What is a tactical knife? A tactical knife is a type of outdoor knife made with design details that are appropriate for combat situations.
If you were recently in the market for a new knife to take with you on your next camping or hunting trip, chances are you’ve seen tactical knives at your local hunting goods store.
But what makes them so special compared to your typical survival knife? What should I look for in a good tactical knife? And should I actually get one?
In this article, we’ll be answering these burning questions and more.
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What is a Tactical Knife, Anyway
As I mentioned, tactical knives are just one of many kinds of outdoor knives that also include bushcraft knives, hunting knives, and survival knives. Unlike those other knives, though, tactical knives are made with design elements that allow them to be more effective in a fight.
These design elements include a centered weight balance, ergonomic grip, a hand guard, a pointed pommel, and a matte-coated blade. Details like these were carried over from their roots in combat knives used by the military, which in turn evolved from the many fighting knives made and used throughout history.
What Makes a Good Tactical Knife
Because of their origins in fighting knives, tactical knives can have various design variations depending on what kind of performance and additional features the bladesmith wants to apply to that particular knife. In general, though, we can summarise these variations into three simple categories: the type, the blade, and the ergonomics.
While the traditional tactical knife only has a fixed blade, many knife makers have begun to market folding knives as “tactical knives”. While I personally wouldn’t consider folding knives as tactical knives, they do still have their advantages and disadvantages over their fixed blade counterparts.
For one, a folding tactical knife has the benefit of easy concealment and storage when not in use. This is more useful if you keep your knife in a bag or a pocket instead of on your person.
On the other hand, a fixed blade tactical knife will definitely be better in terms of durability. Because folding knives don’t have a tang (the back part of the blade that extends into the handle), much of the force applied to the blade is transferred to its folding mechanism. This means that for heavy-duty tasks like skinning and stabbing, you would be much better served with a fixed blade tactical knife.
At the business end of the tactical knife, the characteristics of the blade dictate how the knife performs with different actions and situations. For the sake of brevity, I will be showing you a few of the most popular examples that I feel are great choices for your next tactical knife.
Bowie blade. Named after the Bowie Knife from the 1800s, the Bowie-type blade is long and broad with a smooth single blade. Bowie blades tend to be a lot heavier than the other designs on this list, but their added weight lets you put more force behind each swing, making them some of the best for slashing through dense foliage.
Tanto blade. Inspired by traditional Japanese short swords, the Tanto blade is characterized by its hard, flat geometry and very sharp tips.
This makes it very effective in close quarters combat and survival purposes as it can very easily penetrate and rip through fabrics and even light body armor. Tanto blades also just look very cool—something I’m sure you were already thinking about while shopping around.
Drop point blade. Drop point blades are arguably the most common blade type you will see on tactical knives, and for good reasons.
Their smoothly sloped shape and slim point make drop point blades incredibly versatile for slicing, cutting, shaving, and stabbing. Although they don’t have the combat effectiveness of the tanto blade or the raw slashing power of the Bowie blade, drop points make up for them by being the best for general utility use, and I wholeheartedly recommend them if you are just starting out.
When you are shopping around for a tactical knife, the handle should be your top priority if it isn’t already. After all, no blade is going to perform very well if the user can’t wield it comfortably. Generally, there are three things you should consider when looking at the handle:
Shape. Although knife handles are normally designed to be comfortable with different grip styles, the shape of the handle can still guide the hand to a preferred way to hold the tactical knife. Round and oval handles will typically be most comfortable with a hammer grip or icepick grip. Other handle designs might be suited for grip styles that are supported by the thumb or the index finger.
Size. Having a properly-sized handle for your tactical knife is also very important. Handles that are too small or too big will make it difficult to put force into your stabs and slices, not to mention they can be very uncomfortable to hold.
Material. The handle material will determine the look and feel of your tactical knife handle. Now, good bladesmiths will already use durable and high-quality materials in their tactical knives, so for the most part, the best handle material is really a matter of personal preference. As always, your best option is to try them out in a store for yourself to find what works for you.
Should I Get a Tactical Knife
Now comes the big question: should you actually get one? In my opinion, it really depends on personal preference and what you want to use them for.
The thing with tactical knives is that, in essence, they really aren’t all that different from fighting knives and survival knives. Modern materials and blade-making techniques have made it so that knives, tactical or not, will have no trouble surviving the rigors of the great outdoors and will keep their edge no matter how tough it gets.
However, tactical knives are a cut above in one particular aspect: the looks. With their powder-coated blades, dark, flat colors, and military styling, tactical knives have a distinctive look that really stands out from the crowd. So if this is something that matters to you, then tactical knives should definitely be on your list.
Tactical knives are one of the hot new trends in the survivalist and everyday carry (EDC) markets, so much so that they’ve become a sort of marketing fad for knife makers.
Hopefully, this article has shed some light into this corner of the outdoor knife market, and I also hope that the information I’ve shared will help you decide whether or not a tactical knife is the best fit for your outdoor arsenal.