Survival knives are designed to be sturdy and with the ability to cut through tough objects. Before shelling out the coins, take a moment to familiarize yourself on what you should consider when making your purchase. We have also reviewed the top 10 best survival knives to aid your search.
How to Choose a Survival Knife
Fixed blade vs. folding
While we do love folding knives for their compactness, the fact is that fixed blade knives are the better contender when faced by survival circumstances. Folding knives are easy to carry around but the pivot or joint creates a point of weakness when subjected to rough abuse associated with survival situations.You need a survival knife that can handle rigorous tasks and folding knives just don’t cut it. Solid fixed blade knives have no areas of weakness. In addition, the speed of deployment is higher as you don’t have open the knife and ensure that it’s properly locked before use. Speed and safety are crucial in survival situations, and fixed blade delivers both more effectively than folding knives.
Carbon steel blade
The last thing you want in the wilderness is a cheap knife made from soft steel that won’t hold its edge. Blades are made from different materials but for survival situations; consider a high carbon steel blade. Stainless steel is also durable, but not as tough as carbon steel.The most popular variant of carbon steel used for survival knives is known as 1095. The only downside to carbon steel is that it is more prone to rusting compared to stainless steel. If you don’t want to have to lubricate your knife to keep it corrosion-free, a blade made from 420HC, AUS-C or 440 C stainless steel will prove a worthy investment.
You want to avoid unnecessary weight and as such, a knife with a thin blade will suffice. However, this may not always be a good idea. This is because being a good blade isn’t enough. Survival blades should be able to handle any tasks that come their way and this is what makes thick blades a better choice for some. The blade should be thick enough to prevent bending but thin enough to handle delicate tasks like skinning. The general sweet spot here is 0.17-0.25 inches.
While it may not seem like it, bigger is not always better in the world of survival. For instance, a blade that’s too thick or long makes it difficult to carve precision snares and dress small game. On the other, a knife that’s too short interferes with your ability to baton or chop effectively. You want something that’s long enough to handle what you need it to do, but not so long that it gets in your way. Most knives have blades that are 6-12 inches but anything longer than 10-inches hinders your ability to handle it effectively.
Full tang vs. partial tang
A full tang simply means that the blade extends the entire length of the knife while a partial tang is a blade doesn’t extend all the way. The main advantage of a full tang is that it is extremely sturdy.Partial tangs are flimsy and cannot handle tasks like digging or prying effectively. Another problem associated with partial tangs is that the blade can loosen and play in the handle.
Solid, synthetic handle
More often than not, you have to use a survival knife in inclement weather. This makes choosing a knife with a solid handle important. The most important things to look for, in a survival knife’s handle, include grip, durability, and strength. Avoid anything with hollow, cheap plastic or metal handles.A knife handle with fishing line and hooks may look cool but this compromises strength. Anything that lacks sufficient durability or strength will become a liability and you may end up injuring yourself.
Top 10 Survival Knives Reviewed
As promised, here are our top picks for best survival knives. All of them are full tang and fixed blade knives, so they meet the most important criteria to look for in a survival knife.
This knife has all the essential features to help keep you alive when in survival situations. It was designed by the founder of Becker Knife and Tool Corporation, Ethan Becker, in the 1980’s. It is sold with a heavy duty polyester sheath but you can get one with a plastic sheath. The Becker BK22 Campanion is constructed using 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel with vanadium and chromium for improved corrosion resistance.
The knife comes with a 5.25-inch long blade and an overall length of 10.5-inches. At one pound of weight and 0.25 inch thick blade, the BK22 Campanion is on the hefty side but this isn’t much of an issue given its ergonomics. The drop point blade with 20-degree edge is easy to sharpen and use. The handle is made from Zytel, which is basically nylon reinforced with glass that is nearly indestructible. It is important that while the knife is made in the United States, the handle is manufactured in China. The lanyard hole allows you to attach a rope for added security.
Our only concern is that the thick blade combined with the weight of the knife makes precise carving tasks a little difficult. This is, however, a nice trade-off given the durability you get.
- Drop point blade
- Handle is made from glass reinforced nylon
- Made with 1095 Cro-Van steel for increased strength and durability
- Not the best knife for carving
The Strong Arm from Gerber is designed to serve as a utility and survival knife, making it extremely versatile. It features a drop point blade that is 4.8 inches long and has an overall length of 9.8 inches. The knife is constructed using 420HC stainless steel that is coated with a black ceramic coating for enhanced corrosion resistance. The coating also gives the knife a stealthy appearance, which is crucial in survival situations.
Its small size makes the Strong Arm quite effective for light chopping tasks and bush craft jobs. The ergonomic, 5-inch handle is made from glass filled nylon with textured rubber coating. This allows for high durability and aids in control. In addition, the handle is impervious moisture and has an integral double finger guard for improved grip.
Another notable feature is the nylon, modular sheath system that can be mounted on a Molle vest vertically and horizontally on a 1.75-inch drop leg mount. Like many Gerber knives, the Strong Arm is highly dependable in survival situations.
- Drop point blade
- Made from 420HC stainless steel and coated with ceramic coating
- Stealthy appearance and ergonomic design
- Handle is impervious moisture
- The sheath could be of better quality
The ESEE 6P is a plain edge survival knife that is constructed using 1095 steel. It is available in a variety of color combinations including a black powered blade with a gray handle and venom green blade with orange handles.With a length of 11.75 inches, this knife is on the longer side and has a 6.5-inch blade. Its cutting edge is 5.75 inches and the blade is only 0.19 inches thick. A finger hole on the tang comes handy when you want to choke up on the knife without compromising your safety. It weighs a total of 12 ounces and is, therefore, heavy enough to take on rigorous abuse.
The handle is made using gray linen Micarta, which is loved for its strength and durability. It has a rounded pommel with a lanyard hole, which helps improve safety in survival situations. The best thing about Micarta is that it becomes easier to grip when wet and as such, you don’t have to worry about the knife slipping from your hands when working in inclement weather. From chopping wood to slicing onions, the ESEE 6P can be used for just about any imaginable task.
- Comes in many color combinations
- Good grip thanks to finger hole and rounded pommel
- Better grip when wet than when dry
- Its weight makes it unsuitable for backpacking
- The handle straps don’t stretch very well
This is a great survival knife that was specially designed for the military but is available to the general public. And while it may not be the best for chopping, the Gerber LMF II Infantry is an excellent utility knife that will come handy during emergencies. Some of the specifications include a drop point blade, nylon sheath, glass filled nylon handle and 420HC blade.
The 4.84-inch drop point blade is made from 420HC stainless steel. Serrations on the cutting edge are indicative of its military mindset. This makes the knife ideal for sewing your way out of an aircraft fuselage but not carving notches. The blade also has a deep saber grind.
The handle is 5.75 inches long, well designed and constructed from glass-filled nylon that has a textured rubber coating for a good grip. This material is impervious to moisture and the double finger guard with jimping on the inside edges helps improve grip.
- 4.84-inch drop point blade
- Made with durable and strong 420HC stainless steel
- Glass-filled nylon handle
- Incredibly good for chopping
- The sheath is not the best
As far as survival knives go, Swedish-based company Fallkniven is one of the best-rated brands in the industry. The A1L Survival Knife is a premier example of their commitment to producing high-quality products. It boasts a 6.3-inch clip point blade that is constructed using VG-10 stainless steel. This material has a Rockwell Hardness of 59 HRC and is laminated between two layers of softer stainless steel. The saber grind extends nearly to the back of the back of the blade and combines with a 0.24-inch spine to prove added strength.
The hidden tang construction is another attraction of the A1L that provides extra strength and ergonomics. The handle is made from a highly durable Kraton rubber and has an internal finger guard for a non-slip grip.
It comes with a heavy-duty leather sheath with a snap strap. And while the blade may be too short to be used for chopping, you can rest assured that it will prove an invaluable tool during emergencies. It will come handy for all kinds of tasks ranging from skinning to cutting.
- 6.3-inch clip point blade made of VG-10 stainless steel
- Exceptional strength and durability
- Full tang
- Heavy-duty leather sheath has a snap strap
- The blade is too short and not suitable for chopping
This fine offering from Schrade is a perfect choice for those who prefer non-stainless steel over stainless steel tools due to their ease of sharpening as well as superior toughness. In addition, it is the most affordable survival knife on this list.
It features a drop point blade that is 6.4 inches long and whose hollow grind as well as cutting edge are made from 1095 carbon steel. The design is well thought out. For instance, the curved section of the cutting edge is good for chopping purposes while the straight section is ideal for cutting notches as well as sharpening stakes.
The SCHF9 is a heavy duty knife that is designed to offer a firm and comfortable grip. Another notable feature is the handle that is constructed from Thermo Plastic Elastomer, a material that combines the best of rubber and plastic. The finger grooves help with a good grip. This knife has an overall length of 12.1 inches and weighs 16 ounces.
- Easy to sharpen
- Drop point blade
- Hollow grind and cutting edge are both made from 1095 carbon steel
- Well thought out and ergonomic design
- Great for chopping and sharpening
- Tang protrudes slightly all around the handle
One of the first things that come to mind when you think of military gear is toughness. This level of ruggedness is what makes this model an exceptional survival knife. It has a unique fixed blade with a straight edge and made from 1095 Cro-Van Steel. The blade can be re-sharpened with ease and performs well when hunting, camping, sporting or in a survival situation.
The Kabar Full Size US Marine Corps Knife has a 7-inch long blade and only weighs 0.70 pounds. Other notable features include a leather handle, 20-degree edge angle, flat grind, and a USMC stamp that honors the marines who sported it for almost a century.
Our main concern is that unlike most models on this roundup, the blade isn’t designed for anything beyond the survival basics. It wears quickly when subjected to the abuse associated with survival situations. Nevertheless, this is a good knife to have around as a collector and backup.
- Comes with a fixed blade that has a straight edge
- Made from 1095 carbon steel
- Lightweight and durable construction
- Quality isn’t the best for survival situations
This is a somewhat unusual survival knife in that it comes with a spear point blade rather than the standard drop point blade associated with ESEE. The spear point blade design is, however, considered by many the ultimate blade design as it is highly effective for piercing. The overall length of the knife is 10 inches, with the blade being 4.75 inches. The blade is constructed from 1095 carbon steel with a Rockwell hardness of 55-59 HRC and flat grind. It also has a black, corrosion resistant coating that helps with added durability.
The knife features a full tang construction and a highly ergonomic handle. The handle is made from two linen Micarta and is attached to the tang with three Allen screws. In addition to being comfortable, the handle is nearly indestructible, has a non-slip grip and is impervious moisture. The Kydex sheath adds a nice touch to the overall design and is waterproof.
- Unique spear point blade that’s great for piercing needs
- Blade is made from 1095 carbon steel
- Easy to sharpen
- The coating improves corrosion resistance
- Kydex sheath
- The screws are not always tight and loosen after a while
The Model 119 Special from Buck Knives is a truly exceptional and classic survival knife with plenty of useful features. It features a six-inch clip point blade that has a hollow grind made from 420HC stainless steel. Its Rockwell Hardness rating is 58HRC, making it tough and suitable for tasks like carving notches as well as trimming branches. However, it is not heavy enough for chopping. The hollow grind on the blade allows you to hone it to a fine edge for slicing and cutting.
The black phenolic plastic handle is 4.5 inches long, thus large enough to comfortably fill the hand. A polished aluminum butt cap at the rear and a double finger guard at the front compliment the handle. If you are the kind of person who loves antiques and the classics, the Buck Model 119 Special Survival Knife will certainly appeal to you.
- Has a Rockwell Hardness rating is 58HRC
- Handle is made from black phenolic plastic handle
- Great for those who love antiques
- Not suitable for chopping
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing survival knife. Trying to figure out the best blade design, blade material, and blade length becomes more difficult when you ignore other factors like the tang, handle material as well as design. The key to easing your search is thinking of a survival knife as a system rather than a single, all-purpose tool.