10 Best Ultralight Backpacking Knives and Multi-tools of 2021

10 Best Ultralight Backpacking Knives and Multi-tools

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.

Make / ModelTypeBlade LengthWeightMSRP
Leatherman Squirt PS4Multi-tool1.6"2 oz$40
Swiss Army ClassicMulti-tool1.5"0.7 oz$17
Spyderco Ladybug 3Folding Knife1.94"0.6 oz$64
SOG KeytronFolding Knife1.8"1.3 oz$25
Gerber Paraframe MiniFolding Knife2.25"1.6 oz$13
Benchmade 533 Mini BugoutFolding Knife2.8"1.5 oz$119
Nite Ize DoohicKeyFolding Knife2"0.67 oz$13
Kershaw ChiveFolding Knife1.9"1.7 oz$75
Opinel Number 6Folding Knife2.87"1.2 oz$14
Zero Tolerance 0022Folding Knife1.8"1.7 oz$275

1. Leatherman Squirt PS4

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.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

2. Swiss Army Classic

Swiss-Army-Classic-Knife
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.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

3. Spyderco Ladybug

Spyderco Ladybug 3 Purple
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.

Available from:
Amazon | Walmart

4. SOG Keytron

SOG Keytron
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.

Available from:
SOG | Amazon

5. Gerber Paraframe Mini Pocket Knife

Gerber Mini-Paraframe
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.

Available from:
Gerber | Amazon | Walmart

6. Benchmade 533 Mini Bugout Folding Knife

Benchmade 533 Mini Bugout Fine-Edge Knife
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.

Available from:
REI | Walmart

7. Nite Ize DoohicKey Key Chain Knife

Nite Ize Doohikey Key Chain Knife
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.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

8. Kershaw Chive

Kershaw Chive
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.

Available from:
Amazon | Cabelas

9. Opinel No.06 Pocket Knife

Opinel Number 6
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.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

10. Zero Tolerance 0022

Zero Tolerance 0022
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.

Available from:
Amazon | Cabelas

Backpacking Knife and Multi-Tool Guide

What do need it for?

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.

Loss prevention

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.

Edge types

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.

Blade shape

Most of the knives listed here have what are called drop points, clip points, and spear points which are all 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 clip point, the blade has the appearance of having the forward third of the blade “clipped” off. The clip itself can be straight or concave. This shape is also good for pull cuts but improves the knife’s ability to stab into objects like fruit or large vegetables. 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.

Opening system

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.

Lock types

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.

Weight

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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35 comments

  1. For a low cost option and a knife that I have used for years, both hiking and on the farm check out a knife in the camping dept. at WalMart. It’s a folding knife with a black nylon handle, a 2.25″ serrated, locking blade and weighs a mere 2oz.. The handle had a hole for attaching a lanyard, a belt clip and a button on the blade for easy one-handed opening. And cost only $1.97.
    I know some people have a negative option of products from WalMart, but I’ve used these knives for years. I have probably a dozen of these knives, in my car, my EDC bag, backpacks, jacket/pant pockets, tool box…..
    At $1.97, you don’t need to go looking for a knife, you can one in every place you may ever need one.

    • I think you mean this one.
      https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ozark-Trail-Stainless-Steel-Navaja-Pocket-Knife/19801134
      It’s serrated, so it’s wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s also 3.1″ long, according to Walmart, so you start backing up against what’s legal in certain states. It’s an Ozark Mountain product, which I’ve always found to be pretty “eh”, but as you said, you can buy a dozen and leave them all over the place.

      • That’s the one.
        Size would be a problem in some states, depends on how much traveling you do.
        As far as performance, I’ve never had one break and I use them everyday, cutting bales of hay open, all types of task and at $1.97 I’m not worried about breaking it, so I’m hard on them.

  2. Love my Opinel, especially after I learned how to open it by rapping it against my knuckle instead of using my thumbnail.

  3. My go to is the Style CS by Leatherman. The main thing that sets it apart for me is the bottle opener carabineer that makes it incredibly convenient and easy to clip to my pack strap or belt loop quickly without having to fumble around for it. Plus it’s nice to be able to pop a top if necessary. Only two downsides for me are that it isn’t a locking blade and I do wish that it had pliers. The Style PS would be my ideal backpacking multi tool if it had a blade in there somewhere since it has the pliers, but they made it bladeless so it is TSA friendly.

    Love the SOG key ring is very handy to have and is probably my most used sharp edge when not in the back country since it is always right there attached to my keys. Also have probably a half dozen of those Gerber paraframes in random drawers from random purchases over the past 15 years. Great little knives.

  4. One note on the Opinel. It’s not the most appropriate knife for wet conditions, because of the wooden handle. When it gets wet, the wood tends to swell, tightening around the blade and making it difficult to open and close safely

  5. My kids gave me an Opinel a few years ago and man can it slice! Great for cheese and hard salami because it’s so sharp and the blade is nice and thin. But as you say, it takes two hands to operate., and it’s a somewhat more complicated process than with a lockback like the light and compact Spyderco Dragonfly 2, which I also have. My favorite for backpacking, though, is the Benchmade Mini Bugout with aftermarket orange scales. I bought it before you could get one that way from Benchmade. Why is it my favorite? Most importantly because it can be operated with one hand both opening and closing. It seems much safer that way, particularly for closing.

  6. The Gerber LST (2 sizes) is another nice option

  7. The Gerber LST is a longtime favorite of mine. Strong and light with a hole for a lanyard. Slim and fits in the pocket very easily.

    https://www.gerbergear.com/en-us/shop/knives/all-knives/lst-22-06009

  8. In every day use and while backpacking, I use the pliers as much as I use the knife blade. The pliers are great for untying knots, picking up hot items, threading straps through buckles, etc. I wrote Leatherman and told them if they added the carabiner end and tweezers that’s on the Style CS to the Squirt PS4, they’d have the perfect backpacker’s multitool.

    I have a Style PS that’s really nice for backpacking, however it doesn’t have a knife blade. I may supplement it with something from this list.

    When small multitools intersect with personal disorganization, the multitools seem to run off and hide. Now, if I could just find my Squirt PS4, all I’d need to do is use the tweezers from my medical kit!

  9. Spyderco Ladybug price seems off..more like $40+?

  10. I like the Baladeo 27g knife for hiking. The blade is actually long enough to cut fruit, cheese, salami. The blade is even longer than the Opinel, the largest in this list. It’s also very easy to clean. I also carry a Swiss Army Classic for the scissors and tweezers, but it stays in my first aid kit.

    https://amzn.to/3zhdcoT

    • 3″ knife – same legal issues as mentioned previously.
      I actually prefer a more substantial knife.

    • I use the same thing, though sold under the name Deejo colour 27g here. Its minimalistic but well built, handles great and has a clever design with a locking blade. Substantial enough for opening meals, cutting tinder for a fire or sharpening sticks (in case one have lost a tent peg…) among others.

      However, for long trips an oldfashioned opinel is unbeatable because the soft metal it is so easy to sharpen, even on a flat piece of rock.

  11. The trick to opening the Opinel one-handed is to tap the bottom corner facing down on a surface and the blade pops out enough to open with one hand. It’s not as easy to do as some of the more modern knives, but I remember buying my first Opinel as a kid and the knife dealer showed the trick to me – he explained it was designed that way so it could be opened one-handed (compared to the other folding knives like Buck and Swiss Army which required two hands).

  12. Consider the Derma-safe Folding Utility Survival Knife- extremely sharp, less than $2, 8 gm.

    https://amzn.to/3lyLAqz

    • That thing looks like an ER visit waiting to happen. Non-locking blade and without a real handle. No, I don’t consider that piece of plastic something I’d want to grip while cutting into something with any amount of force.

      I’m not a UL person trying get every last gram out of my weight and for that reason I go the 2 knife route. A Spyderco Centofante (2.5 oz, full size blade) and the Swiss Army Classic for it’s multi-function. My pocket knife I want single handed open/close ability on a locking blade and something that can be sharpened (no serrated blades).

    • One handed operation – recent example – I pulled back a zipper and a bunch of threads came lose from the stitching that needed to be cut. Could I have let go of the threads with the hand that hand them, take off my pack, dig for knife, use both hands to open it, go searching for the threads again and cut them? Yes – easier to keep hold of the threads, grab the knife from my pocket, flick it open and cut.

      Blade lock? I just personally think it’s a requirement as a safety feature. YMMV.

  13. If I was to recommend a 58 mm or 65 mm Victorinox multi-tool, I would support the Rambler over the Classic SD. It has the same 2-layer width with the same 3 implements but adds the combination bottle opener/small 3-D Phillips tool. There is a 0.4 oz weight penalty, which is minimal, but you get a useful extra tool that doesn’t add volume.

    But personally, I would rather carry medium 85 mm or 91 mm multi-tools. There are too many options, but I like the Evolution Grip series like the EvoGrip 14 because they’re one of the few medium-width and length tools that includes a nail file. If you want the normal scales option, the Mountaineer is similar. I think having a larger knife and scissors for less than 3-4 oz is more handy than the small size Victorinox tools, especially if you carry the knife in a pack pocket instead of pants pocket. I’ve rotated through the Climber, Hunstman, and EvoGrip 14, and am carrying my new Outrider on most hikes to test out how I like the larger locking knife and saw. On my camping vacation in Idaho in July I loved having the large locking blade and scissors in camp for meal prep and eating, but the saw didn’t get much use since my friend’s relatives brought chainsaws and axes.

  14. A multitool is worth the extra ounces.
    Pliers, scissors, two blades, multiple screwdrivers, wire cutters, file, saw.

  15. If you can do without pliers, the Gerber Curve is another useful very small keychain knife. Best part is it’s got a bottle opener on it for us aspiring craft beer snobs. LOL

  16. For #2, I suggest the SAK Ambassador instead of the Classic. The knives are identical (same blade/tools), except the Ambassador is slightly larger. I find the few extra grams worth it to get tools that are a little more functional, especially for fat-fingered hikers like me, especially the scissors. The ones on the Classic are soooo small for me. The ones on the Ambassador are much more functional.

  17. I carry the Gerber Dime micro multitool. It weights in at 2.2 oz and also had a scissors. About half the price of the squirt but .2 oz heavier.

  18. The Gerber Paraframe Mini is dangerous because of its flawed design. The holes in the handle look great and certaibnly make the knife lighter but they are too large. When the blade is closed you can even touch the blade’s cutting edge with your fingers. This means when you have it in your pocket it can inadvertently cut through it if fabric gets caught in it and you can cut yourself when pulling it out. Watch out!

  19. I have a Gerber Paraframe and it’s too heavy. Now I use a tiny Gerber lockblade that looks like the Nite-Ie Doohickey keychain knife.

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