Blades and Knives

Review: Emerson CQC-7 Tactical Knife

Assortment of Emerson CQC-7 knives

Emerson makes some of the most highly-regarded and respected tactical knives in the industry. The simple and dependable designs perform great for utility tasks as well as self-defense. These knives are incredibly durable and are great for muddy, dusty, dirty environments. Among my favorites is the Emerson CQC-7.

Background on Ernest Emerson & Company

Ernest Emerson has experience with various forms of martial arts from Asia and Europe, and has trained elite military and law enforcement units from around the globe. He started his knife career in 1979 by making customs in his garage. Later, in 1994, Benchmade worked with him to start production models, and they tweaked the design of his custom CQC-6 to create the CQC-7.

Emerson CQC-7 and Super CQC-7
The Super CQC-7 dwarfs the standard model.

In 1996, he founded his company Emerson Knives, and in 1999, started producing his own production CQC-7. Today, Emerson produces some of the most sought-after production and custom knives that are used by military units, law enforcement officials, and civilians all over the world.

The Emerson CQC-7

Emerson’s most popular — and my favorite — model is the CQC-7. The standard CQC-7 features a 3.3-inch blade and is available in either a tanto or drop point blade shape. The CQC-7, like all Emerson knives, utilizes a chisel grind, meaning the blade is only ground on one side. This makes it easier to resharpen, especially in the field with limited equipment. A chisel grind creates a more durable working edge that is less likely to chip. However, it also tends to cut towards one side due to the asymmetrical edge.

The CQC-7 can be found in a number of different variations. The standard model features black G10 handle scales with either a black-coated or stonewashed blade finish. You can get a blade with a plain edge or partial serrations.

There are also special editions with different colors of G10 or micarta handle scales. If you’re looking for something a bit more heavy-duty, Emerson offers the Super CQC-7 and XHD (Extra Heavy Duty) models. The XHD features thicker titanium liners, a lock-bar insert, and upgraded S35VN blade steel, while the Super hosts a longer 3.75” blade. Additionally, Emerson makes custom models with titanium bolsters and all kinds of different handle materials.

I think the thing that draws me to the Emerson CQC-7 the most is the rugged simplicity. The blade is not only a great size and shape for self-defense, it also works well for opening packages, cutting rope, and other utility tasks. The neutral handle shape fits the majority of hands well and the knife has an overall feeling of solidity and durability. This is a knife that I picked up on a whim one day, that I’ve grown to love and admire as I’ve used it.

One of the few issues I find with most Emerson knives is that the high-traction G10 can tear up your pockets. It works great for military and law enforcement officials using the knife in muddy, wet, and high-stress environments, but can be a little much for the average joe just looking for an EDC blade. You may need to sand down the G10 a bit underneath the clip.

Two Emerson CQC-7 blades
A standard chisel grind only bevels on one side of the blade.

Emerson Wave

The CQC-7 is also available both with and without the Emerson Wave feature. The Emerson “Wave” is a feature that was originally developed as a sort of guard that would catch an opponent’s blade if they became locked in combat. This was later discovered to rapidly open the knife and deploy the blade as you pulled the knife from your pocket.

The Wave catches on the back end of your pocket and flips the blade out as you pull. This is not only great for defensive use, it also makes retrieving the knife with one hand for utility tasks a breeze. Closing the knife is similar to other liner lock models, and can be done one-handed.

If you pull the knife without dragging it toward the edge of your pocket, the Wave will not deploy the blade, and you can open the knife the more traditional way with the thumb disc.

Emerson Wave
The Wave feature rapidly deploys the blade as you pull the knife from your pocket.


Another reason to get hooked on Emerson knives is the sheer amount of customization options available. You can replace the scales, thumb disc, screws, standoffs, pocket clips, and backspacers with aftermarket options. If you want, you can go even further down the rabbit hole and have your knife turned into a “PoBoy” custom by a knife pimper.

They can change the configuration of your scales, add titanium bolsters, and even regrind your blade or add more serrations. This can make your knife look like one of Ernest Emerson’s custom knives for a price tag more people can stomach. The only limit is your imagination and, of course, your wallet.

Custom PoBoy CQC-7
This customized model mimics one of Emerson’s custom shop knives.

Other Variants

Emerson’s designs have also influenced other knife makers who have introduced excellent collaboration models. Kershaw, Spyderco, and Zero Tolerance make models with the Emerson Wave. The Kershaw CQC series is a great budget alternative to Emerson’s line. They don’t come with the same build quality or materials, but they are solid knives that offer fine performance. Pro-Tech even makes an automatic version of the CQC-7. All in all, Emerson knife designs make excellent EDC and defensive blades.

Kershaw Emerson collar
The Kershaw CQC series (bottom) provides a lot of the same benefits of actual Emerson knives (top).

Defense with a Knife

The high-traction G10 scales, Wave opening feature, and versatile blade shapes make Emerson knives great for defensive use. However, just having the right knife does not make you prepared to get in a fight for your life with a blade. Well before you enter a knife fight, you need to be mentally prepared to get cut — and it will hurt. Using a knife for self-defense is a last resort sort of affair. If you’re serious about defense with an edged weapon, you should get proper training from an experienced professional.

Having said that, I understand that some may not have the time or finances to receive formal training. Practicing at home with training blades that don’t have an edge is better than nothing and will help you get a feel for things.

Emerson offers training versions of its popular models so you can practice with a replica of the exact knife you carry. You can find plenty of self-defense instruction on the internet. Again, I still recommend getting formal, in-person training by an experienced professional, if you can.

knife being pulled from pocket
The Wave feature is great for self-defense.

Conclusion: Emerson Knives

It took me a while on my knife collecting journey to gain an appreciation for Emerson knives, but I’m sure glad I did. They may not feature the latest and greatest blade steel of the month, but they’re robust, working, and defensive knives with excellent fit and finish. If you haven’t tried an Emerson design, I’d challenge you to give one a shot.

What do you think of Emerson Knives? Do you like the Emerson CQC-7? Let us know in the comment section.

  • Assortment of Emerson CQC-7 knives
  • Emerson CQC-7 and Super CQC-7
  • Emerson Wave
  • customized PoBoy Emerson CQC-7
  • two Emerson CQC-7 knives
  • Kershaw Emerson Collab
  • ZT and Emerson Collab
  • knife being pulled from pocket

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a relatively young firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting consistently for around seven years. Though he is fairly new to the industry, he loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related.

Alex tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills. He also enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and to keep them properly cleaned and maintained. He installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn.

Additionally, he is very into buying, selling and trading guns to test different firearms and learn more about them. He is not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. No mention of the Benchmade (Emerson) 9700 / 9700S? It is the CQC-7 on steroids! A fully automatic knife with the same blade, except 4.25 inches of mean machine! Google it! A collectors item now. If they produced it again it would sell thousands!

  2. I have carried a knife on a daily basis since my Army days and that is going back fifty years or so ago when I was a medic on a team overseas that did Search and Rescue and Recon. I carried a 1911 and at least one knife every time I went into the field.

    Currently, my EDC is an Emerson CQC-7, and it has been since the early mid 90’s when I first saw it. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it and it did not take me long to scrape up the cash to get it. I consider it to be one of the best, if not the best, tactical knife money can buy.

    When I first got into the Army, Uncle Sam had provided me with no small amount of training in the use of a variety of weapons and during that time, our instructors went into some detail concerning the use of edged weapons. We were told that a knife is a last ditch, there is nothing else to use, self-defense weapon, and a poor one, at that. This is what we were told as they taught us how to use a knife as a weapon. The irony was not lost on me.

    We were told that before we ever used a knife for self-defense, we needed to accept that if it were really a life-and-death knife fight, we were going to get cut, it would be bad, and to acknowledge that fact long before the situation arose. And they went on to say that anyone who uses a knife as a weapon, but has not resigned himself to being cut, and possibly badly, will probably lose the fight when they are cut first, because, well, being cut like that, hurts like hell and is traumatic, and it seldom ends well if one has not prepared himself for that reality. That is a nice way of saying, those people commonly end up dead. I have been cut, more than once, and I didn’t feel it initially. But, when I saw the blood, yeah, well, as I said, it hurts like hell.

    As far as weapons, a knife, more so than a gun, requires considerable training if it is used for self-defense. After our time in training, we were shipped out overseas where I spent no small amount of time in the field.

    Too many people assume a knife fight is just as it is portrayed on TV or in the movies. I can assure you it is not. Drawing down on another human being with a firearm changes your life in ways you cannot imagine, so also wielding ANY weapon to engage someone else where there are real lives at stake changes things in your life; it damages your psyche and leaves you with scars on your soul that are forever unseen by others. I have known too many other vets that found it impossible to deal with the aftermath when they found themselves in that position, even those who ONLY used a knife or bayonet to defend themselves or one of their compadres. More than a few are no longer with us. In fact, 22 vets a day take their own life because of what happened to them OVER THERE, without regard as wherever THERE was. Do not assume you will emerge from that kind of event unscathed. NO ONE I know has emerged unscarred for life from those wounds that cannot be seen by others.

    I recommend anyone who considers using a knife as a weapon to search out real authorities on the use of a knife as a weapon. One such reference is “Cold Steel” by John Styers. Another is “Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat” by A.J. Drexel Biddle. There is also ” Kill Or Get Killed” by Rex Applegate, but beyond these books, I have no recommendations for any others, one way or the other. Unfortunately, I don’t even know where they can be found, and I will not surrender any books in my library. If you want to learn this skill, get a rubber knife and a sparring partner, BUT prepare to take some time, a LOT of time. It requires significant time and rather intensive training to bring anyone up to a minimum level of proficiency. That is the voice of experience speaking. This is not something one can learn over the next weekend or two.

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