Best Steel For Knives

When it comes to the best steel for knives, it’s important to realize that every steel has trade offs. When you take these into account, you can choose your steel to tailor the properties of a knife to your liking. There are literally hundreds of excellent knife steel types out there, but there are a handful of common knife steels that are used throughout the industry. As such, I won’t cover every steel out there, but I will try to hit some that are seen most often in the knife industry.

Another thing to be aware of is that steel alone is not a good indicator of how a knife will perform. Equally as important as the steel is the heat treat. A steel will perform differently at various material hardnesses. The most common method of measuring hardness is on the Rockwell scale. Typically, most knives are hardened in the 55Rc range to 62Rc range. The lower in the range a knife lands, the higher the toughness but lower the edge holding capability will be relative to the same steel at different hardness. Knives low in the hardness range will make ideal choppers and hard use knives. Knives higher up in the hardness range will be more brittle and withstand wear better, however they will lack the toughness of knives lower in the range and they will be more prone to chipped or rolled edges. These knives will make ideal slicers.

Basic properties of knife steels:

Wear Resistance
When cutting with a knife, friction acts against the edge of the blade. With use over time, particles will separate from the edge as the material you are cutting abrades the steel. The point on your edge is most susceptible to this type of wear. As particles get removed from this location, your cutting surface will widen and your knife will start to feel more dull and require higher cutting pressure to make cuts. Wear resistance describes a steel’s ability to resist this type of abrasive wear.

Toughness describes how resistant a knife blade steel is to impact events. The most common type of impact damage that occurs are chipped edges. This can occur when you drop your knife, baton through wood, etc. Knife toughness typically is highest in the lower end of the hardness range because the material is less brittle.

Grain Size
Grain size is related to how fine of an edge your blade can take. Usually, the finer the steel grain, the finer the edge a knife can take. Larger grains tend to have larger minimum edge thicknesses. There are numerous heat treat methods that can be used to achieve various grain sizes for different types of steel.

As an end user this has little effect other than knife price, however to a knife maker manufacturability is everything. Some steels are notoriously difficult to machine, whereas others are notoriously difficult to heat treat. On the other hand, some are easy to work with all around but these typically cost more. The manufacturability describes how difficult a steel is to work with when making a knife.

Common Knife Steel Types:

1095 is a knife steel that is extremely high value which makes it a common knife making steel. It is a relatively cheap carbon steel that has some very desirable properties. If heat treated right, it can be extremely tough and take a fantastic edge. Companies like Kabar and ESEE Knives are well known for using 1095. Like many carbon steels, 1095 is notoriously difficult to heat treat as it tends to be prone to warping. Often times extra steps must be taken, particularly on larger knives, to prevent this from happening. It should be noted that non-stainless steels like 1095 are generally tougher than their stainless counterparts at the cost of corrosion resistance.

Click here to see some examples of knives made with 1095 steel.

S30V is one of the most common high end steels used in knife manufacturing today. It is a stainless steel that is touted as the first steel designed specifically for cutlery. It is a particle steel made by Crucible. It takes a fine edge, is easy to sharpen, is reasonably tough, and has good wear resistance. It is truly a steel that does everything well, but nothing exceptionally. This is a great choice if you are unsure where to start and want an awesome all-arounder.

Click here to see some examples of knives made with S30V steel.

Crucible’s S35VN was intended to be an improvement to S30V in that it is easier to machine with better wear resistance and toughness. Proper heat treat is imperative with S35VN as I find that if treated at a hardness that is too low, the edge is prone to roll a little more easily than S30V. It is a great steel if done right and it is in vogue at the moment.

Click here to see some examples of knives made with S35VN steel.

154CM is another great all around stainless steel and is comparable in many ways to S30V. 154CM is used by companies such as Benchmade and Zero Tolerance. Like S30V, it has good toughness and holds a decent edge. If you are debating between 154CM and S30V, pick the knife you like better as steel performance is almost equal.

Click here to see some examples of knives made with 154CM steel.

440C is a stainless steel that once was extremely common as one of the go-to knife steels. However noawadays, it seems to be slowly getting replaced by some of the more popular and more modern particle steels as the preferred knifemaking steels. The steel is a great all-arounder with good toughness and it will hold an edge admirably. It’s an older steel that’s still around in the knife industry for a good reason!

Click here to see some examples of knives made with 440C steel.

D2 is a tool steel that is found on many knives. D2 wear resistance is high, its toughness is midrange, and it has higher chrome content than a typical carbon steel which imparts good corrosion resistance properties. Some consider the steel a semi-stainless steel, or a stain resistant steel as opposed to a plain carbon steel. It is an extremely well liked steel. Kabar uses this on some of their higher end survival knives as well as some combat knives.

Click here to see some examples of knives made with D2 steel.

Where To Get Knife Steel?

If you are a knifemaker, you will inevitably wonder where to buy the best steel for your knives. There are a number of shops that supply knife steel, so it’s really a matter of finding one that supplies the alloy you want in the appropriate size. It is also always nice to find one who pays attention to customer service. Three great ones are listed below:

As an added bonus, a lot of knifemaking information can be gleaned from these sites. Many of them contain the material makeup information, heat treating recommendations, and other engineering tidbits that will help you along the way. Spend a little time on each one as there is much to learn.


I hope this knife steel guide has been helpful. Remember, steels are always a trade off, so you have to decide on what properties you want before choosing the best steel for knives that you make as well as knives you buy. If I didn’t list your favorite steel, feel free to describe it in the comments.

Selecting The Best Tactical Knife

In recent years, “tactical” has become a bit of a buzzword within the knifemaking community. When you hear the word tactical, you undoubtedly picture vivid images of swat teams bursting through doors with guns drawn or Navy Seals stealthily creeping around in the shadows. The people in your images are probably well outfitted with gear, mostly black or camo, with straps and gadgets galore. These images are probably based on the Hollywood portrayal of these kinds of scenarios, as well as the vast media coverage of the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq over the last decade. As images like these pervade pop culture, they are sure to shape certain trends. Because the look is currently in vogue, gun guys and knife guys have picked up on it and capitalized on it.

But sadly, “tactical” has become more of a marketing term than an accurate description of what most of the gear labeled as such is designed to accomplish. These days, it typically implies a certain over-the-top look as well as superfluous features. Unfortunately, if you subscribe to the modern day marketing misconception, you probably aren’t going to end up buying the best tactical knife for your needs. Instead, you will end up with something that is moreso “tacticool” that doesn’t provide any benefit other than awesome looking aesthetics.

Now let’s talk about what “tactical” is. In the real world, and for purposes of this article, tactical really signifies an item that is strategically functional. Truly tactical gear is often times mission specific and tailored to provide specific capability. A tactical knife for an underwater diving mission is going to be very different than a tactical knife for an urban mission or a desert mission. For instance, a tactical dive knife is going to have to be extremely corrosion resistant due to the high salt environment that it is used in, although color might not be an important factor due to the low light conditions. In an urban setting, a good tactical knife might have a built in glass breaker and have a gray or black blade. Similarly, a tactical desert knife will likely be desert tan or flat dark earth, allowing it to be less visible amongst its surroundings. These different examples illustrate the vast differences you must account for when picking good tactical gear, and more specifically a knife.

Before we get too detailed, click here to browse a few tactical knives.

Tactical Knife Features

When it comes to choosing a tactical knife, there are many different aspects that you need to think about. To generalize, some universal facets of a knife that is truly tactical are as follows:

Failure is not an option in any situation where true tactical gear is required. As such, a tactical knife must be dead reliable. Most often this is going to steer you towards the fixed blade category. Fixed blade knives have less moving parts, which means less to break. As such, fixed blades typically make great tactical and survival knives. This isn’t to say that you should turn your back on a folding knife entirely though, as they too can be completely reliable but it is less common and usually more expensive to go this route.

A good tactical knife is also going to be highly functional. It must hold an edge extremely well. It must provide ample grip, both bare handed and when wearing heavy gloves. Additionally, if it is a tactical folding knife, it must be easily deployed with bare hands and gloves. It must have sufficient cutting edge to perform the necessary tasks, but be sufficiently sized to be easily concealable if necessary. An often overlooked aspect of tactical knife functionality is the sheath. The sheath must hold the knife in place firmly while still allowing easy draw. Additionally, a good sheath will provide numerous mounting options such as MOLLE loops, a belt clip, and velcro so you have options for how you carry it.

You’ll almost never see a shiny tactical tool, whether it is a knife, gun, flashlight or otherwise. Polished knives can reflect light and give away your position. A polished surface also makes your knife more visible and harder to conceal. Typically tactical knives are coated with hard and wear resistant coatings such as a powdercoat or Cerakote. Usually knifemakers choose earth tones so as not to stand out.

Tactical Knife Reviews

Now on to some recommendations. I will now choose a few knives that I think make good tactical knives for a large variety of situations based on the criteria that I listed above. It’s important to remember that the knives recommended below aren’t going to be the best for every situation, but at least one of them should most likely cover yours. That said, they are great all around knives and if they have the ideal characteristics that you need you can’t go wrong.


The ESEE ESEE-6 is an absolutely outstanding fixed blade knife. The knife has a full flat grind, making the knife a great slicer. In addition, the blade has sufficient thickness at .188″ to withstand some torture. It weighs a reasonable 12 ounces and comes in at an overall length of just shy of 12 inches with the blade making up 6.5 inches worth of the total length. The knife has a full tang as well. The ESEE-6 comes with a black blade and natural colored linen micarta scales. The scales have excellent texture and are pretty thick, so the knife nicely fills the hand and won’t slide around when you use it barehanded. The knife comes in 1095 steel, which is extremely tough and takes a nice edge when heat treated properly.

ESEE offers the ESEE-6 in either plain edge or partially-serrated edge. I am usually a fan of plain edges due to the limited utility of serrations, but the ESEE-6 has a long enough blade to leave enough plain edge to be useful for most cutting tasks should you choose the serrated knife. You can also get the blade with a sharpened top edge (which you could dull into a false edge with a good sharpener). The knife also has an accessible lanyard hole and a rounded pommel. Lastly the sheath for the knife is of excellent quality as well. It is a molded sheath that comes in coyote brown, olive drab, or black. You can get an add on MOLLE back, MOLLE locks, a belt clip plate, and an accessory pouch in a variety of colors as well.

Overall the ESEE-6 is a superior knife with outstanding build quality and attention to detail. This knife will treat you well and you can’t go wrong if you pick one up.

Click here to read more reviews and check prices on

Zero Tolerance 0560 / 0561

The ZT 0561 (the 0560 is extremely similar so I will talk about the 0561 but the review applies to both) is a collaboration effort between ZT and the famous Rick Hinderer. The ZT 0561 is essentially as close as you can get to a production version of Rick’s famed XM-18 which is one of the most highly regarded knives out there.

So let’s talk about what the ZT 0561 has to offer. It is a folding knife of course, with a titanium frame lock. The blade is 3.75″ in stonewashed Elmax steel which is non-reflective. It offers two deployment options including a thumb stud and a flipper. I find the flipper to be far more usable than the thumb stud, especially when wearing gloves. The locking mechanism is a titanium frame lock, which locks up tight, can withstand tons of abuse, and is easy to actuate. The scale opposite the liner lock is machined G10 when phenomenal texturing and can be had in black or coyote brown. The knife is heavy at 5.8 ounces, but this is acceptable for a heavy duty tactical knife. Best of all, the knife is made in the USA.

Overall, the Zero Tolerance 0561 is extremely robust, has high build quality and can take a serious beating (To give you an idea of its application, the Hinderer XM-18 that it was modeled after is only available by direct order through Rick Hinderer if you are active military, an LEO, firefighter, etc otherwise you have to wait for an infrequent production run to ship to a dealer). Fortunately, anybody can buy the ZT 0561 without having to wait around. Due to the target market Rick tailored this knife to, you can be absolutely sure that it will serve your needs.

Click here to read more reviews and check prices on

Full Size KA-BAR

It would be negligent if I were to omit the full size KA-BAR from the list of best tactical knives. KA-BAR’s full size fighting knife was adopted as the US Marine Corps combat knife in 1942, and subsequently adopted as the US Navy utility knife. The KA-BAR has been thoroughly field tested by the US armed forces and has withstood the test of time. It is an outstanding knife that has made an appearance in every major war since World War II and one that you can’t go wrong with.

Make no mistake, the full size KA-BAR is a big knife. It is just as comfortable opening cans of food as it is in hand to hand combat. It is a fixed blade knife with a 7″ long blade. It has a .165″ blade thickness and is made in the USA. The blade steel is 1095 and the total knife weight is .65 pounds, which is surprisingly light for a knife this size. The knife can be had with a variety of handle options. The most basic is the black Kraton handle, but there is a variety of leather washers of varying colors that you can get as well. You can also get it in a dress knife configuration, which is more decorative than the combat knife although technically will provide the same function. The knife is also made in the USA.

Handling the blade reveals that you feel every bit of its size. The handle is thick which provides great ergonomics and allows you to grip comfortably. The grooves between the washers(Kraton or leather) on the handle provide great texture that allows you to maintain your grip on a wet knife or dry knife. The knife can take a serious thrashing and the blade cleans up easy with a few passes on a sharpener. Overall it is an outstanding knife that our soldiers trust, and so should you. It should also be noted that the full size KA-BAR gets absolutely top reviews by most everybody.

Click here to read more reviews and check prices on


You will notice that each of the above knives are simple with nothing flashy about them. These are reliable knives with no gimmicks or add-ons that you don’t need. If there is one piece of advice that I hope you walk away with, it is to avoid the tactical marketing hype and pick a blade that is actually going to help you should you need it. Avoid the fancy stuff in favor of elegantly simple and you will win. I hope that this article has provided you guidance in choosing the best tactical knife! Feel free to make recommendations of your own as far as tactical knives in the comments section.

Best Knife Sharpener

It is amazing how often I’ll ask to see a knife, only to realize that it is so dull that a butter knife would outperform it. Upon mentioning this fact, the first question I receive is usually “Can you prove it?” After letting the other party inspect the edge on my EDC knife, they usually agree and then exclaim that their knife is dull because they don’t have a knife sharpener. If you are this person, this article is written for you. I intend to walk you through the knife sharpening basics, and then recommend what I think is the best knife sharpener at a few different price points.

Why Does A Knife Get Dull?

Before we dive into sharpeners specifically, it is important to understand exactly why a knife gets dull. There are several factors at play here. First it is important to understand the edge. The edge is where both sides of the blade meet. Depending on steel type (and associated grain structure for the material scientists), the cutting surface of the edge can be as small as only a few molecules thick. As you use your knife over time, you slowly start to roll this edge over. Because this is happening at the microscopic level, it’s difficult to notice with the naked eye. When you roll your edge, you are effectively making the cutting surface thicker, or in other words, you have to push a wider piece of metal through the material you are cutting which offers more resistance and resultingly requires more pressure to cut.

Second, steel is a wear material. If you drag steel across another material, particularly one that is hard and tough, you will slowly remove molecules from the thinnest point on your edge. This is called galling. This process is accelerated by corrosion. Again, this happens at the microscopic level so it is hard to see with the naked eye. This can easily be felt with a finger though as the knife won’t feel like it is “biting” as you run your finger softly against the blade. Note: I do not recommend running your finger across your blade for safety reasons unless you are experienced in this practice. Much like rolling your edge, material wear will slowly make the cutting surface of your blade thicker which will make your knife cut worse.

Knife Sharpening Basics

Now that you know why an edge gets dull, let’s talk about some of the basic principles when it comes to sharpening. When sharpening a knife, you are simply using a coarse material such as a sharpening hone to remove steel from each side of your edge to narrow the cutting surface again. This process is very much like sanding a piece of wood. You are really just rejoining the two surfaces on each side of the edge.

Sharpening Angles
Sharpening angles are extremely important as they greatly affect how long your blade will hold its edge as well as what cutting properties it will possess. Most knives are sharpened to an angle of 15 to 25 degrees per side (or in other words a 30 to 50 degree angle total). Typically, the smaller the angle, the sharper the knife will be but at the cost of edge retention. On the contrary, a larger angle will hold the edge longer but won’t cut quite as effortlessly. Typically, an edge angle is tailored to the knife style and knife steel. To give you an idea of what kinds of blades like certain edges, here is a quick list:

15 degrees (30 degrees total angle)
This is an extremely fine edge that is most suited for disposable blades. Razors, box cutters, surgical tools such as scalpels, and other similar tools. This edge will not last long at all, but will be laser sharp. This is too fine for most pocket knives and only few high end and exotic steels can hold a usable edge for long at this angle.

20 degrees (40 degrees total angle)
This is probably the most common and most useful all around angle, and probably what you will want to sharpen your knives to. This is ideal for pocket knives, camping knives, kitchen knives, and many other types. This offers a nice balance between edge retention and overall sharpness. This angle can still shave hair off your arm with ease so for most general purpose cutting, there is no need to go smaller.

25 degrees (50 degrees total angle)
This is best suited for edge retention, and is ideal for knives that you don’t want to have to sharpen often and are willing to live with only a moderately sharp blade. This is also ideal for knives that will see some serious abuse, such as hunting knives and camping knives. If you are the kind of person who likes to baton through wood or chop with your knives, this is an ideal sharpening angle for you.

The actual technique used varies to some degree depending on the setup, but in each case you are simply removing material from your blade to narrow the cutting surface. This usually consists of running your blade repeatedly across a whetstone or diamond stone. Typically you will start with a coarse grit (as far as stones go, although they are all very fine) and work your way down through two or three grits before your knife will be sharp. In some cases, if you have an electric knife sharpener, you may be using a belt or wheel instead of a stone. The concept is still the same in this case.

For a more in depth guide on these techniques, you can go here to read more about knife sharpening basics.

Knife Sharpener Reviews

Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker

The Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker is a superb sharpener that is extremely easy to use. Included in the kit is a plastic base, two medium stones, two fine stones, and a pair of finger guards. The kit also includes a detailed instructional sharpening video to teach you the ins and outs of knife sharpening. You have the option of choosing a 30 degree or 40 degree total angle, so it should cover most of your tools and certainly all of your knives whether they are kitchen knives or pocket knives (both plain edge and serrated). You may also lay the stones horizontally and use them like a regular whetstone.

To use it, simply start with the coarse grit stone and set them up in the spot designated for your chosen sharpening angle. Start with the pointy side of the triangle, as it will remove material the most quickly. You slide the knife down the stone for about 20 passes per side. Then switch to the flat side of the coarse grit stones and do 20 more passes. Repeat the process with the fine ceramic stones and you are done! It doesn’t require a lot of hand pressure on your blade, so be gentle. It usually takes about 5 minutes to put an extremely nice edge on my knives when I use this sharpener. I highly recommend watching the video before you start, as it will save you time and leave you with a nicer edge when you are done.

It should also be noted that the versatile nature of this sharpener makes it easy to sharpen other items as well. It easily doubles as an axe sharpener, as a fish hook sharpener, and can easily sharpen darts, punches, scribes, or a number of other tools. You can also get replacement stones for it, which makes life easy if you sharpen a lot of knives.

Click here to read more reviews on

Worksharp Knife and Tool Sharpener

The Worksharp Knife and Tool Sharpener is pretty heavy duty and particularly ideal if you have a lot of knives and tools that need frequent sharpening. This sharpener is powered and drives belts in a variety of grits. There is an attached blade guide that allows you to maintain your sharpening angles.

The Worksharp is flexible and allows you to sharpen at 40 degrees, 50 degrees and 65 degrees (for scissors) total angle. The abrasive belts come in 80 grit, 220 grit, and 6000 grit. Like the Sharpmaker, the Worksharp comes with an instructional DVD and comprehensive user guide. To use it, you simply fire it up and pull your knife through the guide, running along the length of the edge of your blade. It takes only a couple of passes on each side of your knife on each grit. You can sharpen your knife in roughly two minutes with this setup, with most of the time going towards changing the belts. However, it should be noted that if you have a lot of blades to sharpen, this machine can save you considerable time as you can run all the knives at one grit and subsequently drop down to the next.

The Worksharp is a great kitchen knife sharpener (I recommend 40 degrees) and a great pocket knife sharpener (again, I recommend 40 degrees), but it also makes sharpening other tools a breeze as well. You can easily sharpen your mower blades, shovels, scissors, hatchets, etc. At the end of the day, this sharpener puts an excellent edge on anything you can throw at it so if you need frequent sharpening, it’s a great way to go.

Click here to read more reviews on

Pretty Much Any Whetstone

Yes, that’s right. A whetstone, often called a bench stone, a water stone, or a sharpening stone is an abrasive block (most aren’t actually natural stone) that can either be hand held or placed on a table. You simply run the blade of your knife along the stone, alternating sides. A whetstone can be a little bit more difficult to use than the above two sharpeners, mainly because there is no index or reference by which to set your angle. This is done by feel and you more or less have to eyeball it.

That said, whetstones have been used to sharpen knives and tools for many years, long before any of the above tools were ever invented. With some practice and care, you can become a very skillful sharpener on a whetstone. Because of the infinite amount of angles you can set, you can put an edge on anything from a razor blade to a kitchen knife to a chisel. Two advantages to whetstones are that they are extremely portable (assuming you get a small one) and they are extremely cheap compared to some of the more highly engineered sharpeners out there. Interestingly, many people can actually put a better edge on a knife using a whetstone versus anything else. If you don’t have one, it’s definitely a nice tool to have, especially on long trips where your knife may get dull before you have access to a sharpener.

Click here to see some examples of whetstones.


No knife sharpening guide would be complete without mention of stropping. Stropping is a finishing technique used to polish the edge of a blade after it has been sharpened. Contrary to intuition and unlike the sharpeners above, a strop doesn’t actually remove any material. A strop simply realigns any microscopic indentations in your blade. Stropping is most common for things like straight razors, but for someone who wants a perfect edge on their knife, a strop is the way to go.

A strop is typically leather, and can either be hanging or fixed to a hand held paddle. To use, you simply slide your blade gently up and down, alternating sides. This is an extremely gentle process, and many people who use strops do so before each cutting operation (for instance a barber usually strops a straight razor before performing a shave on somebody). Most people use a little bit of strop dressing or buffing compound in addition to aid in the process. Stop dressing serves two purposes; the first is to preserve the leather on the strop itself and keep it supple while the second is to slightly increase the drag on the blade to improve the stropping process.

A strop is a great way to get a laser sharp edge, but be prepared to repeat the process often as the edge gets bit fragile with a strop. It should be noted that stropping isn’t really ideal for your survival knife. It’s moreso ideal for knifes that do more delicate work.

Click here to see some examples of strops.


So there you have it. Hopefully this guide points you in the right direction when it comes to your search for the best knife sharpener to suit your needs. In the end, it is up to you to decide exactly what works best for you. If you have any knife sharpener recommendations of your own, or would like to leave a review for one, feel free to do so in the comments! Also don’t hesitate to ask any questions. Stay sharp and thanks for reading!

Click here to see more knife sharpeners!

Find The Best Survival Knife

With the recent glut of survival knife niche websites that have popped up, I thought it wise to write my own guide to choosing the best survival knife in order to dispel some of the misinformation out there. That said, you are here because you want a knife, and presumably one that you can use to survive in the event of a life or death situation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that since you are reading this, you are likely an outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman as it may be), or at least a person who appreciates the outdoors. Chances are you venture far away from home to take part in high adventure activities. While these types of activities are fun, the farther away you get from civilization, the harder it is to get help and the more you have to be able to fend for yourself should something go wrong. Some of the last places you want to be without a usable knife are camping in the woods, on a hunting trip, backpacking through the mountains, halfway up a cliff face on a rock climbing trip, or on a long hike where help is not nearby.

Click Here If You Would Like To Browse A Few Survival Knives Before We Get Started

How Useful is a Quality Survival Knife?

While we never want anything to go wrong, sometimes something just unexpectedly does. If this happens, one of the first tools that you are going to reach for is your knife. To give you an idea of just how useful your survival knife is going to be, let’s talk about some of the things you will use it for in a survival situation. The following isn’t an exhaustive list, but moreso designed to just get you thinking so feel free to add to it in the comments if you feel so inclined.

Use Your Knife to Make Fire
In a survival situation, particularly in cold climate, having the ability to create fire is absolutely crucial and a knife is an absolutely integral tool when it comes to making fire. A knife is the single best tool for making tinder and kindling, which are two of the basic building blocks for firemaking. In addition, the knife makes an excellent tool for batoning through wood which allows you to create adequately sized fuel wood for your fire as well as gives you access to dry wood that may be in the middle of otherwise wet wood in a pinch.

In addition to preparing fuel for firemaking, a knife can also serve as a component of a source of ignition. Knives are typically made of steel, and accordingly can serve well as the steel part of the flint and steel equation.

Build Shelter Using A Knife
Building a basic shelter, such as a lean-to is essential to surviving in harsh environments. You can cut tree branches to size if needed, cut vines or rope to join branches, or even just hammer the knife into the side of the tree to use as a step to get you off the ground for the night.

Using A Knife to Hunt and Prepare Food
From a foraging aspect, a knife can grant you access that you otherwise wouldn’t have when searching for food in a survival situation. For instance, grubs like to hide in tree bark, and a knife make an excellent tool to get them out. Additionally, often times the edible portion of a plant is surrounded by an inedible portion that must be removed. A survival knife is great for uncovering this as well.

From a game hunting perspective, a knife can be used to create hunting tools. For instance, you can whittle the end of a stick down to a point, creating a makeshift spear. Or, you could even tie your knife off to a stick and use your knife itself as a spear point. You can also prepare materials to make snares, create fishing lures, and a myriad of other things. If you do indeed kill game, you can use your knife to dress your kill. You can also use it for gutting and boning fish.

What Makes a Good Survival Knife

Now that you have an idea of the types of uses there are for your knife and what kind of abuse it is likely to endure should it ever come down to the wire, it is time to discuss the attributes that the best survival knives possess.

Reliability is of paramount importance, and this is the number one priority. A broken knife is far less usable than a knife that is in good condition. This includes every aspect of the knife, from the edge on the blade all the way back to the handle. Any part of your knife that fails to perform compromises your chances of making it out alive if it ever comes down to it.

So what qualities do you look for in a reliable survival knife? First, a knife is only as good as the engineer who designed it and the toolmaker who made it. For this reason, it is best to stick with companies that are well known who have made knives that have withstood the test of time. While something new and shiny may look appealing, stick with old standbys. They are old standbys for a reason!

Another important component to reliability is spine thickness. You are looking for a knife that can withstand unimaginable abuse, and a knife with a thin spine will not accomplish this for the most part. Stick to knives with thick spines, as you will avoid seeing your knife bend or break under extreme conditions. A thick spine typically will add a little bit of extra drag when cutting, but this is a worthy compromise in order to make sure that your knife won’t fail.

Fixed Blade
Yep, no folders here. Unlike folding knives, fixed blade knives have no moving parts which means there are less things that can go wrong. You can do things with a fixed blade that you simply cannot attempt with a folder without damaging it. For this reason, a fixed blade gives you the most options in terms of how you use your blade. Make sure it has a full tang as this type of knife is much stronger than a partial tang knife. Any handle type works including knife scales, a paracord wrapped handle (check out Stormdrane’s blog for some awesome tips on paracord wrapping knives), or a skeletonized handle.

Bigger isn’t always better. Remember that you have to carry your knife wherever you go and a huge knife will weigh on you, take more energy to use, and possibly become cumbersome. However, you most certainly don’t want to go too small, and if you aren’t sure bias towards a bigger knife. A typically recommend an absolute minimum of a 3.5″ cutting edge, as anything shorter will prevent you from being able to effectively baton through wood. My personal sweet spot is the 5″-6″ range, as it is long enough to perform all survival tasks without feeling like you are carrying a machete.

Steel For A Survival Knife
Steel choice is important. You will either want a stainless steel or a coated carbon steel. Stainless steel resists corrosion well, whereas carbon steel will rust more easily (hence the need for the coating). There are some great alloys out there in either variety. A personal favorite of mine is coated 1095, as its all around properties are superb and it is very affordable. The one downside is that you must be diligent about keeping it dry and lightly oiled when not in use.

An often overlooked aspect when choosing a knife is the sheath. There are tons of materials out there, from cordura nylon to leather to a variety of plastics such as kydex. My all around favorite is kydex, because it is lightweight and extremely durable. Many kydex sheaths have rivets in them which allow you to string some paracord through them, which never hurts to have. A good sheath will keep your knife from moving around and will prevent you from losing it.

Knife Color
While black, flat dark earth, and desert tan all may look really cool, unless you are trying to survive a wartime situation where you need to camouflauge yourself, they make your knife harder to keep track of. In a true survival situation, most people want to be seen. A brightly colored knife is great for this. In addition, should you lose it it’s easier for you, as well as a search and rescue team to spot.

It is important to note that not all knives can be had in bright colors. This shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent from buying them. One great way to add some bright color to your tactical colored knife is to use a brightly colored paracord lanyard with yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, and other colors that stand out against earth tones.

Top 5 Survival Knife Reviews

Now that we have covered the basic properties, the following are some of my picks for what I consider to be some of the best survival knives on the market. You will see that each blade in the following list meets my above criteria, allowing you to rest assured that it will serve you well.

ESEE ESEE-5 – Hard Use Survival Knife

ESEE, formerly known as RAT Cutlery makes some absolutely superb fixed blade knives. In fact, at this time, this is pretty much the only type of blade they make. They are absolute experts when it comes to designing high end fixed blades, and for the money they are tough to beat.

The ESEE-5 has a 5.25″ long blade and is a whopping .25″ thick with a nice saber grind. The blade is available in both serrated and non-serrated form, and I recommend the non-serrated unless you know for a fact that you will need to cut a lot of fibrous material. It is 11″ total in length, which means it has a nice handle to blade ratio. As a bonus, it comes with a built in glass breaker and a bow drill divot, making it as ideal for urban survival as it is for wilderness. The scales are micarta with excellent texture which makes for easy gripping in the wet. The steel is a powder coated 1095 which makes for an extremely resilient edge. Do realize that you do need to maintain the knife with a thin coating of mineral oil if you leave it laying around or it will develop a slight patina over time.

As far as sheathing is concerned, ESEE provides a great kydex sheath that holds the knife securely. The sheaths are also available with various options such as MOLLE locks, a belt clip plate, a full MOLLE back, and an accessory pouch. The sheath is very well thought out with an adjustable screw that allows you to adjust the force required to withdraw the knife from the sheath.

Lastly, the knife is available in standard colors including black and olive drab, but ESEE also offers a bright green that they refer to as “venom green” with orange scales. If you can get over the zombie knife look, this is by far the most visible.

ESEE offers a lifetime, no questions asked warranty to give you an idea of how confident they are in their knives. I have personally used a number of ESEE knives, and have nothing but great things to say about their quality. You simply can’t go wrong with this knife. If there is one complaint I have, it is that the knife weighs a whopping 16 ounces, but that is the price you pay with a knife as robust as this one.

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Fallkniven A1

Fallkniven is a Swedish company that is well known for making some of the best fixed blade knives on the market. The blade is just a shade over 6″ long, with a thickness of .24″ which is comparable to the ESEE-5. This knife boasts a VG10 blade, which is a great all around stainless steel. The knife sports a full tang and has a molded Kraton rubber handle.

The knife is available in a variety of colors and sheathing options. The blade can be had coated in black or standard silver steel. You can buy the knife with a leather sheath or you can opt for a Zytel sheath, which is a type of plastic.

This knife is lighter than the ESEE-5 at 12 ounces, making it a more portable. Overall, this knife gets good reviews from users and has great all around build quality. It is just as functional serving as a military knife as it is serving as a camp knife. Ergonomics are good, and while it’s not cheap, it’s worth the coin. It’s a bombproof knife that will last forever.

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Kabar Becker Campanion

The Kabar Becker Campanion is an extremely robust knife made by the company who has a long standing history of providing knives to the American military. The blade is made from 1095 steel, and coated in black. Due to the steel choice, you can expect excellent edge holding capability and toughness. The drop point blade measures a reasonable 5.25″ and is a full .25″ thick. Weight comes in at one pound, which is equivalent to the ESEE. The knife itself is made in the USA, however the sheath is made in Taiwan. Both knife and sheath have great build quality, regardless of country of manufacture. The knife scales are zytel and provide good grip and comfortable ergonomics.

Unfortunately there aren’t many color options, and you are pretty much stuck with black, so plan on tying some colored paracord through the lanyard hole. Two sheath options are available including heavy duty polyester or a hard plastic nylon. Both are good, so which one you get is left up to personal preference. The price on the Kabar Becker Campanion is substantially lower than both the ESEE and the A1, so this knife represents a solid but reasonably priced survival knife.

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Cold Steel SRK

The Cold Steel SRK is a simple knife that has high value. If weight is important to you, this is your knife. It only weighs a mere 8.2 ounces, despite the 6″ blade. Cold Steel accomplishes this by thinning the blade down to 3/16″ which is thinner than all three aforementioned knives, but is still very capable of withstanding a ton of abuse. The blade steel is AUS8, which is a stainless steel. Cold Steel coats the blade for further protection against corrosion(on the black blade only).

The knife is available with a black blade or a standard silver, and comes with a well textured Kraton handle like the Fallkniven. The sheath is plastic with a nylon backing, so your knife is held securely and you can wear it comfortably. Ergonomics on the knife are good. The SRK gets good all around reviews and is touted for its build quality and value. Overall, there are few bad things to say about the SRK. It delivers similar performance in a lighter weight package to the Fallkniven A1, if you can live with a slightly lower performing steel and the thinner blade profile. Either way, the knife will serve you well in a survival situation.

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Condor Rodan

I thought it best to provide a good cheap survival knife to round out the list. The Condor Rodan fits the bill perfectly. Compared to the other knives previously mentioned, you aren’t going to get the same quality of materials or build quality as the others, but the reviews speak for themselves considering a price point.

The Condor Rodan comes with a 1075 carbon steel blade, which has many similarities to 1095. The blade is coated in black, which is the only color option. The handle is polypropolene, and doesn’t feel as nice as zytel or Kraton but it works just fine. The blade is a very usable 5.25″ long, with a thickness of 3/16″ which is comparable to the Cold Steel SRK. The only sheath option is leather, which relies on friction to hold your knife in place so you don’t get the satisfying snap to let you know your knife is locked in that you would with kydex. However, again it works just fine.

Overall the ergonomics are good, and the steel is tough enough to handle a beating. It’s a no frills knife at a no frills price. You don’t get some of the perks of the more expensive competition, but you get all of the basic function and that’s what matters most. If you are on a budget, the Condor Rodan is a pretty decent option.

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When all is said and done, they say that the best survival knife is the knife you have, and this is absolutely true. But, with a little bit of smart planning, you can control exactly which knife that is and give yourself the edge(excuse the knife pun). I hope that you have found this survival knife guide helpful. Please feel free to ask any questions you like in the comments, or make your own recommendations. Stay safe!

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Spyderco Tenacious: One Of The Best Folding Knife Values

So you are in the market for an excellent folding knife, but don’t have a lot of money to spend. No problem at all. Let me introduce you to the Spyderco Tenacious. In my early days of carrying a knife, the Tenacious is one that got by far the most pocket time in my EDC lineup. To give you some perspective, I have absolutely beat the hell out of this knife, and can say with confidence that I have put it through its paces. It has been camping in the woods, thrown in the sand on the beach, and it even came with me to South America (read: high humidity environment) for a year. It still cleans up great! In any case, I’ll skip the rest of the life story and get right into the details as to why I think this is one of the best folding knives for the money.

Knife Features

To start with, the broad blade is leaf shaped and sports a full flat grind, which is ideal for slicing. The blade is a shade south of 3.4″ long, and the steel is 8Cr13MoV. 8Cr13MoV is a steel produced in China that has properties very similar to AUS8. I have found it to be extremely corrosion resistant, and I have also found that it takes a great edge. If I had one complaint, it’s edge holding capabilities don’t quite live up to those of some of the more high end steels such as S30V, but I find that the edge wear is pretty darn good compared to other knives at this price point. The blade sports a hole, affectionately dubbed the “Spydie-hole” by Spyderco enthusiasts, which allows you to deploy the blade easily with your thumb and a quick wrist flick. Lastly, the blade has a nice thumb ramp with decently aggressive jimping so you have great blade control when cutting.

As for the handle, the knife has steel liners with black G10 scales. Spyderco occasionally does sprint runs, so the Tenacious can be had with scales in other colors, such as blue. The locking mechanism is a liner lock, which consists of spring steel that slips into place as you deploy the blade. The liner lock is tried and true and requires minimal grip change to disengage. The jimping is excellent on the lock, so your thumb can easily grip even when wet. The handle features a four way interchangeable polished clip, allowing tip up carry and tip down carry for both left handed and right handed configurations. The clip is held on with three screws, so you avoid clip loosening issues as the screws tend to stay in place. The handle has a large lanyard hole, which is easily big enough to pass paracord or leather lace through.

Finally, the blade and handle are mated together with a pivot that contains phosphor bronze bushings, which provide extremely smooth operation and low maintenance. All you have to do is occasionally put a drop of gun oil on the pivot and work the blade a few times, and it will stay smooth as silk. The blade also weighs 4.1 ounces, which is middle of the road but light enough to to still be considered as a backpacking knife.

Build Quality

The fit and finish on this knife are just downright awesome. Spyderco does a really great job of overseeing their quality operations and as a result, even their knives produced in China are top notch. On mine, the knife had an even blade grind, a shaving sharp edge, and a well centered blade relative to the handle right out of the box. The torx screws are of high quality, and don’t strip if you take the knife apart to clean it. The scales have great and even texture. In all honesty, I don’t have a single complaint about the build quality of this knife.

Knife Ergonomics

Spyderco paid a great deal of attention to the refinement of the ergonomics on the Tenacious. The knife fills my hand perfectly without being bulky. The thickness is spot on and makes the knife feel solid. I have average sized palms with slightly short fingers. Additionally, the curvature on the belly of the blade allows you to use the entire length while maintaining maximum cutting power since it doesn’t taper off too quickly.


Now for value, which is indeed what makes this knife so impressive. At the time I am writing this, you can get a Spyderco Tenacious on for pretty cheap with a plain edge! I have had many similarly priced knives with failing locks, edges that don’t stay sharp, etc. The fact is, if Spyderco wrote “S30V” on the blade instead of “8Cr13MoV”, they could probably triple the price of the knife considering the quality and it would still sell reliably. You can find other knives with the same level of build quality, but I haven’t really encountered anything else this good at the price point.


Overall this knife is excellent on its own merit, but when you consider price it becomes the best of the best. As reviewed on the main site, the Spyderco Tenacious gets 8.3 out of 10 stars as reviewed by 16 different people. By this site’s standard with that many reviewers, that is extremely high. As an added bonus, if you are currently thinking that the Tenacious is a little too big, check out the Spyderco Persistence which is in the same family with the same quality and price point, which can be had on by clicking here. Additionally, you can check out the Ambitious for another even smaller knife in the same family. And if the Tenacious is a little bit too small, there’s also the Resilience of course.

In the end, the Tenacious is one of the best folding knife values out there and I would feel guilty to give it anything but a glowing review. Whether you are new to knives and looking for a good first knife, or a long time knife guy who is looking for a cheaper knife to add to his collection, this one fits the bill.

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Finding The Best Pocket Knife!

So, you’re here searching for the best pocket knife! Fortunately, you have come to the right place. In this article, I will talk you through the process of finding the best knife to suit your needs. In addition, I will make a few recommendations for specific knives that might meet your needs.

For purposes of this article, let’s define what I mean by pocket knife. Obviously it is a knife that is meant to be carried in your pocket. More specifically however, I am defining a pocket knife as a folding knife and as such I will be neglecting fixed blade knives and multitools, as they are outside the scope of this article.

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Identifying Your Intended Use

Every Day Carry PictureWhen searching for the best pocket knife, it is important to realize that the perfect knife is not the same for every person. The perfect knife for me might not be perfect for you, because the way I use my knife might be different than the way you use yours. Accordingly, to identify your needs in a knife, we must first identify your intended use.

I group intended uses into four main categories. These are Every Day Carry, Light Duty, Survival and Self Defense. Each of these categories carries their own set of requirements for a knife.

Every Day Carry:
This category describes a knife that you intend to have on your person full time. This is a knife you have to lug around with you, so attributes like weight play a larger role in your decision. Additionally, size plays a role from both a comfort standpoint as well as a legality standpoint. A sturdy locking mechanism is important because it will likely receive substantial long term use. With an everyday carry knife, you want equal parts performance, reliability and comfort.

Light Duty/General Use:
This category describes use around the house, the occasional camping trip, or an occasional carry knife. This is the most flexible category, with the widest range of knives to satisfy this type of use. You don’t have to worry so much about things like weight or size, because you will only carry it as you need it.

This describes a knife carried by someone who is remote from civilization that MUST rely on their knife as a life line. Reliability and robustness are of paramount importance. The requirements for this knife are the most stringent, far more so than those of an everyday carry or light duty knife. A survival folding knife should only be used as a supplement to a survival fixed blade.

Self Defense:
While I recognize that a lot of people use knives for self defense, hence its mention in this article, I don’t typically recommend a knife as a self defense tool in untrained hands. For this reason, I will not be recommending any knives specific to this use in this article. For a self defense recommendation, I suggest pepper spray, as it can quickly and non-lethally disable multiple attackers from a distance and is difficult to turn and use against you. I will yield self defense knife recommendations to people who have the appropriate training in this arena.

A Quick Word About Features

Deployment Mechanism:
A deployment mechanism is simply the design feature used to open the blade on a knife. Two ideal traits for a good deployment mechanism are speed and comfort. My favorite deployment mechanism is the thumb hole, such as the ones found on many Spyderco knives. This hole in the blade allows you to open the blade using your thumb while holding the knife steady with your other fingers. This one is the fastest for me because it requires the least amount of grip changes. My second favorite mechanism is the flipper, such as those found on many Kershaw knives, which allows you to flip the blade open with your pointer finger by pulling on a fixed lever extending from the spine of the blade.

Locking Mechanism:
A knife locking mechanism is a design feature used to prevent the blade from closing while in the open position. Two ideal traits for a good locking mechanism are robustness and comfort. The locking mechanisms I prefer are the ubiquitous liner lock, the frame lock and Benchmade’s axis lock. I like the liner and frame lock for their easy actuation and the axis lock due to the ambidextrous nature. I will demonstrate each of these in the pictures below.

Blade Steel:
Don’t get too caught up in the blade steel. There are tons of steel junkies out there, who will swear by this or that. Yes, there are plenty of bad blade steels, but tons of good ones. Unless you have a particular taste, there is no need to spend tons of money on an exotic blade steel. Unless you are an extremely frequent and attentive knife user, you likely won’t notice much difference using something exotic over the tried and true steels. I will note that I typically try to avoid foreign knockoff steels. Some of my favorite blade steels are S30V, 154CM, and VG10. These steels are found in many knives, starting at around the 30 dollar price point and I think getting one of these or something on par is worth the money.

Blade Edge:
Regarding the edge of the blade, there are serrated and non-serrated, also known as plain edge. I typically recommend plain edge to almost everybody, however serrated knives do have a few special purposes. If you are cutting large amounts of fibrous material, such as rope, serrated knife might make the best pocket knife for you. For everything else, stick with the non-serrated. Regarding partially serrated blades, I find that these tend not to have enough plain edge or serrated edge to be particularly useful in doing tasks designed for either.

Handle Material:
G10, FRN, Wood, Bone, Titanium, Aluminum…they are all good in their own respects. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference from a feel standpoint and a cosmetic standpoint. Never tried any of them? Start with G10. It’s virtually indestructible, easy to texture, water/heat/chemical resistant and light weight.

New knife purchasers often fall into the trap of bigger is better. I see many people buy a huge knife, only to realize shortly thereafter that it is difficult to carry, hard to conceal and doesn’t offer any advantage over a smaller knife. In fact, a larger knife often offers a disadvantage from an everyday carry stand point. While there is no “right size” for everyone, I tend to like between 2.75″ and 3.5″ for every day carry and 3.5″ to 4″ for survival. Just be honest with yourself about what you really need, because you’ll be happier in the long run with a knife that is the right size for you.

The Knives

So without further adieu, on to the knives. The following is a list of 5 knives that I think rank among the best pocket knives when all aspects are considered. I should note that my recommendations are not only based on performance, but also comfort, value, build quality and my overall impression of the knife. Are there other great knives out there? Sure. Will you be happy with one of these? You bet.

Spyderco Para-Military 2

This is the knife that I personally carry over 75 percent of the time. The PM2 has all of the features I desire most in a knife. The 3.44″ full flat ground, plain edge blade is ideal for making clean and precise cuts in anything from food to rope to paper. The thumb hole makes this opening this knife lightning fast and easy, and the knife has one of the smoothest pivots I have ever encountered. The compression lock, which is a variation on the liner lock, is rock solid and leaves little doubt that engagement will be solid. The knife has G10 scales on the handle, which are light weight and withstand pretty much anything you can throw at them. The handle is nice and long, allowing great grip and comfortable ergonomics. The price is a bit steep, but I consider the PM2 high value. And while there is nothing high fashion about carrying a pocket knife, I’ll say it anyways. This knife looks downright awesome.

At 3.75 ounces, the Spyderco Para-Military 2 makes a great every day carry knife as well as a general use knife, and it does this because of the nice balance between weight, robustness and performance. The tip on the blade is a little bit thin for me to recommend it as a survival knife, but it will easily withstand any camping trip or daily carry function you can think of.

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Benchmade Griptilian

The Benchmade Griptilian is a fantastic knife that I often recommend to my friends. At 3.45″ long for the full size and 2.91″ long for the mini, the blade can be had in a variety of grinds. The blade steel is 154CM, which is an awesome all arounder that has great edge holding capabilities, is easy to sharpen, and is resistant to corrosion. The knife has a grippy zytel handle, which is extremely light and fills the hand nicely. The axis lock is one of the finest in the industry and is very functional. One particularly nice feature of the axis lock is that it is completely ambidextrous. The knife has a thumb stud for deployment, but I find it more useful to pull back on the lock and flick the blade open as the stud is a touch small. A Griptilian can be had for a reasonable, but is well worth the coin.

The Benchmade Griptilian is another light weight knife, weighing in at 3.82 ounces. This one is also ideal for every day carry as well as general use. I know firsthand that the knife can take a beating, although I would want something larger for a survival knife.

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Zero Tolerance 0200

The ZT 0200 is one boss knife. The 4.0″ blade is thick and robust. In fact, I’d call it bomb proof. The knife fills the hand, making grip particularly easy especially considering the great texturing on the G10 scales. The blade steel is 154CM, which again has nice corrosion resistance and good edge retaining capabilities, which in other words means that it stays sharp for a while. The deployment mechanism is a flipper, which works great, with an additional thumb stud if you prefer to use it. It deploys quickly and the action is smooth.

At 7.8 ounces, the ZT 0200 is a beast. I recommend this knife for a survival folder or for general use around the house. The size makes is cumbersome to carry every day, not to mention the blade length makes it illegal to carry in many locales.

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Kershaw Leek

The Kershaw Leek is a great little knife, particularly for the price point. The blade is only 3.0″ on this one, which makes it extremely pocketable. The Leek can be had in a variety of blade steels, including composite blades where the cutting edge is different than the rest of the blade. The most commonly found steel is 14C28N, which isn’t my favorite, but it isn’t half bad either. While I prefer the S30V and 154CM, 14C28N is a great steel for the price point. The frame lock is awesome as it locks up great with no blade play whatsoever. The most common handle is bead blasted steel, which looks great, but the Leek can be found with other handle materials as well. The deployment mechanism is a flipper, but this one is spring assisted so it takes only a light touch to deploy the blade. The Leek is a high value for the money.

At a mere 3.0 ounces, this knife just melts into your pocket and is hardly noticed. It is a great every day carry or light duty knife, although a little small and light to succeed in a survival role. Overall, it looks good enough to be considered a gentleman’s knife and it performs well enough that I can strongly recommend one.

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Victorinox Soldier

I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one Swiss Army knife in my article dealing with trying to find the best pocket knife. The Soldier has some features I like over other Swiss army knives. First, the thumb hole allows you to open the blade one handed. Few Swiss army knives have this feature, and it is one I consider extremely valuable. The blade is 3.0″ and easy to sharpen, making the knife compact and easy to fit in your pocket. The knife has a plethora of other tools as well, including screw drivers, bottle openers and even a saw. The blade is stainless steel, which provides ample corrosion resistance. It has a rubber coating on the handle to allow good grip in both the wet and dry. Also, the blade locks open on this one, which is rare for a Swiss army knife. Overall, it’s a great buy.

The knife weighs 4.0 ounces, which is worth it for all of the extra tools you get. It makes a great every day carry and general use knife. I wouldn’t recommend this as a standalone survival knife, for similar reasons to the Leek.

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In Conclusion:

One final note is that no matter what type of knife you settle on, it is extremely important to maintain your edge so it will always perform at its best. While this is outside the scope of my article, I suggest this post if you would like to do further reading on how to sharpen a pocket knife. Aside from that, hopefully this article has been informative and has helped you pick a knife, or at least gotten you closer to picking the best pocket knife for you. Remember, there are tons of great knives out there so it’s just a matter of finding one that meets your needs at a price that you are comfortable with. Happy hunting and stay sharp!