Tactical Knives – What You Need To Know
What They’re For:
Tactical knives are knives that have been expressly manufactured with the core intention of being used for military or martial purposes. Being prepared for martial use means that they need to be able to withstand tough weather, a reasonable amount of trauma & have multiple use cases.
Unlike other knives, tactical knives must not only be able to carry out a wide range of duties/tasks, but they must also be suitable for use in combat.
What They Are
As far back as World War 2, militaries began issuing “utility knives” which were not really intended for use in combat, but could still preform a wide range of tasks and duties.
These knives would fold out and “lock” in place to ensure the blade didn’t retract back into the handle during heavy use.
These knives weren’t just appealing to military personnel either. They seen a reasonable amount of use from civilians too.
Around the time of the 1990s, the popularity of these knives skyrocketed and the term “tactical knife” was pretty much solidified as referring to knives in this category.
Modern tactical knvies often make heavy use of synthetic compounds. Especially around the grip/handle to ensure a more comfortable and reliable and grip. They’re seldom built to be shiny – they often have a much duller tone.
They’re engineered to be sturdy and assist you in a wide array of tasks – including hunting.
Critics of tactical knives would warn you that the knives are not ideal in a combat situation as they often times must be unfolded. We would also offer the same advice – tactical knives are not combat knives. They’re designed to be rugged enough that they can potentially be used for this purpose in an emergency – they’re not designed for this purpose first and foremost.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best possible tactical knives that are out there for 2020.
The Best Tactical Knives 2020
Gerber 06 F.A.S.T SM Knife
Gerber are a company with a long history of developing tools and blades. They actually looked to the U.S Military for information to help them design this knife. Combine this with the fact that all of Gerbers products are actively field tested and you have a winning combination.
They decided upon the construction of a toggle-able, sliding safety mechanism that can be used to lock the knife in both an open and closed position.
The F.A.S.T stands for “Forward Action Spring Technology” – One of the more common complaints surrounding tactical knives is the length of time it takes to unfold them. This has a quick release button which springs the blade into a locked position instantly.
The handle has an inlay that’s textured specifically to enhance your ability to grip the knife under all circumstances.
the 2.8 inch blade is incredibly sharp and pretty easy to sharpen.
SOG Rescue Pocket Knife – Trident Elite Tactical
The Trident Elite is a solid knife that brings you great value for money. It’s manufactured from stainless steel to give it a better resistance to wear and corrosion. The blade itself is actually 3.7 inches in length which is great for jobs that require a less stubby blade.
There’s an integrated emergency cord cutter located in a groove in the handle of this blade. The knife handle itself is composed of nylon (glass-reinforced) and and rubber (molded in shape that optimises your ability to grip the knife).
It can be opened with one hand utilising it’s easy to use assisted opening mechanism. It can be locked easily and released whenever necessary.
It’s manufactured in the USA from AUS-8 Stainless Steel. This steel is heat treated by lowering the temperature of the steal to -300 degree fahrenheit and brought to room temperature. This relieves all stress in the steel for a sturdier, more reliable knife.
Harnds Warrior/General Tactical Folding Knife
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a tanto point, we’ll explain.
Tanto points were originally created with the sole purpose of stabbing into armour. They’re designed to have an extremely pointed angle with a sharp edge. The higher point and flatter grind of these blades was first conceptualised during the days where melee combat was the standard, not the exception.
This design means that it’s absolutely perfect for piercing hard materials. This greatly expands upon its function as a “survival” knife as it increase the range of materials in which you are able to manipulate.
This knife in particular is made from D2 steel, which has the advantage of amazing edge retention, strength and durability. The only downside is that it requires slightly more maintenance than its stainless steel counterparts.
The blade is easy to grip and lightweight, and the sound it makes when the blade is deployed is almost musical.
The blade has a length of 3.78″, whilst not huge it’s still more than enough to get the job down. Weighing in at less than 7ozs this knife is unlikely to cause you any trouble or get in your way.
Steinbrucke Tactical Knife
The Steinbrucke Tactical Knife is built with a grizzly, tough 58-59 HRC (stainless) steel frame. It has excellent edge retention and an incredibly sharp 3.4″ blade. The frame itself is a little bit thicker than normal to provide a bit of extra sturdiness and protection from trauma.
Steinbrucke are a company who specialise in building solid, good quality tactical knifes to the public at a reasonable price. So you shouldn’t expect your jaw to hit the floor when you price this knife on or off site.
The spring assisted quick deployment mechanism is normally a little bit tight for it’s first couple of uses. But after about 10 or so uses it’ll start to feel normal.
The clip for attaching this knife to your belt or pocket locked great – it’s also pretty rugged and can be mounted ambidextrously. (that is to say, on either side of your body.)
The ergonomic, slip resistant handle feels awesome in either hand and aesthetically speaking compliments the design of the blade overall.
It’s built to be highly resistant to corrosion too, but as always we would advise taking good care of your knives regardless of how well they’re built.
SOG Fixed Blade Knife with Sheath [Best Fixed Blade]
If you’re thinking more along the lines of a fixed blade knife, this is absolutely ideal.
This knife is 9.6 inches in length, which places it on the larger end of the tactical knife spectrum. Impressively, 4.9 of these inches are entirely blade.
The blade is full tang for enhanced strength and balance and it’s made of an AUS-8 stainless steel. This will bring some piece of mind to those of you who are worried about degradation.
The blade has been treated with/coated with titanium nitride to increase its strength. It has also received heat treatment to greatly enhance its durability. This blade has been cooled down to incredibly low temperatures then brought back up to room level to remove stress from the metal.
The sheath is made of hard-molded plastic, it can be clipped into your belt, concealed in your boot or attached to anywhere else you feel is necessary.
As you’ll find out further down – a major sign of a quality manufacturer is how willing they are to bother replacing faulty products. SOG consider all requests for replacement/refunds within reason. If you encounter any issues with your knife, provided you’ve treated it normally (and not bashed it up with a hammer) just get in contact with them and they’ll look into potentially helping you out.
SMITH & WESSON SW7 Fixed Blade Knife [Best Budget Buy]
Smith & Wesson are another reliable make. Despite their huge brand name, this knife is seldom seen venturing far from it’s low price point. This knife could easily be an extra 30 or so dollars and no one would flinch because of the brand identity behind it.
Pushing branding aside, the knife itself is excellent. It’s a fixed blade with a very sharp point and a sharp edge on both sides past the first inch or so. This would be ideal for piercing harder materials, stripping wood or any other utilitarian task you could throw at it.
With a total size of 10.6 inches, it’s a little bit on the large side. I’d only really opt for this knife if you don’t mind a slightly bigger knife and you have the space to spare.
Despite the larger size, the blade length is about 5.1 inches, which is just under half
It has a hand guard with a solid grip. The thermoplastic elastomer grip works incredibly well with jimping on both sides of the handle. If you’re unfamiliar with what jimping is – it’s simply when notches are made in the handle of a blade to increase how well you can grip it with your hands.
The blade is made of a high carbon stainless steel, but it’s not heat treated. However, for the low price point, this isn’t entirely surprising.
What To Look For In A Tactical Knife – A Buyers Guide
Shopping around for the best tactical knife can be tricky. There are a few important things to keep in mind – one of the most glaringly obvious being the key differences between other varieties of knives and this particular one.
Anyone with any kind of basic level of familiarity with blades, bladed tools or bladed weaponry in general would probably be able to explain this to you. The differences are definitely noticeable.
You’d be forgiven for mixing up a tactical knife with another outdoors-man type knife, such as a hunting knife or a mora knife. There’s an overlap for the requirements in all three of those types of knives – but each of them are better at something. Hunting knifes are actually designed for killing and skinning prey, for example.
But they’re not really balanced for much else and they’re pretty large and unruly. Likewise, mora knifes are excellent for cutting up materials as they’re a fixed blade knife – but they aren’t balanced for combat like a tactical knife and their blades aren’t really lengthy enough to consistently use for hunting purposes.
Here’s a few key factors to look out for when shopping around for your knife:
Material science is a constantly evolving field. So much so that advice on the materials used in the manufacturing of certain things can become outdated quickly. On an evolutionary scale – it wasn’t long ago that we were exclusively limited to manufacturing weaponry from bronze.
Luckily, for the last decade or so, the materials used in the production and manufacturing of tactical knives hasn’t really changed.
The materials involved in the manufacturing process of any blade are vital. They determine the strength of the blade, the blades ability to stay sharp (edge retention). They determine how quickly your blade will begin to deteriorate after exposure to the elements.
The best tactical knife will be able to withstand a reasonable amount of trauma without losing its edge.
The build quality has to be good too, obviously. It doesn’t matter if it’s made of the most expensive alloys on the planet – if it’s built poorly it’s not going to serve you well.
Generally speaking, stainless steel is the way to go. Some other steel-type alloys have slightly better edge retention – but at the cost of having to more regularly maintain your blade to protect it from rust and decay.
Heat treatment is another factor to consider. It’s possible for manufacturers, provided they have the correct metal in the first place, to heat treat their materials. This process is actually quite simple, and the result that come from it happen at an atomic level.
When metal is cold, it retracts. When it is warm, it expands. If there’s stress within a metal, it can be effectively “ironed” out by exposing this metal to incredibly cold temperatures (negative several hundred degrees fahrenheit).
The metal is then brought back to room temperature, with all the stress of before completely removed. This makes the metal demonstrably tougher than identical types of metal that haven’t been exposed to the heat treatment.
As you might have imagined, this isn’t a cheap process, and it likely isn’t too easy either. So if you see a knife that’s made from metal that has been heat treated, you can expect it to be a little bit more expensive than one manufactured from generic steel.
W1 Tool Steel
This can be used, for example. But it’s pretty high maintenance. Often times your sharpening tools will be made of this metal, which can be a bit awkward. It also rusts pretty quickly.
The major upside is that it has a far superior cutting power, it’ll even cut through other types of steel. As long as you actually take the time to clean, dry and oil a knife made from W1 then it’ll last you years.
The only real major prohibiting factor with W1 knives is that you need to ensure the handle isn’t going to let air and moisture in – or it’ll allow the knife to degrade. Make sure the knife handle isn’t made from easily degradable materials such as Kraton either. You want a proper, polymer based handle that will easily keep out moisture without deteriorating
The materials used in manufacturing the grip of the blade determine whether or not it’s going to come flying out of your hand at a crucial moment. You could opt for a purely metal handle too, but make sure it’s designed in such a way that you can still grip it in a stable manner.
It’s generally best to avoid blades made in China – they’re often produced with a much lower quality of metal and will fall apart pretty quickly.
Blades made with steel with a hardness between 57 to 59c are pretty reliable. Harder ones are actually more prone to breaking and softer ones are more likely to bend.
Size & Weight
The weight of the knife will be somewhat influenced by the previous step. But the manufacturing process itself and the overall design of the knife will be the primary factors in determining it’s size & weight.
The primary tasks you plan on utilising your knife for should largely influence what size & weight you go for. larger, heavier knifes are obviously going to be more useful for preforming survival/bushcraft type tasks. Whereas smaller knifes are going to be more practical for transport and useful for tasks that require slightly more finesse.
Generally, an ideal tactical knife is actually on the smaller side of things. Big enough that it can be used for all of the intended purposes of a tactical knife – but not so large as to be unruly. You want something that slips easily into a backpack or clips on to your belt without getting in the way.
Three or four inch blades are ideal for most tactical knife related purposes. We do not recommend choosing a knife that is more than nine inches in length as it will be fairly unruly.
Folding knives are obviously ideal because they conserve space when folded up and don’t need to be carried in a sheath for safety purposes.
Type Of Blade
The design and shape of the blade can massively impact the utility and function of the knife. A solid edge with decent edge retention with a reasonable amount of thickness is desirable. If you’re expecting a blade to be subject to a reasonable amount of trauma, smaller, thicker blades are ideal. They won’t break if you’re using them to scrape/scratch/dig away at something.
If you can foresee your blade being used more for cutting only, longer blades with sharper edges are ideal.
Blades with a thickness between .13-.19 are going to give you a reasonable amount of strength. Smaller ones will be more prone to breaking whereas larger ones will be awkward to handle.
You should opt for a knife that won’t be awkward to sharpen either. Using a bog standard sharpener is a lot easier than using some of the more niche sharpeners. It’ll save you money in the long run too as you won’t have to keep buying different types of sharpeners for different types of blades.
Folding Knives Vs Other
This largely boils down to personal preference. You need to weigh up the cost to benefit ratio of both knives.
For example, folding knives are more convenient to transport – they don’t require a sheath and they are much more compact. You can tuck a folding knife into your boot or store it in an easily accessible pocket if you don’t have enough space in your backpack.
But they take a few seconds to actually withdraw, which in a survival scenario could cost you your life.
Fixed blades have the benefit of being much stronger as they don’t rotate on any kind of axis. You don’t need to worry about the locking mechanism failing on you with a fixed blade. They’ll generally hold up to trauma a little bit better than folding knives.
The brand who manufacture your knife are something to consider too. There’s hundreds of tonnes of cheap, knock off Chinese knives all over the internet.
Going with a well respected and well known brand means that you have an effective guarantee of quality. And we do mean guarantee – most large brands in the knife making industry offer warranties ranging from a few years to entire lifetime coverage.
Take the warranty in to consideration when making your purchase – it could end up saving you some money in the future.
Knives that are advertised as “knives for law enforcement” may very well be totally fake. Do your due diligence in the company that are manufacturing them and find out if law enforcement actually make any use of these knives.
We’ve reached an era where it’s incredibly easy to produce a fake product from garbage materials but engineer it to look like it’s made from the highest quality materials. You’ll only find out it’s fake when you go to use it and it falls apart – or worse, hurts you.
Tactical knives can be used for self defense, that’s one of their core purposes and one of the major reasons for their popularity. Don’t pick something that’s going to give out on you when you really need it most.
Ideal Outdoor Knives
Plenty of knives on the market are designed for use at home for general utility purposes. Whilst it’s true that tactical knifes can fulfill this purpose, they’re a little bit over-engineering for this task. It’s like using a grenade to light your cigarette. The high quality steel used in the production process of these items + the massive list of responsibilities they must be able to carry out are what makes us suggest this.
Every knife on the list above has been vetted thoroughly to make sure it holds up our standards. Utilizing the buying guide we’ve created for you, you won’t need to pick any of them. You can simply take the information from this guide and apply it to your own shopping. But it’s likely you’ll end up settling for one of the knives above.
Basic Blade Maintenance
If you’ve opted for a blade made from a material that’s more prone to degradation than others – you should know how to properly clean it. The actual steps for taking care of a blade aren’t hard – they don’t even take long. People often just don’t bother because they can’t be care.
Which is a shame, because any knife should be treated with respect. Even if you didn’t go all out on an expensive knife – a bit of blade maintenance goes a long way.
It can be tempting to avoid cleaning and oiling your knife. Especially if you’re just going to be using it again tomorrow.
Owning a stainless steel blade can dissuade some people too. Primarily because they’re generally marketed as “lower maintenance” blades.
We’re here to tell you to stop. Get all of this out of your head. It’s bad practice to not maintain your tools – whatever your reasoning for doing so.
So, how do you actually go about maintaining your blade?
Cleaning, Drying & Oiling
Cleaning a blade isn’t too difficult. The first thing you should probably be conscious of is this:
Never put your knife in the dishwasher. Just don’t do it. The detergent dishwashers use can rapidly accelerate the degradation of a knife. Combine this with the high heat most dishwashers run at and you have an issue.
Even the best tactical knife will struggle to hold up against frequent exposure to chemicals.
When you’re ready to clean your knife, simply use some soap and warm water.
Are you satisfied that you’ve gotten all of the loose dirt from your knife? Use a soft cloth to dry it. Do not let your knife air dry – this speeds up the oxidation process and allows rust to form quicker.
Once you’re certain that your knife is definitely dry, it’s time to apply some oil. Oil will protect the metal on your knife from being exposed directly to the open air. It forms a sort of protective layer that will prevent degradation.
You can use something as simple as WD40. Alternatively you can use something a bit more niche such as Japanese knife oil or mineral oil. It’s up to personal preference.
If you’re looking to increase the longevity of your knives it’s important part to keep them clean and dry. Oil will help too, but it can only help so much. If you’re not drying them off properly and keeping them somewhere away from moisture, expect problems.