First, I want to get one thing out of the way; there is no such thing as the “best survival knife.”
It doesn’t exist.
However, there’s quite possibly a “best survival knife for YOU.”
That difference may seem slight, but it’s of utmost importance.
Why? Because no two survivalists are alike.
We all have different goals and unique skills that make some survival knives better for you than others.
So this survival knife guide aims to provide you with the best information to make an informed decision on which survival knife to purchase.
Here’s exactly what we’ll cover in this guide:
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Best Survival Knives On The Market Today
Now that we have a general sense of what to look for in a good survival knife, let’s go through some detailed reviews of the top survival knives.
These detailed review videos will help you further understand what makes a good survival knife and get a sense of the best survival uses for each of these knives.
The ESEE Model 4 was designed as an all-around tactical, survival, and bushcraft knife.
The minimalist design features full-tang construction, tough micarta or polymer grip scales, and easy to service hex-key screws. This makes it extremely durable and reliable.
It's built of high-carbon 1095 steel, a great choice for all kinds of blades.
Many people will be tempted to go for a larger blade, but the 4-inch blade is perfect for the majority of tasks.
It holds an edge well and sharpens easily, though you do have to take care to keep it clean and lightly lubricated to prevent staining or rust.
The supplied sheaths seem to have varied over the production run, with some of the older versions missing the MOLLE attachments. Other versions sported a molded Kydex sheath which holds the knife securely in place.
The most recent version has a simple poly sheath, but ESEE still sells the Kydex sheath separately and at a reasonable price.
- High quality 1095 steel blade
- Minimalist design with few weaknesses
- 4in blade is perfect for most knife tasks
- Lifetime warranty
- The blade does require regular maintenance
- Different sheath designs may or may not include MOLLE attachments
If the ESEE 4 just isn't enough blade for you, ESEE still has plenty of models with a bit more heft.
The ESEE 5 is a solid survival and utility knife, with a 5.25" blade carved from a single 1/4" thick full-tang slab of high-carbon 1095 steel that's over 1.5" wide.
This gives the ESEE 5 an amazing level of durability for the heaviest chopping and batoning tasks.
The micarta handle scales are screwed on with hex key bolts, allowing you to fully service (and clean) your knife. The scales also feature a bow drill divot, designed to give you a secure point from which to apply pressure downward on the drill shaft when starting a fire.
It's an excellent detail and WAY more secure than trying to find a rock or shell with a natural divot.
The heavy steel blade also features an extra survival detail - the pommel is a hardened point for breaking glass!
- Glass breaker on the pommel
- Bow drill divot in the handle
- High quality 1095 carbon steel
- Durable micarta handles and Kydex sheath
- Overall length (11in) might be unwieldy
- Weight (16oz) is more than other similar sized blades
- High carbon steel requires regular maintenance
When it comes to survival knives, bigger isn't always better. The ESEE Izula-II is a perfect example of an EDC survival knife. Easy to carry, it's the blade you can always have with you.
With a 2.625" cutting edge and an overall length of only 6.25", it's one of the more compact knives in its class. But that doesn't mean ESEE skimps on the features or construction
The Izula-II is built on a full-tang piece of high carbon 1095 steel, a great choice for all kinds of blades. It takes an edge well and is easy to sharpen.
The micarta scales are removable, in case you need to clean or repair them - but it also means you can strip the knife down and do a paracord wrap handle if you want.
However, the handle design is one of the key features of the Izula-II, making it easy to hold and work with on even the most delicate tasks (food prep, skinning, etc.), so I wouldn't suggest that option unless you really want extra paracord on hand.
- Compact and easy to conceal
- High quality 1095 steel blade
- Replaceable grip scales
- The sheath does not include a belt clip
- High carbon steel requires regular maintenance to prevent rust
If you're looking for a high-quality stainless steel survival knife, the Morakniv Kansbol is a great option. It's a versatile blade, built of the highest grade Swedish 12C27 stainless steel.
Right out of the box, the Kansbol is razor-sharp and exceptionally resistant to the rust and corrosion that plagues many knives. Stainless steel is also very hard, making it more difficult to ding or dull your blade.
The back of the blade is ground to a 90-degree edge, making a perfect surface to strike sparks and save wear and tear on the blade edge.
The tough polyamide injection molded handle and sheath are easy to grip and built to last.
They work well together, forming a click-lock closure that keeps the knife from accidentally falling out while on the move. In fact, there are two sheath options to choose from, depending on how you want to mount the knife.
- Highly resistant to corrosion
- Durable handle and sheath
- Holds an edge well
- Lightweight for blade size
- Multiple sheath options
- Not a full tang design (partial tang)
- Stainless is hard to sharpen
If you've looked into other Morakniv stainless steel survival knives, you know some of the benefits of a high-quality stainless blade. The Garberg takes all those benefits a few steps further.
It's built on a full-tang slab of 14C28N stainless steel, extending 9 inches from the tip of the blade to the exposed pommel. This gives it unmatched durability and simplicity, with fewer parts to break.
The stainless steel comes razor sharp out of the box and will hold that edge for a long time, without corrosion or dulling. Like all stainless steel blades, you may find it more difficult to sharpen at home.
Similar to other Morakniv blades, the spine of the blade is square-ground to provide a good edge for sparking fire starters, which prevents damage to the sharp edge.
The Garberg also comes with one of three choices in sheath design, from a classic leather flap sheath to polymer belt or MOLLE compatible versions.
- High-quality stainless steel resists corrosion
- Multiple sheath options
- Holds an edge well
- Hard to sharpen
- The handle is bulky, harder to hold if you have small hands
I say "semi" because there is little of the characteristic crook bend of a kukri, but the drop tip blade does have a large curve in the belly which puts the center of mass of the knife more towards the tip.
This makes it an efficient chopping knife for clearing brush, felling limbs and sharpening sticks, and splitting kindling. The blade is made of high-carbon 1095 steel, a great choice for all kinds of blades.
It takes an edge well and can be sharpened easily, though it does require regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent corrosion.
The textured elastomer handle is easy to grip and has great positive finger placements to keep the knife firmly in your control. It also makes it easier to use the exposed pommel as an improvised hammer to crack nuts, pound in stakes, or break glass.
The ballistic nylon sheath is workable but flops around a bit without the leg tie. However, I'd prefer a MOLLE compatible sheath and would consider an aftermarket upgrade.
- Great for heavy chopping tasks
- High quality 1095 steel
- Solid handle design
- The sheath is cumbersome in hip attachment configuration
- The blade needs regular maintenance to avoid corrosion
The Schrade SCHR52M Frontier is a BIG knife, there's no doubt about it.
The 7" drop point blade is solidly built and up to all the heavy tasks you may find around camp. The high carbon 1095 steel holds a great edge and is a pleasure to sharpen.
At 13" overall and nearly 18oz, it has the mass needed for chopping, splitting, and hacking at vegetation. The full-tang design even stands up to batoning and other high impact chores.
The micarta scales provide a great grip, while a large finger guard keeps your hand from slipping on to the blade. A lanyard hole means you can attach a paracord loop to clip off and keep from dropping the knife.
The polyester belt sheath is serviceable and holds the blade securely as well as the included Ferro rod firestarter and sharpening stone, but it's not the most ergonomic or durable design. A MOLLE-compatible sheath would be a good addition and there are plenty available as replacements.
Finally, there have been some reports of QC issues from the company, but returns and warranty coverage have been good.
- Solidly build full-tang design
- The sheath isn't the greatest
There may be no more storied fighting knife name than KA-BAR. They've accompanied US Marines for decades and earned a place in history.
The KA-BAR Becker BK2 Companion is a great design that takes some of the best features from both the legendary fighting blades and the most popular survival designs.
Built of high carbon/vanadium 1095 steel and featuring a full tang design, this is a solidly built and durable knife. At 10.5" overall and over 5" of sharpened edge, there's a lot of blade to the Becker BK2, but it weighs in at just under 16oz.
The drop point blade design is perfect for fine detail tasks such as skinning and butchering game, with a smooth cutting edge that makes slicing easy.
The comfortable handle is made of Ultramid, a synthetic material that stands up to plenty of abuse, though they could stand a little more texture for grip.
A solid sheath made of glass-reinforced nylon keeps the blade sharp and secure, plus it attaches to nearly anything with a MOLLE compatible design.
- Great blade design
- Heavy-duty high-carbon 1095 steel
- Knife lock-in sheath is hard to disengage
- Ultramid scales are slick when wet
Gerber has been around for over 100 years, starting out in Portland Oregon in 1910.
The Gerber LMF was designed in cooperation with former military weapons experts and field-tested by US troops. This means you can trust the 10" knife to stand up to the most rugged use.
The design gives you both fine cutting straight blade for slicing and the tough serrated edge to cut the toughest items (like seatbelts and rope).
The over-molded handle provides plenty of grip, ensuring that you don't lose hold on the knife even in the worst conditions. It's large enough to hold even while wearing gloves, but not too bulky for bare-handed use.
The pommel features a pointed stainless steel cap to punch through automotive glass, but it's also separated from the steel of the blade, allowing for insulation to prevent electric shock.
In a unique addition, the LMF II has lashing holes in the handle, designed to tie it securely to the point of a spear. Hopefully, you'll never need it, but it does provide the option for a long-distance weapon in hunting or combat.
- Lash points for use as a spear
- Comfortable handle
- Not a true full-tang design
- Hard to sharpen serrated portion of the blade
Fallkniven makes some of the best, most simplified survival knives out there.
They use extremely high-quality materials throughout and the craftsmanship is superb. In the case of the A1, this means a full 11" of laminated vg10 steel, with a 6" finely sharpened drop point blade.
The full-tang blade extends all the way to an exposed pommel, giving the option to use it as a striking surface.
The rubberized handle is very grippy, with a slight diamond pattern. The finger guard is solid and keeps a good amount of material between your fingers and the blade.
The Zytel sheath is simple and protects and secures the blade nicely. It's a rigid sheath, which does make it slightly less comfortable on the hip or thigh, but it does well attached to a pack or strap. Unfortunately, it's not MOLLE compatible.
However, as with any high-quality brand, there are plenty of attempted fakes. Laminated steel blades often show faint lines along the sharpened edge, similar to famous Damascus steel.
The fakes, made of lesser quality steel, often lack the fine striations but are otherwise identical in appearance. These inferior blades are prone to chipping and lose their edge quickly. So be sure to order from reputable dealers and inspect your blades immediately.
- Great VG10 laminated steel
- Well balanced and solid design
- Impostors abound
Fallkniven blades have a reputation for super high-quality materials and craftsmanship and the FN78 F1 is no exception.
At just over 8" overall, it's a compact survival knife with no gimmicks. The 4" drop point blade is clean and simple, making it easy to sharpen and maintain. It's perfect for detailed work like skinning and cleaning game. It's not large enough or heavy enough for chopping or batoning kindling.
Built of COS steel, with a full-tang design and an exposed pommel, it's built to last. The 90deg ground back edge makes it easy to strike sparks from a ferrocerium firestarter. The elastomer handle is easy to grip in any condition and doesn't get brittle or tear with age and use. <
Like other Fallkniven blades, there are plenty of impostors for this one. As always, only buy from trusted dealers and be sure to inspect your knife on arrival. Inconsistent blade grinds and poor quality sharpening are the most obvious indications of a fake. <
- Compact and well-balanced blade
- COS steel is less prone to chipping
- Impostors abound
- Not big enough for chopping tasks
- No sheath included
Ontario Knife Company makes some very high-quality blades, and the Black Bird SK-5 follows through on that reputation.
A well-built stainless steel knife with a full-tang design, the SK-5 sports a 5" blade, and a 10" overall length.
It's a great mid-size knife for nearly all the usual camp tasks. It might be a little small for batoning, but it chops, slices, and takes care of medium kindling with ease.
The 154 CM stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion and is built to last. It's impressively hard and holds a fine edge as well. Of course, it can be hard to sharpen yourself.
The synthetic G10 handles are durable and easy to remove for cleaning, but the shape is rather blocky and not the most comfortable design. It IS possible to re-shape them yourself if you want to take the time to get it perfect.
The MOLLE compatible sheath is well built and attaches well, making it convenient to keep your knife anywhere you need it.
- Stainless steel is corrosion resistant
- Removable scales allow for cleaning and maintenance of the blade
- MOLLEE compatible sheath
- The handle is somewhat blocky
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The Best Survival Knife Features
Before deep-diving into all the available options for survival knives (such as blade design, blade edge, blade length, blade grinds, grips, etc.), let’s highlight the top survival knife features to choose the perfect survival knife.
These are the key survival knife features you’ll want in any survival knife you choose.
1. Size Matters
If it is too big, you’ll give up the ability to do detailed carving work like carving detailed snare sets or precision cutting.
Too small, and you’ll be compromising important survival skills like chopping, splitting, and batoning.
You need a knife small enough for precision yet large enough to be rugged for tougher tasks.
So you’re looking roughly in the 9 to 11-inch overall knife length.
2. Fixed Blade Only
A fixed-blade survival knife is exactly what it sounds like. The blade of the knife is in a fixed position. It does not switch, flip, or fold down.
The fewer moving parts mean a more durable knife for the long haul.
A tough, quality, constructed fixed-blade knife can handle some serious abuse. For example, one of the most abusive survival knife techniques is batoning.
Batoning with a knife is a brutal test.
I tried batoning with a high-quality folding knife once, and it destroyed the springs and clips within 5 minutes.
Since you need your knife to last while performing the most rugged survival skills, shop in the “fixed blade survival knife” category.
Don’t get me wrong, folder knives are awesome, and I carry a Kershaw Onion folder daily.
But they are not advisable for serious survival.
A fixed-blade knife is what you want for survival. It’s a blade you can stake your life on.
Folder blades have a weakness that fixed blades do not. They have a pivot joint that makes them foldable, and when you abuse a folding knife, the joint will eventually break.
3. Full Tang Only
The blade’s tang is the metal section wrapped in the knife’s handle.
A true full tang knife profile fills the entire handle with exposed metal around the edges, while a partial tang knife is where the metal is smaller and inside the handle.
Full tang knives are designed to withstand much more abuse than partial tang knives. If you beat on a partial tang knife, it will eventually come loose and develop play in the handle.
If the handle breaks off, it’s very difficult and dangerous to use a partial tang knife – while a full tang knife can be wrapped with some 550 paracord and still work nearly as well.
There are also rat-tail tangs and hidden tangs, which are even less durable than partial tangs.
So ideally, you want full tang for survival. But some partial tangs are decent for survival purposes as well.
The bottom line is the more metal in the handle, the better- yes, these knives cost a little more, but it’s worth it.
4. Sharp Spear Point Tips (or drop tips)
Many survival knife designers want to stand out from the crowd and design funky-looking knife blades with insane shapes.
They might look badass or cool, but they won’t function as well for you in survival situations.
Spearpoint or drop points are best for self-defense penetration and allow you to perform fine point work.
Unless you’re looking for a blade for your next Halloween custom – stick with the simple yet effective blade shapes of either a spear point or a drop point, and you won’t regret it.
5. Single-Edged Blade
Single-edged blades have only one side of the blade sharpened and are used for cutting, slicing, etc. – while double-edged blades are sharp on both sides.
And in survival, the flat side is as important as the sharp side.
First, it helps with detailed control. You can slide your thumb safely onto the flat edge, but this control technique is impossible if the edge is sharp.
Second, a double edge blade works against you when batoning to split wood. You beat down on a sharp blade and lose your striking power.
Third, using fire steel with a flat edge is much easier. A flat 90-degree grind is perfect for getting sparks from a Ferro rod.
6. Flat Handle End
Look for a survival knife where you can use the butt of the handle as a makeshift light-duty hammer. So you want the butt of the handle to be flat and not round.
This allows you to drive tent stakes into the ground or use your knife like a punch – where you drive the knife by hitting the bottom of it with a chunk of wood.
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A Deep Dive Behind Survival Knife Designs
In the next section, I want to dive deep into all the specific details behind different survival knife designs, the steel differences, the coatings, grinds, tangs, etc., and the pros and cons of each.
Specifically, we will be covering the following topics in detail:
- Blade Design
- Fixed vs. Folding
- Blade Length
- Blade Steel
- Blade Grind
- Tang Construction
- Blade Coatings
Blade Design: Choosing The Right Blade
Deciding on the blade design shape is one of the most important factors when choosing your survival knife.
For example, in a survival situation, you’ll likely use every bit of the blade from the belly to the tip for all sorts of tasks.
So you need to have a basic understanding of all the blade shape options.
There are four main options when it comes to blade design (spear, tonto, clip, or drop point).
As we covered earlier, for survival, we recommend you go with a spear or drop for most survival knives.
Because these blade designs put the tip of the blade close to the centerline of the blade, which provides great control, it also lowers the weight at the blade’s tip, helping move the knife’s balance point closer to the hilt. This helps give the user greater tip control as well.
However, it’s always good to understand the applications for the other blade designs. You might already have your “go-to” survival knife, and you’re in the market for a specialty blade.
Here’s an excellent video overview of these main blade design options.
Fixed Blade Or Folding? Which Is Best For Survival?
Fixed-blade knives are what you want for wilderness survival.
However, fixed-blade knives are more cumbersome to carry. You can’t carry a large fixed-blade knife around unnoticed.
So for everyday carry needs, you should look into a folding knife. They are ideal for everyday carry situations when you’re not trying to build survival shelters or start fires in the wild.
But for a proper survival knife, you need something extremely durable that will not break under intense use and abuse.
Yes, a good pocket knife should be in your pocket, but it should never be your primary survival knife for extreme situations.
Blade Length: From Short To Long
The length of a knife’s blade determines how useful it is for certain tasks. Choppers are your larger machete-like blades, while precision bushcraft work is best with smaller carver blades.
You want a bit of both for survival, so the best survival blades tend to be in the medium-size range.
Survival Blade Steel: What’s It Make Of?
High carbon steel (i.e., 1095, 5160, 01 or A2) vs. stainless steels (i.e., 420HC, 440C, AUS-8 or AUS-10) – as you can tell, there are a lot of blade steel options.
In layman’s terms, high-carbon tool steels tend to be tougher than stainless steel, making them harder to break but more susceptible to corrosion.
They also are easier to sharpen than stainless, but they won’t keep an edge as well.
If you want to understand the difference in blade steels, you have to think like a knife maker. The following video deep dives into all the various steel options.
Worth watching if you want a great introduction to blade steel choices.
Blade Grinds: What’s The Difference?
However, for survival knives, two specific blade grinds stand above the rest, the saber and flat grinds.
The saber grind has a short primary bevel from the cutting edge to the back of the blade. This creates a thicker edge that’s harder to sharpen to a very fine point but will hold its edge better when chopping and splitting.
The flat grind is a compromise between the saber grind and a hollow grind.
A hollow grind concaves inward from the blade edge to the cutting point, making the cutting edge extremely sharp and prone to chipping and damage under intense use.
So a flat grind has a bevel that goes from the cutting edge all the way to the back of the blade. This allows for a much finer edge than the saber grind but is not as fragile as the hollow grind.
If this sounds confusing, watch the videos below for an excellent introduction to the basic knife grinds.
Tang Construction: Full Or Partial?
We only recommend you invest in a full-tang survival knife. We discussed it previously so I won’t go over it again.
However, some future knife enthusiasts may want an introduction to partial tangs (rat tail tang, narrow tangs, hidden tangs).
The following video gives a nice introduction to this interesting knife topic.
Blade Coating Options
The science of blade coatings is detailed and complex. However, it’s interesting chemistry.
This video provides a detailed overview of 6 different blade coatings put through an extensive series of tests. Make sure to watch to the end to find out which blade coating holds up the best.
Handle Material: Understanding Grips
The grip of a survival knife is critical to its performance. You need a tough grip that won’t break under intense forces. Yet it feels comfortable in your hands.
You also want a grip that won’t absorb moisture which can lead to handling rot.
A few of the most popular knife handle materials are Wood, Micarta, G-10, Zytel, Krayton, or Hypalon.
The following video goes into a nice introduction to some of these handle materials.
Finally, I wanted to share a bit of information on grip techniques. I think it’s as important (maybe more) to invest time learning how to use your new survival knife.
A survival knife is important but only useful in the right hands.
So watch the following video to get an introduction to how to use your survival knife once you decide on which one to buy.
Survival Knife Wrap Up
Survival knives come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and designs.
You must decide for yourself which survival knife is best suited for your needs. The good news is you should invest in multiple survival knives. You should have a survival knife for your bug-out bag, one for your survival pack, one for your medical first aid kit, and one for your get-home bag.
I don’t know anyone serious about survival who owns just one knife. Over the years, we accumulated many survival knives, each serving a specific purpose.
For example, here’s a good video by a survival expert who shares his impressive collection of survival knives with us.
Remember: Prepare, Adapt, and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack
P.s. Are you ready for the tough times ahead?
Find out now by taking my short Readiness Score Quiz - it’s absolutely free. Once complete, you’ll know exactly where you stand on the “fragile” vs.” resilient” spectrum.
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