Table of Contents
- Things To Consider When Purchasing a Tactical Folding Knife
- 10 Of The Best Tactical Folding Knife Recommendations
- Benchmade BKC Bedlam Axis – Top Rated Badass Folding EDC Knife Under $250
- Benchmade 275 Adamas – Best Tactical Folding Knife For Hunting Under $200
- Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) M16-01KS Spear Point – Best Budget EDC Tactical Folding Knife Under $50 – $100
- Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) M16-02 S tanto point
I’ve carried a knife for as long as I can remember. In fact, by today’s standards of over-protectiveness often found among parents, my mother and father probably would have been condemned several times over for putting a “deadly weapon” in my hands at such a young age.
Don’t be so hard on Mom and Dad, though. They also taught me something that’s lacking by today’s standards: responsibility. I was a scout, and when I wasn’t in school I was outside from sunup until the street lights came on, and sometimes (gasp!) even later than that. I built forts, went fishing, fought imaginary Communist invaders and did countless other activities that help shape the lives of young men.
We see far too little of this nowadays.
The point is that through all of these activities as a young boy I always had a trusty knife with me. It was usually some sort of cheap pocket knife that I begged my dad to get me down at the local hardware store. I lost my fair share of blades, too. Once I started receiving fancier Swiss Army Knives I learned to take better care of them and stopped losing the damn things (I still have a Swiss Army Camper that I got for my ninth birthday, almost 30 years ago).
I went through an awkward phase in my teen years where I didn’t carry a knife as often. They weren’t allowed in school and my outdoor adventures had been replaced with cars and dating, so unless I was deliberately heading out into the woods for a weekend camping trip or something my collection of pocket knives stayed in a shoebox in my dresser drawer.
When I was 19 I joined the Army, and soon after deployed to Iraq. My love, understanding and respect for knives was quickly rekindled. While I carried a good number of fixed blade knives in combat, I quickly learned that whipping out a two foot long, razor sharp kukri to open up an MRE isn’t the most subtle move. I used my tactical folder (an inexpensive Gerber model at the time) more than any other piece of gear in the entire war. I wasn’t the only one. My brothers and sisters in arms always had knives on them. Each soldier developed a taste for certain qualities and brands, and many will agree that their tactical folder was their favorite piece of kit.
Fast forward 10+ years. I still carry at least 1 knife with me every single day. That Gerber blade I carried in the war? It rides comfortably in my EDC shoulder bag. I don’t always carry a “tactical” folder on my person. I mix things up. I have a few “dressy” knives that I’ll carry if I’m wearing a suit, and lately I’ve been really partial to pocketing a balisong (butterfly knife) when in jeans. I’ve learned a lot more about knives and their value since my days as a scout and even a soldier. I’ve learned about the Rockwell hardness scale, and the strength of the steel used in blades. I now understand there are multiple “grinds” when it comes to how knives are sharpened, each with their own pros and cons.
The bottom line? I’m smarter than I used to be. But I wanted to make sure I had backup on this particular article, so before I went about writing up a list of my top 10 tactical folding knives on the market, I reached out to a handful of my pals, all of which I served in the military with. Most of them are either still service members, or civilian police officers of some kind, up to and including SWAT team members. You can rest assured that what you’re about to get is list of professional knives that are actually used by professionals.
Things To Consider When Purchasing a Tactical Folding Knife
As with any other piece of equipment or tool purchase, there should be some research that goes on prior to buying. A tactical folding knife could potentially be a lifesaving piece of equipment so trust me when I tell you not to skimp on the research part. Here are a few things to consider.
This is a big one. And it’s also a big spectrum. Folding knives can range from $5 to $500, and they’ll all cut (usually). Lots of factors affect the price of a blade–size, material, brand–and we’ll get into all of that. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good knife, and you’ll find that in the list below I try to include pieces for all budgets, with the most expensive model coming in at more than $200, while another on the list can be had for less than $30.
What are you going to potentially be using your knife for? Cutting stuff, obviously, but what kind of material are you cutting? Are you an EMT, and as such may be cutting seatbelts or breaking glass? Will you be using your blade as prying tool? If you’re a concealed weapon carrier, or a professional law enforcement officer, will you be using your knife as a backup self-defense weapon? If so, are you going to carry it on your gun side or your support side?
The point is this: Hopefully you wouldn’t purchase a firearm without deeply researching its design and taking into account your intended use. Treat your tactical folder with the same respect.
Check the laws in your state. Some limit the length of a knife you can carry on your person. This usually isn’t a big issue for folding blades, as most are meant to be compact and portable anyway (although one of the recommended models below does come in at 13 inches when opened). Researching the lengths and weights of tactical folders are more for your comfort than anything else. If you’re a ranch hand then it probably doesn’t matter if you’re carrying an absolute bruiser of a pocket knife, but if you’re wearing business slacks daily you may want to carry something a little lighter that won’t bulge or be a burden in your pocket.
Any folding blade you consider should have some sort of locking mechanism that’s designed to keep the blade locked in place and prevent it from closing prematurely and filleting your fingers. Locks come in a plethora of designs: lockbacks, frame locks, liner locks and axis locks to name just a few. Read up on each kind and decide which style works best for you.
Also, understand that no matter how good a lock is reported to be, it can fail. Trust me, I should have bought stock in knuckle bandages as a result of this phenomenon. While there are some truly hearty folders out there, many of which can stand up to the rigors of intense prying and pressures, that’s not what folders are designed for. If you need something you can stab into a tree and hang a Buick from, get yourself a fixed blade knife.
When looking at the materials used in the construction of your folder, look at both the blade itself and the grip. Familiarize yourself with the types of steel used in the production of blades. This is probably the biggest, and most overlooked attribute when purchasing a quality knife. Believe me when I tell you that not all steel is created equal. That doesn’t mean that there is one perfect material out there, but you should consider what you’ll be using your blade for. For example, some steel with hold a much sharper cutting edge than others, but they’re not as durable, and will require much more frequent sharpening to retain that edge.
Grip material is equally as varied. Do you go with steel? Composite? Wood? Again, it depends on what for and where you’ll be using the blade. Do you work on the water, where a tacky grip is vital? Do you need something with a beefier handle so you can really put some pressure on the knife?
Serrated or straight edge?
Ask a group of knife junkies that question and it’s like asking a gang of hot rodders if they prefer Ford or Chevy. You’re gonna get mixed opinions, and chances are it will lead to a fist fight at some point.
Personally, I prefer straight edge blades. I think they’re easier to sharpen and they’re more versatile than a serrated blade. Don’t get me wrong, serration certainly has its place. If you’re cutting a lot of fabric or rope, then a good serrated blade is invaluable. The good news is if you’re undecided you can have both, as most knife models come with the option of a combo blade, usually offering the bottom third of the blade with a serrated edge.
Look, I always have a serrated blade within arm’s reach, in case I really need to eat through some material fast , but I would only ever dream of carrying one in a folder; never a fixed blade. (shudder)
10 Of The Best Tactical Folding Knife Recommendations
Now that you’ve done your homework on folders and have an idea of what features you need, let’s dive into some actual product recommendations. I’ve included knives in most price ranges here, and while the blade steel and features vary, rest assured that all of the recommendations below are quality products, and should serve you well. Here we go…
Benchmade BKC Bedlam Axis – Top Rated Badass Folding EDC Knife Under $250
This tactical folder is a gorgeous piece of equipment. It’s also the most expensive knife on the list, but it’s for good reason. Benchmade has been a leader among tactical folding knives for years, and the BKC Bedlam Axis is one of their most remarkable products.
This knife has an extremely solid and aggressive looking blade. The 154 CM steel used in the blade construction insures a very sharp and durable cutting edge, and for you serration junkies out there, the combo edge gives you plenty of serration at the handle for cutting thick material. It’s one of the longer knives on the list, making it ideal for a variety of EDC and survival situations, up to and including self-defense.
The handle on the Benchmade BKC Bedlam Axis is equally as impressive. The G10 handle is matte black, making it ideal for tactical situations, and it has excellent grip retention. Not all tactical situations occur in perfect weather, and you can feel confident that this baby isn’t going to slip on you in the rain.
An axis locking mechanism and ambidextrous thumb stud round out the features on this most excellent piece of gear.
Cost: over $200+
Blade Steel: 154 CM
Blade Style: Combo (straight and serrated)
Length: 9.76 inches open/5.76 inches closed
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Benchmade 275 Adamas – Best Tactical Folding Knife For Hunting Under $200
If the BKC Bedlam Axis is a little too rich for your blood in terms of price, Benchmade offers another excellent blade in the 275 Adamas for slightly less cash. The Adamas varies in price, depending on which sites you’re shopping on, but in most cases it can be found for less than 200 bucks.
The 275 Adamas is an absolute beast of a tactical folding knife. The blade construction is so meaty that it could easily be confused as a fixed blade survival knife. The steel is D2 and is extremely thick and durable, which helps make this the heaviest knife on the list.
The Benchmade 275 Adamas uses the same G10 scales on the grip as the BKC Bedlam. The design is different in that the grip is desert tan and drilled out, which helps reduce some weight in an already heavy knife.
If you don’t mind carrying a brick in your pocket, the 275 Adamas will serve you just fine, but given the weight of this piece, it may be better suited for carry on a utility belt or strapped to your EDC bag. At any rate, when it comes to a bombproof cutting tool, the Benchmade 275 Adamas is a leader of the pack.
Cost: under $200
Blade Steel: D2
Blade Style: Non-Serrated
Length: 8.7 inches open/4.88 inches closed
Weight: 7.68 ounces
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) M16-01KS Spear Point – Best Budget EDC Tactical Folding Knife Under $50 – $100
Columbia River Knife and Tool offers up some of the most affordable tactical folding knives on the market. When I polled my pals for this article, one responded with “I love me some CRKT. I have used the absolute [email protected] out of this knife! Construction, prying, etc.” This particular pal fell in love with CRKT products while serving with me in Iraq, and it’s pretty clear that almost 15 years later he still feels the same!
The CRKT M16 line offers a ton of options, so you can essentially customize your knife when it comes to this fantastic design. For the purpose of this article, I chose two models that I feel are excellent EDC/Survival choices. The CRKT M16-01KS spear point is a no frills carry option. Most M16 models will run you less than $100, and this particular knife can normally be had for less than 50 bucks.
Blade steel on the M16-01KS is 8Cr13MoV, and the design is clearly more conducive to “poking” than “slicing.” Depending on your EDC needs, this could be advantageous. Handle construction is pretty simple, and the scales make for a very thin knife. However, retention doesn’t seem to be a problem. Once again, if a lower profile knife fits your needs, the M16-01KS spear point is a fine and affordable option.
Cost: under $100 (far less, even under $50 dollars depending on the model selected)
Blade Steel: 8Cr13MoV
Blade Style: Variable options, but for a spear point I’d stick with straight edge
Length: 7.13 inches open/4 inches closed
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) M16-02 S tanto point
The CRKT M16-02 S tanto is a classic blade. And you know what they say, you can’t beat a classic. Affordable and attractive, the m16-02, much like the 01KS above, is a no frills option for EDC. The big difference between the two CRKT models on this list is, of course, the tips. The M16-02 offers a tanto tip, which lends itself more toward prying and utility work.
The blade steel is AUS 8, which will hold up well and retain an excellent edge. AUS 8 is also far easier to sharpen in the field than some other tooled steel.
Handles are simple and thin, just like the M16-01KS, so if you’re wearing a suit everyday but still want a good tactical folding knife to carry, this could be an excellent choice for you.
Cost: Less than $99
Blade Steel: AUS 8
Blade Style: Straight Edge Tanto
Length: 7.38 inches open/4.26 inches closed
Weight: 3.2 ounces
SOG X-Ray Vision
SOG makes some very reputable fixed blade knives, as well as a number of larger survival tools like hatchets and machetes. It does just fine in the arena of tactical folding knives, too.
The SOG X-Ray Vision is an excellent EDC option, and it can be had for less than $150 in most venues. The most remarkable feature of the SOG X-Ray Vision is that the locking mechanism is rated at over 1,000 pounds, so while you still may not be able to hang a Buick from it, you can rest assured that should prying situations arise, you can put some serious pressure on this blade.
The steel used in the X-Ray Vision is a custom VG10, and the design combines a straight edge and serrated blade, ending in a tanto point. The Zytel handle is textured and offers a decent grip, and this model also comes with a lanyard hole at the base of the handle.
This is an excellent tactical folder for everyday carry.
Cost: less than $150
Blade Steel: VG10 custom steel
Blade Style: Combo edge with a tanto point
Length: 8.37 inches open/4.62 inches closed
Weight: 4.3 ounces
SOG Flash II
Here’s another one for the traditionalists out there. The SOG Flash II comes with a few point options, but the satin finish on a classic drop point makes this one of the most functional and classy tactical folders on the list. It’s also another knife that won’t break the bank, as it can usually be found for under fifty dollars.
As with the CRKT M16-02, SOG Flash II uses AUS 8 for its steel choice, which makes it razor sharp and very forgiving. The handle is a boxy concoction of fiberglass reinforced nylon that I surprisingly comfortable in the hand.
The Flash II is an assisted opening knife, so just a little pressure on the thumb stud is all it takes for this baby to snap open, making it ideal for rapid deployment situations.
Cost: Less than $50
Blade Steel: AUS 8
Blade Style: Straight Edge
Length: 8 inches open/4.5 inches closed
Weight: 3.1 ounces
Spyderco Pacific Salt Black Blade
Do you have a gig on the water and need a tactical folder that will hold up to the harsh conditions? Then the Spyderco Pacific Salt is the knife for you! This is the perfect example of a tool made for specific situations.
What makes the Pacific Salt unique is the blade steel. It employs H1, which will get harder and tougher with use. The best part is that H1 is incredibly corrosion resistant. This thing will stay rust free, even in salt water and when put away wet.
This beauty can be had for under $100.
Cost: less than $100
Blade Steel: H1
Blade Style: Straight Edge
Length: 8.68 inches open/4.88 inches closed
Weight: 3 ounces
Boker Magnum 01 Rescue Flash Folding Knife
I’m a fan of Boker knives. They probably offer the most bang for the buck, as most models can be purchased for less than thirty bucks. The Magnum 01 Flash is no exception.
The blade steel is titanium coated 440 stainless and very durable. It comes with a straight edge and believe me, you can get this thing razor sharp! The handle is contoured G10 that fits the hand superbly, enabling you to do some serious work with the blade if needed.
Cost: less than $30
Blade Steel: Titanium coated 440 stainless
Blade Style: Straight Edge
Length: 7.5 inches open/4.25 inches closed
Weight: 4.1 ounces
Cold Steel Ti-Lite Zytel 6”
This is one wicked looking knife! Another option more suited for sticking than slicing, the Cold Steel Ti-Lite Zytel 6 could almost be mistaken for the old stiletto switchblades that the rowdy youth of the 1950s used to carry. That is to say, this particular model is far more suited as a self-defense option as opposed to a utility knife.
The blade steel is the tried and true Japanese AUS 8, so you can put a wicked sharp edge on it. The handles are Zytel plastic and pretty plain, but more expensive aluminum models are available.
At under $50 this tactical folder won’t break the bank and is a great choice for someone looking for a little more style in their EDC blade. Just check your laws, as this puppy comes in at over a foot long when deployed!
Cost: Less than $50
Blade Steel: AUS 8
Blade Style: Straight Edge with a needle sharp point
Length: 13 inches open/7 inches closed
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Smith & Wesson SWMP 2
Smith & Wesson is a leader in the firearms business, and their line of tactical folding knives deliver the same quality and performance you’d expect in their other tactical equipment and weapons.
The SWMP 2 is a great choice for you EMT guys and gals out there. With its integrated glass breaker, this folder is multipurpose and makes an excellent rescue tool in addition to an EDC and survival blade. (BTW, that glass breaker makes a great self-defense option too, just in case you’re not ready to open an attacker’s jugular).
The blade steel is 4034 black steel and comes with a combo edge, which also lends to its effectiveness as a rescue knife. 4034 isn’t the greatest steel on the planet, so be prepared to sharpen the SWMP 2 often. The handle is awesome looking! Constructed from T6061 Aircraft aluminum and rubber inserts, this thing just screams tactical.
The Smith & Wesson SWMP 2 can be yours, from most sellers, for less than a hundred bucks.
Cost: Less than $100
Blade Steel: 4034 Black Steel
Blade Style: Combo Edge
Length: 8.6 inches open/5 inches closed
Weight: 7.5 Ounces