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

From budget folder to military preferred, and even John Wick's auto...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.

We’ve thrown together this roadmap to the 10 best tactical knives available right now.

What Makes a Tactical Knife Tactical?

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.

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.

Why Carry a Tactical Knife?

There are a lot of great knives in the world.

The reason you would want to carry a tactical knife daily would boil down to preparedness or occupation. If you are LEO, First Responder, or Military you know how important a good duty built knife can be.

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, helping others in distress, or not.

Obviously, you don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight 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. 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 10 tactical knives organized by price.

Before we start though, don’t forget to check your local laws. Not all knives are legal in all areas.

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 designers name should make you run for the hills but this CQC-7 is a rare exception.

Best Budget Folder
37
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Budget Folder
Kershaw Emerson CQC-7
$37 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

The hollow ground clip point blade is perfect for self-defense as well as EDC tasks. The 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.

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 and 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
40
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Budget Auto
Boker Plus Strike Automatic
$40 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

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

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 will carry one behind their magazine holsters on their Duty Belt.

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

Best Draw Hand Protection
40
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Draw Hand Protection
Cold Steel Safe Maker 1
$40 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

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. Boker Magnum Black Scorpion Karambit

At first glance, the *sigh* Magnum Black Scorpion might appear to be similar to the push dagger in that it would only be useful for self-defense.

The Karambit knife design is an incredible self-defense tool but is also a pretty amazing utility blade as well.

BEST BUDGET KARAMBIT
23
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

BEST BUDGET KARAMBIT
Boker Magnum Black Scorpion Karambit
$23 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

In many places such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the Karambit-style blade is the preferred pattern for work knives, as well as every day, carry knives.

With the Magnum Black Scorpion being both a Karambit and a folder, you can bet that it would make a great tactical and practical addition to any kit.

5. 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.

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

Best Build
100
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Build
Cold Steel Recon 1
$100 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

We also loved it in our Best EDC Knives article.

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

6. 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.

Best for Self-Defense
140
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best for Self-Defense
Spyderco Yojimbo 2
$140 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

7. Gerber 06 Auto 

The Gerber 06 Auto is a legend, and for good reason.

Military Preferred
185
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Military Preferred
Gerber 06 Automatic
$185 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Excluding the Ka-Bar USMC, the 06 Auto has probably seen more action Down Range than any other knife out there. With a no-nonsense overbuilt design, you can trust this knife to get any job done.

The 06 Auto comes in different blade shapes with serrated and plain edge options. It also has a slide lock that allows you to lock the blade open or closed depending on what a situation may call for.

This tactical knife is made in the USA, has been tested and proven with deployed men and women all over the world, and has that incredible Gerber action.

What more could you ask for?  And what’s your take on the Gerber?

Readers' Ratings

4.97/5 (1423)

Your Rating?

8. Hogue Sig EX-A05

If you have spent any time in the gun world you know the name, Hogue.

Hogue Knives carry on the same exact tradition of quality and precision as Hogue Grips; they are made in the USA, still family-owned, and have a lifetime warranty. The author actually went out to see them this last Spring and got a first-hand look at what they are all about.

You could go with almost any Hogue knife and walk away with a great tactical knife. The Sig EX-A05 was chosen specifically because it is a great automatic knife for gloved or non-gloved hands, and the whole line is perfectly color matched to certain Sig colorways.

Who said just because your knife was tactical it couldn’t also look awesome.

Best Gun Guy's Knife
230
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Gun Guy's Knife
Hogue Sig Sauer
$230 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

9. Emerson Rangemaster Sheepdog

The word ‘Sheepdog’ may be almost as played out as ‘tactical’ in both the knife and gun world, but when you see it associated with Emerson Knives you can bet it still means something.

The Rangemaster was inspired by Lt. Colonel David Grossman who was an Airborne Ranger and West Point instructor.

Best for Hard Use
215
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best for Hard Use
Emerson Rangemaster Sheepdog
$215 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Taking Grossman’s cue Ernest Emerson applied his two-plus decades of knife making expertise to create a knife fit for field or home.

The Rangemaster has the most aggressive handle out of any other knife on this list as well as one of the thickest blade stocks.

Between the Emerson Wave opening feature, and the overbuilt nature of the Rangemaster you would be hard pressed to find any other knife that will take whatever abuse you can throw at it and ask for more.

10. Microtech Ultratech

I think we can all agree that Hollywood gets a lot wrong when it comes to the gun world.

John Wick, House
John Wick, House

John Wick was not only an awesome movie, but it also got a lot right about guns, and consequently about knives as well. John Wick’s knife choice in both movies has been the Microtech Ultratech and for good reason.

John Wick's Dessert
265
at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

John Wick's Dessert
Microtech Ultratech Knives
$265 at Blade HQ

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Ultratech is the gold standard when it comes to Out The Front (OTF) knives.

The Ultratech lives for tactical situations such as cutting seat belts, self-defense, field preparation or construction, as well as being the coolest guy in the room.

With easy one-handed deployment/concealment, premium blade steels, multiple blade shapes, and a built-in glass breaker, it really is hard to beat the Ultratech in its ability to get a tough job done.

Parting Shots Stabs

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? Also check out our favorites in Best EDC Knives.

best edc knives
Tested EDC Knives

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33 Leave a Reply

  • 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
    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
    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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