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10 Best Tactical Knives For Combat, Survival, Fighting…

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What Is a Tactical Knife and When/Why Do You Need One?

folded tactical knife on wood

The phrase “tactical knife” can bring to mind images of mall ninjas flashing gaudy steel blades barely suitable for hanging on the wall.

But good tactical knives are a worthwhile investment that can make your day easier or even save your life.

There are many reasons to carry a knife: EDC, camping, hunting, bushcrafting, opening packages, and even fighting.

A tactical knife covers most, if not all of those uses.

Also, most tactical knives tend to be designed with concealment in mind, so they will be lighter and more compact than other similar knives.

This lets you carry them as your EDC knife or as a supplement. Then, if you need multiple knives (such as police officers in a tough area), you’ll have a backup at hand.

Plus, tactical knives are often all black. Most of us don’t actually need to be stealthy, but in the rare time you do need to stay unseen, a black knife can give you the edge you need to remain hidden.


How to Choose Knife For Tactical And Combat Purposes?

knife on wood

Now that you know you want a tactical knife (or two!), you’ll need to know how to choose the best one for you.

While most people can benefit from a tactical knife, not everyone needs a fighting knife. So, if you don’t expect to trade blows with someone, the KA-BAR TDI is a bad choice.

On the other hand, the KA-BAR TDI is perfect for police officers and anybody else who needs a backup knife in a fight.


Fixed vs. Folding

fixed vs folding tactical knife

The most important consideration is whether you should buy a fixed or folding knife.

Folding knives are generally smaller and more concealable than fixed blades. However, they are slower to open, and even the strongest lock isn’t as strong as a full tang.

Fixed blades can handle more abuse before failing. They may also be lighter for a certain length because there doesn’t need to be a folding mechanism. However, they are often harder to conceal and rarely fit into a pocket.


Blade Length

tactical knife laid on wood

Your knife’s length is another important consideration.

Longer blades weigh more and take up more space. However, they also have more reach and are better at tough tasks, such as batoning.

Shorter blades are lighter and easier to conceal. They are also better for finer work, such as whittling.

Around 3 inches is a good length for an EDC blade. If you often engage in outdoor activities such as hiking and hunting, then a longer blade will be more useful. However, if the fiercest foe you face is opening a letter, you can get by with smaller.

Do note that your maximum blade length may be limited by local laws!


Blade Material

Stainless steel blade

I may get roasted by knife aficionados, but there are two basic options for blade steels:

  • High-carbon steel
  • Stainless steel

Generally, high carbon steel ,such as 420HC, holds a sharper edge better. However, it also requires more care as it can easily rust.

Stainless steel is more resistant to rust or other corrosion. However, it won’t take as good of an edge.



Kershaw handle

Handles are 90% of a knife’s ergonomics (the blade is the last 10%). A handle that doesn’t fit your hand will make the knife uncomfortable or even dangerous to use.

The handle material can also have an effect. Handles without texturing often become slippery when wet with water or blood and are a poor choice for outdoorsmen and people in dangerous professions.


Top Tactical Knife Brands

KA-BAR Knives, Inc.

KA-BAR Knives, Inc.

Way back in 1923, a fur trapper finished off a wounded bear with a knife bought from Union Cutlery Company of Olean, New York. He sent a letter to the knife company, but his writing was so illegible the only part of “kill a bear” that could be read was “ka-bar.”

Impressed, Union Cutlery Co. first used “ka-bar” in their advertisements then decided to change their company name to KA-BAR.

Then, in WWII, soldiers complained about their Mark 1 trench knives. What better knife to replace it with than one known for killing bears?

After a brief collaboration with the military, the L77 knife was upgraded into the Mark 2 Knife Fighting Utility. It wasn’t officially called the KA-BAR, but since KA-BAR produced over a million knives for the war, soldiers started calling all Mark 2 knives “KA-BARs.”

KA-BAR produces a large variety of knives now, but they continue to produce the old Mark 2. It’s a classic and has been used by soldiers, pilots, survivalists, hunters, and many more people for many years.


Kershaw Knives

Kershaw Knives

Kershaw is a surprisingly humble knife-making business. They produce good knives at a price point lower than many competitors. Though Kershaw blades may not be the absolute best on the market, you always know you will get a good value from them.

Though mostly known for sporting and pocket knives, Kershaw actually produces handmade Japanese kitchen knives as well under the Shun Cutlery line. Zero Tolerance knives are also made by Kershaw.

While many cutlery manufacturers make modest upgrades to their line over the years, Kershaw likes to experiment with bold new designs. They often team up with award-winning knife designers to innovate and create knives unlike any others.

Ken Onion helped them design the SpeedSafe assisted-opening system and is also responsible for many well-loved EDC knife designs. They’ve also worked with Earnest Emerson and Rick Hinderer, among others.

This willingness to innovate has won them many awards over the years. Though Kershaw has only been around since 1974, they’ve won at least 15 awards, including winning four awards in one year at the 2012 Blade Show awards.


SOG Specialty Knives

SOG Specialty Knives

Some of the best combat knives in the world have military roots, as exemplified by SOG’s knives.

SOG is best known for making reproductions of the SOG knife used by the Studies and Observations Group during the Vietnam War.

The original models were designed for covert use and had no identifying marks. SOG Specialty Knives do have identifying marks, but they are no less capable.

The SEAL Pup Elite has many similarities to the original SOG knife, along with several upgrades which make it better for EDC.

SOG still works with military and law enforcement agencies to design and produce knives that are at home on the streets or at war.

SOG’s knives aren’t just for combat, though. Many are great bushcrafting tools, capable of cleaning a deer or splitting logs into firewood.

They have even innovated some technologically. SOG’s knives undergo a cryogenic heat treatment process that involves freezing the blade to a temperature of -300°F! This supposedly relieves stress in the steel and increases the toughness and wear-resistance of the blade.



Are tactical knives legal to carry?

CRKT by Ken Onion
CRKT by Ken Onion

Unfortunately, laws vary from state to state, so it’s impossible for me to answer whether or not tactical knives are legal for you to carry.

Carrying knives is legal in most states. However, individual states have different regulations. Some may consider knives over a certain length a concealed weapon, only carriable with a permit.

Others allow you to carry a knife, but only under a certain length. For example, several states prohibit concealing knives over 3 inches long. You’ll either need to openly carry your knife or carry one with a shorter blade.

Others may have laws forbidding fixed or folding blades.

Look up your state’s knife laws to see if you can legally carry a tactical knife.


How should I care for my tactical knife?

man wiping knife

If you want to your knife to work for you, you’ll need to keep it sharp and clean.

There are many ways to sharpen a knife. A pull-through knife sharpener is easy but doesn’t give the best edge. I prefer to use a medium grit whetstone to shape the edge and then a fine grit whetstone to sharpen it.

You should also use a leather strop to hone the edge. This aligns the steel at the very tip of the edge for optimal cutting performance.

Also, all steels should be oiled, especially high carbon steel.

They make special blade oils but any gun, machine, or tool oil will work. A lighter oil is better and you don’t need much, just enough to keep off rust.

Don’t forget to clean off any blood or dirt that gets on your knife, as these can cause corrosion as well!


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