Top Tactical Knives: Stay Sharp – Updated 2017

There is little in life as satisfying as a good blade. Knives are some of are simplest but most effective tools. Here we will outline the best tactical knives, both fixed blades and folders, out there.

Best Tactical Knives

Here is what you should consider at a minimum when evaluating what blade is the best tactical knife for your needs:

Blade Size

Consider what size blade you need. If you are in a defensive situation, you will have to consider what type of training you have and what you are comfortable with. Will you be slashing, piercing, or both? Also, what will you enemy be wearing? If they have body armor you may need a larger knife.

Typically, small tactical knives are generally between four to six inches. Anything larger will extend your reach, which will help in a defensive situation.

Knife (and Sheath) Weight

Consider how you’ll use your knife. As they say, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. Truly consider how you will use the blade and how much you are willing to carry.

Expense

As a general rule, it is not a bad idea to start on the inexpensive side of the spectrum. That is not to say that they should be low quality, since there are a ton of knives that represent great value on the market today. Many times, more expense does not equate to more capability, and your understanding of what is best for your situation may evolve over time.


Best Fixed Blade Tactical Knives

When size and weight aren’t factors, fixed blade knives are a great option. They are incredibly strong, with most having a full tang construction that has one piece of steel go from the tip of the blade all the way down to the hilt. They are also fast to employ in a combat situation since opening the knife is not required.


Ka-Bar USMC Fighting Knife

 

Best Tactical Knife - KaBar USMC Fighting Knife

This has to kick off the list. This USA made knife is incredibly high quality and has a proven history. The Ka-Bar is an amazing practical general purpose design. The 7″ blade is great for most tasks that you encounter in a tactical environment (fighting, utility, field craft, etc). The blade thickness is perfect for providing adequate strength and cutting capability. Speaking of cutting capability, the blade comes out of the box incredibly sharp with a 20 degree grind. The blade follows through the handle with a full tang. The Ka-Bar is constructed with 1095 Cro-van steel. This steel is battle proven in the field and a fine steel that combines strength with an edge that is easy to sharpen. It is not the most rust resistant steel on the market, so keep it oiled and it will serve you well.

The blade itself is 7 inches long and the shape of is perfect for utility tasks, and obviously combat, which is the primary purpose of this knife. The Ka-Bar is also great at survival, but was not purpose made for it. Meaning, it will probably serve you well, but will not have as thick of a spine for batoning as some bushcraft blades. That tradeoff though still gives you a plenty tough knife with longer reach for the same weight. The 11.2 ounces this knife weighs is very efficient for all this knife can do.

The stacked leather handle has become iconic. However, depending on what your needs are it may not be what you are looking for. This is especially true if you are planning to use this blade around salt water or even prolonged periods in fresh water. The Kraton handle options are fantastic if you want an option that has a stickier grip and won’t retain water. Either option is fantastic, but be advised on the differences so that you can make the best decision for you.

The only thing we don’t like about this knife is the sheath. It is leather, which has a classic look. However, it feels outdated if you are planning to employ this knife in a modern tactical role. If you’re going to place this on an tactical vest, rucksack, or some other system, consider the Ka-Bar made hard plastic sheath.

This knife might be the most iconic knife in the world, and it has earned that reputation being used by American forces since 1942. For the person looking for a tactical knife that is proven and will last generations, you won’t find a better knife than this Ka-Bar.

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Gerber Mark II

 

Best Tactical Knives - Gerber Mark II

You probably recognize this blade, and that is for good reason. This dagger is legendary. This is a no holds barred combat knife. It is less than ideal as a survival knife, utility knife, and field knife. However, it is a kick ass combat knife. If you’re looking for a big blade that doesn’t weigh too much and feels balanced and is purpose built as a combat knife, this proven design is one to consider.

The knife is constructed of 420HC steel with a black oxide coating. The dual blade is purpose built for a piercing thrusting motion, so though this is sometimes marketed as a hunting or survival knife, in reality it is purely a tactical blade. But it is damn good as a tactical blade. If you want a more utilitarian blade, look to the Ka-Bar for a more practical choice. The Mark II’s 6.6 inch blade features a double serration, which brings the total length of the knife to 11.6 inches.

The aluminum handle has a hilt that can be used to strike an enemy if you want a non-lethal option. The weight of this knife is 8 ounces, which is light for the reach of the knife. This knife comes with a ballistic nylon sheath, and there are aftermarket sheaths available. The sheath is nylon with a plastic insert and uses snap closures. The die cast aluminum handle is comfortable with plenty of room for a solid grip, and the knife is very comfortable and balanced in hand.

The Mark II also comes with a lifetime warranty from Gerber. Overall, if you want a legendary knife made in the USA for a purely defensive situation, this could be a great option.

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Spyderco Fred Perrin Street Bowie

 

best fighting knife - Spyderco Street Bowie

At a mere 6 ounces, this is a lot of knife. The versatility of this knife is really the underlying factor of it’s success. The knife is made of Japanese VG-10 steel and is full flat ground. That combination results in a blade that holds an edge exceptionally well. This bowie shaped blade is really useful for utility tasks and as a defensive blade. The black finish on the Street Bowie looks great to boot, and the bowie design always looks good.

The ergonomics of the knife are very nice, with a large index finger choil and jimping on the back of the spine to really keep your hand in place. The knife is not quite full tang, but at about 3/4 tang, it is plenty strong. The handle is injection molded FRN with Keaton rubber inserts.

The polymer sheath that comes with the knife is great. Polymer, unlike leather or nylon, does not weigh significantly more when wet and is often lighter in general.

The thin profile of this blade lends itself to the person that values lightweight blades for agility.

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Cold Steel Kobun

 

Best Small Tactical Knife - Cold Steel Kobun

This blade is a hardcore tactical knife and is a great value for the price. It weighs in at 6.8 ounces including the sheath. This lightweight tanto is made of Japanese AUS 8A stainless steel. The blade length is 5.5 inches, bringing the overall knife length to just shy of 10 inches.

The knife has a full tang, but the handle is somewhat thin to save on weight. That isn’t to imply that the knife is not tough, just a consideration in how you will use this knife. Make no mistake, it it a combat knife in close quarters, and it is perfect for that role. The handle is Kraton which is grippy enough and features a lanyard hole toward the end of the handle, which is about 4.5 inches long and affords a comfortable grip.

The sheath is a thermal molded plastic that Cold Steel calls Secure-Ex and allows for good retention, even if you carry the knife vertically.

This doesn’t have the reach of some of the larger blades, but it is incredible light for people looking for a lightweight defensive knife. Cold Steel excels at making quality blades affordable and the AUS 8A blade here does the job just as reliably as knives that cost ten times as much. If you’re on a budget but are looking for a quality knife that you can stake your life on, look at this tanto.

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SOG Agency

 

Best Tactical Knives - SOG Agency

Inspired by the Randall Model 1, this knife takes it cues from the Vietnam era and has become an icon unlike any other knife out there. It is a no apologies fighting knife that has beautiful proportions. The blade is very fast and balanced in your hand.

Like the other purpose built tactical knives on this list, this blade has the ability to reach out with a 7.5 inch blade on a knife that is about 1 foot long in total. It is also light at 9.6 ounces. The blade is hollow ground and made of AUS 8 steel, which is a proven steel in military blades.

The close quarter combat proven knife features a stacked leather washer handle that is epoxied. It also comes with a sheath equipped with a sharpening stone. The blade comes in your choice of satin or black titanium nitride finish. SOG also is a reliable brand that backs this blade with a lifetime warranty.

This knife is beautifully designed and has an amazingly rich history of being used by Special Forces and Navy SEALs.

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Gerber StrongArm

 

Best Tactical Fixed Blade - Gerber StrongArm

The Gerber StrongArm is a great utility knife. Gerber has a long line of tactical and survival knives, and this is the latest in that evolution. The StrongArm uses 420HC as its blade steel covered by a diamond like coating to reduce glare and has a handle that is glass-filled nylon with a rubber overmold. The blade is 4.8 inches long and the overall measurement of the knife is 9.8 inches. The knife is a very reasonable 7.2 ounces, or 10.9 ounces when you factor in the sheath.

The sheath is modular strap-together sheath system and can be mounted vertically on MOLLE, horizontally on a belt, or in drop-leg fashion. The knife is made in the United States and comes in black and coyote, and offers straight edge or with serrations as options. The spine of the knife is sharp and works well. The rubber handle keeps a great grip, even with gloves. The steel could be better, but not at this price point. Overall, it is an outstanding value for a US produced knife.

The striking pommel at the base of the handle also has a hole for a lanyard, and could be effective at breaking surfaces in rescue missions or non-lethal strikes.

This US made combat and survival knife is a bargain for all the features you get with it, and it is little wonder it is currently so popular with troops across the globe. Gerber has a long history of making great blades, and they have made another in the StrongArm.

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Best Folding Tactical Knives

Sometimes a fixed blade is not an option due to local laws, size constraints, or practicality. In those instances, there are reliable folders out there that have earned a reputation as reliable tactical knives.


Spyderco Paramilitary 2

 

Best Tactical Folding Knife - Spyderco ParaMilitary 2

The Spyderco ParaMilitary2 is one of the best folding tactical knives out there. The CPM S30V steel is great, and comes razor sharp out of the box. This knife is on the smaller size, but in hand it feels very capable. The blade is full flat ground and keeps an edge for a long period of time under normal use.

The overall length is about 8.3 inches in length, with a 3.4 inch blade. The blade is tapered with a very fine point for precision cutting, but Spyderco measures the blade thickness at .141 of an inch, or 3.5 mm. The blade is easy to deploy with a thumb hole that can be flicked open. The hole is large enough to accommodate gloved hands as well, which is a plus if you are a soldier in the field. The bushing pivot system is adjustable so that you can make deployment and blade retention exactly how you like it.

Closing the knife is also easy. Spyderco uses a compression lock on the PM2, which is located on the back of the handle. This is convenient and Spyderco argues safer, as you do not need to manipulate a safety feature in front of the blade where the edge closes.

The finger choil and jimping really make this knife ergonomic and feel very solid in your hand. There is even a thumb ramp on the spine of the blade to brace your thumb against for a solid grip. And speaking of grip, the G-10 scales on the ParaMilitary 2 is aggressive and will let you keep a firm grasp on the blade even with wet hands. The handle also has a clip that is four way adjustable. That is, you can put the clip on either side of the knife and opt for tip up or tip down carry. The handle also features a lanyard hole so that you can attach paracord or something similar to your preference.

The Spyderco is great and offers so much in a relatively small package. The knife weighs 3.9 ounces, and it is a challenge to find a more capable knife under 4 ounces. In fact, the steel liners have been milled to save unnecessary weight in the handle while keeping the knife exceedingly strong.

This knife is perfect for people looking for a lightweight knife that will handle everyday utility tasks and function as a tactical defensive blade if necessary. This knife is made in Golden, Colorado and backed by responsive customer service.

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Benchmade Contego

Best folding knife - Benchmade Contego

 

The Contego folder is a tactical knife through and through. This knife was designed by Warren Osborne and made with CPM M4 steel. This steel is not stainless, but thankfully it is coated to cut down on corrosion.

This is the hardest blade steel Benchmade offers in a big knife. The handles are an aggressively textured G10 handle texture and a glass breaker on the pommel. The knife packs a big blade at 3.98 inches, and an overall length of 9.28 inches. The Contego is definitely not small and weighs 5.92 ounces.

The reverse tanto blade shape is aggressive but practical due to the elongated belly. Benchmade’s AXIS lock system has been around a long time and gained quite a loyal following, so the lockup is secure and reliable.

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Kershaw Ken Onion Blur

 

Best Tactical Folding Blades - Kershaw Blur

Designed by legendary knife maker Ken Onion, the Blur looks great. It is a large to medium sized knife that could be carried everyday (and often times is) but can easily fill a tactical role if the need calls for it.

The Trac-Tec inlay makes it easy to keep a grip on the6061-T6 anodized aluminum handle. Ken Onion does a great job with all his designs of finding ergonomically pleasing ways to fill the hands. This knife is no exception.

  • Speed safe opener; Liner lock locking system
  • Steel: Sandvik 14C28N, DLC coating
  • Blade Length: 3 3/8 inches; Closed Length: 4 1/2 inches; Weight: 4 ounces
  • Tip up or tip down pocket clip; Made in the USA

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Ontario Rat Model 1

 

Ontario RAT model 1 folding tactical knife

The Rat Model 1 is absolutely a wonderful value. When you first come into contact with an Ontario Rat 1, you will undoubtably think this knife costs more than it actually does. The quality of the knife is incredibly high, and it is finished nicely. This knife weighs 5 ounces, and is 4.5 inches closed and 8.5 inches when open.

The blade shape is very practical, and can be used as a defensive knife and a utility knife thanks to the blade shape. The blade itself is AUS-8 steel and comes in plain edge and combo edges. The knife comes with a liner lock with stainless steel handle liners.

Another great feature about the Rat 1 is because it is so popular, there are multiple coloration options, blade material options, blade coating options, and handle material options to choose from. If you are on a budget or just getting into knives and need a blade capable of doing anything for an incredible price, you can not fail by picking up a Rat Model 1.

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Kershaw Emerson QCQ-8K

 

Best Tactical Knife - Kershaw Emerson QCQ-8K

  • Designed by Emerson
  • Manual opening-Liner lock-Reversible pocket clip (left/right)-Steel: 8Cr13MoV
  • Black-oxide finish-Handle: Textured G-10-Blade length: 3.5 in. (8.9 cm)-Closed length: 4.6 in. (11.7 cm)
  • Designed by Emerson, built by Kershaw
  • Thumb disk; waved shaped opening feature
  • Manual opening; Liner lock; Reversible pocketclip (left/right)
  • Steel: 8Cr13MoV, black-oxide finish; Handle: Textured G-10
  • Blade length: 3.5 Inch (8.9 cm); Closed length: 4.6 Inch (11.7 cm)

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Columbia River Knife and Tool M16-14ZLEK

 

Best Tactical Folders - CRKT M16

This knife incorporates several useful tools in one package. This is our favorite option from CRKT’s popular M16 line. It is the same AUS 8 steel with a black titanium nitride finish that the other knives in the line have, but it also features a tungsten carbide window breaker and a seat belt cutter that is worked in on the Carson designed flipper.

The knife is a generous size for a folder, coming in with a 9.25 inches overall length. Length is 3.75 inches on the tanto style hollow grind blade. The edge also features triple point serrations. The M16 uses a stainless steel locking mechanism that CRKT calls AutoLAWKS is easy to manipulate with one hand and feels robust enough to treat this folder like a fixed blade. Adding to that, the flipper doubles as a blade guard, which is a huge benefit for a tactical knife to make sure your hand does not slip onto the blade when making a thrusting motion.

The knife is robust, and weighs in at 6.2 ounces. The handles are constructed with glass filled nylon and features 420J2 stainless steel liners and solid glass filled nylon back spacers make this knife exceedingly sturdy. If you are looking for an all out tactical knife that has other tools necessary to break glass or cut seatbelts, look at this M16. Further, this knife is quite a value for offering all those capabilities in a very well thought-out design.

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  • Equipped with SpeedSafe manual assist for easy one-handed opening; easily deploy blade while wearing tactical gloves by using large, ambidextrous thumb stud or blade protrusion
  • S30V stainless-steel with tungsten DLC coating and textured matte black G-10 handle; made in the USA
  • 3.25-inch blade length, 4.625-inch closed length, 7.75-inch overall length, and 5.6-ounce weight
  • Includes limited lifetime manufacturer’s warranty

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