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Finding the perfect pocket knife can be seriously intimidating nowadays for both newbies and enthusiasts. There are so many factors to evaluate like blade steel, shape, deployment method, handle material, weight and size, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. At the high priced end of the market you generally know you’re getting a good quality knife but many of us just want a decent, low budget EDC that we don’t have to plough our life savings into.
While we recommend all the budget knives you see here, the one that stands out most to us is the Ontario RAT II. It’s just great knife for the money and deserves our top pick award.
The sub-$50 EDC segment is a highly competitive with tons of options. Note: I’m talking about street-price here, not the typically inflated MSRP. Among a sea of garbage there are some truly high value folders out there which can hold their own against expensive counterparts and will serve you well for years.
So, whether you’re reading this to find a gift idea, or a knife you don’t have to worry about abusing in the field, my list of the top 5 pocket knives under $50 is all you need. It’s near impossible for me to rank them but rest assured you cannot go wrong with any of these knives so it’s up to you to decide which would be the best fit for your pocket. Enough babbling, let’s get it on!
ONTARIO RAT 2
A simple yet effective design, buttery smooth and lots of options.
There’s so much to love about Ontario’s RAT 2 and the same applies to its bigger RAT 1 brother which is functionally the same knife, just larger. The RAT series of folders feature a full flat ground blade made of Japanese AUS-8 steel, heat-treated to around 59 HRC. Ontario is actually one of the best companies in the knife world when it comes to their use of AUS-8, which allows them to keep price down and still offer a fantastic cutting tool.
To deploy the blade, dual tiered thumb studs are in use, and flicking them makes the blade absolutely fly out of the handle. The handles are made of a thermo-plastic that has been textured and patterned to feel like G-10 or micarta, another cost saving move by Ontario that doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of functionality.
With a finger choil, a gentle swelling in the middle, and comfortably rounded edges, the handle is very effective at keeping the knife in your palm during hard use. Full stainless steel liners further add to the sturdy feeling of these knives, and the thickness of the liner makes for extremely solid lockup.
The two liners and handle scales are securely bonded together using standoffs, four on the RAT 2 and five on the RAT 1, and this open pillar construction means that the knife is extremely easy to clean and maintain after even the most dirty jobs. Bronze phosphor washers are paired with paper thin nylon washers and result in a knife that opens and closes like it’s riding on glass. The Ontario RATs aren’t just smooth for the price, they’re smoother than knives ten times the price.
A four-way repositionable pocket clip means that you can carry this handy guy in any configuration you like, and Ontario offers both models with a veritable cornucopia (yeah, I had to spellcheck that) of handle scale colors, as well as black and satin blade finishes with plain and serrated edges.
Overall I can’t recommend this knife enough, its value far outstrips its price tag. Full review here.
It’s slim and light with excellent ergonomics, cutting ability and US made.
When you’re talking about quality knives with a reasonable price tag, Kershaw is almost certainly going to be part of the conversation. They offer a huge catalog of knives that come in under the $50 mark, in just about any flavor you could imagine. One of those models has gained such an immense amount of popularity, it is now synonymous with the Kershaw brand, and has come to represent quality and value.
The Kershaw Skyline is a slim, compact flipper that can serve as a gentleman’s knife just as well as it can be a tough EDC blade. Speaking of blades, the Skyline has a fantastic spear-point style blade made of Sandvik 14C28N, a steel that takes an extremely sharp razor edge (in fact, it was literally designed for use in razor blades) and holds it for a decent while as well. It may not be considered a “super steel” by today’s standards, but it’s certainly gives higher end steels like VG-10 or 154CM a run for their money. What’s more, thanks to the high hollow grind on the Skyline blade, it cuts like a dream.
Performance aside, the Skyline blade just looks cool, with a slight top swedge on the spear-point and a bead blasted finish that hides most blemishes from use. While this may look classy and serve well as a gentleman’s folder, the grippy G10 handle scales say “use me” when you hold the knife.
The handle isn’t overly thick or chunky, but thanks to the generous finger choil and smart ergonomics, you never feel like it could slip or slide will using the blade to cut. This is also not a handle that uses flowing lines or organic curves, but rather straight lines and hard angles, yet somehow it just feels right to hold it, and it’s superbly balanced right at the finger choil.
The lock side of the handle has a nested stainless steel liner which serves as the locking mechanism for the blade, and that is the only liner in this knife, which helps to keep weight down. It may also worry some people who can’t imagine a nested liner being a secure lock, but trust me this baby locks up tighter than a nun’s crotch.
The opening mechanism is primarily the flipper, a tab that extends from the back of the handle and kicks the blade open when it’s pushed. This knife flips very well, even riding on plain old bronze phosphor washers, but this has been known to change from knife to knife depending on detent strength and pivot tightness, which is a result of sometimes imperfect quality control at Kershaw.
There are also two thumb studs, but they serve mainly as blade stops due to their small size and inconvenient placement. The carrying options for the Skyline are tip up and down, but the clip is only for right handed carry. The Skyline is slim enough to fit comfortably in any pants or shorts you want to wear, and it will look good doing it! Full review here.
A tough, well-built EDC with excellent balance and great slicing ability.
You’ve probably heard the name Spyderco if you have even a passing interest in pocket knives. In fact, few knife companies in the world can boast as many design innovations as Spyderco can, which makes their knives impossible to miss once you’ve seen one. For those of us on a tight budget, finding quality knives from a hallmark company can be tough, but Spyderco offers a line of knives just for the bargain seekers out there.
Enter the Spyderco Tenacious, part of a line of knives from Spyderco that includes the Ambitious and Persistence models. The Tenacious sports a beautiful leaf-shaped blade made of 8Cr13MoV steel or what we in the knife world like to call “Chinese AUS-8”. Don’t be fooled by its weird name, this steel performs admirably well for such a cheap price, and while it won’t hold an edge for nearly as long as today’s super steels, it is an absolute breeze to sharpen and will take a scary sharp edge.
The blade is fully flat ground and makes a superb slicer, thanks to its big belly and wide, flat blade shape. You’ll also notice something else that seems odd on the blade, a giant hole where a thumb stud would normally be. The thumb-hole is Spyderco’s fantastic opening method for just about all of their knives, and is even included on knives where it isn’t the primary opening method (without getting into details, they do this to keep their patent on the thumb hole opening method). It may take new users a bit of getting used to, but once you have it down using the blade hole to open the knife is a blast, and you can flick it open in a multitude of different ways.
The handle of the Tenacious is made of very grippy G10, and can be found with standard black, or forest green, and there are even blue models around. Its ergonomics are simple, but the Tenacious is a pleasure to hold, with a rounded spine and a very slight finger choil, as well as a ramp for your pinky to grab. Inside the G10 handle scales you will find full stainless steel liners that have been milled out to lighten the knife and keep balance between the blade and handle true.
The Walker liner lock keeps the blade nice and secure during use, and has jimping where your thumb contacts it so you have traction when closing the knife. Another great feature of the Tenacious line is the four-way repositionable pocket clip, which means you can carry this bad boy any darn way you want to. Video review here.
A light and sleek gentleman’s knife with excellent performance and sexy looks.
Ken Onion has been designing knives for longer than most, and his style is often sought out by larger companies so they can bring something from him and make it available to everyone. Many of his designs reside in the Kershaw Hall of Fame for most popular models, but his CRKT Ripple absolutely blew me away from the moment I saw it.
The Ripple has such an amazingly alien look to it, you’d think it was an art knife not meant to be used, but you’d be dead wrong. This is a super slender, super lightweight, super flipping machine that is meant to be used for all your EDC needs. The blade is made from that good ‘ole budget standby, 8Cr14MoV (ever so slightly more Chromium, or corrosion resistance than 8Cr13MoV), and at this price range you can pretty much bet the farm that you’re either getting “Chinese 440” or AUS-8, simply because they are ideal for knives and don’t cost much at all.
The drop point shape is so subtle it could almost pass for a clip point, mostly because it has such a great top swedge that results in a super fine tip, which is excellent for detail work, and a hollow grind that is plenty thin behind the edge that will make slicing a pleasure. To open the blade, the Ripple uses a flipper tab, and because this blade happens to have ball bearings where you’d normally find washers, you can imagine just how fast and smooth the blade flies out when you press the flipper.
The handle of the Ripple is where things get truly “alien” looking, because the aluminum handle scales have such intricate milling work done. Wavy raised lines run horizontally across the length of the handle, with a silvery sheen to the raised edge, and a deep black in the recesses, while down the front and back edge of the handle tiny holes have been drilled through the scales. The whole thing just looks like something that the Predator would carry in his pocket, and I wouldn’t blame him.
Lockup on this knife is accomplished via a stainless steel liner lock, which is easy to close thanks to texturing done on the edge of the liner. Carry options are limited to tip-down right handed carry so beware lefties. It takes getting used to, but it works well with this knife, because of how amazingly slender and lightweight it is, you will find yourself forgetting that it’s even in your pocket!
A US made stylish folder that’s slim, sleek, well-built and oozing with class.
You know a company is doing something right when two of their knives make my list of the best budget EDC’s, and truth be told, I could make a list with exclusively Kershaw products and feel confident you’d love them all. So for the second time, we dip back in to Kershaw’s lineup and find the Kershaw Leek.
The Leek is, along with the Skyline, one of Kershaw’s all time top sellers, but this knife is nothing like the Skyline. Designed by Ken Onion, the Leek is a sleek and fantastically fast light use EDC knife with a very organic flowing shape, which you will find on all of Ken’s designs.
The blade is a wharncliffe style, which is almost like a reverse drop point that offers a super fine tip for piercing, and a near-straight edge to make slicing tasks a breeze. There is a nice little swedge at the top leading in to the tip for a bit of added strength, and although the blade isn’t very broad, the hollow grind is perfect, and leaves you with a nice thin edge that could shave the hair on your face. It sports Sandvik 14C28N steel just like the Skyline and performs just as well.
This blade design is ideal for opening packages, tackling small tasks in the kitchen, and all the other daily tasks you never know you need a knife for until it comes up. The handle looks almost like a teardrop suspended from the blade, with a generous groove for your index finger on the front, and a nice dip where your thumb rests on the back, then swelling to accommodate your palm before rounding off at the butt end.
There are an absolutely huge number of different handle types, but the standard model is made from stainless steel that feels very comfortable in your hand thanks to the well designed ergonomics as well as the way everything is rounded off at the edges. Lockup on this knife is accomplished by frame-lock, and is nice and sturdy with solid engagement.
Opening the Leek is where the fun is really at, thanks to Kershaw’s SpeedSafe technology, which opens the blade for you after you press down the flipper tab on the back, or push out the thumb studs. SpeedSafe is basically a torsion bar that has pressure applied to it when the knife is closed, and the blade is held in place by a detent ball. After enough force is applied to overcome the detent ball, the torsion bar springs into action and pushes the blade very quickly out in to the locked position. What this means for you is a blade that opens faster than you can believe every time, without fail.
The Leek has a nice sturdy spring steel pocket clip that can be switched for tip up or down, but only accommodates right handed users (sorry again, lefties!). There are so many different iterations of the Leek due to its popularity, so do a bit of looking at you will be sure to find any handle color or type you want, and they even make a Leek with CPM-S30V premium steel for when you want to upgrade to the big leagues but it’ll cost you a bit more. My full review here.
And for those looking for a REAL bargain…
Inexpensive, but effective.
For those of you who are extreme budget seekers, I have just the knife for you that can be had for under $15! SanRenMu (SRM from now on) is a company out of China that has been making knives for quite a while, and does very brisk business thanks largely to their bargain basement prices. Now, some folks do take issue with the fact that many of their designs bear, shall we say, very close resemblance to American knife designs, and they don’t exactly ask first.
The SRM 710 itself is very similar to a knife made by American knife maker Chris Reeve, called the Sebenza. But realistically speaking, these two knives could never be mistaken for one another by anyone remotely familiar with the Reeve version, and their price tags are so far apart that someone buying one would probably never consider buying the other. With all that said, I’ve included this knife because it is an amazing value on its own merits, and controversy aside, it deserves to be on the list.
The blade of the SRM 710 is a very abrupt clip point shape, giving you a sharp but broad piercing tip, and is flat ground for about 3/4 of the blade width. The steel is, you guessed it, 8Cr13MoV, so it can be sharpened using pretty much anything with grit (do yourself a favor and check out how to sharpen a knife using the bottom of a coffee mug), and it will do a fine job with all of your EDC needs.
There are dual thumb studs to open the knife, and it opens smoothly on bronze washers. The handle is made from solid stainless steel, and is a very simple design aesthetically, with a pronounced finger choil, straight spine, and slight swell to the butt of the handle. It also has two small areas that have been milled in to the face of the steel and textured, and the texturing feels almost like very fine sand paper, which is great for locking the knife in your hand while you use it.
Lockup is extremely good thanks to the full frame lock, so you can use this knife as hard as you’d like without worrying that it might close on your hand. The pocket clip for the 710 is another one that pretty much gives you no choice, and is only suitable for right handed tip down carry, so once again lefties are out in the cold on this one.
You might expect that at such a low price, with a maker in China who doesn’t care much for patent law, that there would be lemons all over the place. Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever handled a knife with such consistent quality as this one, even for ten times the price tag. Overall, it’s hard to argue with results like these, especially when it can be had for less than most pizzas.
Putting together a list like this is much harder than you might imagine, because at this price range there are literally hundreds of options, and each of them has its own merits. I feel obliged to mention the following knives that I really do like but they just missed out on making the cut (no pun intended!):
- Kershaw Cryo
- SOG Flash II
- CRKT Squid
- Kershaw Emerson CQC-6K
- Byrd Cara-Cara
- Buck 110
Why didn’t they make the list? Well, some are very similar to others on the list, some I felt might have been too small or too large for the average Joe to carry every day, and others had features that I thought might put off beginner collectors. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastic, and you’d be doing yourself a huge favor by looking them up before you decide on what you want to buy.
That’s the real takeaway here folks, this shortlist was tough to pull together because now is such an amazing time to be a knife nut. More innovations have happened in the cutlery world in the last decade than have probably happened since the dawn of mankind. What a time to be alive!