusiast – I would probably rather be shot than be in a knife fight with someone that has any of the above blades. The best defense against a knife is your legs – run away! If you absolutely can’t escape, any of the above knives will be more than enough to open up (no pun intended) an opportunity to flee to a safer place.

    • Reply
      Nate
      June 25, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Thanks for the expert recommendations (for the blades and advice on confrontation avoidance)! You make a great point about the importance of an unassuming look for your EDC. The Opinel number 6 and a butterfly knife could serve the same basic function but one is likely to go unnoticed while the other will put people on guard.

  • Reply
    Shane
    July 17, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Ive carried a spyderco manix 2 for a while now and love it, the s30v blade steel is top quality and holds a razor edge well.
    I’ve just picked up a couple of ZT 0450’s while on holiday it’ll be interesting to see how the s35vn on those holds out, they are very pretty knives though.
    I’d rather pay a bit more money for a better quality steel, it’s satisfying to use a knife regularly and see it hold a good edge.

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 18, 2016 at 8:46 am

      I was recently looking at the Benchmade Bushcrafter which has the same steel and I fell in love with it. I didn’t pick it up because I really don’t have a need, but I’m already making excuses of how I could use it, haha. It’s good to know that you’re satisfied with the material and that it’s worth the price tag. Thanks for sharing!

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