4 BEST SURVIVAL KNIVES and Buying Tips
INTRO TO SURVIVAL KNIVES:
Whether you’re getting ready for a day hunt or a week long backpacking trip, a survival knife is a musthave tool, and choosing the right one for your chosen way to risk your life is almost as important as the knife itself. However, we know some people will ask, “Why would you need one? Why not bring a backpack and tools?” But we’re smarter than that. So if you’re here we’ll assume you’ve:
a) Been in a situation where your “survival knife” failed you, b) Don’t want to be in situation “a”, c) Have no idea what to look for in a survival knife but are interesting in getting out more, or d) Mistyped “best serrating kitchen knives” and are now going to go from the kitchen to the field real fast. Any of these knives would be a great item to pack into your bug out bag, read our article Survival Guide: Top 5 Bug Out Bags to learn more.
What are you going to use it for?
Survival knives come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and can have features you’ll never need to ones you can’t live without – literally. The first step is determining exactly what you’ll be using your knife for, how much you’ll be using it, how you’ll be using it, and how much other gear you’ll be hauling all together.
Generally speaking, hunters and trappers will find more utility with stiffer blades and tapered points for skinning while hikers and backpackers will aim for more lightweight knives with a more diverse set of features for everyday utility.
Another thing to consider is the size and weight of the knife. If you’re going on a day hunt or hike and carrying minimal equipment, a larger knife in a well-fitting sheath won’t be cumbersome and can provide a load of utility in an emergency situation when you’re likely carrying limited supplies.
If you’re backpacking or will be carrying more equipment, you’ll likely have most of the tools you need meaning you can get away with a smaller knife. This isn’t always the case however. Some people prefer to take less with them meaning they can definitely justify using a larger, heavier knife.
In the end it’s really just about personal preference, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared and carrying only one knife may not be the answer.
What exactly is a survival knife?
While many tactical knives are more geared towards self-defense or military applications, survival knives are designed to offer the most utility to keep you alive in the outdoors, while limiting the amount of tools you need to carry. Although many knives from each category can serve both survival and tactical purposes. Ideally, a survival knife needs to do at least these tasks repeatedly: Start fires Cut or saw wood Clean fish and game
We’ll call those our required tasks as a survival knife can do a lot of different things. To do these tasks, your survival knife needs to stay sharp, stay in one piece, and needs to be safe to use. The next sections go over how to determine which knife will fit the bill for quality and durability.
CHOOSING A QUALITY KNIFE
Fixed Blade or Folding?
When newbies think of it, most would probably gravitate towards a folding knife, thinking a pocket knife holds more “utility”. The problem is we’re talking about survival knives, not Swiss army knives. A survival knife needs to stand up to a lot more heavy abuse than your dollar store Swiss army.
A fixed blade is going to provide far more utility than a folding blade. Although a folding blade might fit your pocket better – which we wouldn’t recommend – a good sheath will be more useful and durable than the entirety of a folding blade.
Blades Shape and Style
There are quite a few styles of blades, with many manufacturers and blades smiths working to add to that list. Overall though, the majority of survival knives will have a clip point, drop point, or some kind of tanto point blade, and all are either straight edged or feature a straight edge with a smaller serrated section.
Clip point blades are typically the hunter or trapper’s choice as the blade tapers down to a very sharp edge, perfect for skinning out game and filleting fish. The drawback is that there is far less thick spine (the top edge of the blade) which makes it more difficult to start fires with or to use for batoning wood.
Drop point blades are more versatile with the wide section of the spine being a lot longer than the one on a clip point. This is still a great knife for skinning and cutting up game, plus it has the added benefit of being a bit larger and more suitable for a wider variety of tougher tasks.
Tanto points are considered the most versatile and come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes. Typically though, they have a squarer point with either a longer blade with a wide spine or the spine features a serrated edge or other tools.
There are innumerable kinds of metal, coatings, and forging methods, which makes it hard to pin-point exactly which is best. For survival knives though, they need to be able to withstand some heavier abuse, exposure to the elements, and typically you don’t want them to flex too much. For this reason the HRC (Rockwell Hardness Scale - C) should be at least 55, with a more dependable, premium blade falling into the high 50’s, and even into the 60’s.
When it comes to the elements, stainless steel or protective coatings are important. What’s more important though is just some general TLC. It doesn’t matter if your blade is coated, full stainless, or carbon, it’s going to rust if you leave it wet.
To do our previously mentioned required tasks requires a lot of strength from the knife. Now most people assume that strength comes only from the metal used, and although that’s important, the more important feature of the knife is the tang. For those of you who aren’t aware, tang is essentially how far the blade (not the sharp part, but the rest of the knife’s metal) goes into the handle (the part where the grip is, stay with me).
Full tang is when the entire handle is filled with the blade and a grip is basically sandwiching the blade. This is definitely the toughest tang, great for those who use their knife constantly. Basically, if you’re serious about using your survival knife, aim for a full tang knife.
Partial tang, including stick tang and half tang (and about 8 other tangs) is when the blade tapers into the handle or is cut down so only a portion of the blade extends into the handle. This is still fairly strong in most knives, but you’ll definitely want a metal with more strength and a higher HRC as partial tang essentially creates a weak point in the blade and the knife itself, especially at any sharply cut corners. This weaker design also means that the knife is likely not going to last as long, especially if used often. Partial tang is what you’ll always find in folding knives, so keep that in mind too if you decide not to listen to our advice.
Now although a partial tang can still be strong, you need to consider what is holding it in place. If they’ve put 36 holes in it to attach some flamboyant artistic grip to it, there isn’t going to be much metal left to add strength – we’re here for survival not a fashion show.
Another important thing is the grip. Think about it this way: is your butter knife going to slip through your hand while you’re trying to chop kindling? Yes, and it will likely ricochet towards your face or slice open your palm. So when you’re choosing a survival knife, you’ll want that grip to fit snug in your hand, ensuring you don’t end up with your own knife in your cheek.
Another aid in preventing self-inflicted injuries is material. The material of the grip is not immensely important, but something that performs well both wet and dry and that will stand up to the elements is important. Leather has always been a go-to material because of its durability, but it can become harder to hold if it gets excessively wet. Most manufacturers today go with rubberized coatings or add texture to the grip to help keep it in your hand.
So now that you know a bit more of the criteria for picking the best survival knife, let’s get down to our 4 best survival knives.
THE 4 BEST SURVIVAL KNIVES
#4: The Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Fixed Blade by Gerber
This isn’t just some publicity pairing. Gerber wanted to create a knife that Bear Grylls would actually use. That’s how they came up with this super versatile survival knife. If you’re new to knives, this is a perfect starter, but even if you’re more experienced, you can’t go wrong with the versatility of this multiuse survival knife. It has a full tang covered by a rubberized, textured grip which offers superb handling even when wet and fills your hand to provide exceptional safety and control.
Some of the more interesting features include two tie holes at the base of the blade and beginning of the grip to fix the knife to a poll for spearing fish. It also has a stainless steel pommel which can serve as a hammer (limited use ideas come to mind for this, but it could be useful). Lastly, it has a multi-tasking, military grade sheath with ferrocerium rod, sharpener, and a few other goodies
There are a few drawbacks though. The BG Ultimate Pro is made with a so-so metal, meaning it makes use of that built in sharpener a lot more than some of our other knives on the list. A few reviews claim the knife has broken after a few uses as well (they seem to have solved this issue though). However, for a first time bushman, this would be a good starting point as the knife itself is just basic enough, while offering a few helpful aids to get you going.
#3: The Fallkniven F1
If you’re down for non-American made, you need to consider the F1 by Sweden’s Fallkniven. Fallkniven recognized that their knives were potentially being used “beyond standards” and designed the knife to be up to 20% stronger with the option for laminated VG10, Lam. CoS or 3G steel, all hitting a HRC of 59 – 64, while ensuring the knife isn’t damaged by the elements by covering it is stainless steel. From what we can tell, the edge stays sharp as well. This knife also has the option for a black CeraKote finish, keeping it easily hidden in combat situations (or because you want it to look bad-ass).
A few serious drawbacks are that at an overall length of about 8”, the F1 is small enough to comfortably sit on your belt, but the blade being just under 4” is getting on the small side for batoning. It also is hard to purchase with only about 3 stores carrying it in the USA, and one in Canada.
#2: The ESEE-6
Easily a favorite, the Esee-6 is all about keeping it simple. The longer blade makes it perfect for cutting and chopping wood, while the sharp drop point makes it easy to slice and skin. The blade comes in 1095 Carbon Steel, 55-57 HRC, meaning it’s resilient enough to stand up to some good abuse.
This knife also has a three grip options from the Linen Micarta to an orange G10 handle, perfect for those of us with poor eyesight (dropping a knife in deep underbrush is never fun with plain colors).
One of the drawbacks is that the entire length of this knife is nearly 12” (11.75), making it a bit bulky to lug around. They do offer a ton of sheath options though, making it easier to find a means of carrying it that suits your style.
#1: The Ka-Bar Becker Combat Utility
Ka-Bar is always a favorite, and their knives are amongst the most prized by military and outdoorsmen alike. The Ka-Bar Becker Combat Utility Knife is all about marrying the Ka-Bar combat knowledge and Becker survival skills, with a 1095 Cro-Van, 56-58 RC blade at a whopping 7” in length, this knife stands up to any task you put in front of it. To top it off, this knife weighs less than 1lb!
One drawback (other than the 12.75” overall length – basically a spear), is that many people comment on the blade showing rust spots quickly in damp conditions. The sheath that comes with this particular knife is also complete junk, so you’ll have to spend some money on an upgraded carrying system. Overall though, the shear quality, size, and unmatched durability of the Ka-Bar Becker Combat Utility Knife is why it’s been placed in our number one spot.
Any of these knives will keep you safe and prove useful in a survival situation, but there are so many more out there! What knives are your go-to for survival?
Written by Emily Gust
With rifle in-hand and just what she can carry in her pack, Emily was raised chasing monster whitetails on the prairies and camping throughout the Canadian wilderness. Spending much of her free time exploring, she knows a thing or two about surviving extended periods of time in the unpredictable outdoors. If it’s related to hunting, fishing, or the outdoors, you can bet she’s into it. Instagram @prairieland_huntress