The Best Pocket and Folding Knives for Your Camping, Backpacking Trips

The Best Pocket and Folding Knives for Your Camping, Backpacking Trips

A knife is one of the most convenient tools you can carry. Here are the models worth buying.

You want a pocket knife for one seemingly simple reason: to keep on you for when you need it at a moment’s notice to perform any number of tasks, from the mundane to the gnarly. It might be able to skin an elk or cut fruit from a tree, but it’ll also open your packages, slice off a hunk of cheese for a friend, or cut a loose string that threatens to unravel the whole sweater.

And the knife doesn’t need to be complicated, just convenient enough to bring everywhere (and have a decent blade). After we grab our phone, wallet, and keys, we reach for one of these to stow in our pockets next.

Choosing a Knife 

When considering knives for everyday carry (EDC), mostly look at folders. We want something on the smaller side, and since folding knives, well, fold, they fit easily in your pocket when closed. And we considered almost exclusively single-blade folders, rather than multitools like a Leatherman, since they weigh less, further boosting the portability. Since folding knives don’t have the rigidity of fixed blades, we focused mostly on locking knives.

Opinel No8 Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife with Beechwood Handle

They afford the ease of folders with the added safety of not closing on your fingers while you use them, plus the stiffness of a locking blade means you can manipulate the knife at a variety of angles, like while carving or opening a particularly tricky package. Plus, you can use the back of the blade for things like fire sparking sticks without it closing or bending on you.

Another major factor is the kind of metal the blade is made from. Our favorites are carbon or stainless steel. Carbon steel is easy to sharpen, holds an edge well, and is durable, but the blade takes more care, as it’s more prone to corrosion.

Stainless steel is the more common choice for pocket knives. It isn’t as hardy as carbon, but with the addition of chromium, the blade is less susceptible to corrosion. If you want to dive deeper into the different classes and qualities of common sub-types of knife steels, Knife Informer has this handy primer.

Types of Locking Mechanisms

Don’t be intimidated by all the different types of locking mechanisms. They all accomplish the same task but go about it in different ways.

Liner

One side of the handle’s inner liner is bent, causing it to act as a spring. When you open the blade, that springing liner slides over behind the tang of the blade to keep it from closing. Pro: Simple and inexpensive. Con: Fingers are in the way when closing.

Frame 

Like a liner lock, but this system has one side of the knife’s frame slide behind the blade when you deploy it. Pro: Secure. Con: Not ambidextrous.

Compression

A Spyderco technology where a piece of the liner springs into the tang and wedges between a notch and a pin. It unlocks with a push button. Pro: Easy to operate. Con: Small parts can wear out over time

Lock Backs

A locking bar runs up the spine of the knife’s handle and springs up into a notch in the tang. To close, press on the bar close to the butt of the handle to pivot it out of the tang. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: Can wear out, causing the blade to wiggle when deployed.

Axis

This is a proprietary Benchmade design: A steel bar passes through the knife handle and slots into a notch in the tang. It’s almost three times as strong as a liner lock, and you don’t have to adjust your grip to operate it. Pro: Ambidextrous. Con: More small parts that can break.

Collar

Here, a circular collar around the base of the blade twists to lock it closed or open. Line up the gap in the collar with the blade for unimpeded deployment. Pro: Simple. Con: Collar can wear out over time and not operate as smoothly.

How We Rated

We researched expert sources and more than 10,000 consumer reviews, as well as relied on our testing and previous experience, to pick some of our favorite pocket knives. To determine our Total Expert Score, we calculated the ratings from the dedicated knife and gear review sites, such as Knife Informer, Outdoor Gear LabReliable Knife, and The Truth About Knives. We found multiple reviews of each knife, took their ratings and averaged them on a 100 point scale.

For some of the very newest options, many lacking expert scores, we got our hands on the blades for testing ourselves. And our Consumer Score represents the percentage of people who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail sites like Amazon, REI and Drop. We relied on multiple consumer marketplaces and averaged the number of positive reviews for each blade across the various sites.

1. Kershaw Skyline

Total Expert Score: 89/100 Consumer Score: 95 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 2.5 oz. | Blade Length: 3.1 inches | Folded Length: 4.6 inches

Kershaw 3.1" Stainless Steel Blade Pocket Knife Skyline

The Skyline’s simple design makes it a great, understated option for everyday carry. And it will fit as equally well in your hand as your pocket, given the knife’s thin build and lightweight. One customer wrote on Amazon: “The Skyline is the best slim folder I think I’ve ever owned. The shape lends well to opening boxes and cutting steak.”

The corrosion-resistant blade is supremely sharp, and, per the experts at Reliable Knife, the high quality 12C27N steel helps ensure it stays that way after heavy use. “It is more rust-resistant, and holds an edge much longer,” they wrote. A textured handle and cut out for your index finger keep the Skyline comfortable in your hand, while a flipper on the underside of the knife handle makes the blade easy to deploy. A liner lock keeps it there but is easy to unlock when you’re ready to close it up.

2. Opinel No8 Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife

Total Expert Score: 74/100 Consumer Score: 92 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 1.6 oz. | Blade Length: 3.4 inches | Closed Length: 3.5 inches

Opinel No8 Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife with Beechwood Handle

The Opinel has remained virtually unchanged for decades, thanks to its low cost, lightweight, and how effective it is. Its blade is just over three inches long, big for an everyday carry but no so large that it’s a pain to bring with you everywhere.

The No. 8 has a clever collar lock that keeps the blade locked open, but will also lock it closed so there’s no chance of it accidentally deploying in your pocket. (This is especially helpful as the knife’s hinge is looser and easier to open than other pocket knives.) The blade is made of carbon steel rather than stainless: It’s hard, with a razor-like edge, but corrodes more easily, so you’ll want to avoid dampness and wipe off grease and oil.

The beech handle is simple and light, not to mention that it floats in water. But it can swell if it gets wet, which can make the knife harder to open. The Truth About Knives gave the No. 8 four out of five stars and wrote that “It cuts like crazy, weighs nothing, feels great in your hand, and can last forever if you use it right.” The blade’s long edge makes it ideal for camp and kitchen use, a point not missed on one REI reviewer. “It makes quick work of peeling fruits and slicing cheese,” they wrote.

3. CRKT CEO EDC Folding Pocket Knife

Buy Now

Total Expert Score: NA Consumer Score: 84 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 2.1 oz. | Blade Length: 3.1 inches | Closed Length: 4.5 inches

CRKT CEO EDC Folding Pocket Knife

The CEO is a super slim and discreet folder that looks more like a high-end pen than a knife. It wouldn’t feel out of place in the board room, fitting easily into most pockets with its minimalist clip. And yet its effectiveness is apparent. The blade deploys easily with a thumb stud (and ball bearing pivot) and a liner lock keeps it open, while the lightweight glass-reinforced nylon handle provides excellent grip.

This is a new knife, so it hasn’t yet received many expert reviews, but Blade Mag named the CEO its Best Buy of the Year. And several Amazon customers commented on how easy it is to open. “It swings like it is floating on air with the bearing,” said one. Our testing backed all that up: The CEO is capable, streamlined, and inconspicuous.

4. SOG Folding Pocket Knife Twitch II Tactical Knife

Buy Now

Total Expert Score: 87/100 Consumer Score: 88 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 2.6 oz. | Blade Length: 2.7 inches | Closed Length: 3.6 inches

You’ll love Twitch’s beautiful and simple finish. Its blade and anodized machined-aluminum handle look great. But this SOG’s calling card is that it’s as easy to open and use with the left hand as it is the right, thanks to robust thumb studs on both sides of the blade.

SOG Folding Pocket Knife Twitch II Tactical Knife

Though if you don’t want to use those, the knife also has a flipper that you can operate with either index finger. A coil spring helps deploy the knife more easily and quickly, while a lock back keeps it open. 

The Gear Hunt loved the AUS-8 stainless steel and said it was, “A breeze to re-sharpen and get right back to using efficiently.” And customers liked the knife’s size. “The perfect balance of being big enough to be useful and small enough to not be scary in an office setting,” wrote one. But the same reviewer also noted noticed “a little side-to-side play in the locked blade.”

5. Spyderco Paramilitary Plain Blade Silver

Total Expert Score: 88/100 Consumer Score: 95 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 3.9 oz. | Blade Length: 3.4 inches | Closed Length: 4.8 inches

It’s no surprise given its name, but this Spyderco has an aggressive lookwhich will fit great in your kit if the rest of your style is tactical. Though it might stand out if you’re just tooling around town. The contoured composite G-10 handle is slim and will fit more comfortably than many knives no matter what angle you use the blade at, according to reviewers, who kept remarking on the solid feel.

spyderco Paramilitary 2 plain blade silver

That means more control and less strain, whether you’re quickly opening boxes or whittling for a couple of hours. The knife’s compression lock prevents it from closing accidentally, and there’s a sleek pocket clip that lets you carry the knife tip-up or down on your left or right side. “You rarely see ergonomics work as well as this on a pocket knife,” said reviewers at Knife Informer. “It’s tough to describe but everything about it just feels right.” At 3.9 ounces, the Paramilitary 2 is on the heavier side, however.

6. Benchmade – Griptilian 551 Knife

Total Expert Score: 81/100 Consumer Score: 95 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 3.9 oz. | Blade Length: 3.5 inches | Closed Length: 4.6 inches

The Griptilian moniker comes from this knife’s impressive handle. The synthetic, textured Noryl GTX material affords you plenty of purchase, even if it’s wet.

Benchmade - Griptilian 551 Knife

And the rest of the knife has a simple, effective design, with thumb studs on both sides of the blade for easy opening for both righties and lefties. The Axis locking mechanism feels solid but can be disengaged easily by pulling back on a small slider on either side of the handle.

“Without a doubt, one of the best folding knives we’ve ever used,” wrote a reviewer at Knife Informer. Consumers on Amazon also raved about the locking mechanism. “This is truly a one-hand knife,” they wrote. “The mechanism is so smooth, you find yourself just opening and closing it.”

7. ESEE – Blue Ridge Knives Olive Drab/Black Zancudo Framelock Folder

Total Expert Score: 79/100 Consumer Score: 77 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 3.2 oz. | Blade Length: 2.9 inches | Closed Length: 4.0 inches

This knife has a portly profile when open, but the transition from the narrow neck near the blade to the handle’s fat pommel fills the hand well, making it comfortable to use. The blade isn’t flashy similar to a Swiss Army knife, it’s nearly symmetrical with no curves or turns up or down at the end. This makes it effective for most cutting tasks.

Blue Ridge Knives Olive Drab/Black Zancudo Framelock Folder

The Zancudo also has thumb studs on both sides of the blade close to the pivot point (so they’re less likely to get caught in the material you’re cutting). A simple frame lock keeps the blade open. Though simple, this knife isn’t perfect. Knife Informer raised concerns over the force required to open it. “It was almost unpleasant, requiring you to dig into the thumb stud at an angle and put a lot of grunt on it to open,” they wrote.

8. Victorinox Classic SD

Total Expert Score: 87/100 Consumer Score: 94 percent gave it four stars or higher

Weight: 0.7 oz. | Blade Length: 1.3 inches | Closed Length: 2.3 inches

The Victorinox Classic SD is an outlier in our list not only does it have tools other than a blade (a tiny file, scissors, a toothpick, and tweezers), but it is incredibly small and light. At just over two inches long and weighing less than an ounce, it’s small enough to fit on your keychain, making it quite possibly the easiest knife here to carry everywhere.

That modest blade length and tiny handle mean you should steer clear of using this for tasks that involve a lot of muscle, but the Classic SD can handle most daily cutting like opening boxes, letters, and otherwise annoyingly burly plastic packaging.

Be warned: The blade doesn’t lockout and requires extra care to avoid accidentally closing it on your fingers. Outdoor Gear Lab said that the Classic SD has a ton of utility for its size. “If you are looking for a knife to virtually disappear on your keychain but roar to practical life whenever you need to tackle some light-duty task, look no further,” they wrote.

Share this post