To the untrained eye, a survival knife should allow you to perform a number of surface level tasks and necessities. To the real survivalist or wilderness expert, the best survival knife should allow you to recreate any of the other tools you’ll ever need in nature.
The survival knife is the quintessential tool because it is the foundation for… survival.
In this article, we’ll explain the 3 best survival knives currently on the market. More importantly, we will help you understand why these knives are effective and how to choose for what works best for your needs.
Any old list of survival knife reviews isn’t helpful (in fact, it’s usually people trying to sell you something). Instead, we want to give you the gift of education. Learn why to buy a survival knife and you also learn how to use it.
What Makes a Good Survival Knife?
The famous survival expert, Dave Canterbury, said the perfect knife “…is usually the one you have on you when the need arises.” In fact, according to Canterbury who is the foremost survival expert in the U.S.A. and the author of numerous New York Times bestselling survival books, this is one of the most important parts of your pack.
There are many factors that make a good survival knife. In order, we will cover the following:
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- Blade length – refers to how long the knife is. Believe it or not, there is an ideal length.
- Blade edge – this refers to the specific use-case for the blade because various edges are more useful for various activities
- Blade steel – what specific steel type is the blade made of? You want the best.
- Blade grind – refers to the shape of the cross sections of the blade. More open to personal taste, but there are tangible benefits of each.
Before jumping in, we’ll set the record straight on one must-have feature in any survival knife: it must be full tang design.
This refers to the size of the steel. It should be an entire piece and it should be attached to the handles by a pin. No need to create a whole section on it, just take our word for it.
Best Survival Knife Blade Length
A good survival knife should have a multi-purpose ability given you’ll need it in survival situations. If we focus on using a survival knife in all situations (such as losing all your gear, but the knife strapped to your belt), then there is an ideal blade length for the best survival knife.
A good length is 4 ½ – 6 inch blade.
Anything smaller than that will be unable to work when processing firewood. Assuming you either don’t have an axe or a black bear ran off with it, having a survival knife that can help chop firewood is a must. This is what makes it a survivalist knife (multi-purpose)!
By the same token, if you have a blade that is too large in length (bowie knife anyone?), it will make finer carving tasks more challenging. Try skinning an animal in the field with a large knife. It’s not easy and it will make deer hunting that much more difficult.
Best Survival Knife Blade Edge
The best survival knife will also have specific blade edges that can be used in a multi-purpose way. The knife’s edge can be a critical factor for survival. Typically you’ll find a few specific blade edge types:
- Butcher blade
- Trade Knife blade
- Spear point blade
Any kind of straight cutting edge will be the best for general purpose.
There is also a positive rake angle, which is used for cutting and slicing. You may also run into a negative rake angle, which is to reduce pressure on the cutting edge while in use.
Blade Steel: Ultimate Do’s and Don’t List
The best survival knife will be made of a specific steel that is “high-carbon”.
The 1095 and 01 tool steel are the best for multi-purpose.
The reason these blade steel types are great is because they can provide a shower of sparks to create a fire. Again, the best survival knife is going to provide you all the tools you need to survive and fire / warmth is a huge necessity.
Using these types of steel will make it easy to create fire in combination with a hard rock like quartz or flint.
What happens when your fire tinder or matches have been used up or lost? You need a tool that you can trust and a high-carbon 1095 or 01 tool steel blade is probably the best way to go.
One important thing to note with blade steel is the corrosive risk. Something that is high-carbon steel may be a better multi-purpose tool for starting a fire, but it can rust easier as well. Some people buy survival knives that come coated with a rust protector. Do not do this.
Rust protection coating usually makes it difficult to create sparks and ignite material so it is better to just maintain the blade properly to avoid rusting.
What Blade Grind Should Your Survival Knife Have?
The blade grind on a survival knife does have practical implications, but it is also a matter of personal taste. The blade grind refers to the cross section of the blade and there are four main types:
- Hollow grind
- Convex grind
- Flat grind
- Scandinavian grind
For those who want the ability to quickly sharpen their blade, flat and scandinavian grinds are best. They’re also great for shaving and carving work. They can be a bit more brittle especially in cold weather, though.
The hollow grind blades are great for skinning tasks, but the blade is thin and thus can be damaged more easily. Convex blades are resilient and best for splitting, but they’re not good for finer tasks or maintaining in the field.
A Note on Fixed and Folding Survival Knives
Folding knives are great, but may not be the best survival knife. These days, a folding survival blade is less strong, smaller, and more flimsy than they used to be. While a folding knife can be useful for particular purposes (namely skinner and finer tasks), it doesn’t make a very good multi-purpose tool.
Remember: when trying to find the best survival knife, we want multi-purpose.
As convenient (and downright cool) as a folding knife might be, it probably will not provide the level of sophistication you need to survive in the wilderness when it seems the world is closing in around you… *queue dramatic music*
For the purposes of this article, we are going to leave folding knives off the list. They simply don’t measure up the way we need them to for heavier tasks like cutting wood.
Top 3 Best Survival Knives
Now you know what you’re looking for (and why), it is time to find the best survival knife for your particular needs. Everyone’s a little bit different so we have provided three separate options that we think are great based on your needs.
The ESEE Laser Strike Survival Knife is our first choice as it is the most superior of the bunch. The blade length of 4.75 is well within the range expert Dave Canterbury provides, the blade is full-tang (a must for solid construction) and is made of 1095 high carbon steel.
The blade has a spear point, which makes it great for skinning and finer tasks, but the sturdiness of the blade and construction make it a practical tool for heavier wood cutting tasks as well. Truth be told, this is the most expensive of the three, but is still the best option.
This is an investment that could save you from purchasing a number of other expensive tools and (more importantly) could save your life where other, cheap survival knives might not.
#2. KA-BAR Becker BK7 Combat / Utility Survival Knife
Like the ESEE Laser Strike, this KA-BAR Becker model is meant to be lightweight, but of strong enough construction for survivalists (and soldiers) to use in the field. The blade length is slightly longer than desired (at 7 inches), but all the other specs are on-point.
The blade is made of 1095 Cro-Van material (high carbon) making it a strong enough blade for chopping wood. It does have an anti-corrosion coating, which we do NOT like as a fire tinder, but some reviews suggest it is still possible to create sparks.
Of course, the Becker is full-tang construction and can be used for chopping, splitting, digging, and, to some degree, skinning. This survival knife is a bit more affordable than the one above, but it may be worth the $30 extra to pick up the ESEE Laser Strike.
#3. SCHRADE EXTREME Survival Knife (SCHF9)
This is the most budget friendly survival knife that still passes most of the checklist. Even though the length of the blade is slightly large (6.4 inches), the blade is made from strong high carbon 1095 steel. The weight is heavier than the Becker above, but the grip on this Schrade is well liked by survivalist experts and laypeople alike.
The blade on the Schrade SCHF9 makes it a good chopping tool, but it can also be used for finer tasks. At a price point of around $40, this is almost ⅓ the price of our first ESEE Laser Strike survival knife. For some that are in need of a budget item, this is a great choice. We still believe a good survival knife is worth the greater investment, but are in no place to judge based on your means.
What is the Best Survival Knife in 2018?
At times, it is worthwhile to pick up a more affordable piece of equipment that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive options. In fact, sometimes this is an even better product because it is lighter weight and simple (there is value in simplicity!)
When talking about the best survival knife, it is one of the few places we really recommend spending some extra money. It’s a tool that may be needed in numerous survival situations and it would be a shame to skimp.
Therefore, we believe the ESEE Laser Strike Fixed Blade Survival knife is the best bang for your buck.