There is no one pocket knife that is the perfect choice for everyone. Some like a large folder and some prefer a knife so small that they forget it is in their pocket! A antler-handled Peanut may delight one, while another falls in love with the newest large tactical folder. Blade shape, blade length, style, steel type, handle material, lock type (or no lock at all) and a number of other factors all play an important role in the selection of your ideal pocket knife. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right pocket knife or folding knife. The following list has questions that cover most of these factors and may aid in your selection.
1. Do you prefer tactical folders or traditional pocket knives?
If you are not sure, go through the questions on this checklist. Also see the Traditional Pocket Knives and the Tactical Folding Knives pages for more information on the distinctions.
2. What size knife would you like?
If you prefer a large knife, there are a number of options in any style your might prefer. Large traditional folder options include the full-size trapper, stockman, and sodbuster patterns. Most tactical knives are on the large side, so a multitude of options are available. Almost any tactical knife is available with a blade longer than 3″.
If you would prefer a smaller knife, there is a wide range of traditional patterns available. In fact, most traditional pocket knives are either small or have smaller variants available. The options in tactical folders are more limited, but such companies as Benchmade, Spyderco, and Kershaw do make a reasonable selection of small to medium-size knives, suchas the Benchmade Mini-Griptilian and the Spyderco Delica.
3. What type of steel do you prefer?
To a lot of knife owners, steel type is not really of primary importance. If a knife blade will hold a decent edge, sharpen easily, and resist rust with a little care, most steels will do a fine job. In this case, any good traditional carbon steel or a stainless steel like 440C or AUS8 will serve well. Buck does very well with their 420HC. If possible, do try to avoid steels like 440B. If any knife says “Stainless” and “Pakistan” or “China” on the blade and has a brand you have never heard of, the steel is probably very poor quality.
For those who are really into knives and/or steel performance, there are a wide selection of steel types available from O1 to D2. If a fancier steel is preferred, like one of the newer stainless steels, these are far more available in the tactical folder market. Traditional knives in a supersteel tend to be far more expensive, but they are available. Queen offers several of their folders in D2.
4. Do you want a lock to hold the blade open during use?
If so, then you will likely prefer a tactical knife. Almost every tactical knife uses some form of lock to prevent the blade from accidentally closing while you are using it. Commonly used locks include the lockback (used on the most popular folders of all time – the famous Buck 110 Folding Hunter), the linerlock and framelock, the Tri-Lock (Cold Steel), and the Axis Lock on Benchmade knives. This feature is available on a few traditional knives, but is rare. Case offers the Trapperlock model with locks, but very few other companies have anything similar.
Some people prefer this safety feature, knowing that even if they slip, the knife will not close on their hand. Others prefer the feel of the traditional spring system that holds traditional blades open or closed. They feel that their usage does not require such safety features.
5. Do you prefer natural wood or bone handles or do you like modern synthetic handles?
If you prefer natural warm materials, you will be interested in the handle materials available on traditional knives. Common handle materials include wood, stag, and bone. Some synthetic materials are also used, such as the popular yellow handles on Case knives.
If you like synthetic handle materials, such as micarta or G-10, you will probably prefer those found on tactical knives. You can get wood or other more traditional handle materials on a few tactical knives, but the price will generally be high and the selection limited.
6. Do you want an assisted opening or a thumb stud or hole to aid in quick opening?
If so, you will probably want a tactical knife. Almost without exception, every tactical-style folder will have either thumbstuds or a hole in the blade for easy one-handed opening. Some have an assisted-opening feature, which uses a spring system to finish opening a blade once it has been started. These are not switch-blades or auto-openers, but a legal aid in opening a knife with one hand. A very few traditionally-styled knives have some form of stud or hole,but they are quite rare. The Case Copperlock again is one of the rare traditional knives with this feature.
Pocket knives traditionally have a thumb nail nick in each blade that permits a blade to be opened, but usually requires two hands. It is possible to open many traditional pocket knives with one hand by grasping the blade and flipping, but this technique is primarily limited to knives with only one blade.
7. How many blades would you like?
If multiple blades are desired, traditional pocket knives are likely your preferred knife. The most common traditional patterns have two or three blades and can have more. Sodbusters only have one blade, but trappers, stockman, copperheads, peanuts, congress, etc. all have multiple blades.
If you only want one blade, consider tactical folders, since most have only one blade as an option. Multi-bladed tactical knives are very few and far between.
8. Do you want to carry the knife in your pocket or do you want to carry it clipped to your pocket edge?
If you want to carry your knife in your pocket, you will probably carry a traditional pocket knife. They are largely designed to be carried in the pocket out of sight. If you work or live in an area where knives are not accepted or approved, a traditional knife would probably be the better choice.
Most tactical models have pocket clips pre-installed and are designed to be clipped to the pocket in partial public view. Some are specifically made to ride low on the pocket, so the knife is not as noticeable, but most are readily visible. Most tactical knives have holes pre-drilled in both sides, so that the clip can be placed for either left- or right-handed carry. Some models also allow for a choice of tip-up or tip-down carry.
By finding out your preferences in these areas, you can start to determine which knife would be best for your uses. At the least, you can determine which features are important to you and what style you might prefer and then start looking at knife manufacturers that make that style of knife.
If you prefer a majority of: a large knife, supersteel, a locking mechanism, a belt clip, and one handed opening, then you will prefer a tactical knife. Focus on Spyderco, Benchmade, Kershaw, and Cold Steel. Buck also makes some tactical folders.
If you prefer a majority of: multiple blades, traditional handle materials (wood, bone, antler), a knife that you can carry inside your pocket, then you will probably prefer a traditional folder. Look at Case, Buck, and Boker. For the most part, Swiss Army knives fall into this category as well.
If you decide that you want an unusual combination, don’t despair! Someone somewhere makes it – you may just have to hunt for it a little. Almost any knife you might want is available – and if it isn’t, someone will be happy to make a custom folder for you!