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Published Jun 28, 2022 4:05 PM

Sometimes handgun concealed carry isn’t practical or even legal. And though far from optimal, a knife can be used for self-defense. There are more than a few issues and deficiencies when it comes to using a knife for self-defense, but in the end it’s better than nothing.

Ideally, you will never have to use a knife for self-defense purposes and you’ll end up using an every-day-carry knife for many other tasks. With that in mind, I reviewed eight options whose quality, ease of carrying, and quickness in deployment make them some of the best self defense knives. Before you choose to carry a knife for self-defense, make sure to check your state and city laws.

How to Choose a Self Defense Knife

Price

If you’re looking for a knife to use as a self-defense tool, then you won’t want to cut corners when it comes to quality. While it isn’t necessary to spend a fortune, this isn’t the time to use the cheap, no-name knife with unknown blade steel and a questionable locking mechanism. Consider buying a self defense knife at the top of your budget, because your safety is worth it.

Ease of Carry

While it’d be great to have a sword-sized blade for protection, it’s just not practical for carrying or concealing. Any self defense knife is useless if it’s not with you. It should be small enough to carry inconspicuously and cleverly designed so you can easily deploy it when you need.

Fixed vs Folding

Pocket clip folders have dominated the EDC market for decades now. But there’s been a trend toward small, fixed blade EDC knives. Both have their pros and cons as it relates to a blade for defensive purposes. Which is right for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Blade Shape and Style

Some knives are designed primarily for cutting, not thrusting or stabbing. That’s something to consider. In a self-defense situation, a blade that is suited for thrusting, stabbing, and cutting is simply more versatile.

Best Overall: Benchmade Bailout

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 3.38 inches
  • Weight 2.7 ounces
  • CPM-M4 plain edge tanto blade
  • Axis lock
  • Textured machined aluminum od green handle
  • Glass breaker
  • Reversible pocket clip
  • Ambidextrous

Why It Made the Cut

The Bailout is an exceptionally tough yet thin, lightweight knife that makes it easy to carry in almost any situation with the added bonus of having a glass breaker.

Pros

  • Easy opening tanto-style blade
  • Exceptionally thin handle
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Glass breaker sticks up out of the pocket
  • Clip is somewhat small making it more difficult to put in and out of pockets

Product Description

This gets the overall top spot because it’s not the biggest, the most aggressive, or even the stoutest of the group, and that’s exactly the point. The first rule of any self-defense tool is have it with you. The Bailout’s super slim handles and fairly slim tanto style blade keep the knife light and easy to carry just about anywhere, even in a shirt pocket. This portability is combined with Benchmade’s exceptionally strong Axis lock, so despite being so lightweight, it gives up nothing in strength. The machined texture could be a bit more aggressive and it would be nice to see some jimping just behind the finger guard area. That being said, this knife still has a secure grip and is one of the best pocket knives to carry for self-defense. 

Best OTF: SOG Pentagon OTF

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 3.79 inches
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces
  • Out the Front Automatic
  • Machined, anodized aluminum handle
  • CRYO S35VN Double Edged Blade, Blackened
  • Ambidextrous
  • Pocket Clip

Why It Made the Cut

This style of automatic knife is becoming more common and popular, and the Pentagon’s build quality is one of the best examples of this genre of knife. The design is easy to open and close, which could be critical in a self-defense situation.

Pros

  • Oversized button makes it easy to open
  • Durable steel
  • A hand filling handle that is easy to hold securely
  • Not legal in all states (check local regulations before carrying)

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not an all-around EDC knife
  • If something blocks the blade, you have to reset it with deliberate effort
  • Large handle for the blade size

Product Description

The Pentagon OTF will not be mistaken for a hunting knife. It is an out-front-automatic, meaning that you simply push the lever forward to slide the blade out of the front and lock it in place. To retract the blade, simply slide the button rearward. While they may not be for everyone (they’re not legal in all states), there’s no denying out-front-autos are intriguing. This is not an inexpensive knife, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it. The blade “opens” with authority and solidly locks up with a bare amount of wiggle. During testing, it penetrated and cut easily. This is a substantial knife with a large handle made from machined, textured, anodized aluminum. It has a fairly narrow, dagger-style, double-edged blade. One interesting thing about the design is it’s symmetrical, so it’s ambidextrous and easy to draw from the pocket and open no matter which side you carry on

Best Budget: Kershaw Outlier

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 2.6 inches
  • Weight: 3.6 ounces
  • Folding Karambit Style Knife Configuration
  • Assisted Opening Claw Shaped Blade
  • Linerlock
  • Reversible Pocket Clip

Why It Made the Cut

While there are martial arts and techniques specifically for karambits, but even the untrained person can effectively use this self-defense knife.

Pros

  • Easily deploys
  • Affordable
  • Grip retention ring

Cons

  • Sticks up out of the pocket because of the grip retention ring
  • Not great as an EDC knife (except for opening boxes)

Product Description

Looking like something that belongs on a bird of prey, the Outlier is a karambit pocket clip folding knife. The claw-style blade originally served as a utility tool that, like many other designs, probably got pressed into defensive service out of necessity and convenience.  Another signature trait of the karambit is the ring at the back end of the handle that provides grip retention. There are styles of martial arts that use these knives with twirling and reverse grips and other techniques, but mastering those tactics aren’t necessary to use this knife. It opens up quite easily and the grip is surprisingly comfortable and secure. 

Best EDC Fixed Blade: Giant Mouse GMF1-F

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 2.6 inches
  • Weight (with seath): 4.6 ounces
  • BÖHLER M390 steel
  • Skeletonized handle
  • Leather belt loop sheath

Why It Made the Cut

The GMF1-F is a great crossover knife that is perfectly suited for EDC and more than capable for self-defense.

Pros

  • Simple design
  • Easy to carry on the belt
  • Quality leather sheath
  • Pronounced finger groove behind blade for a secure grip

Cons 

  • It’s a bit difficult to quickly remove from the sheath
  • No provision for horizontal carry

Product Description

The blade shape, simplicity, and compact size make this a solid fixed-blade option for EDC and self-defense. The handle, or lack of one, isn’t necessarily the most comfortable, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be concealable yet available when needed, which makes it one of the best EDC knives. Despite not having any handle scales, the finger grooves and shape do provide a secure grip. You could easily wrap paracord around the handle for a bit more comfort. The sheath does not have a horizontal carry option which is a shame, and it would be nice if more of the handle protruded from the sheath to make it easier to grab. It’s a great design, though, and I see a custom Kydex-type sheath in the future for this blade.

Best Folding: CRKT INAZUMA NO KEN

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 3.68 inches
  • Weight: 6.2 ounces
  • D2 steel blade, blackened
  • CRKT’s Deadbolt™ lock
  • IKBS™ ball bearing pivot point
  • G10 scales
  • Steel liners

Why It Made the Cut

This is a hefty, no-frills folder not pretending to be a simple box opener.

Pros

  • Assisted opening blade
  • Deadbolt lock is strong and easy to manipulate
  • Large, hand filling handle and grip
  • Deep carry clip makes it concealable
  • Ambidextrous

Cons

  • It’s a bit heavy, you won’t forget this is in your pocket

Product Description

At just over six ounces, CKRT Inazuma No Ken is one of the heaviest knives in the group, but it carries surprisingly well. The very clean lines and pocket clip design allow it to slide in and out of the pocket easily. It is a handful, but in a good way that reassures you that you’re carrying a real tool. The D2 Japanese inspired blade shape definitely says “I’m not here for skinning deer” and would be intimidating in a self-defense situation. 

I’m a fan of the Deadbolt lock, which is strong yet easy to manipulate with one hand. If you’re choosing a folding knife for self-defense and willing to put up with some weight, this is a great choice.

Best Concealed Fixed Blade: TOPS Knives Street Scalpel

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 2.38 inches
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • 1095 RC carbon steel blade
  • Black Kydex horizontal carry sheath
  • Black canvas Micarta handles

Why It Made the Cut

The Street Scalpel, specifically designed for horizontal carry, is a perfect example of the small fixed blades that have become more popular as EDC knives for utility and self-defense.

Pros

  • Simple fixed blade design
  • Sheath allows multiple carry options
  • Pronounced finger groove behind blade for a secure grip

Cons 

  • Handle length prints slightly through a shirt

Product Description

Sheaths are often and afterthought, but for the Street Scalpel it’s one of the most relevant features. The well designed Kydex sheath has multiple grommeted holes that allow repositioning the included straps so you can carry it horizontally, vertically, angled oriented, as well carrying it inside the IWB, OWB, or even neck carry. The knife itself is simple with a very sharp point and curved edge. And the handle is large in proportion to the blade with finger grooves and pronounced choil to keep your hand from slipping forward onto the blade.

Best Crossover: Cold Steel Engage

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • 3.5-inch S35VN stainless steel blade
  • Ambidextrous opening thumb studs
  • Steel liners
  • G10 scales
  • Ambidextrous

Why It Made the Cut

This knife is equally well suited for self-defense or in the field.

Pros

  • Versatile blade design
  • Solid blade lock
  • Pronounced finger bottom finger groove/guard
  • Slim design

Cons

  • Fairly heavy
  • No jimping where a thumb ramp would be

Product Description

Not every knife is well suited to self-defense, and a dedicated self defense knife probably isn’t great for field work. The Cold Steel Engage is a great example of a knife that is well suited for both. The shallow clip-point blade looks like so many hunting knives, but it is more than capable of defensive use. Its overall slim profile and pocket clip design make this large knife easy to carry and deploy. While its steel construction and overall size make this knife somewhat heavy, unless you’re counting ounces, it shouldn’t be an issue. 

Cold Steel’s new lock is interesting and seems quite solid. Closing it one-handed feels a bit like how you would with a lock back knife. If you’re looking for something that can pull double duty as a robust hunting and self defense knife, the Engage merits consideration. If the size and price are an issue, Cold Steel also makes the Engage in smaller and less expensive models.

Easiest Opening: Spyderco DELICA® 4 FRN WHARNCLIFFE

Matt Foster

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Key Features

  • Blade Length: 2.87 inches
  • Weight: 2.11 ounces
  • 2 7/8” VG-10 serrated Wharncliffe blade
  • Opening hole
  • Lock back
  • Polymer handle
  • Pocket clip
  • Ambidextrous design

Why It Made the Cut

This time-tested model and design is easy to carry, deploy, and use.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy opening
  • The serrated blade cuts through clothing easily
  • Familiar lock back design

Cons

  • Some might prefer a non-serrated blade

Product Description

While not designed as a self defense knife, the Delica with its Wharncliffe blade and aggressive serrations work brilliantly as such. It’s small and light enough to carry unobtrusively and the signature Spyderco opening hole in the blade is one of the easiest and most positive ways of opening a pocket clip folder. The pocket clip is reversible to front or back as well as side to side, which gives the user any number of options on how and where to carry it. This is also a reasonably priced knife that makes it accessible for those on a tight budget.

FAQs

Q: Which knife is best for self-defense?

This depends a lot on personal preference, circumstances, and even physical stature. The most important thing is to choose a knife you’ll actually carry. It’s useless if it’s not with you. After that, focus on what is easiest and quickest to deploy. For the purposes of this review, the lightweight, low-profile Benchmade Bailout checks all the boxes when it comes to a concealable self defense knife.

Q: How much does a self defense knife cost?

There are plenty of well-made self defense knives under the $100 price tag. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Everyone has a different budget, but whatever you do, stay away from anything that’s hanging on a point-of-sale display at the gas station or hardware store.

Q: Is a knife good for self-defense?

While a knife might not be as effective as a handgun for self-defense, it’s certainly better than nothing. And in places where carrying a pistol isn’t feasible or legal, then a knife makes an excellent option.

Methodology

Though important, cutting performance is not the entire picture for any knife, let alone a self defense knife. For this review, I spent time putting each knife in and out of pockets of different pants and sheaths, onto different belts, and onto different spots on the hip. I also considered the weight of each knife, and if it made a viable option for carrying. To test the slicing capabilities and sharpness, I slashed thin magazines and old jeans stuffed with rags and foam.  For folders, I tested how easy they were to open and close, specifically one handed.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully the knife you carry never sees any duty other than mundane daily tasks. But if the need arises, a knife is better than nothing and having one of the best self defense knives isn’t a bad idea.