09 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Folders

I own a Buck 110, and had a balisong as a teen (my martial arts phase), but really have no interest in folding hunters or butterfly knives. Most other knife users and collectors also do not. On the other hand, slipjoint folders are classic collector’s items, and still very useful for opening boxes, paring fingernails, and similar light-duty tasks. Everyone should have, at the very least, a little Swiss Army knife in purse or pocket, and I personally love, own and carry a number of different slipjoints. But the king of modern folding knives is the tactical folder.

The tactical folder is an evolution of earlier folding hunter and locking utility knife designs. But the tactical folder is hard to describe, such is its variety, though certain features are typical. It is a single-blade locking folder made from high-performance steels and (usually) polymers, designed for high-functionality and, very often, avant-garde appearance. Most all have pocket clips and can be easily opened and closed one-handed. They are also purpose-built for hard utility and/or self-defense use ("tactical" means "combat").

If these greatly varied knives collectively resemble any single archetype, it is probably the Viper/CQC combat folders made by Ernest Emerson. Emersons may or may not have been the very first true tactical knives, but they were early, purpose-built, and certainly fit the description. Tactical knives' popularity has exploded since the 90s, driven first (goes one theory) by military use during Desert Storm, when commanders forbade the carry of “scary looking” fixed-bladed combat daggers by soldiers.

Emerson CQC-11, a classical tactical knife

Many tactical folders today do not look like defensive weapons, nor would be effective in that role. Most emergency rescue folding knives, for example, are of tactical design. Spyderco knives are one of, if not the, original tacticals. The pocket clip, serrations, and other common tactical knife features started with Spydercos. But the classic Spyderco is a pure utility knife, based on Sal Glesser's original C01 Worker model.

It’s arguable that "tactical" (meaning, "combat") is simply the wrong term here. "EDC knife" or "clip folder" (Gerber's preference) or even just "modern folder" might be better designators for smaller, modern single-blade folders not designed for serious defensive use, but rather for daily utility, with the term "tactical folder" reserved for dedicated combat knives.

But the fact is that "tactical folder" is commonly applied to this whole broad category of knives. And a number of popular EDC knives, often called “minis,” are just downsized versions of proper tactical knives. The only difference is size, and the size at which a knife can be said to become truly tactical rather than just utilitary/EDC is debatable.

Three popular EDC knives (left to right): Benchmade Mini-Griptillian, Spyderco Delica, Kershaw Leek

My own interest is of course in EDC knives, but since the formal difference between EDC and proper tacticals is often not that great, much in my following posts describes every kind of tactical knife equally well.

Next up: Knife anatomy.

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