In the unlikely scenario where you are in an unfortunate surprise survival scenario, what is the best knife to have by your side? In this kind of survival scenario having anything is better than nothing. However, if you’re researching the topic, you most likely don’t want any knife, you’re looking for the ultimate survival knife that’s available to buy.
Every one of us has a personal preference for what makes something useful, whether that’s a knife, tent or crossbow. But when it comes to an extreme survival situation you’re going to want the best survival knife that’s capable of taking significant punishment but still come out on top as well as being a tool that can perform well at almost any task.
Below we’ve highlighted our very favorite survival knives with an easy to follow rating and a link to more information and price checker.
The Best Survival Knife
The knives we’ve covered in this guide account for a fraction of what’s available. There are more models and manufacturers available than we could have possibly included in an article. We have done our utmost to list what we consider to be outstanding knives, with something to suit every price range with examples from the number one manufacturers. If there’s a make or model you feel that needs to make its way onto this list, then please let us know in the comments below, and we’ll consider it for future revisions.
For this guide, we’re only considering knives which are fixed blade, which we firmly believe is a must-have feature for a serious survival knife. There are of course more than several folding survival knives that can be used as a last resort and are therefore excellent backups, but a primary survival knife given the option to choose, should without a doubt be a fixed blade knife, with no exceptions.
What Is A Survival Knife?
While there are no official criteria for what can be considered a survival knife, we would classify it as something that is a must-have tool that is useful in an unlikely event of a survival situation. If you ever find yourself in an actual fight for survival, perhaps wandering in the wilds or if you just like to test your skills, the proper tools can make the difference between life and death. A knife can allow you to build a shelter, possibly begin to light a fight or prepare food, clear paths, hunt and even provide defense in dire circumstances.
Even the writers of LOST understood the importance of a knife which is why John Locke had a bag full of blades, including a Bowie knife and a Ka-Bar. LOST might not have dragged on for so many seasons if John wasn’t equipped with so much hardware.
Generally speaking, a fixed blade full-tang knife will be considerably more reliable and resilient compared to any partial tang or folding knife. Full-tang means the knife’s metal extends all the way to the end of the blade. This extra length means that there are very few weak points in the construction, allowing the blade to withstand significant stress or abuse. If the handle falls off, it can easily be replaced, but if a joint snaps in a folding knife, it’s much harder to repair.
However, we should acknowledge that folding or knives that are partial tang are much more affordable, and provide much of the same benefits of a perfect survival knife.
Eight Things To Consider When Looking For The Best Survival Knife
Eight main things need to be considered when choosing the perfect survival knife, which should also encompass your possible uses and your budget.
Every survival knife needs to include certain important characteristics to perform successfully at any one task. We’ve provided specific examples of what to look for below to help with any buying decisions.
Folding or fixed blade, which is the better knife for survival?
A pocket knife is a useful and handy tool which you can take with you almost anywhere. The main drawback of a folding knife is the inherent weakness the folding mechanism introduces which a full tang knife doesn’t have.
Strength is a critical characteristic that every survival knife needs to excel that, given the various applications and tough situations a survival knife is likely to be subjected to. A blade which has cracked or shattered is a knife that has failed to do its job and can mean the difference between life and death.
What is the best knife edge?
A survival knifes cutting edge can vary greatly, with each type offering distinct advantages and disadvantages, it’s, therefore, essential to consider which edge type will best suit your particular needs.
A positive rake angle differs slightly as it extends from the bolster in a downward trajectory, this helps with slicing and cutting.
A negative rake angle aligns itself in an upward angle from the bolster, this, in turn, lessens the pressure experienced on the cutting edge when slicing or cutting.
Finally, there are what are called recurved edges which incorporate elements of all three types into one edge. The blade will begin with a straight edge, changing to a positive and finally tapering off with a negative angle. This has the benefit of creating the center of balance well forward of the hilt, which establishes a knife which is good for chopping as well as being suitable for cutting and carving.
Blade Design: What To Look For
When you’re looking for a survival knife, perhaps the most critical characteristic is the blade design, which heavily influences its suitability for use in a survival situation. In a case where you’re continued existence relies on a knife, you’ll find that you’ll need to utilize the full length of any blade, from the belly to the choil and even the tip will be used for piercing. There are more than a few blade designs available to buy. Including but not limited to trailing points, clip points, drop points and spear points. These all offer various advantages and disadvantages, but for the purposed of survival, you’ll want to focus your attention primarily on clip point, drop point and spear point.
These three designs have a unique selling point for any serious survival enthusiast, firstly the tip of the blade is positioned closer to the center line, which imparts greater control to the wielder compared to a traditional straight-backed design. Additionally, the design also lightens the end of the blade, serving to place the center of gravity closer to the hilt of the night which in turn improves handling. The experienced survivalist will tend to group survival knives into one of three categories, bushcraft/utility knives, camp knives and heavy-duty knives, this classification is mostly dependant on the blades length and the blades design.
A heavy duty knife will most often feature a hardy, heavy-duty design, featuring a blade that will vary between 10 and 14 inches. A weight-forward design and saber grind and ultra-tough steel types such as 440c, 5160 or 1095 carbon steel are cornerstone features of these knives. Ideally, the blade will be ergonomically designed with a non-slip handle for safe handling in cold and wet environments.
A camp knife is classically defined as a medium weight knife with a blade that will vary between 5 and 8 inches in length with a hollow or flat grind and balance point which is closer to to the hilt. Ideally, it should feature an ergonomic slip free handle which allows the knife to be comfortably held in several positions.
The type of blade steel matters
The steel which has been used to create a survival knife matters a great deal, it’s in our opinion the second most critical factor after blade design in deciding what knife to buy. There are two main types of steel, stainless steel, and non-stainless steel, the difference between the two on a chemical level is primarily due to the chromium content. Stainless steel contains more chromium and is, therefore, less prone to rusting.
Non-stainless steels such as high carbon steel are significantly harder and resilient compared to stainless. However, they can rust if not cared for carefully. Additionally, carbon steel is considered to be more comfortable to sharpen but will retain its edge for less time. While stainless steels are not as hardened when compared to carbon steel, harder to sharpen, more likely to break or become mishappen, but they are far less prone to rust or corrode and will retain their edge for longer once sharpened.
The above is a general rule of thumb and can be used as a rough guide, but the Rockwell Hardness (HRC) is a better indicator of toughness and edge holding capabilities. A knife blade with Rockwell Hardness of 50 – 54 are hardened, easier to sharpen but are less likely to hold an edge. A blade with Rockwell Hardness of 58 – 62 are less tough but will hold their edge very well. A knife with Rockwell Hardness of 54 – 58 is a compromise between the two extremes and attempts to balance edge holding ability with toughness.
Long bladed, heavy-duty survival knives will likely be made from some non-stainless steel, such as high carbon or tool steel and will have a Rockwell Hardness of 50-54. Conversely, smaller bushcraft or camp knives can be made of either stainless or non-stainless steels.
How long should the blade be?
The length of a knife blade significantly impacts the abilities of the knife and what tasks it will excel at. For example, a blade which averages between 8 and 10 inches will likely have enough mass and leverage to be suitable for splitting and chopping wood, however, this length makes it less ideal for delicate tasks that require precision handling.
Shorter blades that are between 3.5 and 5 inches are ideal for delicate work that need a high degree of precision, such as cutting notches, building traps, preparing game and fish and slicing roots and tubers.
Full or Partial Tang?
On a fixed blade knife the tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle and is what the handle is attached. Where the tang meets the handle is considered to be one of a knifes weak points, so while there are several tang types, I would urge you to only choose a full tang or hidden tang for a survival knife, as these offer distinct advantages regarding strength over other tang types.
By far the most popular option is the full tang design, and for a good reason, if you have the choice between the full tang and something else, pick the full tang. The design features tang that encompasses the entire width and length of the handle, with handle scales affixed to either side with rivets or glue.
Partial tangs and stick tangs are less than ideal choices for a survival knife. These tangs will extend the full length of the handle but won’t continue to the full width. It is quite common to find these tangs alongside handles that are made from stacked leather which are held in place with a screw down pommel.
What’s the difference between saber and flat grind?
A blades grind shape a fundamental factor in when deciding on what survival knife blade design to choose. There are of course several blade grinds available, but for a survival knife, the two most appropriate for our needs is the saber grind and the flat grind.
The saber grind has a bevel that extends only a very short distance from the cutting edge, which creates a thick wedge-like edge that’s difficult to sharpen to a very fine point, but it does an excellent job at holding an edge when used for splitting and chopping.
A flat grind offers a compromise between a saber grind and hollow grind. It can be sharpened to a much finer edge versus a saber grind and it will additionally hold its edge much better when compared to a hollow grind.
Some models of survival knives will have what can be best described as a hollow saber grind, incorporating both the thick spine of the saber grind and the fine edge of a hollow grind. This is a good compromise between the two options and is capable of both chopping and fine slicing.
What about knife handles?
An often overlooked feature of the survival knife is the material the handle is made from, and it needs to be sturdy, non-slip, hardwearing and water-resistant to prevent rotting. The most commonly used material is micarta, which is a resin that’s subjected to extreme pressure to form a solid, hard wearing and watertight material.
Plastics which have been reinforced with fiber are also popular and work equally well. If a knife is likely to be used for a significant amount of chopping then a handle which can absorb the shock is a good option, Hypalon or Krayton are good options for this.
The 10 Best Fixed Blade Survival Knives Available to Buy
There so many excellent survival knives available that it makes choosing a top ten an incredibly difficult task. Below you’ll find our top 10 best survival knives, with something to suit every budget and niche requirement. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at what’s available.
Ka-Bar Becker BK2 “Campanion” Fixed Blade Knife
The Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion is a seriously impressive knife with a legion of loyal fans; it’s probably the best selling ‘serious’ survival knife on the market. With more than 1000 verified reviews on Amazon, its been tested in almost every scenario possible, the user reviews are a testament to its quality.
Take a closer look at this knife it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular. It boasts a drop point blade which as we’ve already discussed is ideal for survival purposes. But it additionally features rugged construction, a 5.25-inch blade made from 1095 Cro-van high carbon steel, with an impressive Rockwell Hardness of 56 – 58 and a saber grind which can be honed to a very fine edge.
The Ultamid handle which is a bespoke polyimide that is both enormously strong and utterly resistant to water and has is designed with ergonomics and comfort in mind. The knife is of medium length and is therefore well suited as bushcraft utility knife and camo knife, performing almost any task with ease, from preparing traps to gutting a kill.
Costing slightly less than $70 at the time of writing this, it’s an absolute steal and no wonder that it’s so popular. With high-end craftsmanship, innovative design, proven longevity and a convenient size it ticks all the right boxes and is an excellent example of what a survival knife should be.
Gerber LMF II Infantry
The Gerber LMF II Infantry knife was created to bridge the gap between military grade and civilian grade survival knives. It’s well thought out blade that makes for an excellent utility knife, but given its size, it’s not well suited to chopping or any heavy-duty tasks.
Specially designed to be a military grade survival knife, the Gerber LMF II is a very well designed little knife. Although it’s way too small to be useful chopping tool and its design is not particularly well suited to the role of a camp knife, it is an excellent little utility knife.
The 4.84-inch drop point blade is made from 420HC stainless steel and features a serrated cutting edge and deep saber grind. The serrated blade is less than ideal for camping tasks such as sharpening staves or creating traps, but when seen as a military knife the design options make more sense. A serrated blade is perfect for cutting canvas or assisting with escape tasks. Additionally, the glass breaker pommel provides means of escaping a vehicle in a hurry.
Additionally, the 5.75-inch handle has been made from a near indestructible and watertight fiberglass impregnated nylon which has been coated with a comfortable rubber coating. The handle is further complimented with an integral double finger guard with jimping that works to improve a users grip further. A smart addition to the knife is a set of lanyard holes set into the handle they can be used to lash the blade to staff to create a makeshift hunting spear, which could make the difference between life and death in a survival situation.
The Gerber LMF II Infantry knife is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a utility knife that comes in a compact package.
Gerber Strong Arm Military Knife
Gerber has another entry in our list of the best survival knives with the Gerber Strong Arm Military Knife, which aims to bring military features to a civilian knife, a job is done admirably well, making it one of the better small utility survival knives available. Much like the previous Gerber, it features a 4.8-inch drop point blade, making it an ideal survival knife.
The Strong Arm boasts a 420HC stainless steel blade with an added black ceramic coating, which additionally enhances its weather and corrosion resistance, as well as making it look pretty damn cool. However, in a move which distinguishes the Strong Arm from the LMF II Infantry model, the blade is made available with or without a serrated edge, which is a nice touch. As the knife is relatively small it’s not really up to chopping or any other tasks which require some heft. However, it is an excellent utility knife and excels at any tasks that require precision such as preparing game or snares.
Aiding in the control of the knife blade is the thoughtfully designed ergonomic 5-inch handle which is made from a fiberglass nylon blend and coated with a nonslip rubber coating which tremendously resilient and completely waterproof. Improving the grip further is the double finger guard with jimping which allows for greater stability in the hand.
Lastly, the knife comes with a nylon, heavy duty modular sheath that has been designed to be mounted in a variety of positions, for example horizontally on a standard issue belt, vertically in an upright position on a MOLLE-equipped vest or on drop leg belt. The Strong Arm is a well thought out and put together knife which makes it a perfect utility knife, the blade is outstanding the handle is a pleasure to hold, lastly the sheath is the icing on the cake, creating an incredibly useful tool.
Like almost all Gerber products, the Strong Arm is one that you can rely on time and time again.
Ka-Bar Becker US Marine Corp Fighting Utility Knife
World famous and renowned, the iconic Ka-Bar U.S.M.C Fighting and Utility knife is in a league of its own and is instantly recognizable to many knife enthusiasts. We would wager that the only other knives that come close to the Becker in terms of being recognizable would be Skye’s double-edged daggers issues to UK troops during WW2 and the Kukri issues to Gurkha troops. The Ka-Bar Becker has an incredible heritage and is justly placed as one of the all-time great knives.
The Ka-Bar features a clip point at the end of a durable 7-inch blade, the edge has been finished with a saber grind and the 1095 Cro-Van high carbon tool steel has been additionally finished with a corrosion resistant coating to prevent rusting, as well as looking great. The knife boasts a Rockwell Hardness of 56-58 and follows in the traditional Bowie Knife style and as such is a particularly well-suited combat knife as well as being a robust survival knife.
Despite there being a huge selection of survival knives available in today’s market and taking into account the heavy duty design and blade construction, the comparatively low MSRP makes the knife a perfect value option. If you appreciate a touch of nostalgia, you might appreciate the fact that the handle is made from stacked leather discs on a stick tang which is secured in place with a steel pommel cap. The leather has been sealed and treated to provide longevity and ensuring the handle is weatherproof and capable of providing a comfortable grip.
Finishing off the package is a good looking stamped leather sheath.
Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife
It goes without saying that Fallkniven is one of the leading civilian knife manufacturers producing knives today, and the Fallkniven A1L Survival Knife is an explanatory example of why they are at the top of their game and leading the field.
The 6.3-inch clip point blade has been engineered with a VG-10 stainless steel core which boasts a Rockwell Hardness rating of 59 HRC. This is then laminated and sandwiched between two softer layers of stainless steel. The saber grind edge extends all the way to the back of the blade where the 0.24-inch spine provides exceptional strength and flexibility; this knife is in the running for the strongest survival knife available. A comfortable and well executed ergonomic handle hides the tang, while a diamond textured Kraton rubber handle ensures the knife remains comfortable and allows the wielder to feel confident that the knife will not slip in the hand.
Lastly, the knife comes with a fetching robust black leather sheat with a singular snap strap. Even if the blade is not quite long enough to be used as a confident chopping tool, it is an outstanding example of what a good quality knife can be. The large purpose blade design ensures the knife is an excellent all-rounder for any number of wilderness survival jobs you might choose to throw at it, from cutting to skinning to buttoning.
Buck Model 119 Special Survival Knife
With a lineage that dates back to 1945, the Buck model 119 has been an integral part of the Buck lineup of camp knives for more than 70 years. Originally constructed by the hands of Hoyt and Al Buck, the blade is an American legend.
Due to its 6-inch Clip Point blade and exceptionally sharp hollow grind made possible because of the 420 HC stainless steel used as well as the 58 HRC Rockwell Hardness. This blade is a well thought out choice for many survival-related tasks, for example creating snares, trimming branches as well more delicate tasks such as gutting fish or preparing game.
However, the lightweight blade and low down the center of balance makes chopping inadvisable and difficult. On the upside, the hollow grind means achieving an exceptionally fine edge much for achievable, which in turn makes slicing and chopping very easy, due to this fineness, any chopping will dull the edge relatively quickly.
The 4.5-inch black phenolic plastic handle is both comfortable to use for extended periods and makes the user feel confident in its nonslip design. The additional of the finger guard and smooth aluminum butt cap contrast nicely with the otherwise black handle. If you’re at all familiar with Buck knives, you’ll be able to glance this one and instantly know it’s a Buck knife simply from the shape of the handle.
If you’re someone that likes a classic design, then the Buck model 119 Special may well tick all the boxes you’re looking for in a survival knife. The fact that the design hasn’t changed much in the last 70 years is a testament to how well the originals were put together, it was and still is one of the best survival knives available. The addition of a pouch type leather sheath is a welcome addition and will help you keep the knife secure and well cared for years to come.
Ka-Bar Becker BK7 Combat / Utility Knife
The Ka-Becker BK7 Combat Utility Knife was designed with a simple purpose in mind, which was to be the very best all-purpose utility knife available to both amateur survival enthusiasts or to professional soldiers.
The long blade combined with the outstanding design and the no-fuss straight cutting edge ensures the knife remains particularly well positioned as a great all-round survival knife. Boasting a 7-inch clip point blade made from 1095 Cro-Van high carbon steel with a deep saber grind and a coating of black anti-corrosion treatment, the knife is a thing of beauty. A hardness rating of between 56 – 58 positions the knife into the territory of heavy duty knives that are capable of chopping, digging and splitting branches.
Partly due to its size and partly due to its incredible design, the Becker BK7 Combat/Utility knife is a general purpose survival knife that will perform nearly any job seamlessly. Whether you’re making a snare or building a shelter, you’ll take comfort in the fact that your knife is up to the task at hand. If you happen to utilize MOLLE gear, you’ll be pleased to know the provided nylon sheath is compatible.
Schrade Extreme Survival Knife
A brilliant example of what Schrade can do, the Extreme Survival model SCHF9 is ideal for anyone that’s looking for a knife that is not made of traditional stainless steel. The tool grade non-stainless steel used to create this knife is both incredibly tough and relatively easy to sharpen. It’s also very wallet-friendly, coming in well under $100.
Due to the substantial 6.4-inch drop point blade and the well thought out recurved cutting edge, the knife is well equipped for both sharpening staves as well as chopping. The 1095 high carbon tool steel has been made with a hollow grind and the balance of the knife is well forward of the hilt, allowing for an effective chopping tool.
As the blade is made from 1095 high carbon tool steel, you can expect the knife to be well equipped to handle heavy-duty use. In the hand, the knife feels comfortable and the grip provided by the Thermo Plastic Elastomer is reassuring, it feels like a cross between plastic and rubber, and allows for any knocks or vibrations to directly absorbed by the handle rather by your hand.
As far as sheaths go, the heavy-duty nylon version provided by Schrade is perfectly capable of keeping the knife safe and secure.
ESEE-6 Plain Black Blade with Grey Removable Micarta Handles
Back in 1997, the Randall Adventure & Training Company decided to enter the competitive knife market with the ESEE brand of knives. From that point, the brand has gone from strength to strength and have made a name for themselves as a name that can be trusted to make quality designs and reliable craft. We think the ESEE-6 is well deserving of its position in the top 10 survival knives available to buy.
When you use a knife that’s been designed by experts in jungle survival training, you can tell that the experience has not gone to waste. Case in point the ESEE 6, which as far as survival knives go is firmly placed as one of our favorites, it’s near enough impossible to fault and provides everything you’d want from a medium sized knife.
Featuring a 6.5-inch drop point blade crafted from high carbon 1095 tool steel and an anti-corrosion finish, the flat grind and blade hardness rating of 55-57 HRC ensure this knife is on part with the best of the best. The design of the blade is reminiscent of a hunting knife rather than a combat knife, which is no bad thing.
You’ll be able to exert precise control with the drop point blade positioned close to the center line, while the hollow grind nicely balances roughness with a found edge. The knife is a significant achievement, and we can thoroughly recommend it to anyone that’s looking for a resilient general purpose survival knife.
Lastly, the full tang construction provides exceptional strength and stability which is additionally supported by the highly ergonomic handle. The handle is made from near-indestructible Micarta, which provides a non-slip surface and shock absorbing abilities. Wrapping it all up is the Kydex sheath which is tough and well suited to protect your knife.
ESEE Laser Strike Fixed Blade Knife
The ESEE Laser Strike knife stands out from the standard survival knife design in that it features a spear point blade, rather than the more traditional drop point. It should be noted though that this is not a drawback. Spear points offer an advantage in that the tip is directly in line with the blades center line, allowing for superior piercing abilities.
Including a 4.75-inch spear point blade that has been crafted from high carbon 1095 tool steel, the knife boasts a hardness rating of 55-57 HRC as well as corrosion resistant coating and an edge that’s been finished with a flat grind. The choice of stell makes the knife extremely resilient while the average hardness rating ensures the blade can retain and take an edge with relative ease.
A full tang finish which is sandwiched between two Micarta scales afford the knife a high degree of comfort and assurance in the hand. ESEE have finished off the package with another Kydex sheath, which again is very tough and well suited to keeping your knife safe and well protected.