If you were to ask any survival expert, “What’s the one thing you would bring with you if you were stranded on a desert island?” They would likely answer, “A good survival knife.”
Fire can be made with sticks and leaves. Rope can be fashioned from plant fiber. But there really is no substitute for a good sharp knife when it comes to surviving in the great outdoors. The most useful survival knives are the ones that provide incredible strength and sharpness that can stand up to the challenges of outdoor survival, like hunting, animal cleaning, wood cutting, and rope cutting.
Finding the best survival knife for the money, however, is not always easy. With dozens of manufacturers battling for shelf space, you can’t always tell when you are getting the best deal or the best quality product.
That’s why we’ve decided to count down the 12 best survival knives for the money, but before we do that, we’re going to take a look at just what exactly it takes to make a great survival knife, and the things you need to pay attention to when choosing one for yourself.
Best All-Around Fixed Blade Survival
Knife SOG FORCE Fixed Blade SE38-N
Blade: AUS-8 Steel
Sheath: Black Nylon
Blade Length: 6”
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools was founded with the vision of creating some of the highest quality military-inspired blades on the planet, and the FORCE Fixed Blade is a testament to that vision. This is a knife that not only features one of the most easily sharpened blades of its kind, but has one of the most comfortable handle designs that we’ve ever experienced on a knife of this size.
SOG’s patented heat treating process has always ensured that the blades they produce stay sharp for a lot longer. Our experience with SOG blades in the past has confirmed this, as none of their products need to be sharpened that often.
WATCH: SOG FORCE Video Demo
One thing seems clear about this knife: you won’t be able to break it without anything short of a plasma torch. That’s how freaky strong it feels.
The main drawback on the FORCE is the sheath. While the black nylon is sturdy and well-constructed, it is a tight fit for the blade, which causes some hesitance on the draw as well as some possible difficulties utilizing the belt loop.
Best EDC Survival Knife for Every Day Carry
ESEE Knives 6P Fixed Blade Knife
Sheath:Molded polymer (olive)
Blade Length: 6.5”
The designers over at ESEE know how to make a knife that is as ergonomic as it is practical, which has allowed their products to become some of the most popular multi-purpose survival knives used for every day carry. The 6P model features a formidable 6.5” powder coats 1095 steel blade, which is the exact kind of quality we would expect from ESEE’s newest release.
1095 Steel is always a plus because of how easy it is to sharpen. That means that you won’t have to put a bunch of extra time into keeping your knife as sharp as it needs to be; all it takes is a quick 5 minute sharpening every month or so and it will never fail to perform.
Of course 1095 has its drawbacks as well. Namely that it is far more susceptible to weathering than other kinds of steel, which means that the blade has the tendency to rust far quicker than similar knives. In particular the blade edge and the metal around the engraving will be the first to show this kind of weathering. Keeping your blade properly cleaned and oiled is a good way to prevent this.
One other we’ve noticed with ESEE products is that they do not arrive anywhere near as sharp as they can be. That means that the first thing you want to do upon unboxing your knife is to spend some time putting a really nice edge on there.
WATCH: ESEE 6 review and sharpening
Some sheath issues on this model as well; the belt clip is too tight. Hopefully it will loosen up in time.
Best Survival Knife for being Stranded on a Desert Island
CDS Knives’ CELZTIBEROCOCO Fixed Blade Survival Knife
Sheath: Genuine leather
Blade Length: 5.7”
There are not a whole lot of survival knives on the market that can boast as many extra features as CDS Knives’ one-stop shop option, the CELTIBEROCOCO Fixed blade Survival Knife. It’s actually quite a lot of information to go over, so we might as well get started.
A 5.7” blade is constructed of Molybdenum-Vanadium 58. Also known as MOVA-58, this type of blade is going to be incredibly corrosion resistant and remarkably durable at the same time. So even if you were to keep this knife for the long haul (which is likely, considering the durability) you wouldn’t be seeing any rush.
The CELTIBEROCOCO’s big selling point however is probably the sheath, which is constructed in a way that allows it to carry some built in features that make this a true survival knife. For instance, an included knife sharpening stone fits into its very own pocket. They’ve also made room for a firesteel which next to a good knife is perhaps the most important thing you can have in survival situations.
LEARN: How to Use a Firesteel
There is one flaw with this knife, and that is the uneven grinding on each side of the knife. We noticed a ¼” difference in the grind size between the two sides of the knife, which makes for an unbalanced blade.
However, the blade itself is sharp and durable and so far hasn’t let us down.
Best Survival Knife for Weekend Adventures
Gerber Bear Grylls ULTIMATE PRO Fine Edge Knife
Sheath: Mildew resistant Nylon
Blade Length: 4.8”
We should probably admit that everyone here on the team is a big fan of Bear Grylls, so we might have been somewhat biased when we took a look at the ULTIMATE PRO survival knife. The British ex-SAS agent has teamed up with one of our favorite blade manufacturers … so what would you expect?
If you can get past the brand hype, this is actually a pretty sturdy little knife. As far as survival blades, this one is certainly amongst the most affordable, and because Gerber is behind its construction, it’s a fairly safe bet that you aren’t buying something that you are going to regret.
One thing Gerber did right when releasing their ULTIMATE line was switching to a full-tang blade, which is responsible for a considerable boost in durability and overall sturdiness. You can feel it in your hand when you are holding this thing; it’s just feels like it’s up to the challenge.
A couple of cool extra features here: a loud survival whistle is built into the base of the handle, something that is so small and simple that it had us wondering why we haven’t seen it on many other knives.
For the blade, we are looking at a 9Cr19MoV high carbon, stainless steel. That’s a pretty nice upgrade from the original model, which was made out of 7Cr17MoV. So there is an increase in blade strength and sharpness here.
The stuff we didn’t like: the belt loop was way too small; a clip would perhaps be better for this kind of knife. In addition, the sheath Velcro is poorly attached and will likely fall off before long.
Sharpest Survival Knife Around
Benchmade BUSHCRAFTER 162 Fixed Outdoor Survival Knife
Blade: CPM-S30V Steel
Sheath: Genuine leather
Blade Length: 4.4”
Benchmade has a real reputation for being among the best in the business when it comes to producing strong, reliable blades that can really hold an edge. Their lifetime guarantee shows just how confident they are that you are going to be getting the best knife possible.
The BUSHCRAFTER is one of the strongest knives that we had the pleasure of testing. This is simply one area where Benchmade simply has the advantage; their experience in crafting steel into versatile and durable knives has caused their blades to get better and better.
The handle is slim and comfortable, but if we are being honest it seems a little small. Perhaps that’s part of this knife’s design profile, as it is a smaller and sleeker knife than many of the other survival knives out on the market. Still, it feels somewhat small considering the blade width.
The sheath is stylish alright. The leather is kind of classy. But overall the sheath simply isn’t built to stand up to the remarkably sharp steel of the Benchmade blade.
One thing that will always impress us about Benchmade is their sharpening and oiling policy. They’ll help you keep your knife in prime condition for the life of the product, and that’s not the kind of policy you see every day.
Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Camping Knife
iField 150 Fixed Blade Survival / Camping Knife
Blade: 440C steel / 58-60 HRC
Sheath: Black Leather
Blade Length: 7”
Our team was not able to locate much information out there about iField, the Chinese manufacturer behind the 150 Fixed Blade survival knife and a range of other knife products that are currently available. For this reason we went into the review knowing nothing about the brand’s reputation, which allows us to keep a truly open mind.
Our first impression is that the 150 is a sleek and comfortable knife that will be able to stand up to most common forms of use. 440C Steel is by no means the strongest or sharpest steel available on the market, but after the 58-60 heat treatment it is basically as strong as any other mid-range option available on the market. iField’s 150 knife at least comes fully sharpened, which does separate it from its competitors.
Black leather sheath looks quite sturdy, but has not held up to our rigorous draw testing. After a few dozen draws & replacements, the outer edges of the sheath opening are showing some wear and tear and some of the stitching looks like it will start to come undone before long. The sheath is also quite bulky, but the included firesteel is a nice touch and kind of makes up for it.
The only reason we would be hesitant to recommend the iField 150 Fixed Blade Survival / Camping Knife is that the manufacturer has no real customer service presence or guarantee in place, so that if the knife breaks, you’re all on your own.
Best Fixed Blade Workhorse Knife
ESEE Knives 5P Fixed Blade Knife
Blade: 1095 Carbon, 55-57 RC
Blade Length: 5.25”
The ESEE-5 was designed by military Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape (SERE) instructors to be the quintessential survival knife for a downed pilot. This means that the knife needed to be extremely sharp, exceedingly durable, and functional above all else. Needless to say we were more than a little giddy to see how the actual knife measured up to our expectations.
This is one of the bigger knives that we have on the list. The blade length is only 5.25”, which isn’t particularly long, but when added to the 6 + inch handle you have a final product that is nearly one foot long. The handle is quite burly as a result, something that is not necessarily a bad thing if you have hands that are average or larger than average.
As you can imagine, she is also pretty heavy. But that’s what you get when you buy a knife of this size and class. This is a great all-around beast of a knife that seems up to any challenge, and the increased quality of both blade and handle makes the medium-high price point seem that much more worth it.
There are a lot of critics out there that say that 1095 carbon is not good steel for blade construction because of its susceptibility to weathering and corrosion. While this is true, I believe that the tradeoff benefit of being so easily sharpened makes it well worth it. And in addition, the little rust that will form is easy enough to remove with a very light sanding and is not a serious enough issue to steer me away from this fantastic workhorse knife.
The Survival Best Knife for Collectors
Officially Licensed RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II Survival Knife
Blade Length: 6.5”
As big fans of Sylvester Stallone’s RAMBO series, we couldn’t help but be a little skeptical when we saw that the franchise had licensed the character and brand for the production of a survival knife. After all, what business does a film company have making knives? Fortunately, we ended up being pleasantly surprised by how well the RAMBO II knife held up to the rest of the entries on our list.
We did some digging and found out that it was the folks over at Master Cutlery that were responsible for the actual manufacturing of the knife, which did instill more confidence in us that we were going to be testing a quality product. However there is no indication on the knife or inside the packaging that describes what kind of steel we were purchasing.
The blade itself came well sharpened and the knife held up to some fairly vigorous outdoor testing against wood surfaces, thought it became apparent before too long that the edge was not holding and would need to be sharpened again.
The knife comes with a build in survival kit, which includes a compass, fishing hook, and matches, but the hollow handle construction is going to considerably weaken the overall knife strength.
We love this knife because of absolutely beautiful it is, but if we really did have to spend some time surviving in the jungles of southeast Asia, we would choose a knife that would hold up to a bit more abuse.
Best All Around Survival & Hunting Knife
JEO-TEC NO. 31 Bushcraft Survival Hunting Knife
Blade: MOVA-58 HRC 56-58
Sheath: Genuine leather
Blade Length: 4.52”
Our team was certainly interested in taking a look at JEO-TEC’s new No. 31 model survival knife, as it represented the very latest in the manufacturer’s impressively large line of versatile survival knives. I personally had carried a JEO-TEC before so I was excited to see how changes in their manufacturing techniques would change their products.
The MOVA-58 steel blade is as strong as we would expect it to be, but we were somewhat surprised that the manufacturer didn’t grind it down a bit further, as the knife arrived in a somewhat unsharpened state and it took some time to sharpen it to its full potential. However after the initial sharpening it held its edge indefinitely, which is more what we expected from MOVA-58.
This is one of the few survival knives on the list where we can say that we truly appreciate the sheath construction. Unlike most of the sheaths we looked at, this one offers a perfect fit for the knife, holding it snug but releasing for a quicker and smoother draw. The sheath also supports vertical or horizontal mounting which is a nice feature that isn’t often seen.
We’re giving the JEO-TEC NO. 31 Survival Knife some extra style points as well. The Cocobolo wood handle is just as elegant as the dark leather sheath, and together they just look better and somehow classier than the other knives we looked at.
Best Survival Knife with Gear Storage
JEO-TEC No. 15 Bushcraft Survival Hunting Knife
Blade: BOHLER N690C
Sheath: Cordura w/ Survival Pocket
Blade Length: 5.51”
We were excited to hear that we would be reviewing not one, but two of JEO-TEC’s brand new survival knives for our piece. That’s because JEO-TEC is the manufacturer of dozens of different styles of survival knives, hunting knives, camping knives, and other survival equipment. While the products differ in style and functionality, there is a shared quality of construction that can be counted on. In fact, JEO-TEC is one of only two manufacturers that offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. That’s always a good place to start.
The NO. 15 Bushcraft Knife differs from its older brother, the NO. 31, in a few small but important ways. The blade is a little bit longer and the handle expectedly bulkier as a result, but the knife hasn’t lost any of its comfort or grip. It is still a very comfortable knife to have in the hand and does not cause fatigue even after strenuous use, such as cleaning an animal or cutting through rope.
The handle on the NO. 15 is a green-tinted wood pattern Micarta. This is a material that has become more and more popular for survival knives because of its ongoing durability and relative lightness when compared with the more traditional option of wood. The surface of Micarta is also a bit rough, which provides the perfect increased grip that is always good to have when you are working with a really sharp object (and this knife is certainly that!)
The second major difference is the sheath, which, unlike with the NO. 30, is now made of tight-weave Cordura. It’s not as visually pleasing as the leather holster of the NO. 30, but it is perhaps stronger, and has the added bonus of a built in gear pocket which is the perfect size for a first aid kit or other survival supplies. While a lot of knife makers have been adding pockets to the sheaths, the NO. 15 has one that is actually big enough to use for more than just a sharpening stone.
Best Winter Weather Bushcraft Knife
Fallkniven S1 Fine Edge Fixed Blade Forest Knife
Blade: Laminated VG10
Blade Length: 130mm
Here is a knife that was quite possibly designed to survive far longer than any of us will. FALLKNIVEN has been producing knives in Sweden since the mid-eighties, and since then have built a reputation for manufacturing some of the strongest and most reliable knives on the market. While they have become known for their top-of-the-line products and the higher prices associated with the increased quality, they have also managed to maintain a line of professional quality knives at a price that doesn’t put them out of reach.
The FALLKNIVEN S1 is just that knife, and it could very well be in our top three knives on this list.
Let’s talk laminated steel. That’s probably our favorite thing about the S1, because it allows the blade to take significantly more impact before sustaining scratching or damage. It also acts like a force field in repelling rust, weathering, and discoloration. The end result is a blade that is not likely to show any signs of damage or aging, whatsoever, given that it is cleaned and sharpened every once and a while.
The handle is constructed to a matching quality, with the synthetic proprietary material Thermorun. Both stronger and lighter than wood, it provides the perfect secure structure to hold the blade in place. Our favorite feature: the full tang blade actually extends past the end of the handle specifically for the purpose of hammering things. That’s a feature we haven’t seen anywhere else.
One real drawback of the FALLKNIVEN S1 is that the handle itself is a bit thin for a knife of this size. That can make the grip somewhat uncomfortable with extended use, especially with the ring and pinky finger. However if you consider that a Swedish-designed knife is likely designed to be used with thick gloves, then the thin handle might actually be a helpful feature.
Best Top-Of-The-Line Survival Knife
Fallkniven FN 78 F1 Military Survival Knife
Blade: Laminated CoS
Blade Length: 97mm
The FALLKNIVEN F1 has always been one of our very favorite knives. A few years ago we had the pleasure of taking a look at one of the original F1 knives. The knife we looked at was Laminated VG10 steel, which is the standard for many survival knives in this class. We were stunned to see what a difference the laminated CoS steel made in the new model. We expect that both weathering and micro-chipping are going to be a thing of the past here.
It is important to note that the FALLKNIVEN F1 is the most expensive knife on our list, and exists close to the top of the price range for consumer survival knives. Outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts however will be interested to hear that the F1 is worth every penny. It is one of the most well-made knives we have ever demoed, and the one we are lease likely to return to the manufacturer after we’re done writing about it.
Personally I am not a huge fan of black powder-coated blades. It does look cool, but it doesn’t add anything else to the knife in general, and is often times not as resistant as it is without the coating. I wish Fallkniven would skip that step on the next run of F1s, but I certainly am not going to complain.
It is important to note that the CoS steel blade is not going to arrive anywhere near as sharp as it is capable of being, so have your sharpening stones ready as there will some edge work to do before this thing is adventure-ready.
Do I Need a Fixed Blade Survival Knife?
If you’re looking at a comprehensive guide to survival knives, then there is a good chance that you already have a pocket knife at the very least. If this is the case, then you might be wondering if it’s even necessary to upgrade to a survival knife. In other words, “What’s the difference?”
Survival knives are designed to be sharp and unbreakable, two very important qualities in a knife if you find yourself living in the wilderness for an extended period of time.
They are constructed with a fixed blade, which means that unlike pocket knives they do not fold up. This is the single most effective way to make a stronger knife.
In addition, survival knives are often full tang, which means that the piece of metal that forms the blade continues down into the handle. This significantly increases durability and greatly decreases the chances of the blade snapping off.
LEARN: How to Chop Down a Tree Using a Survival Knife
How to Choose the Best Survival Knife
So, you are ready to upgrade to a style of knife that is both stronger and sharper than the traditional pocket knife. Where to begin?
Choosing the best survival knife means comparing its specifications in a few important categories:
When you remember that the main purpose of a knife is to cut things, then it becomes obvious that the ability to achieve and maintain a sharp edge even with repeated use is incredibly important in a survival knife.
While steel type is an important factor in a blade’s ability to retain an edge, blade shape is also an important factor.
If you are interested in how modern steel varieties measure up to one another in terms of edge retention, check out this comprehensive experiment carried out by Jim Ankerson.
When talking about metal blades, toughness refers to the knife’s ability to absorb impact without fracturing. This is primarily important when a knife is being dropped or thrown, however can also come into play when the knife is being used as a hammer or axe.
The word ‘ductility’ means a metal’s property to ‘stretch’ or undergo deformation before rupturing, or in the case of a knife, breaking. It is important for a knife to have an adequate amount of flex so that it will not snap under the pressure of regular use.
Resistance to Corrosion
Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel knives are only resistant to rusting and corrosion, but not entirely immune from it. This means that in conditions like the humid and salty air of the oceanfront, it is still possible for your knife to show some rust.
The specific compositions of the alloys used in survival knife construction will determine how resistant your blade is to rusting, corrosion, and weathering.
A knife’s Rockwell hardness (RC) is by no means the most important factor in determining how tough the knife is going to be. Some knives need to have relatively low hardness ratings in order to maintain their toughness. Unfortunately a higher hardness rating usually means better edge retention.
For most purposes, a survival knife is going to be in the range of 58 RC and 62 RC.
A Guide to Blade Steel Types
There are a number of interesting factors that determine how well a survival knife performs in the wilderness. For instance, a blade’s grind can have more to do with sharpness than steel variety. However, with so many different kinds of steel available in survival knives in 2020, it’s probably a good idea to take a closer look at exactly what these knives are made of and how it determines their overall quality.
|Steel Type||Toughness||Edge Retention||Ease of Sharpening||Resistance|
|BOHLER N690C||mid||high||very easy||mid|
|Lam. CoS||low||Very high||Very easy||high|
If any of you are like us, then there is a lot more than just one survival knife in your collection. How could there be? With so many people making great blades now days it’s hard to not want to try them all, and the very best way to try them is to strap them on to your belt and strike off into the wilderness.
We set out to compare the 12 best survival knives in 2020, and it was no easy task. With the dizzying selection of different steel varieties, handle constructions, and added features, it was impossible to select one knife above the others as simply best-of-the-best.
My personal selection is the JEO-TEC NO. 31. I’ve had it attached to my belt for weeks now because it is simply the best all-around survival knife that I’ve come across, and it manages to stay sharp for long periods of time so I don’t have to sharpen it often.
Of course if I was looking to treat myself I would take a long hard look at the FALLKNIVEN F1 Military Knife. As far as top of the line knife manufacturers go, Fallkniven is chief among them, and I have always wanted to add one of their products to the collection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not only are survival knives good at cutting wood, but many of them are designed for just this purpose. By utilizing strong,heat treated steel, knife manufacturers are able to create metal that is strong enough to hold up to repeated blows, such as those by a hammer if necessary.
If you keep your knife sharp and clean in between use, then splitting wood with a survival knife can actually be quite easy.
A lot of this boils down to personal preference, but there are a few factors that can make one sheath better than others. A sheath’s draw for instance is how easily the blade can be pulled from the sheath. There needs to be a good balance of hold and give for the knife to function properly.
A sheath’s latch can be problematic if it snaps too hard and is difficult to open. Survival knives should be easily accessible in case they are needed on short notice.
The blade is the single most important component in a good survival knife, so it’s very important to know exactly what you knife is made of and how that material is going to dictate overall performance.
It is not an exaggeration to say that there are countless different varieties of steel and other alloys available on the market today, so be sure to do your research. Check out our guide on what kind of blade steel is bes for you.
Absolutely. Survival knives are both sharp enough and sturdy enough to handle the various tasks associated with hunting and cleaning an animal. As this is usually pretty strenuous work, knife manufacturers have taking comfort into consideration when designing their survival knives.
The best survival knives aren’t only sharp, but they can be used for extended periods of time without causing your hand to go numb.
Survival knives are different from pocket knives in a couple of ways.
In general, survival knives are:
- Bigger – as well as longer and thicker
- Sharper – with blades that are designed to stay sharp longer
- Fixed Blade / Full Tang – for added strength and resistance to snapping
Not all knives come with a lifetime warranty, so it is important to check with the knife manufacturer before you make a purchase.
With some exceptions, these lifetime repair policies cover workmanship issues and some normal wear and tear, but they do not cover damage that was sustained while using the knife inappropriately.
That means that you should never use the tip of your knife to pry something, as it can cause the blade to snap and it will not be covered.