General Patton had it figured out. Knives can strike terror in the hearts of those who know combat. Dying by knife is a scary prospect – then and now. Combat that has devolved into using knives has become determinedly lethal, with either party desperate to survive the ordeal.
One of the first weapons that humans developed, the knife evolved out of use as a tool. Chipped pieces of flint could be made into razor-sharp tools and arrowheads that made quick work of even the toughest of animal hides.
It’s not a huge leap of imagination to realize how effective the same tools could be on human tissue. As time went on and combat evolved, the knife as a weapon has taken on various forms and designs. Also, cultural influences can be seen in many of the designs; typically in direct correlation with indigenous martial arts traditions or militaristic heritage. Examples include the karambit, the kukri, and the tanto.
Eventually, humans even started tying knives to sticks, making spears and arrows. Daggers and dirks became incredibly popular side arms during times when swords were commonplace. Once firearms took over, bayonets became the warriors “last resort”. Today, we see karambits, kukris, and tantos sold in the mainstream consumer market, sometimes combat-ready and other times as wholesale ornamentation.
Of all the designs on the market, the “American fighting knife,” or Ka-Bar, has been one of the world’s most popular combat knife designs for over 120 years. it all started with a small company in New York (more about that below).
In the United States, a knife is perhaps the most formidable weapon that you can legally carry without special licensure or certification. This varies from state to state, so consider looking up the specific rules for your state. Make sure you are trained in the use of combat knives specifically, and if not, seek training from a qualified professional.
“Few men are killed by the bayonet, many are scared by it. Bayonets should be fixed when the firefight starts” ~ George S. Patton
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How to identify the best combat knife
There are a variety of knife styles and designs on the market. There can be several reasons for owning a “combat knife”, aside from anticipating a knife fight. Typically, combat knives are built according to mil-spec, which means that they are built according to very detailed specifications. Of course, not all companies are going to produce identical products of identical quality – even when following a detailed list of requirements. Therefore, we’re also looking for high-quality craftsmanship and high-grade components when choosing our blade.
Mil-Spec is essentially a standard that the U.S. Government uses to guide vendors that have manufacturing contracts. Whenever something is ordered built by the govt., engineering teams devise a list of very specific criteria that must be considered throughout the manufacturing process. Federal inspectors inspect the final product against the mil-spec criteria and can reject the product if it doesn’t measure up.
Mil-spec, in the context we are using it, is simply an assurance that the combat knife design meets the military’s minimum core requirements for such an item.
When considering a combat knife, no matter the reason, craftsmanship should be an essential factor in your selection. Brand names can get you close to the mark, mainly due to the fact that consistent production of high-quality combat knives will be the foundation of the brand’s reputation. Just ensure they haven’t made recent changes to their process that might impact your decision.
You will notice several of our picks come from Ka-Bar Knives Co. We assure you that this is not due to any endorsement or the like. Instead, it is due to the noticeable attention-to-detail put into every single knife they put in a box. There are certainly many other companies offering similar products – but it didn’t surprise us much that the American combat knife’s namesake was the superior maker of the design.
While craftsmanship refers to the level of skill and care that is put into the manufacturing process, composition refers to the materials those craftsmen use to reach their goal. Modern knife making is enjoying a robust industry that produces a wide variety of grips, blades, and pommels – as well as the industrial stock required to fabricate your own.
You want to ensure that the combat knife you rely on is comprised of quality materials, and most reputable manufacturers will list the components publicly. It is difficult to call one material “superior”, as the different offerings have their individual strengths and weaknesses. Make sure the material that your combat knife is made of is suited for the conditions you are taking it in.
Kraton G is a popular synthetic material used in handles, while leather is the traditional standard on American fighting knife handles. There are numerous steels available for quality knife making, but D2 and 1095 Cro-Van are considered to be among the best for knife blades.
Combat Knife Reviews
The 1282 D2 model is an example that although try as they might, competitors can replicate Ka-Bar’s work but never duplicate it.
This combat knife is the pinnacle of the American fighting knife. It doesn’t seek to add frills to the design to make it feel more modern – instead, it uses premium-grade D2 steel and 100% synthetic Kraton G for the grip. This choice of materials propels this knife into the modern combat environment with confidence. This is an exquisite example of a contemporary heirloom weapon; durable enough to pass down generation after generation without ever becoming obsolete or fragile.
This knife is sold as being “presentation-ready”, making it a perfect authentic addition to shadow boxes and retirement displays. Ka-Bar has the rights to use the USMC logo and has done so in the beautifully crafted natural leather sheath that comes with the knife. The knife itself is made in Olean, NY U.S.A., while the sheath is manufactured in Mexico according to Ka-Bar’s specifications.
If you’re looking for a retirement gift or a gift for a Marine Corps veteran (or fan), this is likely to be exactly what you’re looking for. If you are an operator looking for a combat knife that has a purist or traditionalist vibe, then look no further.
Ontario Knives is famous for putting more value on utility than looks. This has allowed them to create knives comparable to top-shelf offerings at a (generally) lower cost. As such, it may not look as refined as its more expensive counterpart – but don’t think it is less capable due to it! This combat knife is still made according to mil-spec to be battle-ready. It just does it without costing quite as much.
Speaking strictly in terms of a tactical combat knife, this knife is a fine specimen. The handle material is Kraton G, the same high-quality synthetic used in Ka-Bar’s more elite models. The blade of this knife is half-serrated, making it not only a fighting knife but also suitable for work in the field. The black leather sheath is pretty standard stock, but the design is so universally popular that an aftermarket sheath is simple to acquire.
The knife’s Y8 steel is carbon steel, which is tried-and-true. This translates into a surgically sharp edge on a blade reminiscent of a stiletto. Additionally, this blade runs full-tang as opposed to the rat-tang that many of the American fighting knives utilize. Either is suitable for hand-to-hand combat, honestly, but the full-tang is much better suited for survival and advanced fieldcraft.
Our Final Thoughts
To conclude, we hope we were able to help you reach an informed decision regarding which combat knife to pick. The options can be overwhelming, and often knowledge is the only effective weapon. In dealing with anything remotely close to a “combat knife”, learning is of unparalleled importance. Learning to properly wield it, learning to care for it, learning how to carry it. Even learning which knife is the right knife.
If anything, we definitely learned that while many companies offer countless variations on the classic American combat knife design, nobody can do it quite as well as Ka-Bar Knives Co. can. Rightfully so, considering it’s their original design and they have likely invested countless dollars over the last century looking for ways to improve that original innovation.
The result? It is an amazing knife the way it is. There is little reason to change anything, with the exception of ensuring you are using the highest quality materials, as evidenced in our top pick – the Ka-Bar 1282 Extreme Fighting Knife. For those purists more interested in a battle-ready showpiece or a more traditional vibe in their gear arrangement, we liked the straight-up Ka-Bar Full-Size combat knife. And for anyone looking for a knife worthy of seeing combat (without breaking the bank), take a look at the Ontario Knives Marine Combat Knife.
We won’t say it was easy to choose, however. Russian brand Kizlyar is a strong contender for any combat knife consideration. If you aren’t a fan of the traditional Ka-Bar combat knife style, check out our final runner-up from them. It is definitely a new-meets-old take on the combat knife.
Regardless of whether you want a combat knife to take with you on a mission, for utility work in the field, or even to tuck away in preparation for the worst-case-scenario, any blade on this list will serve you well.
Stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!