Let’s talk about traditional pocket knives.
If you’re new to the knife life, or still getting used to the terminology we use, a traditional pocket knife is the classy looking, practical folder that your grandpa used to carry around. Traditional folders typically don’t have a locking mechanism and commonly feature two or three different blades. These are simple, straightforward, honest knives that forego some of the features that you’d find on modern knives like spring assisted blades, complex locking mechanisms, and ultra-advanced, battle-ready super steel.
Instead, traditional pocket knives strive for a balance of brawn and classic beauty. They often feature a distinctive handle material like bone, ivory, or polished wood that can bring a vintage or antique aesthetic to these knives that have once again become popular EDC options over the past few years. Their resurgent popularity has inspired knife makers to make subtle innovations to these classic designs, making them just as useful today as they were for your great-great-grandparents.
No matter what your collection looks like, odds are that old school traditional pocket knives were an early addition, if it wasn’t the seed that started it all. Maybe you inherited a classic multi-bladed nail nick folder from your grandfather or picked up a Swiss Army Knife as a kid that you absolutely loved. Traditional folders deserve a place on your shelf (or drawer or tiny pantheon, wherever it is you keep your knives) because they are the foundation upon which all modern flippers and folders have been built.
In order to bring a little bit of history, old school aesthetics, and tried and true engineering to your life, we’ve come up with the top ten best traditional pocket knives to add to your collection. In order to make the list, each of these knives had to stand out from the crowd. Before adding a knife to the list, we considered the quality of their materials, their level of practicality, the knife’s value, as well as the unique history and personality that each knife brought to the table.
The Buck 110 embodies the spirit of the American outdoorsman — it’s rugged, hardworking, innovative, and endlessly tenacious. First introduced in 1964, the Buck 110’s revolutionary lockback feature was the first time a folding knife was able to successfully hold the blade in a solid position while in use. The Buck 110 was incredibly popular among hunters, fishermen, backpackers, farmers, and tradesmen everywhere — and for good reason.
The Buck 110’s long, sleek, clip point blade is made from 420HC stainless steel that is subjected to a patented three step heat treating process which makes the Buck a remarkably tough knife that holds its edge. More than just tough, the Buck 110 is timelessly elegant. The handle is made from Macassar ebony — a rare wood generally found in instruments or high-end furniture, famous for its brown and black stripes. Paired with brass bolsters and pins, the Buck 110 has a distinctly non-threatening look that will never go out of style. The Buck 110 isn’t just a knife, it’s a piece of American culture and tradition that elevates your collection.
We’ve actually got a lot to say about the Buck 110, but we need to move on. If you’re interested in learning more about this classic American knife, be sure to check out our review “Does the Buck 110 Still Hold Up?”
Inspired by weekend warriors, the Benchmade Weekender is a fresh take on the traditional pocket knife designed with the outdoor enthusiast in mind. Whether you’re spending the weekend camping, hiking, or just enjoying a bonfire with friends, this knife is the perfect tool to keep around. Benchmade is a highly respected brand known for their commitment to craftsmanship and innovation, and the Weekender is a great example of this.
Featuring two durable blades and a can opener made from high-end CPM S30V stainless steel, the Weekender offers excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance. You’ll also have the option to choose between a micarta or G-10 handle, giving you the opportunity to personalize your pocket knife and make it your own. No matter what material you choose, the Weekender is comfortable. Every part of holding and using this knife is streamlined to feel rugged and secure. If you’re using it to help set up camp, prepare meals, or crack open a few cold ones around the fire, the Weekender is a worthy addition to your collection.
We recently had a chance to take the Weekender out on a test drive. If you’re still on the fence about Benchmade’s homage to the traditional pocket knife, take a look at “Benchmade Weekender Review: True to Tradition.”
Nothing looks more like you found it in Grandpa’s drawer than the Case Stockman. This knife is a true classic. Its ageless design and old-school feel are sure to appeal to knife enthusiasts of all ages. With the wide variety of blade styles, handle materials, and colors available, you can find the perfect Stockman to match your style.
Aside from its classic style, what sets the Case Stockman apart is the quality of its materials. Featuring Case’s Tru-Sharp stainless steel, the Stockman’s blades hold an edge longer than conventional steel and offer remarkable blade strength and corrosion resistance — all qualities that make the Stockman as good a knife today as it was for grandpa. Its reputation for reliability and performance has earned the Stockman a place on this list.
Case has been making knives in the USA for more than 130 years, and the Stockman is a testament of their commitment to craftsmanship and attention to detail. If you’re looking for a classic pocket knife with a wide variety of options to add to your collection, the Case Stockman is definitely worth considering.
The Boker Barlow is a must-have knife for anyone with an appreciation for knives, history, or both. Even though Boker was officially founded in the 1860s, the family can trace their roots in German cutlery back to the 1600s. Combining Boker’s traditions with the storied past of the Barlow knives, this traditional pocket knife is steeped in centuries of history and culture. Offered in a variety of steels and handle materials ranging from micarta to the original oak timbers of the 1000-year-old Schloss Burg castle in Germany.
Many notable Americans have carried Barlow knives, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to urban legend, Lincoln passed his Barlow knife to one Sumner Phelps, who looked like he could have been Lincoln’s twin. As a joke, Lincoln handed Phelps the knife, looked him in the eye and said, “Sumner, this knife was given to me to keep until I found a homelier man than myself, so I present it to you.”
The Boker Barlow is more than a historical trinket, it’s an incredibly effective tool capable of outlasting the person who buys it all while staying within an affordable price range. As tough as it is elegant and cultured, the Boker Barlow is more than ready to tackle the cutting tasks you’ll encounter throughout your life, and the lives of your grandchildren.
Perhaps the most recognizable knife brand in the world, Victorinox presents the Classic SD. With its bright red scales and unmistakable seal, the Classic SD is the iconic Swiss Army Knife in its most travel friendly package yet. You really can’t say “pocket knife” without thinking of the Swiss Army Knife, which is what makes the Classic SD a foundational piece of your collection.
The Swiss Army Knife has been trusted by soldiers, astronauts, professional adventurers, and do-it-yourselfers for so long that it’s become the standard by which we measure our gear’s durability and versatility. What makes the Classic SD stand apart is its accessible price point and compact size. The Classic SD measures less than 2.50” long, weighs less than an ounce, and adds 7 essential tools to your EDC setup, all for under $20. Throw it in your pocket or on your keychain (or on the smallest pedestal of your tiny pantheon) and it makes a nearly invisible companion to your regular EDC setup without adding an ounce of weight.
Swiss Army Knives are endlessly useful and have a long history of being exactly the right tool for any job. In its 130 year history, Victorinox has made more than 350 different models and at least 800 kinds of tools. For a deeper look at Swiss Army Knives, check out our article on the Best Swiss Army Knives.
Enrique Peña is a Texan knife maker and talented artisan who has been making traditional pocket knives for more than 15 years. With an eye for fine details, commitment to craftsmanship, and his artful approach to knife design, Peña’s knives are sought after all over the world by collectors.
The Dogleg by Peña Knives is a beautifully crafted and highly functional knife inspired by the traditional folder. One of the stand-out features of the Dogleg is its blade, which is made from Bohler M390 steel. Commonly referred to as a “super steel,” and considered one of the best (if not the best) steels on the market today, Bohler M390 is a favorite among knife nerds everywhere. This high-performance steel is known for its excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness, making the Dogleg a functional piece of art.
The Peña Dogleg didn’t earn its place on our list with its elegant design and premium materials alone. What really solidified its place was how Peña managed to include a flipper tab, a frame lock, and a pocket clip into the design without sacrificing the look of a traditional pocket knife.
Case Cutlery has been around for 130 years — just five years younger than Victorinox, the original maker of the Swiss Army Knife. With such a rich history, it’s no wonder Case has two knives to contribute to our list of best traditional knives.
The Case Cutlery Trapper was originally built and designed for fur trappers living and working in the wilds of the American West in the late 19th century, but it quickly proved to be incredibly versatile. The Trapper has two blades of equal length, a clip point blade intended for common chores like slicing food, cutting twine, whittling, etc. The spey blade, with its rounded tip, is meant for more delicate tasks that require precise cuts like spaying or skinning animals, or just slicing into packages without cutting anything else.
Like all Case Cutlery knives, the Trapper is made from Tru-Sharp stainless steel, offering impressive blade strength and corrosion resistance. This classic design is offered in a myriad of different handle materials, bolster materials, and colors, leaving plenty of room for personal expression in this timeless traditional pocket knife. With most models sitting below the $100 line, it’s easy to add a few Trappers to your collection.
Almost exactly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor that dragged the United States into World War Two, KA-BAR submitted a knife design to the United States Marine Core that was quickly adopted as the preferred combat knife for the thousands of Marines fighting across the Pacific. Since then, KA-BAR has continued to make knives you can trust with your life.
The KA-BAR 3189 is inspired by the KA-BAR 1189, a traditional folder with wood handles. The updated 3189 has kept the best things about the original, enhancing its build with upgraded G-10 handle scales and 420 steel. Easy to sharpen and maintain while remaining tough, 420 is an excellent choice for knives that see a lot of hard use.
Like the Buck 110, the KA-BAR 3189 features a clip point blade and lock back mechanism that makes this knife feel more like a fixed blade than a folder. With its sturdy and durable build, KA-BAR’s reputation among American soldiers, and its incredibly budget friendly price point, the KA-BAR 3189 was an easy addition to our list of best traditional pocket knives.
Italian in origin, ethos, and execution, Gino Pauletta, founder of LionSteel Knives, has been pouring care, love, and passion for his craft into his blades since the 1960s. From humble beginnings making knives in a converted outhouse, Pauletta’s blades have since won the Overall Knife of the Year award at Blade Show in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
LionSteel produces traditional folders made from premium modern materials. With blades made from Bohler M390 steel, the LionSteel knives are always sharp and endlessly reliable. LionSteel employs titanium frames and bolsters that bring impressive corrosion resistance to their entire lineup of slip joint knives. With various scale options ranging from micarta to carbon fiber and just about everything in between.
LionSteel offers all the features you need, and none that you don’t. This understated brand lets its premium materials speak for themselves. Whether you’re hiking, camping, fishing, or just prefer understated EDC knives, a LionSteel slip joint knife easily covers all the essentials while keeping a lightweight and low profile.
GiantMouse, founded by Danish bladesmiths Jens Anso and Jesper Voxnaes, believe that everyone should have a good, well-made, reliable knife. They’ve made it their mission to provide amazing knife designs built from high quality materials at a fair price.
The Farley is their take on the traditional slip joint pocket knife. The drop point blade is made from Bohler M390 steel — arguably the best knife steel in the world. Offering excellent edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance, the Farley is the embodiment of GiantMouse’s mission to provide an excellent knife at a fair price.
The Farley features handle scales made from brass, micarta, or G-10 with slight curves and an ergonomic grip, making this knife as comfortable as it is tough and reliable. With a reversible pocket clip and lanyard hole, the Farley makes a sturdy and convenient EDC knife.
Staying true to the traditional folder style, the Farley has a nail nick opener and a non-locking slip joint strong enough to keep the blade in position, but perfectly calibrated to be easy to manipulate without destroying your fingernails.
The worst thing about making a top-ten list is that we could only choose ten of our favorite knives, but there were a few honorable mentions that deserve some love. These knives didn’t make our top list, but they’re still excellent choices for those looking for high-quality and reliable traditional pocket knives.
Benajmin Belkin founded Jack Wolf Knives with a mission to make heirloom quality knives using modern materials following the timeless styles and designs of the knives his grandfather carried, and to do it all with an 80’s and 90’s pop culture flare. If you manage to get a Jack Wolf knife in hand, you’ll notice everything about it reinforces the feeling that this is a piece your grandchildren will treasure one day.
Jack Wolf blades are always made from high quality or premium steel, making each piece as functional as they are beautiful. The handle materials are subjected to the same high standards as the blades, ranging from titanium to carbon fiber.
The only reason Jack Wolf didn’t make our final list of top traditional pocket knives was well…how do we pick just one? From the Venom to the Cyborg to the Vampire, each Jack Wolf knife is produced as a limited edition, which can make it a challenge to add one to your collection.
GEC (Great Eastern Cutlery) produces classically designed traditional pocket knives from their factory in Titusville, PA. Using only the finest materials and processes, they create knives that look, feel, and perform like iconic American-made folders from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — commonly considered the golden age of pocket knives.
GEC offers dozens of different slip joint folders that are as unique as they are well made. Forged from 1095 carbon steel and given a satin finish, each GEC model features a different exotic handle material and pattern that make these knives highly collectible. From stag antler to rare woods, adding a GEC to your collection will always be a statement piece that will last for generations.
Reject Modernity, Embrace Tradition
Alright, maybe we don’t have to reject modernity. In fact, knife makers today use the best of modern practices when fashioning old-school designs, but there’s something valuable and comforting about embracing tradition and the history that comes with it. Traditional folders offer a sense of nostalgia and value that cannot be overstated but can often be overlooked. Despite the age of their designs, these knives are just as useful today as they were hundreds of years ago. From everyday tasks to outdoor adventures, a good traditional pocket knife can always be counted on to get the job done. Whether you’re a history buff and collector, a steel snob, or a hard-working everyday user, traditional pocket knives are an excellent choice for anyone who appreciates quality craftsmanship and time-honored traditions.