Surviving out in the wild can prove to be one of the toughest things you will ever do in your life. In the old days, a survival knife was a knife with a hollow handle, made for storing survival gear. Many survival knives even came with gear already inside the handle. Today, most survivalists agree that a hollow handle is one of the last things that you want in a survival knife. This is because a hollow knife handle creates a weak point in the knife, where the blade and handle can more easily break apart while chopping or stabbing. There are a few hollow handled survival knives that are made from one piece of steel, which solves the problem of the weak point, but experts generally agree that storing items in the handle of your knife is a bad idea. If you lose your knife, you also lose everything stored in the handle. Besides looking for a solid piece of steel that will not break at the handle, you want to look for several other things when choosing the best survival knife.
When you’re caught out in the wild and things are getting serious, a quality survival knife is a crucial tool to have with you and can be used for a wide variety of survivalist tasks from building a shelter, skinning game, splitting firewood, cutting rope, opening cans, and much more. Now, before you shell out you’re hard earned coins it’s important to know what to look for. I discuss the general rules of buying a good survival knife below and then share my own list of the top survival knives currently on the market.
My Personal Review of the Top 6 Survival Knives
There are a lot of survival knives out there that can do a decent job. However, I wanted to save my readers the trouble of doing all the research on their own and that’s why I’ve included my personal list of the Top 5 survival Knives along with a detailed review of each one.
This will not only save you hours of research time, but you can be rest assured that these have only been chosen and put on this list after thorough personal testing and discussion with other knife experts. So without further ado, let’s move onto these amazing survival knives.
1. Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife
Blade length: 5.25 in; Overall length: 10.5 in; Weight: 16 oz
Blade material: 1095 CroVan; Handle material: Zytel; County of origin: USA
One of the most popular survival blades out there in the market these days is the Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion and its popularity can be judged by the fact that this knife’s got over 500 positive reviews on Amazon which means that not only me, but other knife enthusiasts, too, have used this survival knife and appreciated it.
One look at the blade is enough to make your heart yearn for it. It looks pretty solid design wise and it’s build to last grilling outdoors. The knife is pretty long at 10.5 inches (with a blade length of 5.5 inches) which means that there’s plenty of room to cut and chop your way through thick foliage or use it in other survival situations.
I’ve used this knife personally for skinning fresh meat and the 1095 Cro-van steel is perfect for the job. Apart from that, it can also be used for skinning potatoes especially in those times when there’s no meat around.
Another reason why I loved the Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion knife is that’s it priced very economically. Considering the quality, durability and craftsmanship of this survival knife, one would expect it to cost over a hundred dollars but that’s the best part about this – you can pick this great survival tool for just around $70!
Speaking of the camp kitchen, this knife is brilliant for slicing and dicing onions and potatoes. The thick blade made it a bit more challenging for doing thin slices of spam, unfortunately, but it’s still quite usable for the average camp chef caught without his or her usual cutlery. It just tends to tear through softer meat and other food items, instead of slicing them.
In closing, I can say that the KA-BAR Becker 22 Campanion is an outstanding utility knife for survival. It’s got its weaknesses, sure, but it’s virtually bombproof in terms of durability and longevity. If you are looking for a solid survival knife that will serve its purpose for many years, you won’t be disappointed with the KA-BAR Becker 22 Campanion. I’ve had one since it first came out, and it’s pretty much my “go-to” for those deep wilderness treks.
2. ESEE 6P (~$120)
Blade length: 6.5 in; Overall length: 11.75 in; Weight: 11.8 oz
Blade material: 1095; Handle material: Micarta; County of origin: USA
ESEE’s 6P is a plain edge survival knife made from high carbon 1095 steel. This full tang knife is a beauty, and I’ve used it almost as much as my KA-BAR Becker 22. ESEE makes plenty of fine knives, and the 6P is an example of the best they have to offer. The knife itself is available in a variety of appearances, such as a venom green blade with orange handles or the standard black powdered blade with a gray handle.
ESEE has built the 6P to be a beast of a knife at 11.75 inches long, so a little on the longer side, with a blade length of 6.5 inches. The cutting edge is 5.75 inches, the blade is relatively slim at 0.19 inches, and the tang is provided with an excellent finger hole just above the handle for those times that you want to choke up a bit on the knife but still be safe. The total weight of the 6P is a mere 12 ounces, so the knife feels great in your hand but is still heavy enough to really take some use and abuse.
The drop point blade is flat-ground, easy to sharpen, and the black powder finish holds quite well. Again, the one thing to remember about 1095 steel is that it is not stainless, and can rust and stain if you don’t care for it properly (I use a dry film rust inhibitor).
The blade comes razor sharp straight out of the box, and holds its edge remarkably well. The heat treatment ESEE uses on its 1095 steel is among the best in the industry, so while you do need to properly lubricate the knife to prevent rust, you don’t have to go overboard about it. When it comes time to resharpen the blade, you’ll find it pretty easy to do.
The handle of the ESEE 6P is made from gray linen Micarta, a resin handle that is very durable and strong. The rounded pommel includes a lanyard hole, which is almost a must-have in any survival knife. Micarta is an amazing material, since it tends to get even easier to grip when wet, rather than the opposite. This means that when you’re working in inclement weather or sweating heavily, you won’t need to worry about the ESEE 6P slipping out of your hand.
I’ve used ESEE’s 6P knife for just about every imaginable use. Whether I’m splitting firewood or even chopping down wood, the 6P performs flawlessly. Even for kitchen tasks like slicing and chopping meat, fruits, or vegetables, the ESEE 6P is a great tool. The only drawback I’ve found with this survival knife is the type of sheath used. I prefer nylon sheaths that I can attach easily to my belt, but ESEE has chosen instead to include a molded sheath with a clip plate. The sheath is MOLLE-compatible, but it can be a little too complicated for some. On top of that, the material makes quite a bit of noise when removing the knife, which isn’t ideal for you tactical junkies out there. Give me a simple nylon or even leather sheath, please.
3. Fallkniven A1
Fallkniven is a Swedish company widely regarded for making excellent knives. Fallkniven A1 is a fixed blade survival knife with full tang construction, which makes it especially strong and hard to break.
It is 11 inches long in total and the blade is 6 1/3 inches long. It is made of laminated VG-10 stainless steel with satin finish. The blade has spear point shape, which is excellent for usage in wilderness. It is rated at 59 HRC hardness. If you don’t like this specific finish, there is also a black one.
The handle is made of a material called kraton. It is a semi-rubbery high density polymer, which provides excellent anti-slippery measures when paired together with the diamond shaped pattern. The design is rather plain, but it sits nicely in hand. The end of the handle can be used for hammering.
It comes packed with a polymer sheath or genuine leather sheath. Make sure you read the description carefully if you would like to get the leather sheath, because it is not always available.
Overall, this is one of the best fixed blade survival knives available on the market. One of the downside is it is rather high price. But be assured you will be getting top notch quality should you decide to purchase this gem.
4. Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Knife
If you read my website regularly, you surely remember the review of Schrade Sharpfinger skinning knife. This time we have here a survival knife by the same company. It is the Schrade SCHF9 survival knife which belongs to the bestselling survival knives on Amazon and it also has couple hundreds customer reviews over there.
The total length of this full tang knife is 12 inches which a bit over my recommended maximum, but the knife is quite lightweight, so it’s not an issue. The drop point blade is 6.4 inches long and it is made of 1095 high carbon steel. Thanks to the steel, the knife holds sharp edge for a long time.
The handle is made from the same material as the Fallkniven A1 – the kraton polymer. In my opinion it has a bit better feel and offer greater comfort than the A1. The end of the handle is rounded and it’s a bit tricky to use it for hammering.
Cheap looking nylon sheath is also included.
Where the knife really shines is the price-performance ratio. The Schrade SCHF9 is about five times cheaper than the A1. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a cheaper survival knife. If you care where it’s made, it is Taiwan, not the USA.
5. Cold Steel SRK San Mai III
The Cold Steel SRK knives often top the survival knife charts together with the iconic KA-BAR USMC, or the Fallkniven A1. The San Mai version is among the top rated survival knives on Amazon at teh time of the writing with majority of the reviews being very positive.
It is a 10.75 inches long, full tang, fixed blade knife with simple design. It comes fitted with a 6-inch razor sharp drop point blade. The blade is made of laminated steel with the hard core being made of the VG-1 steel.
The handle is finished with the Black Kraton material. This is the same material as the one used for the A1 handle. As I already mentioned, it is a rubbery material, which provides great grip. The end of the handle can be used for hammering purposes.
Just like other Cold Steel SRK knives, this version comes with a Secure-Ex sheath. It grips the blade tightly and it can be used to mount the knife with the tip pointing up.
Overall, this is an excellent knife in pretty much all aspects, and it is usually available for slightly less than the Fallkniven A1.
6. Buck Knives 0070BKSBH Buck Hood Thug Knife
The 7″ drop point 5160 steel blade, removable CNC textured Micarta handles, and Forever Warranty of this Buck Knives 0070BKSBH Buck Hood Thug Knife make it worth every penny of its $116 price tag. Features of this knife include:
- powder coated blade for corrosion resistance
- Shock Mitigation System (“SMS”) integrated into the handle to reduce shock and wasted energy
- secure and comfortable Micarta handles
- heavy-duty, M.O.L.L.E. compatible, black nylon sheath
- 0.185 blade thickness
- This knife feels good in your hand and was clearly made to last, and because it was designed by Ron Hood and manufactured by Buck, you can be sure that you are getting a durable, quality knife.
With this knife being fairly new on the market, the reviews are still coming in, but so far are good with a perfect rating of 5 stars.
Tips for Buying a Top Quality Survival Knife
You want to make sure you buy the right survival knife based upon where you are going and what you could possibly be doing. There’s no rule that says you have to own one and only one survival knife. You may want one when you do a lot of hunting in the woods by your house and another when you go camping in the state park.
There are some tips that you should follow to make it easy to find a knife that is going to work well for you and your needs.
1. Identify needs. Go through the list of what you expect your knife to be able to do. Once you create a list with at least 5 actions on it, you will be able to find a knife that can do all of those things. For example, if you are going to take rope along with you, you need a knife with serration to be able to cut through the rope. If you find a survival knife that doesn’t have any serration, you want to keep looking.
2. Find one that’s easy to sharpen. The steel that the knife is made from and the profile of the edge, such as hollow or compound, should be explored. You want a knife that is not too difficult to sharpen in the field, but maintains an edge for a considerable amount of time. For example, hollow-ground blades are sharp, but difficult to sharpen when you’re out in no man’s land.
3. Look at handle materials. You want a knife that’s going to be easy to hold no matter what. If you are in the rain or snow, you need the same level of grip on the knife as when it’s the driest night in the middle of summer. If you cannot maintain a good grip, you could end up hurting yourself with a single slip.
4. Protect your fingers. Some kind of finger guard is good to have so that you can protect your fingers from whatever it is that you are cutting. Past experience with knives may be able to tell you whether you need a large guard or if a small one will do.
5. Work within your budget. While you want to make sure you get a knife that does everything you want it to do, it’s imperative that you set a budget and work within what you can afford. You still have to be realistic, however. A good survival knife is going to cost you upward of $100.
6. Choose a well-known manufacturer. There are some great manufacturers on the market today. Whether you choose Tom Brown, KA-BAR or any other brand, you want to make sure it is one that you have heard of so that you can have a testament to the quality and the overall value that you are getting.
7. Read reviews. The reviews from people who have used the knife in the past as well as reviews from outdoor and military publications can tell you a lot about the blade and the overall knife that you are thinking about buying. The reviews will often tell you what the knife can and cannot do, how easy it is to sharpen, and what it’s good for so that you don’t have to wonder whether it is going to meet your needs when it is just you and nature.
The tips are things for you to consider so that you get the best possible knife. There are so many selections, so it will be easy to find a knife that’s going to meet all of your needs. They can vary in price, so you want to take the time to establish a budget. You also want to make sure to read the descriptions featured with each knife so you don’t go based on a photo alone.
Whenever possible, look at the knives in person where you will be able to hold them in your hand, experience the weight, see how the weight feels, and look at how your fingers are protected behind the guard. If you have large fingers, you may not be able to get away with a single finger guard because one of your fingers will protrude way beyond it, therefore offering you little to no protection against whatever it is that you may be cutting.
What to Look for in a Wilderness Survival Knife
To complete your outdoor gear with the best survival knife to suit your needs, you will have to pay attention to a series of features and factors.
The Length. We recommend models that are around 6 inches in length, but this may go up to 9 or 10 inches. Don’t go under 6 though, because the knife will no longer be suitable to a number of tasks. If you go beyond 10, it could be too heavy and especially difficult to carry around.
The Material. Stainless steel and carbon steel are the main materials for knives made for the wilderness. Stainless steel does not get corroded and thus does not rust or oxidize. Besides, it is very hard to destruct. It has a downside, however: it tends to lose the edge rather fast. If you want it to stay in shape for longer, go for a carbon steel blade. Be careful with the humidity though, because this one can develop rust.
The Handle. The material of the handle is very important because you need a good grip. Hard rubber is common, but also polymer. You may be tempted to buy a model with hollow handle, to store small items in it or to accommodate a compass, but this ends up compromising the grip. Also, be mindful about one more aspect: the tang has to be incorporated into the handle. Actually, it has to extend to cover its entire length, which is called a full tang. The longer the tang, the harder it will be for the knife to break.
Blade Thickness. You don’t just need a good blade, you also need one that will handle as many jobs as possible. Look for a thickness that is no less than 3/16 and no more than 4/16. It has to be thick enough to chop wood and definitely sturdy. Bending is in no way desirable.
The Sheath. You may overlook it, but the sheath determines much of the survival knife functionality. You will carry this tool easily if you choose a sheath that has a hole at its end, so you can strap the knife to a leg. Crossover straps also work well, because they ensure easy sliding.
Now that we have gone through the survival knife reviews and buying guide, I would like to tell you that you can ask me for any advice and leave a feedback below this article via the comment form. I will be reviewing the article every couple of months, so it should be worthwhile to come back in the future, to see the new updates.
Survival knives to avoid
Ugh, so much crap on the market today that I thought I’d leave you with some ones to steer clear of. I could go on for ever here but there are a few choices that I wouldn’t want you to waste your money on.
First, let me say that I do like Morakniv but I see too many so called ‘experts’ out there plugging the $20 Morakniv Companion as a survival knife. Sure it’s inexpensive but I struggle to recommend this as a primary survival knife. Poor quality, blade too thin, only partial tang, handle gets chewed up easily, sheath is flimsy… need I go on? Basically this knife looks great for about 5 minutes and then it just begins to fail at everything possible. Your experience may vary but I’m not impressed.
Swiss Army Knives
I love SAK’s as much as the next guy but they just don’t measure up as a serious survival knife contender. Great for the kids’ first scouting knife…not so good for keeping you alive in the wilderness when the SHTF.
Every “Rambo” Knife Ever
But it looks so damn cool and comes with a complete fire, fishing, sewing, and bear trapping kit right in the handle! Ha. Most of these knives are junk and not worth your time or money. Don’t be swayed by the Hollywood style Rambo knife please.