A good hunting knife will last for many years. Hunting knives are used for dressing game, camp work, utility work, and about everything else that is needed when in the woods. For this reason, a high-quality hunting knife is needed. (You don’t want to feel the agony of having a bad hunting knife – it just sucks!). This KnifeUp article will discuss what you should look for in the best hunting knife, the three top-selling hunting knives, and which one is right for you.
Requirements of The Best Hunting Knife
Your first task before purchasing a hunting knife is to determine what task it will fulfill. An avid camper, who doesn’t actually hunt or skin wild animals, will have different needs in his hunting knife than an avid hunter. Keep in mind that knives that are marketed as being multi-purpose seldom perform many of those functions very well.
Most of the functions needed in a hunting and/or camping knife will make it good for field-dressing deer or other game. But, that same knife will be used to cut rope, cut branches for building shelters and campfires and carving food. If you need a screwdriver or pair of pliers, you would be better off purchasing a multi-purpose tool.
Folding or Fixed Blade?
Here’s the question of the century! You’ll get lots of arguments from both sides! Honestly, there is no right answer. Each one has some pros and cons and they’re pretty major. For example, a fixed blade is clearly more durable and can perform tougher tasks that folders cannot, like heavier prying and easy batoning. Fixed blades are also easier to clean and have a “cool factor” when it comes to carrying a knife on your hip.
That said, folders have a whole heck of a lot of positives too. Can you say “portable”? It fits in your pocket when it is less convenient to carry on your hip. It is usually easier to access and open, not to mention quicker. And, they’re easier to use for a wider variety of campsite tasks. Folding knives are safer in that once they are locked shut, there’s no blade to cut the stitching of a leather or plastic sheath. I could go on but I’ll stop there for now.
So which one is better? BOTH!
In some cases, you may need a selection of knives. If you will be skinning large game, such as deer, elk, and bear, a fixed blade knife is the most desirable. It will have two cutting edges – one side sharp for skinning and one with a sawtooth for cutting through bone and firewood. For small game, such as quail and rabbits, a pocket knife with a hook will be more useful.
If you select a bigger-than-life knife, you’ll find that it isn’t as useful as you had hoped for skinning game. These may be good in setting up camp, in that you can chop wood and clear camping spaces more easily, but don’t get fooled into believing that bigger is better for big game skinning! That’s hogwash! Some hunting knives allow you to actually dig with them without fear of the blade breaking loose from the handle. However, if you need a knife that big, you’ll probably use a multi-purpose tool.
Whichever sized knives you select, make sure you can actually hold the knife well enough to control it. And remember, you’ll have to lug it with you on your hunting and camping trips, so it should be easy to carry. We at Knifeup really prefer a multi-purpose folding knife with a bias towards a hunting blade. In fact, we just purchased a Kershaw Lonerock which we really like for skinning. See the full review HERE.
The kind of steel used in constructing the blade determines the quality of the knife, itself. Soft steel won’t keep its edge, nor will a knife that has an incorrect angle of bevel. The steel also needs to resist corrosion, and be durable and hard, yet flexible. Cheaper blades become brittle with temperature fluctuations, snapping off when you need them the most – in freezing weather when you’re building a shelter.
Here are some examples of what to look for in quality steel:
- Vanadium steel. This is rust resistant and very tough steel. While this kind of blade is hard to sharpen, it will hold an edge practically forever. Look for S30V designation on these knives.
- Carbon steel. Carbon blades last a long time, with a hard edge that will stay sharp. However, carbon steel is a little more brittle than vanadium. You are better off selecting smaller knives when choosing carbon steel. This knife will have 154CM designation.
- Stainless steel. This is pretty much the same as the carbon steel blade, except that it is also corrosion resistant. It will also keep its edge longer. Look for VG-10 designation.
- Medium-carbon stainless steel. As you would expect, this knife will be very corrosion resistant, but the blade will be more brittle. The great thing about this knife is that it is easy to sharpen. The stability of the knife edge, however, is not as good as the others. These are designated as 420HC blades.
- Please note that higher carbon content steels like D2 or even 1095 will require some form of care and maintenance if you’d like the blade to look relatively new, attractive and functional. You’ll need to clean the blades (if there’s anything other than pure water on the blade) and dry them off thoroughly after each use. If not, rusting can begin in a matter of hours if left wet. A dry rust inhibitor spray is useful and recommended by several manufacturers. You can see a great example HERE.
The handle of the knife is equally important. The first feature to look for is a finger stop. This will keep your finger or entire hand from sliding down to the blade of the knife.
While natural material handles may be attractive, they may not be as durable as you need them to be. If your knife will see heavy use, consider synthetic materials, such as ABS OR Kraton. These will withstand extended periods of moisture, leverage situations, and offer light-weight grip.
You should always make sure that the knife will fit your hand and allow you to control it. A handle that is too large will make your hand and arm tired, which will keep you from using it for very long.
Top Hunting Knives
ESEE Knives 4P Fixed Blade Knife
The Esee 4P fixed blade tops our list because of the best combination of all the elements that make for a great knife. What elements you ask? Well, I’ll cut to the chase. It has a 1095 carbon steel blade and a super-durable handle. It has the largest blade and it’s a fixed (non-folding) knife with sheath. Batoning and prying are possible with the ESEE and I’d not suggest either with the other options on our list.
Esee has a stellar warranty. It rivals the best warranties in the industry. Check it out:
The ESEE Model 4 is a design by Mike Perrin and Jeff Randall. Officially it’s a Bushcraft/survival/tactical knife, but because of it’s pure quality and design features (ie. blade quality and depth or “belly” for skinning, etc.) we’ve put it atop our list of hunting knives. In fact, many knives on top of many hunting knife lists are not even “officially” designated as hunting knives. That matters little to me. What matters is how well a knife does its job and how long it lasts in doing that job. The Esee 4 is a hard use knife with a hard blade.
With its 4.5 inch blade, it’s definitely the longest knife on our list, and the cutting edge is just barely shorter at 4.1 inches. It features removable Micarta handles and a molded polymer sheath. At 7.45 oz it’s not the lightest on our list, but that’s to be expected from a solid, full tang knife with a .19″ thick blade. Yes, you can baton and pry, but I wouldn’t unless I absolutely need to. It’s also quite adept at starting a fire with a Ferro rod.
One note of caution: The 1095 steel is a great metal that combines hardness with rust-resistance. The hardness means it won’t need to be sharpened every 5 min. of hard use, so life in the field will be more enjoyable. However, because of the carbon content, the blade will rust more easily than the softest stainless steels on the market. That means that after each significant use (ie. after skinning an animal or working in wet conditions), you’ll need to clean and dry the blade thoroughly and even use a rust inhibitor like Cosmoline.
Kershaw Blur Knife
The Kershaw Blur Knife is crafted of S30V stainless steel. This folding knife is equipped with Kershaw’s 1-handed SpeedSafe opening system that works with either hand. While not a switchblade, the knife does open easily when pushed open by either thumb.
The handle is Trac-Tec construction. This enables the user to grip the knife easily, even in wet conditions. The synthetic handle material is durable even in the harshest of elements and is sized so that your hand doesn’t tire from extended use. The blade, when folded, is held firmly in its place with a locking liner. This knife has a blade length of 3 and 3/8 inches, is 7 and 7/8 inch long when opened, and weighs only 4 ounces.
Kershaw knives are made by Ken Onion, who is a much-courted designer in the industry. His custom-made knives are in some of the most well-known knife collections in the world. Ken invented the SpeedSafe opening system. The knife has a lifetime warranty.
This fine model is available with either a standard blade, or with a partially serrated blade. The Ken Onion Blur series of knives have built a reputation for being a strong, corrosion resistant knife that is easy to use even in wet, slippery conditions. The Trac-Tech inserts in the handle are favorably reviewed by customers who use the knife for skinning game and setting up camp in rainy weather, with high praises for the secure feel and safe operation. Consumers also like the strength of the knife and comment on the solidity of the blade when the knife is open. The S30V blade is very sharp, and customers say they have used the blade for everything from skinning game to cutting para-cord without having to sharpen the edge. Read more.
Buck 279 Folding Alpha Hunter
The Buck 279 Folding Alpha Hunter is a folding blade knife with a gut hook. Made with 420HC steel, this knife will hold its edge even when cutting through bone or rope. Its exposed handle with grip ridges and rubberized sides makes it feel extremely solid.
The blade is 3 1/2 inches long, and the overall length is 8 and ½ inches. The knife weighs 8 oz, and has a fitted heavy-duty black nylon sheath. It also has a lifetime warranty. The knife handles flawlessly, even in wet and slippery conditions. Reviewers of this knife say that it is sharp and durable, and easy to use when skinning game such as deer and hog. Many owners of this knife (yes, I really mean MANY, not just 2 or 3) commented on how much they revere this knife. Many have given this knife as a gift to loved ones and they personally own several of the SAME MODEL! That says a lot about a product! Read more.
Kershaw Cryo Speed Safe Folding Knife
The Kershaw Cryo Speed Safe folding knife features a 2 and ¾ inch long steel blade. It has a titanium carbo-nitride coating on both the blade and the handle. It uses the Speed safe opening system.
The designer of this knife is Rick Hinderer. The SpeedSafe makes this knife easy to access in hunting conditions, when you may be able to reach your knife with only one hand. The knife has a warranty.
The blade is black, with a non-serrated edge. The overall length of the knife, when opened, is almost 6 and ½ inches. Consumers who use this knife say that when it is opened, there is no blade play at all, and that it is locked in position with about 40% of the blade against the lock. It’s a very strong blade for the price. I use 8Cr13MOV steel, which makes it easy to sharpen. While not heavily textured, the handle has a grip that keeps it from twisting in your hand. Read more.
Best Hunting Knife for You
As a final recommendation, you just can’t go wrong with the Esee 4P. It’s the toughest knife of the lot with the hardest blade. The Kershaw Blur will also serve you for camping, and in hunting both small and large game, so it’s a tad more versatile than the fixed blade. The durable structure allows you to leverage the knife without fear of breaking it, and the grip is built to fit your hand. Finally, don’t overlook the styling. This is simply a great looking knife.