LAST UPDATED: December 5, 2019
Best Survival Knives: Confidently Explore the Great Outdoors
Be prepared in the wilderness with these high-quality survival knives
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON December 5, 2019
Whether you’re an avid hiker or just camping for the weekend, a survival knife can be extremely helpful. Its sharp blade can cut up kindling, slice through rope, and start a fire. They are compact enough to store away, and their versatility makes them capable of cutting basically anything you’ll need to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are the best survival knives to consider for your next adventure.
A lightweight and compact 9-inch long full tang survival knife developed out of carbon stainless steel.
The handle is wrapped in thick rubber for greater grip strength. It features a blood groove, a dual-edge, a protective handguard, and weighs nearly 8 ounces.
It’s designed more for stabbing and isn’t the best for cutting. The handle is thin and small, and putting it in the sheath can be difficult due to its double-sided blade.
This 13.5-inch long fixed-blade knife has an 8.5-inch long and 5.5-mm thick blade. The spear point blade has a blood groove for strength and edge retention.
It’s a full tang knife designed to resist corrosion. It includes a comfortable green rubber-wrapped handle with a textured grip, a brown leather sheath, and it weighs 0.8 pounds.
It is on the larger side for survival knives and may take some getting used to. It’s also heavy and cumbersome, and keeping it in the sheath may be a hassle on a hike.
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Benefits of the Best Survival Knives
- First aid tool. The best survival knife can be used to remove thorns and splinters from wounds or to cut bandages. In case of a car accident, you can use it to cut seat belts or break windows to free yourself. You can also heat the blade in fire and cauterize wounds if a first aid kit is missing.
- Preparing food. You can use the knife to disembowel game you caught, to peel and slice fruits, or to cut cheese and bread. When you don’t have eating utensils, it can serve as a knife, spoon, or fork. You can also use the survival knife to open bottles of wine or cans of food.
- Self-defense. When you’re in the wild, defending yourself can determine whether you survive or not. A survival knife can help protect you against animals and humans. It can slow down or fend off an attacker. Even if you don’t use it, having it ensures you are prepared.
Types of Survival Knives
This knife became popular in the 1980s when it was released by Cold Steel. It’s similar to a samurai sword and its other name is the Japanese Short Sword. It’s a traditional Japanese knife that was designed to penetrate armor. To withstand frequent use, it has a plastic handle and an incredibly strong blade. The knife’s tip is chisel-like and very difficult to damage. It is perfect for scraping or prying.
This is a tactical pocket knife meant to be hidden in a boot. It can also be concealed under pant legs, slid into a belt, or worn on the neck. It is five inches long and has a double-edged blade. But due to its small size, it may not be the ideal survival knife. However, its accessibility makes it a reliable backup knife that can be used quickly for self-defense, hunting, survival, or other tasks.
This type of knife is ideal for combat. Military personnel use it after running out of bullets. It is specifically designed to be useful in numerous situations, which is why it’s loved by the military. It’s a valuable weapon that can save lives in difficult situations and is extremely durable. The blade is about eight inches long and the handle is textured to offer a good grip.
Pete Gerber established Gerber Legendary Blades in 1939. The American company produces knives and other multipurpose tools. Its headquarters are in Oregon. The company partnered with Dave Murphy in 1939, becoming the first knife manufacturer to team up with a custom knifemaker. Gerber knives are the best survival knives and designed to meet unique needs such as self-defense. Next time you’re out camping, carry the Gerber Folding Knife.
Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin launched ESEE Knives in 1997. Their aim was to revolutionize things in the knife industry. They formed Randall's Adventure Training to educate people on wilderness survival, land navigation, and wilderness medical techniques. ESEE Knives’ first knife was the RTAK produced by the Wicked Knife Company. ESEE’s philosophy is to create gear that has been tested in the real world, such as the ESEE Zancudo Framelock Green Knife.
A family business, Fällkniven AB manufactures knives and knife-related equipment. It was founded by Peter Hjortberger in 1984 and is located in Boden, Sweden. In 1987, it began producing its own knives. The company is best known for equipping the Swedish military with outdoor and military knives. Its knives are tested at Lulea University of Technology to ensure they are functional, strong, and durable. Try out one of its best products, the Fallkniven Diamond-Ceramic Whetstone Sharpener.
Kershaw Knives is a company that invents and manufactures a variety of knives for hunting, camping, and fishing. Established in 1974 by Pete Kershaw, the company is now part of Kai USA with headquarters in Oregon. Kai USA also owns Shun brands (a kitchen knife brand) and Zero Tolerance (a knife brand). For your next outdoor adventure, get the Kershaw Blur Everyday Pocket Knife.
The Ka-Bar knife has such a rich history we sometimes forget that its manufacturer bears the same name. While Ka-Bar Knives, Inc. now makes a variety of knives, it’s most popular for the Ka-Bar Knife. The company was launched in 1897 and was known as the Tidioute Cutlery Company back then. It’s now located in Olean, New York. Its renowned knife, the Ka-Bar Fighting Knife, is still its most popular product to date.
Best Survival Knife Pricing
- Under $50: The majority of these knives are folding pocket knives with basic features. Some are half tang and most don’t come with a sheath.
- Over $50: These are multipurpose survival knives that are strong, durable, and well-designed. They feature a full tang and fixed blades. Many are sold with a sheath. Knives in this category are made by top brands like Kershaw, ESEE, Ka-Bar, Gerber, Bushcraft, Condor, Morakniv, and Micarta. Some are made of high carbon steel while others are made of Cro-Van steel.
A survival knife’s blade length ranges between 4 and 8 inches. A knife with a small blade is lighter and easier to carry. It’s ideal for tasks that require precision—like dressing wild game or carving. However, it can’t be used for chopping or batoning. A knife with a bigger blade is suitable for hammering or cutting tree limbs. But it’s heavier and difficult to carry. The best survival knife should have an overall length between 9-11 inches.
A knife’s tang is the unexposed, unsharpened part of the blade that extends to the handle. The tang can be full or partial, such as push tang, half tang, or rat-tail tang. A knife with a full tang has a blade material that extends down the handle. It is sturdy, safer to use, and doesn’t loosen over time. A knife with a half tang may loosen when you’re chopping, prying, or batoning. It is dangerous and difficult to use.
A survival knife’s tip can be sharp, rounded, angled, or hooked. A sharp-tipped survival knife is multifunctional and can be used for hunting, self-defense, picking locks, preparing food, or prying open jammed doors. A rounded tip carves well because it makes very precise cuts. It can also thresh bark to start fires. A bigger, angled tip is more durable and can pierce through thicker materials. A hooked tip is ideal for dressing, skinning, and slicing game.
Survival knife blades can either have a drop point or a clip point design. A drop point blade is thicker, especially at the tip, and can handle different tasks like carving, cutting, and skinning. A clip point blade has a traditional design and is ideal for piercing and stabbing (self-defense). It can be a useful fighting knife for battling an animal like a bear.
- Blade Mobility. The mobility of a survival knife’s blade influences its flexibility. A knife can either have a fixed or a folding blade. Fixed blades are preferable because they are resilient, durable, and reliable in survival situations. However, they are bulkier and harder to carry. Folding blades are less resistant to impact and can’t be used for demanding tasks. But they are ideal for carving, more compact, and portable.
- Type of Pommel. The pommel is the bottom of a knife’s handle, commonly known as the butt. It is the most significant part of a knife’s handle because a well-designed one has more uses. You can choose between a flat, rounded, and hooked pommel. A sturdy pommel is better for light pounding or hammering, inserting shelter stakes, ice fishing, making repairs, and self-defense.
- Edge of the Blade. A single-edged knife offers more control. You can rest your thumb on the flat side as you carry out tedious tasks like carving. It's safer and can help build a shelter, cut and split, or baton wood. It can also start a fire by striking a Ferro rod. A double-edged knife is ideal for stabbing and self-defense. However, there’s a higher probability of hurting yourself due to perspiration.
Best Survival Knife Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Known for its reliable knives that are perfect for any outdoor adventure, Schrade has been manufacturing knives since 1892. You can use this knife for camping, hiking, and other survival purposes in the wild. Its blade is made from 1095 High Carbon Steel. It measures 12.1 inches and has a 6.4-inch blade.
The Thermoplastic Elastomer handle has a ring texture and deep grooves and remains slip-resistant even when you handle it with slippery hands. The knife features a lanyard hole that makes it easy to carry and to store. It comes with a nylon belt sheath that has a detachable storage pouch. All these features make it the perfect knife for the wild.
The knife’s full tang design makes it durable. The heavy-duty blade stays in place thanks to the finger choil, front quillon, and thumb jimping.
The main downside is that the knife is large and not ideal for small hands. It’s quite difficult to use. Also, before you use it, you have to sharpen it.
Smith and Wesson produces knives that can be used in different applications. This knife attests to the company’s superior craftsmanship. It is 9 inches long and has a 4.7-inch blade that’s perfect for any survival activity. The knife is lightweight and weighs only 7.7 ounces. The blood groove further decreases its weight without compromising its functionality.
To increase the knife’s grip, the handle is wrapped in black rubber. You can be sure it won’t slip out of your hand as the hand guard keeps it in place. You can loop a lanyard through the lanyard hole and quickly grab your knife in case it slips.
The knife’s dual-edge blade makes it a perfect self-defense tool. For enhanced durability, the blade is manufactured from 7Cr17MoV High Carbon. However, the knife is designed for tasks that require stabbing and is not ideal for cutting. You’ll also have a hard time putting its double-edged blade in a sheath.
The Bowie knife is the perfect tool for hunting, military work, outdoor activities, and survival in the wilderness. It is a long 14-inch knife with an 8.5-inch clip point blade that’s 5.5 mm thick. The 3CR13 razor-sharp blade is designed to last long, resist corrosion, and retain its strength for a long period. It’s excellent at cutting in tight places and activities that require piercing or detailed work.
A full tang knife, the Bowie knife is sturdy, reliable, and safe to use. Its non-slip handle is beautifully designed in rosewood to provide a stronger, more comfortable grip. Finger grooves add to its comfort and make it an ergonomic knife. The brass pommel beautifully balances the handle.
The knife comes with a sheath made from genuine leather. The sheath features a belt loop and a snap fastener that make carrying the knife easy.
Unfortunately, the knife’s size makes it heavy and cumbersome. It’s large for a survival knife. If you love hiking, you may want to get another knife, as you’ll have a hard time keeping it in the sheath when hiking. You can also get a Kydex knife sheath.
This Kershaw pocket knife is stylish, durable, and easy to carry. It has a 3.4-inch stainless steel drop point blade. It is designed to be held with either hand, so left-handers don’t need to worry about an awkward grip. It has a reversible pocket clip, making it flexible to be carried in whichever way is most comfortable for you. It is made to open with a simple push of the thumb. The grip is designed for ease of carry in any condition, even rain, snow, or skinning, so you can do all your outdoor activities without fear of the knife slipping.
It has a diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating, which gives it an incredible hardiness, protection from corrosion, wear resistance, and a natural attractive appearance. It weighs 8 ounces and is light enough to carry in your pocket.
However, the thumb studs to withdraw the blade are at an awkward angle and shape, making it uncomfortable to use. They also come to a point, causing them to catch on your clothes as you draw the knife from your pocket. Also, this is not a cheap knife, so it is not something you purchase casually.
Gerber is a well-known brand in outdoor products, and this survival knife is another excellent example of the quality of their craftsmanship. It has a 4.75-inch partially serrated drop point blade. The handle is made of texture rubble to promote grip integrity and prevent slipping. There is a stainless steel pommel at the base of the handle meant to function as a hammer. It also comes with a firestarter that locks into the sheath with a striker notch made into the back of the blade. An emergency whistle lanyard is attached to the handle. With these basic tools at your disposal, it makes this a fantastic survival knife.
It weighs 15.8 ounces. The handle is ambidextrous, so it can be used with either hand. While not part of their famous Bear Grylls collection, this is a dependable and multifunctional knife. This falls into the higher mid-range of prices for a survival knife.
However, the blade does not tuck away, so this may be inconvenient for some people. While the quality is good, some buyers wished it came in different colors.
This knife from Buck Knives has a 6-inch clip point fixed steel blade. The handle is designed to flow with the grip of your handle, and measures another 4 inches itself. It is also built with an aluminium guard to protect your hand while using this for dangerous cutting. This knife comes with a leather sheath for added durability and style. The sheath comes with a belt loop for ease of carrying. These blades from Buck Knives are designed to be corrosion-resistant, highly durable, and easily resharpened. This is due to their specialized heat treatment from experts within the industry, ensuring their knives are exceptionally sharp right of the box, and will last for a very long time.
This falls in the upper mid-range of prices for survival knives on the market. For the price, you are getting an exceptionally high-quality product.
It doesn’t come with as many special features as other survival knives. There have been some reported issues of blemishes on the blade, but these are very rare incidents in what is otherwise a reputable manufacturer that has been around since 1902.
The SOG Flash II comes with a serrated edge or straight edge for the same price, which is middle market range. The blade itself is 4.5 inches, and it folds back into the handle. The blade can be opened with one hand, and SOG prides themself on ensuring a fast draw with a quick-release mechanism. The company says it will consider any repair or replacement costs, but otherwise doesn’t provide details on what is and is not covered. It weighs 3.1 ounces, making it extremely lightweight for a survival knife. It is easily resharpened, and is built to last. It comes with a safety lock for added peace of mind when leaving your knife around the house.
However, there are reported issues on the grip not being super stable. The locking mechanism can get stuck, making it hard to open and close. It does not feel as durable or hardy as other knives, nor does it come with any extra features, like the fire starter of the Gerber knife.
Another excellent knife from Schrade, this has a full tang fixed blade measuring in total 10.4 inches. It has a drop point, and the length of the blade itself is about 5 inches. The blade is made from 1095 powder-coated high carbon steel. The handle is a thermoplastic elastomer. The knife comes with a sharpening stone, firestarter rod, and a lanyard hole. This is cheaper than other knives on the market, making it a great buy for its durability and function. It weighs 12.3 ounces.
However, there are some drawbacks. For California residents, this knife comes with a warning that it contains products known to cause birth defects and cancer. The finish on the blade also comes off during heavy work, so if you are buying it for the sleek powder coating, you may be disappointed. It also doesn’t cut as sharply or strongly as others on the market.
- Make sure the blade is properly secured to the sheath before setting off on an adventure. Double-check the buckles and straps to ensure they are tight.
- To make sure your knife does not rust, do not leave it in water or outside in the elements. Make sure to wipe away water with a cloth before putting it back in the sheath.
- If you need to cut the rope, twine, or string more effectively, get a survival knife that includes a serrated edge for better cuts and slices.
- Always cut away from your body when using a survival knife, or any type of knife, to avoid slicing or harming yourself. Always use extreme caution to keep yourself safe.
Q: What is the tang on the knife?
A: The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle of the knife. Knives with a full tang are considered more durable and stronger.
Q: How do I properly care for a survival knife?
A: Make sure your knife is sharp by using a sharpening tool or whetstone. Both feature two sides: a rough side and a fine grit side. Some survival knives may also come with a stone of their own.
Q: What types of blades do survival knives have?
A: You can find survival knives with either stainless steel or carbon material blades. Stainless steel is more common, is generally tougher, and is less prone to rusting and chipping. Carbon blades are harder, but not as tough, but are typically easier to sharpen.
Our top pick, the ESSE Fixed Blade Survival Knife is made out of tough and sturdy carbon steel for improved power and force.
Or there’s the budget-friendly Smith & Wesson High Carbon Fixed Blade Survival Knife, which looks more rugged and comes equipped with a strong blade, blood groove, a dual-edge, and a protective handguard.