In some form or another, knives have been around for millions of years. Over the course of that time, thousands of variations and styles have been paraded out to the masses. While many of these knives have proven themselves by quietly helping build civilization, only a select few have truly transcended the ranks to become 'iconic.'
This list is dedicated to those knives.
Defining what it means to be 'iconic' is no easy task because the word has several definitions. An icon can be something that's extremely successful and admired or something that's widely recognized and representative of a whole. The knives on this list will undeniably show traits of an icon in the knife world.
Making a list like this is difficult, typically controversial, and completely subjective. To make our decisions more transparent, we are laying out the guidelines for why one knife made the list and another did not.
In order to make it on the list, the knife must be the following:
- A production knife. We've decided to confine this list only to factory-made knives. So even though a custom knife like the Bob Loveless Drop Point Hunter is a revolutionary knife, we are only focusing on production knives to prevent this list from being too bloated.
- Still in production. Sure, the Spyderco Worker was the first knife to introduce the pocket clip and really set the standard for early tactical folders, but it's no longer available. We want this to be a list of knives that are still around.
- Easily recognizable to most knife users. One of the official definitions of iconic is something that's widely recognized and well-established. A knife will not always be known by everyone, but if it is famous outside or inside the knife community, it counts.
- Game-changing. Whether by introducing a new feature to the knife world or simply popularizing a certain style of knives, the knife must have been transformative by adding something new and unique.
Here's the list, in no particular order.
1. Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
We're starting off the list with one of the most iconic knives around the world.
With its vibrant red scales and recognizable symbol, Victorinox Swiss Army knives established a new genre of knives with a versatile design that's been acknowledged as one of the best ever. We could have easily picked any of Victorinox's Swiss Army knives, but the Classic SD rightfully earns its place on the list for being the most popular model around the world.
The Classic SD is the epitome of the Swiss Army knife with a compact and useful design that's light and portable. Despite weighing less than an ounce, the Classic SD features seven tools: a pen blade, nail file, screwdriver, key ring, toothpick, tweezers, and scissors. Introduced in 1935, the Classic SD is by no means the oldest Swiss Army knife, but it did help influence countless other knives.
2. Case Trapper
Like the Swiss Army knife, pretty much any Case knife could have made it onto this list, but we went with the Trapper. By no means did Case invent the pocket knife, but it can be argued that Case (along with the Trapper) helped make pocket knives a thing.
Introduced by Case in the 1920s, the Trapper remains Case's most popular model. The Trapper has a basic trapping and skinning blade (a clip and spey blade) that was directly inspired by the jack-knife. This is the knife of choice for those looking for versatility.
Having been produced for nearly 100 years, it's no surprise the Trapper is not only among Case's most collected pattern but also one of the most iconic.
3. Kershaw Leek
The Kershaw Leek is one of the newest knives to make the list, but its inclusion is no accident. Designed by legendary knifemaker Ken Onion, the Leek transformed the factory knife market by sparking the assisted opening craze still present in folders.
To be clear, the Leek was not the first assisted opening knife, but through a perfect storm of design choices, the Leek set the standard of what the perfect EDC should strive to be.
The original Leek features a perfectly sized 3-inch bead-blasted blade made of Sandvik 14C28N steel. The handle itself is bead-blasted 410 stainless steel, making it durable but surprisingly natural in the hand. It has a nice slim design for anyone who wants a truly portable knife that can handle nearly anything.
Of course, one of the best features on the knife is Ken Onion's Speed-Safe assisted opening system, which uses a revolutionary torsion bar to allow quick and reliable deployment with one finger.
4. Old Timer 8OT Senior Stockman
To many people, having that familiar 'OLD TIMER' phrase emblazoned on a knife's handle instantly indicates it's made with quality and precision. The Old Timer brand by Schrade is truly a knife institution, and the Old Timer 8OT Senior Stockman is the most popular Old Timer out there.
In 1960, the 8OT was only the second Old Timer ever produced (the 2OT was the first but is no longer in production). The well-known stockman pattern was not an original pattern, but the Old Timer line was released during a time when designers were aiming to make the newest and most advanced knives.
The creators of the Old Timer line wanted to make knives that harkened back to the days of their granddad. Despite the old-fashioned look and feel of the knife (or perhaps due to that fact), the 8OT became explosively popular and respected by casual and hard-core knife users.
Suffering a scare when the original Schrade factory closed its doors in 2004, the Old Timer line was quickly saved by Taylor Brands LLC, which still puts out the knives based on the original designs.
5. Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza
If you ask a layman for a list of the best knives of all time, the Sebenza probably wouldn't be on the list, but any knife enthusiast would put the Sebenza at the top. The first production Sebenza was introduced in 1990 and has been one of the most influential and sought after knives of the past 50 years.
There are currently five Sebenza models, including two classic versions, two regular versions, and the Sebenza 25. The newer models feature a sand-blasted titanium handle with a premium quality CPM S30V steel blade.
The true influence of the knife shines through the seamless design, the fluency of the movements, and the way it feels in the hand. The Sebenza is the pinnacle of production knife folders and boasts a design that every other manufacturer has borrowed from. Reeve also invented something called the Reeve Integral Lock (R.I.L), which is now more commonly known as the framelock.
Starting out as a custom knifemaker, Chris Reeve managed to find a way to produce a large number of Sebenzas while retaining the quality and precision of custom knives. Not only does the Sebenza cost a pretty penny, but you typically have to go on a waiting list to get one of these prized knives.
The loyal following and the legend behind the CRK Sebenza has helped propel it to an iconic status that's well known in the knife world.
6. Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter
We didn't rank these in order, but the Buck 110 Hunter would be #1 without a doubt. The Buck 110 is such an iconic knife that it essentially feels like it's been around since the beginning of time. In fact, the knife was first introduced in 1963, when it forever revolutionized the world of hunting knives (and knives in general).
Although it was designed to act as a large folding knife used for butchering and skinning game, the knife quickly gained popularity among casual knife users. The Buck 110 is surprisingly large with a blade length of 3.75 inches, but the clip point proved extremely useful. The knife also has those luscious brass bolsters and a woodgrain handle.
Part of the reason why the Buck 110 is so easily recognizable is that it's been one of the most mimicked knives ever made. In fact, the Model 110 has led to other knives with a similar design to be simply referred to as a Buck knife.
If that wasn't enough to earn it a place on the list, Buck has sold more than 15 million of these knives, making it one of the best-selling knives ever.
7. Spyderco Endura 4
When it was released in 1990, the Endura was mocked for its weird and unconventional appearance, but it became highly regarded and frequently copied. The knife pioneered the modern tactical folder and introduced the thumb hole, making one-handed opening on an everyday carry a must.
Spyderco has never been one to shy away from innovation, even at the expense of sexiness (see: Spyderco Dodo), and the knife world is better off for it. Now in its fourth iteration, the Endura has a 3.75-inch VG-10 steel blade with a larger opening hole, an ergonomically designed FRN handle, and a new screw construction for easy maintenance.
8. KA-BAR USMC Utility
The description from KA-BAR's site sums up this knife the best: 'The most famous fixed blade knife in the World - ‘the KA-BAR' - was designed to serve our troops during World War II and is still doing its job, with honors, 70 years later.'
One of the main reasons the KA-BAR knife is so well known is because it was issued to troops, meaning millions of men owned and depended on the knife. Since then, the USA-made knife has only become more widespread and respected for its use in WWII.
As its name implies, the USMC Utility was designed to be a multipurpose knife that could be used in combat or general utility. The recognizable knife has a 7-inch blade made of 1095 Cro-Van steel along with a comfortable leather handle.
Amazingly, after more than 70 years, the KA-BAR continues to be one of the first choices for men and women in the military. Not only that, but it's also a first choice for many civilians, making it an easy addition to the list.
9. Emerson CQC-7
Like the Sebenza, the Emerson CQC-7 may not be one of the most recognizable knives to the casual user, but the knife has had a huge impact on the knife industry.
The Emerson CQC-7 was actually based on the custom folder CQC-6. The CQC-6 (which is named after Close Quarters Combat and SEAL Team Six) became a status symbol among members of elite military units for its nearly flawless design.
First designed in 1989, the CQC-6 was one of the first knives to truly establish a functional tactical folder and was hugely popular in knife circles. Benchmade Knives wanted to make Ernest Emerson's custom folder available to the masses, so Emerson created the CQC-7. (He wanted to keep the CQC-6 as a custom exclusive.)
The CQC-7 is produced in large numbers by Emerson Knives, allowing people to get their hands on the knife without the long wait and exorbitant prices.
Along with setting the standard for tactical folders, the CQC-7 also popularized Emerson's patented Wave opening device. This is a small wave-like protrusion atop the 4-inch blade that catches the edge of the pocket and opens in one swift movement.
Like any good knife, the CQC-7 has been made into several versions, including a highly regarded Mini CQC-7 model.
10. Schrade Old Timer 152OT Sharpfinger
Although the 8OT featured earlier on the list is one of Old Timer's most distinct models, the Old Timer Sharpfinger has had one of the biggest impacts on the knife world by introducing a unique style that has since been mimicked by many other manufacturers.
Similar to what happened with the Buck 110, the Sharpfinger essentially became a generic term used for knives in this style, but the Old Timer version was the original.
This unique fixed blade was introduced at a time when huge blades were all the rage for hunting knives, but the 3.3-inch upswept blade was something a bit different. As large hunting knives fell out of favor, the more timeless Sharpfinger exploded in popularity.
What helped the Sharpfinger become the iconic knife it is today was its versatility. Workers and casual knife users adopted this knife as an everyday carry, despite the fact that it was originally made for hunters.
11. Opinel #7
If you live in the United States, you might be a little surprised at the inclusion of the Opinel, but the knife is an unmistakable international knife icon. Hugely popular worldwide, the unique Opinel has a simple design that's been selected for many of the most prestigious awards.
This French knife has a patented locking ring that's completely unique to the Opinel and is made even more famous by the fact that it's startlingly inexpensive. History is on the knife's side as well. Joseph Opinel began making a working man's knife in the 1890 that quickly won over locals.
The famous camp knife is still made of authentic alpine wood and features a nice blade in various sizes, including an Opinel with a 3.5-inch blade. If you're still not convinced of the Opinel's impact and popularity, 20 million of these knives were sold by 1939. You can only imagine how many more were sold over the next 75 years.
12. Benchmade Griptilian
From one of the oldest pocket knives around we move on to one of the newest on the list: the Benchmade Griptilian. Benchmade is known for making some of the most respected knives, but the Griptilian hit all the right spots with consumers.
Always one to impress the hard-core knife enthusiasts, Benchmade really didn't connect with the masses until the Mel Pardue-designed Griptilian jumped onto the scene with its 154CM steel and grippy handle.
And even though the Benchmade 710 has the privilege of being the first to rock the innovative AXIS Lock, it was the Griptilian that truly popularized the critically acclaimed mechanism.
Numerous versions of the Griptilian have been released, including a popular mini version of the knife.
Issued to the famed Devil's Brigade, the V-42 is a stiletto and fighting knife based on the Fairbairn-Sykes design. The dagger-like knife was specifically designed for the First Special Service Force for use in combat. Originally manufactured by Case, only a few thousand of these knives were shipped to the special forces.
Still, the impact of the V-42 was great. Seen on the badges of several forces, the V-42 is widely recognized and commonly associated with WWII. Functional recreations of the knife have been made by brands like Boker Plus and CAS Hanwei.
Built for close quarters combat, the V-42 features a 7-inch SK-5 carbon steel blade with a black coating and a handle made of compressed leather discs. This iconic knife is truly a piece of history.
14. Buck 119 Special
Similar to the way the Buck 110 took off upon introduction, the Buck 119 was an instant hit among hunters and outdoorsmen. The Buck 119 Special is a fixed blade hunting knife with an instantly recognizable look and a rich history.
As the best-selling fixed blade at Buck, the 119 showcases the excellent craftsmanship at the company with a powerful and versatile knife. The 6-inch 420HC stainless steel blade makes the knife a sort of smaller Bowie knife while the phenolic handle with guard gives it a classic feel.
The general design of the Buck Special hasn't changed over the past 50 years, but the knife is still highly regarded and copied in many aspects.
15. Gerber Mark II
As previously demonstrated by the addition of the KA-BAR and the V-42, war knives are common candidates for iconic knives because of their notoriety and widespread use. The Gerber Mark II is another one of those iconic war knives, but this one was issued in the Vietnam War.
The 40-year-old Mark II is one of the top-selling knives with a style similar to the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife of WWII. It has a thin double-edged spear-point blade that's nearly 7 inches long. Along with the KA-BAR, the Mark II was heavily relied upon during the war and it likely saved many lives.
Also, if film offers any indication of notoriety and influence, the Mark II has been awarded tons of screen time in numerous movies, from Alien to The Road Warrior.
Gerber still sells the Mark II, but it's marketed more as a survival knife.
16. Fallkniven F1
So far on the list, we've had iconic knives from Switzerland, France, the United States, and South Africa. The next iconic knife came from Scandinavia, before becoming a highly respected knife around the world: the Fallkniven F1.
Pronounced Felk-nee-ven, Fallkniven is a Swedish-based manufacturer that's best known for supplying high-quality military and outdoor knives, and the F1 is the company's piece de resistance. Since 1995, the F1 has been the official survival knife for all pilots in the Swedish Air Force, and the knife was so well received that it was even tested and approved for use by air crews in the Marines and U.S. Navy.
The Fallkniven F1 is a deceptively simple knife with a 3.8-inch drop point blade made of laminated VG-10 steel and a durable Thermorun handle that provides a reliable grip. The F1 takes a completely different philosophy to survival knives: It doesn't have much pizzazz, but you can comfortably put your life in its hands.
Since its release, the F1 has become a sort of benchmark for all other survival knives and started a trend in which functionality and simplicity beat out flashiness and gimmicks.
17. CRKT M16
Knifemaker Kit Carson was truly a master at innovation and put tons of thought into his knives, but the CRKT M16 is by far the most iconic of his creations. Introduced in 1999, this relatively new knife has had a big impact on the knife world with a new take on what an affordable tactical knife for everyday carry could be.
The M16, based off Carson's custom design, has been one of CRKT's best-received and best-selling series. But what truly makes this knife iconic and transcendent is the Carson Flipper.
Although the flipper opening mechanism was already seen in earlier knives, it was the M16 that helped popularize the now-widespread opening system. Since its inception, the knife has been significantly improved upon with enough versions to meet and exceed anyone's needs.
The M16z is the culmination of these improvements with a 3.5-inch AUS8 steel blade with an InterFrame construction and CRKT's patented AutoLAWKS. And, of course, it has the now ever-present flipper.
18. Leatherman Wave
The Leatherman pushed its way onto the list by quietly slipping into the pockets of people around the world. The Swiss Army knife was the first iconic multi-tool, but Leatherman is quickly making an argument that it's on par with, if not better than, the Victorinox knives.
Back in the 1970s, Timothy Leatherman set out to design a scout knife with pliers when he found a typical multi-tool too limiting. He finally succeeded with the original Leatherman tool (now retired), but continually improved upon the design until the Wave.
As Leatherman's most popular model, the Wave has set itself apart from the pack by offering 17 different tools made of durable 420HC stainless steel. The best part is that the Leatherman Wave locks when closed, making it easy to fit right in the pocket.
Like many of the knives on this list, the Leatherman has essentially become a generic term for a multi-tool with pliers. As many companies continue to mimic the Leatherman design, these knives will only become more iconic.
19. Spyderco Military
The Spyderco Endura and Delica offered something new, but the Spyderco Military is probably the most mimicked and well-known of all the Spydies. Since its launch in the 1990s, the Military — which is the cornerstone of the Save and Serve lineup — has been in the hands of tons of people, especially those in the military, police, and rescue services.
As a large folder, the Military is surprisingly lightweight and extremely powerful, two attributes you'd want when entering hostile situations. The Military has a one-handed opening thumb hole and a huge 4-inch blade made of CPM S30V steel with a modified clip point.
One thing was certain about the Spyderco Military when it came out: It did not look like a typical military knife. Since the Military, other manufacturers have been trying to copy the ergonomic design, durable liner lock, and slim but powerful profile.
The success of the knife has led to numerous versions of the Military, including the smaller Para Military.
20. Mora of Sweden Mora
If there was a people's choice award for most iconic knife, the Mora would be near the top. This is another one of those knives not extremely common in the United States, but its low price and high quality makes it widespread throughout Europe.
A Mora knife is a generic term for a Scandinavian knife from medieval times, but it was Mora of Sweden that truly began crafting the modern version over a century ago.
The Mora's popularity has only grown over the past 100 years, and it's become extremely common in the bushcrafting world because of its durable and no-nonsense design.
Several companies have tried to sell exact copies of the Mora, but they weren't the same as the originals. However, many manufacturers to this day still take cues from the simple and easily adaptable Mora. You can typically get different types of Mora knives in various handle and blade types, but the most iconic has to be the Mora Companion.