Folding knives are terrific for everyday use, but with so many makes and models available, you’ll want to consider these features before buying your next one
A reliable knife is the number-one tool for any outdoorsman. Most of us own so many that it’s often difficult to decide which one to take into the field, and we often end up taking multiples. But if you carry only one blade, a folding knife offers the best bang for your buck. It may not be as durable as a fixed blade, but a folder’s light weight and small size make it more likely you will pack it everywhere you go. Here’s what to look for in a great folding-blade knife.
For an everyday carry, or EDC as it’s commonly called, you want a blade that is big enough to get the job done but not too bulky to comfortably carry. A blade length of 3 to 4 inches is about right, and any knife with an integrated belt or pocket clip will secure the tool where it belongs. Synthetic scales made of Micarta or nylon help reduce weight and are at least as durable as natural wood handles.
Just about any folding blade can be opened one-handed with practice, but there’s no beating the speed and convenience of a knife meant to operate with one hand. Standard mechanisms range from thumb holes and indents on the blade to ridges and levers on the spine that will deploy in an instant. One-handed operation is not just a flashy trick, it can spell the difference between life and death when you need to cut something loose from ropes, straps, or belts with one hand while hanging on for dear life with the other. Keep the blade well-oiled, and practice opening so that the technique is second-nature when you need it.
It doesn’t matter if you are gutting a deer or slicing up gouda at a family picnic, you need a blade of some sort. If you just want a low-cost everyday carry that is both traditional and sharp, check out any of the blades from French bladesmith Opinel. They’ve been around since the 1890s and are still just as classy and functional as ever. For a techy alternative with maximum cutting surface, look at the scalpel-sharp double blade from OTF with thumb-activated automatic opening.
Favorite Folding Knives of All Time
Here’s a list of my ten favorite folding knives of all time, listed in order of time spent on my belt or in my pocket.
10. Cold Steel Code 4 Clip Point Plain
This knife serves a special purpose – it’s my self-defense knife. I don’t spend a lot of time in scary places, so it doesn’t find my pocket very often (hence its 10th place on this list). But when I do go somewhere scary, I want a knife I can depend on – this one is slender and unobtrusive, comfortable to hand, and stays absolutely scary sharp. I hope I never need it, but if I do I trust it’ll do the job. That grim business aside, this knife will serve almost any purpose you need from quartering elk to cutting flowers, and do it with aplomb. Several options are available including spear, tanto, or clip point, and plain or serrated edge.
9. Victorinox Classic SD
This classic itty-bitty Swiss army knife earned ninth place by virtue of housing my go-to mustache-trimming scissors for the past twenty-plus years. Besides that it’s great for clandestine carry in pocket or purse, rendering you always ready to cut a cord, tweeze a sliver, and pick your teeth. You can even file your fingernails, should you care to feel dapper.
8. Leatherman Wave
If you are walking into the wilderness for a year or two, this is a tool to take along. It features 17 different tools, and is capable of everything but replacing the head-gasket on your Supercub airplane. Heck, you might even manage that. It’s a bit heavy, so don’t plan on wearing it around the house or to the supermarket (you might get asked to fix someone’s Supercub). Seriously though, this is a very capable tool and can make the difference between surviving and, well, not, should you find yourself in trouble.
7. Outdoor Edge Flip n’ Zip
Once, while guiding in Texas, a hunter handed me a knife and said, “Here, try this, I’d like to know what you think of it.” That was a common occurrence; many folks think (and rightly so) that a full-time guide should be a knife expert. I used his knife and was so impressed with it that I had to have one. This knife feels good in your hand, doesn’t get slippery when it’s all bloody, and takes an edge that will scare the hair right off your arm. It boasts two blades, one being your typical skinner, the other made specifically for unzipping abdominal cavities without puncturing the innards. It works.
6. Cold Steel Lucky
This little darlin’ is my Sunday knife. It’s tiny enough to fit unobtrusively into my pocket, carries one razor-sharp plain blade and one serrated, and is cool-looking enough to help pass the time during those rare (but inevitable) dull sermons. Just slip it out of your pocket and admire—everyone enjoys looking at a nice knife.
The modern super-light cousin of the classic Buck 112, this knife weighs only 2.6 oz. and is great for those fast-n-light backcountry hunts. It’ll take and hold a great edge, and though it offers a bit less durability and balance can perform just as well as its linebacker cousins. I’ve personally skinned and quartered two bull elk in a row with this knife, with just a 30-second touch up on my Eze-lap diamond stone between elk.
4. Schrade Old Timer Ramrod
Perhaps the most iconic pocket knife of all time, three-blade folders have graced the hip pockets of more cowboys, lumberjacks, hunters, farmers, fishermen, plumbers, handymen – you name it, this knife has done it. It sports three blades of various design, good for anything from peeling potatoes to peeling deer. Having three blades means you can use one for rough work, one for slicing your steak, and keep the third razor sharp for fine work.
3. Buck 112 Ranger
My first big knife as a kid was a Buck model 112 that my father gave me. The progeny of the historic Model 110, the Ranger 112 is just slightly smaller. It’s classic, strong, well balanced, and holds an edge. Great for whittling Christmas presents, big game, and bowdrill fire sets. It’ll perform almost any task you’d use a fixed-blade hunting knife for, but folds into a smaller package.
2. Victorinox Hiker
Until multi-tools entered the scene, a Swiss army knife was my constant companion. I wasn’t quite as handy with it as MacGyver, but still whittled, filed, scissored, tweezed, tooth-picked, screwed/unscrewed, can opened and corkscrewed my way out of trouble more times than I can count.
1. Leatherman Wingman
In terms of time spent in my dubious company, this mid-sized multi-tool beats the others out by a factor of thousands. I’m never without it unless I’m in church, in an airplane, or in bed. I’ve used it to clean trout, cut frantic saddlehorses free of barbwire tangles, perform field repairs on hunting rifles, open cans of pork and beans, pull cactus spines from horses, dogs, and people, skin elk, and slice apples for my kids. My most-used features are the pliers and the blade, followed by the screwdrivers. I’ve cut a lot of big game tags with the scissors, and once or twice even the wood/metal file has saved the day. I feel undressed without it. Maybe I should go buy an extra—I’d hate to loose mine and have to go without. Just think what folks would say, me walking around without my Leatherman on.
EZE-LAP Diamond Sharpening Stone
A knife is only as good as its edge. EZE-LAP makes a wide assortment of quality diamond sharpening products that don’t require the use of water or oil, and will last your lifetime. I like their big (3 X 8) stones for serious sharpening jobs, and their little (1X3) stones make great backcountry or pocket sharpeners.
KNIFE CARE TIPS
A good knife is a thing of beauty, and deserves to be taken care of. Here are a few tips that will help keep your folder in peak condition.
DO: Keep it clean. Pocket/belt knives are subject to all kinds of grime on a daily basis. You should periodically wipe it clean (if it’s really nasty treat it to a scrub brush and soapy water) and lightly oil hinges and pivot points with a light gun oil. If the knife is not stainless steel oil all metal parts.
DON’T: Leave your folder in a jumble of tools, coins, and junk. It’ll become battered, beat up, and dirty.
DO: Keep it sharp. A sharp knife will cut cleanly and efficiently, and is actually safer than a dull blade.
DON’T: Just drop your knife into a pocket full of stuff—coins, keys, etc. will cause unnecessary wear on it. In turn, your knife can do damage to other pocket items such as phone or wallet.
DO: Wear your folder in a suitable pocket by itself, or in a quality belt sheath. It’ll stay clean and protected, ready