If you are shopping for the best survival knife on the market, following these simple tips will help you find the best knife and save money. Survival knives range in price, quality, and effectiveness; therefore, getting the best knife truly matters. This KnifeUp guide will walk you through what you should look for in a survival knife as well as the top 10 best survival knives on the market.
Unlike other reviews online, this one features a mixture of first-hand reviews as well as aggregated reviews from across the web so that you get a fair idea of what the consensus on a knife is without much research. There is a lot of marketing and hype in the knife market and this article will help you slice through which survival knife is truly the best and which one is just shameless puffery. Finally, the article ends with a recommendation for general survival situations. Read on my friend!
Quick Overview : Best Survival Knives
|Ka-Bar BK3||Check On Amazon|
|Gerber LMF II||Check On Amazon|
|Ka-Bar BK2||Check On Amazon|
|Tops Hawkes Hellion/Smoke Jumper||Check On Amazon|
|SOG SEAL Team Elite||Check On Amazon|
|Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival Knife||Check On Amazon|
|OKC 499 Air Force Survival||Check On Amazon|
|Ontario SK-5||Check On Amazon|
|Esee 6P||Check On Amazon|
|Ka-Bar US Army||Check On Amazon|
In the old days, a survival knife was a knife with a hollow handle, made for storing survival gear. Many survival knives even came with gear already inside the handle. Today, however, most survivalists agree that a hollow handle is one of the last things that you want in a survival knife. This is because a hollow knife handle creates a weak point in the knife, where the blade and handle can more easily break apart while chopping or stabbing. There are a few hollow handled survival knives that are made from one piece of steel, which solves the problem of the weak point, but experts generally agree that storing items in the handle of your knife is a bad idea. If you lose your knife, you also lose everything stored in the handle. Besides looking for a solid piece of steel that will not break at the handle, you want to look for several other things when choosing the best survival knife.
What to Look for in a Survival Knife
Obviously, you will use your survival knife to survive in the wild, but the terrain, weather, and other environmental factors can vary from person to person and/or outing to outing. Therefore, one must consider first, the purposes for which he or she will use a survival knife before looking at the various differences in the knives available. Once you know exactly what you will be using your knife for, you can begin to consider the various factors that make a survival knife a good or a bad choice.
Finding a good quality blade
The blade of a knife has many different characteristics to consider, such as thickness, length, type of edge, and the metal it is made from. Depending on the tasks for which you intend to use your knife, some characteristics may be more important than others.
Best blade thickness
The thickness of the blade is an important feature to consider when choosing a survival knife. Knives with thicker blades are stronger, making chopping wood and prying much easier, and causing less wear and tear on the knife. Suggested thicknesses for a good survival knife ranges from 5/32” to 1/4”.
Choosing the length
While survival knife blades can measure up to 12 or 14 inches, most people should look for a knife blade that is not quite that long. The longer the blade, the more awkward the knife can be to use and the more likely it is to cause injury to the user. Oftentimes, a mid-sized blade (6 – 10 inches in length) is the best choice for a survival knife – if you want the knife to be useful in a survivalist setting.
Full Tang is a Must
You may also want to consider choosing a knife with a full tang. The tang is the part of the blade that extends down into the handle. A full tang extends all the way to the base of the handle, strengthening the entire knife. Full tang knives are stronger and generally considered best for survival knives.
Edge sharpness–not what you’d think!
Another feature of the blade to consider is the edge. There is some debate among experts as to whether a straight or a serrated edge is best. While both normally work fine for performing the types of tasks one would expect a good survival knife to perform, sharpening a serrated edge knife usually requires a special sharpener, whereas a straight edge can be sharpened with a smooth stone.
Most experts agree however, that the backside of the knife, the part opposite of the blade, should not be sharpened or serrated, as sharpening both edges of the blade weakens the tip. It may also not be as useful as a flat edge, which you can use for hitting or chopping. A blade sharpened on both sides can also be more dangerous to the user, as it is easier to cut yourself on a knife with two sharpened edges.
Metal Material of Great Survival Knives
There are generally two kinds of steel used in making survival knife blades: stainless steel and carbon steel. Stainless steel is usually more brittle and difficult to sharpen, but is much less likely to rust. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is stronger and easier to sharpen, but may rust if not well taken care of. Click here to read more about knife steel.
The Knife Handle
The handle of a great survival knife is comfortable, fits in your hand well, and has a good finger guard that will keep your hand from slipping onto the blade while you are using the knife. Handles with a slight bulge at the butt end can also help keep the knife from slipping out of your hand while you are using it. A feature some may want to look for in a handle is a lanyard hole that allows the user to tie the knife to a pole to make a spear. The most important rule, when shopping for a survival knife, is to choose one that will be useful to you in the situations in which you will use it.
You do not want to buy a knife that is great for chopping, but not useful for much else, for example, if you will use it mostly in the desert where there is not much to chop. Think about what you will be using your knife for, then shop around, read what others say about various knives, and talk to your friends. Better, yet, borrow your friends’ knives and test them out, so you can get a good idea of what works for you and/or what does not work for you.
Top Ten Best Survival Knives
Below you will find a listing, as well as complete information on the top ten survival knives. These ratings are based on quality, price, and the features of the knives.
This straight-edged, full tang, leather handled, marked for Army personnel knife, features a 7-inch 1095 cro-van steel blade and is manufactured right here in the U.S.A. The KA-BAR US Army Fighting/Utility Knife Straight Edge is the U.S. Army version of the leather handled fixed blade KA-BAR and is priced at just $63. There is also the classic KA-Bar USMC knife which is exactly similar to this except leather sheath has the USMC eagle, globe, and anchor on it.
KA-BAR uses a three-step heat treat process to ensure that its blades are durable and provide optimum performance. This three-step process includes running the blade through a conveyor oven for approximately one hour, freezing the blade to -120 degrees Fahrenheit, and then heating the blade for about seven hours in a walk-in oven (called tempering). All KA-BAR knives are then subjected to a multipart inspection process before being approved for shipping.
This knife weighs just over 11 ounces, is 11 and 7/8 inches long, and comes with a leather sheath. The blade is thick, clearly made from a very hard, durable steal, and is very sharp right out of the box. The sheath that comes with this knife is not nearly as good as the Kydex sheaths that you can order separately, but we have absolutely no complaints with the KA-BAR US Army Fighting/Utility Knife Straight Edge.
78 reviewers have given this knife a total rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars, with 71 of them giving it a perfect score of 5 stars! Reviewers call the KA-BAR US Army Fighting/Utility Knife with Straight Edge a knife that “makes the other ones look like toys”, a “timeless piece of pure function” and a “must-have for all outdoorsmen”.
The Esee 6P could just as well have been higher up on our list, but there were so many good options it was hard to rank them!
The 6P features a Micarta handle for toughness and longevity while the 6.5 inch blade is made from 1095 High Carbon Steel. This Survival/tactical knife is more than capable of performing bushcraft/survival tasks like cutting down small trees (2″-3″ diameter) using a batoning method, splitting wood, carving shavings and dressing game. The steel is pretty hard so it does have the tendency to stain/rust if not cared for properly. Esee suggests using a dry film rust inhibitor such as TUF-GLIDE or TUF-CLOTH on their blades especially when not in use.
It goes almost without saying that it features a full-tang handle and a tough polymer injection-molded sheath.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; the Esee guarantee is beyond merely good or even great. It’s so good that anytime you EVER need to repair or replace something on the knife, you can send it to Esee EVEN WITHOUT A RECEIPT or Proof of Purchase of any kind! In fact, here’s their written guarantee to prove it!
Our warranty is pretty simple: if you break it, we will repair or replace it. We will not question the validity of your warranty claim for a broken knife. Warranty is lifetime and transferable. In other words, we warranty the knife no matter how many times it’s been traded, sold or given away – no sales receipt or proof of purchase required. We must have the knife returned to validate a warranty claim.
Having said this, Esee does have some further qualifications which you can read HERE.
The Ontario 75000 Blackbird SK-5 Wilderness Survival Knife is made from 154CM steel, known for its edge retaining ability. The knife features a .13-inch thick and 5-inch long plain edge blade and weighs only 8.4 ounces. At $109, this knife is a bargain!
The knife was designed by Paul Sheiter, owner of Hedgehog Leatherworks, whose company motto is, “When in Doubt: Throw it Out”. In keeping with this mantra of quality assurance, Mr. Sheiter has created, and Ontario produced, a quality product with the Ontario 75000 Blackbird SK-5 Wilderness Survival Knife.
This knife is durable, comfortable in your hand, and a good solid tool of survival. It comes with a MOLLE compatible durable sheath with a plastic liner and drain hole, is razor sharp right out of the box, and is the perfect weight.
21 reviewers give the Ontario 75000 Blackbird SK-5 Wilderness Survival Knife 4.5 out of 5 stars, calling it the “perfect survival knife” and exclaiming, “all I can say is wow!” The reviewers all agree that this is a beautiful and effective survival tool.
I had a chance to visit the Ontario Knife Company in Western New York State recently. This survival knife was one that caught my attention because of its history and iconic status. It’s a knife that has been carried by U.S. military pilots since 1958. It’s been issued to the U.S. Special Forces and it was the only one given to them from 1989-1995. It features a very easy-to-grip handle made of compressed leather discs. The 5-inch blade has a serrated top edge for a sawing action and the whole deal includes a sheath and sharpening stone (with its own pouch).
The blade is fabricated from 1095 carbon steel and it has a full tang for ultimate durability and functionality.
It’s worth to note the fact that this knife is GSA-compliant. That’s a designation that products are given if they’re good enough to be sold to any U.S. government agency. That also means that this knife is made fully in the U.S.A.
The $65 Gerber 31-001901 Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Fixed Blade Survival Knife boasts 10 inches of full tang, premium steel, in a solid survivalist tool. A full fine edge, drop point blade, emergency lanyard whistle, and space in the sheath for Bear’s Priorities of Survival Pocket Guide (which comes with it) make this knife the ultimate survivalist tool.
This knife comes with a well-designed sheath made for left or right-handed carry, and containing a carbide pull-through sharpener, a hole in the bottom to allow water to drain out, and a vertical mounted ferrocerium fire starter. The pocket guide not only tells you, but also shows you, how to perform possibly life-saving tasks such as building a shelter, collecting water, making a fire, and navigating without a compass. And, it is waterproof!
Our only complaint with this knife is that it is a bit on the heavy side.
48 reviewers give this knife a total of 4.6 out of 5 stars, calling the Gerber 31-001901 Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Fixed Blade Survival Knife a “serious performer”, “well balanced” and “an all-around good knife”.
The SOG Specialty Knives & Tools SE37-K Seal Team Elite Knife has been Navy SEAL tested and approved in one of the most extensive testing programs the government has ever used. This 12.3-inch survival knife featuring a 7-inch partially serrated AUS8 stainless steel blade, spine rasp for notching, and extended tang is a steal at $105. This knife’s features include:
- Partially serrated AUS8 stainless steel blade
- Titanium Nitride (TiNi) blade coating
- extended Tang for glass breaking and hammering applications
- durable Zytel handle
- MOLLE compatible hard side Kydex sheath
SOG Specialty Knives was founded in 1986, by Spencer Frazer, in order to commemorate a Bowie knife carried by our troops in Vietnam, called the MACV-SOG. Today, SOG Specialty Knives’ line of knives have been field-tested and proven by U.S. Special Forces, and honored as the knife of choice by the U.S. Navy SEALs.
Any knife that our troops love is good enough for us! This knife makes our top 10 list of survival knives because of its quality and versatility, however, its price tag keeps it out of the top 3.
21 of 26 reviewers gave the SOG Specialty Knives & Tools SE37-K Seal Team Elite Knife 5 out of 5 stars calling this knife “my new favorite knife”, “the best knife I’ve owned”, and “d’knife of my dreams!”
This $130 knife includes a fixed, 9” full tang tanto style blade made of 5160 carbon steel. The knife features Black Micarta handles, comes with a black nylon belt sheet with utility pouch, and was made in the U.S.A. The total length of the knife is 14 ¾ inches.
Tops knives are handcrafted and designed by a team of survivalists, which includes martial arts instructors, SWAT team members, tactical officers, and outdoor educators. The knives are manufactured right here in the U.S.A. While a little pricey at around $130, it is worth every penny, according to its owners.
See the Smoke Jumper on Blade HQ! BladeHQ
This knife comes in number 4 on our list of top 10 survivor knives because its hefty price tag and size make it fall a little short of the top 3.
5 out of 5 reviewers gave this knife the highest rating of 5 stars. One reviewer exclaims, “The FINEST knife I have ever come across!” Another review calls the HHS2020 Hawkes Hellion Survivor Fixed Blade Knife with Black Micarta Handles, “a real work of art, and a quality, no-nonsense knife”.
The $70 Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Champion Fixed Blade Knife has a fixed blade, which is ¼” thick and 5 ½ inches long. The blade is made of 1095 cro-van steel, an easy to sharpen carbon steel. With an overall length of 10 ½ inches, this knife is easy to carry, easy to use survival knife for hunters, anglers, and campers. The knife comes with a glass filled, durable nylon sheath that holds the knife snugly and helps keep it sharp, includes a lanyard hole, and was made in the U.S.A.
The designer of this knife, Ethan Becker, is an outdoorsman who began designing his knives in the early 1980s for his company, Becker Knife and Tool. Mr. Becker designs knives that he has always wanted for himself.
With its durable design and easy to sharpen blade, this knife is a steal at $70. However, because of its weight of nearly a pound, we rate the Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife at number 3.
619 reviewers gave this knife a combined rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. One reviewer called the Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife “a serious hunk of metal” while others referred to it as the “sturdiest, most durable blade in a survival/camping knife” and a “good solid tool that should last for several lifetimes”.
This rugged, versatile, made in the U.S. A. survival knife comes with a low profile sheath, which is made of ballistic nylon and contains a built-in sharpener, for the awesome price of $70. The Gerber 22-01400 LMF II Survival Knife has been field-tested by our troops, so you can be sure that it will provide the high performance you need in almost any emergency.
Designed by former military man Jeff Freeman, this knife is 10 inches of pure craftsmanship. Since 1939, Gerber Legendary Blades has been providing consumers with popular, dependable knives. Gerber knives are engineered and manufactured in the U.S.A. and each one is backed by Gerber’s lifetime warranty.
Its quality, price, and great design make this knife number 2 on our list.
117 reviewers have given this knife a total score of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Reviewers are calling this knife “awesome”, “top quality”, “innovative”, and a “great knife at an amazing price”. All seem to agree that this knife is a heavy-duty quality survival knife.
The $85 Ka-Bar Becker BK3 Tac Tool Fixed Blade Knife features a 7-inch 1095 cro-van steel blade, and is made to smash, chop, hammer, and cut. This knife includes a partially serrated blade, seat belt cutter, and a black grivory handle and comes with a hard glass filled sheath.
The Ka-Bar Becker BK3 Tac Tool Fixed Blade Knife contains a full-length tang, fits comfortably in your hand, and was clearly designed with usefulness and durability in mind. While you would not want to carry this as an everyday knife, with its solid construction and built-in utility, this knife is an awesome survivalist tool.
Pictures do not do this knife justice. This is knife is a beautifully crafted work of art! Its durability, functionality, and unbeatable price make the Ka-Bar Becker BK3 Tac Tool Fixed Blade Knife our number 1 choice for a survival knife.
83 reviewers give the Ka-Bar Becker BK3 Tac Tool Fixed Blade Knife a total of 4.6 out of 5 stars, describing it as solid, a “real tool for real tasks” and the “ultimate” survival and rescue tool.
Conclusion to Best Survival Knife
In conclusion, KnifeUp.com recommends that the best survival knife be one that is fixed blade, made of easily sharpened steel, full tang, and is thick enough to baton. The Ka-bar Becker BK3 is this writer’s favorite for it can be useful in a multitude of situations. I hope this article on the best survival knife suits you well.