Selecting A Tactical Folding Knife
*Please note, it is your responsibility to know and understand the laws regarding carrying a knife. This post is for information purposes only.
Clients and friends often ask me what I think is the best knife to carry for personal defense. This suggestion heavily depends on the individual’s lifestyle, job, or unique circumstances. The vast majority of the time, I recommend a small fixed-blade knife (SFB) of 2-4 inches in length. The SFB eliminates one whole step in the deployment process; the fine motor skill of opening and deploying the blade. In timed drills comparing the access and deployment of folders vs. small fixed blades set up for rapid, in-fight access, the SFB beats the folder every time.
Sadly, many people believe that carrying a fixed blade knife for personal protection is too difficult to conceal or looks too “aggressive.” It’s not frowned upon by these same individuals to advocate the everyday carry of a “defensive” pistol such as 1911 .45 with two extra magazines. Yet, a 2.5-inch small fixed blade is aggressive and challenging to conceal. Because of these or other reasons, a more significant percentage of citizens, Law Enforcement Officers, Corrections, and off-duty military personnel carry a folding knife. Thus, the focus of this article will be on the selection, carry, and deployment of “tactical” folding knives (TFK) for personal protection.
Tactical Folding Knife Selection
Selecting a folding knife for personal defense requires as much thought as choosing a handgun for everyday carry (EDC). From my observation of clients who attend folding knife or edged weapon classes, most people just go to a local sporting goods store and pick whatever knife looks the best to them. This is unfortunate because a TFK or SFB can be carried more readily in non-permissive environments than most CCW pistols and is an extremely viable personal protection option. Selection of a folder for personal protection or on-duty carry should not be a random process and a few elements should be taken into consideration. A personal protection folder needs to meet some basic criteria:
Strong Lock/Hold Open Mechanism
It’s imperative that whatever folder you choose stays open during defensive use. You may be thrusting the blade into hard surfaces such as bone which could cause a weak lock to collapse. Various locking mechanisms include traditional lock backs, liner locks, rolling locks, lock-pins, mono-lock, and axis locks. Most commercial-grade TFK’s feature one of these type locks, and they are all suitable.
If you choose a $15 Chinese-made knife as your EDC folder, don’t be surprised if it closes on your fingers. Depending on the lock mechanism’s placement on the folder’s spine, one of your fingers could depress the lock, causing it to close when gripping the knife tightly, possibly during a critical life or death situation. Carefully test out a lock-back knife if considering it for EDC for personal protection purposes.
Fit In Hand when Closed
The closed folder should fit in hand with some impact surface available at the top and bottom. The exposed hinge-point and pommel of the folding knife provide an effective impact surface if necessary. You may have to access this knife while under attack and go right to striking.
Tip Up or Tip Down Carry
Primarily personal preference; however, I advocate looking for a folder that allows tip UP carry when in the pocket. This carry method eliminates rotating the folder into the hand when drawing from your carry position. This rotation is an additional step to this motor process stealing time during a possible life or death situation.
Robust Opening Mechanism
Research the different opening mechanisms such as the stud, wave, Spyderco-hole, disc, auto-open, assisted-opening. Some, who can own and carry them, love auto-opening knives. One word of caution, under stress, you may hit that button and open that knife when you may not want it open. Waved knives, like everything, have pros and cons and require proper training in indexing and blade deployment (opening).
Recommended Opening Mechanisms
I recommend the stud mechanism or Spyderco-hole found on Spyderco and some Benchmade folding knives. These mechanisms are simple to deploy and will not open without me. Assisted opening knives like many CRKT now manufacture or the Kershaw collaborations often require a less than the optimal grip on the knife to activate the assist mechanism, which could lead to significant problems, such as dropping, during a clinched in-fight weapon access. Don’t believe it? Run a hill sprint, do 50 push-ups, then try accessing and opening an assisted opening folder while a friend taps you on the head from a distance with a broom. When you can access the folder repeatedly (9 out of 10 times at least) and deploy the blade without dropping it, then maybe it’s good to go for you. These training “modifiers” create distraction, disorientation, and stress often experienced during an altercation.
One Hand Opening
The folder you choose must allow you to open it one-handed, with either hand. You need to access and deploy your folder with one hand and under the pressure and stress of an assault. During an assault, your primary or support hand may be fending, pushing a loved one out of the way, or striking an incoming attacker. Get a training drone (dulled safety training blade) and repeat the drill outlined above but this time, have your training partner put on boxing gloves and throw mild-moderate strikes at your head.
The folder should have a non-slip texture, such as a checked or stippled surface made of G10, Zytel, or ABS plastic. No stainless steel or polished wood scales for a tactical knife if you intend to possibly defend your life or the life of a loved one with it. Hands may become covered in sweat or blood, making anything you grasp slippery and challenging to retain.
Different blade designs offer various advantages. If you have trained or follow a school of thought that teaches slashing as a primary defense, then a curved or drop point blade may be for you. A triangular, needle-point, or tanto blade design known for penetration is more applicable if you follow a more point-driven methodology. This choice is often an aesthetic choice for the untrained or driven by a specific “methodology” or martial training system.
Laws can vary greatly depending upon what city, county, or state you reside in and depending upon with whom you are speaking. For example, NYS law says nothing about blade length. However, I’ve talked to numerous Law Enforcement Officers and district attorneys from different N.Y. counties that say four inches is the legal limit. Another individual told me the length is determined from the “metal coming out of the handle” to include the choil and ricasso. And another stated measurement is from where the sharpened blade starts (referred to as the choil or on a fixed blade where the ricasso) and ends; essentially, the blade’s edge or “sharpened” surface.
In summary, according to knife manufacturer specifications, you could have a 4 in length “sharpened” edge (which is what the manufacturers go by). Or, you have 4.25-4.50 inches of “blade” when you add the unsharpened choil and ricasso, which may not make that knife illegal in any given jurisdiction. Because of this apparent lack of clarity or uniformity, I recommend folders specified as 2.5-3.5 inches for everyday carry. (Be aware, NONE of this is legal advice.) Links to various states and their respective state knife laws: State Knife Laws.
Finally, when selecting a tactical folder, give some attention to the method you intend to carry. The most common practice with folding knives today is the pocket clip. The clip allows the folder to be attached to the pant pocket, waistband, shirt lapel, or a myriad of other locations. Look for an ambidextrous clip attachment to either side of the knife for left or right-hand carry. Some folding knives, such as older Cold Steel models, first came with plastic clips prone to breakage.
Choose a knife with a clip that is dark in color; the idea is to remain low profile when carrying any personal protection tool. Some folders come with a bright silver clip that draws attention and reflects light. A dark clip will blend in with clothing and not stand out. While I’ve carried a folding knife clipped in my pockets for many years without incident, I will point out that the visible sign of a pocket clip is enough to be stopped and possibly frisked in places like New York City. In today’s society, it’s not wrong to consider covertly running personal protection gear unseen to good guys and bad.
Folding Knife Carry
Practical concealed carry of any personal protection tool is an essential consideration and skill set. Where and how you carry the folding knife is just as important, if not more so, than the actual knife you choose for EDC. Some considerations for selecting an appropriate carry location of a folder for personal protection include location, clothing types, concealment, and accessibility with both hands. Carrying the folder in a difficult place to access under duress puts you even further behind the curve during a reactionary encounter. For this article, I will focus on folders that utilize a carry clip.
The most commonly carried location for a folding knife is the strong side front pant pocket. One can observe numerous strangers in public and spot a folder clipped in a pocket in this location. I doubt it’s because many of them have taken an edged weapon training course. The strongside front pocket offers many advantages, such as access with either hand, convenience, comfort, and concealment with the right shirt. Carrying in front of the hip makes access and deployment of the blade easier under the pressure of extreme close-range attack or during standing clinch with an assailant.
If pant pocket carry is your chosen method, it is essential to look at the various pant pocket designs. Look at the picture below (Image 1A) and note the slant on the cargo pants pocket compared to the jeans. This slant causes the folder to ride low and places it along the seam of my pants.
To deploy the knife from this location, the strong side hand is on the hip, and the strong side elbow is rearward, thus putting the arm in an anatomically weakened position. The further the arm moves behind the hip, away from the core/torso muscles, the weaker it becomes. During the access of the folder from this position, if an aggressor attempts to grab the knife hand to prevent accessing and deploying the blade, you will be disadvantaged and have to fight harder to overcome them.
As stated previously, whenever carrying any personal defense tool, our goal should be to do so without anyone knowing we are armed. Being low profile provides us many more advantages than disadvantages. Selecting a carry location that meets the above-stated criteria and provides maximum concealment may depend upon the clothing style’s physical characteristics. I recommend always checking before going out that none of your defensive tools are visible, including the folding knife clip.
You must have the ability to access the folder with both your strong side and support side hand, standing or on the ground. Every day carry in a boot or sock may provide excellent concealment but may prove challenging to access with your support side hand while under stress or being assaulted. The dominant side front pocket offers easy access with either hand standing or on the ground. It does require a little practice but not as much as you may think. Note the picture above (Image 1B) the two folders in the pocket. One runs along the seam of the pants; carrying the folder this far outboard can limit the ability to access the knife with the support hand. I recommend moving the folder as far forward of the hip as possible.
Folding Knife Access & Deployment
This article will focus on accessing the folding knife from the most commonly carried position based on my experience and observations, the strong side front pant pocket. The accessing methods outlined herein will apply to other locations, but modifications may be necessary. Accessing includes getting the folder from its carry location and making conscious use of force decision to deploy the blade or not. This process may require fending off an attacker with your support hand while simultaneously clearing your cover garment with your strong side hand, gaining purchase on the folder, removing it from the carry location, and then thumbing it open. Or, it may simply mean removing it from your pocket before walking out into the parking garage. The context of the situation will determine the methodology you utilize.
MDTS Access & Deployment Methods
Covert access of the folding knife is a pre-determined action. You decide any visible or known trouble has ensued. You may palm it in the closed position in preparation for potential danger or in anticipation of an attack your situational awareness has identified. The closed folder in hand can be an effective impact tool when delivered as a hammer fist or other modified empty hand tactic. Carrying the folder in this manner is low profile and does not indicate that you are “armed.” Whenever entering unknown areas where intuition or body alarm warns, I recommended covert access in case of trouble.
In-Fight Access (IFA)
In-Fight Access takes place when a flash confrontation or spontaneous attack has occurred. You are surprised, and the attacker is on top of you due to a lack of situational awareness or intentional distraction(s). Under the pressure of attack, you must access the folding knife “in-fight.” IFA occurs during a standing grapple or on the ground.
Proximity to threat or positioning provides time and distance to access and deploy the knife in preparation for an attack. Your situational awareness indicates that a threat to your life is imminent. You make a use of force decision to deploy the folding knife to aid the personal defense of life. Robust & timely access conveys to your attacker you are skilled and have the required intent to use the knife to defend yourself or others. This aggressive action also anchors your fighting mindset in preparation for combat.
Access the folder via the M.D.T.S. “S.T.A.B.” method = Slap, Tuck, Access, Brace
Folding Knife Recommendations
I am not a big fan of recommending knives to people. It is like selecting a handgun, a highly individualized decision—a few other factors to consider before purchasing.
1) Price. Some very nice $100 folding knives on the market and custom folders well over $500. If you carry a folder every day, in and out of a car, it will sustain wear and tear. It may be damaged or fall out of your pocket and be lost. If you are a collector, this category may interest you.
2) Utility. Ultimately, most will utilize a folding knife for practical purposes. So, make sure whatever folder you choose is capable of a bit of work when needed. A Karambit folder is a beautiful, purpose-driven knife. It’s not always conducive to use in and around others in public workspaces.
My top recommendations:
This article is not comprehensive regarding the selection, carry, and deployment of the tactical folding knife. It’s not a substitute for attending hands-on training. I hope this article provides the reader with points to consider when selecting a personal defense folding knife.
See also Three Fixed Blades Under $100