It’s tough to tell these days exactly what makes a knife “tactical.” There’s a few that bear the label, but couldn’t be trusted in a true survival or combat situation. Then there’s some that look like they’d be terrible in a serious life-or-death scenario, and they’ll get you out of a Costa Rican prison then slice your pastrami extra thin, no quarrel. What’s tactical is fluid. For us: anything that is build for action, built for abuse, and meant to be taken into the teeth of the storm where death holds sway is a tactical knife. Everything else is just silverware.
In a world full of mockeries to true tactical gear, we wanted to find a way to honor those who stick to the code and carry on the tradition of making something that doesn’t just have a slick black finish and a special forces decal. We sought out blades that felt good when hacking through paracord, trekking into the jungle, and living well when thrown into hell on Earth.
Here’s the best tactical folding knives for doing just that.
TAC Force TF-705 SeriesView in gallery
Forgettably Unforgettable: Yes, this is a dirt cheap skeleton knife, but disposable gear has just as much place in a tough spot as the indestructible stuff. It’s spring-assisted deployment and light body speak to a single purpose: speed. It’s fast, it’s ugly, and it’s meant for street fights, but it won’t disappoint as a short-term tactical carry.
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools Trident EliteView in gallery
In a Pinch: A rescue-worker’s best friend. When closed it is a safe seatbelt cutter, when open it is built for making smooth cuts, be they to wound or to help. The AUS-8 steel is good, but not meant for daily use without consistent sharpening. It’s meant to work well when called, and be soft enough to easily hone when in the field.
Columbia River Knife and Tool’s M16-14SFGView in gallery
Of the Trade: If a company has the stones to slap M16 on a product, it better be able to deliver or they get eaten alive. CRKT managed to do it with the original, but they remade the whole thing when they made this XL tool model of it. It’s all the 8Cr14MoV steel, G10, titanium nitride you loved about the original, now reimagined for digging and prying.
Kershaw Ken Onion BlurView in gallery
Swift Darkness: The blur is aptly named. This is a very quick knife that also locks down solidly with just a little English on your wrist. The 6061-T6 aluminum is anodized to repel weather and give you grip that won’t rust or rot. The Sandvik 14C28N steel would sing, if only it weren’t given a smooth tungsten DLC (Diamond Like Coating) treatment for stealth.
Boker Plus Mini VanquishView in gallery
The Face: Every heist needs a face guy and every knife list needs a piece that has flair. Elegant as chamber music yet priced to move, the Mini Vanquish is a nice elite EDC knife to have for evenings out. Under the hood, G10 scales and 440C steel show it’s more than just a haircut.
Benchmade GriptilianView in gallery
Workhorse: As predictable as winter and easy to use as water, the Griptilian lives up to its name and more. The handle is Noryl GTX that grabs your hand and never lets go. Benchmade’s AXIS locking mechanism is on full display here, allowing this to operate more like a fixed-blade than a folder.
Spyderco ParaMilitary 2View in gallery
Eclipses the Original: It might be possible to buy a ParaMilitary 1, but ever since the PM2 came on the scene, it’s been the belle of the ball. G-10 laminate handles, a nested compression lock, and a clip-point, flat ground blade are spectacular alone, but when meshed like this, they become something transcendent.
TOPS Knives MIL SPIE 3.5View in gallery
Dark Horse: TOPS isn’t as common a name on the consumer market, but they have a reputation for engineering that you can bank on. Meant for military work, this 8-inch carver is a master of concealment with a little help from its N690Co steel and black aluminum handle. Favored by enlisted men the world over.
Zero Tolerance Hinderer SlicerView in gallery
Combatant: ZT has one mission; make the best knives for those in uniform. Meant to go into the field, whether saving lives, protecting them, or ridding the world of enemies, having a Hinderer on your hip is a badge of honor. Satin stonewashed Carpenter CTS-204P steel, KVT ball-bearing system, and the Made in the USA stamp all prove it can be trusted.
Benchmade 940-1 OsborneView in gallery
Operator: Smooth and silky, the Osborne has become recognizable, even to those who have never carried a pocket knife in their lives. The reverse Tanto blade gives you a smoother cut and a more effective stab. Just make sure you want the S90V steel to do serious damage, because it will.
Spyderco RubiconView in gallery
Oddball: Looking at the Rubicon, it’s clear that Sal Glesser (founder of Spyderco), likes to design knives in the dark. The appearance is awkward, but when it hits your hand, the feel is pure magic. Peter Carey was the mind behind this piece, and while it’s large and a little heavy, it gives you total cutting control and a buttery grip.
Strider Model PTView in gallery
Engineered: Strider Knives makes stuff that works. They trade on their engineering prowess, and it’s strutting the stage here. The oval thumbhole allows for easy grip for a quick flick, and the jimping on the handle goes all the way down, letting it work no matter how many fingers are in your grip.
Microtech 163-1 Socom DeltaView in gallery
Quickdraw: Named after the famous antiterrorist unit, the Socom Delta brings a military sensibility with it wherever it goes. Dual thumb studs and a slender body make it hop out with the smallest amount of effort. The handles are G-10 with a S35VN specialized Tanto blade that look a little too eager to be used.
Guardian HelixView in gallery
Open Sesame: The Helix looks a little like Klingon blade, but in truth it’s far above and beyond it’s slightly silly design. A carbon fiber handle allows it to bend with impact rather than breaking, and the 16 bearing system makes the blade dance on a moment’s notice.
Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21View in gallery
Celebrate: The 21 was originally released in 2008 as an honorarium to the original Sebenza. Since then, it has eclipsed its namesake many times over. The titanium handle reduces heft for easy mobility, while the CPM-S35VN stonewashed steel is both nearly unbreakable and easy to sharpen. It’s a wonder of the bladed world.
Rockstead TEI-DLCView in gallery
Smallest Samurai: When you are ready to accept the code of the Ronin (or have 2k to spend on a knife) then you may take this vicious little shard home. YXR7 Japanese steel is molded into a perfect slicing machine through progressive grinding that is polished to a mirror sheen and then covered in matte DLC to reduce reflection. Certainly worth a bow.