CHOOSING THE BEST TACTICAL KNIFE FOR YOUR NEEDS
Before we start talking about the best tactical knife on the market today, let’s go through what exactly makes a knife ‘tactical’. Many manufacturers can tack on the description of ‘tactical’, but this is sometimes just marketing and hype. Add to that the fact that what may be a tactical knife for one person may not be so for a second person, and you will only end up making costly mistakes when buying the best tactical knife for yourself if you don’t understand truly what a tactical knife is, and what it can do for you personally.
What is a tactical knife?
We look at 7 different aspects you need to consider when choosing the best tactical knife for your needs:
- Knife purpose and design – The needs of the best tactical knife can differ vastly from one person to another. Someone who can forsee using a tactical knife for emergency rescues will have different needs to someone who envisages using a tactical knife as a utility tool. An undercover cop who regularly goes into hostile environments that require him to use his knife as a weapon against would-be assailants would have different needs too. Asking yourself why you are buying a tactical knife, and what tasks you envisage accomplishing will help you greatly in making the right choice when it comes to purchasing. The design of the best tactical knife for you will then naturally follow through from its purpose. The hunter and outdoorsy person may identity the need for a heavy, robust knife which, despite being excellent, will be shunned by the undercover cop who would not want to carry a heavy knife with him all day (no matter how good a knife is, if you can’t or are unwilling to carry it, then it simply will not be to hand when you need it most).
- Ergonomics – The way a knife feels in your hand is very important when it comes to whether you are likely to use. It needs to feel comfortable in your hand. More specifically, it needs to feel comfortable whilst you are completing tasks that you expect to complete with your knife i.e. comfortable under stress. The handle must feel natural to your hand and there should be no sharp corners or pinch points. Also, does it remain comfortable in different positions? Can you use it comfortably with a forward grip, where the blade comes out of the top of your closed fist, as well as reverse grip, where the blade comes out of the bottom of your closed fist? Look out for gentle finger placements (but be wary of very pronounced grooves which can force your fingers into positions that feel unnatural for you). The handle needs to be big enough to feel that your grip is ‘substantial’ without the handle being too big where you struggle to grip. Ultimately, the best tactical knife will feel like it simply ‘fits’ you when it comes to weight, size and shape.
- Size – This will also follow through from you identifying the purpose of your tactical knife. A fisherman may love a long or broad knife that helps him with nets, tackle etc, but no matter how good it is, it is unlikely to be found on someone carrying a knife for self-defence purposes.
- Blade material– Stainless steel products are boasted quite frequently for many products, but when it comes to knives it’s generally seen as beneficial because they are more resistant to the wear and tear of frequent use. They’re resistant to rust and water damage, and they’re easy to sharpen. However, they lose their edge quite frequently. Despite the name, stainless steel is also susceptible to stains. Carbon blades are tougher than stainless steel, but they are highly susceptible to rust and stains. They’re also more difficult to sharpen, but they don’t dull nearly as easily as stainless steel.
- Design of the blade – The best tactical knife should have a sharp cutting edge and point. We prefer a thick, strong point as small, needle-like points could be easily damaged if you use your knife to poke or dig into something. If you envisage using your tactical knife for cutting cloth or webbing, look for curved cutting edges. Also, ensure that your chosen knife can be easily sharpened. All blades will dull over time, no matter what a manufacturer will state in their marketing, and you don’t want to have to buy some obscure knife sharpener at a later date as you found out after your purchase that your chosen tactical knife needs specialist sharpening tools. We are also fans of blades with serrated edges, as these blades can cut even when dull – ideal for when you’ve forgotten to sharpen your blade. But be aware, serrated edges are usually more difficult to sharpen.
- Handle material – You need materials that will not absorb moisture (unless you expect to be always in dry environments – highly unlikely as most places will endure some rain), and materials that will not crack or shrink. Natural materials, such as wood, ivory or bone will absorb water over time, so keep this in mind. Many of the best tactical knife options use Kraton, which is a rubber-like substance used on some tactical knives. It’s loved by a lot of people as it weathers better than natural materials. But keep in mind, it does still deteriorate over time. Nylon is also a good, robust option. Metal handles are the most robust and can last a lifetime. But they will make the overall weight of your tactical knife heavier, so keep this in mind when thinking about the tasks you want to perform. Also, metal handles can be slippery when wet, so if you expect to be in wet environments, look for metal handles with textures or chequered surfaces. Or opt for non-metal handles made from good quality polymers and composites.
- Options for knife carry – Ask yourself how you would like to carry your tactical knife. On your belt? Clipped onto a pocket? There is no ‘wrong’ way of carrying. Pick the option that is most comfortable for you and stick with it. Changing up where you carry will cause confusion and possibly vital seconds as you work out where your knife is. There are many tactical knife sheaths made from nylon, Kydex and leather that you can use to carry on a belt. If you opt to clip your knife onto you, look for tactical knives that have spring clips that can be mounted onto the knife handle.
5 GREAT TACTICAL KNIFE OPTIONS
So now that you have a greater understanding on what makes a knife tactical for you, what is the best tactical knife on the market today? Here is a list of 5 of the best tactical knife options:
KA-BAR #1213 Black Straight Edge Knife / Hard Sheath
This is the second most expensive item on our best tactical knife list, and has a fixed plain edge blade made from 1095 carbon steel, with a Kraton handle, and has an overall length of 11.75 inches (blade is 7 inches long). It comes with a Kydex sheath for easy carry on belts.
Kraton is known for being a robust material that can be gripped well and is slip resistant. Of course, it will not weather as well as metal handles, but Kraton will last longer than leather, as well as other natural materials. We really liked the butt of this tactical knife too, as it is quite large and solid, allowing you to use to as a hammer, if needed.
The 1095 carbon steel blade is very sharp and will make light work of any tasks related to fishing, hunting, or other tasks in the great outdoors. We did find the blade a little difficult to sharpen, but knives in this category tend to have this issue in general. We recommend using a coarse sharpener. The carry sheath is one of the best we have ever seen. It is made from tough, durable plastic that grips the knife securely into it. Simply put, you can rely on the sheath to ensure your knife never falls out, even when bent over or crouched – ideal for hiking, hunting and fishing. You cannot move the knife out of the sheath unless you grasp the handle firmly and pull. There are also a lot of handy holes for straps, ensuring you create the best carry option that is comfortable for you.
Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Black Tactical Knife with 0.125/4.3-Inch Carbon Steel Blade and Plastic Sheath
This is one our mid-priced items on our best tactical knife list, and features a thick carbon steel blade with an anti-corrosive black coating (tungsten), and an ergonomic plastic handle coated with a high friction rubber grip. Overall length is 9.1 inches (blade length is 4.3 inches).
Carbon steel is tougher and sharper than stainless steel, so this knife has a very sharp edge, whilst also being easily sharpened. We welcome the tungsten coating, which will mean that anyone who is worried about their blade getting rusty in wet conditions can rest easy knowing this blade will resist rust (although the manufacturers do recommend you wipe the blade clean after every use and add oil to keep it corrosion free). The blade is also annealed (a process where a metal is heated to a certain temperature and then allowed to slowly cool) which allows this blade to withstand stress, such as when batoning (splitting or cutting wood). We really liked how the spine of the blade has been ground especially for use with a fire starter. What’s more, the blade has a Scandi grind, which allows it to bite into surfaces and cut without slipping, whilst not getting stuck, and is long enough to carve with.
Grip is further enhanced with the high friction rubber grip which we found gave great control of the blade, but starts to wear with use. We also did not like the finger choil as it meant we had to grip the knife in one way only. We’re sure the manufacturers felt this made this tactical knife more ergonomically shaped, but we felt many people would want to be able to use this knife with different grips (for example, reverse grip where the blade comes out of the bottom of your closed fist). However, if you plan on only using a tactical knife in a forward grip motion, then this choil would feel comfortable in your hand.
The plastic sheath is functional. It comes with 2 attachments, a belt loop and a belt clip, so we liked that there were different ways of carrying your tactical knife to suit. But it lacks retention – a key aspect we would look for, especially when being in the great outdoors. This is a real shame, as this is a robust blade, designed for use on tough surfaces such as wood, and is corrosive-free, and yet the sheath cannot retain the knife correctly, which is imperative when in the great outdoors.
Cold Steel 17T Kobun Tanto Fixed
This is our most keenly priced item on our best tactical knife list, and is 9.875 inches in length (4.5 inch blade) with a Japanese stainless steel blade and Kraton handle. Kobun stands for ‘soldier’, so this knife has been created with self-defence in mind. As such, it is our lightest knife on our best tactical knife list, making it ideal for everyday carry.
Despite having a thinner blade when compared to other tactical knives, it has a reinforced point which makes is resistant to breaking and bending, as well as a spine that runs nearly to the tip of the blade, which makes it very robust. We found the blade edge very sharp out of the box and resisted dulling. Sharpening takes a little longer than some other pocket tactical knives, but this is offset with the fact that you get a much sharper, robust knife. We did notice that the blade does show signs of wear and tear easily. However, this does not seem to affect its performance. The blade style is ‘tanto’, which means it is mainly for self-defence and fighting. However, we found this knife useful for lots of everyday tasks, such as wood work, carving meat and other foods, sharpening, chopping…….in fact, most tasks. The knife point also stays needle sharp throughout – very handy for when you need to dig at something.
For such a robust and tough knife, it is thin and has a slender profile, which means we hardly felt it at all when carrying it around. The only drawback we could think of is that, despite being thinner than most other tactical knives on our best tactical knife list, it is still thicker than the average pocket knife, and it definitely will not fit into most pockets. The sheath that comes with it is also very slender, and does not add any bulk to your profile. We found retention of the knife very good, and it holds the knife snugly, even when running. A fantastic tactical knife for everyday carry, so long as you don’t mind carry a tactical knife in a sheath, rather than in your pocket.
Cold Steel SRK San Mai III Black Kraton Handle
This is our most expensive item on our best tactical knife list, and has an overall length of 10 and ¾ inches (blade length 6 inches) and is made from San Mai III stainless steel, which is renowned for toughness, sharpness and strength, whilst also being easy to re-sharpen. It comes with a durable nylon sheath for carrying.
This is the toughest and sharpest tactical knife on our list. We found that it can easily batton through the toughest wood, butcher and field dress dear and other game, and behead fish. The blade also has a black finish to resist rusting, making it ideal for hunting trips or whenever you need to be in the great outdoors. This is the ultimate big game hunting knife as well as survival knife, and it can handle the most arduous tasks without dulling. The Kraton handle is outstanding and will never let you down, giving you incredible grip.
A minor disadvantage is that this knife is simply too big to handle tasks such as skinning, slicing vegetables, peeling vegetables or filleting fish. If you are looking for more of a ‘camping’ tactical knife, then this is not the best tactical knife for your needs.
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools E37SN-CP Seal Pup Elite Knife with Straight Edge Fixed 4.85-Inch Steel Blade and GRN Handle, Black TiNi Finish
This is a mid-priced item on our best tactical knife list, and is 9.5inches with a blade length of 4.85 inches. The manufacturers boast that their SOG knives have been tested and evaluated by the SEALS (tested on criteria such as tip breaking stress, blade breaking limit, prying, penetration, hammering, chopping, two week salt water immersion, sharpness, edge retention, handle twist off force, gasoline and acetylene torch resistance, ability to cut 6 different types of line and rope, and the ability to handle intense hand-on competition out in the field) and is therefore a very tough tactical knife. It features a blade made from steel and has a clip point shape with a black TiNi finish. The blade has gone through a cryogenic heat treatment process (temperature is slowly decreased to under -300 degree Fahrenheit and then gently increased to room temperature). This creates a blade that holds its sharpness for longer with decreased possibility of edge-chipping or micro-fracturing. The handle is made from glass-reinforced nylon, which makes this tactical knife feel very comfortable in your hand, and deep finger grooves for added grip. It also features an added spine rasp for filing, notching and thumb placement.
We loved how tough this blade was. It made light work of shaving wood and cutting through other materials, while the edge remained needle sharp. The feel of the handle is fantastic, feeling extremely comfortable whilst offering us all the grip we needed. The only issue we had was the nylon sheath it came with. The sheath has a Kydex insert inside (the Kydex gives fantastic retention). However, the sheath design is bad. The Kydex insert is only held in the nylon sheath with a piece of double sided scotch tape on the bottom and top of the insert, which means that when you remove the knife from the sheath, the insert pulls out with it. This is major issue as accidents can happen. We did find, however, by inserting and removing the knife many times into the sheath, the Kydex insert loosens its grip just enough to stay inside the nylon sheath when removing the knife.
So what is the best tactical knife on the market today?
We simply could not decide on one knife that beats all for the title of the best tactical knife! It really does all depend on what tasks you expect to accomplish with your chosen tactical knife.
For everyday carry and self-defence, you cannot beat the Cold Steel 17T Kobun Tanto. As the lightest and slimmest tactical knife on our best tactical knife list, this can be worn all day with you barely noticing that you are carrying it. However, it is too large to fit into a pocket, but keep in mind that most ‘pocket’ tactical knives are inferior in both durability and sharpness when compared to the fantastic Kobun Tanto.
If you expect to be hunting big game a lot, or need a real ‘survival tool’, the Cold Steel SRK San Mai III is the best tactical knife. It simply won’t let you down, even if you have several animals to butcher or dress. It’s our most expensive item on our best tactical knife list, but it will last you a lifetime. The Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Black Tactical Knife should be your first choice if you spend a lot of time camping – just be aware of the sheath that comes with it as it simply does not retain the knife well (you may want to buy a separate sheath if you plan on keeping it on your person). If you expect to be on the move all the time, and need a tactical knife to remain put, KA-BAR #1213 Black Straight Edge Knife comes with the best sheath. Just remember that this knife is uncomfortable when carving wood, so don’t buy if you expect to work with wood a lot.
And if you simply want the best tactical knife overall, which can handle everything but the most extreme of tasks, then SOG Specialty Knives & Tools E37SN-CP Seal Pup Elite Knife is your best bet.
Wat Do You Think – What Is The Best Tactical Knife?
We realise there are a lot of great tactical knives that we did not discuss, which some people will believe is in fact the best tactical knife. If you have an opinion, please share your thoughts on what the best tactical knife is in the comments section below.