What to Look for in a Tactical Knife

Whether you want a tactical knife because it will make you feel safer, want a robust bushcraft knife under $100, or simply because you like the way it looks, it’s important to understand the components that make a tactical knife tactical. Renowned knife designer Ernest Emerson, in an interview with The Daily Caller, points out that you can’t know what makes it “tactical” unless you understand the context in which it will be used. Citizen police officers, SWAT teams, survivors, hunters, or people walking the streets need different things to fit their body type and life. Carrying a fixed-blade Ka-Bar may not always be appropriate or practical, but a smaller folding knife may not be big enough or strong enough to do the job.

Obviously, this requires some attention, so here are some details to consider when choosing the right tactical knife for you. While going through them, I’ll give you an example of a knife as an example of a good or bad material and design, not necessarily a purchase to consider.

If you want more specific advice, take a look at our guide to tactical knife brands.

Handling Materials.

This mainly has to do with the longevity of the material and whether or not it can actually withstand impact. Most knife handles are made of wood, metal or some kind of composite resin like G10 or Micarta, and sometimes leather. I always look at the handle to see how well it holds up for safety, how well the handle slips when wet with sweat or water, and how well it can withstand a strong impact.

Rubber and polymer rubber handles

It’s the best option. It has a firm grip and won’t break or break. Many companies are skilled in making rubber materials such as Clayton because they have much better cleaning properties and are resistant to high temperatures.

Examples to consider.

Gerber StrongArm: A thick rubber cable that fills the palm of your hand. That’s pretty much all there is to say about it when dealing with knives in an emergency (by the way, it’s not the last time you’ll see it stripped on this blog).

Morakniv Companion: every Morakniv knife is a good example of a rubber handle, but the Mora Companion is probably the most familiar example.

Gerber Ghostlike: shows how versatile rubber can be once you roll it into a hard material, even if ergonomics is a real problem.

Leather Handle.

I like leather for handles for more than just weather resistance. Few materials offer better grip than leather, and while it performs better than rubber in many ways, it is more prone to drying out and cracking with intensive use over time.

Examples to consider.

Ka-Bar USMC Bowie: It has a rounded handle for excellent hand protection at the top. As the most classic example of a fighting knife, it’s hard to find a better one than this model.

Ontario 499 Survival Knife: again has a large rounded handle and hand protection.

Leaf Material.

Emerson recommends this high quality stainless steel knife. Unless you are an experienced blacksmith with an eye for steel, the best way to judge quality is probably the price. There is no other way. Gotoku knives don’t last long. If you want a good steel, in most cases, it’s better to wait at least $20. That said, hardness is usually one of the most important determinants in a tactical blade, whether you’re looking for a soft steel or a high carbon steel with a very thick blade.

The reason for this is that the softer the steel, the sharper the cutting edge, the more likely it is to grind and scratch. Harder steels like Borer M390 and S90V are not bad for tactical use, but they can withstand a lot of abuse, but are much more vulnerable to machining than steels like CRMoV. The rule of thumb is that you usually don’t want anything above 60 or below 56 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. If you want a more detailed picture of the different steels, see our quick guide to commonly used knife steels.

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