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Leon's Blog

Video: Ten things to look for when choosing a pocket knife

Video: Ten things to look for when choosing a pocket knife

You made the first decision in knife-buying, and opted for a folder over a rigid-blade knife. What else do you need to consider before investing in a quality folding knife?

by Leon Pantenburg

If you look around, you can find any pocket knife variation under the sun. But what works well in an urban boutique might not fill the bill on a farm or ranch.

Here are 10 things to consider when choosing a folder. These are based on my prejudices, biases and decades of everyday knife carry.

pocket knives

Trying to decide on which pocket knife to buy can be challenging. Knowing what to look for can make this easier.

Steel: A pretty knife with crappy, inferior steel is a waste of money. The Buck folder I carried for years was made of 420 stainless, and the edge-holding ability was very good. My Benchmade Griptillian is made of 154CM.

Check out which steel will work for your needs, and that can help narrow down your choices.

Not too big: For years, I carried a large Buck folding hunting knife in a belt pouch. That Buck rode on my hip the length of the Mississippi River, (Check out the book!) and did everything I needed. But, it dawned on me one day, that if I was going to carry a knife on my belt, it could just as well be a rigid blade.

A pocket knife should be small enough to be carried conveniently in your pocket, but be large enough to be useful. Don’t get carried away with the idea of a large, bulky folder. It will soon prove to be inconvenient to carry.

Lockblade: I think lock blades are highly over-rated, and may give a false sense of safety. I know of two instances where locks failed, resulting in serious injury. Nothing can completely guard against stupidity. But remember, a lockblade, no matter how well-designed, is inferior, safety-wise, to a rigid blade knife.

The correct, safest attitude, according to Derrick Bohm, owner of KnivesShipFree.com, is to use the lock blade folder as if it doesn’t have a lock on it.

No serrated edge: I don’t see the value in a serrated edge. If you think you’ll need one for cutting a seatbelt, rope or something like that, then get a specialty knife with a serrated blade.

Otherwise, you’ll find that serrated edge is a specialty grind that doesn’t get used that much. It will, however, take up one of the most useful parts of the blade.

Ergonomic handle: Your pocket knife is your whittler. Make sure you can use the knife for long sessions. The handle needs to fit your hand, not get slippery when wet, and carry well in your pocket.

Not too thick: A thick pocket knife usually can’t be carried comfortably in a pocket. My personal comfort level is two layers thick. Any thicker and the knife will probably end up in a belt pouch. If you’re in an urban setting, you may not want to advertise that you have a knife. A belt pouch is a giveaway.

Blade design: You can get anything you want, so decide what tasks you may use the knife for most often. My most-used everyday carry knife is a Swiss Army Tinker, with a three-inch spear point. My woods rambling pocket knife is frequently a Puma stockman model, with three blades: a large clip point, and smaller sheep foot and spay. This is an excellent small game knife and one I reach for when skinning squirrels and rabbits.

dad's pocket knife

My Dad’s pocket knives lead short, hard lives. When they wore out, they were replaced with inexpensive, quality tools. Dad had this knife in his pocket when he passed away.

Price: You usually get what you pay for, but a quality pocket knife doesn’t have to be expensive.

My dad wore out pocketknives. He was a carpenter and farmer, and used his knife multiple times every day. Dad carried a medium-sized stockman pattern knife, bought at the local tractor supply store. He felt no brand loyalty – if a knife didn’t work like he thought it should, it would be relegated to a tractor tool box. Dad probably never spent more than about $15 for a knife, and didn’t give much thought to his everyday tool.

Stick with name brand, quality companies, and you can find an inexpensive, practical knife.

Handle material: I love pretty knives. But a beautiful knife with a cheap blade is a waste of money. I like micarta for durability and stag for pretty. Decide how important appearance is to you.

In some instances, appearance is everything.

Griptillians

My son’s Benchmade Griptillian, top, and my daughter’s Mini-Griptillian don’t appear “Tacticool” and that helps them blend in to an urban environment.

My daughter works part-time at an upscale boutique that sells expensive, trendy clothing. She is required to dress appropriately. But she also must use her pink-handled Mini-Griptillian regularly for opening boxes, cutting string and tape and other stocking chores.

The cute, pink knife looks like a fashion accessory clipped in her hip pocket, but it is also a working tool and could prove to be a formidable self-defense weapon. A “tacticool” folder wouldn’t fit in this environment.

Convenient carry: Do you need a clip on your knife? Maybe.

My son, a touring rock musician, needed a benign-looking utility knife for stage and sound system setup that could be opened with one hand. He opted for an orange-handled Griptillian after seeing his sister’s knife. (The Griptillian, incidentally, is the recommended folder of choice for several Search and Rescue teams.)

The orange knife  looks inexpensive,  harmless, and kinda nerdy. The knife clips into my son’s side or hip pocket and he can open it one-handled while carrying or positioning a speaker or amp. For his pocket knife needs, the Griptillian is perfect.  Both my kids’ knives work extremely well for their intended purposes.

Regardless of where you are, in an urban or wilderness setting, IMHO, you need a knife. Pick the right folder, and you’ll enjoy carrying it. That means when you need a knife, you’ll have one.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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