Are you looking for a great Bowie Knife? A Bowie knife is a knife that is longer than 6 inches with a sharp, wide blade. It was designed by Col. James Bowie to be a portable fighting knife. It should be longer and heavier than a dagger but shorter than a saber. Historians stated that a Bowie “must be long enough to use as a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.” With all these features, it is no wonder why the Bowie is a very popular knife from the 19th century onwards.
What is a Bowie Knife?
Most knife enthusiasts and a whole lot of other people who don’t care about knives at all have heard of a “Bowie” knife. But what makes a Bowie, a Bowie!? Well, the Bowie was named after a Colonel in the early 19th Century. Colonel James Bowie is the man who initially popularized the knife. He was born in 1796 in Kentucky, and died at the young age of 40 in 1836 in San Antonio during …. get this …. The Battle of the Alamo! He and all his comrades died in the historically famous battle! He was actually a commander at the Alamo. He was a member of the Texian Volunteer Army and he only served from 1835-1836.
Though the good colonel made the knife famous (no doubt because of his sacrifice at the Alamo), it’s believed the first knife that could be considered a “Bowie-like” design was made by a blacksmith named James Black in 1830. The modern-day Bowie (though it’s not really modern at all) was achieved through a process of years of improvement and tweaks by the colonel himself. It seems Mr. Bowie was a bit of a roughian (or ruffian) since we know that the popularity of the knife started to skyrocket after a fight in which Colonel Bowie found himself wielding his knife to ward off several other men. He was stabbed and shot, and still, somehow, managed to win the fight! He looks kinda tough I’d say!
Colonel Bowie also spent time as a slave trader, smuggler, and Indian fighter before joining the military. Well, enough about this man for now. Let’s talk about the knife!
The early designs of the Bowie were based on the design of Spanish hunting knives and a standard American butcher knife. One of the most famous quotes pertaining to the Bowie knife was coined by a man named Russel Johnson who apparently expected a whole lot out of his knife. He said:
“It must be long enough to be a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.”
What to Look for in Bowie Knives
Having said all this about the Bowie knife, there is officially no real definition of what a Bowie knife is. As mentioned earlier, Jim Bowie made several variations to his Bowies over the years and the original details of the history have been lost. However, accounts from the time state that the Bowie knife looks like a large butcher knife with a clip point. The clip point is used to improve the Bowie’s stabbing ability.
Today, you can find a lot of Bowie’s from many manufacturers. Some include a saw-tooth back to use in survival situations. Others are modernized with composite materials. However, no matter what specifications are made, the following would always remain important in a Bowie:
- Blade – the blade must be razor-sharp. A dull blade would do no good during a survival situation or during a fight. The Bowie was used as a slashing and stabbing tool. Carbon steel or stainless steel are both fine for Bowies.
- Length – the knife must be at least 6 inches long. Anything shorter than this would make it something else besides a Bowie. Longer knives are usually heavier and give you a good amount of power; however, longer knives usually make it harder for detailed work.
- Weight – the Bowie must be heavy enough to assist in camping chores such as cutting wood. You can not have a lightweight Bowie. However, the weight cannot be too much in that it would decrease mobility.
- Tang – since the bowie is so heavy, it must have a full tang or else the knife would snap in half after some use. Non-full tang Bowies are only good as wall hangers and display knives.
- Sheath – the sheath of a knife is just as important to the knife itself. Leather, synthetic, or anything in between is good if it is well designed.
As you go through our selection of knives below, please remember one thing above all; Our selection is not based on the cheapest-priced models available! There are cheaper models and some are pretty good (for the price). However, because we do have a name and reputation to uphold and stand behind, we are offering you the better quality knives for both looks and function, and some of them are great for both! We believe our choices represent a great value for the quality you are receiving. That’s standard procedure around our offices here at Knife Up!
Let’s take a look at some popular Bowie models from different manufacturers and if you’re interested, you can take a closer look at the details and pricing from one of our trusted suppliers! By the way, there are LOTS of excellent Bowie designs on Amazon, but instead of analyzing based on “cool-ness”, we’ve taken the high road (as usual) and we’re looking at ratings, reviews, Amazon top choices and other forums.
1. Uncle Henry Bowie with Stag Handle
Uncle Henry Bowie with Stag Handle
- Blade Material: 7Cr17MoV Stainless Steel
- Blade Length: 9.65″
- Overall Length: 15.14″
- Handle Material: Stag
- Sheath: Leather
- Weight: 19.7 oz
Uncle Henry is a sub-brand operating under its owner’s brand, and that would be Taylor Brands – the parent company. Even big names like SCHRADE and Smith & Wesson brands are sub-brands of Taylor. Taylor has been making high-quality stainless steel knives and implements of that sort since 1975.
The Uncle Henry Bowie features a full tang construction and the blade is made from 7Cr17MoV steel. The handles are stag antler and it features a brass finger guard/bolster and stylish brass rivets. The Uncle Henry Bowie comes complete with a leather sheath but there’s no reason to believe it’s MOLLE compatible. The design is too classic and old school for that.
2. Gil Hibben Old West Bowie Knife (Bloodwood Edition)
Gil Hibben Old West Bowie Knife (Bloodwood Edition)
- Blade Material: Stainless Steel
- Blade Length: 14″
- Overall Length: 20.5″
- Handle Material: Red natural wood
- Sheath: Custom Leather
- Made: In AMERICA
Gil Hibben is a well-known (dare I say “famous”?) knife designer who has graced us with this old west Bowie knife. For a limited time, the Bloodwood edition is back. The Gil Hibben Old West Bowie Knife – Bloodwood Edition takes Gil’s designs even further! You can take this with you into the most untamed environments and use it under the harshest conditions. It has a very sharp, 14″ stainless steel clip point blade with a high-polish finish and a beefy profile.
The red-brown, natural-look wooden handle is complemented by a gold-plated blade catcher and handguard. A custom leather belt sheath protects and stores the massive bowie knife. This is a design, which has been reimagined by Mr. Hibben, and brought back for a very, very limited time.
In reality, the knife is unpractically large (unless you jump into a time machine and travel back to Colonial America and find yourself surrounded by hostile Indians or cattle rustlers!). If customer/owner feedback means anything, I’d say this is a gorgeous showpiece, but because of its size, it may be better to keep it as a good-looking collector’s item rather than a serious working tool.
3. Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knife
Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knife
- Make: Ka-Bar Becker
- Edge angle: 20 degrees
- Blade: 1095 Cro-Van steel
- Shape: Clip point
- Grind: Flat
- Handle material: Grivory
- Blade length: 9 inches
- Overall length: 14-3/4 inches
- Weight: 1.05 pounds
Ka-Bar is a company that was renowned for its USMC fighting knife. If you are looking for a good all-around knife, I highly recommend the USMC knife. In fact, the USMC knife was loosely based upon the Bowie knife for its design.
The BK9 is Ka-bar’s big Bowie knife. It is a whopping 9 inches long and weighs 1 pound. This knife is definitely a large knife. It is a knife that is not only made in the USA, but it’s used by members of all branches of the military services in this country!
The BK9 is made of 1095 Cro-Van steel. 1095 is a very common type of carbon steel used in knife making. Carbon steel holds an edge very well and is easy to sharpen. The downside is that it rusts easily. 1095 Cro-Van is 1095 steel with chromium and vanadium added. Chromium aids in rust protection and vanadium increases blade retention. What you get is a very good, solid knife that will keep an edge and not rust easily.
Like all Ka-bar knives, this knife comes razor sharp and is proudly made in the USA.
The knife features a full tang construction with two Grivory handles. Grivory is a composite material that is basically layers of nylon glued together. It makes for a very light handle but some users find it to be slippery. I didn’t see it like them but you can also buy these really cool Micarta handles Micarta handles for the BK9. Micarta is super slick. The knife also has a pommel that you can use to nail things or break safety glass.
The sheath is nylon and, even though nylon is not the best material for a sheath, the sheath does not feel cheap at all. I’m sure Ka-bar chose to use nylon because of issues with moisture for leather. Also, most tactical gear today are made of nylon or some other plastic.
This knife received a 4.8 out of 5.0 rating on Amazon out of over 800 reviews from real, actual, verified purchasers! It is also one of the top-selling Bowie knives on Amazon.
4. Cold Steel 81B Wild West Bowie
Cold Steel 81B Wild West Bowie
- Make: Cold Steel Wild West Bowie
- Blade: 1090 High Carbon Steel
- Weight: 23.1 ounces
- Handle material: Rosewood Scales
- Blade length: 10.75 inches
- Overall length: 16.0 inches
- Sheath: Black Leather
Cold Steel is another big knife maker in the US. The Wild West Bowie is a work of art and function. With a name like Cold Steel behind the whole thing, we’re confident in our recommendation of this tool. This knife reminds me of an old Western. It has that classic frontier look. It’s made with 1090 steel which is not bad, but it’s not D2. It’s a big knife and may not be as useful as it is cool-looking and collectible, but that could be said of most Bowie knives. We don’t live in the wild west anymore!
We like the swedge or false edge along the top of the blade near the tip. It looks cool and reduces weight slightly, but other than maybe facilitating the piercing power of the knife, there’s no real purpose to it. The Rosewood handle scales are attached to both sides of the full tang blade with brass screws and we also like the “S-patterned” handguard.
The black leather sheath (pictured) features a brass swivel belt loop and a leather leg strap for maximum versatility and looks. With a knife this big, it looks and functions better if the sheath is attached to your leg rather than flopping around on your belt.
5. Bobcat Knives - Custom Handmade Bowie Knife
Bobcat Knives - Custom Handmade Bowie Knife
- Make: Bobcat Knives – Screaming Eagle
- Blade: Full Tang 1080 and 15N20 Steel
- Weight: 13.2 ounces
- Handle material: Polished Walnut
- Blade length: 10.0 inches
- Overall length: 15.0 inches
- Sheath: Genuine Leather
We were thrilled to stumble across this knife since it was one of the few “affordable” Damascus steel Bowies we could find. The first thing we wanted to examine was the Damascus Steel. Is it for real? Well, you can tell by the texture left by the acid etch if this is the real thing (folded pattern welded Damascus). That’s incredible for this price point! The blade is folded 5 times starting from 9 layers of 1080 and 15N20 giving approximately 288 Layers in this awesome Pattern.
The pattern of the blade is the result of hours of forging. Not many custom makers can keep such Ladder pattern of layers upon layers flowing all the way to the edge of the blade, which creates a saw-blade effect at a microscopic level, allowing the blade to keep cutting while other blades have dulled.
The blade is given excellent heat treatment and comes with a very good edge holding and retaining its sharpness for relentless performance. The handguard looks really cool, aggressive and intimidating and it’s very functional. The handle is one-piece and not just scales on both sides of the full tang blade. The leather sheath features a snap lock strap and belt loop for full functionality.
This knife is more than suitable for hunting, camping, survival, tactical and of course – the BEST-LOOKING gift any guy could ask for!
Originally created limited-edition model BC-200 SCREAMING EAGLE is a stylish and performance-oriented combination, yet designed to be effective in the field. That’s a win/win!
Conclusion on the Best Bowie Knife
So, which Bowie knife should you get? If you are thinking about buying a Bowie for hunting, camping, or for tactical reasons, I highly suggest the BK9 by Ka-Bar. It features great carbon steel that won’t rust easily. It keeps its edge very well and can easily be re-sharpened–making it perfect for tactical use. The colors will not give you away to snipers (just wanted to see if you were with me!) and it has great features like a pommel and nylon sheath. It’s also designed mostly for function and not looks like many other Bowie knives.
If you are a collector looking for a beautiful knife to add to your collection, the Gil Hibben just may be your knife. It features super high-quality materials as well as a great looking design. However, for the best value and for the best of both function and visual appeal, we like the Uncle Henry, which is why it’s at #1. It’s just my opinion people, don’t get yer knickers in a knot!
Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Add them to the comment box below.
Hi, sounds interesting, but unfortunately the Natchez hasn’t a full tang
That Puma bowie you have in the picture is NOT a German made Puma Stag Bowie 116396. The real Solingen made Puma is of 440c dropped forged steel and comes with an amazing leather sheath. What you have is a very cheap version made in China. Check it out. You are dissapointed because you dont have a real German made bowie. Sorry brother.
Actually it’s the Puma SGB model. The blade is made at the Puma factory in Solingen, Germany, using 440a to bring cost factor down. Then they send the finished blades to China where the scales are put on and the sheath is made, further reducing cost. Unfortunately it’s something that a lot of manufacturers are having to do in order to stay in business. They’re still good blades but not to the quality of the ones that are made and finished in Germany. These can still be bought for a premium and the sheaths are handmade and excellent.
I have a knuckle knife is it legal to carry in my car in Tennessee?
I very satisfy about my Winchester Big knife. I think it also one of the best one in the world!
I have a Bowie Buffalo Skinner-stag handle, American design, German steel-in my humble opinion one of, if not, the best Bowie’s!
I have a Cold Steel Trailmaster bowie in high-carbon steel made in China. The price was near $100. (There is someone trying to get $320 on ebay right now. “Buyer Beware still applies.) It is the black blade model, very impressive for sharpness and edge-holding. Sharpening is not difficult, as with a high Rockwell material. This means it is dressed easily in the field, without being a soft steel. Like I said, it is a high-carbon variety. I think I read that it is 1095. The coating prevents rust. The edge requires a touch of care with anything which will prevent oxidation. The advantage is the superior edge sharpness compared to almost any stainless variant. And the price was right. I don’t know how it is too difficult to coat a knife blade to ensure against rust. A patina is nice. My Randalls from the ’50’s are fabulous. Maybe you should take another look at this idea.
The Cold Steel Natchez Bowie has NEVER been ‘full tang’ construction. It is essentially a half-tang, secured to a piece of wire. This method has been used also in their Laredo Bowie handle. It is known to be a design flaw, as changes in climate/humidity and use can lead to the handle snapping. Whoever told this reviewer the knife was full-tang was lying, or woefully misinformed.
I own a Laredo Bowie, myself. I love the knife. Both the Natchez and Laredo are now available with O-1 steel blades, as an economy option. For those who don’t know, O-1 does tend to rust, so you need to maintain the blade regularly. Otherwise, the blade is wonderful, and does everything you’d expect a ‘bowie’ knife to do.
To be honest, though, I’d give the BK-9 the win. It’s certainly more than capable of any task you would need a knife, large or small, to do. With the coated blade, there’s less opportunity for it to rust in the field. And, as for price, you can’t lose.
I’m a collector. To be fair, the Cold Steel knives, to me, are NOT collector knives. They’re high-end work knives. Not all Cold Steel knives, mind you, but the bowies in particular. The Trailmaster is their best work bowie, though. The reason for this is simple. They are not made in the USA. They generally are not made the same way as a high-end collector knife would be made. They do not have traditional construction, either. A collector piece is an investment. You may sell it, someday, for a profit. An investor in knives you may meed, someday, is not going to be wanting a Cold Steel knife as readily as they may want a hand-made, custom bowie knife.
Again, they’re good, just not a custom piece. Take it hunting, or camping. Cut boxes and pool noodles. Set it on your desk, and ogle it. But, don’t compare it with a collector bowie, which most of them will run you upwards of $1500 in price, and have an actual knifemaker’s mark on it.
What is your take on the Case Black handle Bowie?
The buck 119 or 120 are both really good Bowie knives
Nice article! Very informative, thanks 🙂
The Natchez doesn’t have a full tang it has a cable tang like the Laredo, the company says it’s to absorb shock, both these knives are advertised as fighting knives, under those conditions the cable tang will do the job but for wood/camp duties i’d go for a real full tang blade.
I’d be very interested in Knifeup’s review and opinion of the Muela line of knives. It’s a Spanish company that makes incredible blades, imho. I’ve purchased three of them, the last being a large Bowie. Muela uses a Molybdenum-Vanadium stainless steel that is really beautiful…and lethal. The edges on my three blades, two of which I’ve owned and used for over 20 years, rarely need sharpening…and return to straight-razor sharp with minimal honing.