We put production tactical knives to the test to see which ones come out as best in class.
Originally conceived for law enforcement and military and rescue personnel, tactical knives quickly found their way into the hands of those looking for a heavy-duty edged tool robust enough to withstand extreme use and abuse—and to do so without falling apart.
Modern tactical knives are some of the most refined and precisely manufactured of cutters in terms of ergonomics, edge holding and price points, and the market is saturated with all the big names producing them in almost all price ranges.
No matter the mission, one of these sharp tactical knives can cut it.
Originally conceived for law enforcement and military and rescue personnel, tactical knives quickly found their way into the hands of those looking for a heavy-duty edged tool robust enough to withstand extreme use and abuse—and to do so without falling apart. Modern tactical knives are some of the most refined and precisely manufactured of cutters in terms of ergonomics, edge holding and price points, and the market is saturated with all the big names producing them in most all price ranges.
What Is A Tactical Knife?
Exactly what constitutes a tactical knife has been addressed in BLADE®, other knife magazines—one of which was even called Tactical Knives—KnifeForums and other knife discussion forums, social media, books, the national media and elsewhere. Some originally described it, and still do, as a folding or fixed-blade knife with a non-glare blade and black synthetic handle ideal for any number of utility purposes, including combat. There are other qualifications but these three seem to universally apply to tactical knives.
As noted by many, BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member and Spyderco founder Sal Glesser once said a tactical knife is any knife you have with you when you need a knife. Such a definition also would seem to apply to an everyday carry (EDC) knife. The Wall Street Journal once even referred to a Buck Metro keychain knife as a tactical knife. Go figure (though, technically, the Buck Metro would seem to fit both Glesser’s definition and the EDC comparison and, thus, the definition of a tactical knife). Others insist the term tactical knife is no more than a marketing gimmick.
As for who the father of tactical knives is, that is a question guaranteed to spark healthy debates. Some say custom knifemaker Bob Terzuola made the first tactical folding knife, while others say custom knifemaker Ernest Emerson did. Some say any number of other makers made the first one. The argument even can be made that the original popularizer of the term is Greg Walker, editor of the now-defunct Fighting Knives magazine, who wrote extensively about tactical knives during FK’s run in the 1990s. Some say the original tactical knife is the Buck 110 folding hunter, which was introduced in 1964 and used by many American GIs in the Vietnam War. Of course, if Glesser’s definition holds true, then the first knife fashioned by early man from a bone, rock, obsidian or what have you many millennia ago is the original tactical knife.
Whatever the case, tactical knives have been hot for over two decades with no end in sight. Observers have predicted the end of the tactical knife phenomenon any number of times, with the knife and its spinoffs enjoying almost as many popularity spikes as the predictions of its demise. About the only thing that seems certain about tactical knives is that such forecasts will continue until one of them actually comes true.
Then again, who really knows anything for sure when the subject is tactical knives?
CRKT is among the industry leaders in production tacticals that strike an outstanding balance between affordability and the most modern of designs. What’s more, the company has a great reputation for offering the biggest bang for the buck. Among its many forward-thinking designs is the Septimo tactical folder.
Jeremy Valdez of Olalla, Washington, is an Army veteran who served with the 7th Special Forces. The primary inspiration for the Septimo—the name means seventh in Spanish, an homage to Jeremy’s brothers in the 7th—came from his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2009. While there, he was aboard a helicopter when it crashed. The knife Valdez had on him at the time proved ineffective at cutting through various materials during the exit from the chopper carcass. Soon after, he set out to design a tactical folder that could fulfill multiple roles as a backup weapon and cutting and rescue tool. The Septimo is the result.
Jeremy’s design for CRKT has a 3.6- inch tanto blade of 8Cr13MoV stainless steel with a black oxide coating to bolster corrosion resistance and reduce glare. While it may seem you can thumb the blade open by the oblong hole, it actually is difficult to do so, which is why the blade has a flipper tab opener. A flick of your index finger is all it takes to deploy the blade quickly. The action is very smooth.
The blade’s most noticeable feature is the single large Ve serration close to the tang. The serration’s large tooth helps gather and hold the material in as it’s being cut, so it provides a lot of control. It severs webbing, cord, string, paracord, small diameter tubing and most anything else that fits inside it.
The ergonomic handle has T-6 6061 aluminum scales with textured TPR (thermoplastic rubber) inlays for grip enhancement. Two stainless steel liners provide the knife’s backbone. The linerlock engages securely. The clip is mounted to carry the closed knife blade tip up and as deep as possible in the pocket. Multiple grooves provide comfortable placement to wrap your fingers around the handle. A solid steel spacer anchors the rear of the handle and includes a lanyard hole. The Septimo is an ideal tactical folder for those in law enforcement and the military. Thanks to its distinctly angled tip, the tanto blade has a great reputation for penetration power. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $69.99, making the CRKT folder an affordable workhorse that goes the distance.
Halfbreed Blades CCK-03 Tuhon Raptor
The Halfbreed Blades CCK (Compact Clearance Knife) series was developed as low-profile bladeware for fast-access self-defense situations. Designed for discreet carry, the series shares a common handle design but with varied blade patterns. The handle is very slender and features a ring at the end, which accommodates an index finger to lock in your grip. The top of the ring has an indentation to seat the thumb comfortably, as well as aid in applying downward pressure on the blade. The CCK-03 Tuhon Raptor is one of the most distinctively shaped blades in the series.
Designed by Special Operations CQC instructor Jared Wihongi, the blade is designed to be implemented in multiple ways, including to trap and hook. The talon-shaped tip has a devastatingly eeffective ability to slash as well as thrust, with its slight hook implementing a gathering action. The main and top edges offer options for slashing in either direction. While most of the blade is sharp all the way around, a portion is unsharpened to incorporate a feature called a live edge identifier. It can be seen as a raised protrusion on the handle. You can use it to index the knife, that is, determine by the feel which way the blade is oriented.
The talon-like tip of the Halfbreed Blades Tuhon Raptor acts as your own personal claw. The curved edge grabs and feeds on the material to be cut—as in slicing a section of air hose lengthwise—thus amplifying the force applied.
At 8 inches overall and sporting a 3.94-inch blade, the Tuhon Raptor has plenty of length to get the job done while remaining compact in nature. The D2 blade steel boasts a balance of toughness, edge holding and value pricing.The knife comes in three hues: black, desert tan and OD green. Each color permeates the knife with matching G-10 handle overlays. The injection-molded plastic sheath corresponds in color to match the knife. It is a single-column design molded as one piece, not halves riveted together. The sheath is MOLLE compatible and there’s a Blade-Tech Tek Lok for those who prefer belt carry. The knife locks into the sheath very securely—no worries about it falling out accidentally. It locks with a firm and deliberate push.
Unlike the other two test pieces, the Tuhon Raptor is a single-purpose modern tactical knife. It is meant for self-defense and not as a utility tool. The handle design is not conducive for lengthy cutting in a traditional grip. However, in a pinch it can be used as a scoring tool or even to open packages and mail. Nonetheless, if you want to use the knife for self-defense, you should not subject it to any sort of utility use to preserve the sharpness of the edge. MSRP: $195. Halfbreed Blades also has a trainer model available if you wish to train with a realistic but unedged version. For an MSRP of $260, you can purchase the standard Tuhon Raptor and trainer together in one package.
Fallkniven’s R2 Scout
Fallkniven’s R2 Scout is a smaller knife designed for users with littler hands, or for folks who just prefer a somewhat undersized blade. Meanwhile, it’s a myth that smaller knives cannot function as tactical tools. Smaller knives are just as capable, or maybe even more so, as their larger counterparts for certain tactical tasks. They can be just as strong as well.
At only 3.1 inches long, the R2’s drop point blade is .196-inch thick, which is quite thick for a short blade. The thickness is intentional to give the knife strength to withstand heavy-duty tasks. The blade’s ELMAX Swedish stainless particle steel is known for superb edge holding, and its Scandi grind descends straight down to a sharp edge. This is known as a zero edge because there is an absence of a cutting-edge bevel. What results is a blade that’s very sharp and easy to maintain.
The Fallkniven R2 Scout’s extra-thick blade enables it to tackle tougher tasks such as baton work easily. The extra thickness works as a wedge to split wood quickly. Country of origin: Sweden.
The zero-grind edge of the Fallkniven R2 Scout has excellent bite and is great for whittling tasks that require the ultimate in sharpness.
The sheath of the R2 carries well on the belt and has the freedom to move when you sit down or snag it on something. (Fallkniven image)
The handle is Thermorun, a sturdy, grippy plastic with rubber-like properties. It has a coarse textured finish on the sides, which does a great job at preventing the handle from slipping out of your hand in adverse conditions. The sheath is equally well thought out, too. Molded of Zytel, it incorporates a webbing belt loop and an imaginative locking system that holds the knife securely. Activate the lock and the knife is guarded against accidental loss. You also can choose not to activate the lock, as the sheath otherwise holds the knife via an ever-present spring detent.
The sheath carries well on the belt and has freedom to move in case you sit down or snag it on something. The R2 is a workhorse of a compact fixed blade. The zero-grind edge has an incredibly aggressive bite. The blade is well suited for camp chores, food prep and carving/whittling utility jobs. As thick as the blade is, don’t be afraid to use it hard. Dig right in with it without worrying about the blade tip breaking or the blade bending. It withstands batonning well. Full-tang construction lends it a nice balance. Since the tang protrudes a bit through the handle butt, you can use it as a crushing tool. I found the texture of the handle to be just right; it gives a great grip in all conditions. With an MSRP of $273.95, the R2 Scout is pricey for its size but trust me—it’s worth it!
Bear Edge Brisk 1.0
The Bear Edge Brisk 1.0 tactical fixed blade features a 4⅞-inch modified drop-point blade of 440A stainless steel with a black-epoxy-type coating. The cutting edge is partially serrated to power through tough materials. The ergonomic handle is stainless steel with a soft touch coating for grip comfort. Five oblong holes through the full tang and handle provide additional grip traction, as well as lighten the load. A large forward finger recess aids in indexing your grip, and the dropped-butt design helps seat your fingers and prevent your hand from sliding backward off the handle. The lower integral guard and choil allow you to employ a choke grip for precise cutting tasks. The knife has a folder counterpart in the Brisk 1.0 series, which, along with the slimmed-down handles, explains why the fixed blade sports a folder look.
While the knife has an overall tactical appearance and feel, it seems better suited to outdoor use. Why? The blade grind is hollow. Most tactical fixed blades have a flat grind to leave more steel in the cross-section, therefore increasing lateral strength. And then there’s the slim handle. For a tactical fixed blade, the handle needs to be wider to accommodate a secure grip. The thin handle doesn’t feel that secure in-hand, so I would be hesitant to use it for tactical tasks. While the slim handle minimizes weight and bulk, making the knife carry on a belt very easily, it’s just not geared toward a hard-use environment most tactical fixed blades must tackle.
As for the blade, it slices easily. The edge was extremely sharp out of the box and had the right amount of bite that I prefer, though it won’t last long due to its lower-end 440A stainless. It’s just not a steel known for edge holding. Conversely, it’s easy to sharpen in the field because it’s not wear resistant. Hence, if you prefer stainless blades for outdoor leisure activities and don’t want to fool with the extra care of carbon steel blades, consider the Brisk 1.0. The serrations are equally as sharp and eat through fibrous materials with ease. Those who love partially serrated blades will enjoy their versatility with cutting tasks. Plus, it saves you from carrying a separate serrated knife.
The knife includes a ballistic nylon belt sheath with button-snap closure. It’s a basic style sheath, nothing to get excited about. It just does the job. Country of origin: China. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP): $35.49.
Spartan Blades Harsey Tactical Trout
Spartan Blades has collaborated with noted custom knifemaker and designer Bill Harsey on a few knives and does so again with the Harsey Tactical Trout. An ideal mid-size fixed blade, it can be used as a tactical or outdoor knife. The 4.5-inch blade is CPM S45VN stainless steel for good edge retention and ultimate cutting performance. The spear-point blade is flat ground and has a distal taper to optimize cutting of a variety of media. The DLC-coat promotes outstanding scratch resistance.
The handle features such Harsey hallmarks as the integrated double guard and double finger groove. The double-finger groove allows the index and middle fingers, the strongest digits, to help secure the hand on the handle. Some manufacturers use a single-finger groove and that’s fine but with two grooves grip quality is improved. The handle material is black Micarta with a slightly milled texture to aid in a non-slip grip. The handle is comfortable with no hot spots. The sheath is a Kydex rig with MOLLE straps. It can be worn on the belt in a traditional manner as well.
Pick the knife up and you will feel its neutral balance and agility. It’s a pleasure to use. It’s easy to maneuver and manipulate and equally at home making fuzz sticks. The tip is defined enough to perform delicate cutting tasks and scoring/piercing while robust enough to withstand hard use. The spear-point blade is easily adaptable to most any cutting task. S45VN holds an edge for a respectable amount of time but is a bit more difficult to sharpen than standard stainless and carbon steels.
To remedy this, keep a diamond sharpener on hand and address the edge based on frequency of use. Maintain the edge instead of letting it go dull to avoid spending more time than necessary working on it. Overall length: 9 inches. Country of origin: USA. The MSRP of $380 might be a bit on the high end but is definitely worth it given the materials and workmanship.
Designed by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Kit Carson, the CRKT M16 series features rugged knives that have stood the test of time in different blade shapes and sizes. The M16-02DB is the smallest of the bunch. However, don’t dismiss it due to its size because it can put some serious work in when it’s time. The new model is the most premium M16-02 design to date. It has a 3-inch tanto blade of D2 tool steel boasting a durable black oxide coating for low reflectivity and corrosion protection.
The aluminum handle boasts double steel liners for a strong backbone. Designed by Flavio Ikoma, CRKT’s Deadbolt lock ups lock strength considerably from the standard model’s linerlock. The lock release is at the pivot. Press down on the knurled button and the lock releases, allowing the blade to fold closed easily. There’s also an assisted-opening mechanism for snappy action. The blade rides on caged bearings for smooth, fast deployment. Clip material has been upgraded to a beefy steel, and the clip is much wider and resists bending out of shape better than the standard M16.
It’s easy to see why the M-16 series has been a popular and steady seller. The knives are affordable tactical folders built tough. The M16-02DB is the bulldog of the bunch, tough and stout. At 4.2 inches closed, the tactical titan is EDC friendly as well. A firm push on the flipper tab sends the blade rocketing out of the handle to the open and locked position. Once locked, the Deadbolt is very secure with no movement in any direction. There’s no chance of it unlocking unless you deliberately want it to. One of the good things about the Deadbolt is it keeps your fingers out of the path of the blade to eliminate accidental cuts upon closing.
The M16-02DB is your work companion. Got cardboard boxes to break down, wires to strip, packages to open? If you do any type of work in the trades, this knife could be for you. The blade is ideal for such chores, not too big and not too small. The D2 blade steel is very tough for the price and well known for durability and ease of sharpening. The entire knife is robust to withstand abuse yet easy and comfortable to EDC on a daily basis. Country of origin: Taiwan. MSRP: $150.
The Benchmade Adamas is a stout, full-on, all-in tactical folder that oozes brawn and might in appearance and has the muscle to back it up. Knifemaker Shane Sibert designed the Adamas series and is known for heavy-duty tactical folders and fixed blades. The original comes in a larger size with a 3.7-inch blade, but customers started asking for a more pocket friendly, scaled-down version. Enter the Benchmade 273GY-1 Mini Adamas. With a blade of 3.25 inches and at 4.35 inches closed, the Mini Adamas is probably the toughest small folder you’ll ever meet.
The drop-point blade is CPM Cru-Wear tool steel to go the distance in edge holding and toughness—two important factors in tactical knives. The blade has a fuller milled in on both sides and sports dual conical-shaped thumb studs for easy one-hand opening. The tank-like handle comes in a choice of black or OD green G-10. The design incorporates three holes and milled grooves to enhance grip and aesthetics.
The Axis™ Lock provides the ultimate in blade lockup while being easy to disengage and close. Integral forward and rear lower guards prevent your hand from sliding off, and a deep-carry pocket clip positions the knife blade tip up. Additional screw holes permit relocating the clip to accommodate southpaws.
The Mini Adamas is a good chunk and larger and wider than other mini folders. Compared with its bigger brother, the 275 Adamas, it’s scaled down. Still, it carries better in the pocket and is easy to deploy. The Axis Lock has a longstanding reputation as one of the best locks on the market, and Benchmade has it dialed in with being ultra-solid yet easy to operate—even for novices. If you like the Adamas design but say the regular size is too big for EDC, the 273 is for you.
A common complaint about mini folders is when you reduce the size, it changes the in-hand dynamics from the original. Not so much here. There’s still plenty to hold onto! The same cutting power and durability is present, and the boxy handle shape is still comfortable in-hand, more so than you expect—which is a good thing. It is a good working folder and/or tailored for hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.
Cru-Wear goes the distance and is a perfect choice for such a knife. It isn’t stainless so you will have to take some care of it, even though it has a Cerakote coating. The tungsten gray Cerakote has some sparkle to it, is kind of reminiscent of Teflon-coated cookware, and goes well with the black G-10 handle. Don’t be fooled, this mini is definitely mighty. If you like your minis on the meaty side, the 273GY-1 Mini Adamas is for you. Country of origin: USA. MSRP: $290.
Editor’s Note: Steve Shackleford contributed to this report.
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