Its been a year or more since I updated this list and a few things have changed. New knives have come out and I have had more experience with existing knives. I have also realized that there is a need for more fixed blades to be included on this list.
You may have noticed that in the past 6 months I have been carrying the 555-1 a lot. It is a very good knife, but this was not a matter of preference alone. I was trying to figure out if it was a better EDC than the Dragonfly II in ZDP-189. In the end, I can't say for certain which is better. Personally, I could go either way. But if you are someone that likes a bigger knife or if you have big hands, then the Mini Grip 555-1 is probably your only choice.
The reality is these two knives offer so much design goodness and skillful execution that is hard to pick. The upgrades to the 555-1 were real and meaningful. The G10 handles do feel better and I was a fan of the Grivory originals. The pocket clip is better. And, for the first time in a while, I got a Benchmade from the factory that was tuned and sharpened perfectly.
In the end the real separating factor here is price. The 555-1 is a very expensive knife compared to the DFII. But if price is not a concern and you want a knife companion for the rest of your days, pick either of these. They are both excellent.
Best Knife to Show You are a Member of the Knife Intelligensia: Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21 Insingo CF
The knife world, like the car world, is inundated with special editions, each more rarified than the one before. Many times these "upgrades" aren't really that impactful, but this is one where the upgrades matter. When you add that on top of the already great bones of the Sebenza you get a truly wonderful knife. For me, the weight savings is nice, but negligible. It is the Insingo blade shape that carries the water here. Like the 555-1 above, I love this utility blade shape, a sheepsfoot with belly. It works and works well. So when you combine the normal CRK goodness with the lightweight of CF and the utility of the Insingo blade shape, all that see the knife in your hand will instantly know that you are part of the Knife Intelligensia--you made all the of the correct choices. Note that this particular knife is available exclusively at Knife Art. It can be found here.
Best Knife to Rule Them All: Spyderco Paramilitary II in S110v
The more knives that come out the more I am convinced that this the best all around knife out there. Its a bit big for me to EDC (the Manix 2, which is another great all-around blade, is a bit lighter but even taller), but if I didn't know what laid ahead of me for a day or two, the PM2 in S110V would be my choice. The lock is great, the steel is great, the grind is amazing, and thanks to a lot of little design tricks, this knife really does carry like a much smaller knife.
One thing that really cemented my opinion of the PM2 was the review of the Para3. That knife has so many of the same features that it should have scored higher than it did, in theory. But in practice, there are just so many things that Spyderco got right on this blade that even an imitator from the same company can't hold a candle.
If you want to hunt and peck, you can find this knife in just about any steel (I am holding out hope for LN200 C version). The commonly available steels are: S30V (skip), S35VN (not bad at all), Elmax (yay, baby), and this one in S110V (the clear winner). The blue handled M390 version would be the only limited release I would prefer over the stock S110V version.
Best Knife to Rule Them All, Fixed Blade Edition: Bark River Bravo 1 LT in 3V
As my experience with fixed blades grows I am more taken by the Bravo 1 pattern than ever. Toss on top of that a thinner stock and 3V steel and you have a real winner. In woodworking the handplanes all have numbers that correlate to their size. The smallest plane is a No. 1. The largest I have seen is a No. 9. In the middle is the No. 5, the so-called Jack Plane. This plane is designed to flex from detail work that the smaller planes can tackle up to leveling work across large surfaces that the big planes handle. In many ways the Bravo 1 is the Jack Plane of fixed blades.
Best Kitchen Knife Replacement: Spyderco Chaparral
The Chaparrel's grind is a smidge behind the grind of the La Francaise. But, the handle on the Chaparral is better. The CTS-XHP is capable of getting laser keen. The grind here is wafer thin. And the grind is a very steep full flat grind. So as between the two best slicers I have ever handled, I think I prefer the Spyderco. The Chaparral is better all around knife even if it is maybe a sliver of a hair behind the La Francaise in pure cutting ability. I just don't understand why this grind is so unusual. Most pocket knives should be like this--thin, slicey, and exceptionally responsive.
Best Knife for Places with Excessive Rules: Spyderco Roadie
I know this list is starting to be a little Spyderco heavy, but as you can see from the review archives, I have reviewed knives from different manufacturers. It just happens that, right now, they are making some great knives. The Roadie is part of that. It is incredible small. Stunningly small. When you slide it out of the box you might even chuckle. But then when you use it, you'll fall in love. The ergos are insanely great. And it feels likes a much bigger knife in the hand. The lack of a lock and no one-handed opening makes this a perfect knife for places with too many government regulations. As always check your local knife laws.
Best All Dressed Up Knife: AG Russell Light'n Bug
Damn it, this knife is very hard to evaluate. Its got all sorts of magic that defy the materials and are hidden in the specs. But get it in your hand, use it, and see how it works. You will be stunned at just how good this little blade is. It basically vanishes in your pocket weighing less than an ounce. It flips open with a silkiness that defies explanation. And it is one of the few knives where I think the carbon fiber looks classy. In short this everything you'd want in a dress knife and yet it is 1/3 to 1/4 the price of similar knives from William Henry or Chris Reeve. The reasons are simple: 8Cr instead of a good steel and overseas production. But ignore those things, in your hand and in your pocket you'll really like the Light'n Bug. Mr. Russell, if you are reading, please upgrade the steel. The bones here are stunning.
Best Knife to Give You that Custom Feel: Togg Begg Steelcraft Mini or Full Sized Bodega
I was not going to get a Mini Bodega at first. It was interesting, but it just didn't speak to me. It was too busy and overdone. But I wanted to review it, so I bought one and when I got it, I got it. I instantly understood why folks like Begg's designs and rave about Reate's finish. This is a knife that has unparalleled complexity for a knife under $500. It doesn't just give you a taste of what a supremely refined custom knife looks like. It is almost indistinguishable from that custom. Sure, actual Beggs are better, but this knife is so well made its hard to imagine how the real thing is better. Personally I find the full sized version a bit too big, but the Mini is wonderful. Trust me, even if it is not your style, even if it is not something you think you will like it, get your hands on one of these knives and it will be a memorable moment. The only problem that might result is that you pine for a real Begg after that.
Best Flipper: Shirogorov Neon
Nothing flips like a Shirogorov. Nothing. Not a great high end Chinese folder. Not a brilliant USA made folder. Not many customs. Nothing. The cool thing about the Neon I borrowed was that it wasn't just a flimsy pivot, it was actually a really well made pivot. Often I will try to snap open a knife without using any deployment method other than centrifugal force. Crappy knives, ones that neophytes will think are good flippers, will fail this test. Good ones won't. And the Neon, despite its positively kinetic action, never failed the snap test (also called the Wrist Flick test, but that is another story for another day). I simply can't explain why the pivots are so good, other than to say they are really good. Its not the materials or the construction method, to my knowledge. Whatever it is, though, there is no peer in terms of flipping action. And the rest of the knife is pretty damn good to boot.
Best Old Timey Knife: Case Tony Bose Collaboration Zulu Spear
Until recently, I had not had a chance to handle a Case/Bose collaboration. Now I have and let me tell you, it was a spectacular knife. If they are all like this, just line up and open your wallet. The Zulu Spear was surprisingly big, but it hit all my traditional knife buttons. It's design is as old fashioned as it gets, but the Zulu Spear shape has had something of a renaissance. The blade is wonderful and functional. The finish is top shelf. This knife was better than the run of the mill GEC or Case. The Case/Bose collabs have a fit and finish on par with that of a Tom's Choice or a Canal Street Cutlery knife. In a time when there are no Northwoods Indian River Jacks to buy and Canal Street is out of business, these are the best traditionals out there right now.
Best Budget Blade: LA Police Gear TBFKS35VN
Just forget it. No one can touch this knife. It is a bearing pivot flipper with sculpted G10 handles and an S35VN blade. For $35. To put that in perspective, the CRKT Drifter, the previous King of the Budget Blades, runs about $10 less and runs significantly worse steel, no bearing pivot and uncontoured handles. I don't know how LA Police Gear can do it, but whatever the trick, I am glad they did it. The knife itself isn't perfect, but for $35 you won't find anything like the TBFK. Go buy one. Even if you don't fall in love with it, you'll have one hell of a good glovebox knife.
Best Pizza Cutter: Cold Steel Espada XL
I was not smitten with the Cold Steel Espada XL. Even for a silly big blade, it was disappointing. It was weird in the hand, too big for most cutting tasks and was unable to hold up under heavy use. But, and this is a big caveat in an Italian household like mine, it was a master stroke pizza cutter. With a 7 1/2 inch blade and a pronounced curve in the cutting edge, this knife severed most pizzas along the diameter in one stroke. It was also easier to clean than most "real" pizza cutters. And, after pounding the dough flat and flipping it in the air, I found that the deafening clack of waving the Espada XL open added just the right amount of drama to the kitchen presentation part of pizza making. My seven year old and two year old both squealed in delight as I popped this beast out of my pocket to cut up their pepperoni-topped pies. It sounds silly, but I am serious here (seriously silly, like Roland Iten): the Espada XL is the best pizza cutter I have used, including purpose-built ones. I can see it now--a hipster chef at some snooty pizza place using this blade to add that last bit of flair to his "handcrafted" and "brick fired" pizzas.
There you have it--the best knives for all of your needs. I left off a few categories from the old list and added some new ones. If you don't see a knife in the category you are looking for, assume that the one selected in the original Best of... list is still the best I have found. I plan on updating this once a year. Let me know if you disagree in the comments below.