Tactical Folding Knives

The New Generation of Folding Knives

Most of the new and popular folding knives to come along in the last twenty years have been tactical-style knives. Tactical knives were originally designed primarily for police and military use, but quickly became popular for their size, strength, and ease of use. Although, most are now sold as utility knives to the general public, they are still heavily utilized by active and reserve military, police forces, fire departments, and rescue units.

Tactical knives tend to be a little bulkier and heavier than traditional knives, but also tend to be larger, stronger, and more convenient. They are more convenient for carry because carry is generally by pocket clip so that the knife is readily accessible and can often be opened one-handed, leaving the other hand free.


Benchmade 556 Mini-Griptilian

Benchmade 556 Mini-Griptilian Source: mrbill flickr.com

For all intents and purposes, tactical knives got their start in the 1960s with the popularization of the Buck 110 Folding Hunter. Although the design was not completely novel, the Buck 110 was the first extremely popular folder that combined larger size, a lock to hold the blade open during used, and was not intended for in-pocket carry. The Folding Hunter was carried by many workers and soldiers and the public got to see the benefits of a large, locking folder. Today, the Buck 110 is somewhat in the middle between traditional knives and tactical knives, sharing some of the features of each; but without the 110, we probably would not have the plethora of tactical knives that we do today.

What Makes A Tactical Folder

As seen in the above picture, there are several distinctive and identifying features of a tactical-style knife:

1. Single-bladed – Tactical knives almost without exception have a single blade. The option of different blades optimized for various tasks does not exist as it does in traditional knives; however, the tactical blade is usually longer, thicker, and stronger than equivalent traditional pocket knife blades.  Although multiple blades models are generally not available as they are in traditional folders, there is a very wide selection of blade types from which to choose so you can pick whichever style might be best suited for use.

2. An aid to assist in opening the blade, such as a hole in the blade, a thumb stud, or a spring-assist.  Occasionally, multiple opening methods exist on the same knife.  For example, a knife might have both a thumb stud and an assisted-opening setup.  These assists allow a tactical knife to be opened with one hand when using both hands is inconvenient, leaving one hand free for other jobs.

3. A pocket clip to keep the knife readily available at the top of the pocket.  This keeps your knife in one location, so that you can find it without having to hunt in your pocket.  Many models can be adjusted to be on either side and carried tip-up or tip-down depending on preference and whether you are right- or left-handed. You don’t have to hunt in your pocket for your knife if it is clipped to your pocket.

4. A lock variant to hold the blade locked open during use. The axis lock is used in the Benchmade Mini-Griptilian in the picture and is my favorite lock type. Lock-backs, axis locks, triple locks, frame-locks, liner locks, and other variants are available. All are good – most are chosen based on preference rather than any major difference. Not having a knife close on your fingers is a very nice thing!


Benchmade Knives, Spyderco Knives, Kershaw Knives, and Cold Steel Knives are among the best-known tactical knife manufacturers.

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