First off, I want to get one thing out of the way; there is no such thing as the “best survival knife.” It doesn’t exist.
However, there’s quite possibly a “best survival knife for you.”
That difference may seem slight, but it’s of utmost importance. Why? Because no two survivalists are alike.
We all have different goals and unique survival skills that make some survival knives better for you than others.
However, there are many great survival knifes and some poor ones as well.
So the goal of this survival knife guide is to provide you all the details and options to make an educated decision on which survival knife to purchase.
Here’s exactly what we’ll cover in this guide:
- Survival Knife Comparision Chart
- Top 6 Survival Knife Features
- Detailed Survival Knife Reviews
- Deep Dive Behind Survival Knife Designs
- Survival Knife Wrap Up
So take a quick look at the comparison guide below and the analysis that follows will help you find the best survival knife for you.
Survival Knife Comparision Chart
Top Survival Knife Features
Before deep diving into all the available options for survival knives (such as blade design, blade edge, blade length, blade grinds, grips, etc.). Let’s highlight the top survival knife features to choose the perfect survival knife.
These are the key survival knife features you’ll want in any survival knife you choose.
1 – Size Matters
Too big and you’ll give up the ability to do detailed carving work like carving detailed snare sets or precision cutting.
Too small and you’ll be compromising important survival skills like chopping, splitting, and batoning.
You need a knife small enough for precision yet large enough to be rugged for tougher tasks.
So you’re looking roughly in the 9 to 11-inch overall knife length.
2 – Fixed Blade Only
A fix blade survival knife is exactly what it sounds like. The blade of the knife is in a fixed position. It does not switch, flip, or fold down.
The fewer moving parts mean a more durable knife for the long haul.
A tough, quality constructed fixed blade knife can handle some serious abuse. For example, one of the most abusing survival techniques for knives is batoning.
Batoning with a knife is a brutal test.
I tried batoning with a high-quality folding knife once, and it destroyed the springs and clips within 5 minutes.
Since you need your knife to last while being able to perform the most rugged survival skills, shop in the “fixed blade survival knife” category.
Don’t get me wrong, folder knives are awesome, and I carry a Kershaw Onion folder every day.
But they are not advisable for serious survival.
A fixed blade knife is what you want for survival. It’s a blade you can stake your life on.
Folder blades have a weakness that fixed blades do not. They have pivot joint to make them foldable, and when you abuse a folding knife, the joint will eventually break.
3 – Full Tang Only
The tang of a blade is the metal section that is wrapped in the handle of the knife.
A full tang knife profile fills the entire handle, while partial tang knife is where the metal in the handle is smaller.
Full tang knives are designed to withstand a lot more abuse than a partial tang knife. If you beat on a partial tang knife, it will eventually come loose and develop play in the handle.
If the handle breaks off, it’s very difficult and dangerous to use a partial tang knife – while a full tang knife can be wrapped with some 550 paracord and still work nearly as well.
So full tang only for survival purposes – yes, they cost a little more, but it’s worth it.
4 – Sharp Spear Point Tips (or drop tip)
Many survival knife designers want to stand out from the crowd and design funky looking knife blades with insane shapes. They might look badass, or cool, but they won’t function as well for you in survival situations.
Spearpoint or drop points are best for penetration in self-defense, it also allows you to perform fine point work.
Unless you’re looking for a blade for your next Halloween custom – stick with the simple yet effective blade shapes of either a spear point or a drop point, and you won’t regret it.
5 – Single Edged Blade
Single-edged blades have only one side of the blade sharpened and used for cutting, slicing, etc. – while double-edged blades are sharp on both sides.
And in survival, the side that’s flat is as important as the side that’s sharp.
First, it helps with detailed control. You’re able to slide your thumb safely up onto the flat edge, while this control technique is not possible if the edge was sharp.
Second, when batoning to split wood, a double edge blade works against you. You end up beating down on a sharp blade and losing your striking power.
Third, it’s much easier to use a fire steel with a flat edge. A flat 90-degree grind is perfect for getting sparks from fire steel.
6 – Butt of Handle Flat
Look for a survival knife where you can use the butt of the handle as a makeshift light duty hammer. So you want the butt of the handle to be flat and not round.
This allows you to drive in tent stakes into the ground, or use your knife like a punch – where you drive the knife by hitting the bottom of it with a chunk of wood.
Detailed Survival Knife Reviews
Now that we have a general sense of what to look for in a good survival knife, let’s go through some detailed reviews of the top survival knifes.
These detailed review videos will help you further understand what makes a good survival knife and you’ll also get a sense of the best survival uses for each of these knives.
Deep Dive Behind Survival Knife Designs
For some of you, the survival knife comparison chart above, the top features and the detail reviews are enough information to select your high-quality survival knife right now. But for others, you may want to learn even more.
So, this next section is for those who want to deep dive into all the specific details behind different survival knife designs, the steel differences, the coatings, grinds, tangs, etc. and the pros and cons of each.
Specifically, we will be covering the following topics in detail:
- Blade Design
- Fixed vs. Folding
- Blade Length
- Blade Steel
- Blade Grind
- Tang Construction
- Blade Coatings
Blade Design: Choosing The Right Blade
Deciding on the blade design shape is one of the most important factors when choosing your survival knife.
For example, in a survival situation, you’ll likely use every bit of the blade from the belly to the tip for all sorts of tasks.
So you need to have a basic understanding of all the blade shape options.
There are four main options when it comes to blade design (spear, tonto, clip or drop point).
As we covered earlier, for survival we recommend you go with a spear or drop for most survival knives.
Because these blade designs put the tip of the blade close to the center line of the blade which provides great control. It also lowers the weight at the tip of the blade helping to move the balance point of the knife closer to the hilt. This helps give the user greater tip control as well.
However, it’s always good to understand the applications for the other blade designs as well. You might already have your “go to” survival knife, and you’re in the market for a specialty blade.
Here’s an excellent video overview of these main blade design options.
Fixed Blade Or Folding? Which Is Best For Survival?
Fixed blade knives are what you want for wildness survival situations.
However, fixed blade knives are more cumbersome to carry. You can’t carry a large fixed blade knife around unnoticed.
So for everyday carry needs, you should look into a folding knife. They are ideal for every day carry situation, when you’re not trying to build survival shelters, or start fires in the wild.
But for a true survival knife, you need something extremely durable that will not break under intense use and abuse.
Yes, a good folding knife should be in your pocket, but it also should never be your primary survival knife for extreme situations.
Blade Length: From Short To Long
The length of a knife’s blade determines how useful it is for certain tasks. Choppers are your larger machete-like blades while precision bushcraft work is best with smaller carver blades.
For survival you want a bit of both, so the best survival blades tend to be in the medium size range.
Survival Blade Steel: What’s It Make Of?
High carbon steel (i.e., 1095, 5160, 01 or A2) vs. stainless steels (i.e., 420HC, 440C, AUS-8 or AUS-10) – as you can tell there are a lot of blade steel options.
In laymen’s terms, high carbon tool steels tend to be tougher than stainless steels, meaning they are harder to break, but they are more susceptible to corrosion.
They also are easier to sharpen than stainless, but won’t keep an edge as well either.
If you want to understand the difference in blade steels you have to think like a knife maker. The following video deep dives into all the various steel options.
Worth watching if you want to get a great introduction into blade steel choices.
Blade Grinds: What’s The Difference?
There are several blade grind options for any knife design. Each grind has it’s pros and cons depending on how you want your knife to perform.
However, for survival knives, two specific blade grinds stand above the rest, the saber and flat grinds.
The saber grind has a short primary bevel from the cutting edge to the back of the blade. This creates a thicker edge that’s harder to sharpen to a very fine point but will hold it’s edge better when chopping and splitting.
The flat grind is a compromise between the saber grind and a hollow grind.
A hollow grind concaves inward from the blade edge to the cutting point, which makes the cutting edge extremely sharp but also prone to chipping and damage under intense use.
So a flat grind has a bevel that goes from the cutting edge all the way to the back of the blade. This allows for a much finer edge than the saber grind but is not as fragile as the hollow grind.
If this all sounds a bit confusing, watch the below videos for an excellent introduction into the basic knife grinds.
Tang Construction: Full Or Partial?
We only recommend you invest in a full tang survival knife. We talked about it previously so I won’t go over this again.
However, there may be some future knife enthusiasts who want an introduction into partial tangs (rat tail tang, narrow tangs, hidden tangs).
This following video gives a nice introduction into this interesting knife topic.
Blade Coating Options
The science of blade coatings is detailed and complex. However, it’s interesting chemistry.
This video provides you a detailed overview of 6 different blade coatings put through an extensive series of tests. Make sure to watch to the end to find out which blade coating holds up the best.
Handle Material: Understanding Grips
The grip of a survival knife is critical to its performance. You need a grip that’s tough and won’t break under intense forces. Yet it feels comfortable in your hands.
You also want a grip that won’t absorb moisture which can lead to handling rot.
A few of the most popular knife handle materials are Wood, Micarta, G-10, Zytel, Krayton or Hypalon.
The following video goes into a nice introduction of some of these handle materials.
Finally, I wanted to share a bit of information on grip techniques. I think it’s as important (maybe more) to invest time into learning how to use your new survival knife.
A survival knife is just a piece of survival gear, and it’s only useful in the right set of hands.
So watch the following video to get an introduction on how to use your survival knife once you decide on which one to buy.
Survival Knife Wrap Up
Survival knives come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and designs.
You must decide for yourself which survival knife is best suited for your needs. The good news is you should invest in multiple survival knives. You should have a survival knife for your bug out bag, one for your survival pack, one for your medical first aid kit and one for your get home bag as well.
I don’t know anyone who’s serious about survival who ones just one knife. We own lots of survival knifes we’ve accumulated over the years. With each knife serving a specific purpose.
For example, there a video by a survival expert who shares with us his collection of survival knifes.