How to Choose a Knife for Self-Defense

Self Defense Knife

How to Choose a Knife for Self-Defense
By Guro Robert Lee

The process of selecting a knife—much like the processes entailed in selecting a motor vehicle or pair of boots—depends entirely on the primary and secondary purposes you wish the given object to serve. My wife, for example, drives a Nissan Leaf as her primary means of transportation (while also fulfilling her secondary goals of conserving fossil fuels and maintaining hippie street cred), but said vehicle does not meet my primary automotive purpose of having something reliable to haul shit around in, like my motorcycle, for example, or trash to take to the dump. For these reasons and more, I drive a truck.

So, why do you want a knife to begin with? Here’s where I have to make some assumptions, because it’s well beyond the scope of this article to catalogue all possible uses of knives and the qualities desired to meet those innumerable uses. I have knives of all sizes and types, but probably my favorite is a fixed blade skinner with an antler for a handle. It’s a beautiful knife—so beautiful, in fact, that I can’t bear to use it for skinning deer. So its primary purpose now is just to look nice.


If you’re reading this article, you’re interested in choosing a knife with which to defend yourself should someone be foolish enough to fuck with you—that is, a person who carries a knife.


You understand that a knife is merely an implement and not a weapon. You are the weapon. (Or not, but that’s a topic for a different article).


Accordingly, you understand that carrying a knife does not in itself bestow you with knife-wielding, self-defense super-powers. Don’t be one of those people. Get some actual training, for fuck’s sake, from somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

With that said, here are my three main considerations for a self-defense EDC:

Or, if you’re fancy, the quillon. In my experience, people don’t pay nearly enough attention to the guard, but it’s the very first thing I look at, because I’m not a person who enjoys having the inside of their palm or fingers sliced to the tendons when my blade is deployed. But that’s just me. Hold the knife in your preferred grip(s). Imagine having to stab through something—for example, a half inch of bone. Now ask yourself if this particular knife’s guard/quillon/finger groove combo is conducive to your retaining a functioning hand.

I look for something that feels right when I switch grips, especially when it comes to folders. Sometimes the handle’s just a little too small or the finger grooves don’t line up right or maybe the grooves are just annoying to begin with. Part of that feeling right is texture. I have some pretty badass knives with stainless steel handles, but I prefer something a little stickier. Think of what might happen to your grip in an adrenalized (read: sweaty) melee or if you have to deploy your knife in the rain.

Ease of Deployment
Flippers, buttons, thumb studs, wave openers, spring assists, adjustable clips, and quick-snap oiled sheaths are all fine and good as long as you put in the work it takes to draw the knife smoothly, no matter where it’s carried on your person. This is just another way of saying that it’s better to rely on your own preparation and skill than it is the gadgetry of an implement. Personally, I like a pocket catch or quick flip for my folders. I pull the knife several dozen times in my preferred grip, starting slowly to get the hang of it, building up in speed over time. As elsewhere in life: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Practice pulling your knife every time you wear a different pair of pants (or shorts, a kilt, buckskin breeches, or whatever your thing is) and repeat until you feel confident you can deploy the knife outside your window of neurological tolerance (again, in an adrenalized state).

Other Factors to Consider
I carry two knives just about wherever I go. Other than practicing my pull as described above, I don’t actually use my EDC unless it’s called for. That being said, I keep an all-purpose “backup” knife in my left pocket in the event I get pinned on one side, have to up the level of self-defense, or—as is most often the case—I need to do random knife shit: whittling, cutting rope, or getting a piece of steak out of my teeth.

So take that dedicated EDC mindset into account when reviewing the following factors:

Size: Who doesn’t want to straight-up Crocodile Dundee somebody when the time comes? Even so, there are practical and legal issues to consider when choosing the length and weight of your blade. For my self-defense EDC, I want something that’s big enough to be intimidating and do the job, but small enough to deploy and wield like a ninja.

Shape: Straight, clip, or drop point? Serrated, chisel grind, or talon? Really, it all depends on your fighting—excuse me, defending—style of bladework, as well as the grip(s) you employ during said defense. There’s not enough time to get into the subtleties, so I’ll just mention the obvious distinction between stabbing and slashing functions here.

Steel: If you know the difference between Bohler Uddeholm M390 and Benchmade’s CPM-S90V, chances are you are a knife snob and therefore turned up your nose at this article before you even started reading it. Does quality matter? Of course it does. Does it matter nearly as much as you’ve been told it does for a dedicated EDC you don’t use multiple times every damn day? I’ll let your own common sense answer that one.

Style: I like cool-looking knives as much as the next guy, but if my EDC meets the criteria above, I don’t give one butterfly-shaped piece of shit whose logo is on the blade or what it looks like. Pearl inlays, Damascus swirlies, and thumb indentations (a spot where you should never put your thumb anyway) aren’t likely to save you if you ever need to pull your blade.

Guro Robert Lee is a martial arts, self-defense, and rewilding coach based in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a 9th degree black belt in Kali and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.