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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.

The top 3 single-blade pocket knives are under $100. Pocket knives are your best tool to carry for just about every small cutting need. You can carry theses knives everyday or in the field. They will serve you well for many years with proper maintenance. The basis for choosing these knives, in part, is my personal use of some of them and familiarity with others.


The key factors that I look for in a single-blade pocket knife are similar for the multi-blade pocket knife. These factors are practicality, cost, construction, and reputation. The most expensive knives on the market are not always the most practical for my use of a pocket knife. For example, the Bastion Braza EDC folding knife is an example of a pocket knife that goes outside of my requirements for a pocket knife. So what are my top three single-blade pocket knives for under $100?


1. Case® TecX® TL-1

 


The Case® knife company, has a reputation for making high-quality pocket knives. The traditional thumbnail groove and stag bone handled knives have lost popularity in recent years. However, they are still popular with many bushcrafters and hunters. One of the modern lines of pocket knives produced by the Case® company is the TecX® series. The Case® Tec-X® TL-1 is one of the better single-blade pocket knives on the market. The pocket knife is a significant modern upgrade and continues the high quality appreciated in a Case® product.


Advantages


The Case® Tec-X® TL-1 has several advantages as a pocket knife. The first of these is that it features waterproof fiberglass and ABS high impact polymer handle. The benefits of this kind of handle are that it can handle the rigors of everyday use, yet, function adequately in the field. The stainless steel blade is another advantage of this pocket knife due to its corrosion resistance. The implications these features are that the knife is designed to be low-maintenance.


Additionally, the three-inch blade is adequate for most cutting tasks such as making primitive traps, notching, or other small tasks around your outdoor bivouac site. Thus, if the blade is maintained correctly and sharpened, it will be ready to employ in most emergencies. Therefore, the TL-1 is an excellent option for emergency preparedness or Bug-Out-Bag (BOB) considerations.


Disadvantages


The one disadvantage with this pocket knife is that many do not like a 440 stainless steel blade. Bushcrafters, especially, prefer the 1095 or D2 High Carbon steel for a knife blade. Some companies produce a pocket knife with 1095 steel blades. However, for most recreational purposes, a stainless steel blade is better as an overall blade steel for its low maintenance requirements.


The characteristics of Case® TecX® TL-1 are the following:


• 440 stainless steel; Glass reinforced ABS handle
• One-hand opening lock-back knife with Drop Point blade
• Thumb stud and pocket clip features
• Length: 4.5 inches closed and 3.6 ounces
• Price: $22.99


2. Buck Knives® 500 Duke

 


Buck Knives® is another reputable company in the knife-making world. Buck Knives® products find their use in the hunting sports. Hunters are the largest constituency that uses Buck products over the last 40 years. However, other companies, in recent times, have come about to compete with Buck Knives® for the hunting outfitter market.


Despite the growing competition, Buck Knives® produces some quality pocket knives that bear some consideration. One of the better pocket knives from Buck that a person can purchase is the Buck Knives® 500 Duke. The Duke is a great pocket knife to meet both the needs of everyday carrying and on an outdoor adventure.


Advantages


The main advantage of the Duke pocket knife is that it allows for the same cutting options as the 110 Hunter®, yet, without the bulk. The knife is about one inch shorter than its larger cousin. Therefore, it fits well in your pocket. Its 420HC stainless steel blade has the possibility of producing sparks off of the spine in an emergency. However, this action should not be a primary use of the knife. The blade length of the knife is sufficient for using around the campsite or for repairing your gear.


Disadvantages


A primary disadvantage is the blade length of the knife. Some people like to use a pocket knife as a surrogate to a fixed-blade knife. Therefore, they are looking for a pocket knife that has a blade length of four or five inches. Thus, this pocket knife may not be the solution that they are looking to add to their loadout. The blade length of this pocket knife will not be sufficient for processing wood of significant size in the field.


The characteristics of Buck 500 Duke are the following:


• Blade: 420HC stainless steel; Drop Point
• Blade Length: 3 in.
• Handle: Dymalux® Redwood with Stainless Steel Bolsters
• Lock: Lock Back
• USA Made
• Price: $77.00

 

3. Gerber® Paraframe I

 


Gerber’s Paraframe series is one of the more popular pocket knife collections on the market. There are several styles from which to choose. The Paraframe Mini knives are part of the Bear Grylls® line of pocket survival kits. However, the regular-sized Paraframe pocket knives are more popular. These pocket knives offer a good blade material, a decent blade length, and a one-hand opening option with thumb studs. Therefore, many people like to use the Gerber Paraframe pocket knives for their everyday carrying needs.


Advantages


One advantage of the Gerber Paraframe pocket knife is that it is lightweight. I purchased one when I lived in Virginia and began to carry it as an experiment. To my surprise, it was not very noticeable in my pocket. Consequently, I enjoyed carrying the Gerber Paraframe over my Swiss Army knife.


Another advantage of the knife, it features a pocket clip. The clip allows for secure storage when not in use and quick deployment in an emergency. The other knives in this list do not have a pocket clip due to being of a more traditional design.


Disadvantages


The primary disadvantage of this knife is the reputation that some have fostered about Gerber products. As a result, one may be hesitant to purchase this knife as a solution for their needs. My first exposure to Gerber products was when I was issued a Gerber MP 600; U.S. Made Multitool. It was part of my Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) gear. My RFI gear was issued before deploying to the middle east. Coincidently, my experience with Gerber products has always been excellent.


The issue with blades cracking, blades breaking, and other concerns usually reside with the way a person is attempting to use a product. Roughly handling a knife or multitool when you get angry is a quick way to ensure a blade gets broken or cracked. Additionally, I have discovered that if you attempt to use a product for something outside of its design parameters, it will fail every time. Therefore, be careful about how you are using this knife or any pocket knife.


The characteristics of Gerber Paraframe I are the following:


• Overall Length: 7.01in.
• Closed Length: 4.11in.
• Weight: 2.6 oz.
• Blade Length: 3.01in.
• Blade Style: Clip Point
• Blade Material: High Carbon Stainless
• Blade Type: Fine
• Lock Mechanism: Frame-lock
• Handle Material: Stainless Steel
• Opening Style: One-handed opening (Thumb Studs)
• Price: $28.00


Final Thoughts


Pocket knives are a great asset to carry. They allow you the cutting advantage necessary when the need arises. Pocket knives are not weapons but tools to use at the appropriate time and for the proper application. Single-blade pocket knives the oldest version of the pocket knife. They are fun to carry and to use as conversation starters. As you consider a good pocket knife, that is budget-friendly, the three knives in this article are a good starting point

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