Fixed Blade vs. Folding Knife for EDC?

By Mike Boyle
Posted in #EDC #Gear
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Fixed Blade vs. Folding Knife for EDC?

November 24th, 2023

7 minute read

For as long as I can remember, a small knife has been part of my daily kit. Much like grabbing the car keys and my wallet, a knife is something I rarely leave home without, and on any given day, I often have a need for it. Knives are among man’s oldest tools, and despite quantum leaps in technology, there will always be a need for them.

fixed blade knife with sheath and full tang as edc knife with springfield armory handgun pistol and holster
Knives are probably the most ubiquitous tools in use today. While many reading this article see knives as defensive tools, a lot of people use them daily for other tasks.

Like many people, I once thought of a knife solely as a utility tool and really didn’t think too much about the applications of using one for personal defense. I certainly was aware of those capabilities, but by and large, it was not something I contemplated.

My focus began to change when I began my career as a law enforcement officer. Many senior officers carried a knife, and I concluded that this wasn’t for opening a box or cleaning fish. Based on the type of knives I was seeing, clearly, this was for a more serious purpose.

As I became more experienced, the concept of carrying a knife for personal defense as an additional ring of safety began to make sense to me and I got with the program.

When I had this epiphany 40+ years ago, we had not quite entered the era of tactical knives, and most training opportunities were limited to serious martial artists.

tdi fixed blade knife carried in kydex sheath on ccw gun belt for self defense carbon steel
The TDI fixed blade can be discreetly worn under loose clothing. Here it is carried in a Kydex sheath on a gun belt.

In more recent times, the world of tactical knives has grown exponentially, and today it’s not especially difficult to find some quality training to put you on the right path. Much like a firearm, if you are serious about edged weapons, a little training will go a long way in keeping you safe.

Thoughts from a Parallel Universe

When selecting a knife for everyday carry, first consider the purpose. The choice is much easier if your application is solely for utility purposes. If that were the case, I could get along just fine with my Swiss Army Knife or a multi-tool. However, if you think you might need a knife to protect your life, some additional thought is required.

For the responsible armed citizen, a knife can indeed serve dual purposes. In addition to the aforementioned utility role, the right knife can be a formidable personal defense weapon. Even if you were armed with a pistol, a knife can be a lifesaver in a weapon-retention scenario or if ready access to your gun was impossible.

prodigy 1911 double stack springfield armory with fixed blade drop point knife
Using any knife for personal defense carries the same weight as using a firearm. Is the application of deadly force justified?

I have never really thought of myself as a “knife guy,” although I know a few individuals who are true experts and I rely on them for guidance. Instead, I’m just a guy who has spent just about my entire adult life as a law enforcement officer and use-of-force trainer.

When choosing a knife for EDC, avoid products with names like Deathmaster or the Rambo Signature Model, as these can paint you in a bad light. You are simply someone who wants to be able to defend themselves if faced with an unavoidable threat.

You should be aware that, even more so than firearms, the laws for carrying a knife on your person vary a great deal from state to state. What may fly in one jurisdiction may be totally illegal in the next.

In some places, the length of the blade is the deciding factor on legality. Automatic opening knives often send up a red flag, and in some places, even a locking blade would be deemed illegal. If you use such a knife for personal defense in one of these locations, you can assume you already have one strike against you.

fixed blade knife compared to folding blade knife for every day carry with springfield hellcat 9mm pistol
Choosing between a folding knife and a fixed blade is largely a question of need. A folding blade, for example, is generally easier to conceal.

The other issue we must consider is whether to use a fixed blade or folding knife. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but much like selecting a handgun for personal defense, if you consider the social environments you will be functioning in, the clothing worn and potential threat level, coming to the right decision is not that difficult.

The Case for a Folder

The significant advantage of a folding knife is its compact size. Additionally, you can carry it on your person in most social circles without setting off an alarm.

Folders that might be used in a personal defense role are often equipped with a clip that allows the user to affix it to the top of the pocket or belt line for quick deployment. Obviously, fishing around in the pocket for your knife, hoping to get it into action, is a non-starter.

spyderco folding knife stainless steel edc knives wear resistance
Some folding knives such as this Spyderco folder are equipped with a flipper to facilitate rapid opening.

With a utility knife, one-hand opening is not an issue. However, this is a critical feature should you have to defend yourself.

At the present time, a great many companies are turning out quality knives that can be used for personal defense. For years, I have been partial to the products turned out by Spyderco as they offer an extensive line at a very reasonable price point. In the Spyderco line of folders, there are literally dozens of offerings that can do double duty as either a utility tool or something you could defend your life during an emergency.

The trademark Spyderco hole-in-blade design facilitates one-hand opening, helping make it an attractive choice for double duty. Another big plus is just about all of them are given innocuous names and don’t shout “death knife”.

I remain somewhat partial to Spyderco folders with the Emerson opening feature. When drawing the knife, the Emerson feature catches the top of the pocket, locking the blade open. This option is available on Spyderco favorites including the Delica, Drangonfly 2, Endura and a few others.

folding knives locking mechanism belt clip flipper stainless blade fine edge ccw weight and size
Folding knives are generally slower to deploy than a fixed blade knife. However, companies like Kershaw and Spyderco have developed designs that speed blade deployment.

A purpose-designed Spyderco I carried as a law enforcement officer is the P’Kal with the Emerson opening feature. The P’Kal is a small knife that features a unique reverse edge with a sharpened edge facing the user. It is indeed very different, and I practiced extensively with the Spyderco Trainer P’Kal before I got comfortable using it.

The downside to any folder is the speed at which you can get it into action. No matter how you look at it, there are more steps involved in the process than with a fixed blade. Much like carrying a deeply concealed firearm, if an assailant launches a life-threatening, surprise attack inside your personal space, the deck is stacked against you. The key, of course, is to spot the potential threat sooner.

Fixed Blade Alternative

A common perception is that a fixed-blade knife is totally inappropriate for anyone other than a soldier or a SWAT cop, but I respectfully disagree. There are some excellent designs out there for the taking that can help get you under the radar in a great many social settings and are out there for consideration.

Fixed blades are faster into action, are not subject to mechanical failure, are more rugged than a folder and, with the correct scabbard, can be easily concealed. In my perfect world, we would all carry a fixed blade.

fixed blade knives with comfortable handle design and grip material
Fixed-blade knives can provide a more ergonomic design that offer a better grip when held.

Several years ago, I was attending a seminar taught by John Benner of the Tactical Defense Institute. John was the designer of the Ka-Bar TDI knife, and one of the points he reinforced in his class was the speed with which you could get it into action. The class was made up of law enforcement firearms instructors who may indeed have better than average psycho-motor skills, but weren’t exactly knife ninjas. To a man, they were able to draw the TDI Knife from the sheath and pop a balloon set before them in less than a second.

tdi fixed blade carbon steel knife powder coat finish
The draw and thrust of a fixed-blade knife is a gross motor skill that can be performed under extreme stress.

Regarding a fixed blade knife for personal defense, I prefer something that isn’t too large or exotic-looking. For some time, the Spyderco Street Beat has been a personal favorite. New this year, Spyderco introduced the Street Beat FRN Black/Black Blade. The new improved Street Beat features a Bowie-style blade crafted from VG-10 stainless steel, finished with a black ceramic coating. For me, one of the most endearing qualities is the index finger choil that protects the hand from sliding forward. The fiberglass-reinforced handle provides a more positive gripping surface than the original Street Beat, and the sheath is also superbly engineered.


Although I can get away with a fixed blade when hiking around the local trails or when dressed in loose casual clothing, more often than not a folder gets the call. I routinely carry a concealed handgun and tend to think of my EDC knife as a back-up. However, I would go with a fixed blade if I could not carry a pistol and my EDC knife was my primary weapon. If I could hide it on my person, the fixed blade remains the better tool. But we all have to function in different work and social environments, conform to a certain manner of dress, and follow the law. With a little introspection, you too can arrive at the correct decision.

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Mike Boyle

Mike Boyle

Mike Boyle has been a firearms and use of force instructor for 39 years. Although retired from active law enforcement service, he is active as a law enforcement training specialist for both his agency and the police academy. He has been a featured presenter for ILEETA and IALEFI and has written numerous articles for firearms and law enforcement periodicals. Mike is also the author of the book, Combative Shotgun, by Looseleaf Law Publications.

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