Justin Mastine-Frost 11.06.20
Like many categories, there’s a massive range of what you can spend on a pocket knife, and the differences between the sub-$100 spend and the $1,000 plus spend are fairly dramatic. Choices of steels, scale materials, bearings, and other details make a big difference in the durability overall quality of a good knife, but that’s not to say that nothing good exists in the lower budget range. If anything, Narrowing the pool of best pocket knives under $100 becomes even more challenging than the top tier, as there’s an established benchmark of quality when you go up the scale. In the sub-$100 range, there are so many brands slapping blades together, that it’s a lot more like shopping at a thrift store; there’s a lot of useless garbage on the racks that you have to wade through in order to find something good. Case in point, Blade HQ (one of our preferred resources for this) lists over 6,000 folding knives in this price category, though there’s a strong majority we wouldn’t be recommending.
Effectively that’s why we’re here today, to root through the vast expanse of average to mediocre options and cherry pick our 10 best pocket knives that you can count on without spending big money. Don’t worry though, as time goes on we’re going to step our way up through the full range of price brackets. Our selections come in no particular order, rather than listing by rank or by price.
Given both the price point and the fact that we’re directing the dialogue towards things that are easy and safe to pocket carry (check your state laws to see what’s legal in your home state), these are all going to be on the relatively compact side, with many selections having blade lengths around three or four inches. If you’re looking for something that’s a lot more ‘heavy duty’, our recent list of survival knives will be more up your alley.
1. Spyderco Efficient — Editor’s Pick
To be fair, there are a lot of blades that were fighting for this spot, but as someone who has a general distaste for the awkward aesthetics and giant thumbhole opening design of Spyderco, the Efficient has secured a slot as one of my go-to knives for daily carrying. With a 4.04-inch handle length and a large finger choil, even large mits will be able to get a good grip on this guy—I avoid the choil and still have ample room on across its G-10 scales. Its 3-inch blade (made of 8Cr13MoV steel) is roughly an inch and a quarter in width, with a plain edge and a flat grind. If I had to pick a shortcoming, it would mostly come down to dimensions. When closed, the Efficient is a good inch and a half wide, meaning it’ll take up a fair bit more pocket real estate. Granted that won’t be an issue for those carrying it on a belt, but it’s something to consider. In addition, its pocket clip is not of the ‘deep carry’ variety, unlike most of its competitors in this list. Overall, its fit and finish, feel, and opening action make up for these minor issues easily enough.
Pros/Rock solid construction without the typical Spyderco design.
Cons/A little pudgy in terms of width versus length.
Bottom Line/It lives in my pocket for good reason.
2. Kershaw Leek Blackwash — The Popular Vote
Putting the Ken Onion designed Kershaw Leek back to back with the Spyderco Efficient is a lesson in how two knives with similar dimensions can feel insanely different from one another. Once again we have a 3-inch blade, and a 4-inch handle, with the overall length being only 0.04 inches different. The Leek uses a Wharncliffe blade shape rather than a drop point, and overall, whether open or closed, it carries a much more slender profile. Forgoing the application of G-10 scales, the Leek is a stainless steel framelock design with an interesting matte acid wash finish. Add to that the fact that it’s the only contender in the ring that’s American made, and you’ve got a pretty smart buy on your hands. The dimensions are much more pocket friendly here, which plays a big part in the Leek’s immense popularity in the EDC world. Less of an aggressive chopper, and more of a discreet slicer for any daily needs that crop up in your ventures.
Pros/Perfect size and shape for daily carry.
Cons/A Narrow blade and pointy tip can be prone to snapping — it’s not a pry tool!
Bottom Line/There’s a reason this is Kershaw’s most popular knife ever.
3. Ferrum Forge Knife Works Stinger Liner Lock — Well Rounded Champ
The first word that comes to mind with the Ferrum Forge Stinger is balance. Size, quality, steel choice, ergos—the Stinger is a smart and simple knife that has a fantastic daily-use feel. Ceramic ball bearings, ceramic detent, New Jersey-made Nitro-V steel (scarce, strong, and great overall edge performance), and slender G10 scales make this thing a great daily carry knife that’s got good action and is clearly built to last. The math just adds up here, so bloody well. At $90, this knife will perform as well if not better than a lot of pieces in the $100-$150 range. Its handle profile is very comfortable, and the texturing of the G10 delivers solid overall grip, which is further enhanced by some substantial jimping on the spine of the blade. There’s additional jimping on the flipper tab ensures clean deployment without ever having to think about it.
Pros/Ticks absolutely all of the boxes, for a great price point.
Cons/In all reality, very little to complain about here unless you’re looking for something a little more ‘flashy’.
Bottom Line/Buy one, and then buy another for a friend or family member.
4. GiantMouse Vox/Anso ACE Iona Liner Lock — Best/Most Durable Steel
When building out this list it was a bit of a surprise to find an option from GiantMouse that fit the bill, let alone a knife of any sorts that uses Bohler M390 steel in the sub-$100 pocket knife category. The Austrian-made steel is often reserved for more expensive/higher quality knives. Its biggest selling feature is easily edge/sharpness retention, and its biggest downfall is cost. As a point of reference, this is the steel you’ll see more often from brands like Chris Reeve Knives, Reate, and countless custom makers out there. In trade, to get to this price point, you’re looking at a more compact knife with a 2.875-inch blade length, fitted with scales made of FRN—fiberglass reinforced nylon. That said, the texture applied to its handles works wonders in terms of of delivering a good grip surface. As a final selling feature, its simple wire pocket clip has a deep-carry design that (surprise) allows the knife to sit deeper in your pocket than a standard clip design. This is generally preferred for a daily-use knife, but something that’s a bit hit or miss in this price range. The long and the short of it is, the GiantMouse ACE Iona gets a lot of the details right.
Pros/A blade material that will last longer than anything else in this list.
Cons/Linerlock design with FRN scales means it’ll be quite lightweight in the pocket, and perhaps a little blade-heavy when open.
Bottom Line/If longevity is the priority, this is the way to go.
5. Kizer Vanguard Gemini Copper — Style Plus Substance
Again a bit of a personal choice here for a handful of reasons, the Kizer Vanguard Gemini is a Ray Laconico designed folder that is clean, effective, well-built, and has the much-loved character that can only come with the slowly changing patina of copper or brass scales. Yes, that’s purely an aesthetic element, which isn’t the point of a daily-carry knife, but it’s a nice perk for something you’re going to have your hands on day after day. Don’t get me wrong, the Vanguard Gemini isn’t ‘just’ a looker. Using Bohler N690, it’s not going to hold an edge quite as long as the M390 seen in the GiantMouse above, but you also need to consider your use-case. If you aren’t hacking away at seriously tough surfaces all day, but rather using your blade on rope, cardboard, plastic, etc, N690 will hold up about as well as a blade made in 154CM steel. Once again we have a ball bearing pivot, and an easy deploying flipper tab. There’s a standard clip instead of a deep-carry on this one, but otherwise we don’t have much in the way of gripes here. If copper isn’t your thing, you can also find this knife with stonewashed titanium scales that give it a much more utilitarian look.
Pros/A good clean drop point blade with a flat grind, and all the personality of copper scales.
Cons/No deep-carry clip for this one.
Bottom Line/More great value in a knife whose aesthetics will age and change over time.
6. CRKT Liong Mah Remedy Framelock — Most Affordable
CRKT has a longstanding reputation for making knives that deliver good bang for buck, and that’s precisely why the Remedy made this list. On sale for less than $25, this stainless steel framelock folder uses an IKBS ball bearing pivot for its flipper-style deployment. We’ve always liked Liong Mah’s own line of production folding knives, whose prices start closer to the $275 mark, and this low-budget execution still carries many of his hallmarks when it comes to design and ergos. With an 8.31-inch overall length and a 3.57-inch blade length, it’s on the larger side as far as this list goes, and due to its all-steel construction it’s one of the heavier of the pack as well (5.4 ounces).
Pros/Good design and ergonomics make a world of difference, and its blade and choil shape make for easy sharpening down the road.
Cons/An all steel handle can get a bit slippery at times, so depending on your ‘use case’, it’s something to keep in mind.
Bottom Line/Definitely a budget knife, but for the price it’s real hard to go wrong here.
7. Civivi Brigand Liner Lock — Beefy Blade Choice
A little edgy, a little different, the Civivi Brigand is a beefy and well-sized Wharncliffe liner lock pocket knife with hand rubbed copper handles. The blade style might look out of the ordinary, but it’s also extremely functional, whether you’re slicing up boxes, or even doing a bit of food prep out in the field. The Brigand uses 154CM steel, which is a good middle-of-the-road steel that trades a touch of edge retention capability in favor of easier sharpening. 8 inches long when opened, and a 3.5-inch blade make this one of the chunkier offerings of the list, and also one of the few with a proper deep-carry clip.
Pros/Beefy blade, capable of tough work, and easy to sharpen.
Cons/154CM will soften and need sharpening sooner than harder steels.
Bottom Line/I’d call this one the tank of our list here.
8. Spyderco Panchenko Dog Tag Folder Gen 4
Frankly, this little oddball is thrown in just for the fun of it all, but hear me out. Serge Panchenko is one of the more interesting custom knife makers out there, and one of few whose knives have always had a very distinct style that you can easily identify as his work, and the Dog Tag knives he made for Spyderco are unlike anything else you’ll find out there. Like the WESN, this thing is tiny. We’re talking 3.22 inches when open, and a blade that’s 1.19 inches in length. Is it practical? Not really, but for someone who doesn’t want to carry a proper knife, this is compact enough to fit into the little pocket watch pocket on your jeans, or it technically could even be worn as a dog tag—no, that’s not practical and we wouldn’t recommend it either. Unlike past versions, the Gen 4 has complete handles (on both sides), improving its wonky ergonomics. Consider this your ‘i need a little box cutter and not a tool knife’ option.
Pros/Funky and extremely compact, carrying the classic Panchenko design hallmarks.
Cons/Size and design make it vastly different than the rest of the competitive field here, so you’ll either love it or hate it.
Bottom Line/For a niche market/certain needs and wants, this could be a fun blade at a decent price.
9. WESN Microblade 2.0 — Extreme Compact
This little guy, and I really really mean little, won’t be for everyone. It’s extremely small, with an overall open length 3.75 inches, and a blade of only 1.5 inches. Think of this as your keychain knife, but something that’s built to similar specification of much bigger and better knives. As a proof of capability, while we all know that there are more purpose-built knives for the job, the uncle of WESN’s founder has put a Microblade to the test by skinning a deer, and found himself quite satisfied with the result. Now, I wouldn’t do it, but points to them regardless. Back to the specs for a second, the little titanium framelock unit has a D2 steel blade, and can be had with G10 scales in black or OD green.
Pros/The most compact blade option out there that isn’t cheap trash.
Cons/Its pocket clip leaves room for improvement.
Bottom Line/Most of us will want something more substantial, but there’s some charm to this little pocket knife.
10. Artisan Cutlery Small Shark Liner Lock Carbon Fiber
Artisan Cutlery is yet another brand that ticks quite a few boxes for everyday carry pocket knives on a budget, coming in with quality materials and solid design. The Chinese budget brand’s biggest downfall is that a lot of their knives clearly steal design cues from established/known stateside knife makers, and others are outlandish to a level that remind us all of those horribly gaudy ‘gas station knives’, but the small Shark, manages to mostly escape both of those pitfalls. Carbon fiber scales, a stonewash finish 3-inch blade, and a deep pocket clip all score positive points, as does its slender profile for those looking for a fine slicer. These also come in a ‘standard’ size with a 4-inch blade, but that model really feels like overkill for the topic at hand. The blade has a good sized flipper tab, and its opening has very smooth and clean deployment action.
Pros/Long slender design saves on pocket space, without skimping on cutting ability.
Cons/Blade is a bit thick, which adds stability but gets in the way of finer slicing.
Bottom Line/Feels sturdier than it looks, and overall quality/value math
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