Are you searching for the best self defense knife? Does such a thing even exist?

Well, hopefully the 10 following tips will help you choose the best knife for you and your budget.

10 Tips for Choosing the Best Self Defense Knife

Choosing the best knife for self defense is fraught with difficulties. The “easy” answer is “The Knife you have in your hand”, but it always pays to be prepared…

There are literally hundreds of knives to choose from, and nobody agrees on what is the best one (or even the best kind!) is. We strongly feel it should be a knife that you are comfortable having with you 24/7, be legal and not break the bank.

In trying to narrow down the field a little we considered the following 10 tips when choosing a knife.

1. One-handed Opening

A knife for self defense will be useless if you can’t deploy it. The adrenal dump that accompanies violent confrontation will complicate things. Some knives can’t be open one-handed.

Look for a knife that can be opened with your weak hand, even while wearing gloves.  You may not be wearing gloves, but you might find your gross-motor skills become limited under stress.

An excellent example is the Gerber 06 F.A.S.T. This knife was U.S Army issue in Iraq. It’s a great EDC knife at a great price.

2. Can be Used “Tip -up” and “Tip Down”

“Tip up” and “Tip Down” refers to the direction the knife points in when it is closed and in your pocket.

Unsurprisingly, all knives will arrive with one particular orientation (usually “Tip Up”) but only some knives (such as this Spyderco ParaMilitary2 ) can be modified to work either left / right / tip-up or tip-down. People will argue strongly for both positions and it usually comes down to “Safety” v “Speed of Deployment”.

As always, it will be what works best for you and a knife that allows for both will let you experiment and feel the difference.

Here is a good 4-part video that goes into detail on this. The first minute is a shot of bushes, so you might want to skip to the knives!

Tip Up Vs. Tip Down Carry – Part 1/4 (Comfort)

3. Comfortable & Concealable

If you’re wearing shorts or dress pants a lot of the time, a big, bulky knife will be uncomfortable and draw unwelcome attention.

The knife should fit comfortable with your clothing so it’ll always be with you. If you’re wearing slacks or pants that don’t have a coin pocket; they could also get ruined by repeated openings of the knife. The answer could lie with removing pocket clips from smaller knives such as Kershaw’s Chive 1600 Knife or Benchmade’s Mini-Griptilian .

Another solution is taking your dress pants to a tailor and having a belt loop stitched to the inside of the pocket.

4. A Good Knife Warranty

Many of the top knife manufacturers such as Spyderco, Benchmade, Cold Steel, Kershaw, Gerber, CRKT, etc, etc offer great warranties.

Usually, they all offer a free sharpening and lubrication service for a minimal fee ($5 – $12)/ the cost of return shipping. They will also offer knife maintenance such as tightening pivot screws and replacing pocket clips and repairs.

It pays to learn what invalidates the warranty (such as taking the knife apart) and what you can claim against to keep your knife functional.

5. Blade Sharpness

Most good blades will arrive hair-shaving sharp right out the box. It’s important the knife retains a good edge so that it’s sharp when you really need it. If you don’t feel confident sharpening it yourself, use the warranty.

6. Handle Grip

A smooth handle could slip, particularly if blood is present. In a self-defense situation the opponent will also be trying to take the knife from you.

Choose a knife with deep finger grooves or a large index-finger guard. As with many things with knives, the ergonomics of the handle as to your particular hand will probably be more important than the material. Everybody has their own preference, but the composite materials such as G-10 and Micarta are durable and popular.

7. Blade Play

A good self-defense knife should feel steady and reliable in your hand.  If your knife has any “Blade Play” – it won’t!

“Blade Play” is when you can feel the blade moving either vertically or horizontally in relation to the handle. It’s important to read product reviews to find out how the blade play is right out-the-box. In true “You get what you pay for” fashion, it seems to plague the lower-end of the market (but not always!).

Blade play can develop over time, but is easily fixed by applying a product like Vibra-TITE 111 to the pivot screw. Again, you can always take advantage of the knives warranty and get it fixed for free.

8. Lock / Sheath

If you’re buying a folder, check the product reviews to see if the lock has malfunctioned and the knife has deployed inside people’s pockets.

With a fixed-blade the knife must be secure in it’ sheath but easy to remove. You’ll find knife enthusiasts advocate several types of locks like the lockback, framelock and liner lock. With a well-designed knife, the problems only occur when the contact surfaces suffer wear and tear or dirt, grit or pocket lint get into the locking mechanism.

This is a good reason to always keep your knife well cleaned and lubricated.

9. Blade Design

A premium steel can be compromised by poor blade design.

A switch-blade is excellent for self-defense (stabs typically inflict more damage than slashes) but they’re illegal in many places.


The “Blade Designer” is also very important. Your knife could have the best steel, the best locking mechanism and a great handle material but if the design is for crap – it’s compromised. Is it fit for purpose?

Many knifes are deep-bellied and designed for cutting – not stabbing. Most untrained people will likely slash with a knife rather than stab.

Look at who designed the knife and why? Knives like the Spyderco P’Kal were designed by Martial Artists with defensive purposes in mind.

10. Does it have a “Trainer”?

Some knives such as the P’Kal are available in a “Trainer” model with a dull edge. This allows you to practice self-defense with a safe copy of the knife you carry every day. Alternatively, if the knife is cheap enough you can buy two and use the second one as a trainer by dulling the edges.

This is a good video from Michael Janich (one of Spyderco’s Designers) who covers a lot of great points for this discussion.

Martial Blade Concepts Volume 6: A Complete Guide to Carrying And Drawing Tactical Folding Knives

Types of Knives for Self Defense

Everybody has different preferences as to what “type” of knife makes the best self defense knife. Naturally, this will vary due to such things like the legalities of where you are, your every day environment and the types of clothes you wear. If you’ve had training, your knife fighting style will also be a factor.

How the knife actually feels in your hand and your preferred method of using a knife will also be a factor.

Here’s a summary of some of the different types of knives available.

Fixed Blade Knives for Self Defense

A fixed blade knife doesn’t need to be opened, won’t close at the wrong time and doesn’t have any moving parts. This all equals less to go wrong. They’re also longer than pocket knives so you have a longer range with them. More space can allow you the chance to run. The best kind of self-defense is not being there imho.

However, openly carrying fixed blade knives are illegal in many jurisdictions. People are also more prone to freak out at longer fixed-blade knives in workplaces, too. Also, if you have to defend a self-defense charge, the prosecution attorney will be all over the “Fighting Knife” you like to carry everywhere. Presumably for fights…You can not deny their effectiveness though. After all, that’s why our military are issued fixed-blade knifes first and foremost…

Take a look at our page on fixed blades for some great knives.

Pocket Knives for Self Defense


A pocket knife is great for self-defense as it can be carried everywhere. As a general rule of thumb, a 3″ blade is legal in many states. You will also get familiar using the knife in daily situations, camping, fishing and even opening the mail. This makes it a lot easier to defend than say a Karambit or a Balisong. Two great knives for self defense, but not so good for general day-to-day tasks.

 

The problem with a pocket knife for self defense is first you have to grip it and then you have to open in before you actually use it. In these types of scenarios adrenalin will be flooding through your central nervous system.

Anything that takes two hands, or is clunky to open, is out. Also, it’s important to make sure the knife has a good lock and doesn’t get grimed up sitting in your pocket all day. Locks do malfunction, and a poor lock frequently causes “blade play” – where the blade will move up or down and side to side.

So, how easy the knife is to open and reported instances of blade play were just two metrics we researched when writing this website.

You can find 10 great pocket knives for self defense here.

Neck Knives for Self Defense

Currently there are some great neck knives on the market. They have the added advantage of being unobtrusive and with you at all times. Some people even wear them under ties which I’ll remember for my next wedding. Another big plus is that some of the neck knives we featured can be pulled and immediately ready for action.

Compare this to some folding knives which you open and then need to change your grip. This is all takes time – and time is not on your side in a self-defense situation. It is on the side of the bad guy. They choose the “When, Where and How”.

Personally, I’d rather have a fixed blade knife or a folder if the SHTF. If we assume a gun is out of the question of course! But take a look at our page on The Best Neck Knives and you’ll find some sweet blades.

Keychain Knives for Self-Defense

The so-called “Last Resort” option. Legal almost anywhere with perhaps the exceptions of Airports and the TSA. Sigh. Keychain knives are about 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches long. This makes them less-than-ideal for self-defense. They certainly aren’t going to rank high on intimidation factor, let’s put it that way.

However, consider this. Some of the major arteries are around 1 1/2 inches under the skin. In a self-defense situation, the aim should be to get home at the end of the day without any life-threatening injuries.

A smaller knife is better than nothing. Imagine a boxing jab with a wickedly sharp knife between your fingers and you get the idea. They are also great for office workers and for people who wear clothing that can’t accommodate bigger knives.

Be sure to check out our page on The Best Keychain Knives.

Kukri Knives

The Kukri is one of the world’s most famous fighting knives. It’s standard issue for the fearsome Nepalese Gurkhas and has been proven on many battlefields for hundreds of years.


The Gurkha Kukri is also an excellent utility tool, and you can chop woodier foliage such as bamboo and thick vines. It’s shorter than a machete so it’s excellent as a camp knife and to take on the trail with you. It’s also a great knife for home defense and makes a great conversational piece to boot.

 

You can find our page on the best kukri for self-defense here.

Machetes

Machetes are used by millions of people every day for survival. When compared to pocket knives, you can get a really great quality machete for just a fraction of a price.

A machete has a lot of range and is a big visual deterrent for any would-be attacker. This makes them perfect for home defense and at camp. They also have the added bonus of making yard work a much more enjoyable chore.

On our page “The Best Machetes“, you can find 7 of the best machetes available today.


What do you think is the best self defense knife & why? Be sure to let us know in the comments section.