What is a tactical knife?

What is a tactical knife.

In this article, we decided to briefly describe what tactical knives are, dispel some myths about tactical knives, and classify these knives according to our humble understanding.

At the beginning of the article, we will allow ourselves to dispel some myths about tactical knives, as this structure seems to us the most informative way to introduce the reader to the essence of the covered issue. Myths related to tactical knives are so persistent and widespread that you can foresee a huge number of objections to everything that will be said here. We warn you that all that will be told here is the author’s private opinion, based on the works of some researchers and his own experience.

Myth one – a tactical knife is a weapon

This is the most important myth about tactical knives. The roots of this myth go back to a time when the use of edged weapons in combat was massive. At that time, the armies of the world used knives as an auxiliary weapon along with something more formidable. The mass use of edged weapons in combat ceased by the end of World War I when it became clear that firearms were far more effective. Nevertheless, knives themselves have not disappeared and have been used until today, but during this time they have changed quite a lot.

Already during the First World War, customers of such equipment in large armies of the world (in particular Russian and German) noticed that in real warfare the knife was used much more often as a universal tool than as a weapon. Thus, there was a need to supply the troops with knives that would be convenient to work in the first place and that could be used effectively as a weapon in case of an acute need.

This started the emergence of truly tactical knives, which are primarily an individual military tool, but in an emergency can also be used as a weapon.

There is an important remark here – it is possible to kill a man with Victorinox as well. For rational people, which the military certainly is, the choice of a knife for constant use is influenced by what they have to do more often. In modern armies and other security agencies, the military use of knives is so limited, that there is no sense to constantly use specialized knives for such a task. However, in case of acute need, it is possible to use the tactical knife as a weapon just like any other shank tool from an axe to a shovel.

Myth two – a tactical knife is the most reliable

It should be noted that requirements for tactical knives are not based on reliability as such, but on the tasks to be performed by such a knife. Many authors of such articles start to create their requirements for tactical knives based on their own experience. This approach does not seem logical, since the army or other law enforcement bodies set their requirements in a rather formalized way, and making up these requirements for them does not make much sense.

The famous German knife designer Dietmar Pohl in his book “Modern War Knives” gives quite an exhaustive list of tasks that tactical knives face in modern conditions. Since this author has seen with his own eyes more than one or two documents with requirements, which were compiled by real military or special forces personnel, his vision seems quite objective.

Tasks that Tactical Knives Solve (c) Dietmar Pohl, “Modern Knives in Combat”
  • Release in extreme cases

    During tactical operations, situations often arise when someone becomes entangled in ropes or cables while climbing down a house wall, off a bridge, or from a helicopter. This also includes cutting through seat belts in a car or airplane. In some cases, the knife is required by special units performing airborne operations, such as cutting parachute slings or straps on dropped duffel containers.

  • Equipping a firing position

    In such cases, the knife is an indispensable tool that can be used to remove branches or other objects, such as overhangs or curtains that obstruct the view or block the firing sector.

  • Using a knife in the field

    The knife is used here to perform all kinds of tasks, such as in cooking when you need to open a can or kill a caught or wounded animal. The knife is also useful when building a shelter.

  • Clearing obstacles

    Often there are obstacles on the way of special units, which were not detected during the preliminary reconnaissance, but which must be eliminated or overcome. In such a situation, the knife is most often used as a tool (a crowbar or a hammer). Of course, the knife is not quite suitable for such work, but if it is of high quality, it will be able to withstand such an ordeal without significant damage.

  • Freeing from handcuffs

    For some years now, so-called disposable handcuffs made of plastic have been used instead of traditional metal handcuffs. These handcuffs can be taken off only by cutting, which is usually done with a pair of pliers; but if they are not handy, a knife is often used. Knives with a wave-sharpened blade are especially good.

    Sharpened blades are especially suitable. However, there is a great risk of injury both for the prisoner and for the one who frees him from the bonds.

  • Cutting nets

    The main enemy of the diver is the fishing net. Once entangled in such a net, you can get out only with the help of a knife, which is a vital tool primarily for naval special forces.

    Of course, given a certain universality of these requirements, we can say that the last two points are somewhat redundant for the majority of the military, but at least the first four points describe quite fully what tactical knives are used for.

    It is quite clear from the requirements that tactical knives must have a very high mechanical reliability. Nevertheless, you should understand that a tactical knife is a very simple consumable tool, which has the necessary and sufficient reliability to perform its tasks. At the same time, it should also have a minimum price, which also imposes a certain imprint on its performance characteristics.

Myth three – a tactical knife is an excellent cutter

This myth is greatly connected with the previous one. A lot of people think that since such knives are used by the military, they must cut perfectly – after all, a knife is a cutting tool, and the military uses it the best.

Myth is shattered by the tasks that tactical knives have, which we cited in the previous part of the article. Please note that tasks, which imply comfortable and aggressive cutting, are not set for tactical knives. Authors of such knives usually somewhat reduce their cutting properties for the sake of greater mechanical reliability in heavy jobs.

The designs of most truly tactical knives share the following features that put them out of the category of knives that cut well:

  • The use of blunt (up to 60 degrees) angles of sharpening
  • thick knifepoint (up to 1,5 mm)
  • use of soft elastic steels hardened to a relatively low hardness
  • big (up to 7 mm) thickness of the blade
  • considerable (up to 400 grams) knife weight.

Cutting with knives with such design features can be relatively uncomfortable. It requires a lot of physical effort, which reduces the level of convenience of using tactical knives in domestic tasks. However, domestic tasks are not on the list of basic requirements that customers have for knives in this category.

Here we move on to the next part of the article, in which we will talk about folding tactical knives. The fact is those folding tactical knives, in our opinion, appeared in the first place for the reason that formally real tactical knives do not have to cut well.


Among the elements that distinguish a tactical knife, as a rule, stand out:

  1. Length of the blade. As a rule, this parameter is within 140-180 millimeters.
  2. The thickness of the shank. Usually 3-5 millimeters.
  3. The geometry of the blade. A tactical knife, first of all, is designed to bear stabbing blows, so its tip must be quite sharp. Quite often, the blade has a dagger shape or a long shoulder blade.
  4. Wavy sharpening. A full or partial serration sharpening is placed on one side of the blade to increase the striking properties. A saw on the shank may also be used for this purpose.
  5. Stabbing and underbite notches. A tactical knife must exclude the possibility for the fingers to slip on the blade when making strong stabbing blows.
  6. Voluminous handle. When choosing a tactical knife, you should keep in mind that most models are designed to work with tactical gloves. So textured G10 can give an unpleasant and painful sensation when holding the handle with your bare hand. However, the use of such material provides a maximum secure grip, which, in the absence of a guard, does not allow the knife to pop out of the hand when struck.

Bottom line

Knives of a tactical nature have been indispensable to man for a very long time, they have been used practically throughout the entire history of mankind.

Of course, a lot of modifications were made that made the knives effective, practical, and convenient. If you compare the first variants of tactical knives with the current ones, they have little in common, except the principle of application and the basis of construction. Knife manufacturers have been working for many years to make knives corrosion resistant, strong and durable, able to perform various functions, and look stylish at the same time.