Best Tactical Folding Knives Reviewed & Rated
These days, the word “tactical” is placed on pretty much everything. Cups, wallets, even diaper bags are being labeled in this fashion. Make something black and put a carabiner on it. BOOM! It’s tactical. But here at Gear Hunt, we can look past flashy slogans to find you objects that you can rely on to get the job done. Whatever that job may be. Individuals who train in special tactics like police, military and Fire/EMS learn to be proficient in multiple facets of their jobs. As tacticians, they do not specialize in just one aspect. A good tactical folding knife is no exception. So, with so many choices, we have scoured the internet reading a multitude of reviews and ratings to create the definitive top ten list.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 11 hrs of research
Belt clip swivels to four positions for carrying versatility.
Good bang for the buck.
Blade flipper acts as a handguard.
10 Best Tactical Folding Knives
1. Crkt M16-14Zlec
Belt clip swivels to four positions for carrying versatility.
Good bang for the buck.
Blade flipper acts as a handguard.
Grip material can be slippery when wet.
The thin locking mechanism leaves something to be desired.
The Columbia River Knife and Tool company was founded in 1994 in Oregon. CRKT prides themselves on making knives that are reliable tools that will stand up to everyday challenges. The CRKT M16-14ZLEC has many features that one may look for in a tactical knife such as a glass breaker, belt cutter, and serrated edge.
Inspired by Professionals
The CRKT- M16-14ZLEC is a knife that was inspired by individuals in the Emergency response field. The belt cutter is located on the knife flipper. This knife also includes a tungsten carbide glass breaker for shattering windows in emergency situations. Designed by Harold “Kit” Carson, a former Sgt. Major and member of the Cutlery Hall of Fame, the M16 series is made with the needs of the professional in mind.
This knife is on the heavy side weighing in at around 6.2 ounces. This extra weight lets the user know that this knife means business and is ready to perform. The M16 series is made with a glass-reinforced nylon handle. This gives the knife some weight and makes it nearly incredibly durable. The blade is forged from AUS 8 high carbon stainless steel. The 14ZLEC has a tanto style blade but a spear point tip is also available in the M16 series.
Cost and Value
When the M16 series was designed, CRKT wanted to create the best product possible but made it a priority to keep the consumer in mind. This point of view led to a knife with high-performance capabilities that would not leave the purchaser broke.
2. Cold Steel Recon 1
Ergonomic G-10 grip
AUS 8A stainless steel
Tri-Ad locking technology for reliable blade lock
Knife release is stiff and takes some breaking in.
Size of the knife is on the larger side making it difficult to conceal
Cold steel knives and swords are synonymous with durability. The company makes a wide variety of blades and tools including swords, axes, throwing knives and hunting gear. Recon 1 is a cold steel answer to the demand for a reliable tactical knife.
Hold the “Bells and Whistles”
The knife does not feature a glass breaker as other knives on this list may, but given the durability and weight, just under 9 ounces, this knife could probably be used to shatter a window. (Not recommended, by the way.) It also does not have a belt cutter but the blade itself makes up for it as Cold Steel blades are known for being incredibly sharp. The Recon 1 blade is lubricated allowing the blade to easily cut time after time.
The Cold Steel Recon 1 features a handle that is constructed using a material called G-10. G-10 is made of fiberglass and epoxy and is used in building materials, machine parts, and has become a favorite for handles of guns and cutlery.
Cost and Value
Cold Steel is known for its high-quality materials and insanely durable knives. This is a pricier knife but will definitely be there for you when you need it.
3. Kershaw Ken Onion Blur
Solid locking mechanism
Curved blade for multiple uses
Lanyard hole for paracord
Steel can be hard to sharpen.
The handle may be short for bigger hands
Kershaw knife company is known for making high-end cutlery of all kinds. Including hunting, fixed blades and even kitchen cutlery. Kershaw employed former marine and hall of fame knife designer Ken Onion when he shared with the plans for the blurs assisted opening mechanism. The rest is history, the Kershaw Ken Onion blur is one of the original knives that featured the assisted opening technology and has become a favorite of both knife collectors and public service officials.
Reversible Pocket Clip
The reversible pocket clip allows the Blur to be carried either point up or point down and carried in any pocket. This versatility means the Ken Onion Blur can be an ideal knife for EDC as it is only 4.5 inches when closed.
SpeefSafe Assisted Opening
The SpeedSafe assisted opening allows the blade to be engaged in quick one-handed deployment. SpeedSafe uses a torsion bar to utilize tension for quick release.
Cost and Value
Kershaw often pioneers cutting edge (pun intended) technology when it comes to blade manufacturing and finishing techniques. Kershaw is a higher-end knife manufacturer.
4. Tac Force TF-705
Various color options for distinctive looks
Bottle opener only works when the blade is open
Screws are known to come loose
The ideal tactical folding knife for the operator on a budget. TAC force is known as a lower end knife but if taken care of properly, a knife that will be as reliable as many more expensive knives. The TF-705 was created with law enforcement in mind and has a glass breaker and bottle opener incorporated into the design.
TAC Force TF-700 series comes in a multitude of colors and has a sleek design to visually stand out from the rest. It's a mean looking knife that is multifunctional.
The glass breaker on the butt of the knife is flat and can be used as a screwdriver. The knife’s bottle opener is ideal for after-hours operations.
Cost and Value
This knife is a budget knife, however, in the case of the TF-705 you get what you pay for plus much more. These knives are also available to order in bulk.
5. Smith & Wesson Border Guard
Belt Cutter and Glass Breaker
Large size for heavy-duty jobs
Maybe too heavy to some for EDC
Grip inserts can wear down pockets
Smith & Wesson have been known for its high-quality products for literally over a century. The Border Guard continues the Smith & Wesson tradition. This knife screams “Tactical!” from its design to its features.
The Border Guard has lefty friendly thumb knobs allowing it to be opened quickly with either hand. This knife also has assisted opening ideal for emergency responders.
Ergonomic Aluminum Grip
The handle is made of aluminum which contributes to its weight. This knife handle is large and features Tack Tech inserts for optimal control.
Cost and Quality
One of the lower costing knives on this list, the border guard is affordable and solidly built. The cost and quality materials make it a favorite for military and first responders.
6. Spyderco Paramilitary 2
Comfortable in the hand
Closing the blade can be tricky
Spyderco, the Golden Colorado-based company, was one of the first knife manufacturers to introduce features that are now sought after in a folder. The Paramilitary 2 includes some of these features with a pocket clip and a hole for the opening instead of a stud.
A Hole Different Method
The Paramilitary 2 has the patented “round hole” on the blade instead of a stud for an opening. This design allows for the blade to be opened quickly with either hand. This also makes the knife easier to opened for gloved hands.
The paramilitary 2 blades are made from high-end CPM S30v steel. What does that mean? This knife is SHARP! The way this steel reacts to knife sharpening materials makes it easy to sharpen and stay sharp.
Cost and Value
The cost of the materials used to make this knife is reflected in the price. However, this blade can literally be used to cut anything. It can be used for hunting and fishing, or even slicing vegetables for cooking. And the compression lock of the blade will protect your fingers from unintentional folding.
7. Benchmade Griptillian
Trusted brand with warranty available
Great size for EDC
Variety of colors
Blade lock safety button
Lacks some features that are looked for with a tactical knife
The belt clip is not very rigid making it possible to fallout
Benchmade is one of the most recognized names in cutlery. This is due to their outstanding products and customer service. The Benchmade Griptillian is a highly functional knife that is made to be an EDC tool.
Purchasing a Benchmade from an authorized dealer means that the company will sharpen and repair the knife at no cost to you.
Great for EDC
The Griptillian is lightweight and features a reversible belt clip for point up or clip down carrying. As the name suggests, the grip of this knife is extremely coarse making it great for gloved hands.
Cost and Value
Benchmade has been known for decades to be carried by professionals in different types of agencies worldwide. In this case, notoriety costs money. While not the most expensive knife on this list it still has a higher price tag for what you get.
8. Buck Knives 0870 Bones
Comes with a thumb stud for easy opening
Offers 3 different styles to choose from
Sturdy and durable
Takes longer to rust
Good price tag
A unique blade can be a bit difficult to adjust too
When you are looking for a tactical knife to add to your collection, the very first thing you want to keep in mind is its versatility. The Buck Knives 0870 Bones is not only a well-known brand for knives but this knife itself gets the job done effortlessly. Featuring a unique blade shape, if you are looking for a knife that meets your criteria yet has an interesting twist to it, this is the one to look for.
Featuring a 3inch particularly serrated tanto blade crafted out of 420HC steel, this folding knife is prepared to smoothly cut through anything. Including meat, rope, cables and or clothing, the razor sharpness will easily help you get out of a sticky situation quickly. Which is exactly what you want from a folding knife, you want a heavy-duty product that enables you to quickly cut through anything as often as you would like. Furthermore, the blade has a non-reflective coating and delivers excellent strength, paired with corrosion resistance for a knife that will last.
Featuring a thumb stud, the Buck Knives 0870 Bones is a one-hand opening knife. Having this characteristic ensures when you are in a rush you can smoothly open it without having to worry. Furthermore, there's a frame lock that keeps the frame perfectly locked for an added dose of safety when the knife is open. Having this will guarantee the knife will not spontaneously close on you when you are using it.
Cost and Value
When it comes to the cost and value of this product it is priced quite well. You are getting a great knife that is extremely sharp and comes with a lock system that enhances your safety. Furthermore, the brand itself is known for making knives that are of quality and last a long time to dull.
9. Spyderco Assist
Constructed by firefighters who wanted a useful tool
Easy to work with
Constructed of exceptional materials
Works for a multitude of situations
Offers a locking bit so you are always safe when using it
Very sharp blade
A bit pricey
Blade takes some adjusting to
Larger in size
Spyderco makes knives that are specifically created for harsh conditions, and the Spyderco Assist is no exception. Showcasing a unique blade, this knife is prepared to help you tackle any difficult task. Constructed to be a best friend when needed most, this knife gets the job done effortlessly. It’s the perfect knife when you want to carry one tool that will work for a multitude of scenarios.
Whether you will be using your tactical knife daily or on special occasions having a knife made out of quality materials is always a must-have. Measuring 8.55inches in overall length, 3.68nches in blade length and 4.87inches in closed length, every part of this knife is constructed to work efficiently together. Furthermore, the handle is made out of a fiberglass reinforced nylon injected into a frame to make a durable lightweight product.
If you truly take a look at this knife, the very first thing you will notice is how different the blade itself is. Designed by a firefighter, the blade is resourced from basically indestructible material. Every aspect of this knife was designed to ensure you always have one single tool that will get the job done on hand.
Cost and Value
When it comes to the cost of this tactical folding knife, it is on the pricier side. However, you are paying for what you are getting. What this means is, though you will be paying a bit more, the quality is exceptional. Furthermore, the blade itself is well worth the price point and more.
10. Zero Tolerance Hinderer
Long clip for deep pocket carry
Mounting options for a clip, tip-up or tip-down carrying
Sharp out of the box
Assisted flip is stiff at first
Price may turn some people away
The Zero Tolerance knife company has won multiple awards for collaborations with master knife smiths. The Hinderer is the product of one such collaboration. Expert knife smith Rick Hinderer. The Hinderer has a classy look and has the potential to perform like a beast.
The hinderer features an open construction design that reduces weight making it a superb knife for EDC. Weighing around 5 ounces, the hinderer has some weight to it, but not enough to make it awkward to carry.
The front of the handle has a carbon fiber scale that sets this knife apart in aesthetics and function. The back of the handle is stainless steel.
Price and Value
This knife is expertly constructed using high-end materials and this is reflected in the cost. This is not a bad thing however as this knife is built to last and will perform to the highest standards.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Blades are normally made from either stainless steel or high carbon stainless steel, both of which are outstanding material choices for blade making. The difference in blade performance will be within how the blade has been heat-treated and hardened for use. This is where the edge retention, durability, and how well the knife can be sharpened come into play.
Since so many manufacturers won’t disclose the specifics on how exactly they treat their materials, there is something you can watch for when looking for a tactical folding knife. Look at the specifications for the knife blade, a good quality blade should have an alloy listed within the specifications along with the material used to make the blade. If you notice there is not an alloy listed, chances are you are looking at a knife with a lesser quality blade, which should come with a lower price tag as well.
The material choices for handles seem to be endless in this day and age, making the best possible choice can be somewhat complicated. To make things easier you want to think simple, for example, if looks are what you’re into wood or bone are beautiful to handle pieces. Metal handles offer you a look that competes with the times but isn’t practical for work purposes, as they are quite slippery once they are wet.
If you’re looking for a knife that can work alongside you, choose one with rubber or composite material for the handle. These two materials offer the knife to handle the most beneficial properties of all the choices on the market. It is recommended that before you make your purchase, test out the comfort level of the handle. You don’t want to end up with a knife that leaves you with an awkward feeling when you hold it.
There a few blade characteristics that will come into play when searching out your tactical folding knife. These can be important aspects leading to the purchase of your knife to ensure you are getting a tactical folding knife that will truly suit your needs. Below you will find these characteristics with a brief summary of each one.
Length of the Blade
Before settling on the perfect length blade, always check the laws where you reside, some areas have laws governing the size of knife you can legally carry. You have three categories to choose from for blade length small, medium, and large. For a blade to be considered small, it will need to be less than 2 ¾ inches in length. These are less durable than their longer-in-length counterparts but are suitable for smaller jobs. Medium blades range from 2 ¾ inches in length to 4 inches, blades with medium length can handle more stress than the small length blades. For a large blade length, the blade needs to be over 4 inches, these carry a hefty amount of durability.
Edge of the Blade
You also have several choices to pick from for the edge portion of your blade, depending on what your intended use for the knife is, one option might be better suited for your needs than the others. Choosing a knife with a plain edge to it gives you a better form of control over the knife, although this type of blade works best when performing cuts using a pushing motion. Another advantage of the plain edged blade is that you can sharpen the blade yourself once it becomes dull. You can also choose to go with a serrated blade, serrated-edged blades can walk through tougher materials than the plain edged blades.
This type of edge will require professional sharpening or replacement once it has dulled. The last option for blade edges combines both the plain and serrated edge. This provides the best attributes from both, giving you an all-purpose option. Since there is a serrated edge, when the time comes, the blade will need to be sent in order to be sharpened.
There are several options for how your knife will open, these normally refer to the speed the knife will open. Below you will find the different opening options along with a reference for how each works.
These knives sometimes require two hands to open, if you look at the top of some of the blades, you’re sure to find a groove for your fingernails to assist you with opening the blade.
Normally found on this type of knife is a button to push that pops the blade out. This type of opening mechanism allows for a faster blade opening than that of the manual opening.
As the name says, this type of knife requires a two-handed approach for opening, normally done with the fingernail groove.
These open with the push of a button, rather quickly too, but are not legal in most areas. In order to get one of these, you will need to be willing to fork out some cash, as these are quite pricey.
Attempting to beat the system, this type of opening system was created to be within the scope of the law. You start by opening the blade yourself, then a spring takes over, opening the blade the remainder of the way for you.
This system for locking was one of the first designs on the market if your looking for a tactical folding knife that can be operated one-handed this type of lock is not the best choice. The lock is found on the top edge of the knife near the spine, one hand will have to press the lock-in, while the other folds the blade to fully close the knife.
This design uses the frame itself to help hold the blade locked into place, known for being the most secure lock on the market to date. The simple operation of the lock design allows you to use this knife one-handed.
In this design instead of the frame locking the blade into place, there is a liner that does the job in place of the frame. Since this option is more cost-effective for manufacturing purposes, it is the more commonly used locking system.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
There are a lot of options when it comes to purchasing a tactical knife. The right one depends on what suits your lifestyle and demands. It should be there for whatever and wherever you need it. Versatility and reliability are keywords when trying to select a tactical tool of any kind. Having the right tool for a situation can mean all the difference in the resolution of that situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Can serrated edged blades be sharpened?
While there are some manufacturers that will sharpen a serrated edge, it has been said that it changes the integrity of the edge of the blade. A serrated edged blade is known for lasting longer than any other blade edge. It is best to check with the manufacturer whether they will sharpen the serrated blade, in some cases, it might be more effective to purchase a replacement blade when one is offered.
q: What is a good blade length to have?
In order to answer this question, you have to think about what you will the use knife for most often. If your knife will be an everyday carry, used mainly for small jobs, a small length blade should do the trick. The small length blades are typically under 2 ¾ inches long, these are easily stowed away in your pants pockets. A medium-length blade reaches up to 4 inches in length, is suitable for tougher jobs, but may not meet the requirements of the law in your area. The large blades over 4 inches are designed more for defensive purposes, but be sure to check the laws in your area before purchasing one.
q: Which handle material offers the best grip?
In some cases, material choices are a matter of opinion, but it has been said that handles made from rubber or composite materials offer the best grip action. This is due to the fact that when in wet conditions, the moisture doesn’t bother the handle materials. Another aspect to the grip of our knife is the handle size, finding the right size for your hand has a lot to do with how much grip you can obtain.
q: Which locking mechanism is the safest one to have?
The frame and liner lock work on the same principles, where a liner or piece of the frame holds the blade securely into place. Keeping the blade stationary until you release the locking mechanism. Either one is a secure option to choose, however, the frame lock will come with a higher price point. The reason being, they are more expensive to manufacture.