So, Can I Use a Pocketknife for Self-defense

Many folks would not even consider leaving the house for the day without their trusty, favorite pocket knife in tow. The knife is one of mankind’s earliest and best tools, and a foundational EDC tool that is useful in all kinds of daily chores and in serious survival situations.

A knife is also a formidable weapon even when held by an untrained user. A sharpened point and cutting edge only need to make forceful contact with an assailant to do damage, and they cannot malfunction, run out of ammunition or be fumbled like a firearm.

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Some folks resort to carrying a dedicated self-defense blade in addition to their humble pocket knife, but for those of us who are already carrying plenty of other EDC tools, it is worth asking if a common pocket knife is usable in a self-defense scenario.

Yes, a pocket knife, as with any edged tool, is a capable weapon and can be used for self-defense.

However certain design elements will lend themselves better to the rigorous task of self-defense. A locking blade and a handle design that will prevent the user’s fingers from slipping forward and on to the edge upon impact are definitely helpful, as is any kind of ergonomic grip. Any pocket knife certainly beats having no weapon at all.

In the remainder of this article we will share with you more insight on getting the most from your favorite pocket knife if it is ever pressed into the grim and frightening task of defending your life from an attacker.

In the end, a point and an edge are what matters.

Before we get too far into the weeds discussing positive design characteristics for defensive or fighting knives, we cannot lose sight of what is most important.

All that is required to inflict a lethal wound on someone is a sharp point, nothing more. Even an edge is just a bonus, but we can safely assume that any knife has one.

The most primitive of stabbing weapons, a sharpened stick or a sharp, broken shard of rock, is just as lethal today as when it was first employed by our primitive ancestors however many eons ago.

Suffice to say your favorite pocket knife made of modern, tempered steel will be more than capable of sticking someone or laying them open. Every other characteristic of a knife, from the locking system to the shape of the handle and the material of the scales supports that objective.

A $1,000 semi-custom tactical automatic and a $5 gas station or flea market special knife of equivalent size will inflict a wound that is identical for all intents and purposes. A puncture wound is a puncture wound.

All the other features and engineering principles that separate high-dollar knives from bottom-of-the-barrel cheapies can afford you better safety, a knife of greater durability or more confidence and control when wielding a knife, but in the end they only support that primordial task: getting the metal into the meat.

However, a few choice features can make a really big difference in a self-defense situation even when you are using a common and innocuous pocket knife. Let’s check them out below.

Locking System

We can argue the merits of various locking systems for knives all day long, but all that matters in the context of this discussion is that the knife has one, and not one that is deactivated by pressure on the blade alone, a-la a slip joint.

The reason is simple; fighting for your life is a rough and chaotic affair, one that can easily see your knife being struck or you bumping the spine of the blade against something, and inadvertently closing it on your fingers. If it is closed on your fingers with great force you could be a few digits short in the end!

Any kind of legitimate locking system will afford the knife more strength in use and just as importantly help keep your fingers safe. Even something as simple as the ubiquitous liner lock or back lock will provide dramatically more assurance than a typical slip joint found on most gentlemen’s and boys’ knives.

Handle Design

The design of the knife handle is essential not just for comfort in everyday use, but also to prevent the user’s fingers from slipping forward upon impact and being cut upon the edge.

There are a variety of ways to accomplish this concerning a handle, and anything from finger grooves, to a single, pronounced choil, or even oversized bolsters front and rear that will help lock the hand in place.

Always consider the viability of a knife handle under the circumstances that you will be ramming the knife home with tremendous force, and it could potentially stop cold if it strikes bone.

If you wouldn’t trust your fingers to a pocket knife that you were going to ram into a wooden training dummy or a cutting board, you might want to consider picking a pocket knife with a better handle design.

Handle Texture

The texture on your knife’s handle is not a make-or-break feature, but a design that affords you some significant traction is a good idea if you plan on pushing your pocket knife into a last-ditch self-defense role.

For obvious reasons your hands might be slippery when you need your knife most, either with sweat or more likely with blood, yours or someone else’s.

While proper handle design and modern ergonomics can overcome a lack of texture and mechanically fix the knife into your grip, in the case of a folding knife this will not suffice until you have actually gotten the blade open and secured in position.

If you carry a traditional pocket knife with wooden or synthetic scales that are slab-sided and smooth, you might consider adding a conservative strip of grip tape or even performing some homemade stippling on them to give you that little bit of extra purchase.

This way it’s still will not be too hard on the lining of your pocket, but the extra grip it affords you might make the difference in a life-or-death situation when you need the knife open right away.


A pocket knife can definitely work in a self-defense situation if you have nothing else to rely on, as any sharpened blade or point is more than capable of inflicting lethal harm.

You can even give yourself a leg up on such an eventuality through careful selection for a few choice upgrades that can help prevent self-injury and give you more confidence.

A locking blade, a handle that will keep your hand from slipping and a little bit of extra texture are all welcome improvements for a common pocket knife.

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