Tactical Knives: A Brief Account of the Knife

Tactical Knives: A Brief Account of the Knife

Posted by Clayton on Aug 4th 2015

Knives and knife-like tools have been in existence for at least two-and-a-half-million years, making them one of the oldest tools still used by mankind.

The knife’s storied history is full of evolution and advancements, from the flint-made knives of the Stone Age to the stainless steel tactical masterpieces of today. Knives are an amazing tool, for which there is not, nor has ever been, a substitute. Whether for hunting, ensuring safety, or providing shelter, mankind’s ability to create tools – especially the knife – has secured our place at the top of the food chain.

Shift to present day, and it is clear to see that as the technology has progressed, knife designs have become increasingly specialized. Though the needs of knife users may have evolved, they have anything but abated.

Finding the Right Tactical Knife

A tactical knife is a knife designed for use in extreme situations. Many modern professionals require tactical knives as part of their day-to-day jobs, and the required function of the knife will largely determine what sort of knife the user should purchase. A SWAT officer, for example, is going to need a different sort of blade than would an emergency rescuer, and an avid hunter and outdoorsman will need a different sort of knife than would a military professional.

Depending on your specific needs, it is quite possible that you may need two or three separate knives. Whatever your knife is needed for, there are some basic factors that everyone should consider when purchasing a tactical knife, discussed more below:

  • Ergonomic Design
  • Size
  • Blade Design
  • Handle
  • Lock

Ergonomic Design

Without getting over-technical, knife ergonomics can be condensed into one all-important question: Does the knife feel comfortable in your hand? For a tactical knife to be successful, it can’t pinch your hand, cut you with sharp corners, or feel awkward. A well-designed knife is built to accommodate your fingers, not force them. The bottom line is that if a knife isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to use it.


Like ergonomics, the size of the knife is going to be a major determinant of whether or not you use the knife. A 20” "ultimate" Bowie knife weighing three pounds with a hundred built-in additional features may be cool, but it’s more likely going to sit on a mantel than be used in the field. Enormous folding knives may have their own virtues, but if wearing the knife on your hip makes your belt fall down, you’re never going to use it. As a good rule of thumb, a 3-4” folding knife with an extended length of 8-9 inches is good for general use.


When thinking about blade materials, stainless steel is unquestionably the way to go. Extremely strong and durable, with high corrosion resistance, thanks to the industry’s competition today almost all reputable knife companies use mid- to high-grade stainless steel. A little tip: Super Steels and others similar to them are pure marketing hype. As long as your knife didn’t cost $4.98, your stainless steel blade will be more than equipped to get the job done.

As another good rule of thumb, blades should be at least .125 (1/8) inches thick and no more than .187 (3/16) thick, for structural strength. Much thicker, and the blade will be too heavy; much lighter, and the blade may not suffice. Additionally, it is wise to always purchase a serrated blade. Even when dull, they will always cut.


Tactical knife handles can be made from a variety of different materials, from plastics, to titanium, to stainless steel. The most important consideration about a handle is that it is stable (won’t crack or warp) and that it won’t absorb moisture. A checkered surface will provide extra grip, especially in a wet environment, but there’s no feeling quite like a smooth handle. Whether metal or plastic, a handle is really about personal preference. An insider tip: Wherever possible, avoid Kraton handles (a rubbery material that inevitably deteriorates).


There are many different kinds of locking mechanisms that most folding tactical knife makers commonly utilize. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but all will largely get the job done. Again, personal preference is the main determinant here in deciding what works best for you. Here are some of the more common locking mechanisms on the market today:

  • Lockback
  • Liner lock
  • Frame lock
  • Axis lock
  • Slip joint and friction folder


While the needs of knife-users have changed over the ages, the need itself has never waned; knives are still an amazingly integral part of the day-to-day lives of many people. Tactical knives, especially, are an incredibly useful – even vital – tool. Whether for work or enjoying the outdoors, choosing the right tactical knife can mean the difference between success or defeat, life or death. Make sure you take the time to find the right one for you.