Survival Knives: 20 Great Knives for Wilderness Survival
Any blade becomes a survival blade when you're in over your head, but some are better suited to the task than others
There’s no shortage of opinions on this topic. We all have our favorites and differing reasons why we like one knife above all others. While the concept of “living off the land” with just a knife has more to do with solid outdoor skills than it does with knife choice, it’s still fair to say that the quality and usefulness of your knife could be the difference between life and death. Here’s a rundown of my favorites.
CRKT M21 Aluminum Folder
CRKT M21 Aluminum Folder CRKT
If the survival knife that you are relying on turns out to be your folding-blade everyday carry knife, then it better be a good one. I have carried one of these in the front right pocket of my jeans for years. It stays sharp, and when it finally needs a touch up, the AUS 8 stainless steel sharpens very well. The M21 weighs just 3.2 ounces and has a blade length of 3 inches. It has two locks for safety, and it can be opened with one hand.
Tool Logic SL Pro 2
Tool Logic SL Pro 2 Tool Logic
Few knives have been as popular around my camp as the Tool Logic SL Pro 2. It’s a quality knife, with a loud signal whistle, spark rod and an LED flashlight all rolled up in one. The SL Pro 2 has a 3-inch-long 50/50 serrated blade. The bright white LED flashlight stores in the knife handle. A premium magnesium alloy fire rod is attached to the light’s anodized aluminum housing.
Swiss Army Knife Centurion
Swiss Army Knife Centurion Swiss Army
If they were good enough for MacGyver… right? The chief Swiss Army knife producer, Victorinox, still has the market cornered on variety and quality. The Centurion model is a modern classic, offering a knife blade, a can opener, a bottle opener, three screw drivers, an awl, tweezers, and a toothpick. The stainless steel blade is almost 4½ inches long, and the overall weight is 2.9 ounces. If only those blades were better at carving wood.
Ka-Bar Mule Folder
Ka-Bar Mule Folder Ka-Bar
Ka-Bar’s Mule folding knife is one heavy-duty tool. Solid construction and generous weight allow you to treat this guy a little rougher than most other folding knives. The Mule weighs in at 7.2 ounces and the blade is crafted from AUS 8A stainless steel. The blade length is 3 13/16 inches, while the open length is 9 1/16 inches. The hollow-grind, 15-degree edge angle makes this wicked knife sharper than your ex’s tongue. The unique grips on the Zytel handle will make sure this knife stays in your hand where it belongs.
Cold Steel Recon 1 Spear Point
Cold Steel Recon 1 Spear Point Cold Steel
This outstanding new folder is thin, light, sharp and tough. What more would you ask of a survival knife? The Recon 1 features a 4-inch blade that is 3.5 mm thick and is built from Japanese AUS 8A stainless steel with a black Tuff-Ex finish. The knife only weighs 5.3 ounces, and has a stainless pocket / belt clip, making it ideal for EDC duty.
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CRKT Ultima CRKT Ultima
The size and shape of this knife were patterned after ancient Bronze Age daggers dating back 4,000 years. The Ultima’s handle is one of its most interesting attributes. The injection-molded black glass-filled nylon scales feature more than 70 triangular grip segments, separated by sipes, or “ooze grooves” which channel away water, mud and oil.
The Ultima features a 4.95-inch full-tang blade of 1.4116 stainless steel with a black titanium nitride coating. It comes with CRKT’s patented* Veff™ serrations. The overall length is just over 10 inches and it weighs 8.4 ounces.
Ka-Bar Full-Size Black, Straight Edge
Ka-Bar Full-Size Black, Straight Edge Ka-Bar
The United States Marine Corps made this war-horse of a knife both famous and feared the world over. It weighs 10.4 ounces and has a blade length of 7 inches. The steel is 1095 chrome-vanadium, and the handle is made of Kraton G. I prefer the straight-edge KA-BAR, for easier field sharpening and better carving ability, but the full-size KA-BAR also comes with a partially serrated blade, too. Whichever KA-BAR you choose, you’ve picked a tool that is rugged, dependable and gets the job done. No wonder so many Marines call this knife their one and only.
Side note: In case you were wondering, KA-BAR got its name in the early 1900s from a fur trapper’s testimonial. He wrote that while trapping, his gun jammed leaving him with only his knife to kill a wounded bear that was attacking him. He thanked the company for making the quality knife that helped him to kill a bear, but all that was legible in his note was “K a bar”. Honored by the testimonial, the company adopted the phrase KA-BAR as their trademark.
SOG Force SOG
After using this knife in the field for almost a year, it has become a faithful friend. The beefy blade on the SOG Force is a thick AUS 8 steel, which is razor sharp right out of the box. The handle of the SOG Force is made of glass-reinforced nylon, through which the tang of the blade extends out the back into a glass-breaking point. The handle material is incredibly lightweight, making the 10.5-ounce Force easy to carry. The handle has a contoured shape that helps the knife stay in your hand; and if that wasn’t enough, the handle is also covered in an aggressive checkering of small points. The only problem with this knife seems to be an identity crisis. While this thing bears the outward appearance of a survival knife, when the time comes to butcher game, it acts more like a fillet knife. And I call that a happy problem.
Buck Hoodlum Buck Knives
The late and well respected survival guru Ron Hood left behind a wonderful knife for all purposes of survival. The Hoodlum is the biggest and meanest knife in my collection, and when it’s not in use it is strapped securely onto my BOB. No point of quality was spared on this knife. The long blade on the Buck Hoodlum is a full 10 inches of 5160 steel with a powder coat finish for corrosion resistance. Its overall length is 15½ inches and it weighs 14.6 ounces (22 ounces in the sheath). The handle consists of removable Black Linen Micarta scales over an open-cavity tang, which absorbs shock and assists in lashing the knife to a pole to be used as a spear. The blade has a notch in its spine for cutting wire and grabbing the bail on a pot to move it around the fire. This blade serves purposes in survival, camp craft, self-defense and even back woods cooking.
Gerber LMF II
Gerber LMF II Gerber
The Gerber LMF II may just be the best and most popular new survival knife in production today. The widely available Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife owes a great deal of its design to the LMF lineage. The overall knife length is just over 10½ inches, while the partially serrated blade is a decent 4.84 inches in length. The knife weighs 11.67 ounces without the sheath. The 420HC stainless steel drop point blade sits in a TPV rubber skinned, glass-filled handle to reduce fatigue and insulate from electrical shocks. The pointed butt cap can be used to break glass. This one is practical, tactical and it even slices through soda cans and tomatoes like that knife on TV.
Cold Steel Pendleton
Cold Steel Pendleton Cold Steel
The Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter is a nice knife for taking care of all the camp chores. It’s a sharp, high-quality butchering knife., plus it carves wood well enough. It’s also light weight and handles very easily. The knife only weighs 5.8 ounces, yet it has a 3½-inch blade made of VG-1 stainless steel. The 4¾-inch-long Kray-Ex handle is non-slip and very comfortable.
SOG SEAL Pup Elite
SOG SEAL Pup Elite SOG
The SEAL Pup Elite is another high-quality knife from SOG, which carries the reputation of being good enough for the world’s elite military forces. This knife can serve well as both a tactical blade and a survival knife. The blade length is 4.85 inches and is made from thicker stock than most other knives of this size. The overall length is 9½ inches, while remaining lightweight at just 5.4 ounces. The partially serrated AUS 8 blade is hardened to HRC 57-58 and finished with Hardcased Black TiNi finish. The newly designed longer ergonomic handle has deeper finger grooves than predecessors, and allows this tool to handle very well.
Frost Mora Knife
Frost Mora Knife Swedish Knives
These laminated steel Swedish wood carving blades are very popular and very good at performing survival chores, despite their bargain basement prices. The Frost company is one of the biggest US suppliers of Mora knives, which usually retail for $12-$17. The simple wooden handle and plain, hard plastic sheath keep the cost down on these tools, which are just as good at skinning game and camp craft – as they are at wood carving. You could buy several of these for the price of any other survival knife, and stash them throughout your gear. The high carbon steel blades do rust easily, but they are also easily sharpened.
Helle Temagami Helle
If you want the feel and function of Swedish steel in a higher end knife, then consider Helle’s Temagami knife. Designed in collaboration with TV’s Survivorman, Les Stroud, the Temagami offers a 4 inch blade of high-carbon, triple-laminated stainless steel, with a gorgeous curly birch handle and genuine leather sheath. This knife provides you with top-of-the-line wood carving and bushcraft uses.
Gerber’s Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife
Gerber’s Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife Gerber
Between the knife itself, and the sheath, you’ve got a lot of survival gear at your disposal. The “almost” full tang blade is just short of 5 inches in length, and is made from a 7Cr17MoV stainless steel with a waffle-head hammer on the pommel. The drop point blade is available in a half-serrated version or fine-edge version. The textured, tacky handle offers a great grip. A rope lanyard features an integrated emergency whistle. There is a square striker notch incorporated into back of knife blade to use with the spark rod from the sheath. The knife is of good quality, and it is widely available.
SpyderCo Bushcraft G-10 Plain Edge
SpyderCo Bushcraft G-10 Plain Edge SpyderCo
This knife follows the outdoor skills traditions of British bushcraft, with a blade that works wood and processes game with equal ease. The 4-inch blade of stainless 0-1 tool steel is made with a Scandinavian grind, which yields a tougher knife and reduces breakage due to twisting and racking. The full tang allows for a certain amount of abuse, such as baton work and chopping, while the edge angle is sharp enough to make whittling and slicing a breeze.
Ontario SK-5 Blackbird
Ontario SK-5 Blackbird Ontario Knife
This tough, no-frills knife is American made and ready for anything. The knife has a full tang 154CM high-grade stainless steel blade that is fitted with black Micarta handles. It is 10 inches overall, with 5 inches of sharpened blade and 5 inches of handle. At just under 3/16 of an inch thick, the knife is ideally suited to detailed carving, but also excels at tasks that involve splitting through wood.
ESEE-4 Esee Knives
The ESEE-4 is an incredibly durable knife made from high-carbon 1095 steel. This model is the longer, thicker “wilderness” model of the popular ESEE-3 tactical knife. The “Number 4” has 3/16-inch thickness, a full flat grind, and a rounded pommel. The Micarta handles seal the deal, creating a lightweight yet durable knife that can serve as your primary backpacking blade and wilderness survival knife. It’s also a great fit for any tactical environment.
Ontario TRAK II Fixed Blade Knife
The Ontario RTAK II drop point fixed blade knife is a combination fighting knife, survival blade and workhorse. This knife features a 10-inch long, 1095 carbon steel blade with a foliage green texture power coating and is offered with either a plain or serrated edge. The blade length plus the handle length gives the RTAK II knife an overall length of 16.5 inches. Do we still call it a knife? Or is it a mini-machete at this length? Either way, the handle is canvas Micarta, about 6.5 inches long, offering a smooth but secure grip. The RTAK II comes with a MOLLE compatible sheath that features a hard plastic sheath and a built-in utility pouch.
5 Features You Never Want to See in a Survival Knife
I do love my survival knives. They are a necessary accoutrement in the woods and wild places, and they could be a life-saver during an emergency situation anywhere. These blades become an extension of our hands and our will to shape the world. Survival knives have a tall order to fill, and these tools have to be up to the tasks at hand.
So we all know very well, that survival knives should be sharp, tough, versatile and easy to use. But what are some of the traits that we don’t want? These are five of the things that I never want to see in the knife on my belt.
1. Hollow Handles
Yep, hollow handles are a fun place to store survival gear, but this tubular handle creates one major flaw: The knife has no tang. This means that the blade and the handle are two completely different pieces of metal, and this creates a weak point where they join. Survival knives should have a full tang, or at least a partial tang (like a “rat-tail”), so they don’t break in half when you need them the most.
2. Lousy Grip
Accompanying the hollow handle, a poorly designed grip will either become a blister factory, or allow it to jump out of your hand when you need it most. Neither of these are good things. Select a knife with a grip that feels good in your hand, but also feels like something you can hold onto.
3. Poor Steel
There are thousands of different types of steel used in the world today, and these steels can be hardened to different degrees through many different methods. For our purposes, the two steels that concern us are carbon steels and stainless steels. Either of these can make a good survival knife, and they can suit different conditions. I prefer high carbon blades, but that’s a personal preference based on the way I operate. Since you generally get what you pay for, spend a little more for your survival knife (since it might just save your life) and pass on the cheapo knives that sound too good to be true. If your amazing survival knife only cost $10, it’s very likely a cheap chunk of pot metal.
4. Weird Spines
Do you really need that clunky and ineffective saw on the spine of your knife? Or what about the semi-sharpened spine that makes the knife look like a double edged dagger? The truth is, you don’t need any of that. If you need a saw, get a saw—particularly, one that does a good job at sawing. The spine of your survival knife should be thick, square and ready to take a beating. This lets you strike it with a baton to split firewood, carve bows, and perform many other camp tasks.
I don’t mind if there’s a whistle associated with a knife set, but I don’t need bells and whistles. If your survival knife is also set of shears, screwdriver assortment and potato masher, chances are good that each of these features sucks. When you try to cut and paste too many functions on a knife, they all seem to suffer. If you want a good screwdriver set or pair of scissors, get them. No one said they have to be tack welded onto your knife.
What do you hate to see in a survival knife? Tell us what grinds your gears by leaving us a comment.