A Quick Guide to Selecting a Tactical Folding Knife for Police Work

by Matt on February 2, 2009

Because there are hundreds of tactical folding knives available on the market, selecting one to carry on-duty can be a difficult decision. Fortunately, if you know what you want in a knife, the selection process can be sped up dramatically. I want a knife that I can use to save my life when I cannot get to my gun in a fight, period. Virtually any sharp knife can cut a seatbelt and handle basic cutting and prying needs. Here are the primary factors (in plain English) that I look for in an on-duty knife.

  1. Sturdy Pocket Clip – The knife must have a sturdy pocket clip. Some of the more expensive knives on the market have the worst pocket clips. I have already bent the pocket clip on my expensive Benchmade switch blade while wearing it on-duty. A reversible pocket clip allows you to set up the most comfortable drawing position to carry your knife.
  2. One Hand Opening – If I cannot open the knife easily with one hand in the store, there is no way that I can open it with one hand under stress.
  3. Hand Protection – If you use your knife as a weapon, your hands are going to get wet with sweat and blood. When stabbing, you may hit bone, and this can cause your hand to slip from the grip onto the blade. To prevent this, knife makers concentrate on three main features.
         Finger Guard – Some knives have a finger guard that extends out far enough to help  prevent your fingers from slipping onto the blade. Usually, the finger guard then sticks out the back of the knife when it is shut, aiding in opening the blade.
         Thumb Ramp – Some knives have a raised ramp on the back of the knife where the handle meets the blade. These ramps are usually ridged to give your thumb some traction. This can enhance your grip when thrusting and stabbing.
         The ability to Palm the knife – Some knives have a handle that is short enough for you to position a portion of your palm over the butt end of the knife. This allows your palm to push against the knife in the event that your thrust ends abruptly and keeps your fingers off the blade.
  4.  Blade Length – I prefer a blade that is no more than four inches long and no less than two and a half inches long. This helps keep the knife from feeling bulky in your pocket, but gives you enough length to penetrate a suspect’s vital organs. Also, the longer the blade, the easier it is for a suspect to leverage it out of your hand in a fight.
  5. Price – If you carry a knife on-duty, you cannot be afraid to use it. The vast majority of tasks are going to involve prying and cutting, so a low price allows you to replace the knife when necessary. A price under $50 is ideal.
    I have an impressive collection of tactical folding knives from many major knife manufacturers. The majority of my knives are in the $100 – $150 range, which translates to me not carrying them on-duty.


If you have any doubts about the benefits of carrying your tactical folder as a backup weapon while on-duty, read this blog post on “the things worth believing in” called  more on that gun vs knife thing.  

If you would like more information on selecting a knife, check out Scott Smith’s article on Policemag.com: What to look for when buying a folding duty knife

I am interested in hearing about which tactical folder you carry. Please share your opinion about your favorite duty knife.

Here are my personal favorites based on the above criteria:
Gerber 22-41421 Crusader Fine Edge Knife– Plain or Serrated Edge (Priced around $27)



Gerber 22-41584 Torch I Tanto Black Serrated Edge Knife – Fine or Partially Serrated Edge (Priced around $23)





Gerber 22-47174 Firestorm Serrated Edge Knife with Tanto Blade – Plain or Partially Serrated Edge (Priced around $45)


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March 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm
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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

JohnS February 5, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Good points about knife selection. One additional thing that I look for is the availability of a training drone for practice. I like the Spyderco Delica because trainers are fairly easy to find.

Javier February 26, 2009 at 8:38 am

I like the Karambit. Has good safety features. It fits good in my hand. The one thing about this knife is it becomes a natural addition to your strikes, slashes and jabs.

AH April 5, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I carried a Gerber Torch (or something very similar) for quite a while. It was a nice slim knife. However, the way I like to carry it (accessible by my weak/left hand) and the fixed pocket clip made it so I had to flip it in my hand before I could extend the blade. That is a no-go for me.

I went back to my tried and true SOG Flash II with its reversible pocket clip. It is a bit thick as far as knives go. However, it is sharp, cheap(ish) and easily opened with one hand due to piston assisted opening. Glad to have it in a pinch as a defensive weapon.

Steve July 17, 2009 at 9:25 am

My comment is along the same lines as AH. These Gerber knives have great features, except that, for me, the clip is on the wrong end. I wish they would take the time to drill a couple more holes and make the clip reversible.

Jason October 2, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Check the Boker line designed by Chad Los Banos. His designs have the features listed listed in your article, plus they can be carried in many positions.

folding knife December 22, 2009 at 9:46 am

This is a well built and useful knife. It’s light and easy to carry. Well worth the price and comes with a great guarantee.

AFSarge January 26, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I have carried a CRKT Carson Design M16-13Z, with a pocket clip, for years. I’m on my second one now as the first one was stolen by a fellow deputy, who no longers works in law enforcement. I bought mine for $26 from The Blade Shop online and swear by it. Great steel, easy to clean, maintain and sharpen, and if I lose it (or it gets stolen) I’m not out big bucks replacing it. It’s easy to open one handed with just the flick of your index finer, and has a nice auto-locking system to prevent it from inadvertently closing. Can’t go wrong with this knife.

Self Defense Knives January 29, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I recommend he kershaw leek 1660 for fast action assisted opening coolness. or the benchmade 940 manual opening knife.

john March 1, 2010 at 1:34 am

Gerbers suck, that is a beginner knife and they do not keep thier edge or sharpness. But sure, you have your points.

Dustin Brock May 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I have long wished someone would make a left handed auto-knife for patrol duty. My theory on this is so if you are in a close-quarters struggle on your back or something drastic you can remove the knife from your left pocket, open it quickly and use it in case of an emergency. I never understood carrying the knife in my right pocket under where my holster covers it up. I think of this use as a last resort if someone is on me and I am on my back and the bad guy is possibly going for my gun. I could use my right hand to secure my gun and stab with my left hand. Any thoughts guys/gals?

Tim July 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Very good points. The only thing I would add is an ambitextrous factor. Can the knife be used with both hands. Some have the finger stud for easy one handed opening for a right hander. That is not a deal breaker. I am left handed and I learnedto open it with a reverse grip. If you are a lefty or a righty whose right hand is trapped or injured, yuou will need to use your other hand. The same applies to us lefties, only in reverse.

Cheers. Take care and stay safe.

Steve December 2, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Small fixed blades such as the KaBar TDI or Cold Steel push daggers are best for defensive purposes, although the TDI could also be a utility knife.
As far as folders, stick with the major brands: Benchmade (Presidio), SOG (Flash II), Smith and Wesson (M&P Series), Microtech, Emerson, Schrade, Spyderco, CRKT, Boker, Kershaw, Gerber, etc….
I strongly recommend the Emerson Super Karambit-it’s pricey, but it’s made from the best materials (S30V blade and G10 scales); and with the wave feature, it opens faster than any switchblade.

David January 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I would go with a knife that is tough, I like the 06 auto Gerber. Tried and true by army standards. The price is higher but that is a good thing. Made better, get what you pay for. Overall, the most important- would you put your life on the line for a 20 or 50 dollar knife especially if its for duty carry.

Mcclane July 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Must agree with John. Gerbers IMHO are not a good choice. The steel is awful. Difficult to sharpen & seem to never hold an edge. Find something easy to sharpen. My preferences are Benchmades, Spyderco, & Kershaw. Some are a little pricey, but once you buy your first quality knife, it’s hard to step backwards & go with those “flea-market-models”
Stay Safe.

Martin July 20, 2011 at 2:33 am

I am surprised that lock strength is rarely, if ever, considred as a criteria. My criteria, in order of priority is 1- Lock Strength 2-Hand Protection 3-Blade Steel 4-One Hand Opening 5-Pocket Clip Location. If you want a knife for personal protection get the KaBar TDI or a push dagger. A folder’s greatest weakness is that it is a folder! I see no advantage to owning a super steel blade that folded on my finger and cut it off in a critical moment. I choose Cold Steel because they do more to establish their claims of strong lock designs than any other manufacturer. They aren’t the best knives, but I feel they have a better chance of being SAFER than something from Spyderco, Emerson, Benchmade, SOG, CRKT and especially Gerber and their claims of great locks without any attempts to validate those claims. The current generation of Cold Steel Recon 1, Lawman, Voyager and AK47 folders have sound grip designs to prevent the hand from slipping up on the blade, strong locking mechanisms, decent steel blades, and reversible clips.

Ty December 10, 2011 at 12:58 am

I carry the 5.11 Wharn for Duty folding knife and the 5.11 DRT folding knife. These are well made, have all the right features for me and, best of all… Cheap. (especially for a 5.11 product) Both knives are $25 – $30. I carry one in each cargo pocket in my patrol uniform. (one on each side of my body)

Yaaqob December 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I’m not a cop or nothin. But if you want a reliable knife that opens amidexturously you want a Zero Tolerance by kershaw. I carry the 0200 on a daily basis. It will stand up to anything. The lock will not fail. Its solid. The flipper/finger guard will not allow it to close on your finger. You might get your finger pinched pretty hard if it did fail. But it hasn’t happened yet. Their a bit more money than your used to paying. The warranty is exelent. And one day maybe you’ll pass it on to your grandkids.

John J July 4, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Your sick PIG! talking about hitting vital organs? and using a knife to kill if you cant get to your gun? your suppose to be serving the public not cutting them up….GO FUCK YOURSELF COP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I hope you meet the wrong end of it one day GOOF!

Thor Odinson November 12, 2012 at 12:44 am

John J obviously doesn’t understand the concept behind justification for use of deadly force. I used a Gerber for years–took it elk hunting and gutted, skinned and rough cut many an elk without stopping to sharpen it.
I watched Sal, the owner and designer of Spyderco draw, open and slash the neck of a phantom opponet before an armed person could even get his hand to the butt of a belt holstered gun.

Elaine December 28, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Looking for a knife for my edged weapons course and sincerely appreciate all the advice everyone has written. This is certainly the easier way to learn about finger protection and handle slipping among other vital considerations.
Thanks again.

fled January 26, 2014 at 8:30 pm

“One is none and two is one.” Carry two blades a folder for utility use and a concealed fixed for backup. The idea is that your defensive blade be “fresh” ergo razor sharp and uncorrupted by utility use also fixed blades dont have locks that can fail and take your fingers with it. I have had walker (liner lock) locks fail from a good blow to the spine of the blade, Striders however are another breed (think folder as strong as a fixed blade)

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