In a life and death situation, you want the best tool possible. And when you’re out in the wild, you want the best survival knife possible.
Here’s my story of when a knife saved my life and why I always carry one whenever I go into the woods now:
How a Knife Saved My Life
How a Knife Saved My Life
My love for the Everglades started as a kid, when my brother and I would take pillowcases out with us in the early hours after sunrise and catch ribbon snakes to sell to the local pet stores.
Our motto was “if it moves, catch it” and as we grew up, our mother was mortified by what we would bring home.
In my early teens, I visited some relatives in the town of Immokalee. At that time there wasn’t much more than a federal prison and a lotta swamp and brushland. And gators.
That’s one day I will never forget.
Heading out for an early morning hike, hoping to see a panther, my uncle, John, handed me a knife before I left. “For the boar” he said, as if that explained all the mysteries of life.
I almost didn’t take it; I’ve been hanging around the Glades for most of my life and had never needed knife.
Truth was, I had never held a knife like this before and I was pretty convinced he was overreacting. But my mama taught me to respect my elders, and he was her brother, so I tucked it in my back pocket and headed out.
I wasn’t far from the homestead when I heard it.
Half pig squeal, half growl. I had been moving quietly, and paying attention to my surroundings – if you’ve ever encountered a banana spider web, you’ll understand – and I hadn’t seen or heard it until it was right there, less than a dozen yards away.
Two things stood out – the size of the boar and the size of his tusks. I started to back away when, as if provoked, it charged.
I remember thinking, “The boar wants the knife back”. Yeah, fear can make us think, and do, some pretty stupid stuff. For such a few seconds of time, I can’t believe how long it felt.
The boar was only a few feet away when the shot came. John had followed me out into the brush.
I won’t bore you with details, but in those seconds and the hours afterwards, this sixteen year old know-it-all learned some valuable lessons that I’ve taken with me through all my years and travel.
First and foremost was to always be prepared to fight for your life. The second was to heed warnings from the natives.
Later, after the adrenaline from the fear wore off and was replaced with embarrassment, I decided to always keep a spare set of clothes – just in case.
Using the knife he had given me, John taught me to dress a boar, all the while explaining how to handle the blade – and myself – without panicking.
Whether you’re in the outback of Australia or the concrete jungle of New York City, you need to be prepared. One of the more unassuming tools to carry is a knife.
But like any tool, you need the right one for the right job. We’re going to look at the survival knife.
- Types of Survival Knives
- Why You Need a Survival Knife
- Features of Survival Knives: How to Choose the Right Knife
- Fixed Blade vs Folding Blade: Which is Best for Survival Knives?
- Blade Material: What Type of Steel is Best?
- Length: How Long Should Your Survival Knife Be?
- Blade Tang: Partial or Full Tang?
- Blade Edge: Which Style is Best for Survival Situations?
- Blade and Point Type
- Blade Thickness
- Gimmicks: Knife Features You DON’T Need
- Knife Handle
- Survival Knife Uses: How a Knife Can Save Your Life
- Best Survival Knives Under $50
- Best Survival Knives Under $100
- Best Survival Knives Under $200
- Our Picks for the Best Survival Knives
- The Best Survival Knife is…
Types of Survival Knives
Survival knives are a basic survivalist or hunter’s tool. But what about other styles? If you’re in the woods, is a bushcraft knife best? Or a hunting knife? But what about tactical knives – aren’t they’re meant for self-defense and survival? Do you need multiple knives?
I once heard it said that a survival knife must excel at the unknown. And really, there’s a lot of truth there.
Most knives have specific uses that they are designed for, but a survival knife must be able to perform where you wouldn’t normally consider using a knife. Because let’s face it – life and death situations rarely come on a schedule or with a written program.
To sum it up, there are a few basic styles that one might consider using as a survival knife:
A typical hunting knife will be a fixed blade, generally over 7″, and have a sharp hook on the spine for opening up to gut. These blades are rarely serrated but have a sharp blade.
This knife is designed for working with wood, specifically brush and branches. Shorter, generally non-serrated, a fixed blade or folding knife would work.
The blade must be sharp and simple, and the handle as grippy as possible.
As a general rule, a tactical knife has military features. It must be useful in military-type scenarios (say, cutting harness to get out of a downed helo) as well as forward and reverse grip.
The tip should be strong and the blade length no more than 4″. Fixed or folding are acceptable.
Also called a combat knife, a fighting knife is used for just that – lethal confrontation. Simple blades are best, and while a fixed blade is preferred, a folding could do the trick just as easily.
All you need to do is hold on to the knife and penetrate your opponent, but ergonomics are important. And so is grippiness when wet.
Why You Need a Survival Knife
As you can see, different knives are designed for specific purposes. A survival knife needs to work for all these specific purposes – and then some.
The same knife might be used to cut and strip a branch, lash the knife onto the end to spear a fish, then clean the fish – and then protect yourself from that bear that just wandered into your camp.
The true definition of a survival knife is out of reach, because we can’t always conceive of the situation we might find ourselves in with only that knife to rely on.
Its use must also cover urban situations as well; your car winds up in the lake and you can’t unlatch your seatbelt. A hot summer afternoon and you walk past a parked car with the windows rolled up and a baby in the back seat. Late at night in a dark parking garage and the footsteps are getting closer.
Rather than asking what a knife can do, when considering a survival knife ask yourself what it can’t do. The shorter the list, the better the knife.
Features of Survival Knives: How to Choose the Right Knife
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s turn our attention to the knife itself. There are really two things that make up a good survival knife; blade and handle.
When it comes to survival, the less you compromise, the better you are. Mind you – don’t run out and get the most expensive knife you can find.
And for the love of all things holy, don’t watch “The Hunted” then run out and buy a matching one thinking you’re going to be prepared for everything up to a zombie apocalypse. Keep in mind a few things when selecting your knife:
Knife style – moving parts are weak, and breakable, parts.
Blade material – harder metal is tougher to sharpen, but holds an edge longer. On the other hand, a softer metal sharpens easier and finer but requires attention more often.
Overall length – longer is heavier, but heavier works better. Longer also means you need to pay more attention to the balance.
Blade tang – how much of the blade goes into the handle. Less tang, more likely for breakage. Don’t settle for less than full tang. Extended tang is best.
Blade edge – a personal choice, but for survival the combination with spine serration is the better choice.
Blade point – the design of the end of the knife will determine how much leverage you will have.
Fixed Blade vs Folding Blade: Which is Best for Survival Knives?
One of the hottest topics with knife owners anywhere, the battle between fixed and folded is generally solved by the category said knife falls into.
Either is easy to identify; the fixed is one length while the folded, well, folds. There’s really not much more than that. Each has a place where it shines, and a place where it fails miserably.
A folded knife should never be depended on as a hunting or survival knife.
The fixed bade is a continuous length. Because the lengths can exceed 14″, and weight increase with size, consideration must be given to use and carting.
The standard sheath will allow for belt attachment, and the longer lengths often come with thigh ties. Better quality knives will have MOLLE compatible sheaths.
The singular makeup of this design – especially full or extended tang – make for strong tools that can handle tough outdoor tasks.
The folded knife has an advantage that you can store the knife safely, in about half the space. The sheath for a 7″ fixed blade might be over 10″, but a 7″ folding knife can be folded and tossed pretty much anywhere.
The major drawback is that any hinged point – no matter how well made or the quality of the materials – is a weak point and must be considered a potential failure. Having the blade snap off a knife while trying to strip a branch can cause a life threatening injury.
Folded knives are well suited for a bug out bag, or a place where you are lacking room but you need a blade handy.
Blade Material: What Type of Steel is Best?
An important factor when choosing a knife is the material of the blade. While they are metal across the board, it’s the type of material – in conjunction with the style of the blade – that needs to be investigated.
Some of the considerations that vary with material and design include hardness, flexibility, and edge retention.
Stainless Steel – Everyone knows that stainless steel isn’t really stainless. Not only that, but it will rust if not cared for.
Carbon Steel – Like its cousin, this is a stainless steel with a higher carbon additive. Many carbon steel blades have different recipes, and as a result different names.
AUS-8 Steel – A common stainless steel, hard and durable.
CPM3V Steel – Another American made powder, it is extremely tough. It is not in the stainless steel class, and will tarnish quickly but that will not affect the quality of the blade.
S30V Steel – This powder steel is made in the USA just outside of Syracuse, NY. There are variations in hardening that has created a few different versions, S35VN, for example.
1095 Steel – A lower cost steel, it’s more durable but varies with recipe.
1.4116 Steel – While the exact compound is a bit of a mystery, this is the steel used in Swiss Army Knives. The softer metal does not hold an edge long, but sharpens quickly and easily.
154CM Steel – This non-powdered (the 154CPM is a powder base) this is a good quality that is tough and relatively corrosion resistant.
420HC Steel – Another carbon steel, this one is a bit softer and easy to sharpen.
8Cr13MoV Steel – This includes any of the “CR” series of stainless steel. This is a Chinese produced steel, primarily found in imported knives. The higher the first digit, the higher the quality. Don’t pick anything lower than an 8Cr.
Length: How Long Should Your Survival Knife Be?
The fact is, the length depends on the type of knife, type of blade, and intended uses. While there are certainly some helpful guidelines, you certainly wouldn’t want a 14″ bowie in your bug out bag, or a 3″ folded for a weekend hunting.
Also keep in mind that longer means heavier, so balance becomes critical. Finally, just because a 10″ might be an optimum length for a survival knife, that doesn’t mean it’s optimal for you.
Blade Tang: Partial or Full Tang?
Simply put, the tang is the part of the blade that goes into the handle. The more tang – that is, the more of the blade that extends into the handle – the sturdier and safer the knife under use.
Partial tang is weaker than full tang; never settle for anything less than full tang.
Quite simply the best option, the extended tang is just that; the metal extends past the end of the handle, creating a pommel of hardened steel that could be used for smacking or crushing.
While most knives have some sort of surface at the butt, where you have joints of two different materials you have the possibility of weakness.
The full tang stops at the butt of the handle. Some manufacturers add a pommel cap, but not all. Like extended, this is the strongest blade-to-handle design.
This is the fraternal twin of the full tang. Rather than the handle added via screw, the encapsulated has the handle molded around the tang.
This design limits the handle design, but the offset is that they are generally rubberized, increasing comfort and decreasing slippage.
A partial tang is when a smaller amount of the blade material extends into the handle. This can be thin, straight piece or a taper of the original blade.
Either way, it’s a weakening of the knife as a whole and increases the possibility of breakage between the handle and blade during use.
The only positive is the design often results in a lighter knife, since it contains less metal.
There are several types of partial tangs, but since they’re all basically the same thing we’ve listed them below:
Blade Edge: Which Style is Best for Survival Situations?
Also known as the cutting edge, the blade edge covers the entire shaft, to the point. The blade and point type will be covered later – right now we’re just looking at that cutting edge.
One popular argument among hunters and survivalists is the edge. The truth is, it’s a personal choice and based on your skill set and the environment you expect to find yourself in.
Also known as a plain edge, this is the flat ground area for cutting or penetration. A plain edge also works well for scaling or skinning, as well as batoning. A plain edge is the simplest to sharpen.
A full or partial serrated edge is one that has “teeth”, whether they be deep and aggressive or shallow and inconspicuous. The benefits of serration is for the cutting materials such as rope and branches. It also allows for a ripping action.
The serrated edge is tough to sharpen, though.
You guessed it – a combination edge is both plain and serrated. Usually the serration is on the spine, but can also be a short portion in front of the handle.
This is our preferred style, as it combines the uses of both.
Blade and Point Type
Not all points are created equal. Each has strengths and weaknesses within their primary uses, and it’s important to understand they are an extension of the blade.
Each blade is designed for a particular tip; while you can certainly make adjustments as necessary, you cannot turn a trailing into a drop. Well, you could – but the blade itself would not tolerate and would fail spectacularly upon the first use.
Named after the Japanese short sword, the Tanto blade generally has a straight spine and the business end of the blade has a double bevel; running the length of the blade and another where the blade angles sharply towards the tip.
While this makes for quicker and deeper penetration, it is an additional surface to be ground independently of the primary edge.
The drop point can look similar to the Tanto – and in some cases can be interchanged, the drop point has a curve from the primary length to the tip, whereas the Tanto generally has a straight edge.
Also, the tip is usually lower than the spine, a gentle slope. These points are quite strong as well, without the additional edge to grind.
Similar to the drop point, the clip point has a convex curve from the primary to the tip, and the point is lower than the spine. But unlike the drop, the spine to tip is angled or concave, and visually different. It looks “clipped” off.
Able to pierce like a hot knife through butter, this design does tend to weaken the tip, due mainly to less blade mass. These are the traditional folding knife blade style.
The spear point’s tip is more of a blade design; the tip is centered on the double-edged blade with a gentle slope, and both sides are sharpened.
While its primary use is found in piercing or prying, and it is very controllable, it’s a poor choice for cutting or slicing.
Most commonly used in skinning or scaling, these long, this blades are not as delicate as they look. Most notable is the upward curve of the tip, which often ends higher than the handle of the knife. They are also very flexible.
The points are rather weak, but they are suited for the delicate work of skinning – but nothing else.
Technically, this isn’t really a point. Commonly found in folding knives, the sheepsfoot has a curved or tapered spine down to a straight cutting edge.
The spine is generally dull, although some manufacturers try to make it more useful with serrations. The points are not sharp – or supposed to be – but these blades make fine cutting instruments.
The blade thickness, like tang and point, are important to consider when choosing a knife. A fillet knife that was thick and inflexible would never be able to scale a trout.
Likewise, a serrated hunting knife that was thin and flexible would likely break within a few cuts. A general rule of thumb among experts (general, folks – don’t email me) is:
- Filleting: 1/8″
- Hunting: 3/16″
- Survival: 5/32″ – 1/2″
Now, it’s important to remember that the blade style and length have a LOT to do with the thickness. Familiarize yourself with both; go to a hunting or survival shop and handle a few blades and get a feel.
Don’t forget – the more you sharpen a blade, the more you lose the edge thickness. Also, if a blade is serrated then then common sense dictates it needs to be thicker to compensate for the work expected from it. Lastly, thickness adds weight.
Gimmicks: Knife Features You DON’T Need
Everyone loves their gimmicks, and every manufacturer has them. The key is to dig past them to find a worthy knife.
For example, one knife we reviewed was utterly drenched in marketing as a “Government issue” to the point that we almost didn’t add it because we were choking on the bologna. That would have been a shame, because it is actually a fine knife.
The point is not to get caught up with them. Various gimmicks include:
- Useless accessories – if they won’t help you in any scenario you can imagine, they’re useless.
- “Government issue” – if it’s GI, why are you selling it to any bum off the street?
- Ties to US or foreign armed service – oh, really?
- Celebrity endorsement – ever meet a celebrity that wasn’t in it for the money?
Not all gimmicks should be treated like cons or scams, but think twice before choosing a knife based heavily on the hype.
More or less, this is the butt of the knife. Usually, it refers to any addition (such as a twist cam for handle storage) or the edge used to hammer – this can include the extended end of the tang, or a molded and added piece.
Rarely, it could be a “tail” of the handle that is drilled for a lanyard.
The handle is what you hold on to, and the barrier between your hand and the knife. The better the grip, the better the knife as a whole.
Often the quality of the handle comes down to materials over design, but a poor design made from the best metal is still a poor design. Of the multitude of materials, we’ve listed the most common:
- ABS: Short for amorphous thermoplastic terpolymer, this is the most popular material used
- Bone: While not the most practical as far as use, it’s quite common for a hunter to have his handle redone using bone or antler from a prized drop. This is not a good choice for a working knife, but makes an amazing keepsake.
- Carbon Fiber: A woven fabric of carbon strands that is set with resin (akin to fiberglass), this is an expensive material to make a handle from. In today’s economics, to have a carbon fiber handle would equate to either a very expensive knife, or a very cheap blade.
- Leather: Leather handles are actually pretty common, although an odd process. Used primarily on partial tang blades, the leather is stamped and cut washers that are stacked to make a handle.
- Micarta: Another fabric/resin construction, this features layers of cloth – anything from linen to paper – that are soaked in resin and compressed and heated. The material is lightweight and can be molded for texture, as well as pigmented.
- Rubber: While it’s a broad description, various forms of rubber are used for grips because they are cheap and are very grippy.
- Zytel: This thermoplastic was invented by DuPont, is very tough and considered unbreakable.
Storage in Handle
Ah, hidden compartments. We all love them, even if we don’t admit it. There’s just something about having access to goods and gadgets that no one knows we have. It’s all James Bond’s fault.
But there can be practicality in stealth, although it often comes at a cost.
Before you get caught up with a handle that can hold an entertainment center and a wet bar, remember that in order to have a hollow handle you sacrifice the tang – and that’s generally not an acceptable trade-off.
Compass in Handle
So, last thing we’re going to tell you is that you shouldn’t get – or don’t need – a compass. These amazing gadgets are cheap and have meant the difference between life and death more times than anyone can count.
We’re here to talk about a compass of the butt of your knife. There are several quality knives on the market with this design. But we feel it’s important to point out two details you might overlook:
- A compass in the butt means you’ve lost your pounding edge
- There’s a higher likelihood of the compass being damaged
That being said, if you’re determined to have a compass (and who wouldn’t?) and insist it has to be part of your knife, then look for one that either incorporates the compass into the sheath or is embedded in the side of the handle (impact resistant plastic, of course!), or as a removable cap on the handle.
Survival Knife Uses: How a Knife Can Save Your Life
A wise man once said “If she can’t find you handsome, she should at least find you useful”. It’s actually a pretty good perspective when coming at gear – is it handsome or useful? Some of the basic tasks your survival knife will be expected to do well include:
Generally done with an axe or hatchet, it’s important that your knife be able to handle this as well. Chopping is usually linked to trees and branches, but the common motion is really nothing more than a series of hits.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but could cover any animal from fish to elk, but the same motion could be used to remove thin layers of bark, or even rubber from a tire.
Hunting is the intentional act of trapping or tracking an animal for the purpose of killing it. Intentional hunters oftentimes have their routines and methods carefully planned out, so emergencies are less likely to come up that, say, for the average hiker or camper.
Basically, batoning is a fancy word for splitting. Get your knife started, and use a rock or whatever else you can find to drive your knife in and split the branch. This is also good for prying or starting a point of leverage.
Starting a Fire
Yes, you use your knife to start a fire – but unlike those reality tv shows, it’s a little more involved than that. Enter the ferrocerium rod. It’s a neat little man-made material of various “-miums”, and the recipe can vary by manufacturer.
Basically, unless you’re lucky enough to have a lighter, or wind up near a pile of flint, a ferrocerium rod is going to save your bacon – and help you cook it.
Best Survival Knives Under $50
Let’s face it – we all could use with saving a few bucks where we can.
But the bottom line is that more expensive doesn’t mean better; sometimes having two or three knives tucked around for easy access no matter where you are, could be better than one superior knife that you have to grab and pack every time you need it – or worse, waste precious time looking for it.
The truth is that a survival knife needs to be there in an emergency, and most of us aren’t anal retentive enough to schedule emergencies.
Before we jump ahead in price, however, let’s take a look at some of the more cost effective knives out there – and try to get the best cut for your buck.
Here are our picks for the best survival knife under $50:
|Knife Model||Length||Blade Type||Rating||Price|
|Survivor HK-106320 Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife||7" overall / 3" blade||Extended tang, drop point||4.4||See Price|
|Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife||10" overall / 4.8" blade||Drop point, non-tang||4.6||See Price|
|Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife||8.6" overall / 4.1" blade||Push tang, drop point||4.7||See Price|
|Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Full Tang Drop Point Fixed Blade||10.8" overall / 5.4" blade||Full tang, drop-point||4.6||See Price|
|Ontario 499 Air Force Survival Knife||9.5" overall , 5" blade||Drop tang, serrated top edge||4.5||See Price|
Survivor HK-106320 Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: Cord wrapped
- Length: 7″ overall / 3″ blade
- Materials: Stainless steel
Overview: Okay, let’s be honest – we argued over this one. About everything. From the overall look of the knife, the construction to the sheath, and actually throwing insults at each other.
Really, it all comes down to you actually get more than you pay for with this little bugger. Yes, the corded handle is cheesy – but re-grip it with some quality 550 paracord and you’re way ahead of the game.
The blade was sharp. The balance was a little off, but paired up with a good branch it made an effective spear.
On the sharp side: It’s a cheap blade, and quite effective. The included firestarter actually works. It works well.
On the dull side: The handle really is a joke. The serration is almost non-existent. The overall size of the handle proved less than adequate balance and would likely be problematic in larger hands.
Summary: For the price, a decent full tang with a surprisingly effective firestarter. Re-wrap the handle and you’ve got a good knife – and an extra length of cord. Get a couple and toss ‘em in a few different places to be prepared.
Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife
- Blade: Drop point, non-tang
- Handle: Textured rubber
- Length: 10″ overall / 4.8″ blade
- Materials: High carbon stainless
Overview: We really wanted to like this knife, but the overall quality-to-price made it difficult. The grip felt good with short use before getting uncomfortable. I managed to chip the edge. I also managed to break the hammer pommel off – and for the record, I stand by that I wasn’t abusing the knife.
We were not impressed with the pricing being all over the place, as their standard and “pro” versions were hard to keep straight when ordering. Good thing we got both.
Personally, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when a manufacturer has two versions of an “ultimate” knife – and one is clearly sub-par.
On the sharp side: The included survival instructions were useful. The placement of the serrated edge was comfortable while gripped.
On the dull side: Not full tang. The “hammer pommel” could snap off while hammering because it is not an extension of the blade metal. The price tag is too high, because of the name.
Summary: A mediocre blade with a celebrity name and a freaking whistle attached to it. We expected much better for an “ultimate” knife. Especially from a company like Gerber.
Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: High friction rubber grip
- Length: 8.6″ overall / 4.1″ blade
- Materials: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel
Overview: Well, it looks like someone took the rainbow out for a spin. The sheath and knife accents are available in pretty much any color you would want. No, not camo. And no, I wasn’t a fan of the hot pink.
Aside from the colors, it’s a surprisingly sturdy knife. At first glance I expected it to me uncomfortable to handle, but I was pleasantly surprised with the comfort of the grip – even with wet hands the knife wasn’t going anywhere.
The blade was sharp out of the sheath and although it’s missing a serrated edge, it certainly held its own in the brush pile.
On the sharp side: It’s a worthy knife (in certain colors) with a 3/4 tang and an amazingly grippy grip.
On the dull side: What were they thinking making outdoor knives in those colors?
Summary: A well-made knife, and a steal at the price. Buy two. Or three. And a pink one for the wife.
Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Full Tang Drop Point Fixed Blade
- Blade: Full tang, drop-point
- Handle: Ring Textured TPE
- Length: 10.8″ overall / 5.4″ blade
- Materials: 8Cr13MoV High Carbon Stainless Steel
Overview: The quickest way to our good side is with fixed full tang. The spine is 90⁰, and barely squeaks by as serrated. Throws sparks pretty nicely, though.
The blade of the Schrade was sharp enough right out of the box to not bother messing with it. The hand slabs come off easy enough and reattach without any fuss but the jimping (notches on the spine of the knife used to improve grip) was surely someone’s idea of a fashion flair rather than useful.
The balance is good, and it’s comfortable to saw. It would be more comfortable with a little more serration.
On the sharp side: Full tang blade that’s sharp. Wet hands don’t lose grip on the handle. The lanyard hole is a nice addition, as long as someone doesn’t loop it around their neck.
On the dull side: The jimping on the handle could prove troublesome for some users.
Summary: A full tang that’s sharp out of the box, at a decent price point. Don’t like the handle – consider taking it in for a custom handle or make your own.
Ontario 499 Air Force Survival Knife
- Blade: Drop tang, serrated top edge
- Handle: Natural leather, stacked
- Length: 9.5″ overall , 5″ blade
- Materials: 1095 Carbon Steel, 0.1875
Overview: Out of the sheath, we liked the feel of this knife. We would have liked to see a more aggressive serration, but you can’t expect the performance of a Ferrari when you’re driving a Prius.
Still, the balance felt good and I’m pretty sure Mike won’t cut any fingers off with it. I felt it needed sharpening before use, just not with the included stone.
On the sharp side: Made in the USA. The serration is pretty good for cutting aluminum. This is a boasted as a government issue knife, and all indications are that what we have in our hands is exactly what’s in our service men and women’s bags.
On the dull side: The leather handle has a tendency to dry out and crack – as well as becoming loose – due to the untreated leather. The grinding of the blade can prove troublesome.
Summary: An inexpensive Army and Air Force issued knife that feels good in the hand.
Best Survival Knives Under $100
As the dollar signs increase, ‘pay a little more, get a little more’ is the name of the game. This section is the middle of the road for the average budget of the average outdoorsman or survivalist.
As such, we’re upping our standards and lowering our tolerance for frivolity. At these price points, we expect full function coupled with an outdoor feel that we can depend on.
Among these are presumption of full or extended tang, higher quality materials and workmanship, and the ability to withstand mistreatment. Hey, let’s be real – what kind of survival knife would it be if it cannot stand up to a little abuse?
Here are our picks for the best survival knife under $100:
|Knife Model||Length||Blade Type||Rating||Price|
|Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife||10.5" overall / 5.5" blade||Full tang, drop point||4.7||See Price|
|Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Knife||10" overall / 4.8" blade||Extended tang, drop point||4.6||See Price|
|Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Steel Survival Knife||9.1" overall / 4.3" blade||Push tang, drop point||4.7||See Price|
|Gerber LMF II Survival Knife||10.6" overall / 4.8" blade||Push tang, drop point||4.7||See Price|
|SOG SEAL Team Elite Fixed Blade SE37-N||9.5" overall , 5" blade||Extended tang, clip point||4.7||See Price|
Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife
- Blade: Full tang, drop point
- Handle: Zytel (Grivory)
- Length: 10.5″ overall / 5.5″ blade
- Materials: 1095 cro-van steel
Overview: I know we’re concentrating on reviewing the knives, but I hafta say – I really liked the sheath. But then, I have a soft spot for anything that’s MOLLE compatible.
The blade is made in the USA, and made well. Although it’s lacking serration, it cuts and strips well. The butt isn’t exactly hammer-friendly, but between the grip and weight, it passed our tests.
On the sharp side: Well made full tang blade. Feels good in the hand, and balance was pretty spot-on. Cut everything we threw at it, and it’s made in the USA.
On the dull side: At just about a pound, it’s a little heavy for everyday use.
Summary: If you’re looking for a good all-around performer without being too fancy, you’ve found it.
Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: TPE overmold
- Length: 10″ overall / 4.8″ blade
- Materials: 9Cr19MoV stainless steel
Overview: There’s a lot that goes into picking out items for reviews – and not just the budget and all the cool toys we get to buy. Although we don’t usually include it, we scrutinize at everything from ordering through using the product. We just don’t want to bore you with all the details.
Unlike its little brother, the Pro version of the Bear Grylls Ultimate knife is definitely an upgrade. While missing the serration – a dandy little thing that is helpful in the woods – the metal is obviously upgraded.
The pommel hammer is now usable since its one piece of metal.
On the sharp side: On its own, it’s a good metal, good balance. Grip is comfortable. Survival guide is still useful.
On the dull side: Made in China. Stupid whistle is still there. Too much hype drives the expectation up, resulting in disappointment.
Summary: It’s an upgrade from its little brother. Overall, the knife series as a whole was disappointing. Mike says I need to eat a Snickers bar.
Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Steel Survival Knife with Fire Starter and Sheath
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: Rubber grip
- Length: 9.1″ overall / 4.3″ blade
- Materials: Carbon steel
Overview: Another in the Morakniv family, and we weren’t disappointed. The high carbon blade arrived sharp, and the beefiness gave us warm fuzzies that it could withstand years of sharpening.
Although the sheath is a little on the cheesy side (okay, a LOT), having the Firestarter and pretty decent integrated diamond sharpening stone make up for the poor-quality plastic. But at this price point, you have to make sacrifices somewhere, and we’re glad it wasn’t the blade.
While there’s no serration, the form of the handle and the quality of the blade handled every branch. This knife also performs well while wet.
On the sharp side: A simple blade that met our expectations well.
On the dull side: At only 2/3 tang, there’s always the concern in the back of the mind of breakage.
Summary: It’s not the most amazing knife on the planet, but the quality far exceeds the price point. Just go buy one.
Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: Glass filled nylon with TPV overmold
- Length: 10.6″ overall / 4.8″ blade
- Materials: 420HC Stainless
Overview: When I picked this knife up, I didn’t like the feel of it in my hand. But after a few minutes of use, it felt surprisingly natural.
The serration is aggressive enough to cut just about anything outdoors (and probably indoors as well) and the forward of the grip offers good protection against slippage.
The butt of the knife is designed for hammering and did it well. We prefer full tang, but the steel butt and blade are separated to avoid electrocution. The sheath is well made, with integrated sharpening stone, and let’s face it – anything that incorporates MOLLE is a definite plus.
On the sharp side: The holes were perfect for spear making, and the blade was just about perfect.
On the dull side: Made in China. Either misunderstanding between the blade and sheath or downright false advertising, but the website claims “USA” and the sticker reads “China”
Summary: An excellent knife, with attention to the proper details.
SOG SEAL Team Elite Fixed Blade SE37-N
- Blade: Extended tang, clip point
- Handle: GRN
- Length: 12.3″ overall / 7″ blade
- Materials: TiNi coated AUS-8 Stainless steel
Overview: For its size, this knife was a lot lighter than I expected it to be. The full tang features a decent butt that’s more than adequate for whatever you need to smack. The MOLLE attachment is expected for the price.
The blade is clean and sharp, and the balance is impeccable. It took everything we threw at it and asked for more.
At first glance, we expected the serration and notching to be too awkward for the blade, but it handled and performed well without any trouble.
On the sharp side: As an all-around performer, we couldn’t ask for more.
On the dull side: Made in Taiwan. We almost missed this one because of the overwhelming marketing of being a Navy Seal knife.
Summary: A great knife, but you need to shop around for the best price.
Best Survival Knives Under $200
The highest price point we are going to review, but you could easily find knives priced higher. We’re not on the hunt for the most expensive knives; we’re here to review the best affordable knives.
With modern manufacturing it’s easy to make pretty much anything cheaper than ever before. And while there’s usually a pretty wide gap between cheaper and less expensive, oftentimes a manufacturer will cheapen one aspect while increasing the quality on another. Finding that balance, and coughing up the cash you feel is acceptable, is the key.
With the knives at this price point we expect to find higher quality, and an emphasis on the accessories. We’re also upping our game with what we throw at the knives – we’re bringing them into the shop and kitchen to really put them to the test, in addition to the great outdoors.
Here are our picks for the best survival knife under $200:
|Knife Model||Length||Blade Type||Rating||Price|
|Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife||11.2" overall / 6.3" blade||Extended tang, spear point||4.7||See Price|
|ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife||11.75" overall / 6.5" blade||Extended tang, drop point||4.7||See Price|
|Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System||10.25" overall / 5" blade||Full tang, drop point, serrated spine||4.4||See Price|
|Cold Steel 3V SRK Fixed 6-Inch Blade Knife||10.75" overall / 6" blade||Full tang, clip point||4.6||See Price|
|Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker T-2 Fixed Blade Knife||9.5" overall / 5.5" blade||Full tang, modified drop point||4.3||See Price|
Fallkniven A1 Survival Fixed Blade Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: Kraton
- Length: 11.2″ overall / 6.3″ blade
- Materials: Laminated VG10 steel
Overview: What a knife. Simplistic in its design, yet fully capable to be a primary survival knife. The balance was above expectation and the grip comfortable under all test conditions, including a good drip when wet.
The Fallkniven’s blade was sharp, although like with any laminated metal, there will be challenges with sharpening – but a welcome trade-off. Non-serrated, but a beast with everything we threw at it. Handled wet rope surprisingly well.
On the sharp side: Sharp blade and good grip, with a butt than can pound all day.
On the dull side: You will need an aftermarket sheath for this knife. Designed in Sweden, but made in Japan – there’s some conflicts in the marketing about the origin.
Summary: This knife means business, and does some serious business.
ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: Grey micarta scale
- Length: 11.75″ overall / 6.5″ blade
- Materials: Coated 1095 high carbon steel
Overview: Coated blades are a point of argument no matter which side of the argument you’re on.
For us, we’re looking for the most uses available – and a coating that eliminates the ability to strike isn’t all that wonderful.
Yes, you can remove all or part of the coating – but that’s a choice for you to make. For an awkward-looking knife, the balance is smooth with everything we threw at it – and did we throw some stuff at it.
On the sharp side: Made in the USA. A real workhorse, extremely sharp out of the box. ESEE blades are known for their durability and reliability.
On the dull side: The jimping on the spine of the blade wasn’t their best idea. The sheath isn’t completely worthless. Close, but not completely.
Summary: It’s a great knife, but the jimping on the back of the blade for a thumb grip takes away from the overall usefulness of the blade. Toss the sheath and consider another, or support a local craftsman and have a custom-made one.
Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System
- Blade: Full tang, drop point, serrated spine
- Handle: Rubberized
- Length: 10.25″ overall / 5″ blade
- Materials: Coated 1095 carbon steel
Overview: Of all our prerequisites before clicking the add to cart button, the minute we see “made in USA” all bets are off.
Seeing the components laid out, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was actually some sort child’s toy. It looked .. Weird.
The first thing I picked up was the multi-tool. As an accessory egress tool, it really has no practical purpose outside of cutting you out of a sticky predicament – and if your car just went into the lake and this was tucked in the sheath, in the glovebox, I’m not so sure how much of a help if would be.
I don’t know how helpful the oxygen valve wrenches would be. It also comes with a shackle wrench, which might come in handy ….
The knife itself was far better – definitely not the fake rubber knife as it looks like. The endcap of the butt is designed to break glass, so it’s not that great at hammering nails, but it’s really not bad, either. The light serration at the bottom of the blade makes for a good trade-off of flat and serration.
The teeth on the spine are a beast, and made to cut just about anything. The blade wasn’t as sharp as we would have liked out of the box, but the generous hilt more than made up for it.
On the sharp side: Made in the USA. It’s a pretty decent knife, and the hilt allows you to expend more energy for quicker – and safer – results.
On the dull side: Watch for rip-off’s made in China. The multi-tool is less useful than if implies, and the sheath is mediocre.
Summary: It’s a seriously good knife, at good price point, that’s overwhelmed by unnecessary gadgets and a second-rate sheath.
Cold Steel 3V SRK Fixed 6-Inch Blade Knife
- Blade: Full tang, clip point
- Handle: Kray-Ex
- Length: 10.75″ overall / 6″ blade
- Materials: High carbon with DLC (diamond like coating)
Overview: If you’ve never seen a Navy SEAL movie and saw this knife, you’d assume it was a SEAL blade. The overall no-nonsense design, the grip of the handle, and the subtle power of the blade all scream “abuse me”. So we did.
The balance was almost perfect. The blade was razor sharp, and the DLC would make sharpening more of a chore. The overall weight was surprising, but not a deterrent.
We had a great time testing just how much different stuff this blade would penetrate, and it didn’t disappoint.
The sheath wasn’t worth writing home about, but you’re probably not using the sheath to chop firewood. Unless you’re Mike.
On the sharp side: A sharp and useful knife, with a mean look that will instill confidence in the concrete jungle as well as the back woods. The tip took a beating and came back for more.
On the dull side: We would have liked to see an extended tang. The blade will be more difficult to sharpen.
Summary: We really liked the Cold Steel 3V SRK. The coating versus sharpening is a no-brainer, and it’s a truly versatile knife.
Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker T-2 Fixed Blade Knife
- Blade: Full tang, modified drop point
- Handle: Micarta
- Length: 9.5″ overall / 5.5″ blade
- Materials: 1095 RC 56-58
Overview: So … We try the best we can to keep these reviews unbiased while giving practical opinions. We choose and play with products – oftentimes pushing them way past what their intended use was – and then we give you a clean and very short summary of the product to be used in their proper context.
Our context is survival. A situation that can turn life-threatening and highly stressful in a heartbeat – and not a time to be using a knife that you have to be so terribly careful with so you don’t start lopping your own body parts.
I admit – I didn’t want to touch it, let alone put it through its paces. The handle is barely enough for you to wrap your hand around, and your fingers are unprotected and close to the business part of the blade.
The balance was off and the overall feel, while in use, left me unsettled. The blade is too large to do much hard work without slipping, and I’m flabbergasted that it retained its grip while wet.
On the sharp side: The materials are top quality. The serrations would give Jaws a run for his money and the metal is absolutely superior.
On the dull side: All look and no practicality. Any use while under stress will most likely lead to injury.
Summary: A dangerously useless knife that’s best put up on the wall for display, or better yet – left at the store.
Our Picks for the Best Survival Knives
We’ve looked at a lot of knives. Some great, others not so much.
It’s important to pick a knife that fits not only your situation, but your hand as well. Spend the extra couple bucks and hit your local outdoors store for the afternoon and try a few out. Make sure whatever you choose fits well in your hand while in use.
Watch out for the accessories, and assume the worst of the sheath until proven otherwise. Remember you’re buying the knife first and foremost. Everything else is supplementary
Each price point had good options. My preferences would be:
Under $50: Survivor HK-106320 Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife
This is a good, solid knife that’s versatile. Rewrap the handle with 550 paracord and you’re set to go. For the price, you could easily get 3 or 4 and tuck them in your truck, tackle box, or your bug out bag. Buy the Survivor HK-106320-A Fixed Blade
Under $100: Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
Attention to detail in all the right places makes this knife stand out from the others in the price class. From the holes to assist in making a spear to the butt that you could probably use to re-shingle the roof your house, it covers the essentials for a survival knife. Buy the Gerber LMF II Infantry Knife
Under $200: Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System
We had higher expectations for the more expensive blades, and this one didn’t disappoint. The spine serration could likely cut through anything, and the generous hilt gives even more security. The enclosed accessories are not exactly useful, but this knife is worth the price alone. Buy the Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System
The Best Survival Knife is…
Picking just one blade for the overall Best Survival Knife was a difficult choice, but we’d have to go with the Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System. Almost all the knives we reviewed outperformed in one way or another, but this one excelled in every category (sorry about your tire, Mike). And for the price, it should be in your survival kit.
By the way, I still have John’s knife from all those years ago. The handle is beat and missing chunks, and the blade is a good quarter of the original size from years of use and re-sharpening, and marked by dings and chips.
She never says anything, but my wife regularly dusts it and returns it to its spot on the mantle. I never say anything, but I notice every single time. For me it’s more than a reminder of that day and John. The knife is the truest expression of survival.