Little Big Knives | Small Knives that Outperform their Weight Class

It has been said that we can do anything with a large knife that we can do with a small knife, but a small knife can’t always do the job of a larger knife. There is nothing wrong with large knives, and anyone who is “into” cutlery likely has a few knives that most people would consider to be on the larger side.

How large is a large knife? Some folks consider a folder with a blade that’s four inches or longer to be large. Many consider a fixed blade with a blade length that’s six inches or longer to be large. I’m not sure there is an official definition of what constitutes “large”, and if you ask ten different people, you might get eleven various answers.

Large knives are great for brutish jobs, including camping chores, chopping wood, clearing brush, making shelter, and all manner of outdoor activities. They’re also nice for tactical applications, such as prying open doors and windows if the operator doesn’t have a purpose-built tool on hand. In fact, the wide range of tasks that they’re good for is way beyond the expanse of my imagination.

If I’m heading into the wilds (which doesn’t happen often enough for me these days), a fixed blade of at least four or five inches will be accompanying me.

So, why carry a small knife if larger knives are so awesome?


In many jurisdictions, there are laws that limit the blade length that can legally be carried. Often, the limit is 2.5 or three inches.

Fear Factor

A sad commentary on our society is that people can be frightened by inanimate objects. Unfortunately, knives can scare people. However, we can mitigate the fear of those around us by using small knives. Normally, I’m not one to acquiesce to peoples’ irrational fears, but in some occupational settings, one might have little choice in the matter.

Size & Weight Considerations

Sometimes, we just can’t or don’t want to carry large, heavy items. Space and weight considerations can influence us.

Personal Preference

Certain people just like smaller things. That’s not an inuendo, get your filthy mind out of the gutter, you pervert! Personal preference can play a role.


Certain materials and tasks are simply better handled by a smaller blade because it allows more precision.

Undoubtedly, a myriad of other reasons exist in favor of smaller knives, and the reader could likely add his or her ideas to this list.

The job I currently work at is pretty mundane and doesn’t require me to perform massive cutting tasks. I’m not chopping down small trees or anything dramatic. Rather, most cutting tasks that I perform consist of cutting plastic shrink wrap from pallets of merchandise and cardboard, along with other small, routine tasks like opening packages. I just don’t need a large knife at work, and carrying something on the larger side would get in my way.

Small Knives – Heavy Duty Performance

Moving right along, let’s take a look at some of the knives out there today that fit the bill for this article. Mind you, this list is far from all-inclusive. Quite the contrary; this is only a tiny sampling of what is out there for the reader to acquire.

Why did I choose these particular knives? Because I own these knives and can write about them with enough knowledge to actually sound as though I know what I’m talking about (at least, with a modicum of success). If your favorite knife isn’t on my list, it doesn’t mean it didn’t qualify, it just means that I’m not rich enough to own all the cool knives that are out there.

The list of knives that I’ve included here is what I consider to be somewhat moderately priced, being within reach of most people. A few run under or around $100, with one being around the $300 mark. My aim is not to do an in-depth review on each knife, but rather a quick overview to give the reader an idea of what’s out there on the market.

For the most part, the knives I chose for the list have a blade length of three inches or less.

Spyderco Para 3

The Spyderco Para 3 has been around for a few years and is is an old favorite with many Spyderco fanatics. Its popularity suggests that it will be around for a little while longer, too.

The Light Weight (LW) version weighs 2.4 ounces for those who are looking for a very light knife, and it includes a handle made from FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon). Some people have voiced concerns that the FRN seems “cheap” or “flimsy”, but I can assure you that it’s good stuff that will hold up to heavy use.

Spyderco Para Three, three configurations.

Spyderco’ Para 3 is slim and takes up little pocket space. It slices with the best of them and is light and rugged.

The blade length is 2.92 inches, so it falls under the 3-inch restriction that some localities impose. The blade is not very thick, so the full flat ground (FFG) blade slices extraordinarily well. The Compression Lock is one of the very best of any knife ever produced, in that it’s simple and easy to operate, and seems to last forever without developing issues. The opening hole, a Spyderco trademark, makes opening this blade extremely easy and efficient.

Blades can be had in either a straight edge or partially serrated. A variety of finishes are also available, as well as handle materials. The Para 3 LW is one of my personal favorites and I always have one on me. For those wishing for a more solid feel, the G-10 handled Para 3 is a real winner.

Whichever model you choose, you’ll likely be very satisfied with it as a durable, very “slicey” knife. It’s great for both utility and self-defense. Cost, as of this writing, is just over $100 for the LW version, and slightly more if you’re after G-10, and represents perhaps the best value for performance of any knife you will run across.

Spyderco Native

This is another of my favorites. The Native is just a very sensible, solid, practical folding knife that I’ve loved for years. It’s one of the few knives from Spyderco that does not feature the ubiquitous hump, which is what originally drew me to this knife. Way back, I didn’t care for the Spyderco hump (I’ve since grown fond of it).

Spyderco full size Native knives.
The full-size Native is a superb design that fits both large and small hands well. Very practical for EDC cutting tasks, and sufficiently stout for most of what a normal person will run into.

The Native fits my hand so well. It is not a tiny knife, but it’s certainly far from huge. The Native’s spearpoint blade is about 2 7/8 inches, so it’s friendly in most jurisdictions, even ones with restrictions. This one can also be had with an FRN handle or G-10, and some special runs have been made with Carbon Fiber and even Stainless Steel.

The blade of the Native is Full Flat Grind, so it slices wonderfully. It’s also a somewhat wide blade, which makes the Native act like a larger knife than it actually is. These can be had with plain or combo edges (partially serrated). The Native doesn’t take up much pocket space but is a real workhorse when it comes to cutting. It can also be pressed into service for self-defense if necessary. As of this writing, the cost of the LW version is in the $120 range.

Spyderco Lil’ Native

Okay, you’ve probably noticed a trend here. I’m a fan of Spyderco. Guilty as charged. It’s just that they offer a solid knife with excellent materials for a reasonable price. Well, the Native’s smaller brother, the Lil’ Native, is quite a remarkable knife!

Spyderco Lil Native, top with lock back, bottom with serrated blade and Compression Lock
Spyderco’s Lil’ Native is perhaps the most capable slicer for its tiny size. It cuts way out of proportion to its tiny stature. The top knife is a lock back, the bottom one is serrated with a Compression Lock.

When you hold it, you realize how solid it feels. Make no mistake, this is a very small knife, with a blade of 2 3/8 inches and a closed length of 3½ inches. It takes up very little space in the pocket, and can even be carried in the change pocket of a pair of jeans. It’s barely noticeable.

The blade shape is a drop/spear point. The handles are made from G-10, so they’re very grippy and offer a solid purchase for the hand. The Lil’ Native can be had with a few different locking mechanisms: one variety is a standard Lockback, while the other is the Compression Lock. Both locks are fantastic, and I have one of each. As well, the blades can be serrated and straight edge. Blades are also available in both black (DLC) and plain finishes. You can see that the Lil’ Native offers quite a bit of variety.

For such a small knife, the cutting power is truly insane, and I believe that this knife represents the most cutting power for such a tiny blade. It has no business cutting as well as it does, but it somehow outperforms the sum of its parts. There are certainly other knives that cut better than the Lil’ Native…but none are as small!

Lil’ Native in hand. Although it’s small, the author can get a full grip, thanks to the choil under the blade.

Ergonomically, the knife is very similar to its bigger brother. Except, of course, that it’s smaller. The forward choil really helps get a full grip on the knife, making for a very solid grip. Opening is accomplished via the trademark Spyder Hole.

A bonus for this knife is that it’s so small that, even in a sheeple-saturated environment, it’s not likely to raise an alarm with those cold and timid souls.

Currently, the Lil’ Native can be found for around the $130 price point, give or take few dollars.

Benchmade MPR

I’ll start off by advising the reader that this one has been discontinued, which is a real shame because it’s a cool knife. Despite that, I thought it was worth including because the MPR (Mini Pocket Rocket) can be found on the secondary market.

The Benchmade MPR is a small knife but fills the hand very well. It's a framelock tank!
The Benchmade MPR is a small knife but fills the hand very well. It’s a framelock tank!

The MPR was designed by Shane Sibert and produced by Benchmade. Blade length is 2.9 inches, making it friendly for restrictive areas. The blade steel is M390 at 60-62 on the RC Scale, which is good blade steel, and a stonewashed finish. This drop point blade is rather wide, so it seems a bit larger than it actually is, and is Full Flat Ground.

The weight of the MPR is 5.5 ounces. Handle materials are G-10 and one side has a Titanium bolster, which looks damn cool, in my opinion. It’s a frame lock mechanism. One useful feature of the MPR is that the stop pin can be adjusted; if the screw that secures it is loosened, it can be rotated. Because there are different facets cut into it, rotating the pin will give a surface with a different height so that the thickness of the pin is, in essence, adjustable. So if the lock bar begins travelling too far or slipping, adjusting the stop pin will give the lock bar new life.

The opening is accomplished via thumb studs, which are on either side of the blade. One thing that I don’t care for with opening is that the detent is on the frame lock side, and the finger opposite the thumb
naturally puts pressure on the detent (which is fairly strong to begin with on my knife), which makes it very difficult to deploy the blade. The user has to learn how to not put pressure on that lock bar in order to facilitate an easy opening.

This is a thick knife, and not one I’d say disappears into the pocket; you do know it’s there. For me, that’s not a big problem. The bright side of that aspect is the handle is comfortable, and because of that thickness, the user can get a great grip on the knife.

Overall, this is a neat knife that does a great job cutting. It offers a neat look, a sort of super-modern, robotic look. It’s “different” enough to be unique, and I think Mr. Sibert hit a home run with this knife (he is quite accomplished and makes custom knives of his own, which are really works of art). Prices on the secondary market right now are around $200-ish when they can be found.

Strider PT

Strider is famous for making incredibly durable, hard-use knives. I’ve owned a number of them over the years and they truly live up to their reputation. They really are as good as advertised.

The PT is the little brother of the SnG, which is the little brother of the SMF (Strider Military Folder). The PT’s blade is 2.75 inches long (the SnG’s blade is around 3.5 inches, and the SMF’s is around 4 inches).
They all look identical except for their size (also, they come in an array of various finishes and colors).

Small knives - Strider PT
The Strider PT is small but most people can get all four fingers on the handle. Locking is via frame lock. The blade is especially practical for general cutting tasks.

The PT’s weight is 2.5 ounces, and this is one of those knives that really, really disappears into your pocket. When folded, it is just simply compact! The pocket clip holds it in the pocket very securely.

Opening is accomplished via an oval hole in the blade, and the action is very smooth. Upon opening, the framelock produces a satisfying “clack!”, and the lockup is as though you’re holding a fixed blade. Nice and solid! These knives are all overbuilt and made to withstand a sickening amount of abuse.

The blade on my PT is made from S30V steel and has a black coating that is extremely durable and does not seem to be affected by anything that I’ve cut with it. It is of the drop point design and is eminently practical for cutting almost anything.

One side of the handle is G-10, which is one piece and also makes up the back spacer. The other side (the framelock) is Titanium, which on my knife is flamed in a striped pattern.

Strider PT small folding pocket knife
Stripes on stripes. The Strider PT is a stout, small EDC option that oozes quality and durability.

Although it’s a small knife, there is a generous gripping surface, which is made better by the fact that there is a choil at the base of the blade, so the user can choke up on the blade for added control. I really have to reiterate how practical this blade shape is for cutting, it just works so damn well!

Strider makes their knives in batches, so it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to find one of these at a dealer. If they have none, the next batch will be along usually within a few months. The good news is that they are worth the wait, so if you can’t find one, do keep searching. You’ll thank me (and your wallet will curse me because you will want more once you handle one of these babies).

Price of the PT at the time of writing is in the $300-ish range, depending upon the dealer. It’s a chunk of money, but as I said, once you handle one, the realization of why they cost what they do will hit you.

Spyderco Techno/Techno 2

The original Techno sported a drop point blade and G-10 backspacer, whereas the new Techno 2 has a Sheepsfoot blade and standoffs. Sadly, the original Techno has been discontinued. Happily, the Techno 2 is still available. Both of these knives are winners.

The main reason I bought the Techno 2 is because of its incredible construction and finish, both of which are impeccable. I simply love the way it looks. The fact that it cuts like an angry wife’s tongue just makes it all the better.

Spyderco’s Techno 2 is one of the stouts folders to be found, regardless of size. It’s a superb cutter! Fit and finish rivals many custom knives on today’s market.

Designed by Marcin Slysz, the Techno 2’s blade is 2.55 inches and composed of CTS-XHP, which is a tool steel that performs very nicely. The grind is flat and the finish is stonewashed. As mentioned, this knife cuts like a laser. This is a framelock knife, and lockup is incredibly solid on this one. The action is smoother than I can even describe, it’s just perfect.

One thing that I really like about the standoffs that are used on the Techno 2 is that they are a pleasing green color, which adds a little splash of variety to the otherwise subdued finish. The handles (both sides are Titanium) are bead blasted and give the knife a business-like appearance, in addition to adding a bit of traction to the handle.

The handle is a bit thick, which allows the user to acquire a nice grip, giving the knife a most satisfying, solid feel. For such a little knife, it feels like a tank while at the same time, the fit and finish are as good as many custom knives that you’ll come across. In fact, it’s so nice that I haven’t brought myself to use it for any nasty cutting tasks yet, I just can’t mar that gorgeous finish.

This is another knife that fits just right in the change pocket of a pair of jeans. It’s secured by a wire clip that Spyderco has been using a lot lately, and the clip works very well. At the time of this writing, these can be had for around $230 from dealers. I highly recommend this knife.

Emerson CQC-14

Emerson Mini CQC-7 (top) and CQC-14 (bottom) with Sig P228.
Emerson’s Mini CQC-7 (top) and CQC-14 (bottom) are two tactical options that work well on the two-way range.

This is not a tiny knife. In fact, the handle, which is made from G-10, is a full sized handle that is what I consider to be the most comfortable of any of the Emerson knives. Mr. Emerson wanted a knife that would perform like a full-sized knife but yet be legal to carry almost anywhere.

The 2.7-inch drop point blade will be legal almost anywhere the user carries it. The blade, constructed of 154 CM steel, has a nice amount of belly, making it a superb slicer. Don’t let the short length of the blade make you think that it won’t perform because it is a great knife!

This is a linerlock folder, the liner being Titanium. Opening is accomplished by two methods: Either via the thumb disc or the Wave feature. The Wave hook catches on the lip of your pocket as it’s withdrawn and the blade deploys on the way out, which is a very fast way to open the knife. Currently, the CQC-14 costs around $220.

Emerson Mini CQC-7

The little brother to the full-sized CQC-7 is, of course, the Mini-7. It is, quite literally, a shrunken version of the QCQ-7.

The “7” is a classic tactical knife, and one of the very earliest of the genre, being recognized as the yardstick by which most other tactical folders are compared to. The interesting thing with the Mini-7 is that it’s made from the same materials as its bigger brother, so the G-10 handle and Titanium liner lock, as well as the blade stock, are the same thickness. It makes the Mini-7 feel thicker than it actually is, which is actually a good thing because it helps the user have a secure, satisfying grip. In short, it’s a stout, little knife.

The 7 has been around for quite a number of years, and it’s an iconic design that works just as well now as when it was introduced. Some folks will tell you that the tanto blade is only good for stabbing, but don’t listen to them; it works great for slicing! It also works very well for scraping and other everyday carry (EDC) chores.

The action on the little 7 is very smooth and the lockup is nice and secure. This is one of those smaller knives that performs like a larger knife. They can be had partially serrated or with a plain edge. Blade length is 2.9 inches, making this one legal in most communities.

As with most other Emersons, opening the knife is accomplished via the thumb disc or the Wave feature. The current price is around $170.

Lionsteel BestMan

This folder is a bit of a departure from the rest of the genre on this page, being more of a “traditional” folding knife. The Lionsteel line is made in Italy, and they have some seriously nice offerings. I’m not sure how I didn’t find out about this manufacturer years ago, but a friend recently recommended them to me and I’m glad that he did! They offer a wide variety of knives, including tactical-style folders, traditional folders, and fixed blades. The materials that they use are top of the line and the styles are solid.

small knives, lionstee bestman
The Lionsteel BestMan has no lock, being a slipping, Maki g it the “odd man out” with this bunch.

I recently received the Lionsteel BestMan folder, which is a traditional style folding knife made with modern materials. The blade is 2.88 inches long, made from M390 steel with a satin finish and a clip point. Opening the knife is accomplished via nail nicks in the spine of the blade.

The handle is made from natural canvas micarta, which is smooth and yet offers just enough friction to allow a good purchase. The bolsters are titanium with what appears to be a bead-blasted finish that looks very handsome. Overall, it gives a very pleasing look to the knife. The old style with new materials is just plain neat. On top of that, this one is slick and just drops into the pocket, adding barely any weight to your daily loadout.

The BestMan’s mechanism is that of a slip joint, so there is no lock on this knife. For me to carry a knife with no lock is very unusual, as I’m mostly into “tactical” type folders. I was in the mood for something different for a change, and decided to go back to my roots on this one with a slip joint. As a kid, I carried a little slip joint folder 24/7, even to school (it was back in the olden days when the earth was cooling and the dinosaurs had just died off).

I’m still getting used to this particular knife, but so far, it gets high marks. There is no lateral blade play and the action is smooth and positive. My only minor gripe is that the factory edge was not impressive at all. Rarely can I beat a factory edge with my freehand sharpening, but I did it this time. Despite that, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this knife, and I still like it a lot and want to order more knives from this great company. This is one of the most “sheeple-friendly’ knives in the entire lineup; I can’t imagine it causing much of a stir if used in the presence of people who can’t accept the fact that we live in a tumultuous world rather than a perfect vacuum.

I personally carry at least two knives on me all the time for a few reasons.

First, I like having a knife accessible on both sides of my body in the event that one of my hands is occupied, so that my other hand can access a knife, especially in an emergency.

The MPR, Mini-7, and Para 3 would all work superbly as part of a carry package when paired with a quality light (Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA), and S&W 642-2. Ammo is Speer Gold Dot HP.

Secondly, I normally carry a knife that’s mid-size or maybe even on the larger side, and then a smaller folder for smaller cutting tasks. I subscribe to the “Two is one, one is none” line of thought, which means I prefer to have a backup knife in the event one fails or disappears.

Often, I prefer that one of those two blades is serrated, or partially serrated, as they excel at cutting seat belts, paracord, and other mediums.

So there we have it, my lineup of little big knives. As I said starting out, if you don’t see your favorite knife on here, it doesn’t mean that it failed to make the cut, by any means. If it works for you, there’s a
chance I’d enjoy using it too.

In future articles, I hope to add more knives to my list. If I happen to hit the lottery, it will happen far more quickly. My hope is that this article might open up a new line of thinking for those who normally don’t use smaller statured knives. Expanding our horizons when it comes to gear and such can be a fun thing to do.

Leave a Reply