Everyday carry is a huge category in the knife world. It should be. Your everyday-carry knife is your daily driver—usually traveling in your pants pocket—for activities ranging from opening up a box at the office to cutting rope in the field. In short: it should do just about everything you’d expect a knife to without being a pain to carry around. I tested a range of knives to see which is the ultimate utility player, both at work and at play.
I’ve been evaluating knives for Outside for nearly three years, in this column and for the semiannual Buyer’s Guides. I drew on that experience to pick five standout knives. I weighed them, kept each in the pocket of my tightest pants (not hipster tight, mind you) for a full day, and took notes on how comfortably they carried. Then I opened and closed each of them 25 times to gauge how smooth the action was. After that, I broke down cardboard boxes to gauge the grip. And finally, to test cutting prowess, I used them to slice four-day-old cooked steak (extra tough and left over from the previous weekend’s barbecue), shred half a head of cabbage, and quarter cherry tomatoes.
Winner: Kershaw Atmos ($34)
Weight: 2 ounces
The Atmos ticked every box for what I want in an everyday-carry knife. It was the second lightest in the test (the Opinel was a tenth of an ounce lighter) and had the most capable blade, cutting the meat, cabbage, and tomatoes beautifully, without any sawing necessary. It took second in ease of opening, behind an automatic knife (which isn’t a fair contest), thanks to a knob at the top of the handle that pops the blade out without a mechanical assist. And it had the best pocket feel, courtesy of a compact build and thin profile, while still offering a capable handle for a solid grip. It did everything extremely well in a package that didn’t make me regret having a knife with me when I didn’t need it.
Runner-Up: CRKT Cuatro ($70)
Weight: 3 ounces
The Cuatro and the Atmos were neck and neck throughout the test. An ounce of weight difference and the fact that the Atmos performed slightly better in the cutting test—the Cuatro required two passes to slice through the meat—are the reasons the Cuatro took second. However, the its contoured G10 fiberglass handle was easy to grip when wet and was about an inch longer than the Atmos’s. So if you work outside in the rain regularly and grip is important, this is your blade.
Most Fun: Gerber Empower Automatic ($140)
Weight: 4.7 ounces
This knife was by far the easiest and most satisfying to open. Simply flip the safety switch and press the button. (Fully automatic knives like this one aren’t legal in every state, but they are here in Oregon.) The Empower Auto is a beast. Its tactical, aggressively beveled blade looks built for combat rather than everyday use, and though it made easy work of the meat, it didn’t do as well slicing the cabbage and tomatoes. It was the second heaviest knife in the test and was noticeable in my pocket (not to mention that, despite keeping the safety on, I had the nagging fear that it would self-deploy and dismember me). While I can’t think of a time when I’d need a button-activated blade, the Empower was capable, with a beautiful handle.
Burliest: Helle Bleja ($214)
Weight: 5.1 ounces
If someone informed me that the zombie apocalypse would be arriving tomorrow, I would undoubtedly put the Helle Bleja in my bug-out bag. Yes, it’s pricey, but the build quality makes it worth the extra bills. It’s an absolutely gorgeous instrument, with a 4.5-inch curved birch handle. The triple-laminated steel blade with Scandinavian flat grind cuts through meat—and even harder stuff like wood—with ease, earning the Helle the top spot for dispatching tough old steak. It also did a surprisingly good job finely shredding the cabbage.
Best Deal: Opinel #9 ($16)
Weight: 1.9 ounces
I’ve always loved the look of French-made Opinel knives. But I was worried that it would be unfair to throw a $16 blade into a test with much more expensive knives. I was pleased to find that the #9 held its own against the competition. It cut the foodstuffs well enough (the long blade made short work of the cabbage), was the lightest knife in the test, and virtually disappeared in my pocket, thanks to a thin, rounded handle. But its durability is what you’d expect given the price.