We Tested a Whole Bunch of Survival, Tactical, Kitchen And Pocket Knives To Make This 2021 Gift List.
There are so many choices these days when it comes to choosing the perfect knife to give as birthday or holiday gift this year. We understand that it can be overwhelming, so the writers here at Nothing But Knives chose our favorite knives from almost every knife category including tactical, hunting, survival, camping, hard use and kitchen to ensure you get the right fixed blade or folding pocketknife for the knife nerd on your 2021 gift list.
We have personally tested every single knife in this guide, so we feel pretty confident in our recommendations. This guide is broken into categories to help you make your gift buying decision quickly, so you can get on with your busy holiday schedule.
Hard Use Pocket Knives That Make Great Gifts
These are folding pocket knives designed to take a beating and are capable of actual hard work. These knives are great for camping, hunting, backpacking, or just helping with manual labor or landscaping around the house. These knives are big, tough, and a little heavy for pocket knives.
Off-Grid Caiman Pocket Bowie
|Blade Shape:||Clip Point|
The Off-Grid Caiman was one of the best pocket knives we tested in 2021. We loved the idea of a pocket Bowie before we even got our hands on one even though we were a little skeptical about the practicality of such a knife. Fortunately this Off-Grid design turned out to be a great combination of form and function.
We spent several weeks abusing this knife while hiking and camping in the mountains. It spent a lot of time in the water, because it was summertime, and we were hot. We had no problems with corrosion or the caged ceramic ball bearings gumming up. So we can definitely recommend this knife from a durability standpoint. We did take the knife apart and oil it up when we returned from the hills, though. Even with a good finish like this, you don’t want to take risks with D2 steel.
The action of the Caiman is butter smooth, so it is a great gift option for any fidget flippers on your gift list. The blade offers a good combination of toughness and edge retention, and it handled most tasks from carving to food prep well. We liked this knife so much we are hoping there will be a fixed blade version of it available next, so we can include that in our 2022 gift guide
If you want to learn more about this great hard use knife check out our Off-Grid Caiman in-depth review.
|Blade Shape:||Drop Point|
|Handle Material:||Stainless Steel|
The NOx is the kind of sleek gentleman’s carry folder we don’t normally mess around with, but it’s definitely the kind of thing that’s been popular with knife people for a while. This has all the smooth action and clean slicing ability a slick folder should have, and the steel handle with a solid frame lock make it a lot more durable than the overall look would have you believe.
This is such a sleek and simple design that it edges on the side of boring for a lot of people, but some people think plain black tuxedos are boring and yet we all end up having to rent them every year for our dumb friends’ weddings, so there’s a place in this world for knives like the NOx.
Check out the full Civivi NOx review for some more nuanced praise of the knife.
Buck 841 Sprint Pro
|Blade Shape:||Drop Point|
|Handle Material:||Burlap Micarta|
|Lock Type:||Liner Lock|
The Buck Sprint Pro has some impressive specs for a $100 pocket knife. It sports an S30V steel blade, a comfortable burlap Micarta handle and a super smooth action. The aggressive jimping on the spine of the blade is a bit much, but overall this is an excellent hard use EDC option.
The fit and finish of the Buck Sprint Pro is excellent, and its performance when using it for actual work is what makes it such a great knife. Buck has been introducing quite a few innovative designs over the last few years that have created a stir in the knife community. The 841 Sprint Pro is a result of that innovation, and it is a knife almost anyone who likes sharp pointy objects would love to receive as a gift.
Check out our Buck 841 Sprint Pro review if you think it may be a good gift knife for yourself or someone else.
|Blade Length:||3.25″ or 2.6″ or 4″|
|Handle Length:||4.875″ or 4.5″ or 3.14″|
|Blade Shape:||Drop Point|
|Handle Material:||Canvas Micarta or G10 or Stainless Steel|
The Kizer Sheepdog is a tough knife that can handle hard use, but it looks so great you hate to get it scratched and dirty. This combination of good looks and toughness has helped make this popular folder achieve classic status in a short period of time.
The Sheepdog design has definitely been one of the most useful pocket knives we’ve ever used. The steel is tough, and it has a flat grind with an incredibly slicey geometry. The version we tested had CTS-BD1N steel, which is a great, tough steel. It looks like Kizer has switched over to just using 154CM in the budget versions and S30V in their high-end version. It’s all Crucible, so decent stuff either way. I definitely prefer 154CM for big, hard use knives like this though.
The contoured linen Micarta handle of the sheepdog is incredibly grippy and comfortable even when wet. It will soak up dirt and hand sweat over time which changes the look, but that is part of its charm. The generous chamfering and practical contouring of this handle ensure there are no hot spots even when using the knife for an extended period of time.
The Sheepdog is available with a variety of handle options including titanium and G-10, but we are big fans of Micarta around here, so that is the version we added to this gift guide. However, if the person you are gift shopping for is anti-micarta Kizer has you covered.
The Sheepdog is also available in a variety of blades sizes from 2.6 (the Mini) to 4 inches the XL. Be sure to double check the size before you pull the trigger, because the different sizes look pretty much the same in all the white-background product photos.
For a little more info, you can check out our full review of the Sheepdog.
The knives mentioned in this section are perfect for a weekend getaway into the mountains or a family camping trip. They are great at a lot of outdoor tasks from carving up some weenie-roasting sticks to campfire food prep. They are generally not quite as tough as bushcraft or survival knives, but they’re a little more nimble and better for carving.
|Blade Style:||Drop Point|
|Knife Weight:||9.39 oz|
|Weight w/ Sheath||13.8 oz|
The LionSteel T5 was designed to be an all around camping and survival knife. The blade is made of Niolox steel, which is a tough steel that offers a good corrosion resistance and decent edge retention. It is also really easy to sharpen in the field which is a big plus if you ever find yourself sharpening a knife by fire light. The T5 features a flat grind that is great for carving, food prep or chopping.
The black leather sheath that ships with this knife hangs low enough to keep the knife handle from sticking into the bottom part of your torso when hiking, which is a big improvement from a lot of other sheaths out there. When knife designer, Molletta, was working on the pre-production versions of this knife he sent it to special forces soldiers to get there feedback. That field research comes through in a refresihingly comfortable way when the T5 is carried and used outdoors. It is a great wilderness knife, but it is also handy to have around a campsite.
Check out our LionSteel T5 Review if you want to know more about this knife or if you just want to see more photos of it.
Bradford Guardian 3
|Blade Steel:||Bohler N690 (and a bunch of others)|
|Blade Style:||Spear Point|
|Weight w/ Sheath||5.6oz|
The Bradford Guardian is one of the few holdovers from our 2020 gift guide. It is such a great camping knife we had to include it this year too, because Bradford has released many new versions of this knife, and they would all make a great gift for any knife fan who spends time in the woods.
The Bradford Guardian 3 is great for camping and backpacking. The horizontal carry sheath is comfortable and ambidextrous, so this knife can be scout carried in the back, or it can be front-horizontal carried in both the left and right draw positions.
The Micarta handle is short, but very comfortable, and the deep choil helps make this knife easy to grip even when it’s wet. The Bohler N690 steel blade holds its edge extremely well, which is nice out in the woods. We’ve also tested the AEB-L version and had pretty good experiences with both edge retention and sharpening.
Of all the knives we own, the Guardian 3 has probably turned the most heads. Even people who aren’t that into knives have told us they’d like to have one of these. Something about the size and the look just make it more accessible, which makes it a fantastic gift.
Bradford knives seems to have noticed this, and have responded by making the Guardian in a dozen or so different colors and handle materials from blue G-10 to camo Micarta, so it should be easy to find a version that’s a little more personalized to the whoever you’re giving it to.
Check out our full review of the Bradford Guardian 3 to learn more about this knife and to see our mostly update table of all the materials they make this thing in now.
Kizer Anso Baby
|Blade Style:||Drop Point|
|Knife Weight:||4.16 oz|
The Azo Baby is a relatively new model from Kizer that has become extremely popular in a short period of time. So popular, in fact, that it is really difficult to find.
It is a great size and weight for backpacking or minimalist camping. The leaf-shape blade features a full flat grind and super tough 154CM steel. The G-10 handle in incredibly comfortable. It doesn’t cause any hot spots or hand discomfort when this knife is being used for hard use type tasks. The large, curved ricasso makes it easy to safely choke up on the blade when doing detail type work like carving.
The practical design of the Azo extends to its incredibly versatile kydex sheath. This sheath can be easily switched from vertical to horizontal carry quickly and easily. This is another reason the Azo Baby is a great knife for backpackers.
It is pretty tough to find the Azo Baby in stock at any of the online retailers, but Kizer still has a few left that can be purchased from their site at the time of this writing.
Survival and Bushcraft Knives
These are fixed blade knives designed for the wilderness. These knifes can help start a fire, skin an animal, carve tent stakes and much more. Survival and bushcraft knives are similar to the camping knives listed above, but they are a little tougher and, in some cases, bigger.
In short, they’re the kind of knives people think about walking in one side of a forest with the intention of walking out the other end. If you have an outdoors man or woman on your gift list, we think they would be happy with any of these knives.
Condor Plan A Bowie
Big ass Bowie knives make great gifts. Period. End of story. Almost nobody needs one, but pretty much everybody wants one. They are just plain fun. The Plan A Bowie is big enough to be used as a machete, scary looking enough to be called tactical and practical enough to be pretty handy on a camping trip.
The Micarta handle of the Plan A Bowie is really comfortable and super grippy. This is typical of all Julio Diez designed knives, but it is even more true for the Plan A. You can chop, cut and slash for hours without feeling any discomfort or hot spots.
The blade is big, and relatively thick. It can take a beating, and it’s made from 1075 steel which is really easy to sharpen. It is important to keep this blade oiled when not in use, so you may want to buy some food grade knife oil with this Bowie to ensure it stays rust free.
If you are considering this knife for a gift, check out our in depth Condor Plan A Bowie review.
Off-Grid Alpha Dog
|Blade Steel:||Cryo D2|
|Blade Thickness:||5 mm|
|Blade Style:||Drop Point|
|Knife Weight:||15 oz|
|Blade Finish:||Blackwash or Stonewash|
|Sheath Material:||Kydex (Leather Version Available)|
At 15 oz, the Alpha Dog is one of the heaviest knives we have ever tested here at Nothing But Knives. It is also the best Bushcraft knife we have tested from a wood processing standpoint. This thing chops, batons, feathersticks and cleans branches incredibly well. The deep chamfering on the G-10 handle helps ensure there are no hand hot spots when performing these tasks. And even though the fat handle makes it look (and maybe even feel) like an old Tonka toy, it’s super comfy for pretty much any task. The Alpha Dog is a great option for actual hard use. However, it is not a great option if you are trying to pack light for a backpacking trip.
The edge is surprisingly capable at slicing for such a thick knife. Something that we generally attribute to Off-Grid Knives‘ ability to put a perfect grind on a blade. The Alpha Dog ships with a kydex sheath that is capable of horizontal or vertical carry, and there is a leather sheath available separately if that is your preference.
The Alpha Dog is not a great gift choice for every knife nut, but it is an excellent gift for serious campers or bushcrafters who spend a lot of time in the woods.
These knives are primarily designed for self defense. They may be capable at survival or hunting type tasks as well, and also at making boring people feel cooler sometimes, but surviving emergencies and general violence is their primary purpose.
Ka-Bar Becker BK18 Harpoon
|Blade Steel:||1095 Cro-Van|
|Sheath Material:||Celcon Polymer|
The Ka-Bar Becker BK18 is lightweight, tough and versatile. It is a great survival/tactical hybrid knife. The harpoon style blade looks cool, but it also has a few practical applications that we get into in our full review of this knife.
The point of the BK18 blade pernitrates deep with minimal pressure and its great balance makes it easy to switch grips quickly. It is also one of the best throwing knives we have tested even though it wasn’t specifically designed for that.
The BK18’s design has made it popular with soldiers, but it is also a great knife to have on a backpacking or camping trip. It is tough enough to handle most camping or survival tasks (that’s what the majority of our testing involved), and it is light enough to be a good option for a fixed blade backpacking knife.
If you think this knife would make a good gift for someone you know or maybe a gift for your self, check out our Ka-Bar Becker BK18 Review to learn more.
Kershaw Emerson CQC-10K
|Blade Style:||Clip point|
The Kershaw CQC series of knives remains one of the all time beast budget lines of tactical knives. For this reason we have kept it in our 2021 Gift Guide even though it was also in our 2020 Gift Guide (and has been around for a lot longer than that). There just hasn’t been anything new that we have tried this year that we like better.
The CQC-10K is one of my favorite tactical pocketknives. It was designed by Ernest Emerson and manufactured by Kershaw. It’s basically a much cheaper version of the CQC knives Emerson sells on his site. Emerson is a well respected martial artist and prolific knife designer. His Close Quarter Combat (CQC) line of knives is immensely popular for good reason.
All Emerson-designed CQC knives feature the wave opening tool which is a wave shaped hook at the end of the thumb ramp. You can see it in the photo above. The wave feature allows the blade to be quickly deployed by hooking it on the pocket as the knife is pulled. This is a great feature if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to open your knife fast. It is also a really fun feature, and can double has a bottle opener, which is one of the main reasons we included it in this gift guide.
Plus, since it’s so recognizable, other people who own CQC’s will ask if that’s an Emerson and you can both flip out your knives and wave them around in a show of pointy camaraderie that makes everyone else leave the room really fast.
We have never reviewed the CQC-10K, because the survival blog More Than Just Surviving did such an excellent review of it, but we have used it extensively, and we feel really confident recommending it.
Gentleman’s folder knives are pocket knives that are kinda dressy looking, maybe even stylish, that are a good choice for situations where a large tactical or survival knife might be inappropriate. We have gone through great lengths here at Nothing But Knives to avoid such situations at all costs, so this is probably the category we are least qualified to give recommendations in. But we have reviewed at least two folders that we liked and could maybe take to a wedding without getting weird looks.
Civivi Elementum Damascus
|Blade Steel:||Civivi Damascus|
|Blade Shape:||Drop Point|
|Handle Material:||Carbon Fiber|
This damn knife became a classic so fast it nearly cut the head off the entire knife industry. There’s a reason for that. It’s a nice, simple design, and Civivi is just an all around great manufacturer.
The Damascus steel version is a great looking knife (if you’re the kind of person who likes this kind of thing). It is also a fairly functional knife that is priced well considering the fact that is has a Damascus steel blade and ships in a cool looking gift case. The Elementum has a pretty smooth action thanks to its caged ball bearings, so if you need a gift for a fidget flipper knife nerd the Elementum Damascus may work.We spent several weeks testing out this knife as an EDC option, and we were fairly impressed. However this is definitely a gentleman’s carry type knife that is perfect for light use type tasks. If you need a hard use knife this isn’t it
If you want to learn more about what we liked and didn’t like about this knife when we testing it out, you can read out Civivi Elementum Damascus review.
Grainger McKoy Hand-Cut Auto
|Blade Steel:||Drop Point|
The Grainger McKoy Hand-Cut Auto is a work of art. So is the wooden storage box it ships in. That is no surprise considering the designer is a well known sculptor and jewelry designer whose work has been displayed in art galleries across North America.
We packed this knife around for a while, but it’s not really an EDC. There’s no pocket clip, and it’s clearly meant to sit in the box when you aren’t using it. But it does have a fantastically sharp edge and pretty decent ergonomics.This knife would make a great gift for the knife collector who has everything. It is truly unique and the fit and finish is second to none. The S35VN blade is perfectly centered, the grind is even and there are no machine marks in the titanium handle. If you are not a fan of auto knives there is also a slip joint version.
|Tool Bar Steel:||9Cr18MoV|
|Blade Shape:||Drop Point|
As far as multitools go, the Crit is pretty minimal. It has a flathead screwdriver, a bottle opener, a strap cutter, and four hex drivers. But it has all those tools on a flipper tab, which makes this one of the most convenient multitools available right now.
The blade is thin and razor sharp as well. It works really well with paper and cloth, but I wouldn’t want to do anything too hard-use with it considering the thin blade stock. It’s pretty impressive that this knife packs so much function inside a fairly slim handle, though. The whole thing rides easy in the pocket on one of the nicer wire clips I’ve encountered, and the whole process of pulling it out and opening it is as quick and smooth as you could hope for.The Crit hits a fairly unique category of gift because it could be considered both a gentleman’s carry and a multitool that would be pretty handy out in the yard. It’s tempting to call it an alternative to a Swiss Army Knife (and I have a couple times), but the truth is that it doesn’t have near as many tools packed inside as the average Victorinox multitool. The appeal of the Crit is that it’s designed to ride well in the pocket .
If you want to know a little more, especially about all the various uses we found for the tool bar, check out our full review.
|Blade Shape:||Reverse tanto|
Ohta Knives are probably making the nicest iteration of the Higinokami design these days. It’s not ideal as a conventional EDC, but it’s a great looking knife with wood handles and a good edge. As far as friction folders go, this is a pretty solid piece that’s just nice to have around. It comes in a little leather sheath that looks good, although I generally leave the sheath at home when I actually carry the FK5 outside.
Most of the time, though, it sits in its leather sheath on my desk and does mail opening duty. I wouldn’t say it’s the most used knife in my collection, but I do like the way it looks and usually have it sitting out. If anyone happens to be over and asks for a knife, this is usually the one I’ll hand them.
There are a handful of different sizes of this design, and last I checked they offer it with carbon fiber handles as well if you want to get really crazy. You can read a mostly in-depth review of the wood-handled FK5 here.
The kitchen is where many of us really use knives, so we figured we should include a few of our favorite chef knives in case you have a busy home cook on your gift list. We think just about any serious cook would be happy with these knives even if they already have a chef knife or two in the kitchen.
Lamson Premier Forged Chef Knife
|Blade Steel:||German 1.4116|
|Handle Material:||Acrylic, Walnut, or G-10|
This is a heavier, thicker-bladed chef knife that is about as Western as you can get in kitchen cutlery. Despite the thick blade, this knife cuts really well. It’s not quite the high-end performer of Wusthof or Shun, but it’s probably one of the more comfortable chef knives I’ve used. That’s thanks mostly to the boxy handle they’ve put on here. It makes the knife a lot nicer for people with larger (or fatter) hands. You also don’t see this particular color in the kitchen knife world much, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how dedicated you are to your kitchen’s weird color scheme.
Lamson is just a good manufacturer in general. They’re an American company based in Massachusetts that’s been around since European colonists were pushing into the Western frontier. That history doesn’t exactly make the knife better, but it does make the knife more interesting. You can read more about how much I liked the balance and handle, but disliked the full bolster in our full Lamson chef knife review here.
Tojiro DP Gyutou F808
|Spine Thickness:||1.9 mm|
|Handle Material:||Reinforced Laminate|
This knife was included in our 2020 gift guide, but we kept it in our 2021 gift guide, because it remains our favorite chef knife under $100. This a bit surprising considering that we tested over 20 chef knife at a similar price point in 2021.
The Tojiro DP F808 is one the most durable and versatile chef knives under $100. From a straight performance standpoint this knife is hard to beat at its current price point. It is full tang, sports a VG-10 blade and an ergonomic polyoxymethylene handle. It also has a great balance, excellent blade geometry and good edge retention. Its only downside from a gift standpoint is the rather boring packaging Tojiro chose for this knife.
That’s mostly because the company takes a high priory of function over style, so this would make a great present for a serious home cook who will appreciate the knife’s performance.
Check out our Tojiro DP Gyutou F808 review to learn more about this knife.
Dalstrong Shogun X Chef Knife
|Blade Steel:||67-layer Damascus w/ AUS-10V core and SUS410 cladding|
|Spine Thickness:||1.9 mm|
|Handle Material:||Reinforced Laminate|
The Shogun series is kind of a weird one, because Dlastrong went big on the Japanese styling, but the lines of this chef knife are mostly western with just a hint of a suggestion toward a gyuto.
Weird styling choices aside, this knife performs incredibly well. The grind is thin like a Japanese knife so it cuts pretty clean, and the balance and ergonomics make it pretty comfortable to use overall. Dalstrong knives in general make for splashy gifts, though. They put a lot of effort into their packaging, and every individual knife comes with a pin specific to the series it’s a part of. All of that is a bit too gaudy for me personally, but for whatever reason there are a bunch of people who are way into that kind of thing.
You can witness the full range of my ambivalence toward the Shogun X in my full review.
Mattia Borrani Bowie Chef Knife
|Blade Steel:||San Mai w/ VG-10 core|
|Blade Grind:||Convex to Flat|
For a design that looks it would just be a fun novelty, this bowie chef knife is ridiculously useful. It has a great edge, and decent steel in a San Mai plating which gives it a pretty high range of durability for a kitchen knife.
It’s also surprisingly comfortable for something with such an extreme ratio of blade to handle. It’s definitely going to be more blade heavy than most chef knives out there, but after adjusting to the weight distribution a bit, the height and shape of the blade come in really handy for all kinds of things from scooping up food trimmings to processing chicken.
If you want to trudge through a couple thousand words of me gushing about my favorite kitchen knife, here’s the full Mattia Borrani bowie chef knife review.