You don’t need a big knife for hiking and backpacking when an ultralight folding pocket knife or multi-tool is just as good for opening freeze-dried food packages, slicing cheese and salmi, adjusting sunglasses frames, cutting guylines and cord, shaping moleskin, cutting strips of leukotape, pulling splinters out of your hands, trimming your toenails, and a million other uses.
While there are a lot of choices available, we recommend choosing EDC (every-day carry) class multi-tools and folding knives that can fit in your pocket or attach to your pack for easy access. All of these knives and multi-tools weigh 2 oz or less and are well under the 3″ blade length limit for states in the USA that care about such things. Can’t decide which you like best? Check out our Backpacking Knife and Multi-tool Guide below for more information and advice.
1. Leatherman Squirt PS4
While the Leatherman Squirt PS4 is a fully-featured multi-tool, it folds down keychain small. This 2 oz wonder includes regular and needle-nose pliers, a pair of scissors, knife blade, file, flat and Phillips head screwdrivers, and a bottle opener. Made with stainless steel and anodized aluminum, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. If you’d rather have a pair of good scissors instead of the pliers, try the Leatherman Micra.
The Swiss Army Classic multi-tool is a longtime hiker favorite because it’s super lightweight but packs many of the tools that hikers need on a daily basis, ranging from a small pair of sharp scissors and a knife to a nail file, toothpick, and tweezers. Weighing just 0.7 ounces, it’s easy to clip to the outside of your backpack with a mini-biner for easy access. Replacement toothpicks and tweezers are also available since they’re usually the first thing you lose.
The Ladybug 3 is one of Spyderco’s smallest lightweight knives. Weighing just 0.6 oz, this folding knife has a 1.94″ blade with a textured ergonomic grip and back lock mechanism. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size. It has an uncanny amount of cutting power and utility for a knife of its size. When closed, the Ladybug is about the same size as your car keys. It is available with a plain or serrated edge in a wide variety of colors: we suggest yellow to make it harder to lose. The Ladybug doesn’t have a pocket clip but rather a hole for attachment to a keychain or lanyard.
The SOG Keytron is a great keychain tool that is another one of my favorites. This manual folder features a very sharp 1.8-inch blade on a slim, lightweight handle. It also comes with a bottle opener and has its own keyring that opens with a simple latch and not a split keyring making it much easier to remove or attach to your pack or keys without an extra biner. It’s made with stainless steel, weighs 1.3 oz, and is 3.5 inches long. I use it for slicing open packages, cutting cord, opening beer bottles, and fighting off zombie chipmunks.
The Gerber Paraframe Mini is an affordable lightweight everyday carry knife that has an open frame. It’s available in multiple blade variations including a plain edge, serrated, and tanto designs. Weighing just 1.6 oz, it has a 2.25″ blade and a frame lock handle design, with a sturdy pocket clip that stows in your pocket, on your belt, or a backpack shoulder strap. We like the stainless plain edge model the best for cutting open packages and cleanly slicing cordage and guylines around camp.
The Benchmade 533 Mini Bugout is premium stainless steel folding knife designed specifically for ultralight backpacking and camping. Weighing 1.5 oz, it has a blade length of 2.8″. It’s a very nimble knife with a sharp slicing edge that works well for a variety of uses. You can open it one-handed with a wrist flick and it is configured out of the box to be ambidextrous for righties and lefties. The Mini Bugout comes with a clip so you can carry it in a pants pocket or clip it to a shoulder strap, but it also has a lanyard hole. We really like the orange textured handle provides a good grip when you have wet hands, and makes it easy to find if you drop it on the ground.
The Nite Ize DoohicKey Key Chain Knife has a two-inch locking stainless steel blade housed in a lightweight aluminum body. Don’t let its small size fool you. It has a corrosion-resistant stainless steel blade with a high hardness level allowing it to retain a sharp edge and a lock-back design that keeps the blade locked in place while in use. The DoohicKey comes with a locking S-Biner that allows you to quickly attach, detach, and secure this folding knife to key chains, backpacks, and other anchor points.
The Kershaw Chive is a small, pocket-friendly, and versatile pocketknife that can handle just about any cutting task you ask it tom from opening packages to cutting guyline cord. It has a high carbon steel blade and a steel handle with a sturdy frame lock that keeps the blade safely open during use. It opens with a flipper or thumb stud and comes with a pocket clip and lanyard hole, as well as a safety lock so it won’t open in your pocket. It really is a beautiful and sturdy knife.
The Opinel No. 6 is a classic folding pocket knife made with a natural French orange beechwood handle. We’d recommend getting the stainless steel version, rather than the carbon steel blade for improved corrosion resistance. The knife requires two hands to operate with a thumb nick and a ring lock that much be twisted to safely keep it open or close it when carrying it in your pocket. Despite this, it is quite affordable and a good blade for carving food and fruit because the blade is 2.87″ in length and longer than our other top picks. Opinel knives come in many different sizes and it’s not unusual for people to build up quite a collection.
The Zero Tolerance 0022 is an exquisitely crafted folding pocket knife made of extremely durable steel for superior hardness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. The handle has a carbon fiber front with a titanium back and deep finger contours to ensure a secure and safe grip. This flipper opens smoothly and closes with one hand. A ball-bearing makes opening the 0022 almost effortless. The blade flips open and locks into place with the titanium frame lock and hardened steel lock bar insert. While it’s pricey for a knife of this size, it’s a lot of fun to use and extremely well made.
Before you buy an ultralight folding knife or multitool for backpacking or outdoor use, think about what you will be using it for and what capabilities it should have. Do you want a knife to open freeze-dried food packages and resupply boxes, or a pair of scissors, which is better for shaping moleskin, cutting bandages, and blister protection tape? A multi-tool can also be very useful for other types of outdoor recreation and work, from working with small motors to adjusting ski and snowboard bindings. If you want a knife to practice bushcraft skills or skin game, we’d recommend choosing a larger, sturdier knife designed for those uses.
Legal blade length
The nice thing about folding pocket and EDC-sized knives and multitools is that they’re usually legal when you cross from one state (USA) to another. Be sure to check the blade length limits and knife concealment laws in your state or city, if any. A 2″ blade (or less) will be legal in most states. Note, it’s still illegal to carry a knife in most federal, state, and local government buildings, schools, and of course airplanes.
Most small knives and multitools have a clip, lanyard hole, or ring that lets you attach them to your keys, clothes, or backpack. If you’re backpacking, you’re going to want to keep close track of your knife/tool, because they’re very easy to lose. We also suggest you get a knife with a brightly colored handle, so it stands out if you drop it on the ground.
Many EDC knives are available with straight edges or serrated edges. For simple tasks like opening packages, cutting tape, or slicing cheese, a straight edge is preferable. Serrated blades are much more appropriate for heavy-duty tasks like skinning games or processing wood, although you’re unlikely to do much of that with these short blades. Straight edges knives are also much easier to sharpen.
Most of the knives listed here have what are called drop points and spear points which are both excellent for EDC-style knives where a pulling action is used for cutting or slicing. On a drop point blade, the blade point drops down below the blade’s spine creating a curved cutty edge called a belly. It is one of today’s most widespread blade shapes because it’s a great all-purpose blade. On a spear point, the spine and edge meet symmetrically in the middle of the knife. This shape is great for pushing/thrusting and gives the blade an extremely strong tip. The Swiss Army Knife Classic is a perfect example.
Small knives and multi-tools are available with different opening mechanisms. The most basic is a nail nick where you lever the blade open with a fingernail. There are also assisted opening systems with thumb studs or a flipper, which is a metal extension found at the back of the blade near the pivot.
Locks keep folding knives blades in the ‘open’ position so they don’t fold back and cut you. The most common locks are a frame lock and a liner lock. A frame lock is very strong and built into the handle of a knife, snapping into place behind the blade so it can’t pivot back. Another common lock is the liner lock which is a spring-like lock inside the handle. As the knife is opened the liner springs into place under the blade forcing it to lock into position. The liner has to be depressed to close the knife.
When it comes to small multi-tools and fold pocket knives, anything that weighs less than 2 oz is going to disappear into your pocket or be a cinch to attach to your backpack. As we said earlier, you don’t need a big knife for backpacking when a small knife or multi-tool is more than sufficient.
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