The 15 Best Survival Knives

Sep 20, 2019

Category: Gear

Knives, one of mankind’s oldest tools, are just as important today as they were back when they were invented. And while we talk quite a bit about bladed tools suitable for everyday carry, that’s hardly the only venue in which they shine. In fact, it could be argued that, in outdoor spaces, a knife is far more valuable than in normal day-to-day experiences.

That’s because, while knives are great for simple daily cutting tasks like opening packages, they’re a lot more important in potential survival situations. That’s because they can be used to hunt, built shelter, protect yourself, and so much more. Of course, not just any knife is going to be well-suited to survival usage. That’s why we’ve rounded up the following fifteen blades as our picks for the best survival knives money can buy. Whatever your budget, there’s a blade here for you.

Photo: TOPS Fieldcraft 3.5

What To Look For In A Survival Knife?

Metrics That Matter

As mentioned, not just any knife will do in a survival situation — at least if you’re considering ideals. Obviously, the tool you have with you is the best one for the job, but you can stack the deck by making sure that the blade meets a certain group of criteria. To help make your journey just a bit easier, we’ve outlined some of the important metrics to look for below.

Format: While folding knives are preferred for everyday carry — thanks to their discretion and compactness — the mechanisms that allow them to fold are comparatively delicate and can easily become jammed with debris. That’s why, for the ideal survival knife, we’d certainly suggest picking out a fixed blade. They tent to be sturdier in the long run and, with fewer moving parts, they are less likely to fail in operation. That’s not to say that there aren’t good folding survival knives — just that they’re not preferred.

Steel: The steel of the blade you choose is going to vary depending upon a number of factors. For instance, if your budget is low, you’re going to have to settle for what you can afford. However, if money is no object, you can set your sights on some pretty high-end options. The difference comes in the form of resistances and the trade-offs therein. For instance, high-carbon steel is extremely durable and long-lasting, but it doesn’t hold up well to moisture exposure — meaning it can corrode. By contrast, stainless steels are a bit softer, but they won’t rust like carbon steel — at least not as quickly. Even at the upper echelon of blade steels, there will always be a tradeoff between benefits and drawbacks.

Handle: While the steel is probably of the utmost importance in picking a survival blade, the handle — the part which you hold in order to operate your knife — is still extremely important. There are a few different schools of thought to consider, but we can boil things down to two factors: ergonomics and materials. In regards to survival, a comfortable-to-use knife handle is always going to suit you better, as a knife you can’t hold for an extended period loses value quickly. Similarly, the material of your handle can alter the knife’s longevity. Tougher materials that can stand up to hard use and don’t suffer corrosion (like Micarta) can be more expensive, but they’re also going to increase the lifespan of your survival knife.

Versatility: You might think that the best survival knife is the biggest, most serrated blade you can find. After all, these aggressive knives look like that’s what they’re made for. You’d be wrong, however, as a survival knife needs to be versatile in its purpose — meaning it should be able to do a lot of different things from chopping, to carving, to detail-oriented cutting tasks, and everything in-between. As such, simpler, smaller, more straightforward knives tend to be better overall than beefy tactical blades. Think of it like fishing: you could use dynamite and you might be successful, but at what cost?

Morakniv Companion Knife

Proof that sometimes simplicity is best and that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a solid survival knife, Morakniv’s Companion is trusted by some of the most experienced outdoorsmen around the world and has been for years. This Scandinavian-styled cutting tool is made from reliable and sturdy Sandvik stainless steel and TPE rubber and, while it’s not going to last forever, it’s plenty durable and has a price point that makes picking up another down the line no big deal. And trust us, once you pick one up, you’ll become a true believer as well.

Blade Length: 4.1″
Steel: 12C27
Handle: TPE Rubber

Purchase: $15

OKC 499 Air Force Survival Knife

OKC has been making their 499 Air Force Survival Knife for literal generations of pilots — to the point that it’s become one of the most iconic blades of all time. And it’s not just a throwback classic, either, as it’s still one of the best survival knives out there. This is thanks in part to its versatile clip-point 1095 blade with its serrated back edge, its comfortable and handsome leather handle, and a sheath with a pouch for an included sharpening stone. Made to be a pilot’s go-to survival tool, you can certainly count on this knife.

Blade Length: 5″
Steel: 1095
Handle: Leather

Purchase: $35

Opinel No. 12 Explore Survival Knife

As a general rule, we’re not fond of folding knives for survival situations. But Opinel’s No. 12 Explore is definitely the exception to that rule for a number of reasons. For starters, it has a reliable 12C27 Sandvik steel blade mated to a handle that’s shock, humidity, and extreme temperature-resistant. But it’s also because it has its own built-in 110-decibel pealess survival whistle, an integrated cutting hook, and a fire starter. It’s essentially an all-in-one survival kit and that grands it a well-earned spot here.

Blade Length: 3.94″
Steel: 12C27
Handle: Fiberglass-Reinforced Polyamid

Purchase: $49

Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife

Since 1966, Gerber has been building tough and capable survival knives — yet they keep finding ways to improve and upgrade them. Their latest foray into the category is certainly one of the best. The StrongArm fixed blade knife boasts a comfortable and tough glass-filled nylon handle with a rubber overmold, a 4.8″ drop point 420HC steel blade (known for its exceptional durability), and it comes with a MOLLE-compatible sheath for modular attachment. It’s also got a glass-breaker tip for emergencies, a lanyard hole, and it was made in the USA.

Blade Length: 4.8″
Steel: 420HC
Handle: Glass-Filled Nylon With Rubber Overmold

Purchase: $70

KA-BAR US Marine Corps Fighting Knife

One of the most iconic cutting tools ever made — fighting and combat or otherwise — KA-BAR’s US Marine Corps Fighting Knife is undoubtedly one of the best blades across all of human history. And it is still used by the USMC today, lending even more credence to its reliability and trustworthiness. Boasting a blacked-out 1095 Cro-Van steel clip point blade mated to a leather handle, this is a bit on the beefy side of the spectrum for survival knives, but you can’t argue with history and results. It does help that it comes with a leather sheath for easier hauling.

Blade Length: 7″
Steel: 1095
Handle: Leather

Purchase: $70

ESEE 4P Fixed Blade Knife

ESEE Knives actually offers a number of superb survival fixed blade knives, but we’ve chosen the 4P specifically because it fits squarely in the middle of their options in regards to the overall size. It’s not too big, not too small, and still boasts everything you could want from a survival knife. That includes a 1095 carbon steel blade, a grippy and durable Micarta handle, and it even comes with a Polymer sheath that can be attached both to your belt and your modular mil-spec bag. And if you want one with even more versatility, there is the option for a partially-serrated edge, as well.

Blade Length: 4.5″
Steel: 1095
Handle: Micarta

Purchase: $93

TOPS Knives Fieldcraft 3.5 Fixed Blade

TOPS Knives’ Fieldcraft fixed blade bushcraft knife was already one of the brand’s most lauded offerings, especially in the outdoor community. But there was one complaint they got about it: it was a bit too big for many folks. So they fixed its only problem in this follow-up, the Fieldcraft 3.5. Boasting all the same things that made the original superb — a 1095 steel blade, a canvas Micarta handle, and a lanyard hole — this more-compact version measures up at a grand total of 8.25″ in length, making it better for detail-oriented tasks but not sacrificing its overall versatility.

Blade Length: 3.75″
Steel: 1095
Handle: Micarta

Purchase: $115

Fallkniven S1 Fixed Blade Knife

Fallkniven, headquartered out of Sweden and in operation since 1984, is not perhaps the most recognizable name in the United States, even amongst knife fanatics. And we think that’s a shame because their Scandinavian blades are some of the best in the world — including the S1 fixed blade you see before you. A true bushcrafter’s blade, the S1 is marked by an impressive clip point VG10 blade mated to a synthetic Thermorun handle that’s grippy in just about any conditions — wet or dry. It also comes with a Zytel sheath for easy hauling and has a lanyard hole at the base of the handle for paracord attachment.

Blade Length: 5.12″
Steel: Laminated VG10
Handle: Thermorun

Purchase: $154

Benchmade Bushcrafter 162 Survival Knife

It’s true that Benchmade is most well known for their everyday carry folding knives. And that makes sense since they build some of the best in the world. But that’s not the only thing they’re good at, as evidenced by their Bushcrafter 162. As you might have guessed from its name, this is an outdoor-focused survival fixed blade through and through. It has a robust CPM-S30V steel blade mated to an ultra-durable G10 handle, comes with a Kydex sheath, and — like all the brand’s offerings — is covered by a lifetime guarantee.

Blade Length: 4.4″
Steel: CPM-S30V
Handle: G10

Purchase: $171

Quiet Carry The Current Fixed Blade Knife

Quiet Carry’s Current fixed blade survival knife stands out amongst its competition thanks to a surprisingly stout, wide blade. But it’s unique appearance is just one of the things this bulldog of a blade has going for it. In fact, that blade is one of the highlights — crafted out of practically corrosion-proof LC200N steel (a material preferred by NASA for use in the aerospace industry), perfect for salty or wet climates. That absurdly resilient blade is mated to an ergonomic G10 handle and the whole package measures up at just 7.23″ in total.

Blade Length: 3″
Steel: LC200N
Handle: G10

Purchase: $185

Helle Survivorman Temagami Knife

While Bear Grylls definitely got more recognition for his Man vs. Wild show, Les “Survivorman” Stroud is lauded by those in the know for his far more realistic portrayal of survival situations — including a complete lack of a shooting crew (he shot the whole show solo). And that makes him uniquely qualified when it comes to recommending and, in this case, designing survival gear. You read that right, Les Stroud designed Helle’s Temagami knife — which is marked by a curly birch wood handle, stainless steel blade, and Scandinavian overall design. And that’s more than enough of a vote of confidence to earn it a spot here.

Blade Length: 4.25″
Steel: Stainless
Handle: Curly Birch

Purchase: $189

SOG Super Bowie Knife

In 2006, SOG decided to celebrate their 20th anniversary by launching a new adaptation of the original SOG Bowie that the company was built upon. This is that very knife — done up in more modern materials, but with the same iconic silhouette and styling. Its blade is beastly, as Bowies tend to be, measuring up at 7.5″ and featuring a TiNi coating over the reliable and durable AUS-8 steel. That blade is mated to a leather handle coated with epoxy for a classic appearance and added durability. A premium take on the classic bowie style, this knife is a tough one to beat.

Blade Length: 7.5″
Steel: AUS-8
Handle: Epoxy-Coated Leather

Purchase: $226

The James Brand Hell Gap Knife

The James Brand has made a big splash in the world of everyday carry with their unique blades and tools that mystifyingly blend superb functionality and material soundness with impeccable urban styling. And their first foray into the world of fixed blades, the Hell Gap, is nothing shy of magnificent. Measuring up at a more-than-manageable 7.8″ in total, this knife hinges on a CPM-S35VN stainless steel drop point blade and a canvas Micarta handle. That means it’s easy to use, comfortable to hold, and offers plenty of outdoor versatility. It’s also made in the USA, which is an unnecessary but welcome bonus.

Blade Length: 3.8″
Steel: CPM-S35VN
Handle: Micarta

Purchase: $299

Chris Reeve Pacific Fixed Blade Knife

Like The James Brand, Chris Reeve is known for his everyday carry knives. In fact, his Sebenza is amongst the greatest folding blades ever crafted. As it turns out, however, his brand is also quite adept at creating fixed blades — especially this one made in collaboration with Bill Harsey Jr. Even more interesting, this survival knife is a civilian version of the fabled cutting tool used and carried by 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary. That alone would earn it a spot here, but it’s definitely aided by an incredible construction of S35VN steel and Micarta.

Blade Length: 6″
Steel: CPM-S35VN
Handle: Micarta

Purchase: $325

Spyderco Bradley Bowie Knife

Gayle Bradley has a long history of making top-tier custom cutting tools and even became a competitive cutting champion — adding even more to his stacked resumé. And that’s probably got a lot to do with how his first collaboration with Spyderco, the Bradley Bowie you see here, ended up so exceptional. With a 3D-machined G10 handle and a robust PSF27 tool steel blade, this isn’t a survival knife — it’s a revelation that you’ll want to keep at your side at all times. Yes, because of its pedigree and craftsmanship, it’s certainly an investment. But it’s an investment you won’t regret for even a moment.

Blade Length: 5.13″
Steel: PSF27
Handle: G10

Purchase: $430

The 8 Basic Survival Skills Every Man Should Know

Your ability to survive is directly linked not to the gear you are carrying, but to your own personal knowledge and experience. You can, however, stack the deck by learning the eight basic survival skills every man should know.

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