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Choosing a Tactical Knife | U.S. PATRIOT NEWS & REVIEWS

Choosing a Tactical Knife

As a young boy growing up in a rural area there were some very special milestones that I and most of my friends aspired to, like when you were handed your first pocket knife. Whether it was brand new or a hand-me-down that another family member had outgrown, it did not matter because now it was yours.

It was a different time, and although giving a boy his first knife was a big deal, having a knife was not. A knife was simply a tool, something you used every day without giving it much thought. I carried that belief with me into adulthood and into my law enforcement career.

Tactical KnifeWhen I first started, it was not a common practice to see a police officer carrying a knife. Sure, a lot did it but they were usually dropped into a pocket and not seen by the general public. Today it’s different; almost every officer carries a knife and most are visibly clipped to the pocket of their cargo pants.

As the popularity of knives grew within the law enforcement community, so did the availability of “tactical” or “duty” versions. The problem with this is just because something is labeled “tactical” does not mean it is actually suitable for duty. So, I have compiled a list of features I look for when selecting a duty knife.

Just keep in mind these are the features I look for and, although I think it will assist you in picking a suitable knife, there are certain “personal traits” you may want in your own knife. Plus, some specialized units may have a need for additional features. I hope these tips at least give you a foundation on which you can build your perfect knife.

Choosing a Tactical Knife: Size Matters

Knives are available in a variety of shapes and sizes from tiny 2″ folders that you can drop in a change pocket to massive 2 ft Bowies you need a caddy to carry for you. For most, a folder with a 3.5 – 4.5″ blade and 8 – 9″ overall length will be both functional and comfortable. Any smaller and you risk breaking it on even ordinary tasks. Any bigger and you will simply find it too difficult to carry day to day.

Choosing a Tactical Knife: Design

This really is a matter personal preference; however, I have come to like a few design traits that my favorite blades have shared.

Some of Tom's favorite knives.
Some of Tom’s favorite knives.

Tanto blades outperform most others. The angled tip allows for both cutting and stabbing, when necessary, while retaining the ability to utilize a thick blade spine for extra durability.

Regardless of the design you choose, I would strongly encourage you to also consider a blade with a serrated section as well a thumb stud and a pocket clip. Serrated blades cut almost anything, even when dull, and a thumb stud can make a world of difference when trying to open one handed and under stress. Pocket clips make carrying it possible to carry and rapidly deploy without the use of a sheath. They also allow you to carry the same knife in the same location in and out of uniform.

Choosing a Tactical Knife: Material

The best of the best are made from Damascus steel, known for both its durability and sharpness. However, it is cost prohibitive and not widely available in everyday folders. Instead, many of today’s more respectable knife makers utilize AUS 8, known for durability as well as ease of sharpening.

The casing and grip should be made of a composite material to prevent cracking or shrinking, and include a checkered pattern for improved retention when wet. I have tried a few models that used a rubber-like material for improved comfort but found that over time, they tend to dry and crack which often renders them useless.

Choosing a Tactical Knife: Fit to Handle

The most important feature for any knife is also the most personal of all – how it fits in YOUR hand. It should be well balanced, not too heavy in either the grip or blade. The grip shape should also fit comfortably in your hand without sharp edges or pinch points. Finally, I avoid molded finger grooves. Not only do they fit poorly when the grip is reversed, but they also provide sharp edges and potential pinch points.

Choosing a tactical knife is a highly personal decision. Hopefully these tips give you something to think about when you’re making your next knife purchase.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the policies of this website or organization.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

10 thoughts on “Choosing a Tactical Knife

  1. Today I feel compelled to chime in with my opinions. I agree completely with the”Fit to Handle” paragraph. It needs to fit and fit well. For some people the search for the right knife can take months of daily carry and if this is truly a tactical knife I recommend stabbing cardboard with it (and use protective gloves for your stabbing tests).

    For me a tactical knife MUST have a substantial finger choil. As a reference point I use a Kershaw Blur as my daily carry, but I hope to never have to stab anything with it. It has lots of traction but when I am super tired or have been hit a few times, my hand has a real possibility of slipping toward the blade. I also use a SOG Aegis a lot, and that knife is not good enough either. For me the Kershaw Piston works as does the Spyder Co Pacific Salt. Quick note on the Pacific Salt, I do not find this design ideal as it does not have a choil, but the hump on top of the blade has been good enough in practice that I use it for my aquatic environments.

    On the design paragraph I only partly agree. A sharp straight edge will cut better than a serrated edge. That being said not everyone is as fastidious as I am at keeping a knife really sharp.

    To the author about the knife “Material” paragraph. NOPE, can’t agree at all. The original Damascus knife’s appearance is a side effect of old forging techniques being used to combine differently refined steels. Someone might create a Damascus blade by taking a bunch of random steel and pounding it together. What if I took some tool steel and then squished in some stainless steel, and then pounded in some armored steel. Sure they are all steel, but each was designed for a different purpose. The tool steel parts will keep an edge better than the stainless steel, but will rust like crazy. The armored steel will be hard but so brittle that it will snap long before the tool steel. Today Damascus steel is not made the same way and it is usually a good quality steel, but the name simply implies fancy looking not better quality.

    Not all AUS 8 steel is the same, but SOG makes/buys good AUS8. These days good stainless and tool steel is easy to come by with any of the major knife makers. I am also fond of 14C28N, S30V, 5160, D2, 440C, 8Cr14MoV, and many others.

    Size: If you are law enforcement, I agree with 3.5-4.5 completely. If you are a civilian in a less than free state, 3.00-3.75 inch blades may be more appropriate looking or legally mandated. I always try to get as close to 4 inches in a folding knife as possible.

    1. David,

      Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to read the article. You make some good points, much of which will be useful to many of the readers. As I stated early in the article, I was trying to point out dome the features I find both useful and practical. I no sooner attempt to tell others what makes “the best knife” than I would “the best handgun”. Both are as much a matter of personal preference as design, make or model.

  2. Thanks for a great article. There is a fairly well know alternative to the thumb pin that I think works well. That is, the 14mm hole that Spyderco’s have. I have used Benchmade’s with the thumb pin and Spyderco’s with the hole and have grown to appreciate the hole. This is especially true when working with gloved hands. You can infrequently miss the pin but I have yet to miss the hole when attempting to open the knife.

    1. Hal,

      Thank you for taking the time to comments. You make a good point concerning the hole vs. pin. It has been sometime since I carried a Spyerco but I would agree- it was a valuable feature which never failed!

  3. This is a great article. I loved it because it listed everything I look for in a pocket knife. I would recommend everyone check out the Cold Steel Recon 1. I bought this knife online and will never buy another. It has a tanto blade which I didn’t realize how much I would love. I never realized how versatile and useful it is for everyday use. It’s folding action takes a bit to wear in, it’s really tough. And the grip is incredible. This might sound like an ad but I assure you it’s not. I’m just a guy that really likes my pocket knives and this is the best one I’ve found.

  4. I have a total hard-on for Gerber de facto. The two flaws really lie in the sheath not being so great at connecting with molle/palls (still works better than nothing) and you have to finish down the retainer tab to get a smooth draw. You can literally kill yourself by how hard the knife is to pull out (lock down tab off). File it down and you have a perfect knife. Great rubberized grip, window smasher, double edged and double serated, and its the perfect knife for blending into the desert environment as even the blade is tan. Gerber made an almost perfect knife, but after filing it is due to having great balance. Those wanting non serated and black, Gerber does have a black version soon to be released called the strongarm.

    as for folders, I really want to try a cold steel knife. Those XL ones look good, especially since they got nice finger grooves to prevent slippage as opposed to most other folder knives

  5. I respect Law Enforcement. I currently serve as an active duty member of the Armed Forces. I feel like tactical knives, if they are going to be described as such, should be for either taking the battle to the enemy or opening MREs. Knives used by Law Enforcement can be duty knives; but if your primary duty is protecting and serving at a local level, your focus should on just that. I might be splitting silly hairs, but words mean something, and I feel like a Tactical Knife should have a tactical purpose… not just good everyday carry, utilitarian characteristics.

    1. Steve,

      Thank you for your comments and for reading the article.
      I understand your point, but I bel you are making an assumption that tactical applies only to the military. If you can use your tactical knife to “open MREs” while waiting to take the fight to the enemy why can’t I use mine to cut seat belts while doing the same?

  6. Great article. Following these guidelines anyone should be able to pick out the perfect knife. And you bring up a great point with the fit to handle perspective. Hadn’t ever occurred to me that once the grip is reversed the fit changes.

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