A Well-Made Pocket Knife

It slices, it dices, it saves your hide in all sorts of situations. Don't leave home without one.

Illustration: Jameson Simpson

Believe it or not, there remain some things an iPhone cannot do. For those (as yet) “app-less” tasks—opening boxes, halving an apple, performing emergency tracheotomies—you still need the original smart device: a well-made pocket knife.

Folding knives may have been around for millennia, but pockets have not, so it wasn’t until the 18th century that the two came together, most notably with the Barlow knife. Details are murky on its exact provenance (Iowa? Connecticut? England?) but the single-blade knife with a characteristically long bolster was the national, EDC standard for two centuries, mentioned by both Lincoln and Twain. Even Uncle George was known to pack one.

The best way to acquire a pocket knife is, of course, to inherit it. Something with your grandfather’s monogram or a bit of scrimshaw inlay comes off as inimitably preferable. But an heirloom knife is also at risk for TSA confiscation, so when shopping, stay practical. An unwieldy knife is less likely to be on hand when you need it, thus completely defeating its purpose.

For sleek simplicity, try Kershaw’s Leek knife. Its matte-finish, 3-inch locking blade opens easily with one hand and is svelte enough to disappear in slim jeans. The traditional-minded might investigate the Small Stockman from Case Knives. Case (like Buck) is an American institution; they offer this classic 3-blade style in a handful of finishes (go with genuine stag antler). And of course there’s always the Victorinox Officer’s Knife, brought home in truckloads by American soldiers after World War II and dubbed the “Swiss Army Knife.” Victorinox still makes the classic red multi-tool, just make sure to opt for the basics (corkscrew, yes; USB drive, no).

Once you settle on a knife, it will remind you of your smartphone in one other way: namely, you’ll wonder what the hell you ever did without it.

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