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Best Survival Knife: Staying Safe in the Rugged Outdoors

John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

Anyone who has experience in long-term wilderness camping or hunting, or those who have been lost for longer than a few minutes, already knows that having a heavy-duty, durable knife can mean the difference between life and death.

That’s why it is so important to choose the best survival knife for a more rugged adventure.  Some key features to look for is the type of materials it is made from, the length and thickness of the blade, and the possible uses for your new knife.

Most important knife uses

For instance, a folding knife is handy for small tasks and is easily concealed, but for tougher jobs like chopping wood or cutting through plastic or a steel pipe, it won’t meet the task as well as a quality fixed blade knife will.  That’s why we’ve selected the top knives for use in survival and other potentially dangerous situations, to make the decision on which to buy a little bit easier.

Image of survival knives in the ground

Knives are meant for cutting, everyone knows that. A survival knife not only has a longer, stronger blade that can cut through pretty much anything, it could even replace the need for an ax, a hatchet, a hammer, and in some instances, even a shovel.

Some uses for a durable knife are:

  • Chopping wood
  • Cutting branches
  • Producing tender from a Ferro rod
  • Creating a spear when tied to a thick branch, for hunting or fishing
  • Digging (fire pit, feces disposal, or for worms when fishing, etc.)
  • Gutting and skinning game
  • If strong enough, the handle can pound in tent pegs
  • Carving or whittling
  • Used as a pry bar (but only if necessary, as this could damage the blade)
  • Breaking glass
  • Protection against wildlife or home intruders
Product NameWeightMaterialOverall LengthPrice
Ka-Bar BK-2214.6 ozSteel10.5 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Esee 6p Black Fixed Blade Knife16 ozSteel11.75 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker13 ozStainless steel10.62 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Fallkniven A112.8 ozSteel11 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Gerber LMF II11.6 ozStainless steel10.59 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Spyderco FB26GP7.75 ozSteel8.75 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Cold Steel 40118778.8 ozSteel10.75 inchesCheck price on Amazon
Gerber 06995 Silver Trident Double Serration17.4 ozStainless steel11.22 inchesCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

Before you purchase your new knife, it is best to consider the features of each knife to be sure you are getting a quality tool for your personal needs.  The reason these features are so important is because you want your knife to withstand any beating you put it through. Scrimping on these details could leave you stranded in more ways than one.

Size

The size of the knife you are purchasing is very important. Getting the right size for this kind of knife is not easy.

Clear image of a survival knife

Some of the knives are too large and cannot fit into your pocket. Smaller knives are great for your outdoor needs.

Weight

The weight of your knife is also very essential. If the knife you purchased is too heavy, you might encounter a lot of problems when you need the knife most. You must look for a lightweight knife which will be easy to wield in the case of emergency. There’s no way you can defend yourself from an intruder using a heavy knife right?

Blade Material

Quality survival knives use either stainless or carbon steel for their blades. Stainless steel is extremely strong, and will not corrode like some other metals, but it will not retain its edge with prolonged use and will need sharpening more often.

Close-up of a Benchmade survival knife

Though still a durable metal, carbon steel is prone to rust if used in damp conditions, but it will keep its keen edge regardless of the torturous tasks you put it through.  If properly oiled and cared for, corrosion can be kept from tainting this type of steel, so they will last a lifetime.

Blade Thickness

The thicker the blade, the stronger the knife is. You don’t want it to bend when you’re in a tough or dangerous situation because bending can lead to breaking, and if your only knife breaks, you may as well go home. Look for one a blade with a thickness of about 1/4 inch; to be sure it will be strong enough for cutting wood, but still capable of skinning a deer.

Handles

There are two things to consider when looking at handles: the material used and the tang. Solid handles made of polymer or hard rubber is the most common and provides a comfortable grip.

Ontario 499 survival knife

Textured is better because it will reduce slipping during use.  Never buy a knife with a hollow handle.  These may have neat additions like a compass or storage compartment, but they will compromise the handle’s strength.  A full tang means the blade reaches all the way to the end of the handle, which can also eliminate the possibility of the handle breaking.

Length

For survival purposes, a small knife will never do. Anything over 6 inches is best, to be sure it can meet all your needs, whether camping, hunting, or even during tactical or search and rescue missions.  10” is usually the max for easy carrying, though with the proper sheath, a couple inches longer won’t add too much extra weight.

Sheath

Don’t underestimate the need for a decent sheath. It needs to attach securely to your belt, preferably with holes at the end and sides, so it can be strapped securely to your leg.

A survival knife in a tree

If the sheath also includes loops or straps that can attach to a pack or vest that is even better. Quality material and construction are also important, so your sheath doesn’t break or tear when you’re in the woods miles from home.

Best Products on Today’s Market

Now that we’ve discussed the features you should keep an eye out for when looking for knives to buy, here are a few of the top rated survival knives on the market to serve as a starting point for your search.

Ka-Bar Bk-22 Blade KnifeKa-Bar BK-22

Price: Approx. $80

Weight: 14.6 oz

Dimensions: 10.5 x 2 x 1 inches

Specific features: 1095 Cro-Van steel blade, Grivory handle, wrist lanyard hole, heavy-duty polyester sheath

Best use: Camping, hunting, military, industrial use, any outdoor situations.

Description: The KA-BAR BK-22 Blade Knife is a heavy duty tool that is perfect for those who need a reliable blade for a variety of outdoor uses.  The flat ground, drop point blade retains its sharp edge, and is perfect for delicate work, such as skinning a deer, but also has a 56-58 HRC hardness rating, so it can be used for more difficult work usually suited to a small hatchet.

The handle is made of glass-reinforced nylon from Switzerland called Grivory and is easily controlled while still being comfortable in the hand.  It is not textured, though, so it can become slippery if it gets wet.

This is the second generation of the Companion model, and includes an extended pommel, perfect for self-defense, breaking glass, or for pounding tent pegs into rocky terrain.

The sheath is heavy-duty polyester, has Velcro closures, and can be hung from a belt or strapped to a pack for easy access.  Though a great knife for a variety of outdoor adventures, it is a bit heavier, so it is not suitable for someone looking to travel light.

PROS:

  • The BK-22 is 100% synthetic
  • Can be used by all branches of the military
  • Durable
  • Heavy-duty polyester sheath
  • Unbreakable
  • Comfortable grip
  • Can do light chopping
  • Thick and very sharp

CONS:

  • The BK-22 is heavy
  • Can be slippery when wet
  • Bad blade coating

Related: We recommend you purchase this Sentry Solutions 91060 TUF-GLIDE Lubricant if this is the knife you choose as it will protect the knife from rust, friction and wear.

Check the price on Amazon

ESEE RC6P Fixed BladeESEE RC6P

Price: Approx. $115

Weight: 1 lb

Dimensions: 9 x 2 x 1 inches

Specific features: High carbon 1095 steel blade, gray Micarta handle, molded Polymer sheath

Best use: Camping, hunting, survival situations, hiking

Description: The ESEE RC6P Fixed Blade is a knife that feels lightweight, though it has the durability to last through heavy use.  If properly cared for, the powdered steel blade will stay sharp, even when cutting through thick tree branches.

The blade is liable to rust and stain if not properly taken care of. It is your duty to take care of the knife by making sure the blades are well lubricated and cleaned thoroughly during and after use. The knife is designed for hard use so you can rest assured it won’t get damaged in as much as you take good care of it.

It is tapered at the end, so if a bit of surgical use is necessary when hunting, this knife will meet those needs as well.  There is also a small serrated edge on the top of the blade if needed.  The textured Micarta handle is easy to grip, and won’t slip from your hand, even when using the knife in the pouring rain.

The Polymer sheath is Desert Tan colored for easy blending and includes a removable belt clip for multiple carry options.  This multi-purpose survival knife is excellent for anyone who prefers no-frills outdoor activities, though it is a bit heavy and long, so may not be suited for ultralight backpacking.

PROS:

  • The knife is very sharp
  • Durable
  • Can be used for heavy-duty work
  • Multiple carry options
  • Multipurpose
  • Easy to grip

CONS:

  • A bit heavy
  • Too long

Related: If you want to protect your knife from friction, wear, and rust, we recommend you purchase this Sentry Solutions 91060 TUF-GLIDE Lubricant.

Check the price on Amazon

Tops Knives Tom Brown TrackerTops Knives Tom Brown Tracker

Price: Approx. $230

Weight: 13 Oz

Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches

Specific features: ATS-34 stainless steel blade, black Micarta handle, Kydex sheath

Best use: Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, tactical use, survival situations

Description: Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker is a great knife for multi-purpose use.  The stainless steel black traction coated blade has a wide design, curved at the bottom with a serrated edge on top.

The full tang Micarta handle has finger grooves for added comfort and control.  Double clips on the sheath allow you to hang it from your hip, or sideways on your back.  The sheath also comes with a survival whistle, for those unexpected emergencies.

This heavy-duty knife is the perfect workhorse, and is great for anything from a short hike through rugged terrain to a week long camping or hunting trip, and can be used to build traps, skin game, or even a bit of carving, just for fun.  Though a bit large for lightweight travelers, and not exactly suited for self-defense because of its larger size, it is an excellent knife for multiple outdoor uses.

PROS:

  • For multiple uses
  • Has finger grooves for additional comfort and control
  • Sheath comes with survival whistle in case of emergencies
  • Can be used for heavy duty activities
  • Durable
  • Comes with a sheath for easier transport

CONS:

  • Very expensive
  • Too heavy
  • Large in size

Related: If you think this is the right knife for you, then you will need the Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker, to make the blade sharp again.

Check the price on Amazon

Fallkniven A1 Survival KnifeFallkniven A1  

Price: Approx. $190

Weight: 12.8 oz

Dimensions: 11 x 2 x 2 inches

Specific features: Laminated VG10 steel blade, Kraton handle, black Zytel sheath

Best use: Hunting, fishing, camping, military use, survival situations

Description: The Fallkniven A1 Survival Knife is suitable for all types of rugged outdoor use.  It is a lightweight knife, yet durable enough to withstand the roughest punishment.  The Kraton handle is textured perfectly so you can retain your grip no matter the job or the weather.

It covers a full tang blade made of laminated VG10 steel with a drop point tip.  Though the edge is plain and has no serrated edge, this knife will still cut through anything you need it to, from fish to bone to wood for a fire.  The Zytel sheath is perfect for those in rainy areas, because it is quite light, drains water easily, and is tough enough to withstand any damp environmental conditions.

This survival knife is perfect for all types of outdoor adventures, from easy hikes to long-term hunting trips, and the majority of its users feels that if you only want to purchase one knife of this type, the Fallkniven A1 is the best one to choose.

PROS:

  • The Fallkniven A1 has a perfect grip
  • Suitable for all types of outdoor activities
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Drains water easily
  • Tough enough to withstand damp conditions

CONS:

  • Expensive

Related: To keep your knife sharp as a razor, we suggest checking out the Smith TRI-6 Sharpening Stones System.

Check the price on Amazon

Gerber LMF II Survival Knife

Gerber LMF II

Price: Approx. $80

Weight: 11.67 oz

Dimensions: 10.59 x 3 x 2 inches

Specific features: 420HC stainless steel blade, glass-filled nylon handles with TPV overmold, ballistic nylon sheath.

Best use: Hunting, survival, tactical, military, industrial, camping, hiking, fishing

Description: Gerber LMF II Survival Knife is the ultimate survival knife, designed by a former member of the military, Jeff Freeman, as a heavy-duty knife to be used by infantry or search-and-rescue teams in life-saving situations.  The serrated drop point blade is strong enough to cut through a plane’s fuselage, the thick material of a seat belt, or a chunk of wood to make a fire.

The over-molded handle offers a comfortable, yet secure grip, so it will not slip in wet conditions, and includes a stainless steel butt cap, perfect for breaking glass or fighting off an assailant.

A sheath with a low-profile has been included and it comes with an inbuilt carbide sharpener. The blade which is made of stainless steel can survive a lot of abuse, but if the knife ever gets spoiled or needs polishing, you will not be caught out in the open with a dull knife. The sheath that comes with the knife enables movement and attaches to a belt or vest.

With the knife comes the Ballistic nylon sheath that has been fire retardant coated for added protection.  This sheath can be strapped securely to a belt or to a MOLLE vest using its handy lashing holes and includes a built-in carbide sharpener for emergencies.

PROS:

  • Smart and versatile design
  • Butt cap can pierce through glass
  • Strong serrated blade
  • Sheath comes with an inbuilt carbide sharpener
  • Ballistic nylon sheath which is fire retardant
  • Durable
  • Comfortable to carry

CONS:

  • Too heavy for its size
  • Small area for the hammer

Related: If this is the survival knife you like, we recommend getting the Lansky 3289 Dual Grit Sharpener to keep your blade razor sharp.

Check the price on Amazon

Spyderco FB26GP PlainEdge Knife Spyderco FB26GP

Price: Approx. $190

Weight: 7.75 oz

Dimensions: 12.8 x 3.8 x 2 inches

Specific features: O-1 tool steel blade, G-10 handle with lanyard hole, black leather sheath

Best use: Tactical, military, survival, hunting, camping, carving

Description: The designers at Spyderco teamed up with the expert of tactical Bushcraft, Chris Claycombe, and those behind the popular website BushcraftUK.com to come up with this high quality Spyderco FB26GP PlainEdge Knife.

The high-carbon of the blade’s tool steel retains its edge through all types of work, from cutting up your kill to some creative carving.  This full tang blade has a single bevel Scandi grind that will sharpen easily when needed, though it needs to be oiled to prevent any rust in wet conditions.

There is no Handguard on the handle, so you must be careful that you don’t slip and cause needless injuries, but the contour will fit comfortably in your hand.

The leather sheath holds your knife securely in place using both the belt loop and the holes on the side and bottom that can be used to strap it tightly to your leg.  There is also a lanyard hole on the knife, as an additional carrier option.

PROS:

  • Made with the highest quality materials
  • Durable
  • Strong knife
  • Can withstand heavy duty use
  • Sheath is strong and sturdy
  • A lanyard hole on the knife as an additional carrier option

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • The plastic in the sheath hangs easily

Related: To protect your blade from rust, we suggest using the Sentry Solutions Marine TUF-CLOTH. It prevents fingerprint damage, stops the rust, and displaces moisture.

Check the price on Amazon

Cold Steel 4011877 Blade KnifeCold Steel 4011877

Price: Approx. $140

Weight: 8.8 oz

Dimensions: 10.8 x 1.2 x 0.1 inches

Specific features: CPM 3V high carbon steel, long Kray-Ex handle

Best use: Military, tactical, law enforcement, survival, search and rescue, hunting, camping

Description: Cold Steel 4011877 Blade Knife was designed to be a versatile, heavy-duty knife for use by those performing rescue operations or survival missions.  It is popular with members of the military and those in law enforcement because it can withstand the demands of the job.

The blade is coated with a black DLC finish, which will help to keep rust from setting in as well as maintaining the flat blade’s edge.  The clip point is perfect for more delicate maneuvers, but is strong enough for skinning or cutting anything outdoor life may throw at you.

The textured Kraton grip won’t slip out of your hand, and the finger guard will keep your hands away from the blade when sawing at a chunk of wood.  Though there is a Kydex sheath available, it is not necessarily included with the knife.

PROS:

  • The COLD STEEL 3V SRK is very versatile
  • Can withstand heavy duty use
  • Durable
  • Very sharp blade
  • Comes with a finger guard to prevent injuries
  • Lightweight

CONS:

  • A bit expensive

Related: If you want to keep your blade sharp and polished, we recommend checking out the Garos Goods HT74364 Leather Strop Sharpening Polishing.

Check the price on Amazon

Gerber 06995 Trident Double Serration
Gerber 06995

Price: Approx. $210

Weight: 17.4 oz

Dimensions: 11.2 x 4.2 x 2.2 inches

Specific features: 154C stainless steel blade, Hytrel co-mold handle, black ballistic nylon sheath

Best use: Hunting, fishing, tactical, military, survival, camping, industrial

Description: Gerber 06995 Trident Double Serration was designed to be used by those in Special Ops and has been field tested in the most rugged conditions to be sure it is up to the standards of those performing such dangerous missions.  The clip point blade is not only double-edged, but it is double serrated as well.

It also has a non-reflective black coating, so it will not shine in the light and give away your position when performing military maneuvers or hunting in the woods.  The co-mold handle uses two versions of Hytrel, a solid inner layer that is incredibly strong, and a softer outer layer that provides a comfortable, yet sturdy, textured grip.

This contoured handle even has a butt cap made of stainless steel that you can use to break glass or hammer in a few difficult tent pegs.  The heavy-duty sheath comes complete with leg ties for a secure hold or can be used with a MOLLE vest.

PROS:

  • Can withstand heavy duty activities
  • Blade is double edged
  • Comfortable grip
  • Handle is very strong
  • Resistant to heat
  • Limited lifetime guarantee

CONS:

  • Very expensive
  • The lock on the sheath makes it difficult to remove

Related: We recommend the ROYI FWEFGQE Knife Sharpening Stone Kit, if you want to keep your blade as sharp as a Japanese Katana Sword.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

Survival situations can be dangerous, and having the proper tools and defensive weapons can keep you alive when far from the comforts of home. The knives listed here are the top rated of their class, made of high-quality materials, perfect for a camping or hunting trip with your buddies, tactical missions, or search and rescue operations.

A survival knife in the ground

Of course, which one to use depends on the size of the knife, and your own specific needs. Of course, there are many other survival knives available, so if you feel one has been overlooked, please let us know in our comments section.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John C. Porter
John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

  • Deb Summers

    Important information, as I can see how it would be easy to spend a fortune and wind up missing that one feature that makes you wish you had chosen a different model. The sheath is an important feature, as most outdoors people will want to wear their knife. I can see that single tab on the Fallkniven A1 sheath might be a little worrisome. It doesn’t look like there are any options to purchase a more secure sheath after market other than a custom sheath.
    Appreciate this resource!

  • Kevin Hill

    The KA-BAR BK-22 Companion Fixed Blade Knife is a hefty, razor sharp knife that can tackle big jobs without fear of blade failure. This knife can easily replace a pack hatchet. The grip is a little too smooth though but it doesn’t detract from it’s quality. If you are looking for a heavy duty, no-nonsense knife, this knife should be considered. If you want to travel light however, this is not for you.

  • John C. Porter

    Ah, the Ka-Bar! I love this knife – durable, hefty and does the job every time. I’m glad you are already a “convert” to this knife’s incredible features. The 1095 Cro-Van steel blade, Grivory handle, wrist lanyard hole, heavy-duty polyester sheath – those features are in one knife, great!

  • John C. Porter

    Thanks Deb and glad you dropped by. You’re absolutely correct, the sheath provides protection for the user and the blade. It’s important to examine the sheath material to make sure it’s durable and can protect you from accidentally cutting yourself.

  • Joyce Grant

    Hubby recently lost his knife that was gifted to him 7 years ago and he was heartbroken because it was not just an excellent survival knife but had serious sentimental value. After reading several online recommendations and reviews, I bought him a Gerber Silver Trident Knife, and he loves it. He says he especially likes its double serration, the amazing grip and its awesome weight and balance.

  • John C. Porter

    Too bad on the lost knife but happy that you’ve found a worthy replacement in the Gerber Silver Trident Knife. You can’t go wrong with the Gerber, it’s got a lot of things going for this baby that makes it an awesome companion for camping or trekking. The blade is top-notch and can cut into almost anything. I love the grip of the nylon handle and prevents the knife from slipping through my hands even if I have gloves on.

  • Robert Smith

    My dad always used to tell me that a manly man should always have a ‘bad ass’ knife, so when I went looking for knife to carry during my outdoor activities, I went for the meanest looking knife, and I bought the Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker. Camping, hiking fishing has never been easier. This knife can do almost anything and that’s why I carry it all the time besides being quite large and heavy. My dad would be proud.

    • John C. Porter

      That’s fantastic!

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