How to Choose the Best Folding Tactical Knife for Your Needs
1. The knife blade material counts
You know how the kind of jacket you wear for hiking can make all the difference. It is the same for your pocket knife.
When you go shopping for your next pocket knife, it is best to settle for blades with quality steel like carbon steel or stainless steel. However, you should base your choice solely on your primary goal for wanting a survival knife by your side.
Carbon steel blades like the Benchmade Freek or the No products found. are more durable and ready to take on the severe abuse you will throw on them when cutting through woods or branches. This is due to their harder nature. However, this steel is prone to rust and stains when not taking care of.
On the other hand, a stainless steel blade has a balanced amount of carbon toughness and chromium, the one thing significantly lacking in a carbon blade. This allows it to take up more tasks in varying harsh environments while remaining corrosion resistant.
So, if you are after an every-day-carry knife, then a stainless steel blade like that of the Ontario RAT 1 should do the trick as they are low maintenance and good enough to handle several moderate tasks.
Always go for blades with AUS-8, 420HC, 440C, or higher stainless steel as they own a good edge and are easier to sharpen than other variants.
However, if you want a pocket knife for heavy-duty tasks like chopping stubborn woods, then a carbon blade like that of the Damascus Bluewood or the Benchmade Freek 560-1 are both good choices. These blades are of 1095 carbon steel or its equivalent, which are the best in their category for hardness, toughness, and ease of sharpening.
2. Is the knife easy to carry in your pocket?
The pocketability or length of your EDC knife is pretty important not just for being easy to carry but also for usefulness.
Depending on what you are comfortable with, you should go for survival folding knives that their blades fall within 4 to 7 inches, with their overall length being 10 to 12 inches. Anything less than this will leave you with a knife you can’t use effectively to pry tough things or chop woods. In the same vein, anything bigger might become hard to wield and pose a danger to you.
You are most likely to see everyday carry folding knives within 2 inches to 3 inches blade length like the Garber Pocket Knife. Why this adds to its portability, it won’t give you enough blade spine to work with for tasks like those mentioned above.
3. Choose the right lock mechanism for you
There are various types of lock mechanisms that your survival knife can come with. It is always wise to check this to note if the locking system matches your preference. Using a lock mechanism that doesn’t work with you naturally can take time to warm up to and can put you in harm’s way.
Let’s check out the most used and acceptable mechanisms below:
Lockback Knife Systems
Often, you can find a lockback mechanism on classic American folding knives. This system works by adding a spring to the spine/bar in the handle of your foldable blade.
When you pull it open, the bar locks onto a notch at the tang of the blade. You can then use it for whatever you have in mind.
When you are through, push down on the exposed spine at the rear or middle part of your handle to disengage the lock and close your knife.
Here the “spine” refers to the tang-like metal within the handle.
With this locking system, you get more strength and sturdiness from your survival knife. Also, with this lock system sitting safely at the rear, you minimize the chances of cutting yourself while trying to close the blade or accidentally disengaging it while using.
However, it might slow things down when you can’t use both hands to pull it open or close. A good example of this locking system is in the No products found..
Liner Lock Knives
A liner locking system is the most common type of lock you can find on your pocket knife. This lock uses a spring bar termed liner to create a spring effect. It does this by cutting out and bending part of the spring bar to claps unto the tang (butt) of your blade when it makes contact.
The bar spreads from the butt of the handle to the butt of your blade, “lining” the handle material. It sits to the side and on the path of your blade’s edge. Recent models come with a stop pin and detent ball to enhance safety, alignment, and strength.
When you close your survival knife, the bar experiences tension. When you pull it open, that tension forces the liner to move inward, hence, locking it to the tang of your blade. The stop pin at the scales then aligns the blade correctly. These leave you with a firm knife ready for action.
To close this EDC knife, you have to push down on the spring bar to make it lose its contact with your blade’s butt. Then gradually push down on the back of your blade (the blunt side) with your index finger. This will prevent the bar from locking back in place and give you the chance to remove the rest of your appendage from the blade path.
Once done, continue pushing the spine (back of your blade) until the blade safely snaps close. The detent ball then helps keep the blade from accidentally flipping open.
Most newbies and advanced EDC pocket knives users like this locking system because of its two handle sides and the ability to flip it close and open without having to switch hands. However, most models usually possess thin metals that are prone to wear and tear. This makes these EDC folding knives not an excellent fit for heavy-duty tasks.
The Kershaw Blur Black is a good example of an EDC knife with his locking system.
Axis Lock System by Benchmade
Axis lock is a locking mechanism patented by the Benchmade Knives Company, as you will see on the Benchmade Freek 560-1. It has been the star of their pocket knives since its first appearance in 1998. It is worth mentioning as many EDC knife users love it for its practicality and simplicity.
The system uses a spring-tension bar that can move back and forth in a track cut for it between the handle and liners. The tension comes from the omega-shaped springs termed omega situated at both sides of the bar to give each side equal tension.
At the tang of each blade, you will find a notch that locks into place with the spring bar when you pull the blade open, forcing it to remain in place. The springs are the ones responsible for pushing the bar towards the butt of your blade.
The axis lock system also features a stop pin, which helps improve the reliability of your survival knife.
To close your knife, pull back the moveable bar on your blade’s handle while using the thumb stud to push down the blade to a quick close. You can do this with either hand as these EDC knives are entirely ambidextrous (they feature the moveable bar at both sides of the handle).
It is good to note that there are other similar lock systems like this one that apply the same principle with a different design to avoid breaching the patent rights of Benchmade Knives. An example of this is the Ball Bearing Lock or the Arc-Actuator from the SOG Trident Folding Tactical Knife.
Frame Lock Knives
Frame lock or R. I. L (Reeves integral lock) is a famous lock system among mid-range and high-end survival knives. This is because the mechanism makes it easy for users to handle their EDC pocket knives with one hand while giving the needed stability and strength to pierce, cut, and handle other heavy-duty tasks.
The frame lock, in reality, is like an improved variation of the Liner Lock system. Instead of the Liner being a separate piece from the handle, the bar is a part of one side of the handle projected to lock onto the butt of your blade when forced open.
In the frame lock version, the frame is thicker and stronger than the liner lock. However, they both share the same tension effect as well as closing and opening. You simply push down on the spring bar to disengage and effectively close your knife.
In most models, there is a hole at the base of the blade which the detent ball slips into to keep your blade in place. You can find several frame lock survival knives with a titanium frame. However, some come with a stainless steel material as a better alternative due to less wear and tear.
4. How functional is the knife design?
It is easy to get carried away by the several seemingly necessary features your folding tactical knives has that you forget to make sure of the most important aspects.
For your pocket blade to be truly functional, it has to get the blade and handle right first before looking at other additional features.
For example, there is a big chance of you settling for an EDC knife with a semi-sharpened swedge (the tipping part of the blade’s spine) and saw-like cuts like the Smith & Wesson SWMP4LS and the RoverTac MultiTool.
While the former could help in effectively piercing through some body armor, some manufacturers utilize the latter to cover the cheapness of their blade. Moreover, you need the back of your blade to be thick and square enough to take the beating you will be inflicting on it when trying to cut through wood.
The same point shines through for the type of handle your survival knife has. As an explorer, you will face several harsh kinds of weather that could make you lose your grip on your knife just when you need it the most.
The ideal knife for you should be one with a handle material that is firm, durable, and has enough grip plus texture. With that said, whether you are purchasing a fixed blade knife or foldable EDC knives, don’t go for those with hollow, metal, and cheap plastic handles. They lack the very thing you need!
The hollow handles sacrifice thickness and strength to provide you a place to hide your matches or fishing hooks. The cheap plastics aren’t durable enough, and the metal handles will leave you losing your grip, mostly during winter.
The best materials to consider for your handle are synthetics like G-10, Micarta, Kraton, FRN (Fiber Reinforced Nylon), GRN (Glass Reinforced Nylon), and any other dense rubber handle. These handles have the right thickness, durability, and grip you need for both EDC and survival usage.
5. What knife edge type works for you?
Before you go hunting for your next survival knife, you might want to know which cutting edge works for you. There are several options out there, and each one has its merits and drawbacks on durability, strength, and use.
Here are the most common options:
Frame Lock Knives
A flat edge blade starts out with a straight edge and then abruptly inclines from both sides of the blade to meet at the point (the meeting point between the spine and the edge). This makes it good for piercing activities and easy to maintain but less durable. The sudden transition presents an extra drag.
Simple Edge Knives
If you are trying to improve your knowledge and blade sharpening skills, then an EDC knife with a simple edge is worth considering. These knives have a straight spine and a cutting edge that smoothly curves to meet the spine at the point.
The design of the blade profile allows you to easily exert force on the intended edge area for better cutting performance. It also gives you room to handle the blade with both hands conveniently.
You can use this kind of EDC knives for heavy-duty tasks like cutting through thick vines, ropes, and batoning woods.
Convex Edge Knives
Convex edge or drop point blade plays more to durability and less drag. Each point along the edge of the blade is durable and easy to direct, with the tipping edge having a more robust design for smooth cuts and piercing.
The spine of the blade starts out straight and smoothly transitions to a convex curve until it meets the belly (edge) at the point. This creates a blade with a strong, outwardly curved tipping edge that best other grinds (edge) types. The Kershaw Blur Black showcases this edge type perfectly.
It is a great option for EDC use, simple chores, piercing, and slicing activities.
Asymmetrical Semi-Convex Edge Knives
This edge type tries to score on both ends for durability and ease of sharpening gotten from the convex and flat grind types.
The edge design uses a drop point for the spine of its knife and an abrupt inclination of the cutting edge to meet at the point. With this, you get a blade that is good for piercing and durable until the edge gets dull.
Asymmetrical Flat Edge Knives
These kinds of knives start out with a straight edge and spine. However, they both deviate abruptly at different points and angles to meet at the blade’s point.
With this edge type, you get a survival knife that has a durable edge at the cost of sharpness. The RoverTac MultiTool uses this edge type for its blade spine.
Compound Bevel Edge Knives
Compound bevel or double bevel edge type is a blade that houses a primary and secondary bevel each on one side of the blade.
A bevel is an inclined area between the grind and the cheek of your steel.
This edge design can appear on different edge types and makes the blade stronger, cut better, and last longer than a flat edge. However, it causes it to lose some degree of sharpness.
Hollow Edge Knives
The edge and spine of your hollow edge blade smoothly curve inward, concave style, as opposed to the convex method. The steel often has a double bevel and a thin meeting point for extra sharpness.
This design leaves you with a pretty sharp knife with low durability that is good for hunting or piercing. The knife also has an extra drag to it because of the sharp transition. The Smith & Wesson SWMP4LS is a great example of such blades, owning a hollow spine.
You will have to maintain the blade often by steeling or stropping to keep it at its top performance.
Chisel Edge Knives
The chisel edge is what you should consider when looking for a survival knife with the sharpest edge. It has the design of a typical chisel and potential for a zero grind (number of inches in an edge) when lacking a secondary bevel. That means it can be as sharp as a blade can ever be.
Another good thing about this edge style is its lack of extra drag. However, to keep it that sharp, you will need to have a strop or buffing wheel to avoid creating a second bevel while sharpening it.
Chisel Edge with back Bevel Knives
Another common edge type you could bump into is the chisel edge type with a back bevel or micro bevel at 3 to 5°. This enhances the durability of its sharpness but sacrifices how sharp the blade can be.
6. What do you want to use your knife for?
The kind of task you want to use your blade for would determine if you should settle for a fixed blade knife or foldable as well as what style works best.
Let’s look at some task to put things into perspective:
Cutting and Slicing
The number one thing you will likely do with your survival knife, whether fixed blade knives or pocket knives, is cut and slice.
They come in handy when you want to slice some vegetables for your meals, cut through woods for fire or setting up camp, remove leaves or vines from your path, and even some minor home cut needs.
For this reason, you might want an EDC knife that is reliable, versatile and made from superior steel to get things done quickly and smoothly.
Another important reason for having a survival knife along is to use it to split woods.
Now, you might wonder how this is possible or a better substitute to an ax or hatchet. However, a survival blade made of superior steel, with the right spine thickness and flat edges like the Benchmade Freek and the No products found. can split woods in an outstanding manner.
When considering having an EDC knife for emergency or frequent wood splitting, the best option is to go for fixed blade knives. Why?
A large fixed blade knife made of excellent steel and full tang (the blade’s butt reaches the butt of the handle) has no pivotal joint like the pocket knife, which means no slight lateral movement and no risk of the join breaking.
That means more precision in catering to hardcore tasks like wood splitting. Hence, it is best to head into the wide with more than one type of survival blade.
Yes, a shovel can take care of that, but you might forget your shovel. In such a situation, you want to rest assured that your survival blade can handle the task ahead.
Be it a foldable or fixed survival knife, a well-constructed survival blade that is big enough can be an excellent shovel alternative to help you dig up worms, edible roots & tubers, make a fire pit, dispose wastes, and even create a dirt or snow distress signal.
The CRKT Seismic and the Benchmade Freek are good examples of such blades.
Self Defense and First Aid
In the wild, a lot can go wrong. At some point, you might be in a life and death situation where your blade is your only hope. From the high risk of infection, predator attacks, hostile people, down to hunting, your survival knife stands as a versatile tool needed to defend and protect yourself or your loved ones.
For this reason, it is wise to go for a survival blade that is reliable and easy for you to deploy and handle.
7. The Manufacturer Warranty Matters
Getting the best folding survival knife for you isn’t all about the specs alone. The warranty also matters a lot. The product could have some defects straight from the manufacturer. These factory faults could take time for you to unearth. If you don’t have a good warranty covering such an occurrence, you stand to lose more money and time.
Luckily for us, most pocket knife manufacturers know this and are in the business of making you happy. Always check the details of the warranty as some might only cover some specific defects or have a short coverage period.
For example, Garber Swagger Knife has a limited lifetime warranty, only for folks in North America, and 25 years coverage for the rest of the world.
Conclusion: What is the Best Best Folding Survival Knife for You
Picking out a winner for exceptional all-round experience has been difficult. However, the Benchmade Freek 560-1 exceeds the Damascus as the best folding survival knife.
Both blades have terrific construction and locking system. Following behind those is an excellent material selection where the Bluewood leads. However, the length of the blade can make all the difference, as explained earlier.
Hence, when looking for a survival knife that has the minimum length to make a difference and best all-round performance, the Benchmade Freek 560-1 is an excellent choice.