Whether for wilderness survival, urban self-defense, everyday carry, or simply being prepared for the unexpected, a good survival knife is indispensable.
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Whether your goal is outdoor wilderness survival, urban self-defense, everyday utilitarian practicality, or simply being prepared for the unexpected - you know that a good knife is indispensable.
There are so many different style knives out there.
From the basic swiss army knife to the Rambo style all-in-one survival knives, you can find just about any size and style to meet your needs.
With so many options, one eventually ends up asking, which are the best survival knives out there?
To give you a quick answer, the best survival knives are sturdy fixed blade knives.
They should have a full tang and will ideally measure less than 8 in. in length. Beyond that, there are many factors that influence the quality and functionality of a tactical knife.
In this comprehensive guide, it is my hope to help you understand what exactly are the qualities you should be looking for in a high-quality survival knife.
I’ll take an in-depth look at certain features all knives have in common such as the blade, the handle, and the metal alloys used to make them.
It is my goal to help you understand what your best options may be so that you can make a worthwhile investment.
The best survival knife will help you be as prepared as possible for whatever circumstances life may throw at you.
In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!
The point of this comprehensive overview of survival knives is not to give you a simple top ten list.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time researching, and we've put together a list of tactical knives that we think exemplify the best survival knives on the market today.
You can find the list of the best knives right below. Further down the article you can also find detailed information on what makes a knife suitable for a survival situation and why we chose the knives in our list.
KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife
The pros: This knife has a 5.5” blade made out of Cro-Van steel with an anti-corrosive coating.
The KA-BAR Becker BK2 knife boasts all of the features that make for a good survival knife at a very accessible price.
It is great for fine tasks like skinning small animals, yet heavy-duty enough to hold up to splitting wood.
The cons: The sheath of this knife is really cumbersome. You have to know exactly where to put pressure on it to release it from its safety hold.
Last update on 2023-03-05 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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Roselli Eräpuukko Wootz UHC Long
The pros: I'm personally a huge fan of the bare-bones knives. This puukko style knife from Finland has a full tang high-carbon steel blade that measures about 5.5”.
The sheath is a no-frills simple leather. The Roselli Eräpuukko Wootz UHC Long is a bushcraft survival knife that is especially suited for hunting, fishing, carving, and camping.
The best survival knives are tried and true, and puukko knives of this exact style have been in use for over 1000 years.
The cons: This knife lacks a handguard on the handle. Some would argue that the wooden handle is a disadvantage, but I’ve seen them last (and be perfectly functional) upwards of 30 years.
Check out this video review from Bushcraft Canada.
Sigma 3 Survivor
The Pros: This survival knife features a blade made of some of the highest quality steel you can get. It can cut through metal and maintain its edge.
The Sigma 3 Survivor has a full tang and a handle that looks and feels like wood but is more resistant. It’s got a 4" blade, making it practical for all the finer work of bushcraft.
It also boasts a pommel with a patented scraper designed to help you make firewood tinder.
The Cons: The pommel design is meant to enhance its utility, but I think the flat pommel is more functional overall. This knife also has no handguard. It can also be considered an investment due to its cost.
Best Budget Survival Knife
GERBER Bear Grylls Ultimate Fixed Blade
The pros: This popular survival knife will last you years under conditions of tough abuse.
The stainless steel blade is just under 5" long, putting it safely within the range of practicality.
It has a stainless steel pommel for hammering and the grip is famously comfortable to use during hard jobs.
Last update on 2023-03-06 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Serrated Knife
KA1214-BRK USA Fighting Knife
The pros: This knife is from a trusted brand that consistently delivers high-quality and yet affordable survival knives.
The partially serrated knife blade is ideal for those of you who need to be able to saw through wood or bones. The blade measures 7", keeping it practical for finer jobs like field dressing a kill or filleting fish.
Last update on 2023-03-06 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Check out this video review from Slicey Dicey.
Custom Made Survival Knife
This isn't a ready-to-purchase option. It might be worth considering, though.
If you want the best survival knife available and have been sorely disappointed in the commercial options available to you, working with a custom knife maker to make the survival knife of your dreams may be just what you are looking for.
The pros: You get the final say in blade materials, size, shape, grind, etc.
All details of the knife should be discussed with you in-depth to assure that you get exactly what you want.
The cons: Custom knife makers may take several months to complete your knife.
Custom survival knives also tend to be much more expensive due to the artisan nature of their craftsmanship.
Here is some advice in regards to ordering a custom knife:
Look carefully at a selection of knives previously made by the craftsman.
Be as clear as possible in your expectations, but allow the artist to do their job and trust that they will do it well.
Be realistic about your design ideas. Listen to the craftsman and heed their advice.
It may be a good idea to shop around a bit to find the knife maker that inspires the most confidence.
Don't rule out the unknown hobby enthusiast from the local craft fair. You might be surprised at the talent you find in unexpected places.
You may also want to look at handmade survival knives. These are knives made by real craftsmen, just not custom made for you.
Whether you are a self-identified prepper, wilderness survival enthusiast, hunter or fisherman, or just enjoy camping, your knife is your go-to tool.
But each of these activities includes specific uses for a knife that vary from one to the other.
Knife designs vary depending on what you need your knife to do:
Do you want something you can discreetly carry in a pocket?
Will the knife live in your emergency preparedness kit or bug out bag?
Do you anticipate needing to strip wires?
Will you be field dressing animals in the forest?
What about cleaning fish?
Do you anticipate building a rustic shelter?
Will you need to defend yourself against people who mean you harm?
The first step that you must take when deciding on the best survival knife is to have an honest conversation with yourself about the realities of the environment you live in.
My point is that every single one of you will find a different “best survival knife”. Think about what you need and keep that in mind as you continue reading.
Main Features of a Survival Knife
These features are especially important when considering fixed blade survival knives:
If you are considering a folding pocket survival knife, or a Swiss Army Knife there are other features that you should carefully examine. Such as:
The locking mechanism
Which tools are available beyond the blade
Ease of cleaning and maintenance
So, let’s delve into all of these features a little deeper.
It is generally agreed that the best survival knives have a full tang.
Some knife enthusiasts argue that folding knives and Swiss Army knives, as practical as they can be, are not true survival knives because of the inherent weakness of having a hinge.
A full tang knife is the most important survival tool you can have in your survival backpack.
The tang is the part of the knife that connects the blade to the handle. When you see the term “full tang” you know that blade runs through the handle as one solid piece of metal.
The handle material is attached to either side of the tang, which should reach all the way to the pommel of the knife.
Why is having a full tang on your survival knife so important?
The best survival knives need to hold up to the toughest working conditions. The last thing you want is a blade that wiggles loose in the handle, or worse, one that snaps off in the middle of a job.
These are problems common to partial tang knives.
If you are concerned about weight and count every ounce that goes into your outdoor survival backpack, consider a skeleton tang.
These tangs maintain the integrity of a full tang but the manufacturers have cut out unnecessary metal, cutting down the weight of the knife.
You might also consider an alternative metal or alloy such as titanium, which is considerably lighter weight.
Extended tangs are another good option you may want to consider. These tangs extend beyond the pommel of the knife.
They can add utility to your survival knife by providing you with a metallic surface for hammering, or an extra hole for securing your knife.
Your ideal blade should sturdy, durable, and hold up to wear and tear. The best survival knives will last for years and hold up to repeated sharpenings.
The thickest blades should not exceed ¼ inch. Anything less than ⅛ inch is considered thin.
If you have plans on dressing game animals or filleting fish, a thinner blade will most likely be more practical for you. A good hunting knife will tend towards the thinner side.
If you feel that you will most likely be cutting and splitting wood or using your knife for wedging, prying or twisting purposes, then consider a thicker blade. Thick blades can support more sideways leverage.
My recommendation is that if you are not counting every ounce of weight, go with a thicker blade just in case.
If you must have a thin blade, make sure the steel quality is superb to minimize the chance of it snapping under extreme use.
The best survival knives will have a blade that is neither too long nor too short.
Blades that measures between 4 - 8 inches fall within the realm of practicality for most wilderness survival enthusiasts.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. A large blade can be practical if you find yourself in a particularly dense and lush wooded area.
They are often more practical for clearing land quickly, working through the brush, and felling small trees.
Larger blades can be impractical, however, for finer jobs like skinning small game or crafting tools. They are also heavier, harder to handle, and generally less comfortable to carry.
Smaller blades have the advantage of being easily maneuverable for finer tasks.
Whittling, tool making, finer woodworking, and the processing of food are a lot easier with a smaller knife.
There are four kinds of materials commonly used in the manufacture of high-quality knife blades:
Titanium steel mixes.
The best economical survival knives are often made from stainless steel. Stainless steel will not rust, but it has a tendency to lose its edge quickly.
It can also be harder to sharpen than carbon steel.
Carbon steel, which is a steel alloy with a much higher percentage of carbon, is much harder and holds its edge for much longer. When the time comes to sharpen the blade, it’s a much easier job.
The biggest disadvantage of carbon steel is that it tends to rust if you don’t take care of it properly.
Titanium is a very high-quality metal that boasts the hardness of carbon steel and the anti-corrosive nature of stainless steel. It is also lighter weight than both of them.
Unfortunately, it is known to not hold its edge as well and has a reputation for being somewhat brittle.
The other downside of titanium is the cost. It's expensive. The best budget survival knives will not be made out of titanium.
Unless you planning on using your knife around highly corrosive seawater, a titanium blade may not be worth the cost.
Some manufacturers offer blades made from a mix of titanium and steel. The blades tend to have the resistance of carbon steel and the anti-corrosive qualities of titanium.
If you are leaning towards a steel knife, make sure you investigate the quality of the steel your knife is made from.
There are many different grades of steel, and not all are created equal. You might think you are getting a great deal on a cheap carbon steel survival knife, but you may discover that the quality of the steel is inferior to a less expensive stainless steel option.
When I talk about blade shape, I’m talking about the design of the blade itself.
I’ll get to what is referred to as the grind, which is the shape of the sharp edge, in a moment.
You may have heard of the Drop Point, Clip Point, Straightback (or Standard Blade), Hawkbill, or the Trailing Point style blades, amongst others.
What difference does the style of the blade have to do with the quality of the survival knife?
Again, the best survival knife for any one individual has to do with what they want to do with their knife. Each of these designs has specific practicality in the field.
The Drop Point and the Clip Point blades are considered by many to be the most versatile and practical in the field.
They boast fine points let you get into small places and a slight curve gives you just enough leverage to make cutting jobs easier.
Some people recommend against Straight Back Blades (it’s that leverage factor). I don't agree.
Straight back blades are one of the oldest and most traditional blade designs out there. It’s incredibly versatile and has been in use for millennia.
When looking at the best survival knife blades, I wouldn’t dismiss this as a serious contender.
The blade edge is technically referred to as the grind of the blade. Basically, it’s the sharp side that is going to do all your cutting.
A lot of thought goes into the shape of that sharp edge on your survival knife.
The grind type of your blade is important. Try to avoid knives that have a hollow grind on the edge. These are impressively sharp knives and may be tempting to take out into the field.
Unfortunately, they’re about the hardest grind to maintain. You can very easily damage the edge and ruin the grind without proper sharpening tools and techniques.
This means no sharpening on an improvised surface.
When shopping for your survival knife, keep a lookout for these grinds:
The Scandanavian Grind
The High Flat Grind
A Compound Bevel Grind
An Asymmetrical Grind
These are generally considered to be the most practical for sharpening in the field and for maintaining the edge on your survival knife.
Another thing to consider when thinking about the edge of your knife is if you want a straight edge or a serrated edge.
A serrated knife is great for sawing through wood or bone but are a pain to sharpen in the field. Straight edges are more versatile in general.
You may want a knife blade that has a serrated section and a straight edge to enjoy the best of both worlds.
For a guide on how to sharpen your survival knife using whetstones, as well as other unconventional methods, have a look at the video below.
When you are looking at the different survival knives that are popular on the market, you’ll be sure to notice the endless variety of handles that are available.
The best survival knives have handles that work for their owner. I, personally, am a fan of high-quality natural materials such as bone or wood.
Others prefer more modern options like rubber, plastics, or different polymer grips.
Some will argue that wood can be easily damaged. Others will insist that man-made materials are not as durable.
In my opinion, it's a matter of personal preference.
Two things that are agreed upon by survival knife aficionados:
Flat pommels are best. The pommel is the butt of the knife. The best survival knives will have a flat pommel to allow you to use the knife as a hammer.
Avoid the temptation to buy a hollow handle knife. If you’re following the advice of finding a full tang knife, this shouldn’t be an issue. Hollow handles promise an extra space to store matches or a knife sharpener. Don’t cave into the gimmick. All you are doing is sacrificing durability and genuine functionality. It’s best that you look for a high-quality knife sheath that holds these essential little extras if having them on hand is important to you.
Survival knives can be extremely versatile tools and can even be used successfully as self-defense weapons. Check out our guide on the best self defense knives to learn more.
Other Pocket Knives and Survival Tools
Now that we’ve thoroughly explored the world of fixed blade survival knives and you understand exactly why they are your best option - you are probably wondering if a Swiss Army knife or a folding knife is a good survival tool.
Are they appropriate additions to your outdoor survival gear collection? Yes, they are!
The reason why these different kinds of knives are not the best is because of that fundamental weakness: they have hinges.
All the same, they can be a valuable asset in your bug out bag or survival backpack. Because of their compact size, they are especially practical for everyday carry.
They may, in fact, be the first thing you reach for in an emergency situation.
Let’s take a closer look at these other kinds of survival knives, and why they are a great addition to your survival gear.
The Swiss Army Survival Knife
The Swiss Army knife is iconic in survival and prepper subculture.
It is also deeply ingrained in our culture as a whole. Who doesn’t remember their first Swiss Army knife?
I still get excited at trying out all the different tools and blades on a new knife. Countless people grew up with one of these in their pocket.
Many folks consider a good Swiss Army knife the best everyday carry knife around. And for good reason!
The Swiss Army knife is a multifunctional tool that lets you do things a single blade would have a hard time doing.
Some of the main tools the Swiss Army knife include are:
One main spearpoint blade
Serrated wood saw
And so many more. You can find a Swiss Army knife with any combination of tools that you can imagine.
It is not unheard of for a knife enthusiast to pick a model that has so many tools that the knife becomes bulky and uncomfortable to carry. It's an easy trap to fall into.
If you want your Swiss Army knife for everyday carry, I recommend that you study your options wisely. Pick a model that has only the true essentials for what you need.
All Swiss Army knives from the Wenger or Victorinox brands (knives made after 2013 are exclusively branded Victorinox) are made from high-quality metals.
The rivets are constructed of brass and the dividers are made of aluminum to cut down on weight.
The blades, saws and other implements are made from high-quality stainless steel of different formulations, depending on the tool.
These components are also subject to chromium plating, making them especially corrosion-resistant and reinforcing their hardness.
Swiss Army Knife Cleaning and Maintenance
Despite the inherent weakness of having hinged tools, Swiss Army knives are known for their durability and dependability.
They do, however, need regular cleaning and maintenance to keep them in their best working order. All kinds of gunk and debris can build up in the hinges and cause them to malfunction.
Moisture can be trapped by this gunk and cause corrosion. This need for extra maintenance is a key reason why a Swiss Army knife is not the best survival knife out there.
In your search for the best survival knife, you have surely come across an incredible selection of really impressive folding knives.
As we’ve mentioned, the simple fact that it has a hinge disqualifies it from being the best survival knife. Hinges and locks, no matter how amazing the knife, can wear out and fail.
That being said, folding knives make a great everyday carry knife. They tend not to have the bulk of a multi-tool Swiss Army knife.
Because they fold, they are shorter and more discreet than a fixed blade knife that must be stored in a sheath.
So how do you know which is the best folding knife for you?
A lot of the characteristics that I analyzed above in reference to fixed blade knives can be applied toward your analysis of folding and locking knives.
All of the information regarding blade shape, size, grind, and thickness is relevant for folding knives as well.
The major factor that distinguishes a folding survival knife from a fixed blade knife is the hinge and locking mechanism.
Folding Knives Locking Mechanism
This is probably the most important aspect of any folding knife. The lock and hinge are the weakest points on the knife and should not be overlooked.
Take the time to pick a folding knife that has a locking mechanism you can feel confident in.
These are some of the different lock designs available:
Many manufacturers have special locking mechanisms patented for their exclusive use.
Considering that the lock is such a fundamental part of your folding knife, I highly recommend doing some very thorough investigating to understand the pros and cons of each option before making a purchase.
Survival Knife Conclusions
The best survival knife is determined by each individual and what they need their knife to do. Try not to be overwhelmed by the abundance of options.
I hope you’ve found this comprehensive guide helpful and now you'll be able to choose a survival knife that best suits your needs!
Please be sure to leave a comment if you can think of anything I have overlooked or if you want to share your opinion on the best survival knifes available.