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How to Carry a Folding Knife: 7 Considerations!

People carry a folding knife for various reasons, from utility purposes like hiking and opening items to self-defense. It's no surprise that folding knives are so popular, either, because some options are multi-function tools that come with much more than a blade.
assorted folding pocket knives

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The reasons for having one may vary, but the guidelines for properly and safely carrying a folding knife are generally the same.

To safely carry a folding knife for fast access, you’ll choose your preferred carry position, use a breakaway chain for neck carry, choose a high-quality sheath, ensure compliance with the local carry regulations, avoid carrying it in a pocket with other items, among other guidelines.

In the rest of this post, we’ll explore in detail the above (and many more) tips for carrying a folding knife to help you carry yours safely and in a prime position for fast access. Let’s get started. 

Check the Statutory Regulations on Carrying a Folding Knife

Before you even think about carrying a folding knife, it’s always a good idea to check the knife laws in your jurisdiction or state.

That’s because some states and local governments have restrictions on where you can carry a knife, the blade length, and the way you carry a knife (whether openly or concealed). Needless to say, you can get in trouble for violating these restrictions.

Others have stipulations on the types of knives that ordinary citizens may carry. For instance, in some states and jurisdictions, you may not be allowed to carry a Bowie knife, a Balisong, or a butcher knife.

Many states (Washington, for instance) also have carry, manufacture, and sale restrictions on switchblades.

In addition to the knife type, the method of carrying is also restricted based on age in some states, meaning that you need to be of a certain age (18, for instance) to lawfully carry a knife.

However, some states have exceptions to these age restrictions on knife carry, so you need to check your state’s website for guidelines on whether you can lawfully carry a knife.

In most cases, there won’t be age restrictions on carrying a folding knife whose blade is less than 3 in (7.6 cm) or carrying one for fishing and hunting purposes.

With that said, it’s best to check with your state just to be sure. While you’re at it, you might also want to check your local government’s laws on minors carrying a folding knife because, in some areas, state and local restrictions may differ.

Also, keep in mind that there are areas that are usually off-limits for both open and concealed knife carry. That’s often the case for schools, government buildings, polling stations, airports, courthouses, nuclear power plants, etc.

Depending on the state or jurisdiction, that list may also include bars and other places where alcoholic drinks are consumed.

Lastly, on the list of “potential” carry restrictions, you may not be able carry a folding knife if you’ve been convicted of a felony crime in the past.

As with many statutory restrictions on weapon carry, there are certain individuals to whom these prohibitions don’t apply. Typical examples include those in law enforcement, certain government officials, and those in the US military.

Indeed there are several government regulations you need to pay attention to when carrying a folding knife. The problem is, many states and local governments don’t clearly define what types or styles of knives are prohibited, and such ambiguity can sometimes lead to issues.

As such, you might be better off getting in touch with your local law enforcement agency to find out whether you can lawfully carry a folding knife.

While you’re at it, find out the implications of unlawfully carrying one because in some states, this may be treated as a misdemeanor, and in others, a serious felony.

If Carrying for Self-Defense, Choose Your Side!

When carrying a knife for purposes of self-defense, it helps to have it in a natural position for a quick draw. In fact, this goes for many other weapons carried for this purpose, including handguns.

For most people, natural positioning for a self-defense means carrying it on their strong side (AKA, the side of your dominant hand).

Keep in mind, you may not want to position all your tools (firearm, knife, flashlight, etc.) on one side of your body. This may cause issues trying to access certain things if that particular hand is already tied up. For example, carrying a firearm strongside and blade on your support side may be ideal.

Every option has its perks, and some may have potential drawbacks.

Let’s take a deeper look at each in the next section.

Carrying a Concealed Folding Knife Inside Your Waistband (IWB)

Carrying a knife inside the waistband is common among enthusiasts of concealed carry, mainly because it keeps the knife from plain view.

Carrying a folding knife this way also secures the knife firmly since it allows you to wedge the tool between your pants and your abdomen, typically using the knife’s pocket clip. 

One big advantage, which you will hear repeatedly, is that you have the option to position and carry your knife center-line. Meaning, you will have equal access from both hands. This is a huge plus.

Carrying a Concealed Folding Knife Outside Your Waistband (OWB)

Moore Maker Horizontal Scabbard

The other option for carrying a concealed folding knife on your waist is positioning it outside the waistband. Of course, you’ll want to position the knife such that you can grip it with your preferred hand (both are ideal) with minimal effort. 

And since you’re carrying outside the waistband, your apparel should be able to cover the weapon, so it remains concealed if that is what you prefer. Thus, carrying a concealed folding knife this way may dictate the kind of clothing you wear.

This method/style is very popular in the area I live in. It is commonplace to see folks carrying in this manner pretty much everywhere you go.

Carrying a Concealed Folding Knife by Clipping It to Your Pants Pocket

manix2-in-pocket

The main benefit of clipping a folding knife to the pocket of your pants is that it firmly secures it in place and allows it to remain fairly accessible.

The first and probably the most obvious issue has to do with the potential restrictive nature of some pants pockets. This means you may not be able to quickly draw the knife, which is usually critical in emergency self-defense situations.

The right clothing and knife/clip combo usually mitigates this problem. For the most part, I’ve never had an issue drawing my knives being carried via a pocket clip.

The other issue has to do with how you place the knife inside the pocket. You need to make a decision on how you prefer to carry (tip up, tip down, strong side, support side, etc.). All of these factors make a difference in how you access and deploy your tool.

If You’re Carrying a Folding Knife on Your Neck, Opt for a Breakaway Chain

There may be times when you find yourself without pockets, however rare that may be. That same scenario may even present you with a situation where your waist is too loose or won’t support the extra weight of having a knife clipped to it.

In such cases, carrying a sheathed folding knife on a chain hung around your neck can be a solution. While not common, there are some people who carry in this fashion.

It can be uncomfortable to carry a folding knife this way, but it can allow quick access in emergencies. A knife carried in this manner is also easy to conceal (if that’s something you desire or a state/local government requirement) because you can easily tuck it under your shirt. 

However, carrying a folding knife around your neck comes with two major risks: it can be a choking hazard if it accidentally gets snagged on something, and someone can even use your chain to choke you if they ambush you from behind. Unlikely…yes, but still possible.

That’s why you need a breakaway chain. With such a chain, you can easily tear off your folding knife in an emergency like when your chain gets snagged on something.

And if someone tries to choke you using the chain, it’ll easily break, freeing up your neck, as well as your knife so you can defend yourself.

Ball chains can be a great option in this regard, but some people may find them uncomfortable. If you do, a paracord or leather strap fitted with a breakaway clasp will do just fine.

However, from a personal standpoint, neck carry is my least favorite of all options. I can’t seem to find a comfortable solution and mostly avoid this technique.

Carry Your Knife in a Sheath

Whether you use it as a self-defense or utility tool, you may want to carry your knife in a sheath.

While it’s a rare occurrence, folding knives can sometimes open in your pocket, neck carry, waist carry, or any other part of your body you prefer to carry your knife on.

When that happens, you can easily slice your hand when reaching for your knife in a pocket. Worse still, an otherwise harmless fall can turn fatal when you fall on a folding knife that has accidentally opened.

With a sheath, you can prevent some of these issues. Additionally, a good sheath will allow quick access and prevent you from losing your knife.

To help you choose, here’s a review of the types of sheaths you’ll likely come across when shopping:

Leather Sheaths

Wicek Leather is a solid option in this category!

Leather is a classic material for knife sheaths. It’s a great material choice for a folding knife sheath if you’re kind of old school and would love a carriage that reminds you of the “good ole days” when cowboys and mountain men ruled the lands. Okay, maybe not…but, still!

A leather sheath is rough, rugged, and won’t break easily like a plastic one. The stitches are probably the only weak points (not common with quality sheaths), but you can easily re-sew them in case they come loose.

Additionally, leather doesn’t fade or lose its natural attractiveness easily, and a sheath made of this material will only get better in terms of aesthetics as long as you give it proper care.

To complement such aesthetics, a leather sheath comes with great functionality in that it forms a custom fit to your folding knife once broken in. This is important because it minimizes the chances of your knife falling off and probably getting lost as you go about your business.

Also, a leather sheath doesn’t make much noise when pulling out/putting back your knife.

Despite these advantages, leather sheaths also come with one major drawback. Leather is typically not a waterproof material, and neither can it withstand constant exposure to extreme heat without cracking.

The latter is because extreme heat dries out the oils in the material, but you can prevent it by regularly maintaining your sheath. And while a leather sheath might not be waterproof, you can treat it to make it water repellent.

Nylon Sheaths

If you don’t have the same appreciation for leather sheaths as most knife enthusiasts, a nylon sheath may be an alternative. It comes with a bit of the toughness and strength of leather but with the added benefit of water, rot, and mildew resistance.

Additionally, nylon sheaths don’t get easily scuffed, and most of the options are MOLLE compatible.

However, nylon sheaths aren’t as durable as their leather counterparts. Also, while a leather sheath will get broken in with time to provide a snug, custom fit for your folding knife, its nylon counterpart will get stretched out, meaning that your knife will start to feel loose in its carriage over time.

Plastic Sheaths

Plastic, not Kydex, is another alternative material for a knife sheath. Sheaths made of it are usually the cheapest, but you should expect to get what you pay for. All round, plastic sheaths are low-quality, and you shouldn’t make one a long-term home for your folding knife. 

Kydex

LINOS Sheathworks – Emerson knives BXD belt carry sheath

Kydex is a versatile material with a multitude of applications, among them, making knife sheaths. A knife sheath with this modern construction has several advantages.

It’s durable, waterproof, and won’t shrink or stretch with continued use under normal conditions. Also, it isn’t affected by most chemicals (including skin acids).

What all this means is that a Kydex is very durable and will protect your knife fairly well under a variety of environments. It’s also an ideal option for the negligent knife owner because it doesn’t require as much care as a leather sheath.

But even with such durability and effortless maintenance, Kydex knife sheaths do come with some considerations.

For starters, they’re not the best-looking knife sheaths out there. Basically, a Kydex knife sheath looks like a tough piece of plastic without much personality. That just happens to be the look that I prefer.

Also, the stretch and shrink resistance of a Kydex sheath can present one major challenge: if you don’t get the sizing right, you can end up with a sheath that’s too tight or too loose for your knife. A quality sheath maker is mandatory.

Consider Knife Design and Clothing When Positioning a Self-Defense Conceal Carry Knife for Fast Access

While you may have a preference for a certain type of carry for self-defense purposes, you need to adjust your knife’s placement to suit your day-to-day clothing choices.

Ideally, you should position a self-defense knife such that it remains accessible with minimal clothing barriers and body movement.

Once you match your placement to clothing type, the next thing you need to consider is the knife design because this will have an impact on how and where you carry your knife. 

For instance, most of the folding knives manufactured by Emerson Knives Inc come with a patented innovation known as the Wave.

What this means is that the spine of the blade has a hook that snags on the interior edge of a sheath/pocket to deploy the blade of the knife as you draw it out. To enjoy such functionality, a wave knife must be clipped onto a pocket. 

In addition to the clothing choices and knife design, it also helps to consider how large of a self-defense knife you’re looking to carry. Extremely large knives may be difficult to hide or draw and can sometimes compromise your comfort when carrying.

If you’re not sure where to position your knife, here’s a checklist to help you figure it out:

  • Can you easily reach the knife with both hands if needed?
  • Is the knife visible to the casual observer?
  • Does the positioning increase/decrease the chances of self-injury?
  • Can you draw the knife without much body movement?
  • Can some of your clothes get in the way of a quick draw?
  • Is the knife firmly secured?

Ultimately, there isn’t a universal “right” position for carrying a folding knife because each person dresses differently day-to-day and carries knives of varying designs and sizes. The idea is to use the above checklist to find what works best for you.

If You Opt for In-Pocket Carry, Avoid Carrying Other Items in the Same Pocket As Your Folding Knife

In-pocket carry simply means carrying your folding knife inside the pockets of your pants. It’s a great way to carry a pocket knife in public because it doesn’t unnecessarily flash it for everyone to see. 

In-pocket carry also facilitates easy access, but this can easily be compromised if you carry other items such as your phone, keys, or wallet.

Carrying your folding knife in a pocket full of other junk means you’ll have to dig around to find it, which isn’t what you want in an emergency. Additionally, things like keys may get caught up in your knife when pulling it out.

As such, you’ll be better off designating one pocket for your folding knife and keeping the rest of your everyday carry items in a different pocket or even a bag.

Alternatively, carry your knife in a pocket clip. Better yet, strike a nice balance by switching between a pocket clip carry and in-pocket carry depending on the situation.

Tip-Up or Tip-Down? Pick One and Stick to It

When carrying a folding knife with a pocket clip, you have two ways to carry it: tip-up or tip-down. Both are exactly what they sound like, and knife enthusiasts have divided views about which is the better way to carry a tactical folding knife.

Some argue that the right way to carry a tactical folding knife on a pocket clip is with the tip pointing up, while others are adamant that the tip should be pointing down.

The truth, however, is that the right way to carry a tactical folding knife clipped to your pocket is what feels most natural to you. 

With that said, there are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding. Let’s discuss them below.

Knife Size

The first and probably the most important factor you need to consider when deciding between tip-up and tip-down modes of carrying is the knife size. Typically, tip-up is more suited to carrying smaller knives.

When carrying a small knife in this position, the handle end naturally sits at the back of your palm, which allows you to quickly draw the knife and deploy the blade without relying too much on your fine motor skills to get the right grip.

With a larger knife, tip-up wouldn’t be ideal because you’d have to move your palm forward to deploy the blade and adjust your grip. Thus, tip-down carry may be more ideal since it keeps your hand exactly where you want it to be: close to the knife’s opening mechanism.

The Opening Mechanism

The type of opening mechanism on your folding knife is also an important consideration when deciding between tip-up and tip-down modes of carrying.

Generally, different opening mechanisms provide varying degrees of intuitiveness. For instance, you’ll need more positioning and finesse with a flipper than you would with a thumb hole cut out.

There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all in this regard, and you’ll just have to experiment to find out which type of carrying best suits your knife’s opening mechanism.

Alternatively, you can bypass your knife’s opening mechanism altogether by snapping it so that it overcomes retention and deploys the blade without relying on a hole cut out, a flipper tab, or a thumb stud.

If you’d like to give this a try, use either a liner, frame, or a piston lock knife for practice.  

Safety

It’s not common for the blade of a tactical folding knife to accidentally deploy, but it can (and does) happen. If this concerns you, you’ll want to have your knife carried in a tip-down position.

If a folding knife accidentally opens in a tip-up position, you can end up sustaining a cut or stab as you reach for it.

And while you might have positioned the tip-up folder such that the knife’s blade deploys into your pocket’s seam to minimize damage (which is always advisable), pocket clips do move sometimes.

A tip-down carry is generally safer. While you still risk getting cut when a knife carried this way opens in your pocket, the risk is lower except when seated.

For added safety, you can slide your knife against your pocket’s seam to minimize the chances of it opening without your knowledge. 

Ultimately, how you choose to carry your folding knife is a matter of personal preference.

The most important thing is to choose a carry method that you feel would allow you to deploy your knife as fast as possible because that’s what matters most in an emergency scenario. Whether that’s tip-up or tip-down, be sure to stick with it and practice as much as you can.

Final Thoughts

That does it for this post. Hopefully, this has you thinking in regards to how you will be carrying your folding knife, whether for self-defense or as a utility tool.

In case you missed some of the main points, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve covered:

You need to ensure compliance with the local knife carry regulations, carry position matters, use a breakaway chain for neck carry, carry your knife in a high-quality sheath, and consider your knife’s design as well as your clothing choices when positioning a concealed carry folding knife for self-defense purposes. 

You also need to avoid keeping other items in the same pocket as your folding knife and choose between tip-down and tip-up modes of carry-based on your knife’s opening mechanism, its size, and safety.

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