A symbol of preparedness, the pocket knife is widely regarded as a staple of everyday carry (EDC) gear. A knife is like a truck – just having one expands the kinds of things you can get done. Most EDCers will use a knife for general utility: opening packages, cutting thread, or mild food preparation. A 3” blade and most types of locks will be sufficient to perform these tasks. Choosing the right EDC knife and budgeting a purchase can be daunting. We’ll save you the headache of the trial-and-error process of the upgrade treadmill and present our favorite EDC knives under $350 in the first installment of Carry Smarter.
Despite ZDP-189 being one of the most technically advanced steels on the market, the Spyderco Dragonfly II manages to stay fantastically affordable at under $75. Its steel boasts remarkable hardness, able to cut down inch-thick cardboard boxes with ease, as well as incredible edge-retention, keeping hair-popping sharpness even after heavy use. It features a full flat grind blade, making it perfect for slicing, and its blade shape (the classic Spyderco leaf-shape) is wonderful for a wide variety of tasks. As a food prep blade, the size is a little small, but as a slicer, it is unrivaled.
A graceful beast of a knife, the ZT0560 might be too big for most EDC kits. However, it uses one of the best opening systems in the world—a flipper that rides on miniature ball bearings to keep the pivot smooth and tight. Once you overcome its detent, the blade unleashes with almost poetic fluidity. Although admittedly too big for office carry, the 3.75 inches can melt away when used outdoors on the trail or up a mountain, leaving you with a knife so incredible that it set the bar for large batch production blades upon its release. Three hours of machining goes into the handle scales alone. Despite its bulk, it’s a worthy purchase at around $200.
The Benchmade Mini Griptilian 555HG is like so many Yankees teams of old – formed from all the best parts available, regardless of origin. Its AXIS lock is quite good, especially for EDC, as it’s both stable and fully ambidextrous. Additionally, you can open and close the knife one-handed via ambidextrous thumb-holes (one of our favorite ways of deploying a blade) while keeping your fingers clear of the blade path. Finally, the knife features a very competent hollow ground sheepsfoot blade with 154CM steel. Its resin handle is comfortable in hand, but some may find it feels a bit insubstantial. At under $100, it’s a great all-around EDC knife.
If you want a flipper-opening knife but don’t want to break the bank, start here. The Skyline’s innovative design (“flipper” opening mechanism and only one liner between its scales) makes it uber pocket-friendly – as light and slim as you can find on a knife this size. The steel, Sandvik’s awesome nitrogen 14C28N, is one of the best values on the market, packing corrosion resistance, edge retention, and toughness properties of steel two to three times its price. It also comes in about a dozen different finishes to fit your style (we think the blackwash blade looks cool and hides wear doing so). Very few knives are as good a buy as the Skyline at just $35.
San Ren Mu, an experienced subcontractor for many big knife companies, shows their knife-making know-how in their execution of the 605. It’s a cheap gem, but it has everything you really need in a knife. Its classic drop point, full flat ground blade is small but sufficient for most everyday tasks, featuring a great entry-level 8Cr13MoV steel. However, because of its $10 price tag, the 605’s fit and finish can be a bit spotty. If you snag a good copy, rejoice. The better examples of the 605 are easily worth more than a single Alexander Hamilton and represent one of the best buys in the gear world.
The Strider PT CC is the master class in grip design, with smooth, convex handle scales, and an excellent forward choil for superior control. There is virtually nothing that the Strider handle does poorly. It seems a bit primitive, but in reality you’ll have both the precision of a surgeon and the grip of a grappler, all in one handle. The lack of a pocket clip is disappointing, but a lanyard can make the knife easy to retrieve. An excellent all-around performer with superb fit, finish, and ergonomics, the PT CC won’t come cheap, however.
There is more fervent, frothing praise of the Sebenza than any other blade out there. And every single bit of it is well deserved. Often the benchmark for knives of any price, the Sebenza is an understated marvel of design as well as one impressive work tool (“sebenza” means “work” in Zulu, after all). One reason for the lavish praise is its perfect blade—a clean drop-point with one hell of a hollow grind. The blade’s thick enough to do real work and ground so perfectly that it slices like machines at the deli counter. Newer models come with a well-performing S35VN steel, especially when implemented by a knifemaker like Chris Reeve. Coming in at the upper end of our price range, the Sebenza 21 starts at $350 – a bargain in the opinion of many knife enthusiasts.
Pump up the banjo music, and grab a stick for whittlin’ because A. G. Russell’s Barlow is one of the best traditional knives available. The Barlow design, including its defining extra-long bolster, was implemented out of necessity at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to deliver an affordable, good-quality, mass-produced knife. Comfortable in the hand, this Chinese-made Barlow runs 8Cr13MoV steel, which sharpens easily, but conversely doesn’t hold an edge for long. The French cut, or long groove along the top of the blade, allows for easy, one-handed opening while retaining traditional aesthetics. You can enjoy brilliant innovation in a form more than 200 years old for under $50.
So you want a cool looking knife? Enter the CRKT Swindle. The Swindle is a design from Ken Onion, and it echoes the lines of the classic traditional knife, the Swayback Jack. With its upswept handle and wharncliffe blade, the Swindle effectively mimics the Swayback Jack while also bringing cutting edge features to the table. Firstly, it deploys via no ordinary flipper, riding on extra smooth IKBS bearings. Its spring-mounted pocket clip rides along the spine, helping the knife disappear into your pocket in addition to keeping the handle clear of any obstructions. All in all, this package is one of the most striking knives on the market from one of the business’s best designers. And at just under $40, the price ain’t bad either.