When it comes to choosing the best folding knife, many factors come into play. At first, it can be a little bit difficult to sort through the madness because there are so many different specs and knife designs. Fortunately, I’ll simplify the process for you by breaking down the finer points and giving you some tips that will help you choose the right one.
First, let’s define exactly what we mean when we say folding knife. For purposes of this article, I am going to refer to traditional folding pocket knives only. While technically a Leatherman multitool or a balisong (also called a butterfly knife) are indeed folding knives, I will likely discuss these in different articles because each is really a niche of its own. That said, the defining characteristic of a folding knife is that the blade folds into the handle. The blade is attached to the handle via a pivot that allows the blade to rotate. Typically, this type of knife will have a blade stop that will hold the blade in place once it has been deployed. Often times, the blade will also lock open and require a specific and deliberate motion to disengage this lock prior to closing the blade which expands the capabilities of a folding knife by making it safe for thrusting and piercing operations without fear of the blade closing on your fingers.
Folding Knife Advantages
There are several advantages to carrying a folding knife over their fixed blade counterparts. These are listed below:
By far the single biggest advantage to carrying a folder over a fixed blade is size. With pocket space at a premium these days in light of modern fashion trends, iPhones, and the growing number of extra things we carry with us, space savings is critical. Because the blade folds into the handle, you can effectively half the length of the knife at will, making it easier to pocket and store on your person. This has many implications. First, concealment is easier. This applies if you carry a tactical folding knife for self defense or otherwise just don’t want to alarm people. Additionally, in many locations it is illegal to conceal a fixed blade, which means a folder is the only type of knife you can carry in your pocket (check your local laws). Finally, it simply means you can fit more stuff in your pocket. That means you can add that bottle opener to your keychain that you’ve always wanted without compromising your ability to carry your knife.
A folder doesn’t require a sheath, because it acts as its own sheath. This means you don’t have to carry and extra part to make your knife safe when not in use. This is a matter of convenience, but also a matter of cost as you don’t have to buy a sheath.
Safety In Certain Circumstances
While this is sort of subjective, you can quickly close your knife at any time you like, which makes it safer in many respects. For instance, if you carry a fixed blade knife on your hip and someone wants to borrow it, you likely aren’t going to remove your sheath from your belt, insert your blade, and then pass both to your friend. You will likely just hand them the knife. Contrarily, with a folder, you will inevitable close the knife prior to passing it with your friend. This is a great advantage for folding utility knives as these are often passed around between people who share them at work.
As with anything in life, there are compromises and folders are no exceptions. The greatest tradoff you make when electing to buy a folding knife versus a fixed blade knife is that there are more moving parts. Any time you introduce moving parts into a system, there are always more parts that can fail. On high end folders this isn’t an issue, but on cheap folding knives this can become a problem as occasionally parts will wear out faster than they should or otherwise fail. Additionally, more moving parts means more frequent maintenance. You will likely have to break the knife down every once in a while and give it a good cleaning, oil the pivot, etc. This shouldn’t deter you though, as the maintenance is still really minimal and I feel that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Five Choices for Top Folders
So now on to the knives! Below I have listed 5 of the best folding knives that I have handled in recent memory. I think they are top notch and give them my highest recommendation. That’s not to say there aren’t others, but if you end up picking one on this list, you can’t go wrong!
The Kershaw Blur is an amazing knife, particularly when you consider the price. It can be had for around 50 bucks (depending on color), and for that money you get a knife with a 3 3/8″ coated blade made with Sandvik 14C28N steel, 6061-T6 anodized aluminum scales, Trac-tec grip inserts which provide excellent traction and grip for your hand, and the option of a plain edge or partially serrated blade. If you pay a few bucks more, the Blur can be had in S30V steel, which is a high end steel that was one of the first designed for cutlery. I have done an article in the past if you would like to read more about S30V steel.
The Blur is an assisted opening knife, meaning that it uses a spring such that when you decide to deploy the blade, the knife does most of the work for you, resulting in quick and precise opening of the blade. This has obvious benefit in a self defense situation, in addition to being just downright fun to play with. Kershaw’s assisted opening was originally designed to circumvent the old switch blade laws in many parts of the USA, and did so quite successfully. The knife has a liner lock, which is one of my all time favorites due to the minimal grip change required to disengage the lock. The knife only weighs 3.9 ounces and the clip can be reversed for tip up as well as tip down carry. The clip sits high so you can bury the knife in your pocket pretty easily without it being too noticeable. Also, the knife is made in the USA, which is always a plus.
In terms of overall quality, you can read the reviews that the Blur gets here. The reviews are outstanding. The Blur is a knife that gets some of the highest user ratings out of any knife on this site. Kershaw really knocked it out of the park with this one. If you can’t decide which knife to get, the Blur is a great place to start because it is so affordable and performs so well. This is really a top value folder and it gets my highest recommendation for an every day carry knife as well as a camping knife.
The Benchmade Sequel is a tremendous knife from Benchmade that was designed by McHenry and Williams. It features a 154CM stainless steel clip point blade that is just shy of 3″ long. 154CM takes extremely high hardness, meaning that this knife has great wear resistance and edge retention. This means the blade will perform a variety of tasks well including carving, food preparation, cutting rope, and even field dressing animals without becoming dull.
The knife has a locking mechanism that is unique to Benchmade called the axis lock. It is a take on a piston lock that is spring loaded. It is a great locking mechanism due to the fact that it is ambidextrous. Since lefties get pushed out of the liner lock market often times since they are mostly set up for righties, a lot of lefties gravitate towards Benchmade’s for this reason. The blade has a thumb stud for easy deployment, although I find it much easier to pull back on the locking mechanism and just flick my wrist. It’s a faster and more precise way to open the knife. The handles are machined aluminum with G10 inserts for texture. One of the greatest benefits to this knife is that it weighs in at a mere 2.6 ounces, so it just melts away in your pocket and you don’t even feel it.
As for user reviews, the Benchmade Sequel gets excellent reviews from pretty much everyone who has tried it. The knife can be had for a little over 100 bucks, but is worth every penny. Sometimes you have to pay to play with the best. This knife is, without a doubt, one of the best folding knives out there.
SOG Mini Vulcan
The SOG Mini Vulcan is a knife that was named after a six barreled 20mm gatling cannon that was equipped on fighter jets including the F15 Eagle, the F16 Falcon, and the F18 Hornet. Based on this it’s easy to gather that this is a rather serious knife. It comes with a 3″ long blade made with VG-10 steel. VG-10 is a great all around steel that takes and holds a very nice edge. You can opt for a clip point blade or a tanto blade depending on your preference. I prefer the clip point.
The locking mechanism is a type specific to SOG called the arc-lock. This is reminiscent of Benchmade’s axis lock in that it is a modified piston lock. If I’m honest, I prefer Benchmade’s axis lock slightly because the angle of attack to actuate the mechanism is more comfortable for me, but SOG’s version does the trick just fine as well. The handle is FRN, also known as fiberglass reinforced nylon. It is a very robust material that is similar to G10 in many ways in terms of performance. This particular knife has nice texturing so grip is ample. The weight on the Mini Vulcan is 3.4 ounces, so pretty light. It should also be mentioned that the knife is made in Japan.
The Mini Vulcan gets great reviews from users and one can be purchased for roughly 90 bucks. At this price it represents good value. I would recommend it as an every day carry knife, a backpacking knife, or a camping knife.
Spyderco Manix 2
The Spyderco Manix 2 is an awesome knife. The S30V hollow-ground blade comes in at 3.375″ and sports a plain edge. The blade also has the signature thumb hole that Spyderco pioneered as a deployment mechanism. The thumb hole is by far my favorite blade deployment mechanism from any manufacturer due to its ease of use, minimal grip change required, and accurate precision when trying to get the blade open quickly.
The locking mechanism is referred to as a ball bearing lock by Spyderco, although it is really yet another modified piston lock design. The pocket clip is reversible and the lock is ambidextrous, so the knife can be set up to be carried left handed or right handed. The clip sits high on the knife so the knife is barely visible when you have it clipped in your pocket. The handle material is G10, which is impervious to water, chemicals, heat, etc. It has great texturing which allows for confident grip even in wet conditions whether you are wearing gloves or carrying barehanded so no need to fear next time you are kayaking or on a creek walk. The Manix 2 also has a large lanyard hole which allows you to get creative with what you use as a lanyard if that’s your fancy.
Like all of the aforementioned knives, the Manix 2 gets stellar user reviews. It’s a knife that you simply can’t go wrong with. I consider this a hard use folder due to the robustness of the design. That means that not only will it work for every day carry and camping, but it is also be ideal for combat situations and hunting. It is reasonably priced, and I think it offers one of the best values out there. Also, if you desire the same characteristics in a larger knife, then the Manix 2 XL would be worth a look as well.
So upon first glance, you may be a little surprised to see the Kershaw Chive on my list. However, the Chive has a lot of things going for it. To start off with, it is a small knife, and it rocks a 2″ blade made with 420HC steel. This means that it is extremely light, tipping the scales at a scant 1.7 ounces. It’s light enough that you don’t even know that you’re carrying it.
Next, the knife has a frame lock which is extremely strong. The lock is overkill for a blade with such limited length, but overdesigned never hurt anyone! The knife is also assisted opening, much like the Blur mentioned earlier in the article. The pocket clip is single position, but frankly the knife is small enough that you don’t even need to clip it. Just drop it in your pocket and go. Also cool is that you can get the knife in a variety of colors including satin, polished, black, and rainbow.
The Kershaw Chive gets solid user reviews. Best of all is the price, as the knife comes in at about 35 bucks. This makes it one of the best folding knife values around. Finally, the knife is made in the USA and is available off the shelf in a lot of hardware stores, so it is readily available on short notice if you need it. That means if you procrastinate before your next hiking trip, you can swing through Home Depot and potentially have a shot at picking one up without having to wait (or pay for) shipping. Overall I recommend this as a nice and small every day carry knife that won’t alarm people if you take it out.
So that is my take on the top five best folding knives out there at present. Remember that there are tons of knives out there, so just because I didn’t choose one for my list doesn’t mean that there aren’t others that are just as great. As always, before any purchase I urge you to do your due diligence and check out the reviews on the main site. Lastly, if you think I missed one and want to mention it, or agree/disagree with something I wrote, feel free to post it in the comments!