The Best American Made Folding Knives
A good knife is an essential outdoors tool. What’s the best pocket knife right now? Well, that depends on your performance needs, budget, and personal preference. That’s why I made this guide: to help you find the best folding knife made in the USA to suit your needs.
Growing up in the Rockies, I’ve carried a pocket knife since I was boy. I’m now a bit of a knife nut. Fortunately for us nuts, there are thousands of excellent knives made in the USA. Each person has their own particular preferences… my personal criteria for an everyday carry “EDC” folding knife include having a non-serrated blade (much easier to sharpen) around 3 or 4 inches long, a comfortable handle, weighing less than 4.5 oz, easy one-handed opening and closing (except for traditional knives), a strong lock, and a good quality blade steel with a great heat treatment. High end materials like titanium, carbon fiber, and premium steels are icing on the cake. I’ve included both the best high end and affordable production knives to suit a range of budgets.
Tons of misinformation abounds on the internet concerning blade steels. If you want to cut through marketing BS and the subjective bias of forums, then the ONLY resource I trust to learn about steels which is supported by data is KnifeSteelNerds.com, which is run by a PhD steel metallurgist and fellow knife nut from Pittsburgh, Larrin Thomas. Don’t allow anyone to persuade you that this or that blade steel sucks, all steels are a compromise between edge retention, toughness, and rust resistance… unless it’s the common cheap imported knife with a poor heat treatment, those really do suck. Rather than collect a bunch of cheap knives, I prefer to save my money for the best American made knife I can afford, one that I will truly be proud to own and use for decades.
Why Trust Me?
I know how hard it is to find honest recommendations and to narrow down American made gear. This is why I started American Gear Guide. I take my recommendations seriously and only recommend the best of the best. Here are a few reasons to trust me.
- I make independent recommendations based on personal experience (not paid to endorse a product).
- I’ve hunted, fished, gathered, and gardened since childhood. I fill my freezer with meat via bow, rifle, and rod.
- As an avid outdoorsman that reviews gear for a living, I also actually own and use all American made gear.
- My background includes 10 yrs working with the Forest Service as a Wildland Firefighter, Ranger, Wildlife Crew-leader, and Forest Ecologist. I’ve certified as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I’ve backpacked extensively throughout the USA and 34 countries including in the Middle East, Central & South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. See About page for more.
- I attend industry trade shows like Outdoor Retailer to stay informed on the latest innovative equipment.
- This guide receives regular updates with the newest gear.
- Continuous learning & self improvement are encouraged, so I welcome your criticism. If you think I missed anything then please leave some helpful suggestions.
Top Recommended Pocket Knives 2021
A more in depth look at my favorite knives and what makes them my top recommendations.
Editor's Choice Best Folding Knife
Zero Tolerance 0452CF
My favorite knife of all time and the one I carry most, the 0452CF has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. It may be a little big for some people but it’s just right for me. I love the sleek Sinkevich design, premium materials, and precision craftsmanship. I’ve field dressed elk and mule deer with it, carried it most days for a couple years and even lightly batoned wood with it in a wet pinch on multiple occasions (I don’t actually recommend batoning with folding blades, you WILL eventually break it). Though it boasts a relatively large 4.1″ blade made of awesome CPM-S35VN steel (my favorite blade steel for folders), it still weighs a comfortable 4.4 oz. It’s slim design and deep carry pocket clip make it feel like carrying a smaller knife. The blade detent, ball bearing pivot, frame lock, and flipper combine perfectly for a fast, silky smooth flipping action. The secret of it’s great size to weight ratio are the handle materials, with carbon fiber on one side and titanium on the other. It might be a bit pricey but I doubt you can find a better premium knife costing twice as much, including Sebenzas in my opinion.
Last price range observed: $260
Best Ultralight Knife
Benchmade Bugout 535
The Bugout has become a best-seller for Benchmade. Why? Because it’s unbelievably lightweight at 1.8 oz, yet it sports a great 3.24 inch S30V blade, Grivory with steel liner grips, a deep carry clip, & Benchmade’s smooth Axis lock. It’s certainly become one of my new favorite ultralight EDC knives. A new smaller version, the Mini Bugout 533, is also available.
Last observed price range: ~$132 – 149
More Info/Current Pricing from BladeHQ.com
More Info/Current Pricing from Amazon
Best Spring Assisted Knife
For those who prefer a spring assisted knife for an auto-like action, the Kershaw Knockout is the stand out choice. I love the style and ergonomics of the Knockout. It earns its name from a “knocked-out” portion of its aluminum handle replaced with a stainless steel lock bar. The steel lock bar functions more or less like a liner lock. The Knockout sports a fantastic yet affordable 3.25″ Sandvik 14C28N blade and weighs 3.8 oz.
Last price range observed: ~$130
More Info/Current Pricing from DLTTrading.com
Best Traditional Knife
Yes, this one’s a little different than the ultra-modern knives on this list, but it too is a favorite of mine. The Navy Blue Bone Copperlock is an exceptionally classy yet capable traditional knife. Long ago I inherited my Grandfather’s Case knife, and I expect to pass my Case Copperlock down when it comes time. The Copperlock has a 3.25″ easy to sharpen polished stainless blade, polished bolsters, a lock back, and beautiful blue bone scales. This work of art only weighs 2.8 oz. I’ve given the copperlock as gifts for friends who could use a solid knife but don’t necessarily want fast opening knives. They’ve loved it just as I do.
Last price observed: ~$74
Best Budget Knife
Buck 112 Slim
The Buck 112 Slim is a simple and practical lockback knife for a great price. The original Buck 112 and 110 are absolute classics, I inherited my Dad’s original 110 and love it, but many people wanted slimmer and lighter knives. The Slim versions deliver that.
The 112 comes with an EDC friendly 3″ 420 HC blade, comfortable nylon handles, and a good deep carry pocket clip. Nobody does 420 HC steel better than Buck, which comes extremely sharp, holds a decent edge, and sharpens easily back to shaving You can find the 112 slim with various handle colors, materials, and blade steels for a premium. The 110 model is more or less a larger version of the 112 (or vice versa).
Last price range observed: ~$25 – 100 (depending on model)
More Info/Current Pricing from BladeHQ.com
More Info/Current Pricing from Amazon.com
Spyderco Manix 2 S110V
If you prize a vault like grip and incredible edge retention, this is the knife for you. The ergonomic design, non-slip G-10, and extensive jimping make this an incredibly grippy knife. I like Spyderco’s ball bearing lock and the 3.37″ S110V blade holds a sharp toothy edge like a champ. The S110V Manix 2 weighs 4.1 oz.
Last price range observed: $101-182 (depending on model)
ZT Sinkevich 0450CF & 0450
The little brother to the 0452CF, the ZT 0450CF shares the same excellent materials and design but weighs a scant 2.45 oz with a capable 3.25″ blade of CPM-S35VN. The handle scales on the 0450CF are carbon fiber on one side and titanium on the other, while both scales on the 0450 model are titanium. Two green back spacers on the 0450CF and red back spacers on the 0450 add a subtle and classy accent of color.
Last price range observed: ~$185 (depending on model)
Benchmade Osborne 940-1 Carbon Fiber
The Osborne 940 is a classic for a reason. I love the original 940 with its slender aluminum handles, an axis lock, and a 3.5″ reverse tanto S30V blade. The 940-1 takes things to the next level with carbon fiber scales and premium S90V steel. The 940-1 weighs only 2.44 oz. Note, the original 940 costs significantly less than the 940-1. Both are top end knives.
Last price range observed: ~$191 – 294 (depending on model)
Benchmade Griptilian 551-1
The Griptilian is another widespread classic from Benchmade, I kind of think of it as the glock of knives. You see it a lot in knife circles such as firefighting. Like it’s name indicates, this knife is exceptionally grippy and ergonomic. The Griptilian 551-1 is a more refined upgrade to the original and still excellent Griptilian. The 551-1 has a 3.45″ CPM-20CV steel blade, G-10 handles, deep carry clip, Axis lock, blue anodized spacers for a little pop of color, and weighs 4.1 oz. Benchmade also makes a smaller version, the 556-1.
Last price range observed: $108-187 (depending on model)
Spyderco Paramilitary 2
The Paramilitary 2 offers fantastic ergos with G-10 handle scales and a premium 3.44″ S110V steel blade. The innovative compression lock allows for quick and easy one handed opening and closing. The Paramilitary 2 weighs 3.75 oz. Spyderco also offers the smaller and less expensive Para 3 with a 2.58″ S30V blade. Like the Manix, the Paramilitary is extremely grippy, even when wet.
Last price range observed: ~$154 – 196 (depending on model)
Kershaw’s popular Link has recently been updated with premium CPM 20CV blade steel. Like the Knockout, the Link has a fast opening spring assisted blade. With CPM 20CV, the Link’s 3.25″ blade has some of the highest edge retention available while being highly corrosion resistant. The only downside is more effort sharpening.
Last price range observed: ~$74
Some of my other knives pulling field duty for Forest Service work: ZT 0450 (top right), and Case Copperlock (bottom).
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