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What are the differences between tactical and non-tactical pocket knives? There are two styles of pocket knives that are popular. They are the tactical folder and the non-tactical pocket knife. For purposes of this article, I will refer to them as tactical and non-tactical folders. These knives feature similarities and some differences. Pocket knives have been on the market for many years. However, over the years, I have seen many people discuss their preferred folding-blade knife. Some people advocate one style over another. Yet, despite the many brands and blade configurations, the folding knife has two basic styles: tactical and non-tactical.

1. The Tactical Pocket Knife

The tactical folder, currently, is a knife style that is popular among preppers and outdoorsman. Television reality shows on the topic of survival and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the source of their current popularity. The tactical folder came about to fill a need in tactical and first-responder applications that the traditional pocket knife could not address. Some examples of tactical folders are the Benchmade® Adamas 275 and the K-Bar® Black Mule.

The Need For A Tactical Blade

The primary feature of tactical folders is the serrated edge on the blade. The traditional pocket knife only has a fine edge blade. The serrated edge helps service members, and first responders cut quickly through the ballistic nylon material. The primary need for this on the battlefield is cutting away tactical gear made of Cordura® nylon to get to a battlefield injury or wound on a servicemember. The tactical folder’s blade design is perfect for slicing through a MOLLE Chest Rig or cutting through a plate carrier in an emergency. Law enforcement personnel would have a similar need to treat a wounded officer in a gun battle.

For example, my experiences with this problem arose while serving in the Army. I had a need to cut MOLLE straps to repair my gear. The traditional fine edge blade on my Swiss Army knife could cut the material, but it took a little effort. Then I used the serrated edge on my Gerber Gator folding knife to trim some excess off of a strap, and in one swipe, it was done with minimal effort.

The Need For A Backup Fighting Knife

The next major feature of the tactical folder is that the blade length and overall length will be larger than a traditional pocket knife. The secondary purpose for a tactical folder is employment in hand-to-hand combat as a backup blade. The Leatherman® or Gerber® multitools are not practical for knife fighting. Therefore, the tactical folder gives some flexibility in the way that it can be used in various tactical applications. Furthermore, the tactical folder’s overall size requires a pocket clip to be part of the handle for convenient accesses and employment.

Quick Deployment Of The Blade

In an emergency, the blade on a tactical folder features a one-hand or assisted-opening blade. The feature is essential for the rapid deployment of the blade for self-defense or emergency first aid to a wounded soldier in the middle of a fire-fight. A traditional pocket knife does not have these features due to the purpose of a more traditional pocket knife. The one-hand opening feature allows a wounded or injured infantryman or special forces operator to employ the knife when one hand or arm is unusable. The feature also is applicable for downed military pilots in a survival situation.

2. The Non-Tactical Pocket Knife

The non-tactical folders are also known as the traditional pocket knife. The non-tactical folding knives, currently, can feature serrated or fine edge blades. However, historically, they feature only the fine edge. The blade style for a traditional pocket knife is designed for outdoor sporting and bushcraft uses. The fine-edge blade is a more practical tool for those applications. The serrated edge is not as user-friendly when attempting to construct simple traps or conduct other bushcraft tasks. The type of blade on a non-tactical folder is more useful for prepping fires and food than the larger tactical folder. Additionally, the non-tactical folder features a thumbnail notch on the blade to assist deploying the blade. Some good examples of a non-tactical folder are the Case® BoneStag Mako® or the Swiss Army Cadet.

A General Use Tool

Traditional pocket knives are more of a tool than a weapon. Although in an emergency for self-defense purposes, the non-tactical folder can be just as useful. Whereas, the tactical folder is designed to be more of a weapon than a tool. However, a tactical folder can be a helpful tool in the hands of an innovative outdoorsman or survivalist. The non-tactical folder’s purpose is as a general-use tool to be used for a variety of applications. These applications can be as a box cutter, splinter extractor, a hasty screwdriver, food processing, or carving a wooden toy for your children.

The Non-Tactical Competition

The traditional pocket knife, in recent years, has begun to feature some of the things found on the tactical folders. As stated previously, non-tactical folders can feature a partially serrated edge blade. You can also find them with one-hand opening features such as thumb studs on the spine or assisted opening. One of the more interesting traditional pocket knives to come out in recent years is the Buck Knives® 110 Auto Knife. Victorinox® is beginning to feature pocket clips on some of their knives.

Final Thoughts

Tactical and non-tactical folding blade knives will be around for a long time. A quality pocket knife is an excellent asset in the field and to carry around town. As a hiker and backpacker, the traditional pocket knife fits my needs for outdoor use. However, when I was serving in the US Army, the tactical folder was the knife that I carried in the field. There are many opinions out there on social media, blogs, and magazine articles about the pros and cons of pocket knives. It is recommended that you experiment with several styles of pocket knives if you are not sure which style of a folding knife is right for you.

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