Maybe you’re not a military operative, but if you plan to spend even a few days trekking, you’re going to need the best fixed blade survival knife. If you ever get lost or you have to rest for the night, you’ll need a good survival knife go along with the rest of your survival gear.
Maybe you have your survival equipment ready – first aid kit, matches, flashlight, food sleeping bag etc. – but you still need a quality knife. An ordinary kitchen knife or pocket knife won’t do as you’ll need something more effective and durable. Since there are hundreds of survival knives, we reviewed the top survival knives and picked these as they stood out from the rest of the field.
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There are many different types of survival knives, and it’s easy to get confused with all the terms and definitions. A survival knife is basically that, a knife that is going to help you survive. A kitchen knife has one function, cut and prepare food, but a survival knife can do a lot more.
First Aid Tool
Size matters, but bigger is not always better. If your knife is too large you’re going to have a hard time with delicate carving tasks and dressing small game. If the blade is too large, detailed work will be harder.
On the other hand, a small survival knife doesn’t do well when it comes to chopping, batoning and other rugged duties. Batoning for instance, requires you to hit the back of your knife’s blade with a large object so the knife goes through wood. This puts a lot of pressure on the blade, so it must be large enough to handle it.
This begs the question of how large the knife has to be, and that really depends on what you intend to do with it. Most campers and survivalists are happy with 9 to 11 inches, so you may want to start with that and see if it will work for you or if a shorter or longer knife is needed.
You have probably heard of the folding blade vs. fixed blade debate, but what it comes down to is this. For a survival knife, a fixed blade is the better option. A folding knife is good as an EDC (everyday carry) knife, but a fixed blade is more durable and can meet the demands of a rugged environment.
Folding knives have joints, and this is a weak area that may be difficult to overcome. You can avoid the risk by getting a fixed bladed knife that can handle heavy cutting, heavy pounding, thrusting, prying and chopping.
The arguments used for folding knives are they’re easier to hide. They’re also convenient to use and small enough to put in your pocket. Proponents also say that a well-built pocket knife is as durable as a fixed blade. But these arguments don’t hold up when it comes to survival knives.
Fixed blades are just stronger than folding knives especially if it is full tang. They are also sold in a variety of sizes, from small ones to the Rambo-sized versions and even larger. Because fixed blades don’t have joints or moving components, it won’t break in two. Unlike a folding knife, you don’t have to worry about the hinge coming off.
Fixed blades are low maintenance. Once you’re done using for the day, wash the knife, wipe and let it dry before storing. While folding knives come in different sizes, fixed blades are often bigger, up to double the length of folding knives. For starting fires, making shelter and hunting, a long, solid knife is necessary.
Fixed blades are more flexible when it comes to tactical and survival use. The design means it’s easier to put into use than folding knives. Fixed blades are also more effective for self-defense and hunting as they’re larger.
A fixed blade is more practical for survival use than a folding knife. From cutting, splitting, food prep and other tasks, a fixed blade does it better.
A folding knife is better suited for an urban environment, but for emergency cases, camping and survival, you cannot be without a fixed blade knife.
A fixed blade isn’t enough, as your survival knife must also be full tang. Full tang means the handle and the blade are one piece. If the handle has textured grips or scales, that’s even better. Some knives are partial tang, half tang, push tang, rat tail tang, but for survival, a full tang is the only way to go.
You can use partial tang knives for ordinary everyday tasks, but they cannot stand the rigors of heavy duty chopping, batoning, prying, cutting etc. Repeated use will cause partial tang knives to loosen. If the handle and blade are loose, the knife becomes dangerous and hard to use. This won’t happen with a full tang knife because the handle and the knife are in one piece.
A partial tang knife may be cheaper, but it’s not worth it. There are no benefits to be obtained from choosing a partial tang knife. No matter what the ads may say, it is more difficult to break a one piece metal object than two that have been joined together.
Some may argue that straight cut tips are preferable, while others opt for hooked, rounded or angled. But for durability and dependability, a sharp pointed tip is best. For starters, it is the best defense against animal or man. A sharp tip is also effective for hunting and piercing.
A sharp pointed tip is necessary if you have any plans to use the knife for hunting or self-defense. A sharp pointed knife is also handy for piercing through layered materials or fur. You can also use a sharp pointed knife as a spear. You can tie the knife onto a pole for instance, and you’ve got a makeshift spear for hunting.
A sharp tip also has other capabilities like fixing gears, notching, dressing fish, picking and prying. A pointed knife is also ideal for drilling, removing splinters and making clothes. You can also use it to get live bait in hard to reach spots and preparing hickory nuts, walnuts, acorns, etc.
A double edged dagger is not required for survival knives, and in some cases it’s actually a disadvantage. A single edge blade will do most of the time, and a 90 degree flat grind is good for hitting a ferro-rod to start a fire. This is very hard to do with a beveled or rounded spine.
Batoning large pieces of wood is something you’ll be doing often. If your knife has a sharpened edge, creating makeshift shelter or splitting firewood will be very difficult or downright impossible.
A flat grind spine also lets you use the knife’s back as a thumb rest. This also gives you the extra lift and precision necessary to snare nets, prepare trap triggers, feather sticks and other camp chores. These are tasks you will do often, and it’s difficult to pull them off with a double edged blade.
The pommel refers to the bottom of the knife, and it must be solid. The pommel or butt is often used for light hammering and pounding. You’ll also be using this to set up shelter stakes. You can also strike the pommel with a heavy object to create small holes for ice fishing.
Hooked and rounded pommels make this task difficult, so make sure the knife you buy is capable of doing this. The pommel is often overlooked, but if it’s well-designed you’ll be able to extend your knife’s capabilities.
Knife blades usually come in two types, carbon steel or stainless steel. There is an ongoing debate as to which is better and both have their proponents. To help you decide we have highlighted many of their features and differences.
Stainless steel is more resistant to corrosion and rust than carbon blades. However they are a bit softer (relatively speaking of course). Stainless steel knives lose the edge faster than carbon but they’re easier to sharpen.
Durability: stainless steel is often tougher compared to carbon steel, but they’re not as sharp. Stainless steel also doesn’t stain, chip or rust as quickly as carbon. Stainless steel can rust, but it is more resistant than carbon blades. Properly used, stainless steel blades will last forever.
Preserving Flavor: stainless steel knives do not need any nonstick coating, so there is little risk of contamination if you use it to prepare food. Unlike other metals, stainless steel doesn’t leave any metallic taste in your food.
Appearance: stainless steel look better than other metals and last longer too. They are also low maintenance.
There are many kinds of stainless steel, with AUS 6, 8 and 10 and 440 A, B and C among the most popular. VG-10 is Japanese stainless steel, and it is one of the most durable types available.
The hardest element is carbon, so a knife made of high carbon is ideal for heavy duty work. The blade is hard, durable, and this also means you don’t have to spend a lot of time maintaining its edge. However its rust resistance is very low as it doesn’t have any chromium.
Sharpness: high carbon blades are sharper than stainless steel. You can sharpen a stainless steel blade, but it will never be as sharp as a carbon blade. The extra level of sharpness of carbon blades let you do more accurate cuts with less effort required.
Cost: cost depends on a lot of factors, but carbon blades are often cheaper than stainless steel blades. This doesn’t mean carbon blades are ineffective, only that stainless steel costs more to produce.
Hardness: stainless steel cannot compare to high carbon when it comes to hardness. It’s this hardness that lets you make accurate cuts on a consistent basis. This is the reason why most hunting knives are made of high carbon, though they do require more maintenance.
Retaining Edge: the hardness of a carbon blade allows it to maintain its sharp edge. If you cut deer and other big game, a carbon blade is able to cut and skin it faster compared to other metals.
The lack of rust protection means you have to clean the knife thoroughly after each use. You must also be careful with storage and ensure moisture doesn’t get in. If taken care of however, carbon blades should last.
Plain Edge: plain edge or straight edge blades look like the traditional knife with a single sharp edge. A plain edge knife provides steady pressure when you cut or chop. Plain edge knives don’t get stuck when cutting tough materials like ropes. However, a straight edge blade may encounter some difficulty when cutting synthetic materials as it could slip. But most of the time, they’ll cut smoothly.
Serrated Blade: a serrated blade has a saw or tooth-like edge. A serrated blade looks like a mini saw, and you can use it like one by cutting in a back and forth manner. Serrated blades are effective when used on textured materials, fabrics ropes and belts.
Serrated blades are also effective for flexible, soft objects that can be grinded by cutting. Examples of these are vegetables, soft fruits, cooked meats and bread.
The drawback with serrated blades is, while efficient at cutting, could fray. Another problem is when a serrated blade dulls, you need special equipment to sharpen it. Serrated blades also don’t cut as smoothly as a plain edge blade.
As you can probably guess, the blade length depends on how you intend to use the knife. Most survival knives fall in the 6 to 12 inch range, but 7 to 8 inches is good enough for most of camping tasks. Anything shorter than this may be insufficient when you have to chop wood, baton, etc.
Survival knives 9 to 12 inches long are aplenty, but while they look cool the size makes it impractical. You’ve seen these large survival knives on TV, but when it comes to real life situations you will rarely need these knives this big. Not only are these long, but they’re heavy too.
Knives come in different thicknesses, but most agree that 3/16 -4/16 of an inch is just about right. The thickness level is ideal for survival as it is durable enough to cut hard materials, pry and chop materials. There are thicker blades, but you do want a bit of flexibility with these knives.
Knife sheaths come in different forms, shapes and styles. Most survival knives come with a sheath and they’re often serviceable. If you’re not happy with it, you can buy another. Here’s what you need to look for.
Strap: how well does the sheath close in? Avoid sheaths where the strap is along the handle’s base as the knife could slide out. A crossover strap is the better option, particularly the one where the sheath and handle meet up.
Lanyard and Belt Attachment: a lanyard attachment or hole provides security against possible loss. You can also put a lanyard around your wrist while cleaning fish or dressing an animal, so it’s a useful feature.
Lower Attachment: there should be an attachment or hole on the sheath so you can strap the knife on your belt or backpack.
A survival knife can do a lot provided you know how to make the most out of it. Here are some of the ways that a survival knife can assist you.
Makeshift Hammer: the knife’s pommel can be used like a pommel in case you don’t have a hammer. Before using your knife as a hammer, put on the sheath. Some of these knives also have a point at the end to smash glass in case of emergency.
First Aid: you can use a survival knife to cut cloth and use it as bandage. You can also use it to take out splinters. Do this only if you know what you’re doing.
Stakes: you can set the knife on a tree, stump or ground for a makeshift stake. Usually you would create a stake out of tree limb, but it’s good to know you could use a survival knife if necessary.
Make a Shelter: use your survival knife to chop branches and you’ll be on your way to creating a shelter. To make padding, you just need to take down some evergreen branches. Now you just need a few more leafy or large branches. You may also use palms depending where you are.
Create a Hole: if you don’t have any other tool available, you can use a knife to dig holes in the ground. You should not use a knife to make extensive digs as it will dull the blade. But if you just need to make small holes to search for grubs, a survival knife will suffice.
Fire Starter: a survival knife can be used to chop and split firewood for fire. You can also cut logs by putting the knife against the wood and striking it with a stick. For log splitting, let the blade go along the grain similar to an axe and strike it through. It won’t be as effective as an axe, but this will do if there are no other tools.
Strip Bark: survival knives are effective in removing bark on deadwood. You can also use it for dry branch shaving and birch peeling, essential for tinder. With these it’ll be easier to grow or ignite a fire.
Create a Spear: it’s true you can use the knife as a spear, but you can also use it to create a makeshift spear. You just need to sharpen a stick to a point and drive your knife down in the tip to split the point into at least 4 points. Use a rock or small stick to drive the points apart. Now you have a four pointed spear you can use to catch game and small fish.
Keep these safety tips in mind and memorize them before you go camping. Your cuts have to be away from your body, and never take your eyes off the blade while you’re using it. Hold the knife firmly so it doesn’t slip while you’re using it.
If you’ve got a folding knife, fold with both hands. Never attempt to catch a falling knife. Always put the knife back in its sheath after use. Do not use the knife if you’re not focused or have other tasks to complete.
Don’t abuse the knife. If you have an axe, use that instead to chop and split wood. If you have a Swiss Army knife, use that to pry cans open. If you have a shovel, use that for digging. Survival knives are all-around tools, and they will last longer and serve you better if you take care of it.
Don’t heat the blade unless there’s a compelling reason. You can use any sheath you want, cloth, plastic, metal or synthetic materials. Whatever the material is, ensure that it is fortified and hooked up to your belt or pack. This also goes to show how important a lanyard hole is.
Buy from a reputable brand. Your life literally depends on the durability and quality of your survival knife, so don’t settle for anything cheap. Review the local laws and regulations. Knives are regarded both as weapons and tools, so follow the local authorities when it comes to the knife’s use and storage.
The Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife lives up to its name as far features and capabilities are concerned. 11 inches long, the A1 has a 6.3 inch full tang, laminated VG-10 steel blade.
With its plain edge, drop point design, it is what you would want to use for hunting, self-defense and assorted camping tasks.
The VG-10 blade is comprised of vanadium, molybdenum, cobalt, chromium and carbon, which makes it harder than the typical steel used in other survival knives. The blade is so tough that it can handle 500 lb. load tests, something that few survival knives can do.
The A1 is also notable for the sizable profile of tis blade. This doesn’t just give it a powerful appearance but also extra strength. Even when you’re applying a lot of pressure and force, your hand and forearm won’t tire thanks to tis ergonomic Kraton handle and the solid construction.
The Bushcrafter has custom laser etching and Kydex sheath to store the knife when it’s not being used. This knife is widely used by campers and it is versatile enough to be used in other ways such as cutting plastic explosives. You should not try that unless you’re an explosives expert of course, but it goes to show you how versatile this knife is.
The Bushcrafter is sharp, comes with good edge retention and it is well balanced. The feels good in your hands and it’s not heavy either. The sheath also does what it’s supposed to do, and there’s no need for frequent sharpening.
The handcrafted Helle GT has a 4.8 inch stainless steel blade which has been triple laminated for durability. The knife is 9.7 inches long overall and has a sizeable guard for protection.
Made in Norway, the GT has a birch solid grip handle that remains firm in your hand even in slippery situations.
The blade is sharp and manages to keep its edge even when subjected to heavy duty work. It also has a Scandi grind so you can clean game, slice and do various camp chores and wood work. The handcrafted quality of the product is evident from the cap and the finger guard.
This is a high quality knife, lightweight and with a nice shiny finish you won’t find in other survival knives. There’s also a leather sheath included, basic but functional. For looks, functionality and capability, the Helle GT is as good as they come.
The ESEE 6P-B plain Edge Fixed Blade is an 11.75 inch knife built expressly for heavy duty use. The 5.75 inch drop point, plain edge blade is made of 1095 carbon steel.
It has a lanyard hole so you don’t accidentally lose it, and the micarta handle is removable and the sheath has a molded clip plate.
The ESEE 6P-B is a powerful knife, and the steel carbon blade maintains its edge even when you use it for long periods. The fact that the handle is removable gives it an extra edge. You could for instance, use the knife as a spear. The knife doesn’t just look good as it is one of the most versatile in its range. You just have to hold it to feel the difference from the ordinary knife.
The ESEE 6P-B blade retains its sharpness and edge even if you do a lot of cutting bones, splitting wood, preparing fire and so on. The ESEE 6P-B is also capable of prying metal cans open and other common camping chores. If you don’t like to carry a lot of gear when traveling, the ESEE 6P-B could be what you’re looking for.
The Cold Steel Leatherneck SF is 11.75 inches long, and its German 4116 stainless steel is 6.75 inches. This is a full tang blade with a clip point and plain edge, ideal for skinning and dressing game.
Its handle is Kraton and nylon, providing survivalists with the extra grip needed when hunting or doing heavy duty tasks.
The stainless steel blade has a non-reflective coating, and it is sharp enough to handle survival tasks. The blade is resistant to rust, but it may need sharpening every once in a while. Its resistance to corrosion is a plus, and the Kraton handle ensures a firm grip no matter what you’re doing.
We also like the steel butt cap as you can use it to break glass and pound objects. Finally, the inclusion of the Secure-Ex sheath keeps the Leatherneck secure. With its solid construction, the leatherneck is a knife you can depend on.
The Becker 22 Campanion was inspired by the legendary Ka-Bar Marine Corps Combat Knife, combining versatility with durability.
The 5.25-inch full tang blade is made from 1095 Cro-Van Steel, and its drop point, plain edge design gives it extra flexibility. The knife also has a glass breaker which you’ll find useful on several occasions.
There are rear and front quillons so your hands don’t slip on the blade. The sheath is made from durable polyester, and it’s a perfect match for the knife. The Campanion is not the most stylish survival knife, but as far as functionality goes it is up there with the best.
The 22 Campanion can take a lot of hits. Whether you’re carving, using it to break objects or cut thick rope, it will hold up. Since this knife is based on the Ka-Bar military knife, you’d expect it to take care of split kindling, skinning game and batoning, and it does.
The 10.5 inch Gerber LMFII Survival Knife is equipped with a 420HC stainless steel blade. 4.8 inches long, the blade has a drop point tip, combo edge and is full tang.
With this design you’ll be able to use the knife to do just about any survival task, i.e. cutting, skinning, dressing, making fire, etc.
A good survival knife should have a solid grip and this is no exception. Made of fortified nylon, the handle gives the LMFII a solid feel that ordinary knives cannot match. This knife is so durable that it’s used by the military to pierce Plexiglas and other materials. The sharp tip and edge also allows it to go through bone, meat wood etc.
This is a heavy duty knife that is going to last a lifetime. For the best results you should sharpen the blade with the sharpener provided on the sheath. A lot has also been said about its molded handle and how comfortable it is, and the handle – along with the blade – lives up to the hype.
The Buck 119BR Special Fixed Blade has a full tang, high carbon stainless steel fixed blade. The knife is 10.5 inches long overall and has quillons on the front and rear to protect your hands.
A genuine leather sheath is included. Unlike those that come with inferior products, the sheath is of good quality.
This knife is the latest in the 119BR line which originated 50 years ago. The design is top notch and is good enough to put on display. However this is no pushover as it’s perfect for cutting, piercing, hunting, food preparation and more. The knife is not too heavy and feels just right especially when you’re applying force.
The Cocobolo Wood handle is solid and complements the blade when you’re doing extensive work. The edge retention is good plus the sharp tip makes it ideal for piercing and penetrating tough materials.
The SOG name is well-known among survivalists, and the SOG Seal Pup Elite is one of the reasons. The blade is 4.85 inches with a clip point and straight edge.
The knife has an overall length of 9.5 inches, not too short and not too large either. There’s a lanyard hole on the knife and has a ballistic nylon or Kydex sheath.
The AUS-8 blade is sharp and durable, good enough to be a hunting weapon and start fires among other tasks. Its clip point is suitable for hunting, splitting and dressing game. The Pup Elite blade has also been subjected to the SOG cryogenic heat procedure, whereby the blade is slowly taken down to 300 F and taken up to room temperature again.
The end result of this process is a stronger, more durable blade. The cryogenic heat treatment also enhances the blade’s resistance to wear and tear, crucial when you’re in survival mode.
The Kershaw LoneRock Small Fixed has a 3.2 inch blade. That’s really short, but it is 8Cr13MoV and the coating is titanium carbo-nitride, giving it the edge over other knives.
A nylon sheath is provided to avoid accidents when it is not being used. The glass filled nylon handle is ergonomic and has a solid grip thanks to the K-Texture rubber grip.
Kershaw manufactures a number of hunting knives, and the LoneRock is among the better ones. Even though the blade is short, its durability makes up for it. From cutting rope to batoning, the LoneRock does an excellent job, and the sure grip ensures it doesn’t slip from your hands.
It’s easy to be skeptical of the LoneRock due to the short blade, but it’s a dependable blade and hard to match for versatility. Unless you’re hunting and skinning big game, the LoneRock will be up to the task.
The CIMA High Hardness Full-Tang Hunting Knife is 8.46 inches long overall with the blade measuring 3.34 inches.
While the blade is not as long as those on other survival knives, it is built from 7CR17MOV steel. Its tip is very sharp and it’s able to maintain its edge even when used for heavy duty work.
The CIMA design makes it a good companion when you’re out hunting and camping. Since the knife is water resistant, you don’t have to be concerned about how long it’s going to last out there. The textured micarta handles are nonslip so you’re not going to lose your grip.
A scabbard is bundled with the knife, and it’s easy to carry around or attach to your belt. This is a full tang knife, so it’s not going to come apart even if it’s subjected to a lot of pressure and force. Its wear resistance is very good, and there’s a hole on the end you can use a rope with it.
The Morakniv Companion has a 4.1 inch near full tang blade, giving it extra durability and strength and durability. Made of 12C27 Sandvik steel, the drop point blade has a plain edge so it can be used for a variety of survival related tasks.
The knife is 8.6 inches long and has a rubber handle so it’s comfortable to hold. It also comes with a plastic sheath.
The blade is made of carbon steel, is very sharp and it is also resistant to wear. It is a bit smaller than your typical survival knife, but this works to its advantage. The knife fits nicely in your hand and really shows its worth in slicing and skinning game. For its performance and durability, the Morakniv Companion is a good choice.
The Morakniv knife is a versatile tool that does more than cut. It is specially made for heavy duty use and should last a long time. As long as you care for its carbon blade, the Morakniv will indeed be your companion.
If you’re out in the woods, a quality survival knife is necessary. From preparing shelters, skinning game, wood splitting, wood batoning and cutting rope, a survival knife is indispensable. We hope that with this guide you now have a good idea of what the top survival knives are and what features to look for.
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A passionate blogger! Editor at Chooserly, and a regular author at HuffingtonPost, LifeHacker & Forbes!