Best Survival Knife Reviews & Buyers’ Guide for 2017
After reviewing multiple survival knives across various different brands, we think the ESEE 6P Fixed Blade Knife is the best survival knife for most people, while the Fallkniven A1 is a superb but costlier alternative. If you're tight on budget, Gerber LMF II Survival Knife might be what you're looking for.
If you’re out in the wilderness or spend any serious time camping out, you’ll need the best survival knife. As any survivalist will tell you, a high quality knife should be able to do more than just cut, as it must help you open cans, split firewood, skin game and set up shelter among others. But as you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of survival knives, so picking the right one can be difficult. And that is the reason why we have picked out the top 5 and also included some honorable mentions as well.
Best Survival Knife - Our Choices
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Survival Knife - Reviews of Our Top Picks
The ESEE is constructed from 1095 steel and is one of the best full-tang survival knife you will ever come across. The manufacturer is known for churning out high quality survival knives and the 6P lives up to the tradition.
The standard version is available with a gray handle and black blade, but another edition comes with orange handles and a green blade.
The black powder holds nicely and it’s very sharp, and the handle, made from Micarta, is one of the most durable we’ve come across. The lanyard hole on the pommel is well implemented and thanks to the Micarta material the knife is comfortable to hold and even if it’s wet, doesn’t affect your grip. Even if it’s raining or you’re sweating your grip remains firm.
ESEE is known for manufacturing versatile knives and the 6P is one of their finest efforts to date. It’s perfect for chopping wood and firewood splitting and what’s really cool about the 6P is it’s not just effective in the wilderness but also for kitchen tasks like cutting fruit, meat chopping and so on.
The sheath is compatible with MOLLE so you can attach it to other MOLLE compatible backpacks and gear. The blade is around .187 inches along the spine and .125 from the blade up to the tip. The tip is razor thin but very strong.
The 6P blade is 11.75 inches long and the blade is 6.5 inches. It’s longer than your typical survival knife, but it doesn’t cause any inconvenience. The blade is quite slim at .19 inches and the cutting edge is 5.75 inches. The tang also comes with an opening for your finger, and its location over the handle is just right.
The warranty is a testament to its strength: essentially if the knife gets damaged as a result of a manufacturing defect, they’ll replace it with no questions asked, and it’s a lifetime warranty.
The knife comes in at 12 ounces, so it’s just the right balance between being light and having enough weight to withstand heavy use. Keep in mind that 1095 steel isn’t stainless, so take care of it to avoid rust and corrosion. When it comes to performance and durability, the 6P is right up there with the best of them.
- Excellent warranty coverage
- Very sharp edge
- Great value for the money
- Feedback is a little stronger compared to other knives
- Blade length: 6.5 in
- Overall length: 11.75 in
- Blade material: 1095
- Handle material: Micarta
- Weight: 11.8 oz
KA-BAR Becker 22 Campanion
Any time you’re looking for best survival knife in the world online, someone is bound to recommend the Campanion, and it really is a remarkable knife that can handle the roughest terrain.
The blade is constructed from 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel, meaning it is 1095 steel reinforced with vanadium and chromium to make it stronger and less vulnerable to corrosion.
The knife is 10.5 inches long overall, with the blade making up half of it at 5.25 inches. The blade is .25 inches thick, a little bit on the hefty side, but you don’t feel the extra as the Campanion is ergonomically designed. The drop point design is convenient and helps when it comes to sharpening.
The blade edge has a nice edge and sharpens quickly. As for the handle, it’s made from glass-reinforced nylon, so it can handle practically anything you throw at it. The balance of this knife is something else we have to mention as well: it feels light and you’re not going to feel any hot spots or fatigue even when used for extended periods.
The handle has a lanyard hole for additional security, and when it comes to performance does pretty much everything you’d expect from a high quality survival knife. It’s especially good when it comes to wood related tasks, and prying won’t present any problems either.
You can use the knife to baton, and the flat edge on the tang ideal in those cases wherein you need to press the Campanion onto a piece of wood. But what really makes this knife effective is its durability: you can use it all day to baton firewood logs, prep water boiler containers and chop wood, but even at the end of that you’ll still be able to use to prepare your meals.
This isn’t your ordinary kitchen knife but there’s nothing to stop you from using it for slicing and dicing onions, carrots, meat etc. The thickness of the blade actually works in its favor as it makes cutting and slicing easier. However, its sharpness means you need to be careful when handling soft foods.
Overall, the KA-BAR Becker 22 Campanion is a well-made survival knife and does exactly what you’d expect and more. As far as longevity and durability are concerned it’s hard to beat. If you’ve got plans to go deep in the wilderness, the Campanion will be an indispensable guide.
- Used by the US Military
- Has received positive reviews online
- Sheath is somewhat of a tight fit
- Blade length: 5.25 in
- Overall length: 10.5 in
- Blade material: 1095 CroVan
- Handle material: Zytel
- Weight: 16 oz
Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife
The A1 is considered by many as the best survival knife today, and it’s not difficult to see why. The knife’s drop point is coupled with a large sweeping belly, providing it with superior tip strength and allows it to pierce through game with no trouble at all.
The blade is 6.3 inches long and the knife overall is 11 inches. It weighs 12 ounces so it’s on par with other survival / hunting knives. The blade has a flat ground that ends in a ground edge convex approximately .24 inches thick.
The A1 shines when it comes to cutting, and it’s capable of going through just about any material you’ll need to chop or slice. Balance wise the knife should work fine for chopping and it’s just as good when it comes to wood baton. Strength and durability wise the knife can go through treated lumber and a number of different hardwoods: bottom line, this is a serious knife.
The majority of survival knives are built from just one kind of steel, but the A1 is an exception to this rule. The A1 is made from 420J outer cladding and has a VG-10 core laminate, and the core is fortified up to 59 HRC. A closer inspection of the knife shows that its geometry is capable of dealing with heavy and extended use.
If you’re not familiar with VG-10, it’s a high end type of stainless steel and as such holds up well and has a sharp point. Another advantage of this knife is it sharpens quickly and does not exhibit any chipping or nicking even when you baton regularly.
The handle is made of Kraton, a high density polymer with rubber-like properties that can withstand abuse. The texture and scale are well done with the notches for your fingers comfortable, and as you might expect there is a lanyard hole along the pommel.
The A1 lets you choose which sheath to use: the standard, a Zytel sheath or the lefty type. Whichever you choose, the material, which is commonly seen being used in mountain bike frames, holds up well and holds the knife well. Some folks might prefer polymer for sheaths, but the advantage of nylon and leather is they don’t make a sound, and when you’re in the wilderness this can be huge advantage.
As a lot of reviewers have noted, the A1 sharpens easily: stropping is all that’s required and when set, the blade can handle virtually all survival needs. Cutting is quick and sharp and is just as effective for skinning, slicing and carving.
- Well balanced
- Sharp tip
- Can withstand heavy duty use
- Easy to maintain
- The handle is little short
- Blade length: 6.3 in
- Overall length: 11 in
- Blade material: VG-10
- Handle material: Kraton
- Weight: 12 oz
Tom Brown Tracker T3
The T-3 is one of the most highly regarded survival knives today, and while it’s not the cheapest there’s no question you’re getting maximum value for your money. The serrated back edge, flat ground and clip point design all combine to give it the strength necessary to chop wood and other materials.
The blade is 5.5 inches long while the knife has an overall length of 10.75 inches. The blade is .21 inch thick and versatile enough to be used in various situations. At just over 13 ounces, the T-3 is a tad heavier than others, but it’s still less than a pound so it should not be a concern.
The blade is built from high quality ATS–34 stainless steel, and the minimal grain and chrome-molybdenum alloy that provide it with superior edge retention. Compared to the standard 1095 steel, the T-3 material is more resistant to corrosion so that’s something less to worry about.
The handle is made from Micarta linen and the molded grain design is nicely set. The handle is solid and with good finger grips, and the scaling and texture provides assurance that your grip won’t be compromised even if it’s raining or you’re working up a sweat.
The blade has a distinct design with a slicing edge and a surface for chopping. The chopping surface is heavy and solid, sufficient for splitting wood for use as firewood, and it’s got enough muscle for cutting tree branches and small trees. The blade’s flat section on the other hand, is ideal for snare trap carving, setting up a ground stake or putting up a spear point.
The knife wasn’t built for skinning, but the edge lasts a long time so there’s no need for frequent re-sharpening. When the time comes for sharpening, it’s going to take a little longer compared to knives with 1095 steel. For optimum results you need to work the curves and edges. While this takes time the results are worth it.
The sheath is made from Kydex mold and it fits just right. It makes a little noise but n not a big deal. When it comes to quality and design, the T-3 is well deserving of its status as a favorite of survivalists.
- Comes with a whistle for emergency
- Solidly built
- Can be used in different survival situations
- Comfortable grip
- A little heavy
- Blade length: 5.5 in
- Overall length: 10.75 in
- Blade material: ATS-34
- Handle material: Micarta
- Weight: 13.2 oz
Gerber LMF II
The LMF II design was done by Jeff Freeman, and being a former military man knew precisely what to do: when it comes to quality, the LMF II is comparable to the best fixed blade knife out there. This knife was built to aid you in survival situations and it lives up to the hype.
The blade is drop point is serrated, and it does the job as far as cutting is concerned. The knife is 10.59 inches long and weighs 11.67 ounces, making it more compact than the other knives here. The blade is only .1875 inches thick and 4.84 inches long, and while it’s short, still very much within the specs for a survival knife. In terms of durability there’s nothing to complain about either as it holds up well: you won’t see any nicks or chipping even when batoning wood.
The blade is built of 420HC stainless steel and its resistance to rust, coupled with durability, makes the LMF II tough. You can use this to cut hardwood branches, treated lumber and other stuff you may encounter in the wild. The knife is just as effective for slicing food for the campfire, and sharpening doesn’t require a lot of effort.
A sharpened knife is an essential tool for the survivalist of course, and the good news is Gerber has included a sharpener in the knife’s sheath. Instead of having to bring one, you can just turn to the sheath and your LMF II will be sharp again in no time. The sheath also comes with a couple of leg straps, and with MOLLE support, it’s easy to extend its functionality.
The butt cap and tang have separation, and this allows the LMF II to take in the shocks from hammering and pounding. A close inspection of the knife shows it has lashing holes and grooves that let you use it as a spear, something you’ll find useful for hunting. Just as important, the blade was constructed for game skin dressing as well.
The butt cap on the pommel is durable and can be used to strike or hammer hard objects, and while it’s not flat like those on other survival knives, gets the job done. Furthermore the LMF II is quite simply an efficient survival knife that you can use in different situations.
The edge holds up well, sharpening is easy and the size is just right for survival, hiking or camping. The knife isn’t full tang but this has no effect on its durability: in fact the knife is more robust than others in its class, testament to its quality. The way the knife has been put together also means you can use this to cut off live wires without risk.
The blade is stainless steel so minimal maintenance is required, and the edge does not require frequent sharpening. Some may say sharpening the serrated parts is difficult, but really it’s not that hard and just requires a diamond rod or another sharpened tool.
- Can be used as a spear
- Can be used for hunting and military applications
- Rugged and durable design
- Cost effective
- Sheath is a bit tight
- Blade length: 4.8 in
- Overall length: 10.6 in
- Blade material: 420HC
- Handle material: GFN
- Weight: 11.7 oz
While, these are the top 5 survival knives in our opinion, there are a few more worthy of your consideration. These didn’t make it to the top 5 but in terms of quality, they’re not bad at all and worth considering.
Spyderco BushCraft G10
Spyderco is recognized for tactical knives, but the BushCraft shows they’re just as good when it comes to survival knives as well. The blade is 4.1 inches long and the overall length is 8.75 inches.
Materials wise the blade is comprised of O–1 steel, a type of steel that comes with high levels of carbon as well as tungsten, vanadium, chromium, silicon and manganese.
This isn’t the kind of steel that you see in survival knives, but it’s resistant to wear and tear, and in comparison to carbon steel is quite stronger. Just keep in mind that O–1 is not stainless steel so you’ll need to need to perform some maintenance.
The BushCraft has a laminate G–10 handle based on black fiberglass. The contoured shape is comfortable to hold and there’s a lanyard hole there too. The pattern looks similar to wood grain, adding to its aesthetic appeal. The sheath meanwhile, is very serviceable.
SOG SE38-N Force
At 10.5 ounces, the SOG Force is a lightweight, but make no mistake about it, this knife is built to last and can withstand abuse. It is .24 inches thick at the clip point straight edge and the blade is six inches long. The knife is 11.25 inches long, so in terms of size it’s just right.
The blade is constructed out of AUS–8 stainless steel, plus the edge sharpens nicely. The edge holds up and the glass-reinforced nylon (GFN) handle is well made. Aside from being ergonomic, the texture provides a solid grip that doesn’t cause any abrasion or hot spots.
The knife is versatile and makes for an excellent tool for prying, carving, slicing and batoning among others. The butt end is ideal for smashing glass, though the angles could make it a bit difficult to hammer something. Not that it can’t be done, but it will require more work.
The SOG Force sheath is constructed out of nylon and comes with a loop and hook closure. Just like other survival knives today, the SOG is compatible with MOLLE and has a lanyard hole right on the handle, and a lanyard is actually thrown in for good measure.
KA-BAR USM C Knife
Experts give the USM C high marks for design; indeed when survival knife is mentioned, it’s the KA-BAR design that comes to mind. KA-BAR started manufacturing these knives years ago and they’re still going strong.
The flat grind blade is 0.165 inches thick and is 7 inches long, bigger compared to most other survival knives. The USM C is 11.875 inches long overall and at 11.2 ounces is light to carry. The handle is either leather or kraton, and the metal butt cap is powdered for good measure.
The 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel has a clip point you can use for piercing and prying, but it’s not that thick you won’t be able to slice and dice comfortably. When it comes to design and functionality, the USM C is one of the best.
Gerber’s Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro
Last but not the least on our list is the Ultimate Fixed Blade Knife from Gerber, and it’s equipped with a lot of useful and practical features. The knife is comprised of 9Cr19MoV high carbon stainless steel and has a serrated, 4.8 inch blade. The knife is 10 inches long overall and weighs 11.2 ounces, not bad at all.
The handle is comfortable and ergonomic, and textured rubber provides comfort while ensuring your grip is firm and strong. The lanyard hole standard in these knives is present here along with emergency whistle. A look at the sheath reveals there’s a fire starter, plus a sharpener is built in as well so you can sharpen your knife on the fly. Taking everything into consideration, this is a solid knife that gets the job done without any fuss.
What to Look for in a Survival Knife
If you want the best survival knife for the money, you need to make certain it can live up to its name, that is, help you survive. There are hundreds of ways you can use a survival knife, but the following are the most important:
- Hunting game
- Making fire
- Build shelter
- Food Prep
- First aid tool
- Self defense
There are probably other functions you can think of, but no matter which brand you choose, always go for function over style. Here are as few more important considerations.
A bigger survival knife is not always for the best: if the blade is too big, you won’t be able to use it for delicate tasks like game dressing and snare set carving. On the other hand, a small blade won’t be able to handle chopping, batoning and other rugged tasks.
Batoning requires you to hit the rear of your knife blade with an object so the blade penetrates wood and let you cut small trees and limbs. This can be tough on knives so a small one won’t do, so the ideal length is around 9 to 11 inches, which is where the knives we reviewed land in.
Get a Fixed Blade
We can talk about the whole fixed blade vs. tactical knife all day, but for survival purposes a fixed blade is the better option. A folding tactical knife has a lot of good features, but when it comes to survival situations, a joint is a weak area: if the folding joint in the knife snaps, you cannot use it anymore. You can reduce the risk by going with a knife that is strong enough for heavy duty cutting, prying, thrusting, chopping and pounding.
There are exceptions to the rule (like the LMF II), but in most cases it’s best to get a full tang knife. If the knife is full tang, it means the handle and blade are built from a single metal piece. Usually there are grips or scales that are joined to the handle to provide comfort for the grip.
As a rule, a full tang knife is stronger than one with a partial tang, rat-tail tang, push tang or half tang. The problem with most partial tang knives is the blade loosens in the handle, especially when you use the knife for demanding tasks like chopping, prying and batoning. If the blade gets loose from the handle, the knife becomes dangerous to use.
This may be stating the obvious, but a lot of “survival knives” sold online have hooked, rounded or angled tops. No matter what the product description may say, a sharp tip is critical for any survival knife. A sharp knife is required for self-defense: a blunt end makes the knife less effective for thrusting or stabbing, so a sharp tip is mandatory.
If you’ve got a knife that is sharp enough, it can double up as a hunting knife, and you can fasten it to a pole and use like a spear. To do this, you will need an Allen wrench to take out the scales and lash the tang.
Another reason why it’s necessary to get a sharp knife is you’ll be able to use it in a number of ways, including:
- Removing Splinters
- Gear repair
- Dressing fish and other game
- Processing hickory nuts, walnuts, acorn, pine nuts and other foods
Flat Ground Spine and a Single Edged Blade
A double-edged blade is not necessary; a single edge blade is enough. Furthermore, you’ll find yourself using the knife’s back edge as a control and leverage when carving feather sticks or setting up snare sets and trap triggers. These tasks would be hard and dangerous to do if the knife has a double edge.
If you can get one with a 90 degree flat grind on the spine, go for it. A flat ground spine is just what you need for fire-starting ferro-rod striking, and it’s also useful to baton wood pieces. It doesn’t matter if it’s make-shift shelters or firewood splitting, a sharp spine renders this impossible.
Well Designed Pommel
The pommel or the butt is often used for hammering and light pounding (i.e. setting up stakes for shelter). You can also use the pommel to create holes when ice fishing (hit the pommel with a stick and the blade pierces through the ice). Some survival knives have a hooked or round pommel, while others are flat, it’s up to you.
Other Features to Consider
The features mentioned above are the most important, but there are others you’ll want to look into as well:
- With finger guards or without
- Sheath style and design
- Serrated or not serrated
- Lanyard holes
- Finish and texture
Another factor you should consider is the manufacturer: how long have they been making survival knives, and what is their reputation? Have you checked out their other knives and what is the consumer feedback? You also have to think of the cost: the competition among these companies is tight though, and that has led to significant price reductions so get the best you can afford.
One of the most common mistakes first timers make is thinking that only experts should go out and get the best survival knife, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you’re a beginner or a longtime survivalist, you must always have a solid, well-rounded and dependable knife. It won’t be an exaggeration to say your survival can literally depend on it, so investing in the best one possible is essential.