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Updated May 26, 2022 2:06 PM

It can often prove difficult to nail down exactly what constitutes a survival knife. For some, a survival knife might simply mean a fixed blade that can withstand something more than pocket carry. For others, survival literally means holding onto one’s life against the torments of the wilderness as they deliberately throw themselves into the wild with nothing but a knife and maybe the clothes on their back. Since it’s impossible to state definitively that one knife will work for anyone, regardless of who they are, buying a survival knife means compiling a survey of the best ones, no matter your usage, budget, or size needs, and whittling the choices down from there. With any luck, the result will serve you well during your next outdoor adventure.

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the best survival knives that the gear reviewers here at Task & Purpose have managed to lay their hands on. Read on and find out which survival knife best fits your unique needs.

The Gerber LMF II is a full-featured survival knife that offers nearly every feature you need in a knife that you can rely on. The LMF II boasts a sharp 5-inch, saber-ground 420HC blade with a combination edge and a thick spine for batoning. Additionally, the LMF II features a fully rubberized handle, a steel end cap for breaking windows, holes in the pommel and handle for lashing to a stick for a makeshift spear, and full insulation from electricity in the event that you cut through a live wire.

The name, LMF, stands for “lightweight, multi-function” and is in reference to the knife’s style of pommel. LMF-style knives are intended for aircrew to use in the event of a crash, allowing them to break through windows and cut through hulls without worrying about shocking themselves on live wires. To this end, the pommel is separate from the rest of the blade, with a rubber baffle in between the pommel and blade. This has the added bonus of significantly reducing impact vibrations when using the LMF II as a hatchet, and can reduce fatigue. The rubberized grip is also very easy to hold with gloves, making the LMF II a good option for colder environments where wearing thick gloves is expected.

The LMF II comes with a molded plastic sheath and a drop-leg mount, which is useful for the knife’s intended use with vehicle crews. The sheath is rock-solid and offers outstanding retention, requiring a positive draw to get the knife free of the sheath. Unfortunately, beyond the fit, the sheath is one of the biggest drawbacks of the knife system. The knife doesn’t include any provisions for MOLLE mounting in the package, and it’s difficult to do a traditional belt mount. Additionally, the sheath features a pull-through sharpener, which I emphatically do not recommend given that this style of sharpening device strips too much material from the blade, can damage the blade, and delivers an inferior edge. For my own use, I’d likely get a Kydex sheath made to MOLLE-mount this knife to a pack or my flak.

The LMF II knife will prove fine for the vast majority of people seeking a fixed blade, but if you spend the majority of your life in outdoor survival environments (i.e., if you’re a SERE instructor), you’ll likely find that the LMF might break down over time. For instance, a friend of mine living in Hong Kong who hikes regularly indicated that the rubber on his LMF II had stripped away after years of use and abuse, exposing the separate blade and pommel. In addition, the blade coating is rather thin and, over time, will leave the in-the-white blade steel exposed to the air and the elements, which will lead to corrosion if you don’t keep up with maintenance.

Overall, the LMF is a great knife for almost anyone, as long as you understand what it can and cannot do. For most users, the LMF will make a great packable camp knife, and for vehicle crews, it’s in its element. However, other options on this list may be better for more specialized roles like hunting or bushcraft, since that’s the side effect of being a jack-of-all-trades. As a personal aside, the nail of my left index finger is permanently deformed because I dropped an LMF II on it, and the very sharp blade, combined with the weight of the knife, neatly sliced through the fingernail.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Gerber
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Length: 11 inches overall, 5-inch blade
  • Blade steel: 420HC
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Saber
  • Edge: Combination
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs
  • Stock sheath material: Molded plastic
PROS

Versatile, with many intended purposes

Good-quality materials

Completely insulated from electricity

Made in the USA

CONS

Heavy (not very infantry, IMO)

Rubber grip can peel away from blade and pommel

Less durable than a full-tang knife made of similar materials

Imagine this: You’ve got $20 in your pocket, you don’t know jack shit about knives, and you’re going to the field next week, but you want a knife that is razor-sharp, keeps an edge well, and is light enough to take anywhere. Ordinarily, you’d be stuck with some gas station special made of pot metal in a no-name factory in China, but instead you’re in luck with the appropriately-named Morakniv Companion. For the shockingly low price of around $16, you get a Scandi-grind fixed-blade outdoor knife with a quality carbon steel blade, a frighteningly sharp factory edge, and an official endorsement from the King of Sweden. At this price, the value is immense, and this will likely be the best $16 that you ever spend on a knife, hands down.

Morakniv is a little coy with their blade steel, simply saying that it’s made of “carbon steel.” In reality, it’s probably UHB-20C, which is essentially the ABBA-variant 1095, offering good edge retention, easy sharpening, and substantial toughness, but suffering in the corrosion resistance department due to its status as a true carbon steel. The knife profile is a drop-point Scandi grind, meaning that the grind is a continuous straight bevel from the flat of the blade to the edge. This grind makes the Companion an outstanding knife for bushcraft, whittling, feathering, and other tasks a breeze. The factory edge is also incredibly sharp: In my experience, it’s one of the best factory edges under $200. The handle is made of textured plastic, which offers an improved grip purchase, and is matched by the plastic sheath with a removable belt clip.

Unfortunately, the sheath is one of the downsides of the Companion, which, as a budget knife, had to cut corners to achieve such a low price with a solid blade. The sheath is ridiculously cheap, made entirely of molded plastic, and the included belt loop is not sturdy at all. To make matters worse, this cheap belt clip isn’t swappable for other carry options like MOLLE or aftermarket belt clips, so if it goes, the sheath is pretty much only good for keeping the blade protected.

Another significant downside is that the knife has a narrow tang. The blade is essentially built like a spoon with a thick blade and a very thin strip of metal encased in a plastic handle. While this helps significantly subtract from the blade’s weight, it also subtracts from the blade’s resistance to snapping, especially when performing tasks like batoning. Morakniv does make a full-tang knife of this type, the Garberg, but it’s significantly more costly, comparable to offerings from Esee or Ontario Knife Company. The Scandi grind blade is also not the most versatile, as it’s prone to rough cuts or splitting when used for cleaning animals or cutting vegetables, respectively. Finally, as this is a knife suited to the beginner market, the fact that the blade is prone to corrosion is going to be a significant limitation for first-time knife owners who aren’t accustomed to cleaning their knives. Do yourself a favor and take some of that CLP and apply it to your knife blade before and after extended use.

As a humorous aside, Morakniv is careful to note on their website, among other statistics about the knife, that this blade is not fit for children. Thank you for that, Morakniv.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Morakniv AB
  • Country of manufacture: Sweden
  • Length: 8.6 inches overall, 4.1-inch blade
  • Blade steel: UHB-20C
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Scandi
  • Edge: Plain
  • Weight: 3.9 oz
  • Stock sheath material: Molded plastic
PROS

Wickedly sharp factory edge

Reputable manufacturer

Affordable

Lightweight

CONS

Not durable against blade snapping

Cheap sheath

Corrosion-prone

Best Premium

When I first reviewed the Wander Tactical Lynx, all I knew was that this was a knife made in Italy, tested in the Alps to an insane degree, and guaranteed for life. I immediately jumped at the chance to test one and had the privilege of testing one of the most well-thought-out knives that I’ve ever held, a purpose-built survival knife that I’d carry with me in any outdoors situation. It will cost you, but if you purchase a Wander Tactical blade, you’re purchasing an experience, rather than simply a product.

The Lynx features a deep-bellied D2 blade, with the steel cryogenically treated for enhanced carbides for enhanced toughness and edge retention characteristics. The blade features prominent jimping on the spine for easy thumb purchase while bushcrafting, and there’s a deep finger choil on the front to further enhance this. The deep belly means that in addition to being outstanding for bushcraft, it’s also a capable skinning and hunting knife, aided by the gradual grind of the blade. The grip scales are made out of micarta with a hewn texture, making this a very comfortable knife in the hand. The blade is also extremely durable, surviving heavy use and torture testing against impacts, green wood, and corrosion in our evaluation. Overall, this is an outstanding knife, even with the roughly $260 price tag.

Unfortunately, nobody is perfect, and Lynx designer Alex Wander is no exception. The blade coating, KG Gunkote, rubbed off the blade under normal use even in the short time I had it for evaluation, and probably could have been better executed with something like cerakote or bead-blast. At $260, D2 is at the upper limit of its tolerable use, even considering the boutique knife manufacturing process; I would have preferred something like CPM-3V. Finally, the included sheath featured out-of-spec holes, and was overall not the quality that I hoped for at this price point.

The bottom line: The Wander Tactical Lynx is a premium knife option that will survive anything you throw at it, even if the finish might not. It’s a knife designed for professionals by professionals and tested in a professional environment. Hell, I’m simply not hardcore enough to appreciate the Lynx: I don’t have the experience or the expertise required to fully appreciate it, and that gives me a unique respect for it. If they swapped to cerakote for the blade coating and improved their stock sheath, it would be on my to-buy list tomorrow.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Wander Tactical Research Team
  • Country of manufacture: Italy
  • Length: 9.25 inches overall, 4.25-inch blade
  • Blade steel: D2
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Hollow
  • Edge: Plain
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs
  • Stock sheath material: Kydex thermoplastic
PROS

Wickedly sharp factory edge

Handmade

Extremely durable

Purpose-built for survival

CONS

Poor blade coating

Cheap sheath

Not the most corrosion-resistant

Best Budget American-Made

The Ontario Knife Company RAT 3 is a compact full-tang knife that’s made in the United States out of American materials, is easy to use, and offers a blade that’s just right for most survival use in terms of sizing, all for the easy price of $60.

The RAT 3 has a blade that’s made of extremely forgiving 1075 carbon steel, and comes in plain or partially-serrated combination configurations. To add to its usefulness, the drop-point blade has a jimped spine and a finger choil, driving home the message that this is a knife that’s purpose-built for bushcraft. The RAT 3’s full tang isn’t a common feature at this price point when it comes to American-made knives. The blade is sandwiched between two linen micarta handles, which are comfortable, not slippery in wet environments, and take on a very pleasant patina after years of use. The 1075 isn’t the strongest steel, but it’s outstanding for beginners who want to be able to sharpen in the field and abuse it without fear of chipping or breaking the blade.

Unfortunately, two drawbacks to the RAT 3 are the blade steel and the coating the company chose. The 1075 is a true carbon steel and therefore has next to nothing in the way of corrosion resistance. Additionally, at least in my experience, it’s so susceptible to corrosion that over time, the knife will lose its edge from simply not being sharpened regularly. The coating on the blade is also a bugbear of mine, considering that it chips off pretty easily, exposing the steel underneath to corrosion and staining.

The included sheath is probably the worst characteristic of the RAT 3, a clunky, oversized nylon affair that takes what should be a compact knife and makes it into something that takes up the real estate of a much larger knife for no apparent reason. To make matters worse, this sheath means that all your cost savings when buying this knife are effectively undone, because you’ll have to spend anywhere from $20 to $50 extra on a better sheath and mounting equipment. At that point, you may be looking at other knife options that may be priced higher, but include a better sheath and possibly better blade steel.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Ontario Knife Company
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Length: 7.6 inches overall, 3.6-inch blade
  • Blade steel: 1075
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Edge: Plain or combination
  • Weight: 4.9 oz
  • Stock sheath material: Nylon
PROS

Affordable

Made in the USA

Extremely durable

Comfortable to use

Easy to maintain

CONS

Poor blade coating

Cheap sheath

Very prone to corrosion

Requires constant maintenance

Best Hunting

The Argali Carbon surprised me when I evaluated it. I expected a $200 glorified paring knife, but this is a knife that skinned an entire pig and remained paper-slicing sharp, all while refusing to corrode. It’s far from a perfect knife, but this blade is hard to beat as an ultralight hunting knife that you can take anywhere and that has uses outside of skinning animals. Its niche application and a few limitations are noteworthy drawbacks, but make no mistake: This is an outstanding knife worthy of your time and money.

The Argali Carbon is designed specifically for the ultralight hunting market, and as such is intended to hit every ticket when it comes to form factor, weight, and features. The blade is made of super-durable S35VN steel, which holds an edge even under heavy use, is extremely rust-resistant, and near impervious to breaking and chipping. These advantages mean that you won’t have to carry heavy sharpening equipment, rust removal solvents, or backup knives with as much urgency as you would with knives made of lesser steel.

The knife is full tang, and features textured high-visibility orange G10 grips that are skeletonized in the same way that the blade itself is for maximized weight savings. The drop-point flat grind blade with both low and high jimping means that you’ll be able to bring the sharpness of this blade to bear on almost any task and maneuver it well in delicate applications, to include bushcraft and camp cooking, with the blade thin enough to effectively slice fruits and vegetables while remaining durable enough to stand up to prolonged use in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, no knife is perfect. First, the grip scales on the Argali Carbon aren’t comfortable at all under prolonged use and the texturing causes irritation on bare skin. Second, the included Kydex sheath doesn’t come with any mounting methods whatsoever, which is just unacceptable at this price point. Finally, you’re eventually going to have to either buy expensive professional-level sharpening equipment or send this knife off to a professional, in the event that you do lose the factory edge, which is mostly just a limitation of S35VN and supersteels in general.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Argali Outdoor
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Length: 7.25 inches overall, 3.25-inch blade
  • Blade steel: CPM-S35VN
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Edge: Plain
  • Weight: 1.8 oz
  • Stock sheath material: Kydex thermoplastic
PROS

Made in the USA

Extremely durable

Outstanding edge retention

Lightest knife on the list

CONS

No included mounting options for the sheath

Uncomfortable grip

Steel is difficult to sharpen

Best Bushcraft

A specialized tool is almost always going to be better at the one thing it’s meant to do, and while most knives on this list are fine for bushcraft, the TOPS Brakimo is to survival knives what a scalpel is to surgery.

The Brakimo is a Scandinavian-style full-tang knife made of 1095 carbon steel and is absolutely aggressive in its intended design as a brutal, hard-working knife meant to easily conquer the wilderness. Combined with a solid sheath, tons of small features that only an expert would notice, and a fair price point, the Brakimo is probably the top bushcraft knife for any outdoors enthusiast. The only major drawback? It’s too specialized to work for everyone.

TOPS doesn’t make small knives, and the Brakimo is no exception. With a 5.25-inch blade that’s around 5mm thick at the spine and an overall length of 10 inches, combined with a weight of 9.4 ounces, this is definitely a TOPS knife. It’s bold, it’s brash, and it’s definitely not fragile. The blade is made of 1095 carbon steel, and features a Scandi-style grind that terminates in a plain edge, with the grind angle being such that it should be easy to baton small logs or strip branches. It’s not a true Scandi, having a false edge and then a more typical cutting edge, rather than having the entire grind be the cutting edge bevel. The flat and spine of the blade are cerakoted stone-washed gray, which protects those portions from corrosion and surface wear, which is definitely a concern with 1095 steel.

The full-tang blade is sandwiched between two linen micarta grip scales, each of which feature a divot for use with a hand drill for firestarting, and a prominent lanyard loop near the pommel, which TOPS claims can be used for straightening out arrows. I mostly just used the lanyard loop to tie a length of shock cord through for use in environments where retention is a concern. This knife makes short work of branches, and I was able to turn a felled tree into firewood in short order thanks in no small part to the aggressive scandi-style grind angle. The included Kydex sheath is very well-made and the knife clicks into place handily, and even if it’s not technically meant for this, I was able to attach a Blade-Tech MOLLE clip to mount the Brakimo on the cummerbund of my flak.

The first downside to the Brakimo is mostly in the sheath, and the fact that it’s kind of a unitasker. On the sheath end of things, the included belt clip is not the best and rotates without any inhibition other than friction. I’d prefer a pancake-style sheath that allows for fixed belt mounts on either side for a more secure carriage solution since I pretty much immediately removed the default spring steel belt clip and replaced it with the MOLLE clip.

The second gripe that I have with the Brakimo is mostly that Scandi-style knives struggle to do much besides bushcraft, and many people consider them to be less optimal for things like cleaning and dressing an animal while hunting just due to the way that the thick blade and long grind bevel makes slicing less precise. Additionally, having an extremely thick blade with a strong bevel means that using this knife for campground tasks like slicing vegetables for cooking can lead to your slices breaking on things like apples, carrots, or potatoes, rather than making a clean cut.

Overall, The Brakimo is a purebred Scandi knife, designed for bushcraft and not much else. While it’s perfectly capable for other tasks, unless bushcraft is your number one priority, you should consider other options first. Think of it as the Mora that made our budget pick, but on steroids. It’s better in every way, saves weight, and if you like Morakniv, you’ll love this. Additionally, I have to state my biases here: I’m a fairly large dude, so the Brakimo fits me fine. But when in doubt, see if you can hold one before buying, or else it may make the knife hard to use.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: TOPS Knives
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Length: 10 inches overall, 5.25-inch blade
  • Blade steel: 1095
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Scandi
  • Edge: Plain
  • Weight: 9.4 oz
  • Stock sheath material: Kydex thermoplastic
PROS

Purebred bushcraft beast

Made in the USA

Extremely comfortable to use

Extremely durable

CONS

Scandi grind limits use for hunting or camp use

May be too large for some users

1095 steel may corrode if not properly maintained

Included belt clip is flimsy

Best Large

Maybe you think the TOPS catalog is a little too reserved for you, and you want something with a powder-coated blade that’s thick enough to baton with but thin enough to slice easily. Maybe you want the knife in question to be large enough to use as a machete in a pinch. Maybe you just want to quote Crocodile Dundee as you draw this out, annoying your friends because it’s the 50th time that you’ve done that.

Either way, the Esee 6P isn’t just a behemoth of a knife, but a functional, affordable way into survival knives. While it’s certainly not the cheapest knife, I don’t see anyone else offering an American-made 1095 knife that’s over six inches. The only major downside is that it’s ridiculously huge for most people, to a degree that it’ll be a liability unless you need a huge pack or camp knife on hand.

The Esee 6P is really a no-frills knife, providing everything you need with very little extra. The blade is 6.5 inches long, with an effective cutting edge of 5.75 inches, and the overall length just shy of a foot. The grip scales are executed in by-now-familiar linen micarta, providing excellent grip purchase and promising a nice patina in the future. The included sheath is executed in molded plastic, and does everything you’d expect a sheath of this size to do, supporting a wide variety of mounting options including belt loops, belt clips, MOLLE loops, and whatever else you can think of. The factory edge is very nice given the price point, and the blade is thick enough not to snap during batoning, but thin enough to slice vegetables as a camp knife without cracking them.

Additionally, the colored powder coat on the blade is durable, and stood up to my usage testing, including a corrosive salt bath, batoning, and stripping saplings. This is good because, while the 1095 blade steel is very good for field sharpening and offers good edge retention, it’s absolutely miserable when it comes to corrosion resistance, so the coating will definitely help to mitigate surface rust, and ensure that the blade doesn’t rust to the inside of the sheath when wet. Finally, if a plain-edged linen micarta handle knife isn’t for you, Esee makes these in many different colors, blade profiles, and grip options, so you can have pretty much anything you want built around this blade style.

Unfortunately, the biggest downside to the Esee 6P is the fact that, as mentioned before, it’s pretty big. This automatically means that it’s not going to be a knife that you can easily and handily carry on your person, and also means that it’s not going to be as useful for some finer outdoor tasks like cleaning animals or meticulous bushcraft. Additionally, the included belt clip that comes with the sheath is just not great, and is probably the low point of the entire system. Additionally, 1095 is a steel that requires near-constant maintenance, so you’ll have to clean and treat your blade regularly, whereas with a stainless option, that wouldn’t be so much of a concern.

Overall, the Esee 6 is an outstanding, if oversized, knife and is great for people who want a workhorse that can tackle nearly anything the wilderness throws at them. The size is the only thing that keeps it from being the best overall, as I really enjoyed testing this knife and tearing up the backwoods with it. If you want a Rambo knife, this is it.

Product Specs
  • Manufacturer: Esee
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Length: 11.75 inches overall, 6.5-inch blade
  • Blade steel: 1095
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Edge: Plain or combination
  • Weight: 12 oz
  • Stock sheath material: Molded plastic
PROS

Versatile in spite of size

Made in the USA

Comfortable to use

Large enough to use as a machete or hatchet in a pinch

CONS

Too long to easily carry on one's person in most cases

Included belt clip is cheap

1095 steel can corrode if not properly maintained

Why you should trust us

I got into knives originally because I worked for a knife retailer that stocked a lot of the brands on this list, such as Gerber, TOPS, Ontario Knife Company, and Esee. In that time, I learned what worked and what didn’t, and saw the big issues that people would have with certain knives that caused them to bring back certain items for return or servicing. In addition to that, I’ve owned quite a few myself and have used them in various situations both as a Marine and as a civilian, and I know several knife designers and makers who have provided excellent insight for this article. I’d like to acknowledge Peter, my sharpening guy, Don Kramer of Carnivora Knives, and my West Coast counterpart, Josiah Johnston, as well as many others for providing their opinions on the knives that I chose for this article. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to know when I should ask for help, so I’ve distilled all of those insights down into a single article to make buying the best survival knives a painless experience.

Types of survival knives

There are several large categories that survival knives can be sorted into. These aren’t hard and fast, and oftentimes a knife can fit into more than one category, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. The types that I’ve chosen are bushcraft knives, hunting knives, fighting knives, camp knives, pack knives, and machetes. Some have been featured on this list, and most, especially the Gerber LMF II, are designed to fill multiple roles.

Bushcraft knives

Bushcraft knives are purpose-built to enable survivalists to make shelter, fire, and tools using the environment around them. To this end, they will often feature blades with a strong bevel to bite into various types of wood, a full tang to prevent snapping when the blade gets caught or when used to hack through a log, jimping and a finger choil of some sort, comfortable grips, and a thick spine to aid batoning. 

Hunting knives

Hunting knives encompass a wide variety of blades, ranging from caping knives, dedicated skinning knives, boning knives, filet knives, and so on. Generally speaking, hunting knives will be designed to aid in the cleaning and dressing of game, ranging from varmint species such as rabbits to elk, bear, buffalo, and other large animals. Knives with a deeper belly are good for skinning, as they allow you to cut ahead of your knuckles, which aids in getting into hard-to-reach parts of a carcass. These knives should also be made of steel that stands up well to the corrosive effects of blood and that stays sharp for long periods of time, and feature grips that remain tactile even when slick with bodily fluids, which is a consideration for particularly greasy animals like fattened bear or javelina. Some applications such as fishing necessitate additional considerations, such as corrosion resistance. 

Fighting knives

These knives are made for exactly what it says on the box: fighting. They range from the Japanese tanto blades of yore to the Sikes-Fairbairn dagger, the U.S. Marine Corps Ka-Bar, the M3, and many, many more. I didn’t include any purpose-built fighting knives on this list, as I generally find most of them to be less-than-optimal for survival use. However, any of the knives on this list will likely work in a pinch if you have to put a wallop on someone in a fight. 

That being said, true fighting knives generally feature blades that are designed for their intended use, such as stabbing in the case of the M3 or Sikes-Fairbairn, slashing with the Ka-Bar, or hacking with the venerable Gurkha Kukri knife. These knives need to be weighted according to their purpose, e.g. to aid in hacking with the kukri, and need comfortable grips that aid manipulation in a high-stress, hand-to-hand environment and that mitigate shock vibration from contacting equipment, protective equipment, or bone.

Camp and pack knives

Camp and pack knives are the domestic tool of survival knives, not designed to be pulled out in a pinch to free oneself from thick vines or tangled lines, but more for building shelter, cutting food, and other tasks performed during a pause. These knives are often larger, heavier, or less durable than knives meant for more general-purpose use due to their more specialized mission. For instance, a thin camp knife such as Benchmade’s cutlery options is not suited to hacking through underbrush like a machete, but comes in handy when slicing up vegetables to prepare some Dutch oven stew. The construction of these knives will vary depending on their intended use, so what constitutes a “camp knife” is largely up to one’s judgement.

Machetes

Machetes are long knives designed specifically for hacking through vegetation, whether for trekking through the jungle or clearing one’s backyard. Due to this, they often feature front-heavy blades to aid in swinging, very forgiving blade steel to prevent chipping or breaking, and easily-resharpened edges for prolonged field usage. I didn’t feature any true machetes in this list, but certain knives like the Esee 6 are large enough to serve as a machete in some cases when it comes to stripping saplings or chopping through vines.

Key features of survival knives

Edge type

In general, edges come in three types: plain, combination, and serrated. Plain-edged knives have a straight, non-serrated blade, and offer the best slicing potential of the three. Combination edges feature a serrated portion for cutting rope, sticks, or other vegetation that would dull a plain edge more quickly. Serrated edges are fully sawtoothed and are designed for dedicated sawing tasks where a clean cut isn’t required. In general, serrations are harder to sharpen, requiring more specialized sharpening rods to get in between the teeth. However, with the proper equipment and some training, it can be just as easy as sharpening a plain edge.

Blade profile 

The profile of the blade determines the blade shape, grind, and dimensions. Key terms to look for are the “point” of the blade, the “belly,” and the “grind.” The point of the blade refers to how the blade terminates when the spine meets the edge, and can mean clip point, drop point, wharncliffe, tanto, and many more. The belly of the blade refers to how deep the blade is or the distance from the spine to the edge when measured across the flat of the blade. This can affect things like usability for skinning in a hunting environment, or cutting vegetables in a camp kitchen environment. The grind of the blade refers to how the blade is beveled to the edge, and can be convex, concave, flat, Scandinavian-style, and so on. It helps to learn the types of blade profiles and see what works best for your intended application.

Jimping and choil

These are features that really help with bushcraft and hunting, allowing you to get a higher purchase on the blade for better control. Jimping refers to serrations on the spine of the knife that allow you to rest your thumb for forward pressure to push the knife through whatever you’re cutting, or angle it for whittling or skinning. Choil refers to a cutout portion of the blade ahead of the grip but behind the cutting edge, which in conjunction with jimping, can greatly increase your control of the blade.

Steel

The steel used in the blade is probably the biggest factor that determines price to the end-user. Steels like AUS-8, 440C, and 8Cr12MoV are cheaper to manufacture, and more forgiving to heat-treat, and while they can be very capable when used by a capable designer who knows what they’re good for and properly heat-treated by a good knifemaker, in general more exotic steels like S35VN, S30, 90, 110, and 120V, as well as things like Elmax are going to have better performance, in exchange for a much higher price tag. Knives made with good steel, a good heat-treat, and designed in small batches by a boutique shop are going to be more expensive still.

Tang

Knives with full tangs are going to generally be more durable, at the expense of requiring more steel to manufacture. On knives made of more expensive steels, this means that the grip is the same steel as the blade, treated and coated the same. Knives with hidden tangs, spoon tangs, partial tangs, and so forth, save on cost and weight, at the expense of durability.

Manufacturer

Quality control, country of manufacture, and whether or not the knife is mass-produced all factor into the cost. A knife that’s sharp, durable, and well-finished every time will, by necessity, cost more than a knife that’s haphazardly thrown together with an uneven blade grind. Knives made in countries with better labor rights for their workers will also generally be more expensive than those made in sweatshops, which requires you to see if you value ethics over the impact to your pocketbook. Additionally, a knife that’s handmade by an artisan is going to cost more than a knife made in a factory that has assembly lines dedicated to producing that knife and that knife only.

Pricing considerations of survival knives

Less than $75

At the low end of survival knives, you can expect to find basic features, materials, and production, and if you’re not careful, terrible quality control. In general, knives at this price point will feature cost-cutting measures such as inexpensive blade steels, small hidden tangs, less precise heat treatment, and overall a generally less-precise design. What you can still get is a capable knife that will stand up to usage if you know where to look, and that’s what we aimed to address with our budget options.

$75-$300

The medium range for survival knives is where most people will have the most success, putting you squarely in the zone of great returns on investment. Here you’ll start to see premium materials, good quality control, and designs by some of the best minds in the knifemaking game. All of the knives reviewed today fit into this category, mostly because this is the area in which most people are comfortable spending the required money and still actually using the knife for harsh utility purposes.

More than $300

Above the $300 price point is when you start to get into knives that feature unusual opening mechanisms, exotic materials, or boutique production. Hand-made small batch knives like those from Half Face Blades, Toor, Chris Reeve and Marfione Customs live around this level, and you can expect knives that have an incredible level of finishing, care in their production, and quality control. However, you’ll also find knives that have an inflated cost due to brand deals or cachet, so make sure you’re buying the features you want and not just the name.

How we chose our top picks

All of these knives were tested through hands-on use in their intended roles — and then some. I’m a firm believer that you can’t know how good something is until you’ve held it, used it, and seen where it fails you. These knives were selected using the criteria of availability, cost-effectiveness, usability, and reputation. I’m not going to recommend some obscure hipster knife that takes months of waiting to get, and at the same time I’m not going to recommend knives that are expensive for no reason, knives that are minimally practical, or knives that are from companies known for producing as many lemons as they do decent knives (looking at you, SOG.) Obviously, I couldn’t cover every option, and you should feel free to let me know if you have a favorite that works for you.

FAQs about survival knives

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. What is the best survival knife?

A: Our pick for the best overall survival knife is the Gerber LMF II, which is not to say that it’s the absolute best at anything, just that it’s a knife that will work well for most people’s purposes. Personally, I like the TOPS Brakimo, but that’s what works for my intended purposes.

A: That depends on your locality. Certain states prohibit the concealed carry of fixed blade knives, or knives over certain lengths. In general, these are knives intended for use in the wilderness, and most places in the world have exceptions in their knife laws for “good reason,” which is usually satisfied by being on a hiking or camping trip. As always, know your local laws.

Q. What are the holes on a survival knife for?

A: Holes on a survival knife can serve many purposes, ranging from being lightening cuts, as with the Argali Carbon, to lashing holes on the Gerber LMF II that allow you to make an improvised spear, to lanyard loops to allow one to retain the knife easier in highly mobile situations like rock climbing or on a boat. Other uses can be for using a hand drill to make fire, straightening arrowheads, or opening gas keys on an oxygen tank.

Q. How thick should a survival knife be?

A: Generally speaking, knives that are 4mm in thickness or greater at the spine are going to be able to stand up to the kind of high-impact use that’s required to strip branches, baton logs, and chop wood. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, and the thickness can also be dependent on factors such as blade length, intended use, and blade steel. Making the blade too thick can add unnecessary weight or make the knife minimally useful for cleaning animals or cutting vegetables.

Q. What is jimping?

A: Jimping is the name for serrations on the spine of the knife, which allow you to get greater control of the knife when performing delicate tasks such as whittling or cleaning an animal. They allow you to get a grip on the spine of the blade with your thumb.

Q. What is the best type of steel for a knife’s blade?

A: This depends on your intended usage, your sharpening capabilities, and your budget. I personally prefer CPM S35VN, as it holds an edge for a very long time and keeps rust off very well. However, it’s difficult to resharpen and requires that I send it off to a professional for resharpening. Many survival knife companies seem to prefer 1095, 420HC, and D2, as they’re easy enough to resharpen and offer good edge retention, at the expense of corrosion resistance. Buyers looking for knives to use around water, especially saltwater, should look for knives specifically designed to hold up against heavy corrosion.

Q. How can I sharpen my knife?

A: We did a great article on this, but in general you should invest in a good-quality guided sharpener for home usage, and a good-quality portable sharpening stone for use in the field, and learn how to use both properly. This will enhance the service life of your knife and save you money in the long run that would be otherwise spent on sending your knife to a professional for sharpening.

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