CAMPING & HIKING

Best Tactical Knives: Choosing Your Next Handy Tactical Tool

Best tactical knives
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

If you are an outdoorsy, adventurous type, you probably get in all kinds of risky and not-so-risky situations that demand skills and equipment. You will agree with us that a good knife is one of the most essential tools you must carry when out there in the mountains. But, what makes the best tactical knives and how to choose one to suit your needs?

The best tactical knives are those that serve as many of your needs as possible, whether you use the tool camping, hiking, fishing, or you use it for survival and other high pressure or intense situations. Thus, you will want a tactical knife that is durable, long lasting, and corrosion resistant. More so, you should demand a tool that is diverse in features and only made with the best material available.

However, how does one shop for a reliable tactical knife? Well, if you know what you want from a tactical knife, then shopping for one becomes a lot easier. With that said, we have provided some tips on how to choose a knife based on its best features. Also, we have thrown in a couple of recommendations that you will want to check out. Let’s get to it!

Product NameWeightLengthBest UsePrice
Smith & Wesson Border Guard 29 oz.11 inSurvival, hunting, fishing, and campingCheck price on Amazon
Mtech USA Xtreme MX-8054 Fixed Blade15 oz.11 inCamping, hunting, and combatCheck price on Amazon
Tool Logic SLP24.3 oz.10 inCamping, hiking, and survival situationsCheck price on Amazon
Cold Steel Recon 15.3 oz.9 3/8 inCamping, hiking, survival conditionsCheck price on Amazon
Kershaw Black Blur Glassbreaker3.9 oz.7.9 inSurvival, camping, hunting, hikingCheck price on Amazon
SOG SEAL Pup Elite Fixed Blade5.4 oz.9.5 inHunting, camping, fishing, survivalCheck price on Amazon
Spyderco Assist Carbide Tip4 oz.8.37 inFire and rescue, high-pressure situations; emergencies; survival, camping, huntingCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

As promised, here are the most important features that you should consider when purchasing a tactical knife.

Blade

Blades are usually made of stainless steel or carbon. Stainless steel handles can last a lifetime and won’t rust, but it loses edge quickly. Carbon blades will remain sharp for longer, but they are more likely to give in to the elements.

Other than material, the blade design should also be considered – straight or serrated. The straight blade is better for sharpening, since you can sharpen it with any smooth stone and it’s better for chopping wood. However, serrated blade will still do the job even when it’s lost its edge. The downside is that you need a special sharpener for this one.

Straight blade knife

When it comes to the size of the blade, most survival knives are 6 to 12 inches long. You have to choose a knife that will be big enough to be used in a survival situation (eg. chopping wood), but small enough to be easily carried around.

Handle and Grip

The best knives are those that are easiest to use. Consider this: you do not want to fuss around with a knife during a survival situation. You want the knife to open and close with ease and provide a secure grip.

You will need a knife with a durable handle and one that has the right ergonomics to ensure the greatest comfort while the blade is in use. When you hold the knife you need an excellent grip and it should be designed in such a way that it makes the tool feel as it is an extension of your hand.

It makes no difference if you decide to get a forward grip tool, which is one where you close your fist around the handle and the tool points outward away from the hand, or if you are using a reverse grip method of holding the tool. Ergonomics need to make it so the knife is comfortable in your hand and that it has the right traction to prevent slippage.

Tactical knife - handle

Image credit: dhgate.com

The quality of the knife’s handle needs to support the safety of your hand as you hold it; in other words, it should be free of flaws that might accidentally cause you injury. Besides the inclusion of any grip marks or purposefully placed traction, the handle should be smooth, flawless, and the right size for your hands. And remember, avoid hollow handles.

Many tools have finger grooves to ensure an easy time of wrapping your hand around the handle for a firmer grip. In terms of finger grooves, they should be deep enough to allow comfort but not so deep that they trap your fingers into a single position. Essentially, the appropriate knife ergonomics give you that “just right” fit.

Safety Features

The ergonomic design of the knife already introduces you to a few safety features: finger grooves, grip marks, and added traction. Additional safety features lend to even greater handling safety. One such feature is the locking mechanism on the knife. A locking mechanism is not put on a knife to keep it closed.

Quite to the contrary, it is included so the knife remains open when you are cutting. You can be injured severely if the knife is so weak it collapses on your hand while you are cutting something.

Knife in wood

You should also look for tactical knives featuring a tool that helps in opening the knife with ease. Some knives come with a push button mechanism that helps in popping the blade open immediately. Other knives are made with spring assist features that pop the knives open half way is into a locked position.

In considering knife safety, you should take knife size into consideration as well. You do not want a knife that is so small it is troublesome to handle. At the same time, a bulky, heavy knife is cumbersome even in dealing with the simplest tasks. The ideal survival knife runs around eight or nine inches in length. Most blades run around three to four inches in length.

Sheath

Many tactical knives are sold with a sheath to carry it with ease. This same sheath can help you in storing the knife away safely when not in use. Some blades come with tip up or down features meaning you can insert the knife into the clip in either direction – tip up or down.

Knife in sheath and axe

However, the sheath must be sturdy and comfortable, and it should be one that carries the knife below your belt. The best sheaths are made of Kydex, a kind of a heat-molded plastic. Leather sheaths are okay, but they can foster corrosion. Don’t even consider nylon sheaths!

Add-Ons

Add-ons are those additional features that will serve you well in survival situations. First, many knives are fitted with a glass breaker – imagine having to break through a windshield to escape a vehicle or having to break a window to get out of a dangerous situation. A glass breaker can help you in shattering the glass without injury.

A few knives are fitted with LED lights. These lights are good in low lighting conditions or in a pinch when you do not have a flashlight handy. Some manufacturers go as far as to waterproof the lights so they remain usable if dropped in a shallow body of water.

Another feature you will find on tactical knives is a seat belt cutter. The cutter is special and for use in cutting through fibrous or difficult to cut materials.  Alternatively, there are tools fitted with whistles just in case you have to alert someone of where you are if you are waiting to be rescued.

Best Products on Today’s Market

As mentioned earlier, we have taken a closer look at some of the top-rated tactical knives in the market and gave our two cents. You can’t go wrong with any of these knives.

Smith & Wesson Border Guard 2 Folding KnifeSmith & Wesson SWBG2TS Border Guard

Price: Approx. $22

Weight: 9 oz.

Dimensions: 5.6” handle; 4.4” blade

Specific features: Blade made of 7Cr17 high carbon steel; aluminum handle; glass breaker feature, liner lock, belt cutter, and thumb safety knob.

Best use: Survival, hunting, fishing, and camping

Description: The Smith & Wesson Border Guard 2 is a rescue blade of splendid design and affordable price. The knife costs around $22, so it meets any budget. This tactical knife has a seat belt cutter in the event you have to cut yourself out of a seat belt harness or other material. A glass breaker is also included if it should be necessary for you to break through glass.

The knife is easy to carry because of its small size and folding function. The 7Cr17 high carbon steel is manufactured in China and lends to the durability and longevity of the blade. The aluminum handle is long lasting and equally durable. The blade is a combo between a straight edge and a serrated option, allowing you to get the best functions from both types of blade styles.

The handle of this tool features a highly texturized design on each side and three grooves along the edge to ensure a solid grip when you use the tool in question. This tool is absent of spring assist features, but still, folds and opens with considerable ease.

PROS:

  • Really affordable
  • Includes a belt cutter
  • Lips open with ease
  • Durable high carbon steel

CONS:

  • Large and heavy

Related: Exposing yourself to the dangerous, unpredictable nature, surely you can find useful the J5 Tactical V1-Pro Flashlight. It’s high quality product that is waterproof, indestructible, bright and long-lasting.

Check the price on Amazon

MTech USA Xtreme MX-8054 Fixed BladeMTech USA Xtreme MX-8054

Price: Approx. $27

Weight: 15 oz.

Dimensions: 11” overall; 5.5” blade; 5 mm thick blade

Specific features: Black Tanto Blade made of 440 stainless steel; G10 Handle; uniquely carved handle with finger grooves; nylon sheath; lanyard hole

Best use: Camping, hunting and combat

Description: The MTech USA Xtreme MX-8054 Fixed Blade is a visually attractive and affordable tactical knife featuring a tanto blade. The body is a good size for making it comfortable to use and easy to grip, but it remains small and light for ease of portability.

The knife blade is black and this matches the black handle – this not only streamlines the knife’s look but also makes it easy to camouflage the tool more readily than a knife fitted with a bright, shiny, stainless steel blade.

The 440-grade stainless steel is used for the purposes of making cutlery because the extra carbon gives you a more durable, long-lasting blade that is also less likely to corrode or rust. Then there is the G10 handle that ensures a secure grip, even if it is raining or snowing and the handle of the knife gets wet.

The blood groove and saw back promise you considerable cutting power. The lanyard hole makes for easier carrying. The blade also includes a durable, yet comfortable nylon sheath to keep it in and ensure that you have it available in no time when needed.

PROS:

  • Durable 440-grade stainless steel design
  • Includes a blood knife section
  • Rust and corrosion resistant
  • Really affordable
  • Includes a nylon sheath

CONS:

  • Paint comes off after heavy use

Related: If you’re buying a knife, you should also buy a sharpener, especially if you don’t have one at home. The BladesUSA AS-121 Knife Sharpener features triangular-shaped ceramic stones with pre-set angles to sharpen blades easily, and no water or oil required for the job.

Check the price on Amazon

SOG Tool Logic SLP2 Folding KnifeSOG Tool Logic SLP2

Price: Approx. $35

Weight:  4.3 oz.

Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 4”; 3” blade

Specific features: Three-year limited warranty; LED flashlight, magnesium allow fire starter rod; whistle, pocket-belt clip; frame lock; thumb notch; serrated blade

Best use: Camping, hiking, and survival situations

Description: The SOG Tool Logic SLP2 Folding Knife is an exceptional tactical knife and one with 1/2 serrated blade that folds into the handle. The Tool Logic SLP2 comes with an inexpensive price tag of around $35.

The knife has a serrated blade for ease of cutting power, and the thumb notch lends safety to the act of opening and closing the tool. The stainless steel blade has a bead blast finish giving the blade an ultra-smooth side and sharp edge.

The magnesium alloy fire starter rod and the LED flashlight inclusions are exceptional when you are in need of such tools out in the wilderness, and the waterproofing of the flashlight ensures the longevity of the feature.

The inclusion of a whistle allows you to alert others of your presence during a search and rescue mission. Also, the pocket-belt clip lends to the ease of portability and the rugged frame ensures that you are investing in a durable tool for all your survival needs.

PROS:

  • Includes a decent LED flashlight
  • Durable and rugged frame
  • Fully waterproof
  • Includes an emergency whistle

CONS:

  • The overall knife is a little bulky with the flashlight

Related: The blade on this knife is partially serrated, so you need a sharpener that can be used for both straight and serrated blade. For this application we recommend the Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener that features carbide blades and ceramic stones to give you razor sharp edges. Another great thing about them is they are replaceable, so you can extend the lifetime of the sharpener and never need another one in your life.

Check the price on Amazon

Cold Steel Recon 1 Tactical KnifeCold Steel Recon 1

Price: $120-$145

Weight: 5.3 ounces

Dimensions: 4” blade; 9 3/8” overall measurement; 3.5 mm blade thickness

Specific features: Rust resistance; corrosion resistant; Aus 8A Japanese stainless steel blade; G-10 laminate scaled handle; specially treated blade; thumb disc; pocket clip inclusion; blade with a scratch resistant Teflon finish

Best use: Camping, hiking, survival conditions

Description: The Cold Steel Recon 1 Tactical Knife is sporting a G-10 handle, ensuring a great grip, even when the handle is exposed to water or if your palms sweat during knife use. It is the laminated scales on the handle that lends to a greater grip in conjunction with the scalloped and contoured non-slip grip design.

The price tag of the Cold Steel Recon 1 is on the higher end of the scale between $120 and $145. The blade of this tool is equally superior as it is durable and resistant to corrosion – the blade is a subzero quenched, vacuum heat treated blade.

The inclusion of a thumb disc makes the knife easy to open, and the tool comes complete with a pocket clip for ease of transport. The finish on the tool ensures a rust-resistant design, and there is no glare when the tool is in use. The entirely black design also camouflages the tool nicely.

PROS:

  • Ensures great grip in wet conditions
  • Subzero quenched heat treated blade
  • Rust resistant
  • No glare finish

CONS:

  • Really expensive

Related: The Cold Steel 27TXLC XL Recon 1 is a much smaller design and it is much more affordable, while the Micro Recon 1 Spear Point is also expensive and made from Japanese steel. Both of them include pocket clips for easier carrying and storage.

Check the price on Amazon

Kershaw Black Blur GlassbreakerKershaw Blur, Glassbreaker

Price: Approx. $65

Weight: 3.9 oz.

Dimensions: 3.4” blade; closed tool measures 4.5”; overall length open is 7.9”

Specific features: Black coated blade; partial scallop serration; DLC coating on the handle and knife blade, Sandvic 14C28N, Trac-tec inserts, tip up/down pocket clip; liner lock locking system; handle made of 6061-T6 anodized aluminum.

Best use: Survival, camping, hunting, hiking

Description: The Kershaw Black Blur Glassbreaker features a glass breaking feature in case you ever get into a scenario where you must break through the glass in order to escape. The unit has a speed safe opener; this is a patented feature to help you open the knife without injury, with speed and ease.

The Speed Safe Opener is actually a button you can push to activate the feature. The liner locking system is used for actually keeping the blade open and steady when in use so it does not collapse inward and fold away on you when in use.

The blade has a DLC coating, otherwise called a Diamond-Like Carbon coating to ensure reduced friction when in use, and makes the tool look visually attractive. The same coating lends to the corrosion resistant properties of the knife.

Meanwhile, the handle’s anodized aluminum alters the texture of the handle’s surface microscopically so it will accept a film made or porous coating that will then accept a special dye; this strengthens the handle considerably making them fade and scratch resistant. Finally, the tip up/down clip means you can insert the folded knife into the clip any way you desire: tip up or down.

PROS:

  • Durable and stylish diamond like carbon coating
  • Glass breaking feature
  • Easy to fold
  • Scratch and rust resistant
  • Made from Japanese steel

CONS:

  • The coating can chip with too much water

Related: When in a survival situation, you might need a lot more than just a knife to actually survive. Equip yourself with small tools that might come in handy, like the Kershaw Firestarter. It’s small, compact and very powerful – performs better even that waterproof matches in wet conditions.

Check the price on Amazon

SOG SEAL Pup Elite E37SN-CP Fixed BladeSOG SEAL Pup Elite

Price: Approx. $85

Weight: 5.4 ounces

Dimensions: 4.85” blade x 0.185” thickness; 9.5” overall length

Specific features: Glass molded, ergonomically designed handle with grip lines; blade spine rasp included; deep finger grooves on the handle and a racy blade design; blade with black TiNi finish; nylon sheath

Best use: Hunting, camping, fishing, survival

Description: The SOG SEAL Pup Elite E37SN-CP Fixed Blade is a SOG Specialty knife featuring a solid, straight edge. The handle has a brand new design that makes it more ergonomically fit. This means the handle is longer with finger grooves that are deeper than previous models.

Essentially, the knife comes with an even better grip than ever before. To add to the perfected design of the handle, the piece is made of injected molded glass so the handle is reinforced. The handle is also fitted with grip lines to ensure terrific traction as you use the knife; better traction means fewer cuts and unwanted injuries.

A blade spine rasp is included for placement of the thumb. This makes for ease when cutting, filing and notching. The blade has a “racy” style for visual appeal and is made of durable AUS-8 carbon steel. It also has an attractive clip point shape.

A Black Tini finish protects the blade and makes the knife and handle blend together thereby making the knife camouflaged and streamlined in appearance. The nylon sheath the unit comes with ensures ease of transport.

PROS:

  • Well-designed ergonomics
  • Offers great grip lines
  • Includes a lifelong warranty
  • Includes a nylon sheath

CONS:

  • Large and cannot be folded

Related: Carrying a knife requires a good sheath to protect both yourself and the knife. For this one we recommend the SOG KYD-M40 Kydex Sheath. As the name shows, it’s made of Kydex, which is the best material for knife sheaths, and you cannot go wrong with it. This one’ specifically made for the reviewed knife.

Check the price on Amazon

Spyderco Assist Carbide Tip KnifeSpyderco Assist with Carbide Tip

Price: Approx. $110

Weight:  4 oz.

Dimensions: 8.375” open; 4.875” closed; 3.7” blade; 0.125” blade thickness; 3.2” cutting edge

Specific features: Combination edge, carbide tip

Best use: Fire and rescue, high-pressure situations, emergencies, survival, camping, hunting

Description: The Spyderco Assist Carbide Tip Knife is another high quality tool. It is specifically designed for unexpected, high-pressure situations and emergencies. It is a great choice for firefighters and rescue professionals, as well as well-equipped civilians.

The FRN Combo Edge knife has a VG10 Blade that has a toothed edge to ensure easy cutting of most materials. This knife cuts fibrous and difficult materials like ropes and seat belt materials with ease. The knife also has a special plain blade edge for detailed cutting tasks.

This knife is suitable for professional firefighters looking for a knife capable of cutting rope quickly; it has a wavy, die cut pattern on the blade’s blunt side – the feature was created by a firefighter in Sweden so that the knife can be used for cutting a rope simply by squeezing the blade and the handle together.

The unit comes with a limited manufacturer’s warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.

PROS:

  • Small and compact
  • Includes a finger hole for added safety
  • Lightweight

CONS:

  • Expensive

Related: A good alternative is the Spyderco Byrd Cara Cara2 Rescue Knife which features a smaller design that will be ideal for your pocket. The added spring will be perfect for opening in a hurry and the serrated edges are extremely durable.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

Investing in a tactical knife is clearly a personalized endeavor. With all the different knives for sale, you should have little difficulty finding the tool that you can use in an emergency situation.

Sitting down and writing a list of desired features and examining the different models available from a wide array of manufacturers can help you define your personal needs. You will find a knife that fits every type of budget too, so there is no need to break the bank to get the knife you require.

So have you found your tactical knife yet? What do you think of our knife selections? Feel free to leave a comment below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.