Ever since the first human ancestor decided to use the edge of sharp rock as a cutting tool, man has had a love affair with knives. This passion continues to this day because, even in our modern, fast paced, lives, many of us still have a need for a cutting tool on a daily basis.
As man progressed from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age and then, to the Iron Age, blade technology has both proliferated and advanced. As a result, various cities around the world such a Solingen, Germany, Toledo, Spain, and Sheffield, England became widely known as cutlery manufacturing centers. This drew artisans from around the world to live, study, and work there.
Knives are often purpose specific tools and bladesmiths have long recognized the need for specialized knife designs. As a result there are now such a wide range of knife types and blade steels to choose from that it is sometimes difficult for a person to wade through all of the available designs to find the perfect knife for their particular needs.
EDC Knives Now vs Then
As a consequence of modernization, many of the jobs that men held in the past that required them to carry large, folding, "working knives" are now nonexistent.
Instead, now more than ever, people are moving to large cities rather than rural areas in order to find work. As a result, while not strictly prohibited, it is very uncommon these days to see someone carrying a large folding knife in a belt pouch. In fact many might consider it "politically incorrect" for a person to do so since many people find such knives intimidating.
Due to changing market demands knife manufacturers have turned their attention away from making traditional pocket knife patterns and large, folding, "working knives" and are instead producing what they term as "everyday carry knives".
These are more modern in appearance than the classic folding knives of yesteryear and represent the many advances made in blade steels, blade designs, opening mechanisms, and locking mechanisms.
Although today’s every-day-carry knives are intended to be used as general purpose knives, many designs also serve well as tactical folders while, others are specifically designed for that particular purpose.
In fact, today's EDC knives often have so little in common with their predecessors that they are touted as EDC knives by manufacturers in order to make the concept of carrying a tactical knife for self defense purposes more politically palatable!
Best Tactical EDC Pocket Knife of 2017: What to Look For
So, what defines a modern Everyday Carry Knife?
A quick look at modern production knife manufacturer's web sites quickly reveals that today's everyday carry knife is a large folding knife with some sort of locking mechanism to hold the blade in the open position, a handle made from modern composites and, a steel pocket clip to keep the knife handy for quick deployment.
When choosing a modern EDC knife you first need to consider the purpose for which you intend to use it. Then choose the blade design, the blade steel, opening mechanism, locking mechanism, and the and the handle design accordingly.
Some so-called everyday carry knives are meant to be general purpose knives while others are clearly meant for self defense purposes. Unlike EDCs of old, very few modern everyday carry knives are designed to be carried in a belt pouch. Most are meant to be carried clipped to the edge of a trouser pocket.
But regardless of whether your preference is for a "working knife" or a modern tactical folder, there are literally thousands of designs to choose from and the following guide is meant to help you wade through all of those choices by narrowing your criteria according to your needs.
What Size Do You Need?
SWhen choosing an every-day-carry knife size is one of the first criteria to consider. Modern EDC knives range in size from the very small to the very large.
Some users might prefer a relatively small knife that they can carry in their front pocket without impeding access to other items such as change, while others might prefer a relatively large knife that they can carry in their back pocket.
Start by looking for a knife with a size that is appropriate for your intended use and where you think you'll be most likely to carry it.
The most common options are a belt pouch or a well made pocket clip that enables you to carry the knife either tip-up or tip down and, either on your left or your right side depending on your preference.
What Blade Design Makes the Most Sense?
Because different blade designs tend to work best for different purposes, blade design is another critical factor you need to carefully consider when choosing an EDC knife .
For instance, the clip point blade design is arguably the single most popular blade design for general purpose use because the "clip" and its accompanying "swedge" are intended to lower the position of the tip and make it sharper, enabling it to pierce tough materials.
However, the drop point blade design is arguably the single most popular design among hunters because the "drop" moves the tip out of the user's line of vision when removing the hide from harvested game animals.
On the other hand, the Trailing Point blade design is specifically designed to increase the length of the cutting edge to better enable long, slicing, strokes.
Blade Steel Compositions
Until just a few decades ago, stainless steels were non-existent. All knives made prior the invention of stainless steels were made from high carbon tool steel such as SAE 1095.
With the invention of modern stainless steels, most production knife manufacturers quickly embraced the various new stainless blade steels because of two important factors.
- stainless steels do not corrode as quickly as high carbon tool steels
- they require less care and maintenance.
That being said, high carbon tool steels do have the advantage of having a smaller grain structure than most stainless steels. As a result they are not only easier to sharpen, but they will often take a finer edge and hold it longer than stainless steels.
But stainless steels offer the advantage of a high degree of corrosion resistance, and with the inclusion of such minerals as Molybdenum and Vanadium as well as the process of making so called "powder steels", blade steel manufacturers are now able to produce stainless steels with an extremely fine grain structure.
Therefore, when choosing an every-day-carry knife, most people prefer knives with blades made from stainless steels such as 420J2, 420HC, AUS-8, 440C. Even ATS-34 or semi-stainless steels such as D2 are more popular than high carbon, non-stainless, tool steels because they require less maintenance to keep them corrosion free.
Most people prefer tough steels over hard steels so that they are easier to sharpen. Because every-day-carry knives tend to be used for many different purposes, they often require frequent sharpening.
A Bit on Steel Hardness
When shopping for knives you should be aware of the method of testing the hardness of a heat treated knife blade. They are measured on a scale known as the Rockwell Hardness C Scale (designated HRC).
Knives with heat treated blades ranging from 52 to 54 are commonly considered to be tough rather than hard. Blades with a Rockwell Hardness of 58 to 62 are considered to be relatively hard, but not particularly tough. Knife blades with a Rockwell Hardness of 55 to 57 are generally considered to be the best compromise between a tough blade and a hard blade.
The reason that this factor is important when choosing and EDC knife is because knives with tough blades are relatively easy to sharpen. They withstand both bending and shock very well, but they do not hold an edge as well as hard blades do.
On the other hand, knives with hard blades generally hold and edge very well, but they are often somewhat difficult to sharpen. They are also more prone to break when subjected to either shock or lateral stresses.
Therefore, when choosing an everyday carry knife, you should note both the type of steel the blade is made from as well as its Rockwell Hardness and then choose the knife that best suits your intended purpose.
Blade Grind for Your EDC Knife
Yet another important feature to consider when purchasing an EDC knife is the type of grind the blade has.
The most common blade grinds for EDC knives are the flat grind(2), the hollow grind(1), the saber grind(3) and, the double bevel(5). The chisel grind(4) is less common, and the convex grind(6) is rare on EDC knives.
Each has advantages and disadvantages. The hollow grind produces the thinnest edge and is the sharpest of all the blade grinds, but because the edge is thin, it also produces the weakest edge.
The Saber Grind produces the thickest edge of all of the blade grinds and thus, it has the dullest edge but, because the edge is thick, it is also the strongest of all of the blade grinds.
The Double Bevel grind is simply two Saber Grinds placed back to back so that the blade's spine is located in the center of the blade.
The chisel grind is used on some tactical knives but is more common on kitchen knives and woodworking tools. As you can see from the image above, it is ground only on one side. This often makes the edge less durable, and chisel ground edges have a larger angle to compensate.
Overall the flat grind offers the best compromise between a sharp edge and a strong edge and depending on the thickness of spine, it can produce a blade that is very sharp while also being relatively strong.
Here's a video discussing the different types of grinds.
The Opening Mechanism
The folding "working knives" of yesteryear commonly featured a "nail nick" to enable the user to open the blade with two hands.
Today's every day carry knives commonly feature a means by which the knife can be opened using a single hand.
This is accomplished by incorporating a thumb stud or a round hole in the back of the blade that gives tactile feedback and allows the user to open the knife without having to look at it.
While such a feature is often chosen by users who are looking for an everyday carry knife intended to be used strictly as a tool, those who purchase an everyday carry knife for defensive purposes often prefer knives with assisted opening mechanisms for quick blade deployment in tactical situations.
As a result, most modern production knife manufacturers have developed their own proprietary versions of the assisted opening mechanism. They are marketed under various names such as Nitrous Assist, SOG Assisted Technology, SpeedSafe, Outburst, and F.A.S.T.
It's important to note that not all assisted opening mechanisms also incorporate a locking mechanism such as CRKT's FireSafe which keeps the blade in the closed position in the user's pocket. Those knives without this feature can inadvertently open in the user's pocket. And that can damage your manhood.
The Locking Mechanism
When Al Buck developed his famous model 110 Folding Hunter knife, he also chose to incorporate a Lockback locking mechanism to keep the blade in the open position when in use.
Since then such locking mechanisms have become the standard design for large folding knives.
While many production knife manufacturers still incorporate traditional locking mechanisms such as Frame Locks and Liner Locks, others have since developed their own versions.
These are marketed under various names such as Axis Lock, Tri-Ad Lock, and Piston Lock.
These manufactures would have you believe that their proprietary locking mechanism outperforms all others.
The truth is that the average user will never place enough stress on knife's locking mechanism to cause it to fail; nor will they ever use their knife enough to cause the locking mechanism significant wear.
Therefore, traditional locking mechanisms such as Linerlocks and Lockbacks generally work just as well as the fancy, new, locking mechanisms.
EDC Knife Handle Design
When choosing an every-day-carry knife, you should also consider the size and shape of the handle. Ask yourself a couple questions.
- is it ergonomically designed?
- Does it feel comfortable in your hand when you grip the handle tightly?
- Does it feel small in your hand or does it completely fill your hand when gripped?
- Does it provide a good, nonslip, surface?
- Does it incorporate finger grooves or, an integral quillion to prevent the knife from sliding either forward or backward when the handle is wet?
Of course, there is good reason for asking yourself these questions since the handle of the knife not only serves as a means of wielding and controlling the blade, but also serves as means of orienting the blades cutting edge and preventing it from twisting in the user's hand.
Both the size and the shape of knife's handle should reflect its intended purpose.
Last but not least, when choosing an everyday carry knife, you should also consider the material from which the handle scales are made.
Most older folding knife designs incorporate handle scales made from materials as exotic hardwood, stag antler, jigged bone, or Delrin.
Modern day manufacturers of everyday carry knives have departed from this practice and instead incorporate handle scales made from man-made composites such as linen or canvas Micarta, glass reinforced nylon, G10, Zytel, ABS, Kirinite, Kraton, and Hypalon just to name a few.
While such materials may not be as aesthetically pleasing to some users as natural handle materials, the fact is that man-made composites are invariably tougher than natural handle materials. This minimizes splitting, cracking and chipping. And because they are all impervious to the absorption of moisture, they will not decompose.
If your knife is to be gently used, then handle scales made from a decorative material such as exotic hardwoods or stag antler are a good choice, but if the knife is to see hard use, you should consider handle scales made from a tough material such as Micarta or G10.
Top 10 Best EDC Knives (many under $100)
Now that we've spent some time discussing the important features to consider, let's take a look at our top 10 EDC knives.
It's possible to spend as much as you want on an EDC knife. Benchmade has models that are even in the $400 range. But we are looking at more reasonably priced models. You can still get extremely high quality without paying an arm and a leg.
While there are some exceptions, for the most part these EDC knives are under $100.
Benchmade Torrent Review
One of the best production knife companies in existence, Benchmade has staked their entire reputation on producing only the highest quality knives. The Benchmade Torrent is a top quality, every-day-carry, working knife.
It features a closed length of 4 5/8" inches with a 3 5/8” Drop Point blade made from 154CM stainless steel hardened to 58-61 HRC with a hollow grind.
The blade of this knife is available either with or without serrations and is available with either a satin finish or a black, epoxy powder coated finish. This knife features Benchmade’s Nitrous Assist assisted opening mechanism w/thumb stud and a Liner Lock locking mechanism with 420J stainless steel liners.
It has black, contoured, G10 handle scales with a tip-down, deep-carry, stainless steel pocket clip.
Buck #110 Folding Hunter Review
The Buck Model 110 folding Hunter is quite possibly the single most iconic everyday carry knife in existence!
Originally designed in 1963 by Al Buck, this knife had continued to be the knife that defines the traditional Folding Hunter knife pattern. It has a closed length of 4 7/8” inches with a 3 1/4”, Clip Point blade made from satin finished 420HC stainless steel. The blade is hardened to 58 HRC and has a Hollow Grind.
This knife includes a manual opening blade with a Lockback locking mechanism and Macassar Ebony Dymondwood handle scales with large, brass, bolsters. Plus, it comes with a black, leather belt pouch.
Boker Tree Brand Stag Review
Similar in both design and appearance to the famous Buck Folding Hunter, the Boker Treebrand Stag is the perfect design for an elegant everyday carry working knife.
Overall length is 7 1/4" inches with a 3 1/8” Clip Point blade made from Bohler N690 stainless steel. It has a Rockwell Hardness of 58-60 HRC and a Hollow Grind.
This knife features a Lockback locking mechanism. It has nickel silver bolsters for a stylish gleam combined when with genuine stag antler handles. The handle incorporates finger grooves and a palm swell to fit the hand perfectly while providing sure control.
It comes with a heavy-duty, leather, belt pouch.
Cold Steel Broken Skull II Review
Well known for producing some of the toughest production knives on the planet, Cold Steel's Broken Skull series is a new line designed in collaboration with wrestler and MMA fighter Steve Austin.
Featuring a closed length of 5 1/4" inches with a 4” clip point blade made from Carpenter CTS XHP stainless powder steel alloy.
We were unable to determine the Rockwell Hardness, but the blade feels both strong and durable.
It features a hollow grind and a black Diamond-Like-Carbon coating. The Broken Skull II knife features a very comfortable and ergonomic handle design with Cold Steel's proprietary Tri-Ad Lock locking mechanism. It is offered in a choice of five different colors of G10 handle scales with stainless steel liners.
This knife features a tip up only, ambidextrous, steel pocket clip.
Ontario Knife Company Randal's Adventure Training (RAT) Model II Review
One of OKC's most popular folding knives, this knife was designed by Randal's Adventure Training.
It features an overall length of 8 ½” inches with a 3 ½” drop point blade made from AUS-8 stainless steel. The Rockwell Hardness is 55-56 and the blade has a flat grind.
The Model II features a Linerlock locking mechanism with a very ergonomic handle design made from glass reinforced nylon with stainless steel liners.
It includes a tip up or tip down, ambidextrous, steel pocket clip.
Benchmade Barrage Review
Like the Benchmade Torrent listed above, the Benchmade Barrage is a top quality EDC or self defense knife that features a closed length of 4 3/4" inches. The blade is 3 5/8" and is available in both a drop point or a tanto point.
You can also choose between 154CM or CPM S30V stainless steel with a Rockwell Hardness of 58-61 HRC and a hollow grind.
The blade is available either with or without serrations and, is offered with either a satin finish or a black, epoxy powder coated finish.
This knife features Benchmade’s Nitrous Assist assisted opening mechanism w/thumb stud and their proprietary Axis locking mechanism with stainless steel liners and your choice of contoured, G10, G10 w/aluminum or, Valox handle scales with an ambidextrous, tip-up only, stainless steel pocket clip.
SOG Flash II Review
Well known as a producer of high quality tactical knives, SOG derives its name from the Vietnam War era Studies and Observation Group assembled by the U.S. Military.
The SOG Flash II is a purpose built tactical folding knife that features a closed length of 4 1/2" inches with a 3 1/2” partially serrated, drop point blade. It is made from AUS-8 with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-58 HRC and a black, titanium nitride coating.
The SOG Flash II is also available with a partially serrated tanto blade made from AUS-8 with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-58 HRC and satin finish.
Also, this knife features an SOG Assisted Technology opening mechanism w/thumb stud and SOG's proprietary Piston Lock locking mechanism. The handle scales are glass reinforced nylon and it has an ambidextrous, tip-up only, stainless steel pocket clip.
Kershaw Blur Review
A modern knife company with a modern vision of what an everyday carry knife should look like, Kershaw is a manufacturer of top quality folding knives that combine high quality materials with bold, new, knife designs.
The Kershaw Blur features a closed length of 4 1/2" inches with 3 3/8” drop point blade. It utilizes Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel with an unknown Rockwell Hardness. The blade has a hollow grind with a plain or partially serrated recurved edge and a black, diamond-like carbon coating.
The Blur features Kershaw's SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism w/thumb stud and a Liner Lock locking mechanism. The handle is made from 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum with Trac Tec grip tape handle inserts and an right side only, tip-up or tip-down, stainless steel pocket clip.
Columbia River Knife & Tool Fire Spark Review
The Fire Spark features a closed length of 4 3/4" inches with 3 7/8” modified, tactical, spear point blade with a hollow grind. It uses a 8CR13MoV stainless steel with a Rockwell Hardness of 58-59. It is available in either a satin finish or, a black, diamond-like-carbon, coating.
The Fire Spark combines Kershaw's FireSafe locking mechanism to keep the blade closed. This is combined with their OutBurst assisted opening mechanism w/thumb stud for quick opening and, a Liner Lock locking mechanism to hold the blade in the open position.
The handle is made from 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum with G10 handle inserts and a three-position, stainless steel, pocket clip
Based on the original Applegate/Fairbairn dagger issued to British SS Commandos during WWII, the Gerber Covert is a truly dedicated tactical folding knife.
It features a closed length of 5" inches with 3 3/4” spear point blade with a double bevel grind. The blade is made from 7CR17MoV stainless steel with an unknown Rockwell Hardness. It has apartially serrated edge with a black, titanium nitride coating.
The Covert combines Gerber's F.A.S.T. assisted opening mechanism with a side locking mechanism to hold the blade in the open position.
The handle scales are made from textured, black, G10 and incorporate deep finger groves with a right side only, tip down only, stainless steel, pocket clip.
OK, so yo can see there is a lot to consider when choosing an EDC knife. Each is important to both the durability and functionality of the knife.
However, when selecting an everyday carry knife, the most important factors to be considered are blade design, blade steel, and opening mechanisms.
Different blade designs excel at different tasks. The spear point is optimized for piercing. Ohers such as the trailing point are best suited for slicing while, others such as the clip point and the drop point make good general purpose designs. It's also important to remember that it's more difficult to sharpen some blade shapes than others. Hollow grinds in particular can be tricky.
The heart of a knife is its blade. The type of steel the blade is made from and it's Rockwell Hardness have a significant effect on both the ease (or difficulty) of sharpening the blade as well as it durability and its ability to hold and edge.
While assisted opening mechanism are certainly convenient, they are inevitably less durable than a manual opening knife because they depend on either a leaf spring or a coil spring to actuate the opening of the blade.
Because all metals experience fatigue when flexed, any knife that employs a spring will eventually break and thus, require repair. And while assisted opening mechanisms have been specifically exempted from the Federal Switchblade Act, they may not be legal to carry in all municipalities or jurisdictions.
Therefore, knives with manual opening mechanisms are not only more reliable, they are far more likely to be legal to carry. So, when choosing an everyday carry knife, you should note and carefully consider all of the factors listed above before choosing the best EDC knife for your particular needs.