Best Tactical Knives Reviewed & Tested
At their most basic level, a tactical knife is any blade that’s been designed to meet mil-spec standards, operate in harsh conditions, and fulfill a particular tactical need. Those needs can range from protecting yourself in close-quarters combat to opening boxes but, as long as the knife has been designed to meet military specifications for ruggedness and reliability, it’s a tactical knife. Finding the right one can seem complicated. There are different lengths, styles, blade and handle materials, and even different edges. Each one is tailor made to fill a unique role. In order to pick the right tactical knife, it’s important to think about what you’ll be using the knife for, where you’ll be using it, and how often you’ll need to reach for it. Check out our list and find the right one for you!
In a Hurry? The test winner after 14 hrs of research
Ergonomically designed handle
Durable steel blade
- Seal Pup Elite by SOG
- ALMAR ALS2K Sere 2000
- SOG SAT004-CP Flashback
- Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Black
- Columbia River M16-14ZSF
- Zero Tolerance ZT0350TS
- Smith & Wesson SWFR2S
- Spyderco Police 3 G-10
- Kershaw 1550ST
- KA-BAR #1213
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Frequently Asked Questions
BEST TACTICAL KNIVES REVIEWED & TESTED
1. Seal Pup Elite by SOG
Ergonomically designed handle
Durable steel blade
Some complaints about blade quality
SOG’s Seal Pup Elite is the best tactical knife for outdoor use, hands down. It features an extra-thick blade profile, full tang to stand up to the roughest use, and a coated AUS-8 steel blade that won’t rust or discolor even if you leave it out in the rain.Read more
This is the best tactical knife for you if you’re going to be spending time on the trail and you need to be prepared for anything, from cutting cordage, building a shelter, skinning game, or even batoning firewood.
The Seal Pup Elite measures 9/5” long with a 4.85” blade, weighs 6.4 ounces, and features a fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle. It comes with a durable Kydex sheath that can be worn on either side of the body.
Cost and Value
SOG covers this knife, and all of their premium tactical knives, with a limited lifetime warranty.
2. ALMAR ALS2K Sere 2000
Made of the highest quality materials
Ergonomically designed handles
Secure liner lock
No other tactical knife on the market can match the quality of ALMAR’s ALS2K, but none of them can match its high price either. If you’re looking for the best absolute best of the best, the ALS2K is exactly what you’re after.Read more
Easy Open Design
It features an easy-open thumb stud for lightning-fast deployment, as well as a secure liner lock that keeps the blade open without any twisting or wobbling.
ALMAR crafted this knife from high-grade VG-10 satin-finish stainless steel with textured G-10 composite grips. This mid-sized tactical folder is 4.8” closed, 8.2” open, and has a 3.5” blade.
Cost and Value
It weighs 6.4 ounces and carries on either side of your body with a reversible clip. It’s backed by a limited lifetime warranty from ALMAR.
3. SOG SAT004-CP Flashback
Nice satin finish
Features reversible pocket clip
Some found it difficult to open
The SAT004 by SOG has a lot of great features that the rest of these knives can’t match. This compact folder features a razor-sharp tanto point that’s perfect for stabbing through tough material.Read more
It has a premium AUS-8 blade with a titanium finish for added protection, as well as an assisted opening mechanism to make deploying the blade simple, fast, and smooth.
SOG’s SAT004-CP Flashback is the best tactical knife if you’re looking for a small multipurpose folder that’s built to last.
Cost and Value
It’s 8” long when opened, 4.5” long closed, has a 3.5” blade and weighs only 3.7 ounces. SOG includes a reversible pocket clip for ambidextrous carry. This knife is guaranteed to last a lifetime or the manufacturer will replace it for free.
4. Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Black
Can be used with a fire starter
Rubber grip handle
Sheath rips easily
Morakniv is one of the oldest and most respected names in bushcraft, survival, and camping. This is the best tactical knife to take with you into the woods, and there’s nothing its razor-sharp carbon-steel blade can’t cut through.Read more
High Carbon Steel
Whether you’re making feather sticks for a campfire or lopping off boughs for a survival shelter, every outdoorsman is sure to love this knife. Although the blade is a bit short for combat, the fact that it’s made from high carbon steel means that it is tough enough to be used for self-defense.
The knife is 9.3” long with a 4.3” blade, soft plastic handle for exceptional slip-resistance even when wet, and weighs 5.7 ounces.
Cost and Value
The Morakniv Bushcraft is available for right-hand carry only and features a hard plastic sheath with a drainage hole to help prevent blade corrosion. Morakniv of Sweden warranties the Bushcraft for a full year.
5. Columbia River M16-14ZSF
Features a unique design
Some found the cross guard too long
Jumping can be aggressive
Columbia River Knife and Tool hit a home run with their M16-14ZSF folding combat knife. It’s not just an incredibly solid folding combat knife, it’s also a work of art.Read more
The manufacturer has made extensive use of cutting-edge Zytel composite, which is harder and stronger than nylon, in order to craft a beautiful handle that accompanies the mid-sized blade and innovative fold-out finger guards.
This knife is 9.25” open, 5.37” closed, and features a 4” bead-blasted AUS-8 blade with serrations and a tanto tip. It weighs a surprisingly light 6.3 ounces, thanks mostly to the Zytel composite handle, and has one of the smoothest actions of any knife featured.
Cost and Value
This knife is perfect for ambidextrous carry, with a 4-way adjustable pocket clip. Columbia River Knife and Tool stands by their M16-14ZSF with a lifetime warranty.
6. Zero Tolerance ZT0350TS
Very small and compact
Coated with a tungsten alloy
Nice tiger pattern
Might be too small
Can leave your hands feeling tired
If you’re looking for premium quality, a lightweight knife for everyday carry then you really can’t go wrong with the ZT0350TS by Zero Tolerance.Read more
This is the best tactical knife for concealed carry of the whole group. It’s large enough to be useful but small enough to tuck away unnoticed, mostly due to the ultra-thin profile and incredible manufacturing tolerances that have made this knife possible.
The Zero Tolerance ZT0350TS tactical folding knife is suitable for carrying on either side of your body, features an S30V stainless steel blade coated with a tungsten alloy, and finished with a gorgeous tiger-striped pattern.
Cost and Value
it’s a compact 4.6” closed, 7.75” open, and has a blade length of 3.25” with a weight of 5.6 ounces. It’s proudly manufactured in America and carries a lifetime warranty.
7. Smith & Wesson SWFR2S
Lot's of extra features
Includes liner lock for security
Grooved handle made of aluminum
Some found it hard to open
Blade dulls quickly
Smith & Wesson’s take on the SWFR2S Tactical knife is a useful utility folder that’s practically indestructible. They’ve managed to keep costs down on this knife by incorporating affordable 440 stainless steel and keeping the pattern small.Read more
Some might say that this is a bare-bones tactical knife, but that’s just not true. Smith & Wesson include a seatbelt cutter, glass breaker, nylon sheath, and a double-edged chisel point in order to provide a ton of value and utility at a great price.
This is the best tactical knife for anyone who needs another blade, whether they’re keeping it in their car or slipping it in their pocket. At 4.8” long folded, 8.1” long open, and with a 3.25” blade, this knife is compact enough to carry with you everywhere.
Cost and Value
It weighs 6.5 ounces and includes a sheath and belt clip for right-hand carry only. Smith & Wesson stands by their blades for a full year after purchase.
8. Spyderco Police 3 G-10
Tested for durability and quality
Made from VG-10 high-carbon stainless steel
Locking mechanism had some failures
The Police 3 by Spyderco is a modern take on a classic folder, with everything you’d expect from one of America’s best-loved knife-makers.Read more
It’s got an attractive mix of traditional lines and modern engineering that have made it one of the most popular tactical folding knives in America for over 10 years.
Improved Locking Mechanism
The Police 3 is an upgrade of the previous model, with a super-durable G-10 handle and VG-10 stainless steel blade. Spyderco kept their big thumb catch for easy opening, and improved the locking mechanism in this generation.
Cost and Value
Changes made to this model make it more beneficial than ever before. The warranty backed by the company lets you know that you're getting good quality.
9. Kershaw 1550ST
Nice, safe design
Carbon fiber overlay
Cost more than other items
Might be too light
Kershaw delivered a tough, compact utility knife in their 1550ST, and it’s popular for a reason. The serrations on this model are something to behold, so if you’ve got to cut your way through a rope, cordage, or just about anything else, then this is the knife you want to bring with you.Read more
Secure Liner Lock
For your safety, it uses a thumb stud in order to open in a flash and has a secure liner lock to prevent accidental closure. This allows you to use it without worries.
Kershaw has made use of ultra-tough Sandvik 14C28N alloyed stainless steel and a glass-filled nylon handle that will withstand the toughest environments.
Cost and Value
The 1550ST Blackout is available for right-handed carry only. It’s 7.75” long when opened, 4.5” closed, and has a 3.25” combination blade with Kershaw’s patented aggressive serrations. The Blackout comes with a 1-year, no questions asked manufacturer warranty.
10. KA-BAR #1213
Has a very large blade
Great for defense
Not very portable
Blade not as durable as others on list
There’s just no question that the KA-BAR #1213 is going to be a lot of people’s first choice for a fixed blade combat knife. KA-BAR has a reputation for being one of the finest military tactical knives on the market, and their classic #1213 is a big reason why.Read more
Protective Finger Guards
This knife has protective finger guards, a thick spine that won’t twist or break, and absolutely perfect balance. This is the best tactical knife for anyone who needs a high-quality, full-size combat knife.
Great Edge Retention
Its razor-sharp drop point blade is crafted from high-carbon steel for the ultimate in edge retention and it's important that you have a sharp knife when out in the field,
Cost and Value
The KA-BAR #1213 is 11.75” long, making it the largest tactical knife in the list. It has a 7.5” blade and weighs in at a solid 16 ounces. KA-BAR includes a Kydex sheath that can be worn on either side of the body, and they warranty this knife for a lifetime.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
In general, you should look for a knife with a composite handle, a good quality steel blade, and a sheath or clip that allows you to carry your knife securely and without worrying over whether or not it will fall out of your pocket or off of your belt. All of the knives in this buying guide have been carefully selected to meet those needs, freeing you to choose the best tactical knife for your individual needs.
The amount of carbon in the steel of the knife determines how well the blade holds an edge. Carbon also causes the knife to be brittle and makes it a poor choice for prying. High carbon steel knives are prone to breaking their tips off when they are handled too roughly, effectively ruining your survival knife.
Another additive that’s used in making steel for knives is chromium. Tactical knives made of high-chrome steel resist corrosion better than carbon steel blades, but the chromium also softens the edge of the knife. Stainless steel knives have large amounts of chromium alloyed with the steel, and although they need to be sharpened more frequently, they’re much easier to care for in the long run. We could write for days about the varying degrees or Carbon, Chromium, Manganese, Nickel, and Tungsten in blades but honestly, we’re going to put that on you. What we will do here though is try and point out the toughness, or edge-holding ability of the knives that make our list here and generally point out the best of the best.
It’s easier than ever to find the perfect handle. In the past, since handles were exclusively made out of natural materials like bone, horn, and wood, it took a lot of time and effort to find the perfect combination of handle and blade.
Now, most knives have composite handles and they not only hold up to abuse better than natural materials, but they’re also ergonomically designed to fit perfectly in your hand. Morakniv and KA-BAR stand alone when it comes to comfort, since both knives use a composite rubber material for a softer feel. Every other tactical knife in our list has a grip made from tough, no-nonsense fiberglass-reinforced nylon.
Look for the smallest knife that does the job that you need it to do. Longer blades are more prone to bent or broken edges, they’re heavier, and some knives aren’t legal to carry over a certain length. It’s more important to find a knife that is well suited to your hand than it is to buy the largest knife you can afford. You should also consider portability when making your decision. If this is something that you will be carrying around with you while hiking or hunting, then you want to make sure that it won't get in the way, but still, be large enough to be effective.
The design is a big subject, and there’s no accounting for individual taste. You should absolutely find one of the tactical knife brands that you like to look at, but don’t ignore the nuts and bolts of knife design either. One of the most important considerations is whether or not you can wear your knife on the proper side of your body. Military tactical knives often have reversible clips which can be set for carrying on the left or right hip. The best tactical knife is the one that you can reach easily with your dominant hand.
There are a few basic edges on modern tactical knives. The most common is a hollow ground straight edge, and this is the sort of knife that springs to mind when you think of a combat knife. There are also combination edges, with both straight and serrated areas on the blade, and they’re well suited to utility work like cutting cordage, branches, and cardboard. There is also a specialized edge, called a Scandinavian grind, which is easy to sharpen and maintain even if the knife’s steel is very hard and high in carbon.
When we talk about blade shape we’re mostly referring to the point of the knife. There are three commonly used points: clip, drop, and tanto. Clip pointed knives taper to the tip from the spine, or top edge, of the knife and combine the strength of both tanto and drop points. Tanto points taper in a similar way, but they do it from the bottom, which leaves a thick, sharp tip that works well for thrusting and stabbing. Drop point knives don’t taper as sharply as the others, and the gentle sweep of the tip of the blade makes them ideal for skinning and other delicate jobs.
If the price is your biggest concern, then take a close look at Mora, Smith & Wesson, Columbia, and KA-BAR. All of these knives are very well made, and it’s absolutely possible to find a knife that fits your needs at every price point, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. More expensive knives have the widest range of features and use the highest quality steel. Buying an expensive knife doesn’t guarantee that it will last forever, but deciding to get a cheap knife may mean that it will need to be replaced more quickly.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
The best fighting knives tend to be tactical, but not every tactical knife is a fighting knife. In general, folding knives should only be used for self-defense in an emergency, or unless it has a locking mechanism, which we’ll talk about. That will ensure it won’t do more damage to you than your target. Tactical knives come in all shapes and sizes, but only a few are true combat knives.
Fixed blade knives are rugged and durable but they aren’t very well suited for everyday carry, especially in public. If you plan on using your knife in or around the ocean you can rule out carbon steel blades, which rust quickly when they’re exposed to the salt spray. A knife that’s used daily needs to hold an edge more reliably than one that mostly stays safely sheathed. Using this buying guide, and a little bit of common sense, you’ll be able to find a knife that lives up to your expectations.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answer to this question depends almost entirely on how often you want to use your tactical knife. If you already have a favorite pocket knife for day to day tasks, then the best choice will almost always be a fixed blade knife. If you’d rather have a multi-purpose tool that you can use around the house and at work for a variety of utility tasks then a folding knife will be the right decision. Regardless of which knife you choose, make sure that, if you plan on carrying it every day, the blade is short enough that it won’t cause you any trouble.
The honest answer is that you should expect to pay less than you ever have. These knives are all incredible values, and even the ALMAR, which leads the pack when it comes to price, is less than half of what you could expect to pay 10 years ago. The reason is that affordable steel from overseas has flooded the marketplace, driving down the cost of high-quality domestic alternatives. Some of it, like AUS-8 from Australia, was impossible to find in years past due to its high demand for consumer goods. As lesser knife manufacturers switch to bargain basement steel, premium quality materials sit around practically unused. All of that is great for high-end blade-smith who end up paying less because of decreased demand, which allows them to lower prices to the ones you see today.
The best approach to blade sharpening is a two-stage process. If your knife is really dull, then start out with a medium-grit whetstone. Most of the time it will only need touching up with a fine whetstone, but fortunately, most stones are reversible, with a medium on one side and fine on the other. The best way to finish your knife is on a leather strop with chromium oxide honing paste. Using chromium oxide on a leather strop will put a mirror finish on the blade and hone it to an edge fine enough to shave with.
The best tactical knives are made from high-carbon stainless steel, although sometimes softer steel is a better choice, especially if you’re worried about chipping the edge or tip of the blade. Softer steels with more chromium in the alloy will bend instead of break, which is much easier to repair in the field.
Typically the best tactical knives have some form of nylon handle, typically reinforced with fiberglass. Some knives, like the Police 3 by Spyderco, use G-10 composite which is slightly tougher than nylon. Other knives, for instance, the Morakniv Bushcrafter and KA-BAR #1213, have nylon handles covered with a rubbery composite which offers a superior feel and protection against slipping when your hands are wet or muddy.
Depending on whether you pick a folding knife or a fixed-blade knife you might be able to use it for quite a lot. Folding tactical knives are no different than any other pocket knife, except they tend to be of much higher quality. They have heavier blades which make breaking down cardboard very easy, and typically the ergonomic handles are comfortable enough to use all day long. Any time you would reach for a traditional pocket knife you’ll see better performance and a cleaner cut from a tactical folding knife than you would a traditional pen knife.
Fixed blade tactical knives are also useful, although typically only in the outdoors. Aside from their obvious self-defense capabilities, the best tactical knife will be able to make quick work of heavy duty cutting and chopping. They’re great for use in the yard since most fixed blade tactical knives are excellent choppers. In a pinch, you can also use a fixed blade knife in the kitchen as a replacement for any boning or paring knife.