Everyday Carry

5 Best Neck Knives for Backpacking & Beyond

Posted by
D.T. Christensen
July 17, 2017
Updated December 28, 2023

best neck knife backpacking

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There are some everyday carry items that seem to get all the love: flashlights, wallets, watches.

But few accessories offer the utility of the often under appreciated neck knife, and whether you work outdoors, in a warehouse or in an office setting, having a blade that’s practical, concealed and at-the-ready can make your day easier.

Here’s a look at our top choices for the best neck knives for all types of everyday carry needs.

ESEE Knives Black Candiru

best neck knives

There are neck knives, and there are ESEE neck knives. Those who’ve used the brand — which makes all their products in the USA — know the distinction, and for those who haven’t, you’re in for a helluva time.

The Candiru is a compact but powerful knife made from 1095 carbon steel, designed for sharp performance but proportioned to easily wear around your neck, belt or boot. It sports a stout fixed blade body that comes with optional G10 handle scales, and the black powder coat finish makes it one of the finest-feeling blades out there.

It’s sharp as hell out of the box, and even a small sharpening session can bring it to “frightening” levels, as one reviewer put it. The edge holds well and with proper care and attention, you can easily develop a nice aged patina without letting the carbon steel rust.

Named after one of the Amazon River’s most deadly fish, the Candiru clocks in at just over 5″ in length with a 2″ blade: just enough size to maneuver without feeling cramped by a small handle. Despite its small size, it has a substantial profile that resembles a much larger, thicker knife. The quality difference in the Candiru compared to lower-end knives is significant.

The sheath is a molder polymer that feels right, but offers fewer carry options than other neck knife sheaths we tested. The sheath is tight and doesn’t rattle, and offers enough security that you won’t have to worry about the blade coming loose around your neck or other body parts.

  • Length: 2″ blade, 5.13″ overall
  • Weight: 63 grams (knife), 80.8 grams (with sheath)
  • 1095 carbon steel 55-57 Rc blade
  • Molded polymer sheath included
  • G10 handle scales sold separately

One of ESEE’s core tenets is to never “provide a piece of gear that hasn’t been tested in the real world,” and you can tell within just minutes of using the Candiru that this thing is built for real-world, practical applications. It’s pretty, but it’s also functional, and after hours of testing the knife on different materials and cutting jobs, we were surprised to see how well the blade held up.

We do recommend getting the optional handles, as the knife is much more comfortable with the Micarta scales. Its body shape, weight, and balance make it perfect for an everyday carry knife, or something you keep around while camping, backpacking or hiking.

In a world of overseas manufacturing, we also love that the knives are made right here in the US, and with a lifetime, unconditional guarantee, you’re investing in much more than a neck knife: you’re buying the quality and assurance of peak performance.

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CRKT Minimalist Black Drop Point

neck knives columbia river

The best neck knives blend utility and lightweight performance in a way that’s unobtrusive, and that’s exactly what the CRKT Folts Minimalist knife accomplishes. CRKT, founded in 1994, is committed to their motto of “confidence in hand,” and the Minimalist is no exception to their rule.

Designed by renowned knifemaker Alan Folts, the Minimalist is the lightest of the neck knives we tested, but it’s not lacking in other departments. The blade is sharp out of the box and holds its edge well, and its compactness is matched by its versatility. The drop point blade lets you make precise, clean cuts that are made even easier by the knife’s ergonomic grip.

Unlike most of the neck knives we came across, the Minimalist has a textured G10 handle that’s shaped to fit your fingers. A cord fob attached to the end offers even more grip and control.

Those not used to the ergo-handle may take more time to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll find the Minimalist offers one of the most comfortable compact grips out there. Many knives its size offer cramped, uncomfortable positions that make it difficult to make the full range of movement you need. Not so with this beauty.

  • Length: 2.16″ blade, 5.2″ overall
  • Weight: 51 grams (knife), 60.2 grams (with sheath)
  • Ergonomic fiber handle with cord fob
  • Nylon sheath reinforced with glass-fiber

It may not be as sharp as the Esee Candiru, but it performed better than nearly every other blade we tested, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option at this size and price point. Its black, stonewashed finish gives the blade an aged, weathered look that wears nicks and scratches like a badge of honor.

As a neck knife, the Minimalist lays flat on your chest and is easy to forget because of its balanced weight and shape. It’s ideal for camping, hunting and outdoor scenarios that require you to use both hands while having a blade at the ready, and it’s light enough to join your everyday carry arsenal as well.

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Spyderco Dog Tag Folding Knife

benchmark backpacker best neck knife

“We may look curious, homely, whatever, but we’ll never be called unusable or undependable,” wrote a Spyderco employee when explaining why their Dog Tag Folder knife is more expensive than most of its competition (good Amazon discount, though).

Such is the Spyderco attitude: different but focused on what matters. The company was founded in the mid-70s when Sal and Gail Glesser began pitching their homemade knife sharpener at local fairs. Just a few years later, the duo began making their first folding knives, and today, their Dog Tag Folder is the very definition of their uniqueness.

This plain sharp edge neck knife is more X-ACTO knife than some of the larger fixed blades we tested, but it performs just as well for many everyday carry tasks. At 26 grams, it’s the lightest knife we tried out, and it’s ideal for those who want to bust out a neck knife without looking like the office radical (unless that’s what you’re going for).

The blade, made from CPM S30V steel, clocks in at just under 1.25″ and closed up it’s a tidy 2″, making it one of the most compact neck knives on the market. Because of its size, it does present some challenges with larger cutting tasks, but after a few weeks of handling it, we were convinced that it’s one of the more practical and versatile knives we’ve had our hands on.

  • Length: 1.23″ blade, 2″ closed, 3.23″ overall
  • Weight: 26 grams
  • Sturdy black titanium handle

The black titanium handle is sleek and wears well on the chest, and the only downside we see is the fact that it doesn’t come with any kind of bead-chain necklace. If it did, it’d be our hands-down favorite option for this size group.

Like an actual dog tag, the Folder feels lightweight and lays flush. It’s easy to grab and use as needed and though it doesn’t technically lock in place, we had no issues with the blade coming out when it wasn’t supposed to. It opens smooth, presents a stable grip and despite its size, feels more substantial than it looks.

The blade sports Spyderco’s trademark round hole feature for easy use, and even though it brings to mind something like a box cutter, there’s more power there than meets the eye. –

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SOG Snarl

spyderco dogtag folding knife

There are neck knives that become statement pieces, and there are those you’d rather conceal. The SOG Snarl is perfect for the latter scenario, when you want something quick, utilitarian and easy to hide for any number of reasons. The Snarl is a small, one-piece fixed blade that offers multiple hand position options and the kind of sharp performance that doesn’t let up — even after heavy use.

The Snarl was designed by custom knifemaker Jason Brous and offers his signature blend of utility and artistic vision. It’s practical, yet retains the creative lines and features of a more sophisticated knife. It can replace your everyday carry blade along with any kind of box cutter or utility knife you use on the job. One reviewer, who worked in the meat-packing industry, said he used this daily for his job over a year without it becoming dull.

We put this knife through the ringer as our everyday carry option, and out of all the neck knives, it seemed to hold its edge the best. Out of the box, it’s extremely sharp and while some of the knives we tested had dull points, the Snarl’s point is sharp, and stayed that way.

The sheepsfoot style blade, made from 9Cr13MoV stainless steel with a satin finish, is easy to maneuver without getting your fingers caught up in the action, and the ergonomic shape of the knife makes it easy to use without feeling cramped, which can be the case with other knives this size.

  • Length: 2.3″ blade, 4.3 inches overall
  • Weight: 59 grams (knife), 100 grams (with sheath)
  • Extremely durable one-piece construction
  • Easily holds a sharp edge for a long time

The heavy duty nylon sheath offers multiple carry options, with lanyard holes and a belt clip, and includes a ball chain for easy neck carry.

While most other neck knives had sheaths that securely but easily fit their blade, this sheath is downright tight on the Snarl, and it may take a few tries for you to figure out that removing the blade requires more strength with this knife than others. That’s a good thing in our book, however, because you won’t have the rattling or loose retention that some lower quality sheaths get.

The Snarl’s one-piece construction means you can go to town on this blade without worrying about things falling apart. Its strength is as a concealed utility knife, but with its small size and slim profile comes a sharp edge that can hang with the best of them.

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Benchmark Backpacker

sog snarl neck knife

For the budget-conscious outdoorsman, the Benchmark Backpacker offers an excellent combination of value and performance. Not to be confused with knives from the higher-end Benchmade, this 6″ neck knife is ideal for those looking for an affordable fixed blade knife that’s just heavy and long enough to tackle all your outdoor needs.

The Backpacker feels balanced more than anything else: the length of the blade is exactly half the overall length of the knife, and the grip and feel of the handle is substantial, even if it doesn’t look it. The handle’s shape and positioning offers a comfortable grip, and the Micarta material offers texture with a matte finish.

Using the knife outdoors, we cut plenty of cord, boxes and other small objects before needing to resharpen it. The Backpacker comes sharp out of the box, but the tip may be too dull for some users — nothing a quick sharpen can’t fix.

Older versions of the Backpacker were made with 1095 carbon steel, but today’s model is made with a 420 stainless steel that still performs, but may not hold its edge as well as its predecessor. Still, for the quality and performance of a sub-$20 knife, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Backpacker’s build and utility.

  • Length: 3″ blade, 6″ overall
  • Weight: 74 grams (knife), 125 grams (with sheath)
  • 420 stainless steel blade
  • Molded nylon sheath with belt clip and carabiner

The Backpacker is the heaviest neck knife on our list, but its balanced body and slim profile makes 125 grams — twice as much as the CRKT Minimalist — feel lighter than we initially thought. Excellent substance for under $15.

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Looking to upgrade your everyday carry gear? Check out our favorite field watches under $200 or our favorite budget hiking backpacks. We also have a comprehensive listing of the best American-made knives you might be interested in.

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