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Or perhaps WWII paratroopers, dropping into battle with M3 trench knives strapped to the outside of their boot.
Or even a wanna-be assassin in an action movie who made it past security then slips out a boot knife to try to take out the hero.
But boot knives aren’t just concealed weapons. They have the same practical uses as any other survival knife.
They are used by hikers, hunters, and bushcrafters as backups to their larger knives. When you rely on your blade to survive, you don’t want just one!
A good boot knife hides comfortably until you need it.
And, yes, you can even use it as an emergency weapon in a pinch.
Why You Should Wear a Boot Knife
Boot knives are great EDC items for people who find themselves in positions where they might lose their primary blade.
Chances are, you don’t constantly get into fights, so you won’t need boot knives for the purpose most people think of when they hear the term:
However, some people (such as police officers) may find themselves in a position where they need to use a backup weapon to their backup weapon.
Much like a handgun in an ankle sheath, boot knives aren’t the easiest to draw when moments matter. But it’s a good position for a backup weapon.
However, that backup philosophy applies to why other people might want to carry a boot knife.
A high-quality blade will last a long time but, like any tool, can become dull (though you can sharpen your knife anywhere) or even break.
Hiding a knife in your boot lets you comfortably carry an extra blade in case you break or lose your main blade.
Even better, you can attach the blade’s sheath to your boots so you always have it whenever you put on your footwear, unlike a pocket knife you may accidentally leave at home.
Reaching into a pocket for your knife and finding none there can be, ah, disconcerting. Wearing a boot knife saves you from this embarrassment!
Choosing a Knife
Boot knives can be considered self-defense or survival knives, but they tend to be smaller on average.
For good reason.
Too-large blades will interfere with your ankle and will press into your leg, making walking difficult, especially if you’re making strenuous leg movements such hiking.
So, how do you choose a good boot knife?
Fixed or Folding Blade
The first consideration is whether or not you want to use a fixed or a folding knife.
Most of the time, a fixed blade is better, for two reasons:
Thick knives will be much less comfortable than thin knives. Fixed blades are thinner than folding blades. So, fixed blades will be more comfortable.
Also, all you need to do to deploy a fixed blade is to draw it.
If you want to bring a folding knife into play, you not only need to draw the knife but you need to unfold it as well.
Even an assisted-opening folding knife will be slower than a fixed blade, and we’re already low on moments because you need to reach down to your boot, so I generally recommend carrying a fixed knife in your boot.
I have clipped a folding blade to the outside of my boot before. It wasn’t concealed, though.
Generally, boot knives have blades from 2.5 inches to 5 inches long and an overall length from 5 to 9 inches.
You want a knife that will barely protrude out of the top of the boot and, if it falls in, won’t be impossible to fish out without removing your boots.
You also don’t want the tip to extend too far past your ankle lest it interfere with your foot’s movement.
If you’re wearing calf-high boots then you can get away with a huge fighting knife. For me, I wear Belleview Tactical Research MiniMil boots. The 6.9″-long Gerber Ghoststrike and its 3.3″ blade fits me perfectly.
Ways to Carry a Boot Knife
There are four ways to carry a boot knife:
- Inside the boot
- Outside the boot
- Inside a pocket on the boot
- Inside the laces
Each of these methods has pros and cons. Let’s look at them in detail.
Inside the Boot
When most people think of a boot knife, they think of a knife inside a booth.
Put the knife in its sheath then put it, tip-down, into your boot. Ta-da! This is the simplest method of carrying a boot knife.
I’d also not recommend actually doing that.
Because the knife isn’t actually secured to anything!
If you’re laced up tight enough to hold the sheath in place, then you’re probably going to be uncomfortable after half an hour. If the boot is loose enough for the sheath to not be uncomfortable then it might fall out if you have to climb or run.
I’ve almost lost a dagger this way.
There are two ways to counter this, and both involve attaching your blade to something.
Either you can attach the sheath to your ankle or to the inside of the boot itself.
Some boot knives have holsters which wrap around your ankle. If not, you can use laces to tie the sheath to your leg.
Alternatively, you can attach the sheath to the inside of your boot. A strong clip would suffice, though it’s recommended to sew the sheath to the boot.
- Most concealable method
- Very secure if properly attached
- Works with all boot styles
- Can irritate your leg
- May require sewing in the holster
- Insecure if not properly attached
Strapping the knife to the outside of your boot is a viable alternative to sticking it inside.
However, you lose a lot of concealment by attaching your knife to the outside of the boot, so don’t use this attachment method in “civilized” areas!
If you have taller boots or a shorter knife then you can strap the sheath to the boot’s side. If you have a longer knife and a shorter boot, though, you may need to strap it to your calf.
Some boot knife holsters are designed to attach to your boot’s laces, which makes this even easier.
- Doesn’t require modifying the boot
- Easier to access
- Can get caught on brush
- Least concealable method
Inside a Boot Pocket
A good compromise between inside and outside boot knife styles is to get a pair of boots with a built-in knife pocket.
You can find these in certain boots, such as the 5.11 ATAC 2.0. However, not all knives will fit.
- Doesn’t require modification
- Easy to use
- Requires specific boots
- Requires properly-sized knives
Inside the Laces
Finally, if you have a particularly small knife and long, laced-up boots, you can attach the holster directly to your boot’s laces.
Put the holster next to the tongue and weave your laces through the holster’s holes.
- Easy to secure without modifying the boot
- Doesn’t work with all boot styles
- Requires a small knife
Tips for Carrying a Boot Knife
Those were the basic instructions for how to wear a boot knife. Here are some additional tips to keep you safe.
Always Use a Sheath
That line isn’t punchy enough.
Always, always, ALWAYS use a sheath. Never don’t use a sheath.
Sticking a knife next to your foot without a sheath, whether it’s inside or outside the boot, is a great way to give yourself a cut!
If you’re carrying the knife while hiking, it can easily become infected. Though you should know how to care for an infected wound in the wild, it’s better to avoid the cut in the first place.
Inside or Outside the Leg?
Your boot knife should always be on the side of the leg closest to your dominant hand.
Right-handed? Right side of the leg.
Typically, you’ll want to put it on your dominant-side foot as well, for easier draws.
However, if you need to conceal your knife even more than normal, put it on the inside of your other leg.
So, in this case, a right-handed person would carry the knife on the inside of their left boot.
Look up Your Local Laws
Like any concealed weapon, you should know your local laws and how they affect you.
Boot knives aren’t legal everywhere, and it’s your duty to find out if they are.
Practice Drawing and Holstering the Knife
This may sound like a no-brainer but it is very important.
After you attach the sheath to your boot and before you venture forth, spend some time drawing your blade and reholstering it.
Start slow then speed up drawing as you go. This may keep you from fumbling if you ever need to draw your knife to defend against an angry animal.
Never reholster quickly. Just like with a gun, whenever you put your concealed knife away you should do so with both hands and with your full attention.
Doing it any other way invites a self-inflicted stab wound.
Do Not Leave Your Knife Unsecured
This tip is a little less obvious but can potentially save a life.
If there’s any possibility of a child getting anywhere close to your boots, make sure to remove your blade from the boots after you take them off.
Children are inquisitive and will be attracted to the curious object sticking out of your boots.
Remove that temptation.
Boot knives can be wonderful tools.
They’re not just for the trained assassin. Every woodsman or survivalist can benefit from hiding a backup to their backup in their boots.
However, you shouldn’t just toss a knife down your boots and call it good.
Choose a properly sized blade and attach it to the most comfortable and secure place you can.
This way, you’ll never be without a blade when you need one most.