It’s fair to say that some of the best knives in the world come from the USA – an epicenter of creative thinking, machining mastery, high-end metallurgy all spurred on by a strong economy and the legal ability to carry a knife with you in most locales. In this list we will examine some of the best examples of US-made everyday carry knives that will make you hear the faint cry of a bald eagle as you open your mail.
Benchmade 940 Series
Any list detailing the best American-made EDC knives just isn’t complete without mentioning Benchmade’s 940 series. Benchmade makes a staggering array of blades, but the 940 series designed by the late Warren Osborne has stood out as a favorite of the EDC community for years. It’s thin, almost straight profile disappears in your pocket but somehow still offers an ergonomic full four-finger grip that seems to melt into your palm. The reverse-tanto style blade seems exceedingly strange at first glance, but it puts a bit of meat behind the tip for piercing motions without risking a broken blade.
Benchmade’s split arrow clip is one of the best in the business, configurable for tip up left or right handed carry. The 940 is also home to Benchmade’s well-loved Axis lock, which uses a pair of omega-shaped springs to push a lock bar over the top of the blade tang when open. It’s complex but it’s one of the slickest opening and closing mechanisms out there, with an epic fidget factor.
The 940 comes in several flavors these days, but all of them have a 3.4” blade. The original “standard” 940 offers an anodized green aluminum handle with a funky geared purple backspacer, in a satin finish or black coated blade in CPM-S30V stainless steel. The 940-2 offers the same blade but with a lightweight black G-10 handle with bright green barrel standoffs (open construction style for easy cleaning!) and a $30 savings along with .3oz less weight in your pocket.
If you want the cream of the crop, the 940-1 has an upgraded CPM-S90V blade (which forever holds an edge but somewhat difficult to sharpen) along with contoured carbon fiber scales and bright blue aluminum standoffs. At 2.44oz the 940-1 packs a ton of edge into a light, slim, high end package for about $270 retail. Benchmade fanboys can be found regularly duking it out with fans of the next knife in our list.
Spyderco Paramilitary 2
The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (aka PM2) is a triumph in US production knife making who’s popularity has risen to biblical proportions over the years. Trying to find flaws in the Paramilitary 2 is like nitpicking a hot tub full of Victoria’s Secret models. Just stop it.
What’s so great? Where to begin? The ergonomics of the PM2 are perfect for most people in most grips; the shape becomes natural muscle memory after a few uses. A perfectly shaped 50/50 forward choil offers a positive forward grip for fine work, or a rearward grip offers leverage for harder cuts. How do you like to carry your knife? However you want with a 4-way repositionable clip. The PM2’s blade shape is a standard by which others are (or should be) measured: full flat ground with a mild clip point profile gives you some belly for rolling cuts, a fine tip for piercing, and a flat spine to keep the profile slim. The thumb opener is large, offering you a variety of ways to open the knife (thumb, middle finger, drop open…)
Then there’s the lock. The uninitiated may think the compression lock is just a backwards liner lock that engages on the spine, not the underside of the blade, but it’s much more than that. Rather than engaging with the back of the tang, the compression lock engages inside of the tang in a cutout, offering rock-solid vertical lockup, aided by a pressed in stop pin. From a practical standpoint, it’s safer than a liner lock since it keeps your fingers out of the closing path. From a knife nut standpoint, it’s got an absolutely incredible action.
Sure the naysayers will point out a flaw or two, like the handle being too big relative to the size of the blade…but the overwhelming majority agree that the PM2 is about as ‘near-perfect’ as it gets.
The standard PM2 comes with your choice of black or digital camo G10 handles and a satin or black finished blade. There’s also now a full-production version with CPM-S110V steel and blue-purple translucent G10 handles. In addition, there’s a burgeoning aftermarket full of PM2 parts; backspacers to replace the standoffs, a variety of G10, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and probably dinosaur bone scales, and even custom hardware and deep carry clips. There’s also an endless stream of factory sprint runs and dealer exclusives in a variety of exotic steels (CPM CruWear, CTS-XHP, CPM M4, M390…) and different scales approaching the complexity of a Pokedex. You can truly spend your whole life just using PM2’s and never get bored. Or at least I can!
Zero Tolerance 0562
This it tough, because Zero Tolerance (aka ZT) makes a metric boatload of great knives, all proudly made in the USA. The thing is, it’s hard to consider them Everyday Carry knives because so many of them are either enormous (did you know the original 0301 weight 8 ounces?) or too precious to risk damaging (looking at you 0606CF). The 0562, though, is the goldilocks of the ZT lineup – so good it makes a real Hinderer a hard sell.
The 0562 is based on Hinderer’s iconic XM-18 in the “slicer grind” pattern, a drop point with a plunging grind line from the spine to the ricasso ringing in at 3.5”. Both models ride on KAI’s “KVT” which is a caged ball bearing pivot, and feature high-end goodies like a lockbar over-travel stop and a titanium lock side with a replaceable stainless steel lockbar insert (to prevent “lock stick” due to the differing hardness of titanium and steel.)
The standard 0562 retails for $200 and uses a G10 display side scale with Böhler Elmax steel at 5.57oz, the upscale 0562CF adds a carbon fiber scale (thus the designation) dropping weight to 5.45oz and premium blade steel. What type of steel depends on when it was made – early 0562CF’s used Böhler M390, which switched over to Carpenter CTS-204p in 2015, and ZT’s website now lists the steel as Crucible CPM-20CV. Don’t sweat it – although made by different companies, all three steels are all chemically similar and deliver top-tier ‘supersteel’ performance – ironic of course considering the base model’s Elmax steel is another high-end exotic alloy. Regardless, the 0562CF features a trick dual-finish blade – the flats are stonewashed while the primary grind and swedge grind are brought to a beautiful satin finish.
Both models offer superlative flipping action, a rock-solid framelock design, easy-to-clean open construction and generally superlative fit and finish and usability. A deep carry clip mounts tip up left or right handed. Hard to go wrong with what is arguably Hinderer’s most refined design for Kershaw/ZT regardless of which variant you pick up!
Spyderco Manix 2
Want to see a fist fight? Gather together a group of Spyderco enthusiasts (ohh, I wanna come!) and then shout out in the middle “The Manix 2 is better than the PM2!” and run away quickly. It’s Ford vs Chevy, it’s Coke vs Pepsi, it’s… oh who are we kidding! Buy both! That’s the Spyderco fanatic motto, isn’t it?
While the Paramilitary 2 is primarily a Sal Glesser (the elder) design, the Manix 2 is the brainchild of his son Eric Glesser. And as famous as Spyderco is for their long running series of successful collaboration designs, within two minutes of holding a Manix 2 you can tell that successful knife design runs in the family.
The Manix 2 is available in a variety of configurations. The original Manix, now out of production, utilized a backlock with a saber-ground blade. Among other improvements, the Manix 2 introduced the Spyderco caged ball bearing lock. It operates similar in principle to Benchmade’s Axis lock – a piece of metal driven by a spring locks the blade open by sliding atop the tang and holds it closed (providing a detent) on the bottom of the tang. However, instead of a bar, the Manix uses a single steel ball bearing that’s housed in a plastic cage, driven by a single coil spring versus the Axis Lock’s dual omega springs. It has a definite break-in period and it doesn’t have the fidget factor of the Axis Lock, but it’s simpler and slimmer and doesn’t suffer from the chronic blade play some Axis locks do.
The Manix comes in two sizes: the standard version with a 3.37” blade, and the XL with a 3.88” blade. Most will find the standard size is ideal for daily use, but the beefy XL is a great choice if you’re looking for a pocket machete!
Ergos are excellent, top-tier along the lines of the PM2, but slightly different. The curves of the handle are more dramatic, more filling but more constricting, again with a perfectly executed 50/50 choil. The leaf-shaped blade is strong and well-proportioned although thick in the pocket, but easy to open thanks to a generously sized thumb hole.
The regular Manix 2 has G10 scales with stainless liners and a 3.39” blade ringing in at 4.25oz, and the lightweight version has FRCP (fiberglass reinforced copolymer) scales without liners ringing it at a svelte 3 ounces. The lightweight also utilizes Spyderco’s deep carry wire clip for weight reduction. The standard G10 handled model uses CPM-S30V steel, while the lightweight is built with CTS-BD1, a lower tier stainless steel offering good corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening over the harder S30V.
For some extra bucks you can upgrade to CPM S110V steel with the “blurple” handle scales. The pick of the litter for me is the lightweight in CPM C110V ringing in at $113 – for about the price of a “standard” PM2 this lightweight pocket scalpel brings cutting edge metallurgy and a stout lock to your pocket for a reasonable pricetag.
Who knew that Buck of all people would make such an absolute all-star of a tactical folder? If you’d told me that ten years ago I would’ve laughed out loud. Not that there’s anything wrong with a brass bolstered Buck 110, but the company is… traditional.
There’s nothing traditional about the Marksman, though. The most obvious being its lock: called SLS (for Strong Lock System, a paragon of originality!) it acts as both a detent and a lock. Ramps are cut into both sides of the tang that engage the strap, creating tension on a “ramp” when closed and when opened the strap engages and pulls back on the blade.
The Marksman runs on a set of caged ball bearings with delightfully red cages which you can peak through the back of the blade. Since there’s no detent ball riding along the side of the blade when you’re opening it, once you get past the initial detent there’s no friction – as a result, the Marksman is an exceptional flipper. With some practice (and a bit of callus-building, that jimping is sharp!) it can be closed one handed in a similar fashion to a PM2, and it can also be opened with the thumb or the middle finger through the opening hole.
The handle is anodized aluminum, with a reversible deep carry clip mounted on the heel. You have the choice of the standard model with a satin finished drop point blade, or a tanto model with a black stonewash finish and a more prominent milling pattern on the handle. Both ring in at 3.5” and are made of CPM-154 steel which is done up with a Paul Bos heat treat.
Light, strong, affordable, a killer flipper, good steel, and a unique design? Why don’t you already have one?
Chris Reeve Inkosi
- Where’s it made? : Boise, Idaho
- Cost : ~$375-$545 BladeHQ
- Who’s it for? : Someone who simply wants the best US made production titanium framelock money can buy
What’s an Inkosi? It’s the new name for the Sebenza 25. Well, it’s more complicated than that, but let’s not get bogged down in details. The Inkosi is the same basic recipe as the Sebenza, updated with some more modern ideas and ergonomics.
Like the Sebenza that’s been around longer than some of its fans (first released in 1989!), the Inkosi pairs a perfectly sculpted titanium framelock handle with a practical blade shape made out of one of the highest quality stainless steels available. It was ATS-34 in 1989, BG-42 in 1996, CPM S30V in 2001, and now it’s Crucible’s CPM-S35VN, a steel actually designed in collaboration with Chris Reeve.
What’s different from the Sebenza? The Inkosi brings redesigned phosphor bronze bushings, which themselves are a work of art – they are sculpted to cover the entire pivot area from the stop pin forward, cut around the lock bar and the radius of the stop pin. They have even large “pockets” to hold Reeve’s preferred lubricant, fluorinated grease (PTFE) to retain the “hydraulic smooth” action Reeve’s folders are known for. Perhaps the biggest change and innovation is the ceramic ball that acts as both a detent and a lock bar interface – it protrudes from both the inside of the lockbar and the front to prevent lock stick. The pocket clip has been repositioned by a few degrees so it doesn’t press on the lockbar or cause hot spots while gripping. The sort of nerdy-perfection details that have kept Sebenza’s flying off of shelves for years.
The Inkosi is a study in function over form, making it hard for some to understand its high pricetag. At $375 for a small Inkosi (under 3” blade) it’s practically double the price of a similar sized high end piece from ZT (the 0450CF, mentioned later, retails for $180). But if you want the best of the best, you have to pay to play. The Micarta models add some depth to the handles but at a $100 premium
Coincidentally, if all that new technology and design don’t appeal to you, the Sebenza 21 with S35VN steel is still in production in small and large as well as a variety of blade shapes.
The Griptilian is Benchmade’s most well-known, best-selling knife. For good reason – it offers a little bit of something for everyone in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and costs. There is also a robust aftermarket of parts for the “Grip”- a variety of scales, blades, and hardware allow you to make it your own. And now, Benchmade offers a high end production Griptilian if you want to skip that step!
The Grip comes in two sizes – a mini with a 2.94” blade and the full size with a 3.45” blade. The brainchild of Mel Pardue, Benchmade’s senior designer, the Griptilian is a study in conservative ergonomics. A simple palm swell, organic lines, no hard edges – a knife that fits every hand. Like the 940 listed earlier, the Griptilian utilizes Benchmade’s slick Axis lock to great effect. Unusually, the Grip in both sizes is available with two different openers – a drop point blade with a thumb stud, or a modified sheepsfoot blade with – let’s call it a “thumb hole” and avoid stirring up any controversy. You can get your grip plain edge or half serrated, satin finished or black coated, and in a variety of colors. There’s even a Benchmade “custom shop” program to order what combination you want.
If the standard Griptilian is the Camry of quality folding knives – the slightly boring yardstick everything is measured to – then the new G10 Grip is the Lexus ES350 of production knives. New this year, the G10 swaps out the cheap but effective “Noryl GTX” (plastic) handles for grey textured G10, stainless liners, and open construction with anodized blue backspacers. The standard 154CM blade steel is switched out for CPM-20CV, equivalent to Bohler M390 or CTS-204p on the scale of ultra-high-end steels. It brings typical Benchmade refinement with more premium materials to the usually staid Griptilian – at an $81 premium for the full size and a $76 premium. You work hard, don’t you deserve a Lexus?
Spyderco Native 5
What, another Spyderco? When it comes to American made everyday carry knives, the Colorado company has got a little bit of something for everyone.
The Native has a strange backstory; it was originally designed to be marketed to big-box stores like Wal-Mart in clamshell packaging. It gradually evolved upmarket, gaining premium steel and an ergonomic refresh as the Native 3 in 2003. When the 3 was replaced by the 5 in 2011, it brought with it new steel (CPM S35VN as a “base”) and a beautiful new full flat ground leaf shaped blade. What remains are the Native’s simple but effective ergonomics – deep finger choils and a gentle swell to the spine, and a big thumb hole opener along with a traditional lockback.
The Native offers a wide variety of steels as well as two handle choices – the standard version has textured G10 over full stainless liners, while the “lightweight” uses liner-less FRN scales with steel sleeves set in for the clip screws. At 2.5oz with a 3” blade, the lightweight packs a lot of knife in a package that disappears in your pocket. The G10 version weighs in a full 2 ounces heavier.
If S35VN doesn’t cut it for you, there are also CPM-S110V variants of both the lightweight and the G10 available, as well as a beautiful fluted titanium handled version with the standard blade. In addition to the usual black coated and half serrated versions (why?) there’s the exceedingly rare and striking 40th Anniversary edition – a hurrah for the company’s anniversary – in contoured and fluted carbon fiber paired with a wild DS93x Damascus steel. And new for 2017, in case you were hoping to get your hands on a steel KAI once deemed “too difficult to machine” and quit halfway through a 250 piece production run, you’ll be able to get a Native 5 in Maxamet. Things have never looked better for the old Native.
Zero Tolerance 0450
The ZT0450 is one of a number of designs that Dmitry Sinkevich has cranked out for Zero Tolerance – including the award winning and basically unattainable 0454, the beefy 0452CF, the limited production 0427, and the chunky 0456. The 0450 hits some key points as an EDC blade that Zero Tolerance sometimes misses – mainly, pocket-ability. Sinkevich’s designs for the most part are long and slender, and in its heaviest form (the standard 0450, which is full titanium) the 0450 weighs in at only 2.9 ounces and packs a mid-sized 3.25” blade made of CPM-S35VN. The 0450CF trades out the show side scale for a carbon fiber scale on a liner for a staggering 2.45oz weight, along with a set of bright green standoffs and a black coating on the blade.
The 0450 is very much a ZT in that it focuses primarily on two things – cutting geometry and flipping action. With a stiff detent and KAI’s “KVT” caged bearing pivot the 0450 fires like a switchblade. A stainless lockbar insert prevents lock stick, which can be a major annoyance on titanium framelock flippers like these, and also acts as a lockbar overtravel stop. The blade is a drop point, high flat-ground with a short false swedge on the back to make a good needle point.
If you can get your hands on it, the ZT0450CFZDP (there’s a mouthful!) is worth seeking out – with a blade made of Hitachi ZDP-189, sharpening sessions will be few and far between. If you’ve been wanting to get your hands on a Sinkevich design but can’t afford to sell your kidney for a ZT0454 or a Shirogorov collaboration, the 0450 might just have your name on it!
- Where’s it made? : Paso Robles, California
- Cost : ~$170-$200 BladeHQ
- Who’s it for? : Someone who’s tired of the usual suspects and wants an high-quality American made folder with a unique lock mechanism
And we get the end of our list, we can’t forget about our friends at Hogue Knives. Hogue has been quietly kicking out stellar products in the background for a few years now, and if you haven’t tried one out you should. It’s a task to pick a favorite for EDC, but for me it’s the EX-01. Like all of Hogue’s knives, it’s designed by Allen Elishewitz, who has also designed for CRKT, Benchmade, and others in the past.
The star of the EX-01 is the button lock – normally used in automatic knives, it offers a slick and refined action in a manual folder. (The EX-01 is also offered as an automatic, which isn’t covered here due to its limited legal applications.) Hogue has the button lock dialed in perfectly, offering a strong detent, solid lockup, and no stick after a short break-in period. There’s also a safety which locks the blade open or closed, which you will play with once and never use again.
You can get an EX-01 in a wide variety of configurations – a 3.5” or a 4” blade in either drop point or tanto blade shapes, as well as anodized aluminum scales or a number of different “G-Mascus” (swirl pattern G10, proprietary to Hogue) handle scales. Blade steel is mid-range 154CM steel, familiar to Benchmade users, which takes a keen edge and isn’t too much of a pain when it comes time to sharpen. A spoon-shaped pocket clip is reversible but only for right-hand carry (as opposed to the EX-04, which was tip up right or left hand only) on each model. From personal experience, Hogues are some of the best made knives coming out of any American production facility at effectively half the cost of a similarly sized Chris Reeve – making them a bargain in that respect. They’re also great users and have a high fidget factor with the button lock, so if you haven’t taken a look yet you should!
So that’s the end of our top ten USA-made EDC pocket knives list. Did we miss your favorite? Shoot us a note and let us know!