When it comes to choosing the best survival knife for the money, there are many things to consider.
Here's the deal:
While there is no single knife that is superior to all the other choices, you can find a knife that better fits your own personal needs.
But there's a catch...
It's important to consider what all you will need your knife to do for you in a survival situation. For example, what type of environment are you likely to be in? What kind of tasks will the knife be doing? And is your knife a part of your bug out bag?
Let me explain.
There are some knives that are better at general overall work, and there are others knives that are more specialized in their purpose to do specific things.
In survival, it's important to get a knife that covers the majority of knife jobs that you require, and then consider having a smaller companion knife to help complete your tool coverage.
Two knife systems are always considered better for many reasons.
In this article, we are going to look at the top 10 survival knives for your primary knife.
That's not all...
We will go over the criteria of what to look for when getting your knife, as well as go through the details of each of the best ones out there that you should consider for your situation.
Lets first take a look at the table of the most popular and highly rated choices.
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Best Survival Knives Comparison Table
154 CM SS
420 HC SS
420 HC SS
According to Creek Stewart, a well known survival expert, to choose a great knife for survival, you need to consider 6 main things.
You don't want a knife that is too big that won't allow you to do more detail work that you may need to do in a survival situation. On the flip side, you don't want a knife that is too small either. The ideal overall length is somewhere between 9 inches to 11 inches.
While some folding knives are great, for survival it is best to go with a fixed blade. Folding knives have a joint that is vulnerable to failure, making your knife useless. In order to remove that possibility, its best to go with a fixed blade knife.
There are many debates on the idea of getting a full tang blade.
Full tang means the blade continues all the way from the tip of the blade down through the end of the handle.
From a mechanical strength perspective, if your knife is full tang, it has a better chance of holding up during extreme abuse.
Now, there are examples of companies, like Mora for example, that have some great knives that are not full tang and hold up well.
On average, across all the knife companies and knives out there, it's just a good idea to better your odds of your knife holding up by getting a full tang, and that is why this is common advice. There are always exceptions to any rule.
The next requirement is to get a knife with a sharp tip point.
This enables you to use the knife for self defense or hunting game if you need to.
You can also tie your knife to a stick to create a longer range spear weapon.
The sharp point gives you a more tactical capability.
Single Blade Edge
Having a knife with a single blade edge gets you a strong spine on the back of the blade that you can use to hammer the knife through wood for batoning.
It also lets you use your thumb to get up on the knife for better and more precise control for fine cuts and carving.
This better form of control helps let you knife serve many purposes.
Another great feature of getting a knife with a flat spine that has distinct 90 degree edges is that you can use the knife spine edge as a striker with a ferro rod to throw good sparks for starting a fire.
The pommel becomes a critical tool in the form of a hammer if your knife has a strong, durable flat surface that you can use to drive stakes into the ground.
You can also use it to even crack nuts or shells.
You can also pound the bottom of the knife to cut through whatever you might be up against.
Consider the steel type as well. There are many different great steels, and people have their own preferences on which type they like best.
However, remember that for steels that are not stainless, there is more maintenance to keep the blade from rusting, including cleaning and oiling it routinely. This is something to remember when buying and using your knife.
Also, some steels are tougher, and will hold their edge longer, but are harder to sharpen. There can be a bit of a tradeoff, so make sure you get a type of steel that best meets your preferences.
Now let's go through the details of each knife for a better view at the specifications.
The Ka-Bar Becker BK2 is very popular in the survival community. Ethan Becker designed this knife and it is built to be tough.
It has a 5.25 inch 1095 Cro-Van steel blade with an overall length of 10.5 inches.
With its 0.25 inch thickness, it can definitely take a beating.
The knife meets all of the requirements that we want.
Most users consider it a hefty pry bar that happens to have a nice knife edge on it. It definitely favors the heavy duty side of the survival knife spectrum.
It excels at wood processing and is a decent carver. It also does well on food processing. The more finer precision jobs can be a challenge given its size and thickness.
The handle is very comfortable in large hands and extremely durable. It comes with a nice black nylon sheath for nice storage. The look of the knife is slick and it easily grabs attention when you pull it out.
If you plan on surviving in the woods or jungle type areas, then the tough wood processing capability of this knife makes it a great choice.
The Ontario Black Bird SK-5 is another excellent option because it meets all of our requirements and is an overall great knife.
The black bird SK-5 is like the unsung hero of survival knives.
Although not well known, probably due to a lack of marketing, this knife easily becomes a favorite of avid survivalists when they get their hands on it.
The knife has an overall length of 10 inches, with a 5 inch 154 CM stainless steel blade. With a thickness of 0.13 inches, which is about half of the BK2, the blade is strong enough to baton wood, but also thin enough for precision work.
It used to come with green Micarta handles, but Ontario now ships it with black G-10 handles. Both handles are amazing and perform well. The pommel is a great mid duty build for good hammering capabilities.
The blade holds its edge well, and the stainless steel helps to keep the rust down, while still being great at throwing sparks on a ferro rod.
The knife overall looks more 'polite' than other knives, which may be partially why it is not as well known. However, the design and shape make the blade a top performer in the wild.
It comes with a pretty good sheath that is MOLLE compatible.
This is the knife that I trust for my BOB. I absolutely love it.
3. ESEE 5P
Another favorite choice of the avid survivalists is the ESEE 5P. The knife sports a 5.25 inch 1095 blade with an overall length of 11 inches.
This knife also meets all of our critical criteria, and has a more pointed pommel that can be used as a glass breaker.
The Kydex sheath is great quality and it's ambidextrous.
The 0.25 inch thickness makes this knife another beast, like the BK2. It is fantastic at batoning, cutting, and chopping wood.
The light colored Micarta handle is very well designed and is comfortable to use.
The knife is well loved for its craftsmanship and its quality. However, it does come at a higher price when compared to the other top knives on the list.
If price is an issue, you can get similar capabilities of this knife in the Becker BK2.
If you want a little more length in your blade, then give the Schrade Extreme Survival a good look.
It's 1095 blade with a 6.4 inch length give you a longer blade surface to do slightly bigger jobs.
The overall length is 12 inches, which puts it right over our ideal survival knife length requirement. Otherwise, it meets all of our other criteria well.
The blade thickness is 0.25 inches, so it is another beasty knife like the BK2 and the ESEE 5P. This is great for heavier wood processing jobs.
If you are on a tight budget, and want a great workhorse, then this is your knife.
A discussion about great survival knives would not be complete without mentioning the Buck 119 Special. This knife has been around for decades and is considered a classic.
With its 6 inch 420 high carbon stainless steel blade, it performs just as well in the woods as it does as a tactical knife.
The blade thickness is 0.175 inches, helping it excel more at more precision work than the other thicker knives on the list.
The knife meets all of our criteria with flying colors. It is a great design that has been made by a great knife company for a long time.
The price is affordable so you can get your hands on an awesome knife even with a tight budget.
The Gerber LMF II is a great knife. It has a 4.84 inch long blade made from 420 high carbon stainless steel. It has an overall length of 10.59 inches.
If you are looking for serrations on your blade edge, this knife might be a good fit. One only drawback is that its technically not a full tang blade.
The Condor Bushlore offers a more classic knife design look and feel. Its 1075 steel 4.3 inch blade and overall length of 9.25 inches make it slightly smaller than the others in the list.
This helps make it a little more of a precision cutter and carver. One drawback is that its point is not super sharp.
The 499 Air Force Survival is a great option by Ontario. As its name suggests, this is a popular knife for pilots carried for survival in any situation.
The 1095 steel 5 inch blade is a great size, making the knife 9.5 inches in overall length. Its 0.1875 thickness make it a very durable knife.
If you are looking for a threatening looking knife in a nice size, then the SOG Seal Pup might be for you.
It has an AUS-8 stainless steel blade that is 4.75 inches long and its overall length is 9 inches. There are serrations on the blade and the blade design has some unique looking angles.
If you like Ka-Bar, but the Becker BK2 is too big for your needs, then check out the Becker BK16. It's a bit smaller, with its 1095 Cro-Van 4.375 inch blade.
The overall length of the knife is 9.25 inches and its thickness is 0.165 inches. This knife excels on more precision type jobs.
Buying Guide Tips
When it comes to getting the perfect knife for you, first consider what activities you need the knife for. If you plan on having to do a lot of thick wood processing in a survival situation, consider the thicker workhorse options.
If you need to do more fine detailed work, then consider some of the knives that are better suited for precision work.
All of the knives in our list meet the critical criteria, or come close to it, as described in their details. So any of these options should do a good job of covering most of the tasks you will be doing during survival.
A big factor for most of us is also price. Many of the knifes in the list can be considered lower priced alternatives to similar matching more expensive ones.
In summary, we took a look at Creek Stewart's main criteria to look for in a survival knife. We covered the criteria and how it impacts your situation.
We also looked at the top 10 knives for survival situations.
Looking at the details for each of the winning knives, it should become clearer which knife would work better for your specific preferences.
The Becker BK2 is well loved by avid survivalists, and is a workhorse knife.
If you get it, you shouldn't have any issues with the knife holding up during heavy use. It excels under heavy loads, and is great for thicker wood processing.
If you want to do more precision type work, but also want the ability to baton wood, then the Black Bird SK-5 is the way to go. The SK-5 is the knife I have in my BOB, and I am extremely happy with it.
When it's critical to have a backup knife, consider getting a small one that you can wear around your neck.
To wrap up, I hope this article helped shed some light on your decision making by bringing you some of the most popular and best out there.
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