Justin Mastine-Frost 03.02.21
Before we start going up the food chain into high spec production folding knives from some of the industry’s best makers, we’ve decided to start with the real entry window in the category—pocket knives under $50. As with most “budget” categories, there’s a lot of trash out there, so with that in mind we’ve kept the focus on brand that we know and trust, brands that have been in the category a long time, and/or brands that we have personal experience with. In trade, we’ll be avoiding “branded knives” that are farmed out production, as the quality levels of those knives can vary quite dramatically. Within this list, you’ll find a range of blade sizes, shapes, and both locking and slipjoint construction.
Table of Contents
1. CRKT Pilar Large Framelock
CRKT is such an easy pick in this price bracket, as they regularly offer affordable production versions of knives designed by well respected designers from the knife industry. The Pilar is no exception, designed by Jesper Voxnaes, whose body of work includes his own custom production, as well as several knives for Giant Mouse, MKM, and Fox Knives. Steel is used for the framelock design rather than titanium, which saves on construction costs. The 2.6-inch flat grind sheepsfoot blade is on the compact side, but a large finger choil will allow larger hands to choke up on the blade for a better and more controlled grip. Its pocket clip is also reversible, allowing for either tip up or tip down carry, which is something you don’t see all that often in the budget space.
Pros/Practical blade shape, good ergos, and simple design
Cons/Not especially “grippy”
2. Buck Bantam BBW Lockback
Another obvious pick here. Especially in the hunting and outdoor community, Buck is the classic household name of a knife brand that delivers a great value. The Buck Bantam BBW can be had for between $15 and $30, and is sturdy enough to handle field dressing and other messy tasks that you wouldn’t necessarily want to put a more “fancy” knife through. Made of stainless steel with plastic scales, it’s an easy one to clean up after use. Its one real drawback is its lockback design, which is a bit more of a pain to close. It’s not a big gripe, but it’s just not as practical as a framelock, linerlock, or button lock.
Pros/Easy on the pocketbook, and easy to clean
Cons/Lockback, and basic materials
Bottom Line/These things are immensely popular for a reason—gets the job done
3. Civivi Backlash Linerlock
One of our larger entrants on this list, the Civivi Backlash is one of our heavier duty folding knives on this list. Using G10 for its scale material, and 9Cr18MoV steel for its blade, it’ll be more resilient in the long run when compared to the Buck, but it’ll also set you back a few more bucks along the way; it’s priced at $50. It runs a 3.5-inch hollow grind blade, deploys via a flipper tab, and has caged steel ball bearings for quick and easy deployment.
Pros/Snappy opening, sturdy construction, and good bang-for-buck
Cons/At the top of the price bracket, though justifiably
Bottom Line/Worth the spend
4. QSP Piglet Liner Lock
Design wise, this lands as a bit more of a hipster EDC blade than it does a heavy-use tool, but in this price category we’re ok with that. Its green and black contoured G10 scales give the blade a pretty good feel in the hand, and dual thumb studs provide a range of deployment options. This one runs on copper washers rather than bearings, so it’ll be less of a snappy opener than the Civivi.
Pros/Nicely designed, good size, and comfortable to use
Cons/Clip can’t be flipped for southpaws
Bottom Line/A good looking blade that’ll get the job done
5. Kershaw Mini Natrix
Similarly to CRKT, Kershaw snagged a better-known design as the base for its affordable Natrix series, including the mini version seen here. It’s based on the Zero Tolerance 0770, which would set you back a fair shake more than the $30 sticker price on this guy. Unlike any others in the list, the Natrix uses what’s called a “subframe lock”, which is effectively a bit of a hybrid between a framelock and linerlock design. There is still a partial scale on the back of the knife, with a cutout to allow clearance for a beefier lockbar than what’s found in a typical linerlock knife.
Pros/Sturdy build, well designed, and ball bearings for deployment
Cons/A bit on the edgy/tactical side
Bottom Line/Loud but functional option
6. Boker Magnum Straight Brother Framelock
Boker is an odd brand that has several classifications of knives with different origins of manufacture, with Boker Magnum being one of its entry tier ranges. It carries looks in the same vein as more expensive titanium framelock pocket knives, but cuts cost by using a linerlock design with aluminum scales. Its blade uses 440A steel, which means it’ll be quite corrosion resistant, however its edge retention won’t be as good as some of the other options out there.
Pros/Big clean 3.5-inch drop point blade, and no frilly details to its scales
Cons/Lesser steel, and occasionally iffy quality control from Boker
Bottom Line/It’s big and cheap, and sometimes that’s all you need.
7. CRKT Ken Onion Hootenanny Framelock
One of many Ken Onion designs found in the affordable space—he’s the man behind the Kershaw Leek, and Kershaw’s assisted deployment system—the Hootenanny is a rock solid bolster lock knife with a 3.375-inch drop point blade. More traditional in design, the back half of its handle uses a glass-reinforced nylon material for its bolster scales. An IKBS pivot and flipper tab make this one another good quick-deploying option.
Pros/Classic design bolster lock from a well-respected name in watchmaking
Cons/Not much to gripe about
Bottom Line/Great bang for buck at $45
8. Opinel Knives No. 5
And now for something a little different. These affordable French knives from Opinel have an odd cultish following, and rightfully so. Clearly meant for lighter duty, these friction folders (no lock) are good for light duty tasks, and the occasional bit of whittling. I wouldn’t pack it as my bush/survival knife, but not all blades need to be that hardcore either.
Pros/Light and inoffensive, a good at-home tool
Cons/Not for heavy use
Bottom Line/Could fit the bill for something light-duty—priced accordingly
9. SOG Fielder Linerlock
This guy takes our last place for personal reasons, as it’s one of the first blades that I picked up when my curiosity about knives was piqued at a more “serious” level, and I wanted to find something reasonably priced with wood scales (other than a Buck). It’s only $24, uses a sturdy linerlock, and has a thumbstud for deployment. It makes a good starter knife, but is another one that’s more of a smooth and steady deployment rather than something that you can flick out in a hurry. It also comes fitted with a deep carry pocket clip, which isn’t seen on many of our sub-$50 options.
Pros/Another good bang-for-buck contender, pairing classic looks with a more modern linerlock setup
Cons/Fit and finish is OK for the price, but won’t blow you away
Bottom Line/Decent overall alternative to a wood scale Buck knife
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