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10 Best Tactical Knives [Hands-On]: Combat Proven

From budget folder to military preferred...we've tested them all. Find out the best tactical knives that are battle proven.

In the world of guns “tactical” gets thrown around a lot and sometimes things claiming to be tactical can be a little overhyped, or downright useless. The same goes for the knife world.

12. Gerber Knives in River

So what makes a tactical knife? Well, we’re going to tell you…and give you a few models we recommend.

Keep reading to learn more!

Disclaimer: Each state has its own laws regarding knives so be sure to check the laws in your area. Not all knives are legal in all areas.

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Best Budget Folder

    Kershaw Emerson CQC-7

    Affordable, good folder

  2. Best Budget Auto Open

    Boker Plus Strike Automatic

    Budget-friendly, solid knife

  3. Most Rugged

    Benchmade Claymore

    Auto-open, durable

  4. The OG

    KA-BAR

    Served in multiple wars, rugged

  5. Best Fixed Blade

    Gerber StrongArm

    Mid-tier pricing, fixed blade

  6. Best Dagger Blade

    SOG Pentagon FX

    Dual side dagger blade, pricey

Table of Contents

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What Makes a Tactical Knife Tactical & Why You Should Carry One

Put simply the most common features of tactical knives are aggressive grip material, speedy one-handed opening, and purpose-built blades.

When looking for a tactical knife you want to consider a few things.

Grippy, grippy

First, what will you primarily be using the knife for? Second, what tactical conditions will the knife need to perform under, and finally how does it fit in your hand? Just like anything in life the coolest most expensive gear does you no good if it doesn’t fit you and your needs.

But why carry one? It boils down to preparedness and/or occupation. LEO, first responders, and military understand the importance of a good duty-built knife.

31. Gerber Principle Voda Tactics

Tactical knives still have an important place for those that are not on the front lines daily. A good tactical knife can be the difference between escaping a car crash, defending yourself, and helping others in distress, or not.

Obviously, you don’t want to bring a knife to a gunfight but as a last line of defense, it could make the difference when it counts.  

So while there are many great knives in the world, not all are built to perform under strenuous situations. The last thing you want is your knife to fail when trying to perform some critical task.

To Serrate or Not to Serrate?

This is the question.

Normally this would boil down to preference, but with a tactical knife it boils down to use.

If you are going to be cutting through the webbing, rough material, or won’t be near a sharpener for a long time, then a serrated or partially serrated edge is for you.

serrated tomato

But if you want a good slicer and self-defense knife then the plain edge will be your jam. You want the right tool for the job.

Now that you know what a tactical knife is and how to choose the best one for you let’s dive into the top tactical knives.

Best Tactical Knives

1. Kershaw Emerson CQC-7

I like the Kershaw Emerson CQC-7 because it is an inexpensive production knife based on a time-tested Ernest Emerson Design.

Usually, the words “inexpensive” mixed with a designer’s name should make you run for the hills but this CQC-7 is a rare exception.

Best Budget Folder
45
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The hollow ground clip point blade is perfect for self-defense as well as EDC tasks. Its thumb disk on the spine of the blade acts as an easy opener for normal uses.

The wave on the back of the blade, known as the Emerson Wave, was designed specifically for Navy Seals in self-defense situations.

Kershaw Emerson CQC-7

When pulled correctly from your pocket the wave will catch on the side of the pocket and pull the knife open and lock in a matter of seconds leaving one hand free while still deploying your blade.

Even if you never use it in self-defense it is a great way to impress your buddies.

2. Boker Plus Strike Automatic

The Boker Strike is an incredibly well-built, solid automatic knife for the price.

It comes with an aluminum textured handle and burly drop point blade with plain or partially serrated edge options.  

Best Budget Auto Open
55
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Strike is big enough to use with a gloved hand yet compact enough that it doesn’t take up all of your pocket.

Boker Plus Strike Automatic

With the built-in slide lock safety, you’ll never have to worry about a misfire in a pocket or in hand. The Strike walks a pretty perfect line between reliable, usable, and affordable.

3. Cold Steel Safe Maker 1

The Cold Steel Safe Maker 1 is a self-defense push dagger through and through.

Many LEO carry one behind their magazine holsters on their duty belt.

Cold Steel Safe Maker 1

If someone were to go for the officer’s gun, the officer could put a control hand over their gun and pull the push dagger with their other hand to neutralize the threat.

45
at Blade HQ

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Short of full-on self-defense, the push dagger does not have much use. A lot of people will carry push daggers as backup blades. As you know one is none two is one.

4. Cold Steel Recon 1

The Recon 1 is an overbuilt workhorse.

Outfitted with Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad Lock you can trust this folder will perform under any stress you can throw at it.

Cold Steel Recon 1

The Recon 1 comes in a few different blade patterns but my personal favorite is the tanto, especially for tactical applications.

124
at Blade HQ

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With all of its strong qualities, this Cold Steel is not lacking in refinement — premium steel, grippy G-10 handle scales, and fully ambidextrous design make the Recon 1 a pretty sweet package for the money.

cold steel recon 1 fire
Cold Steels Recon 1 is great for starting fires.

We also loved it in our Best EDC Knives article.

5. Spyderco Yojimbo 2

The Yojimbo 2 is a serious self-defense knife designed and perfected by close-quarter combat expert Michael Janich.

The unique Wharncliffe blade shape is designed to ensure maximum surface contact in any situation. The iconic hole in the blade, (also known as the “Spydie Hole”), makes for fast one-handed opening and manipulation.

171
at Blade HQ

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Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Yojimbo 2 pairs amazing handle ergonomics with grippy G-10 scales to ensure a secure purchase regardless of how you are holding the knife.

While purpose-built for self-defense the Yojimbo 2 is the perfect size for EDC which allows you to keep it close at hand all the time.

6. Benchmade Claymore

The Benchmade Claymore delivers a rugged out-the-side automatic knife for the toughest missions in life.

Unlike other automatic knives, this is a blade that’s not sensitive to rough and tumble use. While most automatic knives might be best used for self-defense tasks, this is a working man’s or woman’s knife.

Most Rugged
207
at BladeHQ

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Benchmade used CPM-D2 steel — D2 doesn’t hold back. You can work it to the nub, but it’ll take you a decade or two. It won’t bend, chip, or break easily.

The Claymore earns its name as a beefy knife with its 3.6-inch blade. Users can pick between a serrated or straight blade. I’m partial to a straight blade personally but to each their own.

Claymore

It’s not the easiest to sharpen but the blade keeps its edge for a long period of time.

Hit the button and watch your fingers as it flies out the side and locks in place. A safety keeps it from opening in your pocket, and it allows the blade to keep locked in place.

Sean's EDC claymore

7. The Classic Ka-Bar

The Ka-Bar isn’t the most modern knife on the market, but it remains one of the most versatile knives on the market.

What do you need a tactical knife for? Fighting and self-defense? Camping? Hiking, hunting, all the other tasks you could ever face in this big mean world?

The OG
89
at Blade HQ

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Well, the Ka-Bar can handle it. This tool has proven itself throughout several wars, including World War II, Vietnam, and the Global War on Terror.

The Ka-Bar’s 7-inch blade features a small section of serration that allows you to rip and tear into thicker materials.

What I Carried KA-BAR (2)

The blade sports a big belly allowing for deep cuts and solid slices. You can skin game, sharpen stakes, and cut deep without a ton of effort.

Its handle is wrapped in leather for a sure grip, and the clip point blade makes it fairly versatile.

The classic Ka-Bar has stuck around for decades for a reason, and it’s still a solid, multi-use tactical knife.

What I Carried Beretta and KA-BAR
Beretta and KA-BAR

8. Gerber StrongArm

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good, solid tactical knife.

I own two Gerber StrongArm knives and only own two because it was a BOGO deal. I’ve never needed to even use the second because the first one I’ve opened has taken a beating without complaint.

Best Fixed Blade
79
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Gerber StrongArm is a simple but affordable fixed blade tactical knife that features a 420HC, 4.8-inch blade that’s also a full tang blade. At the end of the handle sits a lanyard loop and a glass or skull-breaking pommel, depending on your needs.

The StrongArm sheath can be oriented vertical or horizontal, or even on a MOLLE platform. Plenty of options make the Strongarm easy to carry regardless of how you’re planning to carry it.

14. Gerber Strongarm in Log
Gerber Strongarm

The StrongArm uses a rubberized diamond coating that’s plenty comfortable but also provides a solid grip when in use.

It features a ceramic coating on the blade for better durability, and it’s fairly capable of resisting the world. Hell, mine has been used as a knife, shovel, a pry bar, and more, and it just keeps on keeping on.

9. CRKT Goken

James Williams, one of the most respected American martial artists, helped CRKT design a simple but effective knife known as the Goken.

The blade features a unique shape that allows for both deep slashes and quick stabs. CRKT uses a 3.69-inch blade made from 1.4116 stainless steel.

59
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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This steel is plenty tough, with excellent corrosion resistance and great wear resistance. Altogether, it makes a dependable and tough blade for all your slicing and dicing needs.

CRKT describes the blade as an Osoraku Zukuri Modified Tanto Style Blade. I can tell you it’s got a nice corner for deep cuts and a scalpel-like tip that will dive deep and cut into whatever needs cutting.

That blade disappears into the handle and folds away for a nice and tight fit into the pocket. The flipper design ensures the blade opens with a swiftness when needed, and the liner lock stands in place regardless of how dirty things get.

The grip itself grips back with an aggressive texturing that keeps the blade locked into your hand.

Who needs a big, sharp knife slipping around when it comes time to slice and dice? It’s clear that practical use was the goal of the Goken. Plus, it’s not a wallet killer either.

10. SOG Pentagon FX

Daggers have always been an awesome option for the tactical knife. The dual edges make it easy to cut one way or another and to change direction quite quickly.

SOG’s Pentagon FX utilizes a dual-sided dagger blade with a modern design from tip to hilt. S35VN steel is used for a durable blade that is absurdly sharp.

Best Dagger Blade
249
at SOG

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A dagger doesn’t offer the same versatility as other knives, but it’s one heckuva knife for self-defense and fighting.

That blade is a full tang design with a set of G10 grips. G1 is a heated and compressed fiberglass-derived material that is strong and also super grippy by nature. It clings to your hand and doesn’t slip from your grip.

SOG Pentagon FX
SOG Pentagon FX

If you need to reduce the size, the grips can be removed for a thinner, more concealable knife.

The Benchmade Pentagon FX shows what a dagger should be in 2022 and stays sharp, ready, and eternally useful. Just don’t cut yourself…

Final Thoughts

While tactical everything is all the rage, these knives stand out as truly “tactical” options that can cover you for most situations you’ll encounter.

20. Gerber Strongarm on Hip
Gerber StrongArm

Now that you’re a pro on what the best tactical knives are which one are you going to get? Did we forget the one you think should have made it? Check out our favorites in Best EDC Knives.

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39 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    tirod3

    I will stick to just the introduction caution: being careful about what you carry in a particular jurisdiction. The recent SCOTUS decision on shall issue Concealed Carry has another aspect buried in the 2d and 14th Amendments - the word "arms" is not limited to "firearms." The national knife rights organization contributed to this victory with their support, and prohibiting carry of knives "because" will be assisted by this decision.

    MO pretty much dropped all the "daggers and dirks" nonsense, TX now allows automatics, and overall we are seeing the same roll back of restrictions that CCW is experiencing from the 90's on. You can say it's a two edged effect, new gun freedoms and new knife freedoms being recovered. Now there will be more.

    June 26, 2022 12:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    1912Patriots

    I'll stick with the Microtechs I've been carrying one for 15 years. Both OTF and fixed blade

    June 23, 2022 10:02 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Alternator

    The SOG Pentagon sucks azz. Very poorly designed blade that is SO thick that NO amount of sharpening will make it cut anything. Complete WASTE of high-end (and EXPENSIVE) steel. The sheath is also an overly complicated mess. Your knife articles are clearly not by someone who actually owns or uses very many knives.

    June 22, 2022 3:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Schaef

      Never by anything SOG. none of their products are worthwhile

      June 24, 2022 12:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    JMASS

    Picked up my Boker on Vacation at a specialty knife store -Enjoy this knife - was happy to see it on this review. Now to purchase some others you've highlighted. Enjoyed the reviews, thanks

    February 25, 2022 3:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve W

    I have been loving my Kerskaw 1830 Oh So Sweet for about 4 years now. I lost one. So I bought a replacement. Found the lost one. Now I have two!

    April 2, 2021 6:32 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jamie

    Do you guys have any recommendations for sharpening a high carbon steel knife? I have a sharpening stone but it just doesn’t seem to be getting the job done.

    February 19, 2021 1:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      John Marlwell

      Lots of oil and elbow grease

      August 30, 2021 7:24 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Evan Seelye

      The best sharpener I've found are those that have diamond (impregnated) surfaces. They come in many "grits" and with the finest, you can achieve razor blade sharpness. The coarser grits can 'take down' the toughest blades to get that perfect edge. Some are fairly expensive, but they (the sharpeners) like diamonds, last for a long time. I'm still using a couple of my "diamond steels" that I've had for almost 40 years! and they still do the job!

      December 27, 2021 7:09 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Patrick D

    A little disappointed that the Shivworks Clinch Pick or Push Dagger didnt make the list

    July 12, 2020 3:37 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Bigdaddy

      +1, love my shivworks push dagger

      June 22, 2022 7:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Vic

    A folding knife is a pocket knife.. It is no more a Tactical/Fighting Knife than the man in the moon. It's very design is directed towards compactness and portability.. Not Fighting. Think of a Folding Knife as you might a Handgun.. It may do in a pinch, better thank a sharp stick. However, if your life or the lives of other innocents are on the line it is a poor choice if you are knowingly going into a fight.

    March 29, 2020 3:25 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Reiver

      Agree, and honestly a sharp stick would probably be a better option in most situation. Especially a big sharp stick!

      April 11, 2020 2:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Joseph

      I agree, further once your hand is soaked in blood, oil, or anything slippery, you are more likely to cut off one of your own fingers stabbing anything from a bone to to a belt buckle.
      The Marines got it right with the KA-Bar, that's a knife designed for a hand to hand combat.

      May 18, 2021 7:02 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Biggie

      Agree, only a fixed knife with a blade long enough to do serious damage should be included. Mine is an old Al Mar. They don't even make them like this anymore.

      April 5, 2022 5:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tyson

    I have to say, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't review the Ka-Bar Tactical Spork!

    January 29, 2020 4:34 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      An oversight, we're sorry :(

      No joke, I love the Ka-Bar chopsticks.

      January 29, 2020 7:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mike Alexander

      Too bad there's only BladeHQ to choose from, apparently.

      May 20, 2020 7:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Steve

      I’m disappointed he did mention the big K-Bar.

      December 7, 2020 5:52 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dan

    Microtech's Combat Troodon D/E was used in John Wick 2.

    March 11, 2019 2:57 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    jdjsjsososbbb

    Benchmade 940-1...guess it is a good EDC but not tactical

    January 18, 2019 1:46 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul Norling

    For God’s sake people, knifecenter.com has over 4000 different knives alone. Eric gives his opinion on 10 that he considered tactical and people get all butthurt because he doesn’t mention the knife grandpappy gave them.

    November 29, 2018 5:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Public

    Absolutely love my Spyderco PM2.

    November 28, 2018 8:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joel Kallgren

    Opinions all stink so here's mine. Seeing as most knives used for a "tactical" purpose will be carried by LEO's I find it hard to believe that none of these have a glass breaker?

    November 28, 2018 6:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Keith P.

      Did you read the whole article? The Microtech Ultratech has a glass breaker.

      May 20, 2019 2:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Arron Greenfield

      The pommel on the Gerber 06 works just fine as a glass breaker.

      July 3, 2019 7:42 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Stev-o

    Why no fixed blades? “Tactical” doesn’t mean “Folders Only”.

    November 27, 2018 7:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John

    I see some anger over leaving out particular knife makers or brands of knife here, and I don’t think that’s too fair on the author. He did represent a broad swath of job-designed tools, and the knives he picked are good (maybe not always the best) examples of those jobs. At any rate, there is certainly nothing wrong with any of his choices here... except maybe one: and that is the folding Karambit he chose. I’m not much of a karambit fan. I think most techniques for “tactical” situations are better accomplished by other blades, but that’s a different argument to have. This karambit mentioned here has a blade shape that changes toward the end and decidedly leaves the karambit model. I would argue that’s an improvement, but it changes the function of the blade. Said shortly, if you want to represent the over-wrought techniques of that knife, then represent it with that knife. This one reads more middle-eastern dagger in the blade and karambit in the handle.
    After that I think all of my nit-picking boils down to better defining the expected roles of the knife designs presented, but like my response here, it would probably make the article too long too.

    November 26, 2018 12:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve

    Seeing that Benchmade is one of the innovators of the modern folding knives and has been for decades, I find it curious why not one of their knives is listed. I have and carry an Emerson made by Benchmade 20yrs ago. To leave Bechmade out completely is ridiculous and leaves the article suspect to the actual criterion used to formulate this 'list'.

    November 26, 2018 6:18 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Shepherd of Fire

      Most pewpew articles have a very artificial, rushed, and sponsored feel to them these days. Too bad, because pewpew used to be a decently concise and honest place for informative articles.

      November 27, 2018 12:36 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Billy

      #6 on the list.

      June 23, 2022 8:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom

    No Chris Reeve

    November 25, 2018 5:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John A Bird

    Good information Zac! This gets the juices flowing but I can tell after looking at the peanut gallery, some nuts don't fall far from the tree. I would invite all who believe they can write a better article to please proceed.

    November 25, 2018 5:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mike Skock

    Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.Aside from the recon none of these would make my list.
    Not one CRKT? C'mon man!

    November 25, 2018 4:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mayt

    Benchmade.....or Geissele’s line of Abraham and Moses knives??? This list isn’t up to par

    November 25, 2018 4:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul S.

    Raven Crest Tactical

    November 25, 2018 3:59 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Adam Beiting

    No Benchmade?

    November 22, 2018 10:15 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul

      My thoughts exactly

      November 25, 2018 4:10 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Dave Eckman

      Ditto on why benchmade left the lineup. Just ordered my AL 940 and was hoping to see it in the list. Lol

      June 22, 2021 5:02 pm
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