Cutting Edge – The Best Combat Knives and Tactical Knives of 2021

, 2021, and, best, combat, cutting, edge, knives, outdoor, tactical, the - 9 minutes to read


Luke Cuenco   10.19.21

The combat or tactical knife is considered by many to be a relic of the past. Perhaps something to be used more as a tool rather than a weapon. However true that may be with the advent of modern firearms and sidearms, the knife can still be a handy defensive tool that also serves as an actual tool when need be. While a tactical folder is probably far more useful for everyday carry, a full-sized combat knife or tactical knife can also be handy out in the field and used for a variety of outdoorsman tasks and can also be extremely lethal for defensive use when properly employed. Here are my picks for some of the best combat knives and tactical knives that are currently available in 2021 and hopefully this will give you a good gauge on what type of blade you might want to pick up and carry along with you.

Editor’s note:  The two most important things one needs to consider in regards to a fighting knife are TRAINING and a good, secure grip.  

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Table of Contents

1. Gerber StrongArm (Fine Edge)

SALE

The Gerber StrongArm is a knife that has been in my collection for a long time. While the Gerber name doesn’t carry the same weight as Ka-Bar or Microtech etc, Gerber makes a solid lineup of knives that are both durable and affordable and the StrongArm is one of their best. Featuring a full tang design and a comfortable overmolded grip, the StrongArm is a capable and solid combat knife that can also make itself right at home in a deer camp for a variety of cutting and slicing tasks. A close second to the StrongArm would probably be the LMF II which is also made by Gerber and is my current go-to knife for outdoor activities.

 

Pros/Durable blade with a ceramic coating and rubberized diamond texture grip

Cons/A bit heavier and bulkier than other combat knives

Bottom Line/A great budget friendly option that is still insanely capable

2. Glock KB17281 81 Field Knife

SALE

Glock does a lot of things well – mostly handguns, but it’s not unfamiliar for the Austrian Born firearms manufacturer to make bladed tools as well (they make one of the best E-tools on the planet). The Glock Field knife is one of those other lesser-known tools that Glock makes that still carries Glock’s legendary reputation with honor. Featuring a full tang 11.4-inch HRC55 Phosphate Treated blade, and featuring a saw edge on the spine of the blade, the Glock Field knife is equal parts weapon and tool.

Pros/High quality blade with extreme durability and versatility

Cons/Blade might be excessivley long for some people

Bottom Line/Probably one of the best combat knives for the buck

3. KA-BAR 1281, D2 Fighting/Utility Knife

SALE

Ka-Bar is probably the first thing that came to your mind when you read “combat knife” well known for its expertise in developing combat-proven knives, Ka-Bar has the 1281 D2 Fighting/Utility knife which can serve its lethal combat purpose well with a 7-inch D2 steel blade which terminates in a classic clip-point tip and also features  20-degree blade angle. D2 steel is extremely dense and is easily sharpened so keeping this blade in fine shape at home or out in the field is a breeze.

 

Pros/Classic Blade design and easily sharpened

Cons/Expensive

Bottom Line/Can’t go wrong with the Ka-Bar name

4. SOG Seal Pup Elite

SALE

Made from AUS-8 steel with a shorter 4.75″ blade, the Seal Pup elite is a handy little fixed blade knife that I think barely makes its way into the combat/tactical knife category. If you didn’t catch it by the name the Seal Pup Elite is a miniature-sized version of the SOG Seal Pup and the little blade lives up to its big brother’s name and even takes a few liberties with the design. The Seal Pup elite features strong AUS-8 blade steel which is used by many modern knife makers for its durability and hardness. The Seal Pup Elite comes with its own ballistic nylon sheath and weighs in at just 5.4 ounces.

Pros/Compact, Durable, and Affordable, extremely sharp out of the box

Cons/Not well suited for heavy duty use such as splitting wood or hammering

Bottom Line/This is light duty done right and at a great price

5. Fox 479 G10 Emerson Wave Karambit

SALE

This last entry departs from the theme we’ve had here a bit. While the rest of the knives on this list clearly can be used for camp life and other types of handiwork that don’t involve killing things, the FOX 479 Folding Karambit is designed almost purely for lethality. Karambit knives are not exactly easy to use and they are primarily made for defensive purposes. However, The Fox 479 features a Bohler N690 Blade, a G10 (or Carbon Fiber) handle, and measures just 3 inches in length. The blade also features a fast deployment hinge which makes it quick and easy to deploy in a defensive situation.

Editor’s note:  As a long-time karambit user, I can attest to their great utility in farm work (as a mini-sickle).  The blade geometry also allows for extremely precise use of the tip of the blade.

Pros/Purpose built for defense and combat with high quality materials

Cons/Difficult to use and master (suggest consulting use videos before carrying)

Bottom Line/A great defensive knife purpose built for combat

Combat knives and steel

Combat and tactical knives have to be durable above all else. They simply cannot fail at the time of need, so the designs are generally rather robust in nature. There are two major factors in this, and the most important is steel type. Once you get past that, there is also an element of blade thickness, but let’s just focus on the steel.

Quite often when you see a truly high-end combat knife, the accompanying price tag is due to the steel used to craft the blade. Various tool steels are the premium steels used in the highest quality knives. These precision steels hold the edge edge under vigorous use. If your life depends upon your knife, it had best hold up. When looking at the Rockwell hardness scale, the tool steel types fall into the 55-57 range most often, which is considered the sweet spot. This means the steel is extremely durable, but usable. They will hold an edge, but also allow you to resharpen when needed. Steel types that go past this range on the Rockwell scale are harder to sharpen, but on the flip side, they do hold the edge longer.

Stainless steel is popular, especially with mid-range knives. It is simply carbon steel with chromium added to resist corrosion. These types of blades will resist rusting, but often the steel becomes softer, making edge retention less than non-stainless counterparts.

Carbon steel is considered very tough and has excellent durability and the ability to sharpen and resharpen. They may not be as hard as tool steels and they lack the corrosion resistance of stainless, but the biggest advantage is cost.

Are “Combat Knives” legal to carry?

Generally yes, Combat knives are completely legal to carry around on your person in most states. Most of the time a “combat knife” will simply be referred to as a hunting knife as they share a lot of the same outward appearances but the best practice is to know your local laws and ordinances regarding the carrying of knives and other bladed weapons. In general,

What is the best length for a fighting knife?

Most combat-oriented knives need to be at least 3-inches or longer (three inches is considered to be the minimum lethal length) but also less than 12-inches. While shorter knives on this list such as the Karambit are good for close-in fights, they do have shortcomings when it comes to reaching and leverage. Longer knives like the Glock Field Knife can suffer from concealment and maneuverability issues but generally, give you more leverage for cutting and stabbing. I tend to prefer combat knives that are around 3-6-inches in length and have a full tang construction.

What is the best blade steel for a combat knife?

I’m not a certified metallurgist but I can tell you what the most popular blade steels on the market are for combat-oriented knives.  AUS-8 and 154CM which are both stainless steel are very popular blade steels and feature excellent edge retention. Another popular steel is 1095-HC carbon steel which also has excellent edge retention but can also be easily re-sharpened. AUS-8 is popular mostly because it is very rust-resistant and can hold an extremely sharp edge – the biggest downside with AUS-8 is its difficulty with sharpening due to the relatively thick blades that result when made from AUS-8.

About the Author

Luke Cuenco

Luke is currently a full-time writer for TheFirearmBlog.com, OvertDefense.com, AllOutdoor.com, and of course, OutdoorHub.com. Luke is a competitive shooter, firearms enthusiast, reloader, outdoorsman, and generally takes an interest in anything that has to do with the great outdoors.
Luke is also a private certified pilot and is currently pursuing his commercial pilot’s license in the hopes of becoming a professional pilot. Some of Luke’s other interests include anything to do with aviation, aerospace and military technology, and American Conservancy efforts.
Instagram: @ballisticaviation
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