10 Best Tactical Knives For Combat, Survival, Fighting…

man using tactical knife

A knife is one of the tools everyone should carry on them at all times.

But everyday carry pocket knives are small and aren’t always the best choice for more demanding tasks, such as survival or combat.

So, what do you do when you need a knife that can be used for mundane tasks, yet not fail you when your life is on the line?

That’s when you need a tactical knife.

No, I’m not talking about those $5 gun show knives that are over-decorated and would lose a fight to a cooked spaghetti noodle. I’m referring to serious knives made by reputable companies such as Gerber, Kershaw, and SOG.

Regardless of your budget, one of the following knives will do right by you and handle everything you ask it to do, from opening mail to fending off a bad guy.

 

The 10 Best Tactical Knives of 2019: Outdoor Empire Recommendations

  1. Benchmade Griptilian 551
  2. Kershaw Ken Onion Blur
  3. Ontario 8846 RAT
  4. SOG Flash II
  5. Spyderco Tenacious
  6. ESEE 6P
  7. Gerber Ghoststrike
  8. KA-BAR TDI
  9. KA-BAR #1213
  10. SOG SEAL Pup Elite

 

CategoryBest foldingBest fixed
ProductBenchmade Griptilian 551 Benchmade Griptilian 551
KA-BAR TDI
KA-BAR TDI

Blade Length3.45 in2.31 in
Overall Length8.07 in5.63 in
Weight3.88 oz3.2 oz
Blade MaterialN680, CPM-20CV, or CPM-S30VAUS-8A Stainless Steel
Blade StylePlain or serrated with a drop-point, sheepsfoot, or tanto pointDrop point, plain or serrated
Handle MaterialNylon, G-10, or glass-filled nylonGlass-reinforced nylon
CostCheck PriceCheck Price

5 Best Folding Tactical Knives

1. Benchmade Griptilian 551

Benchmade Griptilian 551

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.45″
  • Overall Length: 8.07″
  • Weight: 3.88 oz.
  • Blade Material: N680, CPM-20CV, or CPM-S30V
  • Blade Style: Plain or serrated with a drop-point, sheepsfoot, or tanto point
  • Handle Material: Nylon, G-10, or glass-filled nylon
  • Handle Colors: Black, gray, olive green, orange, and sand

Overview

The Benchmade Griptilian and its smaller cousin, the Mini Griptilian, are masters of EDC.

Part of the reason why is the sheer variety of choices you have available to you.

Do you like G-10 or nylon handles? Perhaps glass-filled nylon? In what color?

How about the blade? You have your choice of three points and a serrated or plain blade, either coated or with a satin finish. There are also three metals to choose from.

The AXIS lock makes it easy to open and close the knife with either hand, which can be important if your main hand is busy or injured.

As for the build quality, it’s great. Benchmade makes some of the best knives in the business. And when it gets dull, you can send it in to get sharpened for free!

Pros

  • Benchmade will sharpen your knife for you
  • Large variety of steels, blade styles, and handle materials
  • Very high build quality

Cons

  • Doesn’t come standard with a deep carry pocket clip

Recommendation

The Benchmade Griptilian is one of the best knives you can carry, full stop. If you ignore the rest of this page and buy a Griptilian, you’ll have made a good choice.

 

Benchmade Griptilian 551 is also available at:

Brownells

 

2. Kershaw Ken Onion Blur

Kershaw Ken Onion Blur

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.375″
  • Overall Length: 7.88″
  • Weight: 4.2 oz.
  • Blade Material: Sandvik 14C28N
  • Blade Style: Plain or serrated, drop-point or tanto
  • Handle Material: Aluminum
  • Handle Colors: Black, with other colors available on occasion

Overview

Ken Onion is an award-winning knife designer who often teams up with Kershaw for their knives. The Blur knife is capable of fulfilling multiple purposes, which makes it a great tactical knife.

It even has the stealth aspect of “tactical” down because most of the versions have a black handle and blade. That blade coating is a Tungsten, diamond-like coating harder than most other finishes on the market. It’s slick, too, so your knife has better chances of not getting stuck.

That handle is aluminum with a Trac-Tek coating for good grip, even if your hands are wet.

A simple push on the thumb studs springs the Speed-Safe assisted-opening system into action, so the blade opens in a split second. However, that thumb stud seems to be the main point of criticism of this knife, as it is actually pretty sharp.

You can’t swap the rather tight pocket clip from right-handed to left-handed carry, but you can move it between tip-up and tip-down carry.

An inset liner lock keeps the blade securely open.

Pros

  • DLC blade coating
  • Speed-Safe assisted-opening system

Cons

  • Uncomfortable thumb studs
  • Very tight pocket clip

Recommendation

The Kershaw Blur by Ken Onion is a lightning-fast folding tactical knife, but not everyone appreciates the thumb studs.

 

Kershaw Ken Onion Blur is also available at:

Bass Pro

Cabelas

 

3. Ontario 8846 RAT

Ontario 8846 RAT

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Overall Length: 8.5″
  • Weight: 5 oz.
  • Blade Material: AUS-8 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Style: Plain or serrated with a black or satin finish
  • Handle Material: Nylon
  • Handle Colors: Black

Overview

Ontario Knife Company has produced many knives. The RAT is their bestselling folding knife line. This is the original RAT 1, designed in collaboration with Jeff Randall. In fact, RAT is short for “Randall’s Adventure Training.”

It is on the large side, with a blade that’s 3.5 inches long, an overall length of 8.5 inches, and a weight of 5 ounces. While this hinders this knife’s concealability, it heightens its ability to handle the tough tasks put upon tactical knives. Though, the RAT is still slim enough to hide in most pockets.

The blade is made from AUS-8 stainless steel, and the handle is textured nylon. You open the blade using the thumb stud, and it’s locked open with the liner lock.

The pocket clip can be moved for right or left-handed carry, either tip-up or tip-down.

Spine jimping keeps your thumb in control on the back of the blade, though I’d prefer it to continue a little further onto the blade.

There’s also a lanyard hole.

Pros

  • Capable of handling tough tasks
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Relatively large and heavy

Recommendation

The Ontario RAT is a large, effective tactical knife, but it may be harder to conceal than other folding knives.

 

 

Ontario 8846 RAT is also available at:

Walmart

 

4. SOG Flash II

SOG Flash II

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Overall Length: 8″
  • Weight: 3.1 oz.
  • Blade Material: AUS-8 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Style: Plain or serrated with drop, clip, or tanto point
  • Handle Material: Glass-reinforced nylon
  • Handle Colors: Black

Overview

The SOG Flash II knife is a spring-assisted folder. It uses what SOG calls “SOG Assisted Technology” to open the knife. There’s a thumb stud, but more interestingly there’s a locking sliding button on the side to prevent unwanted access.

This keeps the knife safe when picked up by a child or stolen out of your pockets.

The blade is held securely open using a piston. Pull the sliding button, and the blade is released and can close again.

The blade comes in several finishes, including satin and a titanium nitride coating. TiNi is slick and tough for excellent wear characteristics.

The blade edge can be straight or serrated. The serrations seem to be smaller than on most knives, which can be a plus or minus depending on your view on serrations. Personally, I’m a fan of smaller serrations.

Unfortunately, the back of the blade lacks jimping. Also, the handle feels rather cheap.

The pocket clip is reversible between left and right. It’s also designed to stick the entirety of the pocket knife deep into your pocket, which makes the SOG Flash II very easy to conceal.

Pros

  • Deep pocket clip
  • Lock prevents unwanted opening

Cons

  • Mediocre handle

Recommendation

The SOG Flash II is a fast, easily concealable knife you can lock shut, but it doesn’t feel the best in your hand.

 

SOG Flash II is also available at:

Bass Pro

Cabelas

Brownells

 

5. Spyderco Tenacious

Spyderco Tenacious

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.39″
  • Overall Length: 7.76″
  • Weight: 4.1 oz.
  • Blade Material: 8Cr13MoV
  • Blade Style: Plain, partially serrated, or completely serrated, with a leaf blade
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Handle Colors: Black and brown

Overview

The Spyderco Tenacious has a wide, leaf-shaped blade with a long, curved edge. This maximizes the amount of cutting ability despite a length being under 3.5 inches.

This does come at the price of being wider than most folding knives, especially with the Spyderco-unique opening hole on the back of the blade. It’s easy to use but does require a wider blade. There’s no thumb stud.

Jimping and a curved section allows for great control over the blade, even out to the tip. The blade is made from 8Cr13MoV steel, which is similar to AUS-8 stainless steel, though made in China.

The handle is made from G-10, though there is a carbon fiber version available. The blade is black or satin and can have a plain edge, partially serrated edge, or completely serrated edge.

A skeletonized steel liner lock keeps the blade secure while cutting down on bulk. The pocket clip can be reversed side to side and also positioned for tip-up or tip-down carry.

Pros

  • Easy to control
  • Good cutting length in a small package

Cons

  • Rather wide for the size

Recommendation

The Spyderco Tenacious is a well-made knife, but whether you like it or not depends on how you feel about using an opening hole instead of a thumb stud.

 

Spyderco Tenacious is also available at:

Cabelas

Walmart

 

5 Best Tactical Fixed Blade Knives

6. ESEE 6P

ESEE 6P

Specs

  • Blade Length: 6.5″
  • Overall Length: 11.75″
  • Weight:  12 oz.
  • Blade Material: 1095 steel
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Material: Micarta
  • Handle Colors: Gray

Overview

The ESEE 6P is designed for both survival and combat use. The blade is 6.5 inches long, which makes it good for everything from fighting to batoning through a log. And with the no-questions-asked lifetime warranty, you can beat this knife up without worry.

Good luck breaking it, though!

The handles are made from lightweight micarta and are easily removed for cleaning or to add on your own scales. The blade, made from 1095 steel, is coated and comes in a variety of colors.

Jimping on the back of the blade puts your thumb in control over the edge, and the handles are ergonomically designed.

The sheath is an excellent selling point, too. It’s made from molded polymer, so it doesn’t add too much weight or bulk. There are ten eyelets, so you can tie it to your gear however you want. The sheath securely holds the knife but also quickly releases it with a push from your thumb.

Pros

  • Comes with a versatile sheath
  • Long, strong blade

Cons

  • Blade coating is rather thick
  • Blade rusts easily

Recommendation

The ESEE 6P is not the fanciest blade out there, but it works very well and comes with a good sheath.

 

ESEE 6P is also available at:

Brownells

 

7. Gerber Ghostrike

Gerber Ghoststrike

Specs

  • Blade Length: 3.3″
  • Overall Length: 6.9″
  • Weight: 3.6 oz.
  • Blade Material: 420HC or BDZ-1
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Material: Skeletonized steel with rubber overmolding
  • Handle Colors: Black or gray

Overview

The Gerber Ghostrike, as its name implies, is intended to be a small fixed blade you can conceal on your person almost anywhere.

It has a 3.3-inch blade with a black ceramic coating and weighs just 3.6 ounces. This light weight is achieved because, instead of having a traditional handle, the handle is skeletonized steel with rubber overmolding. It has a diamond texture grip and is very comfortable to hold.

The sheath is designed to hide horizontally on your belt. It holds the blade securely, but you can easily draw the knife with one hand.

You can also buy the Ghostrike with an ankle wrap for even more customizability.

Though intended as a tactical backup knife, the Ghostrike is very capable for everyday tasks as well as hunting and other outdoor demands.

If you want to spend a little more for a metal that can handle more abuse, the Ghostrike BDZ-1 is also available. It has a gray satin finish and gray rubber for the handle.

Pros

  • Good backup to other blades
  • Very concealable and lightweight

Cons

  • Not up to heavier tasks
  • The rubber overmolding can get damaged and come off

Recommendation

The Gerber Ghostrike is a very capable and lightweight knife that can pull double duty as an EDC knife or a backup fighting knife.

 

Gerber Ghostrike is also available at:

Bass Pro

Cabelas

 

8. KA-BAR TDI

KA-BAR TDI

Specs

  • Blade Length: 2.3125″
  • Overall Length: 5.625″
  • Weight: 3.2 oz.
  • Blade Material: AUS-8A Stainless Steel
  • Blade Style: Drop point, plain or serrated
  • Handle Material: Glass-reinforced nylon
  • Handle Colors: Black or brown

Overview

Another backup knife, the KA-BAR TDI sacrifices utility for fighting ability. TDI refers to the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, Ohio, one of the best LEO and self-defense training institutes in the US.

The TDI has an unusual handle shape. It curves forward in front of the index finger for a more aggressive stance. There are no doubts: this is a fighting knife.

This curve makes it easier to strike at an opponent. However, it also makes the blade harder to use for traditional, non-violent cutting tasks.

That blade is made from AUS-8A stainless steel. It’s rather short, but thanks to the handle design, it fits the hand well.

The sheath does its job. It holds the blade and can be clipped to your belt. Most users find it mediocre, though. Thankfully, aftermarket sheaths are available.

Pros

  • Aggressive design
  • Very concealable

Cons

  • Not suitable for most knife tasks

Recommendation

If you need a backup knife for combat, the KA-BAR TDI is your best choice.

 

KA-BAR TDI is also available at:

Brownells

Walmart

 

9. KA-BAR #1213 Fighting/Utility Knife

KA-BAR #1213 Fighting/Utility Knife

Specs

  • Blade Length: 7″
  • Overall Length: 11.75″
  • Weight: 10.4 oz.
  • Blade Material: 1095 Cro-Van
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Material: Kraton
  • Handle Colors: Black

Overview

The Ka-Bar was the original US military fighting knife. The KA-BAR #1213 is a modern tactical version, similar to the original in shape but with several upgrades.

The KA-BAR #1213 has a full-tang, black-powder-coated, 7-inch blade that is 0.17 inches thick, noticeably thicker than most other knives. This makes it strong enough to handle many bushcrafting tasks and stand up to a fight, but it may be too thin for finer tasks, such as making feather sticks.

No serrations here, unless you add your own.

While the original’s handle was made from stacked leather, the #1213 model has a black Kraton handle. Kraton is a synthetic rubber known for its grip and environmental resistance. So, it’ll stay in your hand wet or dry.

The sheath is made from glass-reinforced nylon. It has eight eyelets and four slots, so you can mount the sheath wherever you want. Good luck concealing it, though.

Pros

  • Good-quality sheath
  • Strong enough for demanding fighting and survival tasks
  • Very strong blade

Cons

  • Hard to conceal
  • Heavy and thick
  • Edge prone to rusting

Recommendation

The KA-BAR #1213 is an all-black, tactical update of the classic, yet still well-used, Ka-Bar fighting knife.

 

KA-BAR #1213 is also available at:

Brownells

 

10. SOG SEAL Pup Elite

SOG SEAL Pup Elite

Specs

  • Blade Length: 4.85″
  • Overall Length: 9″
  • Weight: 5.4 oz.
  • Blade Material: AUS-8 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Material: Glass-reinforced nylon
  • Handle Colors: Black

Overview

The SOG SEAL Pup Elite is a fighting knife that can handle serious camp tasks and comes in a smaller package than one would expect.

Its AUS-8 stainless steel blade can either have a polished satin finish or can be covered in a black titanium nitride coating. It has been subjected to SOG’s proprietary cryogenic heat treatment, which is supposed to harden the steel at the atomic level.

The handle looks like rubber, but it’s made from glass-reinforced nylon. There are finger grooves to aid in grip. They don’t fit everyone, though. I’m one of those people, cursed to shake my fist at every product with integrated finger grooves!

The spine has jimping all the way down to the point. It’s such an aggressive jimping you can use it to saw through soft wood, which increases the utility of the Pup Elite. However, the back of the blade is also scalloped, which cuts down on this utility somewhat.

The knife is made of ballistic nylon and isn’t the highest quality, though it is MOLLE compatible.

Pros

  • Cryogenic heat treated for strength
  • Lightweight for the size

Cons

  • Mediocre nylon sheath
  • The grip won’t fit everyone’s hands

Recommendation

The SOG SEAL Pup Elite is a great fixed-blade tactical knife, but it won’t fit everyone’s hands.

 

SOG SEAL Pup Elite is also available at:

Bass Pro

Walmart

 

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.

 

Handles

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.

 

F.A.Q.

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!

 

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson learned to walk in the mountains and has spent much of his life exploring the outdoors. He is equally at home in the woods, at the range, or on the gunsmithing bench, and loves to build guns almost as much as he enjoys shooting them. His travels have taken him to the four corners of the United States. Though his favorite hunting spot is in Alaska, Kansas deer taste better.

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