Buyers Guide: Tactical Folding Knives

posted on October 29, 2010

Chances are you carry a knife more often than you do a gun. And while we don't advocate taking a knife to a gunfight, we wouldn't recommend using your Springfield XD to open the package containing your new holster, either. Although a well-designed knife can serve adequately as the last line of defense in trained hands, performing everyday cutting tasks is more likely to be its role.

Folding knives get the nod over fixed-blade models for daily use, simply because they are more convenient to carry. Thanks to improved locking mechanisms, better materials used in construction and innovative design, today's crop of folders are tough enough for serious duty while being easier to take with you than a Blackberry. Here are several that will cut, slice, chop and—should things really get dicey—even defend with aplomb.

Al Mar SERE 2000
While Gary Fadden, president of Al Mar Knives, is always on the lookout for ways to make a better blade, he also sees no reason to fix what isn't broken. Proof in point: the SERE 2000, which has been among the company's most popular folders for almost 30 years. This is one tough knife, designed by company founder Al Mar and Col. Nick Rowe for the U.S. Army's Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape (SERE) program. Its hand-finished, hand-sharpened blade is more than 1⁄8-inch thick and is available with a matte-black ceramic coating that Fadden claims is nearly impervious to scratches and corrosion. The textured G-10 scales covering the flow-through frame help keep the SERE 2000 firmly in your grasp, but more importantly, the frame design is ergonomic no matter which way you hold it. (503) 670-9080;

Benchmade Pika G-10
Part of the company's Harley-Davidson series, Benchmade's Pika G-10 is the knife lover's equivalent of having a chrome-and-steel hog to call your own. With a clip-point, lock-back blade of 9CR13 stainless steel and Rockwell hardness of 58-60, the Pika is capable of a variety of tasks—from defensive to utilitarian. Textured G-10 scales supply ample purchase, while the thumbhole atop the blade aids in one-handed opening and ambidextrous use. Its rever-sible, tip-up-style clip allows for left or right-side carry. (800) 800-7427;

Blackhawk Be-Wharned
The Be-Wharned is named for its Wharncliffe blade, which was originally found on workers' knives near Sheffield, England. With a straight cutting edge and an aggressive profile, it is a perfect tool for multiple tasks. Thanks to weapons expert Michael Janich, who designed this knife for Blackhawk, the Wharncliffe shape has become popular among the defensive knife set. Thick for its size, the satin-finished, straight-edge blade is made from AUS 8A stainless steel and folds easily into the highly textured, G10-scaled handle. This is one knife on which you won't lose your grip. The grip texture becomes smooth as it slopes toward the blade, providing tactile feedback as to your hand's position and ensuring you won't snag on the grip when trying to open the blade in a stressful situation. 420J stainless steel inserts add structural support to the handle and a reversible, four-position clip allows for multiple carrying options. (757) 436-3101;

Blade-Tech Profili
What is in a name—how about eye-catching style with a touch of Italian lineage? No matter your nationality, chances are this folder's profili—or profile—will make an impression. But, unlike most tactical knifes, the Profili is designed for a single purpose—think of it as a sleek, finely crafted scalpel in a world of pry bars and edged bottle openers. Both its belt clip and N690CO steel blade are coated in Tungsten DLC to provide a matte, ultra-durable finish. Dual thumb studs allow for ambidextrous opening, while features such as a coarse G-10 scales provide sufficient purchase and a secondary lock assures the blade remains deployed. If you're searching for an elegant-looking folder to add to your concealed carry complement, look no further. (253) 655-8059;

Buck/Tops CSAR-T
The last thing a tactical knife needs to be is a clunky, slow-moving multi-tool, but the first collaboration between Buck and Tops has produced an innovative approach—the CSAR-T. However, the knife remains primary. With a tough G10 handle and a solid .65-inch liner, it can take a beating. The heat-treated, 31⁄2-inch Tanto blade is made of 0.175-inch thick, high-grade ATS steel and has Buck's Edge2x technology so it holds an edge longer. It comes with a rever-sible clip for belt or pocket carry and a sheath is available. An optional tool kit transforms the knife into a screwdriver or wrench by use of a small, recessed socket in the knife's handle. (800) 326-2825;

Cold Steel American Lawman
From a company as serious about its blades as Cold Steel, the American Lawman is tame in appearance only. Its drop-point blade won't scare the ninnies, but this knife is functional to the core. Designed for use on a police utility belt, the American Lawman boasts a tough, wide blade made from AUS 8A stainless steel and finished with a black, non-reflective Teflon coat for protection against the elements. What sets this knife apart, however, is its Tri-Ad locking system, which ensures against the blade folding during use. A stop pin redistributes pressures from cutting, prying, piercing and even hammering into the aggressively textured handle frame, where it is absorbed without damaging the pivot point. Furthermore, it is self-adjusting, so normal wear and tear over the knife's life will not affect its ability to stay open. Dual pocket clips allow ambidextrous mounting and twin thumb studs permit easy opening with either hand. (800) 255-4716;

CRKT M21 Special Forces G10
If you're looking for a tactical folder to make Crocodile Dundee quite certain you have a knife, the M21 Special Forces is a safe bet. Its open-frame design is both strong and fearsome, and allows for dual flippers to make opening and closing the blade quick and easy, no matter the conditions. This radical frame also results in reduced weight despite the stainless steel inner frame, which is surrounded by polymer G10-scaled grips. The spear-point blade is made from 8Cr14MoV stainless steel and includes CRKT's patented Veff serrations at the rear of the edge. It is coated with black titanium nitride for reduced glare and added durability. Despite its dangerous appearance, the M21 Special Forces is incredibly safe for the operator, as it includes CRKT's exclusive AutoLAWKS safety system, which requires actuating a lever before the blade can fold back into the handle. Though it includes a four-position clip, it is not designed for tip-up carry. Rather, it's designed for use in the toughest conditions by the toughest warriors. (503) 685-5015;

Gerber Icon Tanto
With one-handed opening and a textured inlay to ensure positive grip, the aluminum-handled Icon has the confidence-building looks and feel you expect from a tactical folder—plus the Gerber name. The serrated blade allows you to tackle the toughest cutting chores, while the Tanto shape ensures a cutting edge when the chips are down. For added purchase when working on hard surfaces, the blade is partially grooved and dual thumb studs allow ambidextrous use. (800) 443-4871;

Remington Premier Tactical Tango Series II Military
Guns and knives go, well, hand in hand, so it's no surprise that America's oldest firearms manufacturer is also involved in the knife market. The company's Premier line of knives is produced by the Maniago Cutlers' Consortium, a group of about 50 small knifemakers based in Italy's northeastern province of Pordenone. These Italian craftsmen know how to build a good knife—they've been doing it since the 14th century—and their skills are apparent in the Tango Series II. The combination-edge blade is available with a clip, drop or Tanto point and wears a diamond-like carbon coating. Although the Tango's frame is slim, aggressive quillons and deep jimping prevent it from slipping during serious cutting chores. The location of the thumbstud when the knife is folded makes it easy to access and open with one hand. (800) 243-9700;

SureFire Delta Combat/Utility
When SureFire builds a knife, it isn't just for cutting. Although the Delta's beefy Crucible CPM S30V stainless steel blade will hack through just about anything, carrying this knife is like having a mini toolbox in your pocket. A flat-head screwdriver integral to the blade assists with opening, prevents your index finger from slipping forward when cutting and serves nicely to tighten or loosen thumbscrew mounts. The 1⁄8-inch-thick titanium frame includes a wire cutter/crimper, hex-nut wrench, cord/harness cutter and a window breaker. Despite all these features and a hand-filling frame, the Delta weighs less than 5 ounces—a product of the titanium used in its construction and the large cutouts that form the wrench. Yes, the Delta is a bit on the pricey side. When it gets you out of a bind, though, you'll realize it's worth every penny. (800) 828-8809;

Spyderco Para-Military Digital Camouflage
Two-thirds the size of the company's original Military model, the Para-Military's G-10 scales sport a digital camouflage pattern designed to enhance concealment by melting into its surroundings. Its flat-ground S30V blade measures just over 3 inches and contains the company's aesthetic, yet functional hole for deploying the knife blade one handed or while wearing gloves. For potential tactical application, the blade's coated in a temperature-resistant, DLC (diamond-like carbon), matte-black finish. The Para-Military also contains a slightly extended pommel to prevent your hand from slipping during forward and backward pulling cuts. (800) 525-7770;


Nextorch TA31 Tactical Searchlight
Nextorch TA31 Tactical Searchlight

First Look: Nextorch TA31 Tactical Searchlight

10,000 lumens in an easy to carry package.

Top USA Firearm Manufacturers Report

Who are the top firearms manufacturers in America?

First Look: Springfield Armory Echelon in FDE or OD Green

All the features of the Echelon pistol, with a brand new look.

The Classics: The Tokarev Handgun

The definitive pistol of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War was made in enormous quantities.

First Look: Enhanced Taurus TX22 Pistol

New features include an improved trigger and an optional optics cut on the slide.

First Look: Mission First Tactical Pro Series Holsters

Secure your firearm and light with a magnet inside an AIWB holster.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.