Pocket knives are so useful but so easy to lose, especially when you’re camping. That’s why the Opinel pocket knife deserves a closer look. It’s an affordable, versatile knife that claims to perform like more expensive ones.
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If you’re like me, you’ve lost a couple of folding knives, both cheap and expensive ones. It always brings that dilemma of investing in a new fancy one that you risk losing or opting for a cheap one that’s likely to disappoint. I was excited when I heard about a knife that’s both affordable and dependable and floats if you drop it in the lake.
A Closer Look at the Opinel Pocket Knife
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Opinel started as a small family business in Gevoudaz, France. In 1890, Joseph Opinel, the grandson of the founder, invented the Opinel pocket knife. Soon, he developed 12 different sizes. All except the tiny No. 1 and long No. 11 are still around to this day. The simple, affordable, yet durable Opinel pocket knives quickly gained popularity among farmers, rail workers and others who needed a convenient all-purpose knife. They remain popular and, other than slight improvements to the materials and blade shape, they’re the same tried and true knives. There’s also a newer and bigger model, the No. 13, also known as “Le Giant.”
There’s nothing fancy about an Opinel pocket knife. It doesn’t have any complex features. It’s a traditional, lightweight folding knife that cuts well. Opinel prioritizes what really matters in a good folding knife and keeps the price down. That keeps the Opinel pocket knife among the timeless classics like Mora.
The most popular Opinel pocket knife is the No. 8. The blade is long enough for most purposes, but the knife is small and light enough to carry in your pocket everywhere you go. It’s ideal for campers, fishermen, and outdoorsmen.
For this part, we’ll focus on the Opinel pocket knife No. 8, but most details apply to all models, other than the size. The No. 8 has an 8.5-centimeter (roughly 3.35-inch) blade. Each model’s blade length approximately matches its name in centimeters. The handle of No. 8 is about 4.4 inches long and typically consists of French beech wood. This Opinel pocket knife only weighs about 1.6 ounces, and it’s about 7.6 inches long when in use. The blade of a No. 8 is 1.6 to 1.8mm wide, depending on the exact edition. It has a Yatagan shape with a slight clip point and a very fine bevel. It’s a very sharp blade with quite sharp spine edges which make it ideal for starting fires with flint and other scraping tasks.
There are only five parts to a modern Opinel pocket knife: a blade, a handle, a pivot pin, a safety ring, and a clamping band. The four smallest models don’t have a safety ring, but you can get them with a key ring attachment. Opinel’s Virobloc safety ring isn’t an essential feature, but it adds some extra safety and reliability by locking the blade into a fully open or fully folded position.
In addition to different sizes, there are versions with different materials. The main choice you must make is the blade material. Carbone models have X90 high-carbon steel blades. Stainless versions use Swedish high-grade Sandvik 12C27 steel. The popular No. 8 and No. 6 also come in a variety of different editions, with handles made from horn or polymer, and various extra features like thumb-hole openers and serrated edges. You can also get them in different colors and with different engravings. There are even ones with unfinished handles that you can carve to your liking.
Opening your Opinel pocket knife usually takes two hands. The blade slot in the handle is very snug, and the nail nick is small. Furthermore, if you use the safety ring, you’ll need to twist that as well. However, there is a trick to open it with one hand. If you hold it by the pommel with the blade facing down and knock the front tip against a table or tree stump with a downward motion, it’ll fold open.
The blade is stable and doesn’t wiggle at all. It’s also very sharp out of the box. While the handle is a simple, round design, it has a comfortable swell in the middle and a flared pommel. A minimal varnish reduces slippage. There’s no blade guard, but the grip is good enough to prevent slipping. Unless you try to use a powerful stabbing thrust, which isn’t the purpose of this knife. What I really like is how the light wooden handle makes the knife float in water. So the stainless steel Opinel pocket knife is ideal for fishing and hiking. The Carbone version isn’t as suitable since carbon steel is prone to rust. However, cleaning and greasing the knife after use keeps it in good condition.
The Opinel pocket knife keeps its edge well for the price range. But you’ll have to sharpen it if you use it a lot. It’s easy to sharpen, especially if it’s a carbon steel model. A new Opinel pocket knife can cut through a 3/4-inch manila rope in one or two swipes. It can cut through a magazine or newspaper with a clean line. While camping, you can use it for countless things, including carving wood and field-dressing wild game.
What users think
Buyers say it stays sharp and cuts like more expensive knives. In addition to the price, they say they like it for carving, cutting food, and general everyday carry. It gets an Amazon rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. The only common complaint is that the wood might swell and make the knife harder to open. However, you can fix this by oiling the hinge and heating the knife in your oven or over a campfire.
The price varies a lot depending on the model. You can get a Carbone Opinel pocket knife for between $8 and $65, while the stainless steel models cost between $12 and $200.
How the Opinel Pocket Knife Compares
Assessing the quality of the Opinel pocket knife is easier if we compare it to some competitors. So let’s compare it to the Smith & Wesson SWA24S, Spyderco Endura 4 Emerson, and Kershaw Leek.
How we reviewed
These comparisons result from the research of each knife and what users think of them. Most of the information comes from Amazon customer reviews.
Smith & Wesson SWA24S
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The SWA24S is a special operations knife, but it makes a viable everyday carry knife for outdoorsmen and campers too. It’s a highly concealable lightweight pocket knife with a multi-purpose blade.
The knife weighs 3.6 ounces. It’s 7.1 inches long when open. The blade is 3.1 inches long. It has an aluminum handle with cutouts toward the back that reduce the weight. The handle has a thumb ramp with ridges for extra grip and a small blade guard. There’s also a belt clip attached to the end. The handle itself is pretty short, so if you have big hands, it may feel awkward to use. Due to the minimal flaring and blade guard, it’s not good for straight thrusts since your hand can slip so that you either cut yourself or lose the knife.
The blade consists of 7Cr17MoV Black Oxide S.S. It’s got a sharp pointy tip and a small protrusion toward the end that acts as a blade guard. A thumb stud on each side helps with folding the knife. Almost half of the blade is serrated, and it has a saw back, so it’s a versatile survival knife. The blade isn’t as sharp as that of the Opinel pocket knife though. A line lock holds the blade in place when closed, and you release it with a trigger button. However, it may not always lock fully, and it’s easy to open the knife without unlocking.
The primary advantage of the SWA24S is the ease of opening. You push the little button, and the blade pops out. It’s not spring-assisted, so it doesn’t flip out all the way. However, it’s a tiny button, so you need to practice if you want consistent quick openings.
If you need fine cuts, you’ll have to sharpen the blade. Its factory edge isn’t that sharp, and it’ll catch and rip a bit. It’s more suitable for rough work. And due to the tiny size, this knife won’t show in your pocket. The belt clip can help hold it in place in your pocket or even inside your clothes.
Users say it’s well-balanced, durable, and a great value for the price. They give it an Amazon rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.
It’s close in price to a small carbon Opinel pocket knife.
Spyderco Endura 4 Emerson
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The original Spyderco Endura from the 1980s was one of the first lightweight pocket knives with a belt clip. It’s seen a few significant revisions over the years, and we’re now looking at the fourth generation. The Emerson edition uses the patented Emerson wave opening design for quicker drawing. If you’re looking for a deluxe pocket knife rather than a penny knife, this is a worthy candidate.
The signature feature here is the Emerson Opening system. A small hook on the backside of the blade catches on your pocket when you draw the knife, and that flips the blade open. That way, you can easily open it with one hand without any special moves. It comes in handy when you’re carrying things or holding a rope taut, and you need to cut something.
The blade is 97mm (roughly 3.8 inches) long and 3mm wide, while the handle is 5 inches long. So, it’s just above eight inches long when open, and five inches when closed. The whole knife weighs 3.6 ounces. It’s American-built with quality materials. The blade consists of Japanese VG-10 stainless steel with a reinforced tip. Injection-molded FRN (fiberglass-reinforced nylon) makes up the handle. It has a bi-directional texture that reduces slippage, and the front protrudes a bit to prevent your hand from slipping onto the blade.
A firm back lock mechanism ensures that the blade stays straight when it’s open. The lock release is ambidextrous. You can also set the carrying clip into four different positions, which lets you carry it facing up or down on either side of your body.
There’s no assisted opening mechanism. The Emerson hook is the closest thing, but you also get a thumb hole for easier manual flipping. The blade is similar in both shape and performance to the Opinel pocket knife. However, it’s saber-ground with a rich bevel, and it’s a smoother shape without sharp angles.
The blade is very durable and holds its edge for a long time. It’s a popular military knife, but it’s also ideal for camping and fishing. It goes through rope, wood, and rubber hoses with ease. While it’s lightweight, it’s a heavy-duty knife.
Users like the quality, durability, and ease of use. Some find it a bit clunky for everyday carry, and some say the clip may come off. Despite that, it gets 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Compared to the Opinel pocket knife, that’s quite pricey. If you prefer big name quality, this isn’t much. However, you could still get multiple Opinels for the same price.
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Somewhere between the expensive Spyderco and the cheap Opinel pocket knife, you find the Kershaw Leek. It’s one of Kershaw’s most popular knives and comes in a variety of colors. The famous Ken Onion designed the SpeedSafe opening mechanism for this and many other Kershaw knives.
The Leek features a thin, three-inch modified drop-point blade. It’s versatile with dependable slicing capabilities and a sharp tip for piercing and precision work. This Sandvik 14C28N steel blade can hold its edge for a very long time. There’s also a thumb stud on each side for easy opening.
The 410 stainless steel makes the handle sturdy and resistant to the elements. It’s slim and flat, but it has a profile that keeps it firmly in your hand. An indentation followed by a flare in the front acts as a simple blade guard. The handle is four inches long, and the whole knife weighs three ounces. That’s almost twice as heavy as the Opinel pocket knife No. 8, but you won’t feel that when you clip it to your belt.
You find the flipper trigger on the back of the handle. A quick pull activates the torsion bar to flip the blade open and locks it in place. You can also open it with a hard push on the thumb stud. Both ways are quick, easy, and safe.
Other than the clip and assisted opening mechanism, it’s a lot like the Opinel pocket knife. The sharp three-inch blade lends itself well to carving, cutting rope, taking branches off of trees, and cutting clothes. When you’re carving, the sharp tip helps you with fine details. The Leek works for both right-handed and left-handed people. You can also adjust the clip to your liking.
Users praise the sharpness, the assisted opening, and the quality materials. However, some feel that the grip isn’t great. That lands it at 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
While it’s no penny knife, it’s rather affordable. However, some versions cost more or less.
Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve covered the specifications and comparisons let’s summarize things. These are the strengths and weaknesses of the Opinel pocket knife.
Overall, an excellent camping knife. If you want a simple, tried-and-true pocket knife, it’s an ideal choice.
If you’re looking for something with all the bells and whistles, this isn’t it. In that case, the Endura 4 or Leek are better choices.
Is the Opinel Pocket Knife Right for You?
One hundred and twenty years of widespread use doesn’t mislead. The Opinel pocket knife is a dependable tool for camping, hiking, and more. With a variety of sizes all featuring the same trusty design and abilities, it’s hard to go wrong with an Opinel pocket knife. And they’re so cheap that you can get a few different models if you can’t choose. You can think of it as a foldable Mora knife, and who wouldn't want that?