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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:
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 and the best survival knives you can buy in 2023.
Why You Need a Survival Knife
As you can see, different knives are designed for specific purposes. A good 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 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 blade ask yourself what it can’t do. The shorter the list, the better the knife.
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? Or maybe your EDC pocket 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 blade 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 hunting knife is primarily used to kill and dress various game animals.
A typical hunting knife comes with a fixed blade, generally over 7 inches, and generally have a sharp hook on the spine for gutting. 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 inches. Fixed or folding blades are acceptable.
Also called a combat knife, a fighting knife is used for just that – lethal confrontation. Simple blades are best, and while fixed-blade knives are preferred, a folding one could do the trick just as easily.
All you need to do is hold on to the knife and penetrate your opponent, but the ergonomics of the knife are important, and so is the grip, especially when wet.
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, do not 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.
Blade material – harder metal is tougher to sharpen but holds an edge longer (aka edge retention). 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 a full tang knife. 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’ll 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 blade is a continuous length. Because the lengths can exceed 14 inches, and weight increases 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 the advantage that you can store the knife safely, in about half the space. The sheath for a 7-inch fixed blade might be over 10 inches, but a 7-inch 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 steel. 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 (on the Rockwell hardness scale), 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, the carbon steel blade is also made of stainless steel with a higher carbon additive. Many high-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, which is extremely tough. It’s not in the stainless-steel class and will tarnish quickly but that won’t 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 have created a few different versions, S35VN, for example.
1095 Steel – A lower-cost steel, it’s more durable but varies with the 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 doesn’t hold an edge long (low edge retention) but sharpens quickly and easily.
154CM Steel – This non-powdered (the 154 CPM is a powder base) is a good quality material, which is tough and relatively corrosion resistant.
420HC Steel – Another high 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 Chinese-produced knife 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?
We’ve all heard that the knife’s blade size matters. And the truth is, it really does. But longer doesn’t mean superior, and short (stealthy) isn’t necessarily handier.
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-inch bowie knife in your bug-out bag, or a 3-inch folded for a weekend hunting trip.
Also, keep in mind that longer means heavier, so balance becomes critical. Finally, just because a 10-inch might be the optimum length for a survival blade, 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 the tang, the more of the blade that extends into the handle and the sturdier and safer the knife will be under use.
Keep in mind that partial tang is weaker than full tang. So, never settle for anything less than a full tang knife.
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 a screw, the encapsulated knife 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 a 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 I’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 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 (discussed below). A plain edge is the simplest to sharpen.
A full or partial serrated blade is one that has “teeth”, whether they be deep and aggressive or shallow and inconspicuous. The benefits of serration are for 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 my 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 its primary uses, and it’s important to understand as 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 shape 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 blade 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, with 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 blade design does tend to weaken the tip, due mainly to less blade mass. These are the traditional folding knife 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’s very controllable, it’s a poor choice for cutting or slicing.
Most commonly used in skinning or scaling, these long 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, is 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 inches
- Hunting: 3/16 inches
- Survival: 5/32 inches – ½ inches
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, handle a few blades, and get a feel.
Don’t forget, the more you sharpen a blade, the more you lose the edge thickness. Additionally, if a blade is serrated, 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 I reviewed was utterly drenched in marketing as a “Government issue” to the point that I almost didn’t add it because I was 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 the following:
- 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 the 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, I’ve listed the most common ones:
- 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 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 very grippy.
- Zytel: This thermoplastic was invented by DuPont, is very tough, and is 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, the last thing I’m 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.
I’m here to talk about a compass on the butt of your knife. There are several quality knives on the market with this design. But I 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 ax 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 often have their routines and methods carefully planned out, so emergencies are less likely to come up for the average hiker or camper.
A survival knife can be used to hunt in several different ways and it’s important to learn a few, just in case.
Basically, batoning is a fancy word for splitting wood. 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 can 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, 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 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 I 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-inch overall / 3-inch blade||Extended tang, drop point||4.4||Check Price|
|StatGear Surviv-All Fixed-Blade Bowie Knife||9.5-inch overall / 4.25-inch blade||Full tang, drop-point||4.7||Check Price|
|Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife||8.6-inch overall / 4.1-inch blade||Push tang, drop point||4.8||Check Price|
|Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Full Tang Drop Point Fixed Blade Knife||10.8-inch overall / 5.4-inch blade||Full tang, drop-point||4.6||Check Price|
|Ontario 499 Air Force Survival Knife||9.5-inch overall / 5-inch blade||Drop tang, serrated top edge||4.5||Check Price|
Survivor HK-106320 Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife – Best Cheap Survival Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: Cord wrapped
- Length: 7-inch overall / 3-inch blade length
- Materials: Stainless steel blade
Overview: Okay, let’s be honest – I argued over this one. About everything. From the overall look of the knife, the construction to the nylon sheath, and actually throwing insults at each other.
Really, it all comes down to you actually getting 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. It’s a pack of two knives that you can get for under $10, making it great value for money. The included fire starter actually works and 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 pair of full tang knives with a surprisingly effective fire starter. Re-wrap the handle and you’ve got a good knife – and an extra length of cord. Get a couple and toss them in a few different places to be prepared.
StatGear Surviv-All Fixed-Blade Bowie Knife – Great Blade Quality
- Blade: Full tang, drop-point
- Handle: Textured rubber
- Length: 9.5-inch overall / 4.25-inch blade length
- Materials: High Carbon 440 Stainless Steel
Overview: It’s a bit pricey knife. While it offers many features, they don’t justify its price tag. It’s a durable piece that can last long, and it also has a decent color scheme and an easy-to-hold handle.
One thing that I didn’t like about the handle is that it looks a bit toyish, because of the material. However, it does the job and feels sturdy while holding.
The bottom of the handle features a pommel that can come in handy and there are also glow-in-the-dark stripes on the handle. Although both of these features make more of a gimmick, they can be useful from time to time.
Another important feature of this product is its sheath that holds a fire starter (that actually works), a knife sharpener (that’s useless), and a cord cutter. Don’t expect the cord cutter to cut thick ropes as it’s only useful for thin nylon cords.
Overall, I liked this knife but I would still say that its price tag is higher than what it should have been.
On the sharp side: The main part of the knife, the blade, is made of carbon 440 stainless steel, which has good wear resistance and hardness, high strength, and decent corrosion resistance.
On the dull side: It looks cheap because of the toyish handle and sheath and I expected better due to its high price tag. Plus, it doesn’t have a serrated edge.
Summary: A good knife with a great blade, but very expensive. The fire starter and cord cutter can be useful but don’t expect the knife sharpener to work as advertised.
Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife – Best Value Bushcraft Knife
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: High friction rubber grip
- Length: 8.6-inch overall / 4.1-inch 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 the Mora knife to be 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. 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 while 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-inch overall / 5.4-inch blade
- Materials: 8Cr13MoV High Carbon Stainless Steel
Overview: The quickest way to our good side is with fixed full tang. The spine is 90 degrees, 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-inch overall / 5-inch blade
- Materials: 1095 High Carbon Steel, 0.1875
Overview: Out of the sheath, I liked the feel of this knife. I 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 boasted as a government-issued knife, and all indications are that what I have in my hands is precisely what’s in my service men’s and women’s bags.
On the dull side: The leather handle has a tendency to dry out and crack – as well as become 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 $150
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 $150:
|Knife Model||Length||Blade Type||Rating||Price|
|Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife||10.5-inch overall / 5.5-inch blade||Full tang, drop point||4.8||Check Price|
|Holtzman’s Gorilla Bushcraft Survival Knife||8.6-inch overall / 4-inch blade||Full tang, drop-point||4.8||Check Price|
|Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Steel Survival Knife||9.1-inch overall / 4.3-inch blade||Push tang, drop point||4.8||Check Price|
|Gerber LMF II Survival Knife||10.6-inch overall / 4.8-inch blade||Push tang, drop point||4.8||Check Price|
|SOG Seal Strike Partially Serrated Bowie Knife||9.6-inch overall / 4.9-inch blade||Full tang, clip point||4.8||Check Price|
Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife – Best Budget Survival Knife
- Blade: Full tang, drop point
- Handle: Zytel (Grivory)
- Length: 10.5-inch overall / 5.5-inch blade
- Materials: 1095 cro-van steel
Overview: I know we’re concentrating on reviewing the knives, but I have to 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 it passed my tests between the grip and weight.
On the sharp side: Well-made full tang blade. Feels good in the hand, and the balance was pretty spot-on. Cut everything I 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.
Holtzman’s Gorilla Bushcraft Survival Knife
- Blade: Full tang, drop-point
- Handle: Fiberglass
- Length: 8.6-inch overall / 4-inch blade
- Materials: 1095 high carbon steel
Overview: There’s a lot that goes into picking out items for reviews – and not just the budget and all the cool toys I get to buy. Although I don’t usually include it, I scrutinize everything from ordering to using the product. I just don’t want to bore you with all the details.
The Holtzman’s Gorilla Bushcraft Survival Knife is a sturdy product, featuring a strong and sharp blade. It comes with a quality sheath that can also be attached to your belt.
Along with the knife and sheath, you also get a Ferro rod, Ferro scraper, paracord, and Allen wrench, making it a good value for money.
On the sharp side: On its own, it’s a good metal, good balance. The grip is comfortable and the survival guide is still useful.
On the dull side: The handle of the knife could have been longer. While it does the job, you still feel it’s a bit short. However, it’ll depend on the size of your hands.
Summary: A good quality, dependable survival knife that you can carry.
Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Steel Survival Knife with Fire Starter and Sheath – Best 3/4 Tang Outdoor Knife
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: Rubber grip
- Length: 9.1-inch overall / 4.3-inch blade
- Materials: Carbon steel
Overview: Another in the Morakniv family, and I wasn’t disappointed. The high-carbon blade arrived sharp, and the beefiness gave me 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 I’m 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 my expectations well. This is a seriously good blade for an excellent price
On the dull side: At only 3/4 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. If it was full tang, it just might be the overall winner but, no matter how good the blade is, it still needs to be able to take a beating.
If you’re looking for a great backup knife with a fantastically sharp blade, you should take a look at the Morakniv Bushcraft.
Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
- Blade: Push tang, drop point
- Handle: Glass filled nylon with TPV overmold
- Length: 10.6-inch overall / 4.8-inch blade
- Materials: 420HC Stainless Steel
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. I prefer full tang, but the steel butt and blade are separated to avoid electrocution.
The Kydex sheath is well made, with an integrated sharpening stone, and let’s face it – anything that incorporates MOLLE is a definite plus.
On the sharp side: The lashing 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 Strike Partially Serrated Bowie Knife
- Blade: Full tang, clip point
- Handle: GRN
- Length: 9.6-inch overall / 4.9-inch blade
- Materials: Glass-reinforced nylon and 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 blade is clean and sharp, and the balance is impeccable. It took everything I threw at it and asked for more.
At first glance, I 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, I couldn’t ask for more.
On the dull side: Made in Taiwan. Plus, the built-in sharpener and Ferro rod are of average quality.
Summary: A great knife, but you need to shop around for the best price.
Best Survival Knives Under $250
The highest price point that I’m going to review, but you could easily find knives priced higher. I’m not on the hunt for the most expensive knives; I’m here to review the best affordable ones.
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 of another. Finding that balance, and coughing up the cash you feel is acceptable, is the key.
With the knives at this price point, I expect to find higher quality and an emphasis on the accessories. I’m also upping my game with what I throw at the knives – I’m bringing them into the shop and kitchen to really put them to the test, in addition to the great outdoors.
Here are my picks for the best survival knife under $250:
|Knife Model||Length||Blade Type||Rating||Price|
|Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife||11-inch overall / 6.3-inch blade||Extended tang, spear point||4.6||Check Price|
|ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife||11.75-inch overall / 6.5-inch blade||Extended tang, drop point||4.9||Check Price|
|Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System||10.25-inch overall / 5-inch blade||Full tang, drop point, serrated spine||4.1||Check Price|
|Cold Steel 3V SRK Fixed 6-Inch Blade Knife||10.75-inch overall / 6-inch blade||Full tang, clip point||5.0||Check Price|
|Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker T-2 Fixed Blade Knife||9.5-inch overall / 5.5-inch blade||Full tang, modified drop point||4.8||Check Price|
Fallkniven A1 Survival Fixed Blade Knife
- Blade: Extended tang, drop point
- Handle: Kraton
- Length: 11.2-inch overall / 6.3-inch 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 was 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 that performed exceptionally with everything I threw at it. Handled wet rope surprisingly well.
On the sharp side: Sharp blade and good grip, with a butt that can pound all day.
On the dull side: Designed in Sweden, but made in Japan – there are some conflicts in the marketing about the origin.
Summary: This knife means business, and does some serious business. It’s simple yet effective and can help you in pretty much all outdoor situations.
ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife – Best Overall Survival Knife
Overview: The ESEE 6P-B isn’t the prettiest gal on the block but it’s a true workhorse.
The simple design of this knife actually might be one of the ESEE 6’s finer points. A true survival and bushcraft knife, the ESEE 6 can do it all: Batoning wood, cutting branches, whittling chess pieces, fighting bears, etc.
The interchangeable Micarta scales allow you to maintain a good grip without the risk of slipping or hand fatigue.
For an awkward-looking knife, the balance is smooth with everything I threw at it – and boy, did I throw some stuff at it.
Check out our review of the ESEE 6P-B to learn more about this fantastic knife.
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: The ESEE 6 is 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 leather sheath.
Ontario ON1410 ASEK Survival Knife System
- Blade: Full tang, drop point, serrated spine
- Handle: Rubberized
- Length: 10.25-inch overall / 5-inch blade length
- Materials: Coated 1095 high carbon steel
Overview: Of all my prerequisites before clicking the add to cart button, the minute I 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 of child’s toy. It looked a bit 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 glove box, I’m not so sure how much of a help it would be.
I also don’t know how helpful the oxygen valve wrench would be, which is included in the package. But the shackle wrench, which is also offered, 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 between 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 I 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-offs made in China. The multi-tool is less useful than it implies, and the sheath is mediocre.
Summary: It’s a seriously good knife, at a 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-inch overall / 6-inch blade length
- 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 blade design, the grip of the handle, and the subtle power of the blade all scream “abuse me”. So, I 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.
I 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 backwoods. The tip took a beating and came back for more.
On the dull side: I would have liked to see an extended tang. With the existing design, the blade is more difficult to sharpen.
Summary: I 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 – Best Survival Knife for Chopping
- Blade: Full tang, modified drop point
- Handle: Micarta
- Length: 9.5-inch overall / 5.5-inch blade length
- Materials: 1095 RC 56-58
Overview: I’ll be honest, when I first looked at the Tom Brown Tracker knife, I thought, “oh great, another overpriced ‘tacticool’ knife”. I’m man enough to admit that I was partially wrong.
Besides looking like something out of my 3rd-grade sketchbook, the Tops TBT is made with premium materials and is actually designed with a purpose. If you’re looking for a well-balanced knife, this ain’t it. And that’s for a reason.
The weight skews heavily toward the chunky, curved front edge of the blade. This allows you to put more force behind your swings when you’re chopping limbs, trees, bones, or my mother-in-law’s fruitcake.
The indention on the body of the knife allows you to cut cordage or make feather-sticks easily and the jimping on the back gives your thumb a solid resting place for added torque.
I didn’t test it out but I’d assume from the wide front head of the TBT that it would be great for digging as well.
Unfortunately, the Tracker comes with some serious downsides. The Micarta handle is great and all, it’s just about 20% smaller than it should be. Sharpening the blade isn’t going to be as simple as any other plain-edge knife, either.
And that big honking forehead means that any ideas of doing any tasks that require fine motor control had the best stay in your head. I had issues with the knife slipping while I was using it because it was so unwieldy.
I also have a personal issue with knives that aren’t balanced. I guess it’s the OCD in me.
On the sharp side: The materials are top quality. The serrations would give Jaws a run for its money and the metal is absolutely superior. The heavy front of the blade makes chopping a breeze.
On the dull side: While the large, top (no pun intended) heavy blade is great for chopping, it falls short for any task requiring…well, anything other than chopping.
Summary: You may recognize the T-2 from the movie, The Hunted. Made of high-quality steel, the Tracker is a beastly knife that can be a bit unwieldy for any fine tasks requiring deftness or accuracy but it’s a solid choice if you plan on using your knife mostly for chopping.
My 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 a couple of packs of 2 knives and tuck them in your truck, tackle box, or your bug-out bag. Buy the Survivor HK-106320-A Fixed Blade
Under $150: Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife
Attention to detail in all the right places makes this knife stand out from the others in the price class.
From the thick full tang knife blade to the butt that you could probably use to re-shingle the roof your house, it covers the essentials for a camping knife.
Under $250: ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife
I had higher expectations for the more expensive blades, and this one didn’t disappoint. The Micarta handle is comfortable even after a full day of use and the blade stays sharp for… well I don’t know how long because it’s still sharp.
The sheath leaves a lot to be desired, but this knife is worth the price alone. And you can always buy an aftermarket Kydex or leather sheath.
The Best Survival Knife is…
Picking just one blade for the overall Best Survival Knife was a difficult choice, but I’d have to go with the ESEE 6P-B Plain Edge Fixed Blade Survival Knife.
Almost all the knives I 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 place 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.