The 10 Best High-End Knives In 2023 – Pocket Knives and More

submitted by Jonathan Tayag

Before most historical records, knives have been essential to people’s everyday carry. Because of its long and storied history, it’s easy to see historical knives made of sharpened flakes of stone or bronze and dismiss them as trash compared to what you can get in the modern day. But for the most part, those knives were made by skilled artisans who dedicated their entire lives to making quality knives that were considered cutting-edge at the time.

How do we differentiate between a high-end knife and its lesser peers? One of America’s Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin, lamented knives made from poor-quality steel in his famous Poor Richard’s Almanac. His adage: “there never was a good knife made of bad steel,” rings true today just as it did centuries ago. While it can feel a bit nerdy to focus on the specific qualities of knives, such as blade steel, when looking for the best high-end knife, spending that time is essential. Thankfully, with the help of expert metallurgists like Dr. Larrin Thomas at Knife Steel Nerds, the community has honed in on blade steels with excellent maximum sharpness and edge retention, such as CPM MagnaCut and Böhler M390.

But blade steel is just one part of the equation. Notice, as well, that everyday carry experts will tell you that even if a knife is expensive, it is not a suitable high-end knife for everyday carry. High-end blades set themselves apart with intelligent ergonomic designs that make them handy tools. Many also come with a beautiful design and attractive construction materials, which are welcome bonuses. While tastes in materials and design change over the years, a well-made high-end knife features design considerations in a complete package you won’t get with more budget-oriented blades.

Our Top Picks

The Best Overall High-End Knife: WE Knife Co. Soothsayer [Buy]

The Best Gentleman’s High-End Knife: Chris Reeve Mnandi [Buy]

The Best Tactical High-End Knife: Heretic Knives Wraith V3 [Buy]

The Best Mechanism on a High-End Knife: Fox Knives Radius CF FX-550 DCFR “Space Coral” [Buy]

The Best Minimalist High-End Knife: The James Brand Barnes [Buy]

TABLE

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The Best High-End Knives

The Best Overall High-End Knife: WE Knife Co. Soothsayer

Look at the WE Knife Co. Soothsayer in your hand, and you’ll see why it’s the best overall high-end knife. It starts with the Hakkapella Damascus steel, made in Sweden with powder metallurgy, which makes this superior to Damasteel blades that don’t disclose their composition. While no one knows the exact chemical composition of the historical Damascus steel blade, modern bladesmiths fashion knives are likely to perform better than you’ll read in history books. It doesn’t stop there: the blue titanium inlay in the Soothsayer’s handle also features a beautifully layered construction, and it meshes well with the bolster on this flipper opening knife. When picking a high-end knife, you want a knife that looks great with high-end performance right out of the box, and you get that with the WE Knife. Co Soothsayer.

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The Best Gentleman’s High-End Knife: Chris Reeve Mnandi

As a community, we have a lot to owe to Chris Reeve’s ingenuity and desire to make the best high-end knives in the business. Through him, we had a reason to develop steels such as CPM S35VN, which has, over time, become the standard blade steel for quality everyday carry knives. His Mnandi today continues to innovate and provide beautiful modern gent’s aesthetic touches while featuring high-end steel like CPM MagnaCut and S45VN, an improvement over the original formula. In particular, we favor the carbon fiber version of the Mnandi because, combined with the titanium handle, you get an ultralight knife that tips the scales at only 1.55 oz in your pocket. That means this is a knife you won’t feel burdened to carry daily, and you’ll want to bring it along with you on your adventures because it does not weigh you down like other, more bulky knives.

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The Best Tactical High-End Knife: Heretic Knives Wraith V3

Tactical knives also shine with the Heretic Knives Wraith V3, topping the high-end point of its category. In its third iteration, the Wraith V3 features a manual flipper opening with fewer legal restrictions for carry than the original automatic version of this knife. Heretic Knives prides itself in fashioning beautiful yet highly functional everyday carry knives; every component is manufactured and assembled in the USA. That extends to the 3.625” CPM MagnaCut blade down to the knife’s carbon fiber and titanium handle. It features a sturdy frame lock and a deep carry pocket clip that helps this large tactical knife disappear in your pockets despite the full-size handle, which gives you excellent purchase on the blade even during hard use.

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The Best Mechanism on a High-End Knife: Fox Knives Radius CF FX-550 DCFR “Space Coral”

High-end knives feature innovative design elements that pave the way for every knife that comes after it. Denis Simonutti designed the Radius “Space Coral” for Fox Knives, and it features a new locking mechanism that helped it win awards at the 2019 Blade Show. The mechanism is aptly called the “Fingers Safe Opening System,” representing Denis Simonutti’s desire to provide users with a knife they can operate with the easy-to-use knob. With everything in thumb’s reach, this knife opens and locks with a simple button press at the pivot. All you have to do is slide it in position. You repeat the action in reverse to close the knife, and every step keeps your fingers away from the blade and is safe from accidentally cutting yourself. When you’re looking for high-end knives, you want something that will set you apart from everyone else, and a knife like the Radius with a brand new and innovative opening mechanism gets you there quickly.

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The Best Minimalist High-End Knife: The James Brand Barnes

Minimalist knives have a clean look, and their understated elegance gives them a touch of class. And when the minimalist look is mated with quality materials and severe attention to detail, you get a work of art like the Barnes. The James Brand’s design philosophy throughout their entire line of quality everyday carry knives exemplifies the minimalist aesthetic, and The Barnes folding knife tops this category. This beautiful knife features a premium Böhler M390 stainless steel blade with a manual thumb stud opening. The thumb studs are light green and contrast brightly against the grey titanium look of the knife’s handle. This makes it easy to identify visually, and their substantial size makes them easy to operate with a single hand in one quick motion. When you want a high-end knife that won’t turn shocked eyes at the office or in polite company, minimalist knives like the Barnes fit the bill nicely.

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Our other recommendations

Spyderco Drunken: Dimitry Sinkevich is a renowned custom knifemaker, and his designs are uniquely ergonomic, with a distinctly elegant blade profile that makes his knives a joy to use in hand. With the Spyderco Drunken, you get his design language all over the knife and collaborative notes of a signature ambidextrous Spyderco signature Round Hole opening. This knife also has a precision-crafted titanium and carbon fiber scaled handle with a secure liner lock contained within. With a knife like the Spyderco Drunken, you can get features you might find in a completely bespoke knife without the delay and hassle of having someone make you one, simplifying your experience and getting you to a high-end knife faster.

Böker Leopard-Damast III: The Böker Leopard-Damast III features unique steel sourced from the gun barrel of a German military Leopard tank. No other knife features that, and only Böker can skillfully hammer that steel into over a hundred layers of folded metal, hardened to over 61 HRC for extreme maximum sharpness and edge retention in its drop-point blade. After all, Böker has been masterfully crafting everyday carry folding and fixed blade knives for over 150 years. Even better, if you look at the handle inlay, you also have a Damascus steel inlay that matches the gorgeous 3.82” flipper-opening blade. When Damascus blade steel is at the top of your list when you’re looking for a high-end everyday carry knife, unique designs from established makers like Böker are your best bet.

Benchmade Narrows: With the Benchmade Narrows, you get one of the slimmest blades you can everyday carry. Benchmade has mastered the craft of laser-cutting handles from 6AL-4V titanium. It’s precision-machined and finished further to ensure a comfortable feel in hand. It’s mated with a premium Böhler M390 stainless steel, secured with Benchmade’s signature ambidextrous AXIS lock, and hand-sharpened by Benchmade to a razor-sharp edge you can rely on when needed. The slim design of the Benchmade Narrows and the ambidextrous operation make it a great choice when ease of use with your off-hand is essential.

Rockstead SHIN-ZDP: If you aren’t familiar with ZDP-189, it is a seriously high-end blade steel that usually only features on custom kitchen knives because of its exceptionally high 67 HRC rating. With its convex blade grind and seriously sharp ZDP-189 steel, it might be more fun to use this knife than your standard kitchen blade. And unlike your kitchen knife, the Rockstead SHIN ZDP folds into place with a manual thumb stud opening. It also features a beautiful aluminum handle with a fluted back and a dimpled stingray insert on one side for maximum grip potential. With a high-end knife like the Rockstead SHIN-ZDP, you get to chase performance almost to a fault with one of the sharpest possible knives you can everyday carry today.

Olamic WhipperSnapper: The Olamic WhipperSnapper combines extreme good looks with extreme functionality all in one package. It features a 2.875″ sheepsfoot blade featuring Damascus steel. A stand-out feature of its design is the choil at the base of the blade, which allows for a choke grip for fine cutting. It also makes it much easier than most everyday carry knives to maintain its sharpness on a whetstone. If you’re a sharpening aficionado, this is your high-end knife. With its marbled carbon fiber inlay and hammered titanium bolster, it looks the part of a high-end folding knife.

Why investing in high-end knives is worth it

While you will have to spend more money to get a high-end knife, there are many reasons why you should consider it if you can. Many people spend a lot of time (and money) buying budget-oriented knives that lack designs and materials. Choosing the right high-end knife can take you to the top of the game in one full swoop.

Whether you want to buy more knives as part of a collection remains up to you, but you’ll get what you need from the start. Unlike knives you might find at a gas station or dollar store, high-end knives are comfortable to use and have the kind of steel that lets you do what you want because it gets sharp and stays sharp for longer.

Quality of the material

The best high-end knives feature materials that are a cut above standard knives. They all have their quirks, but the overall gist is that they feature sharper blade steels than standard production knives and remain sharper for longer. But it doesn’t stop there; they also tend to use high-end metals and inlays that give them a character beyond the simple utility of their design. And because they are made of quality materials with serious attention to detail, part of the deal is that you get better quality control, and you should expect nothing less.

Value for money

Aside from high-end knives with a price tag that can dwarf most blades, they are an investment of your money into a quality tool with a beauty of its own, elevating your everyday carry look and experience. They’re knives that look as good as they can cut, sometimes even more so.

Maintenance

Buying a high-end knife with super-premium materials does not absolve you of the need to maintain your gear. These knives still require sharpening and maintenance to work at a top-notch level. One significant consideration is that the more Rockwell units the blade steel (the harder the steel is, physically), the more specialized equipment might be required to resharpen your knife. A quality everyday carry blade maker will usually take the knife to sharpen back to new on the equipment used to make the knife in the first place, so take advantage of that opportunity when it presents itself.

Practicality and comfort

As mentioned, high-end knives deliver more than just an extremely sharp cutting tool; they deliver an overall experience, and part of that is how easy it is to use the knife. The best high-end knife makers spare no effort to make it easy to deploy and lock the blade into place, either with spring-assisted openings, ball-bearing pivots, or even automatic spring-loaded methods. Where production knives might favor right-handed users, high-end knives feature ambidextrous operations. High-end knives also tend to feature highly ergonomic handles and materials that provide substantial purchase over the knife during the cut while also looking the part of a high-end folding pocket knife.

Materials Used in High-End Pocket Knives

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is a lightweight synthetic composite material that was originally designed to be a cost-effective solution for structural and aerodynamic elements on race cars and fighter planes, according to a scientific overview from Engineering Civil. Cost-effective might read “cheap” to you, but there’s nothing cheap about pursuing high-end performance on something like a Formula 1 automobile. Lightweight does not mean low strength, as carbon fiber offers excellent strength to weight compared to other fiber-based materials.

In the context of a high-end folding knife, you tend to see carbon fiber used for two reasons, which are not mutually exclusive. First, it’s used when knifemakers try to make an ultralight high-end knife or want a tremendous full-size knife without the massive weight for everyday carry. Second, the patterns available in manufacturing a carbon fiber material give it a distinct look that evokes the high-end automobiles and aircraft that also feature that material.

Stainless Steel Blades

There are many kinds of stainless steels used in high-end pocket knives, as AZO Materials states, but in the modern day, the everyday carry manufacturing community has focused on powder metallurgy, which refers to the sophisticated mixture of metals and gases in precise and tested quantities to make super-premium blade steels like CPM MagnaCut and Böhler M390.

The complicated and time-consuming process required to make these steels means they come from places like the United States, Germany, and Sweden, and they command a higher price tag because of their performance relative to other stainless steels. In short, you get a quality everyday carry folding knife that cuts material at orders of magnitude better than the timer pocket knives your grandfather and father relied on back in the day, and it’s only getting better as the years go by.

Other Materials Used in High-End Pocket Knives

Titanium handles tend to feature in high-end knives because of their corrosion resistance and higher strength to weight than standard steel. They also lend a distinct look to high-end knives appropriate for minimalist and modern gents folding knives. That mixture of strength and looks caused custom knifemakers to use it for frame locks.
Other regular inclusions on high-end knives are wood inlays. This is especially true for knives made by designers seeking a more traditional look. And just like a guitar, violin, or statement piece of furniture in your house, the more exotic the wood, the more beautiful it looks when fashioned into a practical handle or inlay on a high-end knife.

Blade Shapes, Lengths, and Steels

Aside from the shape of the knife’s handle and the way the blade locks into place, the shape of the blade itself dictates a lot about what the knife will be good at and how you use and maintain it over the years. In general, you’re looking at a few key things in each blade style:

Straight areas on a knife blade emphasize chopping power. Think of a cleaver knife or a vegetable knife in your kitchen. They allow quick and uniform cutting across a surface.Curved areas on a knife blade are sometimes called a belly. Curved areas enhance the slicing experience by letting you slide a blade across something to cut it instead of relying on sheer downward pressure to get the job done. Curved areas also allow knives to be shorter overall because they extend the usable cutting length of the blade, keeping things nice and compact for your pockets.The pointed area of a blade allows you to focus the weight of the blade onto a small area to pierce through durable material.Serrations on a blade are made for sawing through rougher material. This heavy-duty treatment makes it easier to get through rugged rope but also complicates maintenance because it’s harder for people to service a dull, serrated edge by themselves. This is why most high-end knives that feature serrated edges mix it up with a serrated portion closer to the handle and a plain edge for everything else.

Common Blade Shapes for High-End Pocket Knives

The drop point style is the most common blade shape in an everyday carry folding knife. This is a happy medium for blade geometries, making for a great all-around cutter, slicer, and chopper. Sheepsfoot or cleaver-style blades focus on having a flatter edge for chopping, but some modified designs also include a slight upswept curve and even slightly pointed tips to make them more versatile. Tanto blades take their inspiration from traditional Japanese martial swords and knives. These have a well-defined tip angled down dramatically towards a straight or slightly curved belly at the length of the blade. Like spear-point blades, which have the symmetrical appearance of a spear, these are great for piercing through materials like leather and cardboard regularly.

Blade Lengths for High-End Pocket Knives

High-end pocket knives have the same considerations as all the best knives suitable for everyday carry regarding length. This means most knives settle between 2” at the lower range and 4” at the upper length. Knives outside these ranges tend to be too small or too large for most people’s pockets. But as always with everyday carry, personal preference rules the day. Pick a knife with the length and the features you think you need to get you through the tasks you have to accomplish with it regularly, and you’re set.

Common Blade Steels for High-End Pocket Knives

High-end knives pursue the best of the best, but sometimes, they focus on different things to accomplish that overall goal. Most high-end knives feature the best that powder metallurgy has to offer, and today, knives made of CPM MagnaCut, CPM S90V, and Böhler M390 rule the day. Some knives pursue maximum sharpness to the tee, and some of the best steels with that goal in mind come from Japan, like the ZDP-189 made by Hitachi. ZDP-189 has an extreme amount of carbon, but not as much as the carbon steel blades from Japan, featuring white and blue paper steel. Those steels are usually hammered into layers reminiscent of Damascus blades, but their downside is that you have to dry the knife when it gets wet and oil it more often than a stainless steel blade.

Speaking of Damascus blade steels, you’ll find lots of flavors of Damascus-style blades, but make sure to look for knives and knifemakers who disclose the content of the Damascus steel so you can gauge its overall performance. You’ll also want to make sure you’re buying a Damasteel blade that’s been folded into layers as opposed to having a laser-etched design placed on it by less-scrupulous manufacturers trying to get people looking for a high-end knife for the first time to part with their hard-earned money.

Locking Mechanisms for High-End Pocket Knives

While some high-end knives have non-locking mechanisms, slipjoint detents, or fixed blade designs that don’t fold at all, most high-end pocket knives for everyday carry feature a folding and locking mechanism for your safety and convenience.

Frame Locks

Frame locks represent the gold standard of high-end everyday carry pocket knife locking mechanisms. These use one-half of a stainless steel or titanium knife handle frame on a spring bar behind the blade’s pivot, preventing it from closing back on you. Of note, the whole idea of a frame lock knife was pioneered by Chris Reeve in one of his first big community-favorite high-end knives, the Sebenza.

Liner Locks

Liner locks get flak regarding budget production knives because users have had bad experiences with unreliable gas station specials with thin locking mechanisms. Just as you can find quality liner locks in budget categories, you are guaranteed to find liner-locking folding knives in the high-end space with the same sort of security you can expect from a well-made frame lock knife. The primary benefit of picking a liner lock high-end knife is that you can have a beautiful handle scale on both sides without needing a stainless steel or titanium frame on one side, breaking up the overall look.

Button Locks

Button locks move a spring-loaded bar built into the handle behind the pivot point of a knife, making for a secure lock. One benefit of a button lock mechanism, if tuned correctly with ball bearings in the pivot, is the ability to flick the blade open and close with a single hand by operating the button mechanism and using centrifugal force to open the blade.

Crossbar Locks

The crossbar lock, known as the AXIS lock by the inventors of the mechanism at Benchmade Knives, uses a movable bar built into the knife’s frame that can be actuated with either hand for genuinely ambidextrous operation. Recently, more knifemakers have adopted the crossbar lock, and you can also find them in high-end knives. Crossbar lock knives tend to be lighter than frame lock and liner lock systems because they can cut down on the metal required for a secure locking mechanism.

Lockback

You’ll find lockback mechanisms in high-end traditional gents knives. These are elevated forms of the everyday carry knives your father or grandfather favored back in the day. The lockback mechanism ensures a solid lock at the back of the knife’s spine with a spring-loaded lever action mechanism that gets behind the blade once it’s in place. Lockback mechanisms are usually made out of stainless steel, and the relatively thin requirement of metal allows for thicker and more beautiful wood and bone inlays to be employed in the knife’s handle for an added beauty unique to knives that rely on this lock.

Longevity and Care: Maintaining Your High-End Pocket Knife

Cleaning and Storage

Like all everyday carry knives, ensuring your knife stays clean, dry, and stored properly is essential. It might even be more critical because of a high-end knife’s precious nature and high value. That doesn’t mean you must treat a high-end knife with kid gloves. They’re tools; you can use them to accomplish everyday tasks even better than a regular everyday carry knife because of their higher performance standard.

Sharpening Tips and Tricks

Because of the high-hardness powdered metallurgy steels that high-end knives tend to use, keeping a high-end knife sharp and up to task may require more work than a more inexpensive everyday carry knife. You’ll want to invest in quality sharpening tools such as an adjustable angle system or a quality set of whetstones in various grits to get you a finely-honed blade at the cost of some elbow grease. If you’re not up to that task, take your knife to a professional sharpener or send it to your manufacturer for service and lifetime warranty repair. The last thing you want is to use a pull-through knife sharpener except in dire emergencies because their pre-set angles will ruin your high-end knife’s specific blade edge geometry, requiring service to get it back up to par like it was out of the box.

Cultural Impact and Community

In our community, a high-end pocket knife often represents the figurative end of an everyday carry knife enthusiast’s journey in knife collection. Every everyday carrier has a “grail” knife (some have more than one), a high-end knife that you say meets all your needs and would buy if money were no object. Realistically, even when you buy your grail, we all know the journey never ends. The beauty of a high-end knife doesn’t end with its aesthetics, value, or materials. The best high-end knives for everyday carry elevate your standards, and some even move the knife community to new heights with further innovations in blade steels, mechanisms, materials, and design. Years onward, there will be room to buy other high-end knives that do an even better job than the ones that came before it, driving the everyday carry community further.

FAQs

What is the number one knife brand?

There is no number one knife brand for high-end knives because choosing one is personal. The largest brands may not make a high-end knife that strikes your fancy. The high-end knife world is also dominated by small-batch artisanal custom knifemakers striking out on their own and making the best knives in the world as part of their passion for the craft.

Which company makes the best knives?

The best high-end knives are made by companies that create innovative and beautiful designs with premium materials and a clever ergonomic design that sets them apart. In this guide, we’ve isolated a few, but we encourage you to learn more about high-end knives in general to find the one you’ll be truly happy with.

What is the Holy Grail of pocket knives?

The “Holy Grail” of pocket knives is the knife an everyday carry enthusiast desires the most. A grail knife combines the features, materials, and aesthetic looks you would purchase if only you could afford one. It’s also possible for your grail knife to be something that does not exist. That requires you to wait for a high-end maker to develop a design that meets your exacting standards, or you may have to get your high-end knife custom-made to your specifications.

What is the best high-end knife to buy?

The best high-end knife to buy is one you’ll feel comfortable using unless you’re buying purely for display purposes. The best high-end knife for everyday carry gives you the confidence that you can get the work you need doing, but with an added touch of class you won’t get with a sub-100 dollar knife that anyone else can buy. Our top recommendation, the WE Knife Co. Soothsayer, would be a good one to consider.

How we picked

Decades of experience and deep connections in the everyday carry industry give us a unique viewpoint on the market to inform our product recommendations. We have the depth of information for thousands of products that have come before and an extensive eye on the market to see what’s new and trending for each piece of gear. The result is a buying guide that we feel is informative and useful for EDCers of every trade, industry, and budget.

What is Everyday Carry?

Everyday Carry is both the concept of what people carry in their pockets and the process of picking out gear that thoughtfully considers what one wants or needs in their daily life. It encompasses everything from style to preparedness to utility, meaning an entire industry full of valuable tools and essentials to choose from.

Why you should trust us

Our team has decades of combined experience in all aspects of everyday men’s essentials, from wallets to pens to bags and everything in between, and we know where to find great gear ideas that you may not come across at your local stores or when shopping online. Our expertise in the industry and familiarity with design, materials, and usability help you make more informed choices when it comes to picking up your next piece of gear.

 

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