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Can I Use a Pocket Knife for Self-Defense? | 3 Key Factors

Pocket knives are great improvisation tools that are not only ideal for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities but also for self-defense when dealing with unforeseen danger. So, can a pocket knife get you out of trouble?

You can use a pocket knife for self-defense. While small, these blades are sharp and deadly, and the mere presence of one can be enough to ward off a potential attacker. However, know that pocket knives can cause substantial damage and can therefore lead to legal issues if used in self-defense.

Read on to learn more about how and when to use a pocket knife for self-defense.

Factors to Consider Before Drawing a Pocket Knife

Woman Holding an Open Pocket Knife Behind Her Back

Although pocket knives are among the most convenient self-defense tools, it is crucial to understand their use to avoid legal problems or, even worse, land yourself in deeper problems with the aggressor. 

So, when should you draw out your knife and use it to defend yourself, your loved one, or property?

Before drawing out and using that pocket knife, you should consider the following 3 factors:

1. The Aggressor’s Ability  

What weapons does the aggressor have? Are there other potential aggressors lurking nearby? Always check on the aggressor’s ability in terms of physical skill, weapons, and even body size. Doing so will ensure that you make an informed decision. Drawing out a knife to scare off a gang of heavily armed assailants might end up doing more harm than good.

2. The Aggressor’s Opportunity to Attack

According to The Knife Fighting of Cold Steel, a highly informative book edited by knife combat expert Chad McBroom, you should always check on the aggressor’s opportunity to use his ability. That is, is he close enough to assault you physically or use his weapons? 

For instance, an attacker using a knife would need to be much closer to cause harm compared to a gun-carrying assailant.

3. The Aggressor’s Intent

Before electing to use deadly force and stab an aggressor, you should examine his intention to cause harm. Analyze his body language (is he pointing a gun or swinging a club?) and verbal expression (is he threatening to use a weapon to hurt you?). If the aggressor appears keen to harm you, then it would be wise to draw out your knife and neutralize the threat.

Remember, the force used to stab an attacker should be reasonable and not excessive force. So once you neutralize the risk, the best move is to run to safety and inform the authorities instead of continuing to attack a neutralized foe.

Can You Legally Stab Someone in Self-Defense?

American citizens have the constitutional right to defend themselves when in situations of either regular or deadly danger. The limits of self-defense, however, differ from state to state. This means that you must be careful when moving around with self-defense items such as knives and guns outside your home state.  

Stabbing an aggressor in self-defense can be deemed legal under the following conditions:

  • There must be an imminent threat or danger to you or someone else
  • The threat must be unlawful
  • Through personal judgment, you concluded that force was necessary
  • The force used in self-defense was equal to the perceived threat
  • You did not start the aggression
  • The aggressor used deadly force

Stabbing falls under the deadly force category, meaning you’ll need to prove that you stabbed an aggressor to prevent great bodily harm or imminent death.

Is It Okay to Carry a Pocket Knife for Self-Defense?

Hand Holding a Pocket Knife Threateningly

Carrying a pocket knife for self-defense is advisable, especially if you frequent high-risk areas. Carrying a blade – even a small one – will give you the confidence that should anything outside the norm occur, you’ll be able to defend yourself adequately. 

However, it’s important to note that carrying a pocket knife is entirely different from drawing the blade and using it against an aggressor.

While it’s entirely legal to carry a pocket knife for self-defense, using it recklessly is illegal and can lead to serious legal problems. As such, you should avoid drawing and using the knife unless it is absolutely necessary. 

Tips for Choosing a Pocket Knife

Should Be Light Enough for Easy Carry

Some pocket knives can be unnecessarily heavy, which can prove burdensome, especially for everyday Carry (EDC). Choose the best-sized knife that’ll fit perfectly (Click to see lightweight Amazon knives) in your pocket. The average handle size ranges from 3.5-5 inches, while blades will be in the range of 2-3.5 inches.

Choose a Folding Knife With Lock Features

A locking blade is safer and more convenient for use. Locking blades are usually easy to manipulate in various angles, thus increasing the chances of escaping dangerous situations.

You can choose from various locking mechanisms such as the axis, collar, lockback, liner, and frame, among other options.

Check the Metal Used in Manufacture

Pocket blades are mostly made from stainless steel and carbon. While carbon steel holds the edge well and is easy to sharpen, you’ll need to be extra careful as the metal can corrode easily. 

On the other hand, Stainless steel blades don’t corrode easily, meaning you can use them not only for self-defense but also on salty water and camping expeditions.

Related Cheap vs. Expensive Pocket Knives: Is There a Difference?

What Is the Best Pocket Knife to Carry for Self-Defense?

Choosing the right knife can mean the difference between life and death in a self-defense situation. Here are some of the best pocket knives you can carry to protect yourself:

Spyderco Endura 4 Signature Folder Knife

Spyderco has a reputation for making high-quality knives. This Endura comes with a superior back lock mechanism that allows for increased safety, especially when in use. Another great feature is the Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN) handle that is lightweight and fairly rugged for a secure grip.


  • Has two usable edges, the plain edge and SpyderEdge grinds, which allow for increased usability
  • Secured, non-slip grip for increased precision during use
  • Light and durable due to the use of high-quality material both on the blade and handle
  • Four-position clip, strong locking mechanism


  • First-time users might need some time to settle into its use.

Karambit Fox 599 Black Emerson Wave

The Karambit Fox folding blade is well known for its quick deployment. It comes with a safety ring that allows for a secure grip, more so in high-risk situations. The blade is 2.5 inches, making it safe for use, especially for users with little to no combat training.


  • Manufactured from high-quality stainless steel (NC690Co) that is corrosion resistant
  • Comes with an adjustable pocket clip for ease of moving around
  • The safety ring allows for a secure grip
  • Easy to deploy, making it ideal for emergency situations


  • The blade is relatively small compared to the knife’s handle. 

Tac Force Tactical Spring Assisted Knife

This spring-assisted knife is ideal for one-hand deployment, especially in high-risk situations where you need to make quick decisions. The steel blade is half serrated for increased usability and grip on surfaces. Impressively, the knife comes with a well-reinforced aluminum handle that can act as a bottle opener and glass breaker in emergency situations.


  • Comes with a pocket clip that allows for a safe carry
  • The 3.25-inch blade length makes it ideal for different situations
  • It can be used in a variety of situations due to its feature-rich handle
  • Easy to deploy and lock back due to a superior locking mechanism 


  • The bottle opener features only functions when the knife is open

Final Takeaway

Besides being compact and easy to move around with, a pocket knife can come in handy in life-or-death situations. However, without proper care, your pocket knife could harm both you and your loved ones, exactly why you should always buy pocket knives with lock mechanisms.

Remember, regardless of your state of residence, using deadly force unnecessarily is illegal and can lead to undesirable legal consequences. As such, it is advisable to practice proper care when using these small but extremely handy pocket knives for self-defense.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out How Old You Have To Be To Own a Knife (State-by-State Chart).