One of the questions I get a lot is how to choose a knife for everyday carry (EDC). This is simultaneously a complex question that requires you to consider many different factors, while also being very simple and straightforward. The simple answer:
Carry the knife you need.
The complex answer comes from figuring out exactly what this means. Your situation will be different from mine, so what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. If you live in another country, laws are different as well, limiting or expanding your options.
I will go over several of the factors I feel are the most important to consider before you can pick a knife for your everyday carry. But first, you need to answer another question:
Do you really need to carry a knife?
This may sound like a weird question but bear with me.
The purpose of a daily carry knife is to have it on you pretty much wherever you go, every single day. Then the first step is analyzing where you go every day: do you need a knife there or not? Answer that question truthfully before continuing. The answer may be that another tool would be more useful: a multitool, a sap, a kubotan, a monkey fist, etc. So first of all, figure out if a knife is the best tool for you.
Let’s assume it is, then we can get into the factors you have to consider before making a selection. Key point: these factors are not all equally important. Some factors may heavily outweigh others, depending on your situation. For instance, if you live in a country where open carry is obligatory, there is no legal need to consider how to hide the blade on your body. This will also influence your carry options as the draw will be different than with a hidden carry. All that changes which specific knife you end up buying. Keep that in mind while reading the list below.
How to choose a knife for everyday carry
Consider the following before making a choice on which knife to buy:
- What does the law say? Try this page as a starting point for an overview of international knife laws. Do some research to make sure the information is up to date because it changes regularly. If you choose to ignore the law, understand that this has consequences.
- What kind of hands do you have? Large? Small? Long, thin fingers? Short, stubby ones? Etc. If you can’t comfortably grip a knife, it’s not a good choice for you.
- Fixed blade or folder? In my country (and in many others), fixed blades are forbidden for carry. Locking folders are as well and police have the leeway to make a judgment call for non-locking folders. Make sure you know what is applicable to your country and State.
- Blade length. This is often a legal consideration where blades beyond a certain length are illegal to carry. If you mainly use it for cutting, length is less important. For stabbing, a longer blade is more effective.
- Single or multipurpose? If you buy a “tactical” knife designed primarily as a weapon, this makes it less useful as a tool for other uses while also marking it clearly as a weapon. Should you use it in self-defense, you’ll have to explain later on why you were carrying what was clearly a weapon designed to kill. District attorneys and lawyers enjoy it when you hand them ammunition to convict you… Look at the sales pitch of some of those tactical knives and then imagine how a lawyer could influence a jury with it to make you look bad? There are more than enough other knives available that don’t advertise as such and are just as effective for self-defense. These also have a form and shape that makes them multi-functional. Given that you will likely use your EDC knife much more often for non-self-defense related tasks, it’s something to consider…
- Blade retention/handle. How well can you hold on to the knife when you cut and stab with it? Blades can snag, ripping the knife out of your hand. Stabbing and hitting the ribs can mean your hand slips off the handle and onto the blade, cutting into your own hand. Other handles and knife designs are good enough to let you break ribs instead of diverting the blade. The type of handle influences your ability to hold the knife and use it effectively.
- Guard/thumb rise/finger groove or not? Expanding on the previous topic of knife retention, the design can help or hinder in that regard. A knife with a guard or thumb rise can secure your grip and increase the pressure of a cut/stab. The same with a finger groove, as it allows for a more secure grip when things go wrong. But if they are poorly positioned or don’t fit your hand, then they are counter-productive. Sometimes, having none of those is better than having features that don’t work for you personally.
- Stealth or convenience? My personal philosophy is that if there is no reason to show you have a weapon, hide it. So my preference goes to a hidden carry. But the more you have to hide the knife, the less convenient it becomes as you make compromises to keep the knife from showing. Find the right balance for your needs.
- Drawing method. If you carry a knife for self-defense, being able to quickly draw it under stress is paramount. A weapon you cannot access in time is just as useless as a weapon you don’t have on you. Different knives will favor different drawing methods, so this is an important factor to consider.
- Can you afford a trainer? The single best training method for your EDC knife is to get a perfect copy that has a dull edge and rounded off point. That way it is safe to train with for both you and your training partners. More expensive brands sell trainers that are exact replicas and they are worth the investment in my opinion. If you buy a cheaper knife, consider buying a second one and blunting it for training purposes.
- Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. There are some very expensive knives out there. Some of them are worht the money, lots of them aren’t. Some cheap knives or even mass-produced kitchen knives outperform them, strange as this may seem. So don’t just throw money out the window by picking the most expensive thing you see.
There are other points you could consider, but I believe these are some of the most important ones. The key is to take a hard look at your own circumstances and environment and taking into account all these points, one at a time. This slowly guides you towards a specific type of knife that is a perfect fit for you. Once you buy it, then you have to train, a lot, so it becomes second nature to access and handle that knife.
To help you out, here is a picture of some of the knives I own. I only bought two of them, the others are gifts. Take a look:
Before I go on: none of these knives are legal to carry in my country, so I don’t. The same applies to you: before you choose a knife for everyday carry, remember to research your laws as to what is allowed.
Let’s go over them below, but just one note: some of these knives are hard to find nowadays so I did my best to find the closest thing to it in.
1. Spyderco Delica. The first quality knife I ever bought. I got it 20 years ago as a general utility knife. I wanted something small and reliable, this one fit the bill. The grip isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, but the thumb rise compensates for that. The thumb opening via the typical Spyderco hole in the blade works well for me and the clip hooks well into my pocket pants. It can also be unscrewed and placed in the opposite position, making it practical for both left and right-hand carry
2. Cheap knockoff. I bought this knife many years ago at an Army surplus store. It was 10 or 15€, no more. It’s a cheap folder that lies well in my hand and is great for opening boxes, cutting rope, etc. I mainly have it handy to cut through my car seat or break the car window should I ever be in a bad crash or need to cut my kids loose. These reasons are specific to my past: a friend of mine died in a car crash after he missed an exit. He couldn’t get out and burned to death. I vowed to never die like that if I could help it, so I have a tool handy to get free if I still have the ability to do so.
I don’t know the brand and can’t find it anymore. The closest thing I can find to this knife is the Spyderco Matriarch, though the blade has a slightly different shape. Another one that looks like it is the Spyderco Byrd Hawkbill (thank you Jason.)
3. Benchmade Mel Pardue. I received this one as a gift. The grip doesn’t work for me and stabbing hard with it would mean my hand sliding onto the blade. As the spear tip is very good for stabbing, that makes it a problem. The serrated part of the blade allows for cutting/sawing through thick rope very easily, which is a plus. It is matted and doesn’t reflect light, making it a good choice for certain scenarios. The clip isn’t bad, but the design of the knife makes it impossible for me to do a reliable quick-draw; the knife is too small and flat for my hand. Overall, this is a backup blade for me, at best.
4. Old SOG folder. I’ve had the knife for almost 20 years now and I forgot which model this is. I looked it up but didn’t find it right away. The closest thing I’ve found is this one.
SOG makes quality blades and this one is no different. Because it doesn’t have a clip and the placement of the thumb stub doesn’t work for me, it is useless for quickdraw. That makes it suitable as a utility pocket knife, with some limited self-defense use. It is a sturdy blade though and I’ve used it for all sorts of things, abusing it a lot: it has taken it all in stride and except for needing some inevitable sharpening, it performed great.
5. Boker Gemini Law Enforcement Model Knife. This is another old model that used to be reserved for LEOs. I got it as a gift and like it a lot. The grip isn’t perfect, but it works well enough in my hand. The blade is matted, but the coating comes off a bit too easily for my taste. This knife is the only one that is truly ambidextrous: you can change the clip but there is also a thumb stud on both sides of the blade. So you can open it just as easily in your left as your right hand.
The only downside is the locking mechanism. I’ve had a hard time adjusting it so it has the right balance between loose enough for a quick opening and too loose, making it is unstable. That makes it unreliable for self-defense which is why I disqualify it as an EDC tool. At best it is backup or a utility knife.
6. Benchmade AFCK. Another discontinued one, this is one that resembles it somewhat. It is by far my favorite knife for many reasons. The handle has great ergonomics that make it fit perfectly in my hand and the texture gives a good grip. The blade is razor-sharp and holds an edge well; even a quick slashing movement from the wrist would cut deeply. Because of the length of the blade and the grooves on the back, it is also suitable for powerful thrusting techniques without having to be afraid of losing your grip.
Of all the knives in this list, the AFCK is the only one I can comfortably use in both regular grip and reverse grip, increasing its versatility for me. Pikal grip (reverse grip, edge in) isn’t possible because of the handle ergonomics. But as I don’t favor that grip, this is irrelevant to me. Overall, this would be my primary choice for a pure self-defense EDC.
7. Spyderco Civilian. Spyderco designed this knife for undercover LEOs who have some very specific factors to take into account. It is useless for stabbing but is the best folder I know for cutting, slashing and rending. As a utility knife, it sucks, but that is no surprise as it was not designed for that: it is made to cut flesh and bone and does so extremely well. Even if you don’t have a lot of physical strength, you can still easily and effectively defend yourself with it.
Its strength also makes its weakness: I would only use this knife as an EDC in the most extreme of circumstances. If you use this one in self-defense and end up in court, the prosecutor or opposing counsel will show the jury the horrific wounds this knife caused. He will also explain that the purpose of this knife is to kill, painting you as a violent thug who doesn’t care about the lives of others. I would urge you to think for a long time about choosing this knife as an everyday carry…
This is by no means the definitive guide on how to choose a knife for everyday carry, nor was it meant to be that. I wrote it to answer the question from my perspective, because people ask it all the time. As an aside, a knife is far from the only thing you would include in your EDC. A sensible EDC kit has other tools in it as well, including emergency medical supplies. Obviously, you also have to spend the necessary time training to be able to use everything in your EDC when the time comes. The carrying is the easy part…
I hope this article helped you out with your own EDC, how a knife could fit into it and how to choose one. My main point is to think things through and consider what is relevant to you before buying anything.
This article was originally published in my Patreon monthly newsletter. I revised it and slightly expanded it here.
P.S.: I wrote an article a few years ago on a more comprehensive EDC kit. You might enjoy that one too.