This story is part of our end-of-year series This Year in Gear, rounding up the most notable releases of 2021.
Best of the Best. It's not just a cheesy, cult-y '80s martial arts flick starring Eric Roberts, Philip Rhee and, somehow, James Earl Jones. It's also a great way to describe this list, sourced from the best new knives and EDC roundups we surface every month.
Those pieces are chock-full of awesome and innovative pocket knives, fixed blades, multi-tools and a smörgåsbord of releases that in one way or another, might find their way into your everyday carry. However you slice them, they all meet some subjective definition of "best." And the following 18 conscientiously curated items have something in common with a couple of characters named Alex Grady and Tommy Lee: they kick serious ass.
SOG Kiku XR LTE
Ever since SOG collaborated with Japanese knife designer Kiku Matsuda on the Kiku, it has re-released the knife in diverse variations. Now we have the Light Edition, which features a carbon fiber liner, a 3.02-inch blade and a highlighter-orange composite handle that weighs roughly four ounces.
Nite Ize G-Series Dual Chamber Carabiner
With a second gate, Nite Ize gave another compartment and an additional layer of security to its EDC carabiners. It reduces the risk that anything falls off when clipping and unclipping and lets you organize things between the two sections.
The Doubledown is, no joke, a machete. It's a short one, admittedly, with its 6.75-inch blade, but the reduced length allowed Gerber's designers to give it a unique two-piece handle. With a pivoting system reminiscent of Bali-Song knives (also known as butterfly knives), each piece rotates to go from being a handle to forming a protective sheath when the knife isn't in use.
Matador Keychain Mask
The best face mask is no good at all if you forget it at home. Matador's solution goes everywhere you do, thanks to a flash drive-sized solution that's at home with your keys. The polyester-Spandex face mask is soft and comfortable with adjustable ear loops, and it's easy to get in and out of its little silicone case. It's not ideal for everyday use but perfect in those inevitable forgotten mask pinches.
Filson x Buck Knives 104 Compadre Camp Knife
Filson and Buck Knives' latest collaboration is quite ideal for rugged adventures. The pair designed this fixed-blade knife and a small axe with tough steel and Micarta handles to handle rigorous outdoor tasks like processing kindling for a fire or skinning wild game.
Leatherman Ratchet Driver
This handy add-on brings ratchet driver functionality to many — but not all — Leatherman multi-tools. It works with the brand's unique flat bits as well as 1/4-inch ones you might already have from other companies.
Boker Barlow Prime
Boker started making Barlow knives — a folding type with a teardrop shape, rounded butt and well-defined bolster — way back in the late 1800s. With the addition of modern knifemaking tech, Boker made the new Barlow Prime without a bolster for a simpler profile. The slip joint action remains and includes an arrestor at 90 degrees so the knife won't close on your fingers.
PopSockets PopGrip SOG Multi-Tool
Sure, it's possible to wedge your phone under a bottle cap to pry it off, but that doesn't mean you should do it. An unlikely collaboration between PopSockets and SOG provides a more tactful method.
Benchmade Bugout Carbon Fiber
When Benchmade sought to upgrade one of its most beloved EDC pocket knives, the Bugout, it turned to carbon fiber. The knife was already a paragon of ultralight utility, but now that's truer than ever, thanks to a milled carbon-fiber handle. The Bugout 535-3 weighs just over two ounces but still maintains a 3.24-inch S90V super-steel blade that deploys with a slick lever-style AXIS lock.
Peak Design Field Pouch V2
Peak Design understands that your EDC might not always fit so nicely in your pockets, so it revamped its Field Pouch with a new pocket layout to better carry cords, memory cards, keys, a small camera, your go-to pocket knife or anything else that'd get lost in a larger bag. It even comes with a strap, so you can rock it as a sling if you're traveling light.
Hults Bruk The Agdor Splitting Axe
This recent release from Sweden's oldest axe maker features hand-forged Swedish steel, American hickory wood and a leather sheath. With a 20-inch handle and a 2-pound axe head, it's perfectly sized and weighted for chopping firewood and kindling around the campsite. So perhaps it's more of an EDCC: everyday camp carry.
Wolf Tooth Components 8-Bit Kit One
When needed, this candy bar-sized contraptions separates into the three multi-tools shown here. The far left one features pliers, all kinds of screwdrivers, a spoke wrench, valve core wrench and more. The center one is a tire lever and rim dent remover. The one on the right boasts a chainbreaker, a utility knife and a tire plug inserter, plus space for tire plug inserts, a valve core and a spare blade. What else do ya need?
The James Brand Carter XL
We've been fans of the original Carter since its release last winter. This supersized version costs just $20 more and boasts a VG-10 steel blade (noted for its corrosion resistance and edge retention) that's half an inch longer (3.3 inches) to tackle bigger jobs. Like its predecessor, the Carter XL also has machined G10 handle scales, a reversible deep carry clip and an ambidextrous slide lock.
WESN The MT
You'd be forgiven for mistaking WESN's latest drop for a mutated paperclip. But this minimalistic 2.75-inch creation offers more than meets the eye. As you might guess, it has a bottle opener. This tool also packs a flathead screwdriver/scraper (lower right corner above) and a pry bar top. Pretty dang handy for something you can attach to your keychain and forget all about, until you need it.
Renowned designer Jesper Voxnaes usually dreams up knives at his Loegstrup, Denmark shop. But this one he sketched at the Portland International Airport after his first visit to the area. Boasting a light but sturdy D2 steel drop-point blade, a snazzy glass-reinforced nylon handle and an oversized thumbhole for easy deploying, it’s the perfect EDC for the Rose City — or any city, really.
Work Sharp Precision Adjust Elite
Thanks to precise and repeatable edge angles and premium abrasives, Work Sharp’s original Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener was a big hit. Now the brand offers more, with seven abrasive grits and a carry case. Coarse 220, 320 and 400 grit diamond stones help re-profile blades, while 600 and 800 grit diamond stones refine and resharpen them, and fine ceramic and leather let you hone and strop sharp knives.
Opinel Limited Edition No.08 Escapade Folding Knives
For its latest collection, Opinel teamed up with Jérémy Groshens, a young French tattoo artist who travels and works from a 1972 Digue camper called the Outdoor Tattoo Truck. Not surprisingly, the three eye-catching knives he designed — including the Élévation shown here — are inspired by nature and tattoos.
Urban EDC Copita
This compact flipper, a collaboration between Urban EDC and the aforementioned Voxnaes, boasts the vaunted Danish designer's trademark combo of form and function. The 5.46-inch pocket knife deploys a tiny but mighty 2.26-inch M390 steel blade with a wide belly for making all kinds of cuts, plus contoured handles in brown or green micarta, plain titanium or black PVD titanium.