Whether in an urban environment or deep in the uncharted woods, a knife is undoubtedly one of the most important and most useful tools anyone can have on their person. And that doesn’t change in the case of an emergency, survival, or self-defense situation. Of course, while the best knife for the job is the one you have on you, it definitely helps if that blade was built for just such an occasion.
Thankfully, there are a ton of options on the market for sturdy tactical combat knives suited to dire circumstances. That being said, some are most certainly more well-suited than others. So rather than taking your chances on something that might let you down, we’ve put together the following list of the twenty best tactical combat knives — both fixed and folding — to help get you through some of the worst situations possible.
Sturdy & Durable
When it comes to tactical combat knives, fixed blades are king. The reason for this is simple: they’re remarkably sturdy when well-built and they’re free of moving parts that might jam up or break during use. Especially if you’re going to be using your knife in the outdoors where there’s exposure to the elements, dust, mud, etc, a fixed blade knife is going to serve you the best. And the following are some of the top options across the budgetary spectrum.
Kershaw Secret Agent Boot Knife
Most fixed blades are not easily concealed. The Secret Agent from Kershaw, however, was made specifically to be worn out-of-the-way — making it a perfect fixed blade in regards to discretion. Of course, this boot knife can also stand up to plenty of punishment with its 8Cr13MoV steel dagger-style blade and grippy polymer handle. This knife won’t turn you into James Bond, but you can definitely rely upon it in a pinch.
Blade Length: 4.4″
Handle: Reinforced Synthetic Polymer
OKC Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie Knife
The Ontario Knife Company has been making bladed tools for the military for decades, making them acutely well-qualified to build tactical combat knives. And the Spec Plus Marine Raider bowie knife is one such offering — boasting a beefy, blacked-out, full-tang blade mated to a lightweight and ultra-durable Kraton handle. This massive blade is definitely on the bigger end of the spectrum, so concealed carry is all but out of the question, but it more than makes up for that with sheer capability and toughness.
Blade Length: 9.75″
KA-BAR US Marine Corps Fighting Knife
Possibly the single most iconic fixed blade knife, at least in regards to the tactical world, KA-BAR’s US Marine Corps Fighting Knife has been relied upon by generations of American soldiers as one of their primary field and survival tools. And it still holds up today as one of the best knives ever made — fixed or otherwise. That’s excellent news, especially considering that you can pick one of these 1095 steel and leather bad boys up as a civilian, as well. If any knife on our list has proven its mettle on the battlefield, it’s this one.
Blade Length: 7″
CRKT Du Hoc Karambit Fixed Blade
Though not their only use, karambits are uniquely suited to tactical and combat situations, as they were originally based upon the claws of jungle cats — hence their uniquely-curved hawkbill blades. And this one from CRKT is especially durable with its carbon steel blade and grippy G10 handle scales. Of course, that’s the kind of quality and inspired design we’ve come to expect from Austin McGlaun and Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical — the pair that designed this offering. Although it’s certainly not for the uninitiated, this is a superb tactical combat knife through and through.
Blade Length: 5.09″
Cold Steel Chaos Bowie Knife
If it were just a regular knife, Cold Steel’s Chaos Bowie would still be a consideration. But it has a few added bonuses that elevate it in regards to tactical and combat usage. That’s because, alongside its massive 10.5″ clip point SK5 blade, it has a durable aerospace-grade aluminum handle that boasts knucks — for non-lethal self-defense applications — and a glass-breaker tip — for emergency survival situations. A modern take on the classic trench knife, this brutal bruiser certainly fits amongst the best of the best.
Blade Length: 10.5″
Handle: 6061 Aluminum
Gerber Mark II Fixed Blade Knife
Originally introduced in 1966, Gerber’s Mark II fixed blade knife isn’t just one of the oldest tactical combat cutting tools still in production; it’s one of the best and most iconic, period. From its long dagger-style 420HC with double serrations to its die-cast aluminum handle, this is a pure tactical combat blade in every sense. Measuring up at an impressive 12.75″ overall and with a weight of 8 ounces, it also comes with a ballistic nylon sheath for easy carrying.
Blade Length: 6.5″
Handle: Die-Cast Aluminum
Eickhorn KM 2000 Combat Fixed Blade
Used by Germany’s Bundeswehr Armed Forces, this beefy blade embodies everything you could want out of a tactical combat fixed blade knife. That starts with its Bohler steel tanto blade and continues straight on through its emergency glass-breaker tip. Clocking in just under 12″ in total, this combat knife is a top-tier option that’s probably priced lower than it should be — but that’s good for all of us on the consumer end.
Blade Length: 6.77″
Handle: Glass-Reinforced Fiber Composite
Benchmade Fixed Adamas Knife
One of the bigger issues with some fixed blades is that they have the downside of a lot of seemingly-unnecessary bulk in their construction. But the folks at Benchmade figured out how to reduce that severely by turning their Adamas folder into a skeletonized, pared-down fixed blade. They managed this by making it out of a single, unbroken piece of D2 tool steel — offering up even more durability and longevity than even some of its full-tang brethren. That construction is aided by a versatile drop point blade with a serrated spine, a handle that can be wrapped in paracord, and a MOLLE-compatible sheath.
Blade Length: 4.2″
Handle: D2 Steel
TOPS Knives Operator 7 Fighting Knife
TOPS’ Operator fixed blade knife series has been around a long time, but they’ve outdone themselves with the seventh entry in the series. The idea with this one was to create a traditionally-styled American fighting knife with a beefy-yet-balanced silhouette and materials that will help it last potentially for generations. And they succeeded with its 1075 steel blade and combination Micarta and G10 handle. Not for the faint of heart, this knife measures up at an intimidating 12.5″ and comes with an ultra-durable Kydex sheath. This workhorse tactical combat knife is a tough one to beat.
Blade Length: 7.25″
Handle: Micarta & G10
Chris Reeve Knives Green Beret Fixed Blade
Naming a knife after some of the greatest American warriors of all time, the Green Berets, is a risky venture, as it is quite a lot to live up to. But we think Chris Reeve managed that with this monstrous fixed blade. Made in collaboration with another knifemaking legend, William W. Harsey, this knife boasts a drop point CPM S35VN blade mated to a Micarta handle and finished off with a paracord lanyard for even more versatility in tactical and survival situations. Better still, it has a measure of customization to it, with two available sizes and the option for an edge with or without serrations. It’s undoubtedly an investment, but it’s a sound one.
Blade Length: 5.5″ or 7″
Steel: CPM S35VN
Discreet & Compact
Let it be known that folding knives are, as a category, inherently not as rugged and durable as their fixed blade brethren. And that’s for the simple fact that they have moving parts — which are prone to breaking, jamming, or getting too dirty to be serviceable in the field. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t tough folding blades that are well suited to hard use. In fact, if you know where to look, there are plenty of extremely hardcore cutting tools that fold — making them perfect for tactical and combat situations. And they come with the added bonus of more discretion and concealability, offering up easier out-of-the-way hauling and packing with the rest of your loadout.
Cold Steel Recon 1 Folding Knife
Probably Cold Steel’s most famous knife — folding or otherwise — the Recon 1 is legendary in both the EDC and tactical worlds for its spot-on sinister styling, ultra-reliable Tri-Ad proprietary backlock, and more. We’re also fond of this particular format with its tanto blade and all-black finish. It’s not a subtle knife, but that’s not really important when you want a tactical combat blade.
Blade Length: 4″
Gerber Applegate Combat Folder
Built to honor the legendary and late Colonel Rex Applegate, Gerber’s Applegate Combat Folder is a legend unto itself — designed specifically to serve users in close-combat situations. It’s marked by a partially-serrated dagger high-carbon steel blade, a grippy and lightweight fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle, and — probably best of all — a USA-made construction.
Blade Length: 4.48″
Handle: Glass-Filled Nylon
TOPS Knives XcEST Delta Folding Knife
If ever there was a bulldog of a survival and combat folding blade, it’s the TOPS Knives XcEST Delta. Equipped with a stout 3.25″ coated steel blade mated to a Micarta handle, this thing is practically unbreakable — or at least you’d have to consciously try to break it. And while it’s not ideal for puncturing, it still serves beautifully in tactical and combat situations if only for its durability and longevity. And its cause certainly isn’t hurt by the fact that it’s made in the USA by master craftsmen.
Blade Length: 3.25″
DPx Gear H.E.S.T./F 2.0 Folding Knife
If ever there was a blade manufacturer that deserved to be considered amongst the most hardcore of folding knife makers, it’s DPx Gear. Founded by a man who has been embroiled in literally dozens of conflicts, journalist and all-around badass Robert Young Pelton, every offering this brand makes is superb. But this one, the H.E.S.T./F 2.0, is a favorite of ours with its Niolox steel blade with an integrated bottle opener, G10 handle scale, and glass-breaker tip on the base of the handle.
Blade Length: 2.875″
SOG SEAL XR Folding Knife
SOG’s SEAL XR is a relatively new model from the brand, yet the first run completely sold out almost immediately. That should tell you something about its overall quality as a hardcore tactical folding knife. Luckily, they’re manufacturing more of these ultra-tough. American-made. S35VN and GRN knives for those who missed out the first time around. Rigorously tested in some of the most extreme conditions, this is a tactical combat blade that’s almost too good to pass up.
Blade Length: 3.9″
Handle: Glass-Reinforced Nylon
Spyderco A.T.R. 2 Folding Knife
Our affinity for Spyderco isn’t going to surprise any of our regular readers. However, you might just be surprised at how vast and versatile their catalog actually is. For instance, it would be obvious to have put their PM2 — an iconic knife if there ever was one — on this list. But we actually prefer their A.T.R. 2 in this case. That’s due in part to its lightweight skeletonized G10 handle, but also because of its high-end CPM-S30V steel blade and formidable compression lock mechanism.
Blade Length: 3.47″
Steel: CPM S30V
Emerson Knives Bulldog Folder
One of the most iconic tactical folding knives ever made, the Emerson Bulldog has remained amongst the greatest since its inception. From its modified tanto 154CM steel blade to its G10 handle scales, this thing was built to take a beating and keep right on going. It also boasts Emerson’s signature Wave Feature, which allows it to be opened lightning-quick upon removing it from your pocket despite the fact that it technically has a manual deployment. Favored amongst law enforcement and the military, this is a top-tier tactical combat knife through and through.
Blade Length: 3.2″
Benchmade Aileron 737SBK Folding Knife
If any of the knives on our list look like they came from the future, it’s Benchmade’s Aileron you see before you. Designed by Steve Tarani, this knife boasts a partially-serrated CPM-S30V drop point blade mated to a sturdy G10 handle and features the brand’s signature AXIS locking system. And while that’s enough to earn it a spot here, it also has some other clever, if unnecessary features — like laser texturing on the blade — which sets is apart from its competition.
Blade Length: 3.45″
Zero Tolerance 0223 Folding Knife
It was a stroke of genius for Zero Tolerance to realize that, in order to make a hardcore tactical folder, it makes sense to draw inspiration from a legendary tactical fixed blade. And that’s exactly what they did with their unassumingly-named 0223. Based on military survival knives, Tim Galyean’s design hinges on an ultra-durable high-end CPM 20CV blade steel, a DLC titanium handle with G10 grips, a reliable frame lock, and a manual flipper-style opening. If you like old-school military styling but you want a modern folding knife, go no further.
Blade Length: 3.5″
Steel: CPM 20CV
Handle: Titanium & G10
Al Mar Knives SERE 2000 Folder
If ever there was a folding knife tough enough for elite-level soldiers, it’s the Al Mar SERE 2000. After all, this knife was made specifically with the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program in mind. In fact, Al Mar called upon Colonel Nick Rowe to help design it to the program’s rigorous standards back in the 1980s. It might not look like much, but the VG-10 blade and G10 handle make this a seriously durable and useful knife. And the flow-through design makes it ultra-easy to perform maintenance on it in the field.
Blade Length: 3″ or 3.6″
The Complete History Of Fighting & Combat Knives
Knives are one of mankind’s oldest tools. And they’ve also been used as self-defense weapons for nearly as long as they’ve existed. If you’re interested in that story, we’ve outlined it in great detail in our complete history of combat knives post.