Best Survival Knives in 2020 (October Reviews)

Our top pick and one of the best survival knives on the market today is the Ka-Bar Marine Corps fighting knife. It’s the first knife to be widely designed for both combat and survival, and does its job very well. Moreover, this knife is exceptionally durable, weathering just about anything, and the large 7-inch blade will help tackle the hardest of projects.

The best survival knives are ready for any tough outdoor task you may have in mind, from building shelters to dressing game or defending against attacks. To find the best multipurpose survival knives we required the following: an extra-durable build, a reliable steel blade, and excellent grip for a variety of different positions. Keep reading to check out our full list of the best survival knives!

Top 7 Best Survival Knives

 #1  Ka-Bar Full Size U.S. Marine Corps Fighting Knife

Award: TOP PICK

WHY WE LIKE IT: Nearly a foot long, this military survival knife has remarkable durability and is large enough to take on any task. Those looking for a no-nonsense knife that has stood the test of time will love it.


Pros

  • Designed for survival and combat
  • Powder-coated for durability
  • High-quality leather sheath

Cons

  • Traditional design not for everyone
  • Lacks any extra features


This knife was one of the very first designed for both survival and combat, originally made for marines fighting in WW2. Not only is it authentic – it’s also still an excellent fixed blade choice, with an especially long 7-inch blade length (total length nearly 12 inches) and durable design that’s up for anything you can throw at it. If you’re in the market for a big knife, suitable for any task, the Ka-Bar is the one for you.

The 100-percent leather sheath is a perfect fit for protecting the 1095 Cro-van steel with 20-degree edge angles. The handle is made with stacked leather to add better gripping, and the blade is protected with an epoxy resin so it’s ready for all kinds of weather. This knife will be part of your best survival gear before you know it.

 #2  Gerber LMF II Survival Knife

Award: HONORABLE MENTION

WHY WE LIKE IT: Made to literally cut through airplanes, this knife is perfect for dealing with scrap or making a shelter, and holds an edge like no other. Those looking for the absolute strongest option will find it here.


Pros

  • Tough 420HC stainless steel
  • Handle made for hammering
  • Serrated section for sawing

Cons

  • A little short
  • Textured grip not for everyone


This Gerber survival knife was designed for a very particular purpose: It’s made to cut through airplane fuselage for rescue or escape. So it’s no surprise that this is the toughest, hardest knife on our list, made to be ready for anything – which, of course, makes it an excellent survival knife. In addition to its strength, the 4.84-inch blade includes a serrated edge portion for sawing if necessary.

The handle, meanwhile, is an interesting glass-filled nylon core with a TPV overmold designed for high friction and easy gripping. There’s also a key separation between the tang and butt cap, which helps decrease the likelihood of electrical shock and avoid damaging your hand when hammering on a material. You might also want to prepare for the elements with the best earthquake kit.

 #3  Morakniv Bushcraft Survival Knife

Award: BEST FOR BUSHCRAFT

WHY WE LIKE IT: This knife will help you keep it sharp and even let you start your campfire when necessary! It’s an excellent choice for reliable bushcraft in even the toughest conditions.


Pros

  • Built-in firestarter on sheath
  • Tough carbon steel blade
  • Comfortable rubber grip

Cons

  • Short blade


Some people may prefer a survival knife that has extra features for usability – a knife you can still put to use after cutting or chopping. The best bushcraft knife on our list, this model has a great 4.3-inch carbon steel blade with an anti-corrosive coating and a Scandi grind on an edge that’s made for everything – but it also has a whole lot more.

The sheath in particular is loaded with features. It includes an integrated diamond sharpener so you can always keep your survival blade sharp (an excellent capability that we really like to see), plus a fire starter designed to spark fires by scraping it with the knife spine. We’re also fans of the simple but very effective rubber grip. If you want to be prepared for anything, you may want to also consider the best disaster kit backpack.

 #4  BlizeTec Survival Knife

Award: BEST FOLDING

WHY WE LIKE IT: You’ve never seen a knife with so many capabilities for emergencies and survival all in one package, including seatbelt cutters and window breakers. This folding knife is ready for anything, and it’s stainless steel blade is great to boot.


Pros

  • 5 features in 1 knife
  • Lightweight at 4.46 ounces
  • Serrated blade portion

Cons

  • Limited by folding design


A folding knife is a lot easier to store in your pocket or pack, and can still provide plenty of utility out in the wilderness. We love this “5-in-1” model in particular because it’s packed with features that will have you taking it out for all sorts of projects – or emergencies. Speaking of emergencies, one of the best disaster food kits will also help you prepare. It includes a small LED flashlight, a magnesium firestarter, and a glass breaker!

Of course, the blade is great, too: It’s a stainless steel model with partial serrating for sawing (they note you can use it to get through seatbelts if necessary), that’s backed up by an anodized aluminum handle for perfect support. The sheath also includes a belt clip for easy unlatching whenever you need it – all in all, the best folding survival knife available!

 #5  Grand Way 6772 Pocket Knife

Award: BEST ON A BUDGET

WHY WE LIKE IT: With an excellent magnesium fire starter rod, this knife can be your best campfire buddy. It also includes a great spring-based folding design and an ideal grip on the handle for careful work.


Pros

  • A great fire starter
  • Whistle attachment for signaling
  • Unique paracord handle

Cons

  • Short blade


Some of our other picks have firestarters included as well, but we especially like the design of the fire kit on this knife, a magnesium/flint rod you can position as you need to, then use the knife to strike sparks. The 3.74-inch, 420 stainless steel blade is also well-designed, with an excellent spring-base locking system when you fold the knife back down. It even includes a whistle for signaling for help or location!

We also want to call out the handle design, with its remarkable paracord handle. The paracord material is surprisingly perfect for gripping and stability, and it gives you some room for interesting paracord loops or attachments if you want, too. It’s the best camping knife around! For the rest of your first aid needs, you might also want the best disaster first aid kit.

 #6  Schrade SCHF9 Survival Knife

Award: BEST GRIP

WHY WE LIKE IT: This elegant fixed knife has one one of the best grips we’ve seen, and a shape that’s designed to support cutting branches more easily. It’s an excellent choice for a forest survival knife!


Pros

  • Kukri point for branch chopping
  • Finger and thumb grip
  • Lanyard hole on hilt

Cons

  • No extra features


This minimalistic knife is perfect for those who want a simple, fixed survival blade for tough work. The 6.4-inch, 1095 high carbon steel blade is backed by a ring-textured thermoplastic elastomer handle with finger notches on the tang for easier gripping even when it’s wet (jimping and choil, to use the technical terms).

The hilt is also designed for hammering when necessary, and includes a little lanyard hole in case you want to attach it to a loop of string, etc. You’ll also note the “Kukri point” design at the tip of the knife, which makes it a little easier to chop branches and tree limbs while in the outdoors. It’s also one of the best budget survival knife options we’ve found for people who want to save!

 #7  Sharpal 101N Survival Tool

Award: BEST FOR A SURVIVAL KIT

WHY WE LIKE IT: This tool is the perfect companion for keeping knife edges and even gut hooks as sharp as possible for all kinds of survival projects. It even includes a firestarter and whistle to help make your knife kit complete!


Pros

  • Three sharpener options
  • Extra-loud whistle
  • Firestarter rod

Cons

  • No knife blade applications


Are you looking for a multipurpose tool for your survival kit or backpack? Maybe you already have a traditional survival knife and are proficient with it, but you’re looking for a better way to manage its edge and keep things sharp. This tool includes three different sharpeners for keeping edges in top condition. There’s a tungsten carbide version for repairing dull edges, a ceramic version for removing burrs and keeping the sharpest knives working, and even a tapered diamond rod that’s specifically made to sharpen hooks and other unique applications.

But this tool does more than just sharpen. It can also help you start fires or sound a 110 dB whistle if necessary! That makes it a perfect companion for some of the simpler knife designs that we’ve chosen up above.

How We Decided

When scoring knives we put blade quality at the very top. A survival knife needs to have a tough, very durable blade with an edge that’s reasonably easy to keep sharp for all the most demanding outdoor tasks. A larger blade is also an asset here, which is why we tended to rank the larger blades a bit higher. Fixed blades also provide better stability for tough jobs, although we also liked to see folding blades that made store particularly easy without sacrificing blade quality. Carbon and stainless steel are two common choices for these survival knives, but protective coatings over the blade can also have a benefit, making them corrosion resistant.

Then we took a close look at handles. High-friction handles for easier grips are very important. When possible, handles should also be designed to reduce shock for the very toughest tasks. Handles can also have extra features like paracord loops, or have extra high front and rear quillons for better hand protection when using them. Some also have an extra-durable butt for pounding materials if necessary. The more usability here, the better!

Then we took a look at extra capabilities. Survival knives have a lot of different options here, so we awarded points for knives with fire starters, knives with integrated sharpeners, knives with window breakers, knives with LED lights, and the other various extras that can make survival knives useful in a wider variety of survival situations.

Best Survival Knives Buyer’s Guide

The Most Important Features to Consider

  1. Steel Quality
    Steel quality is both one of the most important parts of a good survival knife, and one of the hardest to judge unless you actually make knives of your own. Generally speaking, these knives are made from carbon steel, tool steel, or stainless steel. Carbon steel is particularly common as it can easily be given a sharp edge and resharpened as necessary, but corrosion is an issue. Tool steel makes for a very durable knife when sharpness isn’t as important. Stainless steel has added chromium to resist corrosion, but does poorly when it comes to toughness – it’s very popular when it comes to “everyday carry” knives. Each brand will have particular versions of these types of steel that they use.
  2. Fixed or Folding
    A fixed knife will generally be more durable, able to tackle tougher cutting jobs, and more resistant to problems like corrosion – which is why they tend to make excellent survival knives. Folding knives easily fit into a pocket and often make it easier to include additional accessories on the knife – which is also great for survival knives.
  3. Size
    Blades for survival knives can vary greatly from 3.5 to 7 inches, so you have a lot of options to pick from here. A lot of survival tasks can benefit from a larger knife, especially if you’re cutting branches or even sheet metal. Smaller knives are better for whittling, dressing kills after a hunt, and similar tasks. Again, it depends a lot on what you plan on using the knife for.
  4. Grip
    Always try out a grip in person if possible. Look for grips that have high friction and duration materials – tough plastic is usually a good bet here, but even plastic can get slippery when things are wet. Finger holds or notches may be useful for some, but not everyone likes them. Since there’s such a wide range of handle designs, you need to think carefully about how the grip will feel when buying.
  5. Protection
    Knives should, obviously, be safe to use! Folding knives are safer to store than fixed knives, but don’t always have the best grips. Fixed knives should always have good guards. Knives with loops or holds for carabiners may help keep them safer and more accessible, too.

Survival Knives FAQs

What is the Best Survival Knife on the Market?

Obviously this will vary a little depending on exactly what you want out of a survival knife. All our top picks can be the best in different situations. Our very top choice is the immensely popular Ka-Bar fighting knife, which is the best for those looking for a straightforward knife that’s incredibly dependable. Those who want the best knife for bushcraft in particular may prefer our Morakniv pick. Those looking for folding knives may want something else - and so on. Another popular option worth looking at that’s suitable for camping, hiking, backpacking, and hunting is the range of survival knives and tools from Bear Grylls.

What Knives Do Special Forces Use?

All kinds of knives, from all kinds of brands, and it varies over time! Anyone who tries to say their knife is the definitive “special forces” knife is probably just trying to make a sale. Popular brands for special forces around the world include Glauca, Karambit, and Kukri. U.S. Navy SEALS have been equipped with the Ontario MK 3 Navy Knife in the past, which got that knife a lot of attention. Our top pick, the Ka-Bar knife, was originally designed for U.S. marines back in World War II.

What Are the Best Fixed Blade Knives?

Several of our top picks are fixed blades, including the very traditional Ka-Bar fighting knife. Our Gerber model in particular is designed to be incredibly durable and tough for the hardest tasks, which is usually important to those looking for a fixed blade. Our Morakniv fixed blade, meanwhile, is one of the best for those looking for a broader set of capabilities, including starting fires.

What is the Hardest Knife Steel?

This is an interesting question. Technically, “hardness” in a knife means the blade can resist stress without deforming (think if the knife got trapped under something heavy). It’s very different from toughness (resistance to chip damage) or edge retention (how sharp the knife remains over time). These are all really great specs to research in depth to understand how they work and how different steel types compare. If you are primarily concerned with hardness, then “tool steel” types like D2, O1, and CPM varieties are an excellent choice. But remember this is only part of the picture.

What is a Bowie knife used for?

A bowie knife is, in fact, designed as a self-defense weapon, but nowadays, people who enjoy hunting or exploring outdoors prefer to use a good bowie for tasks such as skinning and butchering. The Bowie knife also makes a great survivalist tool and can easily cut wood and scale fish.

What is a partial tang?

A tang is the back portion of the blade component where it connects to a handle. In a partial tang blade, the tang is generally narrower and not connected to the full width of the handle. Epoxy and pins are used to secure the grip to the tang. This is different from a full tang blade. A full tang extends the overall length of the knife from tip to grip and, in general, is a stronger blade that allows for increased force and leverage. Fixed blade knives are a prime example of a full tang blade. A fixed blade knife does not fold or slide and is typically stronger due to the full tang and lack of moving parts.

What is a clip point knife used for?

The clip point style blade is commonly used on pocket knives and fixed blade knives. The clip point is a common blade shape with a "cut-out" area that can be straight or concave that results in a fine point that’s ideal for precision tasks.

What is a drop point knife?

Another common blade shape, the drop point is characterized by a convex spine, curving down from the handle which creates improved control over cuts and a bigger belly for slicing. For general-purpose use and hunting, drop point knives are a popular choice.

What are KYDEX Sheaths popular?

KYDEX is a world-renowned brand name spanning across many industries including the manufacture of sheaths and holsters for knives and guns. KYDEX itself is a line of thermoplastic acrylic–polyvinyl chloride material. There are many reasons why KYDEX sheaths are so popular. For instance, KYDEX sheaths are waterproof, scratch-resistant, durable, low maintenance, easy to clean, and secure knives safely with a reassuring clic

What is “micarta”?

Micarta is a brand name for a number of materials including linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and more. Micarta is a strong and durable material that has become a favorite choice for heavy-duty survival knives. As a material, it can tolerate extreme heat and cold, resists moisture, and doesn’t become brittle with age. Micarta-handle knives are a good investment and usually outlast their owners. Other blade materials include carbon 1095 steel, stainless steel, tool steel, and alloy steel. 1095 carbon steel holds its edge well and is easy to sharpen. But keep in mind that all carbon steels will rust if not maintained properly. A popular 1095-carbon steel blade that just missed our list but is still worth checking out is the KA-BAR Becker BK2.

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