Tactical Knives: 18 Best Folding Knives for Self Defense
It never hurts to bring backup
Whether it’s backup for a jammed firearm or your only tool for self defense, a knife can make all the difference in an emergency. The smaller, discrete folding blades in this post can be tucked in your pocket as an everyday carry item for utility and defense. And, a few of the bigger folders are designed to be strong enough to fight with and big enough to intimidate the bad guys. Don’t get caught empty handed and find out which knife is right for you.
See my roundup of the best fixed-blade knives for self defense.
This sleek, dark frame-lock knife is lightweight and medium-sized. While the coating looks like it could be a little slick to the touch, the curved handle on the Bones folder is designed with three grip areas at critical pressure points for a secure hold. The skeletal frame with an integrated frame lock keeps the weight of the knife, and the number of parts, at a minimum, leaving you a functional tactical folder that weighs only 4.4 ounces. It features dual thumb studs for ambidextrous, one-handed opening. The 3-inch blade is 420HC stainless steel with a tanto point and partial serrations. The black oxide coating protects the knife from rust and corrosion. It’s made in China. MSRP: $40.
The thickness of this folder is the first thing that catches your attention. The XM-1 is built for a comfortable grip and dependable control whether you’re bare-handed or wearing gloves. The large ergonomic handle, and all other aspects of this knife for that matter, were designed by the Ontario Knife Company for longevity during hard military use, while being low maintenance in the field. It’s one of the heaviest folders in this list, weighing in at 6 ounces. The drop-point blade is 3.375 inches long and crafted from N690Co stainless steel with a hardness of 58-60 HRC, which translates into years of dependable service though adverse conditions. This knife is suitable for right-handed or left-handed use with the dual thumb studs and reversible pocket clip. It opens smoothly and quietly, and locks open with a stout titanium liner lock. The aircraft aluminum handle has a respectable pattern for good grip. This Italian-made knife is of the highest quality, and it has been deployed for combat around the world. MSRP: $250
For those who are looking for a less expensive folder for self-defense, consider the Joe Pardue Utilitac II – JPT 3R Knife (Ontario Model 8902). For a folder retailing around the $35 price range, the JPT 3R brings together good design, sturdy craftsmanship and affordability. The JPT 3 is a medium-sized knife, just under 6 ounces, with a 3.2 inch, drop-point AUS-8A blade that’s .115 inches thick. Dual thumb studs offer one-hand opening from either side, and a reversible pocket clip lets you change from right-handed to left-handed carrying. The liner lock is very strong and clicks into place halfway across the opening, farther than most knives. This knife has a lanyard hole at the butt of the handle and is packaged with a 2-foot black cord. Overall, it’s a solid choice for a self-defense knife and it’s also a handy EDC knife. The JPT 3R is made in Taiwan. MSRP: $33
The Smith & Wesson Military & Police model SWMP2 is a smaller folding knife with the added feature of a high speed assisted-open blade. The SWMP2 flies open with just a little pressure on either of the dual thumb studs, or with a little pull on the spine button. This knife almost functions as an automatic opener, but keeps you out of trouble by still qualifying as assisted open. And if you’re worried about this sharp knife popping open in your pocket (which can be a concern with assisted open or auto open knives) don’t think twice about it. The SWMP2 has a side safety switch that locks the knife in a closed position, and it can act as a secondary lock to the open position (similar to CRKT folders). The knife features a scoop back blade with a tanto point made from 4034 stainless steel. The handle is T6061 aircraft aluminum and also has glass breaker on the end. The blade is 2.9 inches long and the overall length of the closed knife is 4.2 inches. It weighs 4.1 ounces. It’s made in Taiwan. MSRP: $40
The Schrade SCHA4BG is brought to you by the same folks who are making M&P knives, Taylor Brands. This new line of Schrades have the same steel and the same spring-assisted opening feature with back-up lock that the SWMP2 has. The biggest differences between these knives are the blade shapes and the handles. The scoop backed, drop-point of the Schrade will work well for defense and utility tasks. The thick, curved, rubbery handle offers a great grip and feel, allowing this knife to be a bit of a chameleon. The SCHA4BG could easily be your new every day carry, or survival knife, or your self-defense knife. It’s made in Taiwan. MSRP: $40
HK knives (available through Benchmade) offers this smaller-sized folder, which is the most streamlined folding knife in the group. It has a blade that is almost 3 inches, while the closed length is not much bigger (just 3.88 inches). The HK P 30 is also lightweight, only 2.82 ounces. The finest feature however, is the lightning fast spring assisted opening mechanism, which is activated by a good push against the right handed thumb-stud. The blade is a modified drop-point made from 8CR13 stainless steel with a hardness of 57-59 HRC. The black molded thermoplastic handle features P30 texture and a tip-down pocket clip. Though on the small side, and it is imported from China, the HK P 30 ends up being a great knife at a great price (retails between $40 – $60), and it also comes with either a serrated or smooth blade.
Looking for something with great steel at a bargain price? PUMA’s German steel blades are assembled in China to save a few dollars, but they still bring you old world quality metal. The PUMA Pounce is a solid, spring assisted knife, which opens with just a small amount of pressure on the blade’s ambidextrous thumb studs. Easy to open, this knife also offers good grip with diamond textured aluminum handle scales, which keeps the weight down. This sturdy, mid-sized folder weighs only 4.6 ounces. The Pounce has a 3.25 inche blade of 440A stainless steel with 55-57 HRC hardness. These knives are individually tested, and each one bears the dot of a Rockwell proof mark. I have found these knives on sale as low as $15, though they usually retail near $40.
Gerber FAST Draw Tanto
The new FAST Draw Tanto is a folder with Gerber’s Assisted Opening 2.0 mechanism, which delivers smooth opening action after a short break-in period (it’s a little stiff right out of the package). The 3-inch blade is fashioned from 7Cr17MoV steel and has dual thumb studs for right or left-handed opening. The tanto point is perfect for penetration, and the serrated section of the blade allows for quick, aggressive cutting. The unusual locking mechanism is a plunge lock, designed to keep your fingers out of the path of the blade when closing. The nylon handle, with textured scales, provides a secure grip without adding weight.
Overall knife length is 7.25 inches with a closed length of 4.25 inches. This knife weighs 3.5 ounces, is made in China, and has an MSRP of $39.
Gerber’s Paraframe Tanto offers you the lightweight of a skeletal frame with a capable, partially-serrated tanto style blade from 7Cr17MoV steel. The black titanium nitride-coated blade and handle reduces reflection and fights rust and corrosion. Twin knurled thumb studs work for ambidextrous easy opening. A solid frame lock clicks in after opening for secure blade use. The overall length of the open knife is 7 inches, with a blade length of 2.88 inches and a closed length of 4.13 inches. The pocket clip keeps the knife handy, and the price keeps a little paper in your wallet. This Chinese-made knife only costs $25, and is backed by Gerber’s Lifetime Warranty.
For the knife connoisseur, Boker Plus and Sniper Bladeworks bring you the BO160. This very unusual folder was designed by Lance Abernathy, a former SWAT team member, and Jody Muller, a 20-year veteran knifemaker. This blade is huge, wide, and is fully flat ground, making it easy to sharpen. The relatively small handle has textured G-10 scales on steel plates to provide a substantial grip, with your last three fingers finding purchase in an area with eight deep striations. The reversible pocket clip allows for tip-up or tip-down carry, and the knife even comes with a replacement pocket clip and a tool to install it. The 4-inch, 440C stainless steel blade is almost 2 inches wide, yet this knife only weighs 5 ounces. All in all, this folder gives the impression of a large fixed blade knife when it is open, yet is folds down to a diminutive size for easy carry. This knife is made in China and retails for $86.
SOG-TAC Mini Auto Tanto
The SOG-TAC Mini Auto Tanto might just be the perfect pocketknife for the Law Enforcement and Military folks who are looking for a back-up to all other back-ups. This American-made folder is loaded with details that add to its quality. This compact folder is designed for action, with its push button automatic opening blade and safety button that double locks the blade in the open or closed position. It has a reversible pocket clip that screws into a black anodized handle made from 6061-T6 aluminum. It even has a tiny glow-in-the-dark “bull’s eye” in the word SOG. The AUS-8 steel tanto point blade is partially serrated and jimping on the base of the spine for additional grip. The overall length is 6.75 inches, while the closed length is 3.75 inches and the blade length is 3 inches. It’s a feather weight at 2.5 ounces, and lists for $181. You’d need to be in Law Enforcement or in the military to legally own this knife in most areas. For those of you who don’t qualify for auto openers, SOG has plenty of other quality folders in the Mini line.
The BLACKHAWK! Garra II is the most sinister looking folder in this gallery. This karambit style folding knife has an outstanding grip which is layered for strength. The textured G-10 handle scales are lined with 420J stainless steel liners, to make this folder almost as durable as a fixed blade knife. The 3-inch blade of AUS8A stainless steel is designed to align with your natural grip for greater thrusting and cutting power. A strong liner lock makes sure the blade stays open while in use. Dual thumb studs allow right or left opening with the flick of a thumb, though it is not assisted opening. The knife has an overall length of 7.4 inches. The blade is available in plain edge or partially serrated. It’s made in Taiwan and weighs 5 ounces. MSRP: $100.
The Black Label line of tactical gear from Browning gives us the Integrity tactical folder. This knife is a hollow ground, partially serrated tanto blade crafted from 440 stainless steel with a Titanium Nitride (TiN) blade finish. It can be opened one-handed with ambidextrous thumb studs. The stainless liner lock holds the blade securely open. The handle is made from textured G-10 laminate scales which are milled out to allow the four-way pocket clip to be set up for hinge-up or hinge down carry in either right or left hand access. This burly, heavy-duty utility folder has a 4-inch blade, it weighs 5.5 ounces, and it is a great value retailing for $43. This knife is made in Taiwan.
The Cold Steel Recon 1 is a large folder which happens to have the best grip in this gallery. The heavily checkered G-10 handle scales almost feel sticky. It flicks open sweetly with either of the thumb studs to reveal a 4-inch tanto blade of black Japanese AUS 8A Stainless with Tuff-Ex™ coating. It has a reversible belt clip, and the blade locks into open position with a tough lever lock on the back of handle. This model weighs 5.2 ounces. There are many versions of the Recon 1 to choose from, including micro versions, mini versions and the impressive XL versions. I have the model 27TLT, and I absolutely love it. The mid-sized versions of these knives retail around $120, and are made in Taiwan.
The Cold Steel Hold Out folders look a lot like little folding daggers. The uniform shape of both the handle and blade remind me of ancient stone knives that I have seen in museums. And this is a very functional shape, by the way. Cold Steel’s update on a timeless knife style allows you the secure grip you need in a knife, coupled with easy opening and the solid locking of Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad Lock mechanism. This knife is light weight at 2.5 ounces, but Japanese AUS 8A stainless steel and G-10 handles give it plenty of strength. It has a 3 inch blade. The pocket clip is reversible and dual thumb stubs for one-handed opening. This Taiwanese made knife retails for about $90, and comes in several sized and variations.
The Cold Steel Ti-Lite VI is the longest folder of our gallery. With a 6-inch blade and 7-inch handle, this knife opens into a very formidable weapon. The model I have is the 6-inch Zy-Ex™ Ti-Lite #26SXP, which has Zytel handle scales for lighter weight. The knife is long enough so that an inch or two of the handle will hang out of your pocket (which means the weapon isn’t concealed). The blade locks into place securely when opened, and the impression the knife gives is that you are wielding a giant stilleto switchblade (though it is not auto open or even assisted open). This is no gentle giant. This knife is meant to stop the bad guys, hopefully with its fearsome appearance alone.
For years, one of my favorite everyday carry knives has been a CRKT M16. It’s light, sharp, streamlined, and does a great job cutting all sorts of materials. These knives also stay sharp for a very long time. Out of the CRKT family of knives, the Kit Carson’s M16 designs have been the most popular series. The M16-02Z has all of the durability you’d expect from the brand, and a 3-inch blade that is carefully designed for self-defense. The overall open length of this knife is 7.375 inches. The closed length is 4.25 inches, and it weighs 3.6 ounces. The pocket clip has just one position, but this is the position the vast majority of buyers prefer. The hollow grind blade material is AUS 4 steel with a hardness of HRC 55-57. The handle material is glass-filled nylon. This knife locks with a liner lock and CRKT’s proprietary AutoLAWKS Safety System (the little red secondary lock). This top quality knife is made in Taiwan, and it retails for about $70.
CRKT Ken Onion Shenanigan
Take CRKT quality, add some of Ken Onion’s wicked designs, and you’ll have a lifelong backup that’s ready to protect you and yours. For those who don’t know Ken Onion, he is a Hawaiian inventor and custom knife designer who has made it into the Blade Magazine Hall of Fame. This knife shows why. The curves of the handle create a very natural grip, which is augmented by the grippy diamond texture of the handle, the finger grooves, and the thumb grip. The tanto point, slight scoop to the back of the blade and the partial serrations give this knife a vicious look. Adding to the overall attitude of the knife, it opens very easily by flicking your in index finger across the spine button. If you do it quickly enough, this knife looks and feels like an assisted open, yet it is not. The Shenanigan model shown here has on open length of 8.25 inches and weighs 3.8 ounces. The hollow ground, tanto point blade is AUS 4 steel with a hardness of HRC 55-57. The handle material is glass filled nylon. This knife locks with a liner lock. This knife is low profile and high design. The Shenanigan shown is made in Taiwan and has an MSRP of $70.