Are you currently in the market for a tactical knife? If so, there are many factors you will need to consider before ultimately making a purchase. Tactical knives come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and materials, with some even having special functions you might not have previously considered. Of course, personal preference will ultimately play a big role in your decision as well—and there is a whole lot to like about the tactical knives sold today.
In the following article we will show you how to choose the right tactical knife for certain situations, highlighting several factors to look for when shopping for one of these blades, We will also define what a tactical knife actually is; and explain the various benefits to owning one of these strategic weapons/tools.
- Smart Picks: Best Tactical Knife For The Money (2018 – 2019)
- What Is a Tactical Knife?
- What To Consider When Buying Your First Tactical Knife
- Do You Have a Design in Mind?
- How Do You Plan to Use the Knife?
- How Does the Knife Feel in Your Hand?
- What’s the Proper Size and Weight for a Tactical Knife?
- Are Certain Materials Better than Others?
- What Should I Look for in Terms of Blade Design?
- What Type of Lock Should I Use on My Tactical Knife?
- Should I Opt for a Fixed Blade or Folding Tactical Knife?
- Where Can I Buy a Tactical Knife?
Smart Picks: Best Tactical Knife For The Money (2018 – 2019)
Last update on 2019-12-14 at 05:32 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What Is a Tactical Knife?
Although not really in vogue until the 1990s, the term “tactical knife” seems to be everywhere now. Perhaps it started with the movie Rambo and the do-it-all wonder knife that ex-Green Beret protagonist carried and used throughout the film as he evaded and sought revenge on a group of small-town cops with big-time attitudes. But regardless of the origin of the tactical knife, the name has apparently caught on and is still heavily in use today—Tactical knives are referred to in discussions about survivalist training, law enforcement and the military, and their name regularly appears in camping and backpacking forums, among other publications. So what exactly is a tactical knife? And what differentiates a tactical knife from your everyday, run-of-the-mill knives that have been in existence for centuries?
Unfortunately, the answers to those questions are not crystal clear.
The question of what exactly constitutes a tactical knife was recently discussed in an issue of Blade magazine. In that forum, some of the authors defined it as a “folding or fixed-blade knife with a non-glare blade and black synthetic handle—a knife that is ideal for any number of utility purposes, including combat.” This description is fairly on the money, and while there are other qualifications as to what actually makes a tactical knife, the three descriptors mentioned above seem to apply universally.
In the simplest of terms, a tactical knife is a knife that can be used as a weapon, a cutting device, a utility tool, a piece of fishing tackle—or any other use you can think of. The word tactical can best be defined as “strategic,” which means a tactical knife is an important piece of equipment to have in every set of camping gear, in a survivalist “bug out bag,” when fishing or hunting, and even in the garage for everyday use.
One other design feature that typically (but not always) makes a knife a tactical knife is a partially serrated blade—a blade that is serrated either wholly or partially on one side. Although smooth blades are great for certain tasks, serrated blades, characterized by little saw-like teeth running the length of the knife blade, are great for cutting through coarse materials. Serrations on a tactical knife make it very flexible and versatile, and they also prevent the smooth side of the blade from becoming dulled—when hard-to-cut materials are sawed with the serrated side of the blade, the sharpness of the smooth side is preserved. The only downside to serrations on a blade is that they are hard to sharpen and require specialized honing tools to get the job done.
Of all the definitions you may encounter with regard to a tactical knife, perhaps the simplest and most accurate one is this “a tactical knife is any type of knife you may have in your possession when you really need a knife.” This description would probably have tactical knife owners the world over collectively nodding their heads in agreement, because a good tactical knife is a do-it-all knife that is handy in almost any situation.
However you choose to define a tactical knife, the fact is they have been a hot seller in the United States for over 20 years, and there is no end to this trend in sight.
What To Consider When Buying Your First Tactical Knife
Those looking for a quality tactical knife have many choices today, from one-piece blades to fix-bladed folding knives that are available in many different sizes, shapes and materials. And when it comes to choosing the perfect tactical knife there really are no hard-and-fast rules you need to follow. There are, however, some things you should look for when picking out a tactical knife, as well as some questions you should consider. To help you do this, below we have pointed out some of those features and factors.
Do You Have a Design in Mind?
People in the market for a tactical knife typically have some idea regarding how that knife should look. Given that fact, the design of the knife you ultimately select will be a huge factor. The design of the knife essentially encompasses most of the other categories we have listed below, so we won’t spend a lot of time talking about it here. Just know this” if you want to check out the various tactical knife designs available before you walk into a retailer, the Internet can be a great resource. There are currently hundreds, if not thousands of online sites dedicated to the marketing and showcasing of a variety of tactical knife designs, giving you a virtually limitless number of ideas and options from which to choose.
How Do You Plan to Use the Knife?
What is the main activity for which you see yourself using your new tactical knife? Once you answer this question, selecting the perfect knife will be a lot easier to accomplish. If you merely want to utilize your knife for camping, for example, you may want to choose a knife that is a little lighter in weight and heavy on utility functions. However, if you are choosing a knife for protection only, you may want a knife that is a bit smaller (for concealment) a little weightier and easy to handle.
The fact of the matter is that a tactical knife can be used for a variety of purposes. As mentioned above, it can be used as a weapon and a utility tool, but also as an emergency rescue tool, a tool to gain entry into something, even a tool to filet fish and cut up food around the campfire. The only thing that truly matters is how YOU plan to use it. Naturally, you may find that your tactical knife can do plenty more than the original tasks for which you bought it, but if you go in thinking about a specific purpose the knife will serve, the professionals helping you make your purchase will be able to make some educated suggestions that will assist you in the buying process.
How Does the Knife Feel in Your Hand?
How a knife feels in your hand is another characteristic that makes it “tactical.” Whether you are fighting, hunting, fishing, using your knife for underwater rescues, or any other purpose, a good tactical knife should feel comfortable and secure in your hand when holding it.
Not all tactical knives are designed in the same way, which is why many people will spend the extra money to have a tactical knife designed especially for them. There are many factors at play when attempting to find a knife that feels “right” when holding it, including the size of your hand, the length and spacing of your fingers, your typical grip, etc. When you hold the knife, you want to make sure there are no sharp corners or pinch points that might get in the way when using your knife under stressful situations, such as combat. It should also feel comfortable when holding it in BOTH directions. Be very careful about knives with pre-grooved spaces on the handle for your fingers. This can be a very attractive feature, but not all hands will match up with those grooves, which can cause the knife to feel very uncomfortable in your hand over time.
Never buy a tactical knife without getting the chance to at least hold it first.
What’s the Proper Size and Weight for a Tactical Knife?
Tactical knives come in a variety of sizes and weights—and for good reason. These knives serve various purposes for the user and are carried in different ways. Even a small, 4-inch folding knife can be deemed tactical for certain situations, but is this really the size knife you want to depend on in a self-defense scenario? On the flip side, a large fixed-blade knife, measuring 15 inches, weighing 2 pounds and sheathed in what looks more like a potato sack, may look really cool and ominous, but is it really practical to carry this knife around every day, just for that rare instance in which an attacker may approach you? Probably not.
The bottom line is this: the proper size and weight of your tactical knife will again depend on how you plan to use and carry it. When shopping for your new knife, ask to try out several different types with various sizes and weights. If you plan to store it in your pocket every day—put it there and see how it feels. And if you plan to wear a fixed blade knife in a sheath, try it on to see how you like the look and feel of it. While some of the largest and heaviest knives may be quite attractive and tempting, think about carrying that knife day after day after day—still tempting?. The goal is to buy a knife that is practical—one that won’t just end up sitting on a shelf one day.
Are Certain Materials Better than Others?
The material (or metal) used to create the blade and the handle of a tactical knife can also vary, more so for the handle than the blade. So which materials should you select for your new tactical knife? To answer this you have to first think back to the questions regarding “comfort in your hand” and “weight.” Whatever materials you end up choosing, just make sure the knife feels secure and comfortable when holding it without weighing you down unnecessarily.
As far as your choices for blade material, there are really only two worth considering: steel and titanium, the latter of which is usually a bit more expensive. Given all the competition in this market, most of the tactical knives made in the United States are made well—and most are made from high-grade steel. Titanium is a slightly harder material, but for most tasks a steel-bladed knife is ideal. Just be wary of knives with a very low price tag—under $10 or so; remember: you get what you pay for and many of those knives are poorly made—and made overseas.
The materials used to make the handles of tactical knives vary quite a bit more than that of the blades. Some of the materials used to make these handles are plastic composites, stainless steel, G-10 and titanium. All of these are known as “stabilized materials,” meaning they won’t shrink or crack, and they won’t absorb liquids such as rain, sweat, oil, etc. This takes materials like wood, ivory and bone out of the equation, as these are all porous materials that will retain those liquids and become fragile over time. You should also avoid some of the rubberized handles. Although they may feel great in your hands, over time they tend to dry out, crack and literally fall off the hilt.
What Should I Look for in Terms of Blade Design?
When it comes to the blade design you ultimately choose for your tactical knife, personal preference rules all. Again you will want to consider the primary purpose of the knife before making your choice, but beyond that you should go with whichever design suits your tastes.
All tactical knives have two things in common: a point at the top, and at least one cutting edge. Of course, some manufacturers go way beyond these two features, making dual-sided blades that are terrific at certain functions. As we talked about earlier, many knives have a sharp, smooth blade on one side, and a serrated blade on the opposite side. The serrated side is great for sawing through hard-to-cut materials, and preserves the sharpness of the smooth side of the blade.
Many tactical knife owners recommend a blade whose point is very sharp as well as thick. Nothing is more frustrating than having the tip of the blade break when performing puncturing tasks. Therefore, a thick point can help you avoid this problem.
What Type of Lock Should I Use on My Tactical Knife?
If you opt for a folding, fixed blade tactical knife a lock is very important. In fact, one universal truth about tactical folding knives is that they all have blade locks—locks to hold the blade firmly in place until the user operates a lever or button to allow the blade to fold in the closed position. A blade lock is essential in instances when the operator’s hand will be wrapped completely around the handle, and where the blade may be pushed in different directions; because a knife that unexpectedly collapses back onto the fingers holding it definitely has a design flaw.
There are many types of locks to choose from when selecting a tactical knife (lock backs, axis locks, etc.), but the most popular type of blade lock is known as the “liner lock.” With this type of lock, the blade is surrounded on each side by a metal liner when it is folded inside the handle. Then, as the blade comes completely open one of the liners acts like a leaf spring and jumps into the space in the middle of the handle, holding the blade in the open position until the operator snaps it back into place, allowing the blade to fold. The liner lock is simple to incorporate into a knife design and is a very affordable option given its importance.
Should I Opt for a Fixed Blade or Folding Tactical Knife?
As with many of the knife characteristics we have spoke about thus far, choosing between a fixed blade knife and a folding knife goes back to the primary purpose of the knife and, of course, personal comfort and preference.
In most cases, a fixed blade knife is going to be stronger and more durable than a folding blade tactical knife. This makes sense because a fixed-blade knife has fewer moving parts than its folding counterpart, which translates to fewer things that could go wrong. Folding blades can get stuck in the closed position due to a faulty lock (a regular complaint among knife owners). This is just one of the faults of these types of knives.
However, there are also many advantages to owning a folding tactical knife. If you are looking for a knife you can carry on your person every day, a folding variety makes sense. Many people do not like the idea of carrying a fixed-blade knife out in the open, even if it is sheathed and properly secured. Folding knives can be easily carried in your pocket and concealed from view. Some folding knives even have a clip that you can attach to the top of the pocket, giving the user very quick and easy access. Folding knives usually tend to be smaller than fixed blade tactical knives, making them very handy for certain tasks, and adding less weight to the person carrying it.
Again, consider how you will normally use and carry the knife; then consider how it feels in your hand. This will help you decide between a fixed blade tactical knife and one that folds away for easy concealment.
Where Can I Buy a Tactical Knife?
Last but not least, here we will discuss briefly the various places you can purchase a tactical knife. The first—and maybe the worst—place to buy a tactical knife is online if you wan to get a good idea for how it feels in your hand. We say the “worst” because buying online does not give you the opportunity to actually handle the knife before making a purchase – the exception is shopping from places like Amazon where you can return or exchange a knife that you don’t like. However, buying a knife online can be a good idea if:
- You have already researched and handled a particular make and model of knife and you can purchase said knife for a little less money by shopping online.
- The knife you purchase over the Internet has a “no-questions-asked” return policy in the event you are not truly happy with your purchase.
Other places in which a tactical knife can be purchased include Sporting Goods stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Big 5; Some big-box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club—even Wal-Mart has a selection of tactical knives; camping and fishing specialty stores; some home improvement stores; gun and knife shows; and, of course, stores that specialize in knives and knife accessories.
image credit: gsagi/Deposit Photos