19 Great Fixed-Blade Knives for Tactical Self Defense
Regardless of your knife needs, you're sure to find a fine candidate in this list
In this second installment of our self-defense knife gallery, we will look at some of my favorite fixed-blade knives. Based the knives’ unique qualities and functionality, each one has its place in the world of survival. Some of the larger blades are a great fit for your bug out bag, your vehicle, or WWIII. A couple of the smaller ones can be worn as neck knives, and a few would make fine boot knives. Regardless of your knife needs, you’re sure to find a fine candidate in this list.
See my roundup of the best folding knives for self defense.
1. SOG Seal Pup Elite
This mid-sized knife bears many of the fine features we’ve come to expect and rely upon in a SOG. The best feature of this knife is the longevity of its out-of-the-box sharpness. I know that even if I use the knife for some daily tasks, it will still be sharp if I must call on it in an emergency. This great edge retention is due to the hardness of the AUS-8 clip-point blade, and the manner in which it is hardened. SOG uses a cryogenic (cold) hardening process, which gradually drops the temperature of the heated blades to minus-300 degrees.
I’m also a big fan of SOG’s injection-molded, glass-reinforced nylon handle. The molded diamond checkering offers an outstanding grip in wet or dry conditions. Other nice features include the blade’s hardcase black TiNi finish, a light weight (5.4 ounces), and ample spine jimping for notching and filing. The overall length is 9.5 inches, and the blade length is 4.85 inches. The low-profile Kydex sheath has a small external pocket and eyelets for tieing it down, plus it’s MOLLE-compatible.
2. CRKT Ultima
One of the newer incarnations of the Ultima is this Michael Martinez design. While all of the knives in the Ultima series are meant to resemble the first Bronze Age daggers of 4,000 years ago, Martinez has brought some very modern technology into his 8.4-ounce modified-Tanto version. The Martinez Ultima features a 4.95-inch full-tang blade of 1.4116 stainless steel with a slick, black titanium nitride coating. It also bears wide, 60-degree serrations.
The black, glass-filled nylon handle features more than 70 triangular segments for a phenomenal grip whether wet or dry, muddy or bloody. And because the designers know you’ll try to use a knife like this as a pry bar, they included one on the butt of the handle. This rounded pry tip is part of the blade tang, which gives it strength, and it is curved to allow a rocking effect when prying. The thing I like best about this knife is the blade geometry–I punched a hole in a tire with this beast.
The black high-strength nylon fabric/glass filled sheath has an injection-molded liner, with dual adjustable belt loops, 10 tie-down grommets, an adjustable leg strap, and a slotted sheath back that can mount on MOLLE gear. Two separate snaps secure the knife in the 5.7-ounce sheath, and it even has an exterior pocket with buckle closure to carry extra gear. The only problem with this sheath is that it’s large. Unless you bury it in a backpack, it will be conspicuous.
3. Ontario Ranger Kerambit EOD
The Ranger Kerambit EOD from Ontario Knife Company is an American-made knife with a fearsome appearance and reputation. The kerambit-style blade is designed to draw material into the knife as it cuts, much like the talons of a bird of prey on which it is modeled. The 3.5-inch blade (7.53 inches overall) is forged from 5160 steel with a black powder-coated finish. The stout looking blade is .26 inches thick, with a flat grind for easy sharpening.
The reason we have this knife on the list is its fail-safe grip. The green Micarta handle scales are well shaped for a very natural grip, which is further enhanced by strategic grooves in the handle scales and the thumb rest, as well as the pinkie index finger ring at the butt of the handle. With your little finger in that ring, there is no way you could accidentally drop this knife. The Ranger Kerambit EOD comes with a secure Kydex sheath and a lifetime warranty.
4. Ontario RD 6
For fans of big knives, the Ontario Knife Company’s line of U.S.-made Ranger knives may be just the ticket. This thing is like a pocket-sized machete. The RD 6 is a very solid knife with a 6.5-inch blade made from 5160 steel and powder coated. To round out the tactical elements of this package, you’ll find black Micarta handle scales and a black, MOLLE-compatible nylon and Kydex sheath with a generous utility pouch.
My favorite aspect of this beefy knife is the balance between its weight and its handling. At 18 ounces, it has the mass for chopping, but still is nimble. If this knife was a person, it would be a linebacker who can also line dance.
5. Buck Intrepid-L
Buck Knives has developed a great tactical blade that is stout and built for durability, without a lot of frills that could ramp up the price. This American-made, 7.7-ounce fixed blade is built for heavy use and comes with Buck’s “Forever Warranty.” Unless you screw it up by sharpening it on a grinder, or commit some other heinous abuse, Buck will repair the knife or replace it as necessary.
The 5-inch full tang blade is made from 420HC steel and coated. The Intrepid-L’s blade comes to a Tanto point and offers top and bottom guards. The molded nylon handle scales are available in black or reaper black camo. This knife comes with a nice MOLLE sheath with a plastic liner, external gear pocket with buckle closure, a Velcro belt loop and four grommet tie downs.
6. TOPS/Buck CSAR-T
Another great American-made member of the Buck family is the CSAR-T fixed blade. This knife was designed as a Combat Search & Rescue Tool and has been built to withstand the most rugged of conditions. The full-tang 420HC stainless steel blade has a modified Tanto point and a generous finger guard. The feature I liked best most is the incredible grip of the handle.
The burly yet comfortable grooved G10 handle scales offer what the company calls a “Rocky Mountain Tread” pattern for a secure grip, bare handed or gloved. The handle contains a hex driver for various tools, a pry bar at the handle butt, and all exposed metal is coated with a non-reflective Zirblast finish. This knife has a 4.5-inch blade and weighs 14 ounces. The heavy-duty nylon, MOLLE-compatible sheath has a pocket, 6 grommet tie downs and a Velcro belt loop.
7. Browning’s Black Label Backlash
This dagger-like knife from Browning’s Black Label line of tactical gear is this gallery’s sharpest knife – on both sides! The Backlash is both perfectly symmetrical knife and perfectly balanced. Few knife styles have the penetrating power and the rich history of the dagger. This double-edged fixed-blade has a hollow-ground 440 stainless steel blade with a titanium finish.
The handle is built from CNC-machined black G10 material, and has a stainless steel pommel and hand guard. The molded polymer sheath, with its Tek-Lok belt clip, adjusts into several positions providing a variety of carry options. Use the Backlash as a boot knife, as a belt knife, or fix it to your backpack straps so you always have a dagger at hand.
8. Schrade SCHF14
Taylor Brands’ series of Schrade tactical knives delivers solid quality at pleasantly low prices. The SCHF14 is made from 8Cr13 high-carbon stainless steel. This mottled, glare-free finish makes this knife almost look like a blacksmith’s handiwork. The drop-point blade is full-tang with a lanyard slot. The scallop-notched G10 overlay handles create a premium grip at this bargain price.
The molded belt sheath both holds the blade well and releases it with just the right amount of pull. The overall length of this knife is 7.9 inches, while the blade length is 3.4 inches. It weighs 5.6 ounces. My only gripe is that it is fairly dull out of the box. Be sure to sharpen it before you need it.
9. Smith & Wesson HRT12B
This ultra-slim-profile dagger would be ideal as a boot knife or some other manner of concealed defense, and is part of the brand’s Hostage Rescue Team series. Like the Schrade SCHF14, this knife comes from Taylor Brands and offers remarkable value. The 4.1-inch, dual-edge HRT12B blade is built from 7Cr17 high-carbon stainless steel.
The overall length is just over 8.5 inches and it features an ABS plastic handle with dual guards. The thin belt sheath locks onto the blade with a push-button locking mechanism, which is built into the knife handle. Locked into the sheath, it’s no thicker than a french fry.
10. Gerber Guardian Back-Up
The American-made Gerber Guardian Back-Up is a single-edged boot knife with a Tanto point and partially serrated blade. It’s partial-tang, 3.4 inches long, and made from 420HC stainless steel. The blade holds an edge very well, but it’s “sticky” handle is what I found to be its best feature.
The “TacHide” is the same material used on other Gerber knives, and it provides a very secure grip in both wet and dry conditions. The overall length is 7.5 inches and it weighs 3.3 ounces.
11. Puma SGB SP Drop Pakkawood
This beautiful knife from Puma has an unusually shaped blade and would be suitable for camp chores or as a back-up blade for personal defense. The SGB’s blade is made of 440A German steel, promising a long life. Each knife is individually tested to ensure hardness between 55 and 57 on the Rockwell scale.
With its 3.1-inch German-made blade, it tapes 7.4 inches overall. It weighs 5.1 ounces and has very pretty pakkawood handle scales. I like the handle, love the price, and am very pleased with the slicing ability of the pot-bellied blade.
12. Boker Plus Mosier
The Boker Plus Mosier is a very attractive blend of traditional knife making and modern innovation. Designed by Missouri custom knifemaker David Mosier, this modified Wharncliffe-style blade is made of ultra-durable Sandvik 12C27 steel. The blade of this full tang knife is 3.25 inches long and the overall knife length is 7.25 inches. It weighs 5.5 ounces.
My favorite thing about this knife is the handsome, carefully milled two-tone Micarta handle, which provides the second-best grip in this field (just behind the Ontario Ranger Kerambit). The combination of grip and blade geometry gives this knife incredible penetrating power. The retention ability and slender profile of the Kydex sheath allows this knife to easily serve as a neck knife.
13. KA-BAR TDI Law Enforcement
This knife was designed for KA-BAR by John Benner, founder and owner of Tactical Defense Institute. The thing I like best about the TDI LE is its ergonomics. With its kukri-like curve, this small wonder has a lot more punch-through power and slashing ability than you’d expect from a pip-squeak 2.3-inch blade.
The drop-point blade is AUS 8A stainless steel with a black powder-coat finish and HRC 57-59 hardness. The hollow grind and 15-degree edge angle makes this little knife razor sharp out of the box as well as after much use. The black metal belt clip offers a secure hold on the knife, while keeping it discreet. The black handle is made of Zytel.
14. BLACKHAWK! Nightedge
The BLACKHAWK! Nightedge is a serious looking and serious performing piece of steel, designed by renowned custom knifemaker Allen Elishewitz. It is a full-sized fixed-blade knife with partial serrations on the blade’s edge and a long serrated edge on the spine. I love this this secondary edge, as it will work for a variety of cutting and sawing tasks; it also supports cutting and entrapment when using a reverse grip during hand-to-hand fighting.
This unique knife also has a reinforced point for tip strength and penetration. The 5.9-inch blade is made from 1085C high-carbon tool steel with a black epoxy finish. The handle material is thermoplastic rubber with textured panels featuring numerous grooves to support different grips. The Nightedge has a black ballistic nylon sheath with a clever retention clip design.
15. HK Conspiracy
HK knives from Benchmade are some of the most indestructible knives around, and the Conspiracy is no exception. The 9CR13 stainless steel in this heavy 4.8-inch Tanto blade is treated to HRC 58-60 hardness. The oversized handle has high-traction black G10 handle scales, which offer an aggressive grip with their crisp, cornered rectangular blocks.
There’s almost a “gator skin” look to the handle. This is the most “down to business” knife in the gallery. The apocalypse-proof HK Conspiracy weighs 11.22 ounces and fits into a streamlined black ballistic nylon sheath. The overall length is 9 inches.
16. HK Snody Instigator
The slimmest and lightest knife in our gallery, the Snody Instigator could be the ultimate neck knife. The full-tang skeletonized knife is crafted from AUS-8 stainless steel with HRC 58-60 hardness. The modified Wharncliff blade style has a straight edge with a single bevel, and a rounded spine to give the knife a talon-sharp point. This knife is light and sleek yet strong.
The knife comes with a snap-fit molded Kydex thermoplastic sheath with tether cord. Knife weight is reduced and grip is created by the 7 strategically placed holes in the handle. The blade length is 3.28 inches, the overall length is 7.38 inches, and the knife weighs just 2.3 ounces.
17. Spyderco Street Bowie
A classic Bowie blade shape with very contemporary materials makes the Street Bowie a solid choice for personal defense. Designed by Fred Perrin, former French Army Commando turned self-defense instructor, the Street Bowie brings exemplary grip and an edge you could shave with. The 5.05-inch blade is made from VG-10 steel, with a cutting edge of 4.74 inches and a durable black ceramic coating.
The injection-molded, fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle has a curvaceous shape and molded Kraton inserts. The handle also has a deep index finger choil, which dives halfway through the handle. There’s also an extended section of jimping on the spine of the blade and down the handle. The only way you’ll drop this knife is if you try. The knife comes with an injection-molded polymer sheath, which provides secure retention and allows a full grip on the knife during the draw. The Street Bowie includes Spyderco’s versatile G-Clip attachment, which supports many forms of carry. This knife is also very light, coming in at 3.8 ounces.
18. Spyderco Street Beat
A smaller and more refined version of the Street Bowie, the Street Beat is another Fred Perrin design. Whereas the Street Bowie is flat black and all business, its cousin seems to have beauty and longevity in mind. The polished VG-10 stainless steel blade is 3.5 inches long, with a cutting edge of 3.25 inches. The clip-point blade is double flat-ground with jimping grooves on the blade spine for grip and control.
The smoothed Micarta handle scales are double-pinned and feature two swollen sections for a comfortable grip. There is a lanyard hole in the handle. I really appreciate the blade metal and handle material selection in this knife. It looks great, but the important part is that it will last for a very long time. The Street Beat comes with a black Boltaron sheath with a G-Clip fastening system.
19. Spyderco Pygmy Warrior
Futuristic meets feudal in Spyderco’s Warrior knife. This stunning curved blade is ground from rust-proof, austenitic H-1 steel, which mimics the hardness and shock resistance of clay-tempered Samurai swords. The full-tang blade is 5.687 inches long, with an overall knife length of 10.625 inches. It weighs 8.2 ounces. The scimitar-like sweep of the knife’s curved edge offers unparalleled slashing power, while the 3-inch serrated section on the spine can be used for sawing and cutting tasks as well as reverse-grip entrapment techniques.
The American-made sheath is black ballistic nylon with an exterior pocket, hip and thigh belt loops, 10 grommets for tie down, and it’s MOLLE compatible. The spider web-patterned handle scales are made from fiberglass-reinforced nylon. Three percent of the net sales of each Warrior sold go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which, since 1980, has provided college educations to the surviving children of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations personnel killed in combat or training, along with other support to military families. ––Tim MacWelch
Three More Personal Defense Fixed-Blade Knives
For years when I traveled where I couldn’t carry a gun, I would take along a folding knife for protection. I now know better. While convenient, folders are difficult to deploy under stress, and the spot where the blade pivots is inherently weak. This disqualifies them for serious self-defense work. Instead, invest in a good fixed-blade knife. But do your homework before strapping on a blade. State and local ordinances governing knives––both fixed-blades and folders––are varied and confusing, so take time to investigate the laws where you plan to carry.
▶ This drop-point-style knife is made of stainless steel coated in a matte black finish to reduce glare and minimize the 4 ½-inch blade’s visibility when drawn. The full-tang design is sandwiched in an anodized aluminum handle that has a large finger groove for added control. As with most knives, the supplied sheath isn’t meant for concealment, so you’ll need to invest in an aftermarket sheath for proper concealed carry.
Spartan Ares Fighter
▶ Partners Chris Iovito and Mark Carey, co-founders of Spartan Blades, are both retired from U.S. Army Special Forces and have firsthand knowledge of what makes a good fighting knife. The 5 3⁄8-inch blade on the Ares (10 ½ inches overall) is long enough to achieve fearsome thrusting penetration as well as serious tip speed for slashing. The grooved Micarta handle gives the Ares a narrow profile while enabling a vise-like grip.
Chris Reeve Nyala
▶ South African transplant Chris Reeve makes lovely knives at his Boise, Idaho, facility, including the 3 ½-inch Nyala pictured here. Yes, this is a traditional drop-point skinner hunting knife that doesn’t look “tactical” in any respect. Don’t let that fool you. The Nyala–with its simple, elegant design and functional Micarta handle for superior blade control–can fend off an assailant as easily as it will field dress an elk. ––John B. Snow