Long before history was recorded, even as scribbling on rock, man has relied on blades to help him conquer his environment. First as sharp rock and later as metal, the sophistication of knives has steadily increased through the ages while their function has remained the same: to cut, and to pierce. Both remain invaluable today as in the dim days before.
I assert that no citizen should go forth without some kind of knife on their person. From the most mundane of chores to the extreme of self-defense and emergency extrication, knives are among the most used and useful EDC tools that a prepper will carry.
The sheer number and type of knives out there can make for tricky choosing however; seemingly a million different shapes, grinds, blade steels and designs.
Any sharp knife can be pressed into service as a defensive weapon, but not all blades are optimized for the task of self-defense. Conversely, many knives intended for combat are clumsy for more utilitarian tasks. There are knife designs that can handle both. Or perhaps you will carry one of each.
The choice is up to you, and will be determined by your mission, knowledge, experiences and preferences. What matters most with little exception is that you have a knife when you need one. In this article, I’ll be discussing a few things you should think about when choosing an EDC knife, and I’ll also furnish a list of some of my most favorite EDC knives for all kinds of tasks.
Jobs for your EDC Knife
Your EDC knife should be used, ideally, for only two things: cutting and piercing. In reality, you’ll likely use it for cutting, piercing, prying, scraping and engraving. A knife is a tool first, and so will endure the life of most tools, used for what it was designed for and also a few other tasks that we shoehorn it into.
Even so, a knife can also be called on, or even designed and intended as a weapon. The primordial fear most people have of sharpened steel is proof enough of a blade’s efficacy in combat. Your knife may be one, the other or both. You may or may not get a choice in the matter.
Most people choose to carry a knife, and a particular knife at that, based on what they intend to do with it. The trick is understanding what your knife is capable of when something is foisted on you that you don’t intend.
Your utility EDC knife will open legions of boxes, cut string and twine, trim twigs and branches, breach plastic packaging, scrap away old paint and glue, remove splinters and trim your nails.
Your defensive EDC knife is used only for the most serious of tasks, that of helping you defend against a threat on your life or, perhaps, used for a cutting task of uttermost urgency like removing a jammed seat belt after an auto accident.
How you decide to accommodate yourself for these problems is completely up to you.
EDC Knife Philosophy
The carry and employment of an EDC knife is commonly discussed among blade enthusiasts, but talked of very little among those who are not, at least never past discussions of favorite brand and type.
Some folks don’t care: “Have knife. Need cut. Cut. Done.” That’s fine I suppose, but if the entire point of preparedness and religious EDC is to be better equipped for things that might hurt or kill you, whatever they are, it seems to me counterproductive to fail to constantly improve your knowledge and education. This includes the best practices and procedures for use and carry of knives.
This does not mean you are going to start down the road to mastery of knife fighting or anything like that (though you should be putting in time on edged weapon fighting techniques if you plan to rely on your knife for self-defense as anything beyond a weapon of desperation), but it does mean paying a little more attention to what knife/knives you carry, why you are carrying them, and how you intend to use them.
I’ll offer myself up as an example: I carry two knives, always, unless attire somehow makes it impossible. One knife, what I call my support blade, is usually a simple slip-joint gentleman’s knife or lockback folder of some kind.
My customary favorite is a Victorinox Swiss Army knife, the Tinker, which I like for its good steel, assortment of useful tools and very small and convenient form factor. The pill shape of this knife does not tear up pockets or draw attention to itself, and is no trouble at all to carry.
My other knife is either a large folder or medium-ish, slim fixed blade. My go-to choice is a CRKT Obake for a fixed blade or their Heiho folder. Both of these knives are designed to be superior stabbers, and support the techniques I have trained for defensive use of a knife.
Whichever is carried, this is what I call my serious social knife, because if it comes out for any reason it is being used on, or on behalf of, myself or someone else.
The former will be used for chores, or for fun: opening packages, repairs, a bit of grooming or even a bout of impromptu whittling. I maintain this knife as any other tool, but I don’t care if it is not at all times hair-popping sharp.
The latter knife is only used for tasks of an emergency nature and I maintain this knife’s edge at razor sharpness at all times for maximum performance. Slicing off a seat belt or some other entanglement is no time for laborious sawing unless absolutely unavoidable. Similarly, incentivizing some scumbag to GTFO me is best accomplished with a needle sharp point and honed edge.
That’s my way, one way, of approaching EDC carry of blades. You may want to pick one knife for all tasks and simply commit to keeping it clean and sharp. You may decide you don’t care for the idea of a combative knife and choose to rely on a more traditional knife alone. You may eschew the idea of a dedicated knife entirely and use a multi-plier or something similar with a knife built in (but that is a topic for another day).
There is more than one way to skin a cat but skinning a cat requires, you guessed it, a knife in the first place. Whichever method or philosophy you adhere to, as with any EDC gear, it may as well be up on the space station if you don’t have it on you when you need it.
The Best EDC Knives
Below is a list of EDC worthy knives that I recommend for various roles. Some are fixed blades and some are folders. Not all of these knives are do-alls, though all will certainly cut when called on. I have noted in the descriptions the salient features of each and generally what you can expect to do with them.
While their prices run the gamut from budget to premium, I have kept the majority firmly in the middle. With just a little bit of care and maintenance, you can expect any of these knives to last a very long time.
CRKT makes pretty solid knives for modest prices, and are one of my favorite makers in the category. As I mentioned above I really like the Heiho (and its bigger brother, the Hissatsu folder) for their no-frills defensive design that is optimized for one thing: stabbing and slicing, and I don’t mean olives and apples.
Designed by the renowned and respected James Williams, his thumbprint is obvious in this knifes traditional Japanese blade design and further in the shape of the handle and G-10 scales.
Don’t be put off by this knife’s Far East aesthetics if you are bothered by such things. It is a purpose-driven tool that excels at its task.
In the world of hard-use knives Emerson knives stand alone. Used by all manner of armed professionals, from SWAT officers to SEAL teams, Emerson knives are known for brutish toughness, total reliability, and their patented “Wave” feature, which allows you to open their big folders as you draw them from your pocket.
The CQC-10 is notable for its durable spear point and chisel grind which makes for a very sharp edge that is easy to tune up in the field, even with an expedient sharpener.
No original Emerson knife comes cheap, this is one of the costliest knives on our list but well worth it if your life may depend on the strength of your knife.
The Native is an EDC knife emphasizing control. Two generous finger choils and the signature Spyderco opening hole along with an aggressively textured handle and lanyard hole means you won’t have to worry over an errant slip costing you a pint of blood.
A good thing, too, since the Native, like all Spyderco knives come with a very sharp edge right out of the box. Its 3 inch blade is legal almost anywhere and will handle most cutting tasks with ease.
A smaller variant, the Lil’ Native, is available for those who are dealing with particularly odious knife regulations or just need to stay small.
Available with a plain or combo edge and in an assortment of handle colors, the Native is an EDC knife that can do it all.
Sometimes you just need a little, sharp knife, not a crew-served folder or rebranded short sword. CRKT delivers once again with the Alan Folts-designed fixed blade Minimalist series.
Designed to be worn as neck knives or small belt knives, these tiny 2-inch-and-change slicers all feature resin-impregnated fiber handles with 3 deep choils for maximum control and a variety of blade styles to suit individual preferences.
You can choose from wharncliffe, a combo American tanto and recurve or my favorite the traditional clip point with a deep belly for detailed cutting and slicing. All have their advantages: the clip point is, as mentioned, a great blade for detailed cutting especially when choked up, the wharncliffe blade is great for puncturing soft materials and power cutting and the combo-tanto features very strong tip geometry for heavy duty piercing.
Any one of them makes a great concealable option when real estate on your body is at a premium or risk of discovery is high. They also make splendid backup blades in your kit or on your body.
A classic pocket knife that has accompanied hunters and outdoor enthusiasts afield for decades, Buck’s Model 110 is a simple design, but one that is superbly executed and made to last. A clip point blade made from 420HC stainless provides a mean edge and excellent edge retention.
This lockback folder features wood scales with proud brass rivets and brass bolsters, making for a very heavy folding knife, but one that is well shaped to stay in your hand and is resilient in bad weather. The handle is very slippery when wet, however.
For the price, this iconic Buck is one of the nicest made knives on our list, and one that everyone should own. It may be a tad heavy for daily carry in a pocket, but this is one that is at home in a belt pouch or pack.
KA-BAR’s TDI knife is a specialized defensive knife designed originally for law enforcement officers as a last ditch option. This boomerang-looking knife is designed to leverage hand-to-hand skills by working with the motion of a thrown punch.
This design ethic and easy concealability makes for a very intuitive knife to employ in a defensive situation. The multi-attachment sheath allows it to be placed and concealed almost anywhere on your body depending on your attire.
Small, light, and with a nasty sting for its size, the KA-BAR TDI is a fine choice in low-profile defensive blades.
As the name suggests, the Blur is an assisted opening knife that deploys so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink. The Blur is business-like all-purpose folder, with a recurve blade suitable for all kinds of tasks.
The generous handle is clad with flowing inset panels of grip tape for maximum traction in any environment. A DLC coated blade is handsome and practical, affording the steel excellent corrosion and wear resistance. The pocket clip is reversible allowing for tip-up or tip-down carry.
A fine knife at work or in defense, the Blur is one of Kershaw’s best.
The legendary Swiss Army knife needs no introduction. While commonly chosen for their array of useful tools (and boy are they) some folks might overlook the fact that these Swiss gems use really excellent steel for all their many parts, and this is handily apparent when you use their shaving sharp large or small blades.
While not as good for heavy duty tasks or defense, these simple slip joint blades can handle 90% of anything you’d ask your knife to do, and you get a bunch of useful tools in the bargain, among them a variety of drivers and a saw.
Handy. Easy to carry. Convenient. The Camper deserves a spot in every prepper’s pocket.
A minimalist, but purpose-driven fixed blade form Fred Perrin, one of Europe’s most sought after close quarters combat and defensive tactics instructors, the Street Bowie is a lean, razor sharp clip point blade married to a handle design featuring a deep choil that helps lock the knife into the user’s hand no matter the conditions.
The Street Bowie comes complete with a sturdy injection molded sheath. This sheath is a far cry above most knives toss-in dinky scabbards, and features a high throat with excellent retention and still allows a full grip for a proper draw.
An excellent blade for both utility and defense work.
Another defensive fixed blade, this one from Gerber. The Ghoststrike is a lightweight, compact and skeletonized knife designed for concealment just about anywhere on your body: on your ankle, inside the waistband, in a pocket or on a necklace around your neck.
Unlike similar competitors fiddly little hideout knives, the Ghoststrike has great ergos that really give you confidence when working out hard with the blade. This is enhanced by a highly grippy overmolded rubber material around the entirety of the handle. The 420 HC steel holds an edge well, but can be tricky to sharpen, so pay attention and use the right stones or you risk becoming frustrated.
The Ghoststrike is a fine defensive knife, and also works fine as a chore knife that will not “scare the horses.”
Sometimes the old ways are best. Chrome vanadium steel clip- and spey-point blade, slip joint locking and jigged bone handles. Just like granddad carried. These knives aren’t the sharpest, the fastest, the most technologically impressive or anything like that. What they are is well-made with old-school care to last a lifetime if you do your part and maintain it
Easy to carry and a pleasure to use, Case knives have always commanded a premium from connoisseurs and collectors alike, but the Trapper series are very affordable and a bargain in their price category for their quality.
If you want a fighting knife, look elsewhere. If you want a gorgeous, finely crafted tool, give Case a whirl.
An odd looking but cleverly designed knife for bad-breath distance defense, the Urban Survival when folded resembles a large pen, but with a flick of the thumb stud a keenly pointed recurve blade deploys.
While short and not much good for utility tasks, it presents a deadly discouragement for anyone trying to harm you. It is here the deeply sculpted and aggressively textured handle shines, allowing a rock-solid grip when holding the knife in hammer or icepick styles.
Repeated “sewing machine” style stabs with this knife will produce severe wounds very quickly. A glass breaker pommel adds to the utility of this already formidable knife.
Clipped into pants or shirt pocket, this blade does not scream knife, but instead looks like a pen. A good perk for those carrying in less-permissible environments.
A radical departure from their iconic and traditional 110, Buck’s CSAR-T is heavy duty work knife with a few drops of multi-tool DNA mixed in for good measure. A 154CM steel modified tanto blade makes for a mega tough and extremely corrosion resistant working knife.
A deeply grooved non-slip G-10 handle assures control and safety whether wet, muddy or bloody. A nice package all on its own, but the SCAR-T’s additional features really make it worth considering.
A glass breaking tooth crowns an integrated strap/line cutter, while a notch in the blade allows you to strip and bend wire without risking damage to the edge. Lastly the lanyard whole is sized for standard hex bits, allowing you to employ this knife as a makeshift driver or wrench.
Configurable for either tip up or tip down carry, the Buck CSAR-T is ready for all kinds of work on your next adventure.
SOG is a company that makes sturdy, innovative multipliers and knives with aggressive styling and good performance for every budget. One of my favorite knives among their offerings is also the smallest, and in many ways the least practical.
The Key Knife is exactly what it says: a knife with the shape and form factor of a common residential key. Far from the strongest, or easiest to use, the Key Blade’s genius is in its seeming novelty form factor: it appears to anything but close inspection to be a key, and will simply ride on your key ring hidden among your other keys (a variety of colors help accomplish this).
While this can be handy for discreet carry of a last ditch blade of some kind, it is also highly convenient as a backup blade. You can lose your bag, pocket knife and fixed blade, and so long as you have your keys you have at least one high quality cutting edge. The Key Knife is not for everyone, but at such a low cost and tiny form factor, I think everybody should have at least one.
An odd name for a great knife from a better maker, the “Mini-Grip” is a compact size model of Benchmade’s award-winning Griptillian. Like every sharp thing, Benchmade makes, the Mini-Grip is eye-watering sharp. Like seriously, seriously sharp.
Made from easy-sharpening CPM-20CV stainless and possessing the silky smooth action and AXIS lock that Benchmade is rightly famous for, the Mini-Griptilian cuts like a knife twice its size and price.
The plastic handles are generously checkered for a good grip in most conditions, and require no special care. A lifetime warranty means you will be assured of having a knife you can rely on, at least until the apocalypse comes.
For daily tasks, hunting, camping and any other outdoor activities, even impromptu self-defense, the Mini-Griptilian is one of Benchmade’s flagship knives for a reason.
Opinel No. 8 Outdoor
Opinel is one of the most beloved pocket knives in the world; ingeniously simple, razor sharp, and a joy to carry, they are a quintessential pocket knife, at home taking care of a variety of tasks in town or country.
Their warm wooden handles are a familiar sight all around the country pockets and in belt sheaths. The No. 8 Outdoor, however, is less commonly seen, and that is a shame, because this slick remix of Opinel’s winning formula has more features that prepper’s and outdoorsmen want.
Synthetic handle with integrated whistle, lanyard and now featuring a blade with a cut-out for easy one handed opening. This 21st century update is a welcome one, and arguably overdue.
The locking system remains their patented rotating ring, and while secure and sturdy, neither this knife nor its predecessors are designed to hold up to truly abusive use and tasks.
If you don’t anticipate needing a knife to baton wood or pry with, the Opinel is more than enough knife for most adventures.
A knife should be the first EDC tool you equip beyond your wallet and watch. You’ll use it for countless chores and it might even save your life one way or another.
Pocket knives are one of those things that everyone has an opinion on, but so long as you get a good piece of sharp, sturdy steel, everything else is secondary.