Reader Contest Submission: What makes a blade “Tactical”?


Bad Guys Beware: I have a “tactical” knife. (image from Pinterest – Christopher Rasch.

(This is Roger’s second entry to our Reader Essay Contest. Please submit your entry to

Traditionally Tactical 

by Roger Riga

I don’t like the term “tactical knife.” The term doesn’t honestly judge the usefulness of a knife. It doesn’t demonstrate, describe, or even classify knives in any meaningful sense. A cursory glance at any group of “tactical” knives will show a massive ill-defined grouping. Similarly, “traditional knives” are also ill-defined, but artificially narrowed. In truth, what defines a “tactical” knife is broad and what defines a “traditional” styled blade is narrowed by our own perception of what constitutes the two categories. Both categories are vague and highly subjective but our language matters.

Tactical implies military or self defense uses. All knives can be pressed into defensive use. Often times, knives made with modern plastic and fibrous materials are labeled as tactical despite otherwise maintaining a size and shape consistent with a more traditional knife. A bright orange handle scale is not going to help you stab someone better. If anything, the bright color is a hindrance to carrying the knife unnoticed. A vital component to carrying a knife for self-defense or military applications. Many labelled tactical knives are short, bright colored, and stubby bladed knives suited to industrial applications and not to serious self defense use. I propose that we stop using the word “tactical” in favor of the word modern. Modern materials do not make a knife tactical. Full stop. Bright colors, plastic handles, and favorable blade shapes do not make a knife tactical. Those features make a knife well suited to the industrial environment, to the sportsman, and to the craftsman.

Often times, we define a “traditional knife” in ways that conform to our cultural backgrounds. Labeling a knife design, say a Buck 110, as traditional and another knife, say any Nepali Kukri, as not traditional despite having a longer unbroken design lineage. Normally these knives are produced with natural materials. Although sometimes the category is stretched to include multi-tools, their inclusion only proves how narrow and subjective the classification is. Many sandwich style multi-tools are much more recent developments. Anything originating in the late seventies and early eighties does not fit the marketing and biases surrounding the traditional classification.

It’s important to define these terms and to use them whenever possible because the disarmament crowd loves to turn our language against us. They want everyone to think about the plethora of scary black serrated daggers while they are legislating away tools vital to every day life. These are the people who hear the words “flash suppressor” and realize that they have a new weapon to attack our civil liberties with. By giving them more ammunition we have become complicit in their causes.


  1. Kap says:

    Seemingly the word tactical associated with any thing makes it sell better! Tactical implies military use IE: there for has been subjected to hard use and duty. it also implies stealthy combat!
    Problem is the word itself has been over used by shills in sales pitches and others wanting to peddle junk that would not get bought except for implication!
    A tactical anything is the thing you have in hand, on your body or assessable instantly which may be needed in a planned or calculated situation for a given scenario and an improvised weapon which gives advantage!
    Tactical is a mind game being perceived as Cool, got to have, so it makes a person feel good because of whatever and may or may not be of any use aeccept in the mind, it also insinuates that if you don’t have the latest and greatest you are failing in whatever!

  2. Spencer says:

    This is a reasoned analysis of the driving force behind “tactical” anything: marketing dog dirt.

  3. Amok! says:

    Sharpness and user intention.

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Reader Contest Submission: What makes a blade “Tactical”?

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