Have you been thinking about buying a survival knife but don’t know where to start? We know there are many factors to consider, so in this guide we simplify the process of buying the best survival knife.
Before we start, we want to say that buying a survival knife is a deeply personal choice. We all have different tasks we want to perform, and you never really know if you’ll like a knife until you feel it in your hand. But suffice it to say a quality survival knife should be sturdy and able to handle a number of tasks, including cutting rope, batoning, food prep, and self-defense.
*Before you buy a survival knife keep in mind that some states have restrictions such as life length so check your local laws here: https://www.akti.org/state-knife-laws/
In this article we’ll talk about what to look for in a survival knife and my picks for best survival knives in the market today.
What to look for in a Survival Knife
For starters, we believe a knife should conform to a couple of criteria:
1) Fixed blade – We prefer fixed blades for a number of reasons. First of all, a fixed blade knife will be more robust than a folding knife. While a folder might be good for everyday tasks and is more easily concealed, we are looking for a bona fide survival knife. Also, in a survival situation you are looking for speed and dependability. A folding knife simply has too many moving parts.
2) Easy to carry (4-7 inches)- The vast majority of tasks you perform can be handled by a 4-7 inche knife. For a survival situation, you don’t necessarily need a 12 inch Rambo hunting knife that will weigh you down and is difficult to carry. The 4-7 inch range gives us a nice balance of portability and durability/strength.
3) Full Tang – A full tang knife means that the knife extends to the grip portion of the handle. As you can imagine, this increases the sturdiness of the knife. While a partial tang design is sufficient for simple bushcrafting, if you’re doing heavy duty batoning or chopping, you want a full tang design.
Type of Steel for Survival Knife
There are a lot of debates about what kind of steel is good for a survival knife. Suffice it to say that in our experience the type of steel doesn’t make a huge difference for most people- the vast majority of survival knives today are well-constructed.
That being said, we prefer carbon steel, as it is more sturdy that stainless steel. However, we didn’t use this as a criteria when making our recommendations. We love “supersteel” such as M390 or CPM-20CV, but we understand that most people will not want to continually sharpen their blade and do maintenance.
Stainless steel knives are going to be just fine for over 99% of people looking for a survival knife. Stainless steel knives tend to hold up better to moisture exposure and are more resistant to corrosion. They also take much less maintenance. It is all a matter of preference.
Gerber StrongArm Knife
- StrongArm tactical knife features a coyote brown handle and a fine edge,...
- Durable survival knife has ceramic blade coating and rubberized diamond...
- Break through hard surfaces in emergencies with the tactical knife’s...
- Four mounting pieces and sheath can be used for mounting on MOLLE, belt, or...
- Gerber gear is proudly made in USA at Gerber's Portland, Oregon factory
Since 1968, Gerber has been making survival knives for the U.S. Military. The Gerber StrongArm is a 4.8 inch fixed blade knife. With its full tang design, the Gerber is made to hold up to a lot of abuse. The Gerber StrongeArm is made from 420 HC steel, which is not the highest end steel, but more than durable enough for survival situations.
In terms of aesthetics, we prefer the plain edge option, although you won’t go wrong with a serrated blade.
We love that the Gerber Strongarm feels like it’s made to be a combat knife with a 90 degree spine. It also has an extended pommel that allows you to easily crush hard objects.
The versatility of the Gerber Strongarm is a main reason why we feel comfortable recommending it. It can easily serve as a bugout knife, camping knife, or combat knife. The ceramic coating helps to prevent corrosion, and the rubberized diamond texture grip sits snugly in your hand.
The sheath is one of our favorite features of the Gerber Strongarm. It is a versatile multi-mount sheath that can be put on a belt horizontally, in drop-leg fashion, or can be mounted vertically on Molle.
This is a beast of a knife and will serve you well if you decide to buy it.
Our Choice (Budget Option) Morakniv Companion
This actually is not a full tang knife, but that’s ok- there is no better starter knife you can get at this price. You can’t go wrong for under $20, even if it’s just a starter knife to practice bushcraft.
The Morakniv (Mora) gained fame for being used in the Swedish military and being able to handle a multitude of tasks while being lightweight. It is 4.1 inches long, which allows you to handle most survival and bushcrafting tasks. At only 4.1 ounces including the sheath, you can easily carry your Mora around in your EDC or bug out bag.
The Mora is a stainless steel knife (although there is a carbon steel option). It is a Scandi grind or zero grind, which makes it a lot easier to sharpen. If you’re out on the field you do not need to worry about sharpening this knife. For basic tasks such as food prep, cutting tinder, and even batoning the Mora will hold up very well.
With any survival knife in the price point, there are bound to be cons. First of all, the sheath is, let’s say….purely functional- it will not earn any awards for design. But it comes with a clip so you can easily carry it around when you’re hunting or camping. If portability is important to you, the Mora delivers.
Another negative is the the knife is not ideal for use with a ferro rod. You would have to square the edges on the spine to use it for fire starting. But this is a relatively minor inconvenience. All in all the Mora is our clear choice for budget survival knife.
Fallkniven A1 Fine Edge Fixed Blade Knife
- Blade material: lam. Vg10
- Blade length: 160 mm
- Total length: 280 mm
- Zytel sheath included
The Fallkniven A1 is a classic knife that gained fame from being the official knife of the Swedish Air Force. Featuring a convex edge blade of 6.3 inches and weighing 12 ounces, the A1 is considered a mid-sized survival knife. The A1 features a full tang construction that goes straight through the end of the handle, giving you the peace of mind that it will hold up to abuse.
While this is more of a high end knife than a beginner knife, we think it is one of the best survival knives out there.
The A1 is a drop point design with a blade made of laminated VG10 steel, which is a high end stainless steel made in Japan renowned for retaining a very fine and polished edge. It also is known to hold up in extreme cold conditions. At about a quarter inch thick, the Fallkniven A1 definitely feels solid in your hand. It is also extremely versatile knife that can cut rope, chop wood, and even handle more fine cutting tasks. The ergonomic handle is a real plus that feels comfortable in your hand.
At the end of the day, the Fallkniven A1 has withstood the test of time for a reason. If you are looking for a reliable and sturdy survival knife, look no further.
Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
- Originally designed to free an aircrew from a downed aircraft
- Tough enough to cut through the fuselage of an aircraft
- Purposeful break between the tang and the butt cap, providing insulated...
- Handle Material: Glass-filled nylon with TPV overmold
- Sheath Material: Ballistic nylon with fire retardant coating
The Gerber LMF II was originally created for aircrew in a downed aircraft. Yes, this knife was made to cut through the fuselage of an actual airplane!
This is actually not a full tang construction, but there’s a good reason for that. Remember, the knife was created for special forces to cut through electrical cable without getting electrocuted. So this was accomplished through a 4/5 tang construction with a rear butt cap.
Now as for the blade itself, it is partially serrated and 4.84 inches long and weighs 11.67 ounces. It’s a bit on the heavy side so we would not recommend this for an everyday carry knife. In terms of construction, the Gerber LMF II is made out of 420 HC steel, which comes with pros and cons. The pros are that is is wear and corrosion resistant and easy to sharpen. The cons are that its edge won’t hold as well as some of the “supersteels”.
The sheath is solid and comes with a built-in sharpener and easily mounts on your tactical belt, leg or in you EDC or bug-out bag.
ESEE 5 Fixed Blade Knife
- Overall Length: 11.00"
- Blade Length: 5.25"
- Handle Material: Micarta
- Sheath: Kydex
- Blade Finish: Black
The ESEE 5 was originally designed by Military SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape instructors). So you can bet this is a quality survival knife that can handle most situations. ESEE is known to constantly be out field testing their knives in the harshest conditions.
The ESEE 5 comes with a full tang construction. As far as specs, the blade is 5.25 inches and 4/16 inches thick, and the knife itself is 11 inches long. It comes with a lanyard hole and a glass breaker on the pommel, which is a nice neat little feature.
Made of 1095 high carbon steel, the ESEE 5 can be used for heavy duty tasks like batoning (it is a 1/4 inch chunk of steel after all), but also is great for finer tasks with the aid of jibbing on the spine. This is a pretty hefty knife, weighing in at 16 ounces without the sheath, so keep that in mind when deciding if this belongs in your EDC bag.
The ESEE 5 holds a great edge and is easy to sharpen, but you need to spend some time on maintenance or risk corrosion. But overall 1095 steel strikes a great balance between being durable and ease of sharpening.
The Micarta handle is solid and sturdy and great in cold or wet conditions. It is a little hard on the hands, especially when batoning, but it is incredibly reliable.
Made in the USA, the ESEE 5 comes with the legendary ESEE lifetime guarantee (no receipt or proof of purchase necessary).
ESEE Laser Strike Knife
- Black Textured powder coating on blade
- 1095 carbon steel
- Canvas MI carta handles
- Kidded sheathing with belt clip
- Durable and long lasting
The ESEE Laser Strike is a spear point blade made of ultra high-quality 1095 carbon steel with a powdered coat. 1095 carbon steel is easy to sharpen and holds a great edge, although it is liable to rust.
The Laser Strike is versatile: from delicate bushcraft work to hardcore batoning, the ESEE will take a beating and get the job done. The Laser Strike does away with the pommel for a more comfortable grip with ergonomic Micarta handles. And inside the handles you can find a ferro rod and tinder, which is a cool little feature.
As for specs, the Laser Strike is 9.5 ounces so this is a great choice for a lightweight but strong fixed blade. The overall length is 10 inches while the blade length is 4.75 inches. What we really like about this knife is the choil (the notch between the blade and the handle) which allows for choking up on the knife for more control.
The Kydex sheaf, which we’re not normally fans of, is innovative at least. It is adjustable, so you can tighten and loosen the tension of the knife when it is in the sheath.
We think of the Laser Strike as a smaller alternative to the ESEE 5. And again, ESEE comes with a lifetime guarantee to replace or repair any knife that is damaged.
Finding the perfect survival knife is ultimately a very personal decision, so it’s hard to say what exactly is the “best” survival knife. There are a ton of quality knives on the market to choose from coming in all different shapes, sizes, and materials.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend you buy a budget knife like the Mora and learn over time what you want or don’t want in a survival knife. If you want to jump right in and want a knife for camping, hiking, or simple bushcrafting, the recommendations above will more than get the job done.
Anyway, we know we missed some great survival knives in this list. Let us know what YOUR favorite knives are.