I’ve been thinking about writing an article like this for a while. I didn’t always start off as a “knife guy.” Honestly, the thought never really even occurred to me. If I needed to open or cut something, I dug around in a drawer for a pair of scissors or went into the basement, opened my toolbox, and grabbed my utility knife. While this technically works, there are many instances where you just need a tool and it’s inconvenient or impossible to find something useful.
I literally carry a knife on me 99% of the time these days and definitely find a use for it several times a day. If you’re on the fence, just try it. Then you can be like me and wonder how you even got around in life not having the most basic of tools on you at all times. There’s a problem though. The knife world has exploded and the sheer number of options is mind numbing. I cannot say that I’ve handled a large variety of knives in my very short knife life, but I can provide some general guidelines and lessons learned. Below are the criteria I think are essential when buying your FIRST folding knife.
Depending on where you live, carrying certain types of knives may actually be against the law. I see knives as tools first and foremost. Unfortunately some people use knives as more than tools, and whether the laws make sense or not, we have to work within the constraints we have. You can choose to do what you want, but awareness of your local knife laws is key! In this article I’m specifically focusing on folding knives, but some localities restrict whether you can have a locking knife, an automatic knife, etc. You also may be limited by the size of knife too. There’s a lot to consider, and I cannot provide any guidance for you. Be smart and research your local knife laws! If you live in the U.S., you can get guidance on state knife laws here. Also keep in mind that laws can vary within your state as well.
Do not go nuts. Seriously. There are some really cool pieces of eye candy out there, but for most purposes, there is no need to drop a fortune on a knife. At the end of the day, it’s a tool. It is designed to cut things, so at a minimum, you just want to make sure it’s something you will enjoy carrying, fits comfortably in your hand, and most of all, is sharp! There are some excellent knives out there for less than $50, but I’d argue you should go lower. There are some excellent options in the $30 range that will meet all your needs and get you used to carrying and using a knife. Then when it comes to maintenance or taking it apart, it won’t be the end of the world if you mess something up!
This is going to be a personal decision and unfortunately requires you to handle a few knives before you get the perfect fit. But there are some tips to look for when reading through the knife descriptions you find online. Furthermore, you need to think how you will actually be using your knife. Is it for light duty package opening? Breaking down thick cardboard boxes? There are some details that may or may not affect your choice such as the presence of jimping to help you apply pressure with your forefinger for heavier duty cutting. For heavy cutting too, you want to get a full 4-finger hold on the body of the knife, so if you have particularly large hands, some knives might just not work for you. But do not be deceived! Some smaller knives have features that allow you to still get a full 4-finger grip and are surprisingly capable.
Locking or Non-Locking
I always prefer locking knives over a non-locking. It is just safer. It is less likely for the knife to close on you and cut a finger when doing heavy cutting tasks such as breaking down cardboard boxes. But some locations do not allow them, so you can go with a slip joint mechanism or a friction folder. The slip joint uses a spring to hold the blade open, but does not fully lock it in place. A friction folder is held open by friction alone and is mainly intended for light duty tasks. If your location allows it, I’d highly suggest a locking blade.
There are tons of options that are becoming available that are creeping into the 3 oz and below realm. Personally, I don’t think you need to go ultralight with your knife choice, especially when you’re just starting out. I’d say anything in the 4 oz. range is perfectly fine for most people for an everyday carry (EDC) knife. Adjust up or down based on if you need something beefier or lighter.
The trend these days is towards smaller knives. For EDC uses, this is great and I’m all for it. I’d say the best place to start is a blade in the 3” range. This is a happy medium that will allow you to see if you want to try out something bigger or smaller. There are a ton of options out there in this range, so you will not be at a loss for knives to choose from.
So what do we recommend? Some of these we have actually used and some are just crowd favorites sourced from the EDC community. Overall I think these are a good place to start and all fall right at the $50 or less price point, approximately 3″ blade, and are approximately 4 oz. or less.
Ontario Knife Company RAT II – This is an excellent knife that both Jason and Chris like to EDC. It checks all the boxes and there’s a reason this is a staple in everyone’s collection.
CRKT Squid – This is another crowd favorite. It is a little smaller than the RAT II, but is a great design. Jason has one and thinks it’s okay, mostly due to the fact that the tip was dull. I think you could probably sharpen it yourself, but I’m not 100% sure.
CRKT Pillar – Very cool looking knife also from CRKT.
Civivi Elementum – Civivi makes great, affordable knives. The quality is excellent and the Elementum is a very popular choice with a cool flipper tab deployment option.
QSP Penguin – People in the EDC world LOVE the penguin. It’s a cool knife and apparently is great quality for the price.
The links we provide are Amazon affiliate links, so we get a small portion of the sale if you choose to buy a knife we recommend at no additional cost to you. You can also look elsewhere for these knives or discover other knives that fit the criteria we laid out for the perfect beginner folding knife. Check out BladeHQ, Knifecenter, DLT Trading, and many other sites to see if you can find something that fits your needs!
There are a lot of options to choose from! Let us know if you are on the fence on any of these knives or another option, and we’d be happy to weigh in! Did you know we’re on instagram? Please be sure to also follow us @dadlikesgear for some fun reels, content, and updates!