How to Find the Best Tactical Knife for Police, Combat and Utility

tactical knife

There exists a nearly endless variety of knives designed for different purposes, ranging from small folding knives for simple tasks to huge chef's knives for use in food preparation. But there's one type of knife in particular that's deployed in more extreme situations, and it could even end up saving your life. I'm talking about the tactical knife, which is a somewhat popular term you've likely heard before. But how exactly do we define it?

Despite its ubiquitousness in knife conversations, nailing down a precise definition for the tactical knife is easier said than done and there's plenty of confusion over what exactly it means. This is because the term has become a formidable marketing strategy: just about anything is getting slapped with the "tactical" prefix and this increases its popularity. We see tactical backpacks, tactical flashlights, even tactical watches. So in that case some would argue it doesn't really mean anything. But, in the case of knives, if we dig a little deeper there are a few key concepts that the word "tactical" really means; features that you'll see in elite police, military or survival knives time and time again.

First, tactical knives sometimes get conflated with combat knives or fighting knives, and this is understandable because they both can be used in combat situations. But a crucial aspect of the tactical knife is that it can also be used in other situations as a utility knife, and in most cases its primary purpose is not combat.

The size and shape of the knife need to be purpose-driven, which means well-suited to the tasks you will encounter. As a police officer, for example, a massive fixed-blade knife packs plenty of power, but would be badly designed for everyday carry and would likely sit around collecting dust instead of becoming part of your daily repertoire. Instead, a tactical knife has to be comfortable, easy to handle under stress, able to be deployed quickly and the right size to accompany you. The blade and handle should be made of quality material and the blade should be of a thickness to provide enough strength but not too bulky. These guidelines become clearer when looking at some specific knives, so let's do that now and see some top choices available for your tactical needs.

1. Smith & Wesson Border Guard 2 Rescue Knife SWBG2TS

This is a good option for police, firefighter, first responder or general emergency use with a couple of caveats. First, it's firmly on the larger side so you want to ensure it feels comfortable for your use and not too bulky--carrying it regularly for significant periods of time, for example, might not be ideal. The materials (4.4 in. 7Cr17 high carbon stainless steel blade with 5.6 in. aluminum handle) are solid but not top of the line, and some have reported that it doesn't sharpen as well as more expensive knives. But the SWBG2TS is extremely affordable and still packs quite a punch, so if you're looking for size and power at a very low price, look no further. It's also a multi-use tool, with a seat-belt cutter and glass breaker.

2. Spyderco Tenacious Plain Edge Knife

This Spyderco knife has a 8Cr13Mov stainless steel blade that measures in at 3 and 3/8 inches and folds into a black G-10 laminate handle. There are several features included to maximize comfort when the knife is in use, including skeletonized steel liners in the handle.

This helps give the knife strength without making it bulky, as the whole tool weighs in at just 4 ounces. The materials used are high quality, especially for the price point, so this "Tenacious" knife model is worth a look.

3. SOG SEAL Pup Elite

As we've seen, since tactical knives don't correspond to any particular design and instead represent a sturdy, dependable, comfortable knife well-suited to your actual needs, those classified as such can look quite a bit different. The biggest decision to make is whether to choose a fixed-blade knife or a folding knife. The first two we've seen are in the latter category, this one is the former.

The SOG SEAL ​Pup Elite features a longer ergonomically-designed glass-reinforced nylon handle with deep finger grooves for a comfortable feel in your hand. The blade is straight edge and made of AUS-8 steel; it measures in at 4.85 inches. It obviously doesn't fold up so you can stick it in your pocket, but the knife does have a nylon sheath and belt loop attachment for easier carrying.

4. Ka-Bar TDI Law Enforcement Knife

This is one of the best knives for police officers as it's billed as a "last option" knife, meaning it is intended for use in close quarters in a situation in which an officer can't reach his or her handgun or a suspect is trying to take it. In these cases a good knife becomes just as essential a piece of equipment as a gun or pair of handcuffs. The knife is 5 and 5/8 inches with a blade measuring 2 and 5/16 inches. The blade has a drop point edge and is made of AUS 8A stainless steel with 57-59 HRC (a measure of hardness). Its reversible sheath can be worn on either side of an officer's belt and can be drawn extremely quickly, even faster than a pocket knife.


  1. Great compilation of tactical knife reviews. Very interesting choices. Looking forward to seeing what new versions or brands come out in the coming months for the next year!

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