How many knives would you need to survive in the wilderness?
If you choose the right survival knife, just one.
With the renewed hype around survivalism thanks to popular shows such as Naked and Afraid and Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild, there has also been a rise in demand for survival items.
Knives, paracord, first aid, fire starter and useful tactical watches – have all seen a recent rise in purchases as people have been influenced to build their own survival kits.
With so many new products out on the market, it’s hard to choose between different brands.
While most first aid and fire starting products work similarly to each other, choosing the correct survival knife could mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation.
Top 4 Best Survival Knives (Summary)
For more detailed and complete product reviews on benefits and features, keep reading.
There are many different factors that go into choosing the best survival knife for you, such as size, function, steel cut, durability, and add-ons that the knife may come with. In this article, we’ll break down the absolute best survival knives, and hopefully, you’ll be able to choose the knife that you could feel comfortable depending on with your life.
When Would I Need a Survival Knife?
Primarily, survival knives get the most use while outdoors. They are built larger than standard pocket knives, which make them difficult to carry around town (and illegal to carry in most U.S. states). Pocket knives are great for every day, small applications such as cutting small rope, cutting boxes and envelopes, whittling, etc. We feel that Benchmade makes some of the best pocket knives out there, and we specifically love the Benchmade Griptilian.
Survival knives are also vastly different from Swiss Army knives, multitool knives and other tools you can use for multiple purposes. These small multitools come with a vast selection of other built-in tools, such as flathead and Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, and bottle openers. While they’re useful for a number of everyday applications, their knives very much lack in stability and durability. If you’re interested in picking up a multitool for everyday use, we definitely recommend any Leatherman multitool, like the Leatherman Sidekick.
Now, for people looking past everyday knives into heavy-duty, survival knives, the rest of this is for you. Survival knives are best for those who will use them outdoors and in survival situations. They need to be durable and versatile enough to cut through a number of different textures and materials while being easy to handle as well. Specifically, survival knives are great for cutting logs and branches.
This is the main application, as it has many purposes – constructing a fire, building a shelter, and building survival tools to name a few. Survival knives are also great for setting traps and skinning animals, which makes it a useful tool for hunters, trappers and even people who like to hunt with premium crossbows.
Most people don’t realize that while survival knives need to be dependable in life-or-death situations, there are many other useful applications for having a survival knife as well as wearing tactical boots when you’re out there on your own. They can carve wood, are great for cutting fresh fruit (just make sure to clean it first), and are also a great point of self-defense against bears and other predatory wildlife. They are able to open cans while camping, be used as a hammer, or help with cutting things for first aid.
Overall, survival knives allow for a range of uses, and are a necessary addition to any survivalist, hunter, or hiker’s inventory.
What Makes the Best Survival Knife?
Survival knives must be durable, versatile, and serve the purpose you need it to. This purpose will be different for each individual, and only you can choose which knife is best for you depending on what you may need it for. Hikers and backpackers may choose a lightweight folding knife that takes up less weight and space in their pack but is dependable for making a fire when setting up camp. Alternatively, hunters and trappers may opt for a more heavy-bladed, thick survival knife to skin animals.
Some survival knives have different additional features. Hollow handle knives will allow you to store something in the hilt of your knife, such as fire starter, magnesium flint, etc. You can also fasten hollow handle knives to the tip of a rod to make a spear. Other knives have built-in compasses, magnesium fire starters, and so on. If they don’t have these tools, make sure to purchase the world’s best compass separately because it’ll come in useful.
Now, objectively, the best survival knife is going to be constructed of high-quality steel, have a durable hilt with a good strong grip, and will be able to withstand lots of pressure being put on it in many different ways.
1. Steel can be manufactured through a number of different ways and processes, and each process will yield a different result in blade quality. For those interested in the specs of each blade type, we’ve included a couple of charts that will explain the hardness, edge retention, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance of each steel type.
Knife Steel charts courtesy of Knife Informer
As you can see in the charts, the steel type CPM 110V is one of the best steels in hardness, edge retention, and wear resistance, but is more susceptible to corrosion than other steel types. In order to best determine which knife you’re looking for, it is important to choose one with better steel qualities. When choosing a knife, they will have engraved the type of steel on the side of the blade – this will give a quick reference to if it is constructed from good steel or not.
2. The shape of the blade is also an important factor to consider: the correct blade shape will work great for the activities you will use it for; the wrong one would be inefficient for your purposes. While there are many different knife shapes, we’ll focus on the four main shapes that you’ll see in a survival knife: Clip point, Drop point, Straight-back, and Tanto point.
- The clip point is a favorite for many larger pocket knives and bowie knives. It curves upward at the last third of the blade and is good for self-defense and stabbing, as well as a skinning game. It may not be the best for multipurpose use, but definitely has its own use for some people.
- The drop point, by comparison, is much better for cutting and carving, as it tends to be more stable than the clip point. The blade naturally drops off, which gives the spine a thicker and stronger feel. This blade is great for hunting and for chopping wood into smaller twigs and tinder, and probably our favorite style blade, as it serves a number of uses.
- The straight-back blade is another great shape. With larger blades, you can usually fully put weight on the blade in order to dig into the material better. It’s great for splitting logs and wood, for chopping food and wood, and could be great for starting a fire.
- The Tanto point has a sharp tip for puncturing and stabbing. They are thicker, and not great for skinning game, but they do make a good survival knife for those looking for a self-defense heavy knife.
3. Tang is another factor to take into consideration before purchasing a knife. The tang of a knife describes how far the blade extends into the knife’s handle. Partial tang means the blade extends partially through the handle, and full tang means the blade runs through the full handle. Blades with a partial tang may become susceptible to wiggling and becoming loose after use, and are less likely to stand up to pressure being put on the knife. Full tang knives are well-balanced, can withstand lots of pressure, but are much more expensive.
Overall, there are quite a few factors to consider before purchasing the best survival knife for you. Luckily, we’ll break down what we feel are the best 12 survival knives and narrow the choices down for you!
8 Best Survival Knives – Reviews and Comparison
I. Folding Knives
While we recommend going with a fixed blade knife over a folding knife for the best results and longevity of the knife, we decided to include our favorite folding survival knives in the list as well.
The first survival knife in our list is Cold Steel’s Recon 1. The Recon 1 series includes everything from drop points to tanto points, but our favorite was definitely the clip point knife. It features a 4 inch, 3.5mm thick blade.
The grip has G-10 laminated scales which prevent slipping from sweaty palms, and the blade’s tough finish eliminates glare. It features a clip to easily wear the knife on your hip and has a convenient thumb disc to easily open the knife.
The blade is made of imported Japanese AUS 8A steel that has been vacuum heated, which allows for a very form-fitting grip. Overall, this clip point is good for anyone looking for a smaller knife to add to their backpack for smaller hikes along with their shoes for hiking, and could be good for opening cans and making smaller tinder as well.
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If you’re looking for a good smaller knife in addition to a larger survival knife, Ka-Bar makes a very good folding knife that pairs well with any of their heavy duty knives.
The blade fits in right under 4 inches, and is pretty comparable to Cold Steel’s Recon 1. Like the Cold Steel folding knife, the Ka-Bar Mule is made outside the U.S. with AUS 8A grade steel.
Compared to Cold Steel’s Recon 1, the Mule is heavier in the pocket, but is also more reliable for heavier tasks. While the Cold Steel is more efficient to use, the Mule is just a bit heavier and can take more force and abuse.
At a lower price point, we would pick the Ka-Bar Mule for our folding knife.
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II. Fixed Blade Knives
In addition to the fixed blade Mule, Ka-Bar makes a great full tang knife in the Becker BK-22. We recommend the BK-22 over its predecessor, the BK-2, simply because the newest model has a great heavy-duty polyester sheath with a front cargo pocket and blade insert sleeve.
The Becker BK-22 is a drop point fixed blade, with a 5.25 inch blade. This knife is best for hunting and camping tasks, such as splintering firewood, killing and skinning game, and chopping food.
At a nice price point, we really like this blade for its versatility. The knife handle is meant to fit larger hands, and the grip feels very natural.