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Backup Knives

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Photos by Patrick McCarthy

A Primer on Backup Knives, What Kind You Should Have, and Where You Should Carry Them

It was like a scene from an action movie ­­— a hand-to-hand fight between the hero and the villain. After a brief foot chase, the fight spilled into a shallow creek where the hero was knocked down attempting to subdue the villain. He hit his head on a rock, and was held underwater as the villain tried to choke and drown the life out of him. Although the hero had a handgun, he was pinned underwater in such a position that his desperate attempts to draw it were fruitless. With seconds seeming like minutes, his only chance for survival depended on his ability to get to his backup knife.

He was finally able to bring his knife to bear, quickly introducing the villain to the business end of the blade. The villain released his death grip, fleeing with significant wounds to his abdomen and chin only to be apprehended later by the hero’s friends. The outcome of the fight could have been very different for this West Virginia trooper had he not been carrying his blade while on duty that spring day last year.

There’s been a recent surge in interest among police officers and civilians in EDCing tactical knives. Many of these tactical knives are designed as defensive blades, and most people carry them with the intent to use them as a last resort, get-the-eff-off-me (GTFOM) knife. The prudent ones even seek out training opportunities to learn their use. In most situations where laws allow, these same people carrying tactical knives also carry concealed firearms.

concealed-firearm pocket-opener-knife

If you’re carrying — or even considering carrying — a GTFOM knife, read on for our tips on how to choose one that meets your needs and maximize its use in a self-defense situation. We’ll focus on concealable, EDC use, leaving concerns for open-carry, duty uniform, or military battle-rattle carry for another article.

GTFOM Knives
When considering the age-old question of fixed blade versus folder for a GTFOM knife, the first things that should be explored are the legalities of different types of blades in the area you live or travel. The most common variables that your local laws might address are:

Length of blade: What blade length is permitted? This is usually different for knives carried concealed versus in plain view. Generally speaking, for defensive purposes longer is better. This should be balanced with practical concerns when it comes to portability.

Concealed versus open carry: Is it legal to carry a knife at all in public where you are? Again, this will often vary depending on whether you’re carrying the blade concealed. For general EDC purposes, a GTFOM knife is carried concealed to maintain the element of surprise and enhance weapon retention. The only exception is the clip and end of a folder that’s sometimes visible, sticking out from the pocket.

Single or double edge: Some states or countries prohibit carrying double-edged knives. For fixed blade knives and folders where the design allows, I advocate double-edged knives to enhance defensive capability. This includes knives with a false-edge.

Opening mechanism for folding knives: Again, this is something that varies greatly by locality. Mechanically assisted blades like full-auto, out-the-front, or spring-assisted are the most commonly regulated mechanisms, although others like Balisong-style knives are regulated in some areas. Recent years have seen several states loosening these restrictions.

Tactical Soundness
When it comes to tactical soundness of a GTFOM knife, focus on simple yet effective techniques and tactics. Find a balance between keeping things as gross-motor as possible without sacrificing effectiveness. Weapon presentation, or the ability to bring the weapon into the fight, is an area of weapon-based self-defense that’s often ignored. A seemingly simple task like drawing a knife can become a complex endeavor when attempted under extreme duress, as the ability of your hands to perform fine motor skills diminishes.

For these purposes I’ll always see a place for fixed blades when it comes to a GTFOM knife. Drawing and employing a fixed knife usually requires minimal dexterity. Folding knives, by contrast, almost always involve some fine-motor manipulation to deploy.


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