While driving home, some hotshot cuts you off, forcing you to slam on the brakes and flipping you off as he barrels past. Before you can finish your mental prediction, he clips another car, and they both go careening off the road. You and a couple of nearby motorists pull over and rush to the scene. As you exit your car, you grab your emergency kit and involuntarily slap your pocket, checking to make sure your rescue knife is ready and waiting in its proper place. While someone calls 911 and others approach the minivan, you head toward the speedster. His car has rolled a full 360 degrees, landing upright again, but effectively sealing him inside with a bloody scalp and a smoking engine bay in front of him. You know help is coming, but the kid needs help pronto. He is conscious, so you signal to him what you plan to do. You yank your rescue knife from your pocket, then shatter the window with its carbide tip.
It’s a good thing you were ready.
It was a close call, but the Kershaw Funxion EMT beat out its brother, the Kershaw Barricade, for the top spot on our list. This three-inch blade covers all the basics with a couple extras worth your money. The Funxion EMT’s blade is a unique mashup of the clip point and sheepsfoot blade patterns and employs a partially serrated blade. Made with affordable 8Cr13MoV stainless steel, the blade sports a dark finish and is engineered and constructed to provide excellent edge retention and a high resistance to wear. The thumb stud and flipper on the blade make for quick one-handed deployment, while the liner lock keeps the blade secure while adrenaline is coursing through your veins. The carabiner clip, cord cutter, screwdriver tip, hex head, and carbide-tipped glass breaker add plenty of versatility to exceed the most basic of an EMT’s needs. The glass-filled nylon grip scales with the K-Texture pattern provide a solid purchase on the knife, and the pocket clip is perfect for keeping your blade right where you want it. The Funxion EMT comes with a reasonable price tag, making it an excellent option for both EDC and professional use.
The best rescue knife on today’s market has got to be the Benchmade Triage 916. Ideal for use on land or at sea, this knife comes with a 3.4-inch, partially serrated blade that features a locking, blunt tip design and is made with corrosion-resistant N680 stainless steel. The tough G10 grip scales are textured for a solid grip and come in both safety orange and black. The Triage 916 is fully ambidextrous and easy to deploy with a single hand thanks to the thumb studs and four-position, deep-carry pocket clip. Of course, it includes critical features, including a carbide-tipped glass breaker and a “safety hook” belt and strap cutter. The only hangup with the Triage 916 is the price tag, which is a bit of a doozy for most.
Few knives successfully bridge the gap between EDC, tactical, and rescue applications, but the CRKT M16-14ZLEK does it with style. The partially serrated, tanto blade measures 3.84 inches long and is made with AUS-8 stainless steel. Like others in the M16-14Z line, it comes with both a thumb stud and a blade flipper for easy single-handed deployments, but unlike the others (with the exception of its bright orange twin, the CRKT M16-14ZER), the clipper incorporates a belt cutter into its design. The M16-14ZLEK and its twin also come with a liner lock, carbide window breaker, and a four-position pocket clip. The glass-reinforced nylon grip scales and CRKT lifetime warranty round out this excellent (if slightly expensive) tactical rescue knife.
If you prefer the flexibility of a multi-tool in your rescue knife, then take a close look at the Victorinox RescueTool. This Swiss Army Knife was made with the professional rescuer in mind. It comes with a long leaf-shaped blade with serrations running from the tip down about two thirds of the blade. It also features a seat belt-cutting blade, a shatterproof glass disc saw (think windshields), a window breaker, two screwdriver tips (Phillips and flat head), a wire stripper, a reamer/punch, and, of course, a toothpick and tweezers. For ease of access, it comes with a nylon sheath, a lanyard ring, and an actual lanyard (who does that anymore?!). While genuine Swiss Army Knives may not be the most cost-friendly option on the market, it’s hard to go wrong with the RescueTool.
Whitewater rafting and other river travel can be quite an adventure, but should your downstream excursion ever turn sour, you’ll be glad you invested in the NRS Pilot Knife. This blade is perfect for use on soft-bottom rafts and in rough waters thanks to its blunted tip (which doubles as a screwdriver head). The double-sided blade consists of 420HC stainless steel with straight edges along the tip-half of the blade and serrations along the lower half of one edge and a smooth resting place for your thumb on the opposing side. While the tip is indeed blunt, it is sharp enough to penetrate soft-bottomed rafts with enough force should an emergency occur. The Pilot Knife comes with a rope-cutting hook, rubberized TPR handle (available in multiple colors), glass breaker, and bottle opener. The low-profile glass-reinforced nylon sheath attaches securely and out of the way on your PFD lash tab. Though the Pilot Knife may not be the cheapest offering on the market, you can’t put a price tag on safety.
If you spend your time on or near the sea, the Spyderco Atlantic Salt is the rescue knife for you. Its blade consists of high-end LC200N steel, an extremely corrosion-resistant, martensitic steel enriched with nitrogen and capable of withstanding some of the world’s harshest environments. The 3.68-inch sheepsfoot blade is fully serrated and features Spyderco’s famous thumb hole design for fast deployment with a single hand. The combination is ideal for slicing through ropes and other maritime materials, making it the perfect EDC knife for sailors and waterborne first responders. The two-position pocket clip allows for ambidextrous tip-up carry for whichever location best suits your needs. Once deployed, the back lock and fiberglass-reinforced nylon grip scales provide security and safety for your fingers, even when the swells underfoot throw you for a loop. While it is a bit on the expensive side, the Atlantic Salt carries Spyderco’s reputation for quality.
Why should you trust us
I’ve been carrying knives since I received an Old Timer pen knife for my eighth birthday, and while I certainly know my limitations, I have spent half my professional life as an aquatic rescuer, gaining valuable training and insight into the world of emergency medical care. If you’re looking for an EDC knife of one kind or another or if you need a tourniquet you can depend on, chances are I’ve covered it.
Different kinds of rescue knives
EMTs, paramedics, and other professional rescuers rely on knives and multi-tools to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. An EMT knife is designed to allow quick access to victims and support the administration of care. These knives are tough and durable, and usually include a serrated blade (usually partially serrated), blunt tip, glass breaker, belt or strap cutters, and support for single-handed opening.
As the name implies, tactical knives provide infantrymen, law enforcement officers, and similarly-oriented professionals with a quality tool to handle the dangers of their work environments. When lead is flying, a tactical knife may be your only option for use in a rescue situation. A tactically-oriented rescue knife is tough, and while it may not have a blunt tip, it will include the other standard features of an EMT knife: easy one-handed opening, a carbide-tipped glass breaker, a strap cutter, and a partially serrated blade.
Boating presents its own set of hazards, so an aquatic rescue knife requires its own unique set of features. Even so, a boating knife, such as a rigger or rigging knife, will differ from a river knife, one specifically designed for rafting, kayaking, and other river sports. In maritime environments, rope and saltwater are your rescue knife’s biggest adversaries, so a highly corrosion-resistant knife with a partially or fully serrated blade in a sheepsfoot or Wharncliffe pattern is an absolute must. On the flip side, river knives usually possess blunt tip blades and a more affordable stainless steel makeup.
Features to look for in a rescue knife
No matter whether you are a professional rescuer or simply an ordinary Good Samaritan, you live and operate in a specific environment, and each environment presents unique challenges and requirements. Rescue knives come in a variety of materials, each with its own unique combination of strength, durability, sharpness, ease of sharpening, and other attributes. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various blade steels can save you plenty of headaches. To get a grasp of each material’s pros and cons, we highly recommend you check out the guides put together by the folks at Blade HQ, Gear Junkie, and Knife Informer.
In addition to its steel, the shape of your rescue knife’s blade is another important consideration. If you plan to work around soft surfaces or easily damaged objects, such as the human body, seriously consider getting a blunt tip blade. If you intend to use your knife as a secondary or multipurpose tool, this guide by Knife Buzz will get you well acquainted with the most common blade profiles on the market, as well as a couple less common options.
Frequently, emergency situations require rescuers to cut through tough materials in order to administer care to their victims. While rescue tools such as a seat belt cutter work in some situations, others require a tough knife blade with aggressive serrations to cut through rope, safety glass, or other tough barriers between you and your victim.
When you find yourself making a rescue, you will likely find yourself in less than ideal conditions. Sweat, water, oil, and blood can create slick surfaces, so make sure your rescue knife is capable of handling slippery situations. Specifically, look for grip materials and textures that will provide you with the best possible performance when wet.
Pocket, bag, or PFD — no matter where and how you carry your rescue knife, knowing where it is at all times keeps you ready for virtually every situation. This kind of predictability requires a knife with a reliable retention system. While most folding knives rely on a clip and fixed blades that stow safely away inside a sheath, lanyard holes and other retention systems allow you to secure your rescue blade in place for quick, easy, and predictable deployment.
Emergencies virtually never happen at a time or place of our choosing, and often, they throw plenty of extra curveballs, many of which may make two-handed deployment of a rescue knife truly impossible. Whether you need one hand to protect a victim or your own arm is pinned in place, a knife that enables single-handed opening is a massive advantage and could even make the difference between life and death. Look for a knife with a thumb stud or similar thumb grip on the blade that will provide you with plenty of purchase. If local laws allow, a spring-assisted opening is worthy of your consideration.
While every emergency has its own unique set of problems to be solved, human invention and behavior result in certain factors one might encounter, thus giving rise to certain tools designed to handle the most common barriers to a successful rescue. As such, many rescue knives possess the proper equipment to overcome these obstacles. Dedicated rescue tools like a carbide-tipped glass breaker, a belt or strap cutter, and a cord cutter can dramatically speed up a rescue, giving victims quicker access to critical care and often significantly improving their chances of a full recovery.
Why do you need a rescue knife?
Professional rescuers, such as EMTs, firefighters, and police officers, make a living facing down dramatic situations which push them to their limits, requiring the use of proper tools and training to save a life. A quality rescue knife will frequently prove its worth in these stressful situations. Even while off duty, a rescue knife may be a daily companion, serving as an EDC tool or sitting at the ready in your own private aid bag.
On the other hand, many of us are not professional rescuers, yet a dedicated rescue knife can be an asset in everyday life. For some, a rescue-oriented EDC knife can handle all the tasks your knife might accomplish in a day while still being ready to handle a worst-case scenario. The Good Samaritan was able to give care because he was prepared, and ready with the equipment he needed to aid another human being.
Pricing ranges for rescue knives
Rescue knives come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their price tags. Thankfully, though, there is a discernible pattern behind it all. For a basic yet reliable folding rescue knife, expect to spend somewhere around $25 to $50. These knives use good quality steel and include features like a partially serrated blade, a carbide window breaker, and a seat belt cutter. Just beware of gimmicks and blades that sound too good to be true. Never compromise on quality. For something with higher-quality materials, greater capabilities, or a bit more specialization, you’ll end up shelling out more cash, generally somewhere between $50 and $125. These blades include fixed blades, folders, and multitools. If they lack extra features, these higher-priced knives will have a higher build quality instead, often opting for very good blade steel and a more specialized blade shape. Anything over $125 is going to be the cream of the crop, specialized tools capable of serving you for decades to come.
How we chose our top picks
When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest.
In completing this rescue knife guide, we received plenty of valuable input from Adam Robbins, Blade HQ, EMT Training Station, Gear Junkie, Knife Buzz, Knife Informer, Knife Sharpener Guy, OffGrid, Rafting Magazine, and Survivor’s Fortress.
Related: The best EDC knives worth relying on
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