Best Survival Knife of 2019: Complete Reviews with Comparisons
When talking about the best survival knife, it’s hard to not get overwhelmed by the staggering number of alloys that are involved in creating the blades. Every manufacturer will say that their knife is better than the competition.
And to be fair, sometimes they are right. Survival knives are generally made for very specific tasks.
Saying that one is above the rest is not really the case because there’s no blade design or alloy that can do everything perfectly.
So, how do you go about choosing your most important survival tool? Start by checking out these five picks for the best affordable survival knives on the market.
Then, use the buyer’s guide that follows to figure out which knife fits your particular needs the best.
Top 5 Survival Knives Comparison Chart
Best Survival Knife Reviews
1. Smith & Wesson SWA24S Folding Survival Knife
As you’ll notice in the buyer’s guide, folding knives are not always preferred. However, the Smith & Wesson SWA24S is one of the few exceptions due to its reinforced joint design that prevents blade play even during and after heavy duty usage.
The 3.1” blade is shorter than what most survival knives offer. However, this is a stainless steel model with a partly serrated blade. The alloy used is 7Cr17MoV Black Oxide S.S. It’s a budget-friendly alloy which is quite durable when used in short blades.
It’s also thin and very light, which makes it super easy to handle. The overall length of the knife when folded is just 4”. This makes it easy to conceal and easy to carry around at all times.
The knife comes with its own pocket clip and is designed to work with an index flipper to release the blade. What’s also very interesting is the fact that it comes with ambidextrous thumb knobs. It should prove highly useful to lefties who tend to have a hard time finding left-handed survival tools and multi-tools.
What's to like about the Smith & Wesson SWA24S Folding Survival Knife
Being a smaller knife allows you to use it for more intricate tasks. The serrated portion of the blade should also be highly useful for many hunting and fishing applications.
What's not to like about the Smith & Wesson SWA24S Folding Survival Knife
It’s not the kind of knife you can use to build a shelter or remove heavy obstacles and debris from your path.
2. Snake Eye Tactical Combat Style Knife
Combat knives often make very good survival knives. They’re built to last and to handle heavy-duty work while also having high-quality handles and good balance.
This knife is 8.5” long and it’s full tang. The blade length is 4.5” exposed, which is right in the Goldilocks zone for survival knife blades.
The blade design is fairly common. It’s a saw-back stainless steel blade model, which provides a lot of utility in cutting, building, and hunting or fishing applications. The alloy designation is 440 stainless steel.
What's to like about the Snake Eye Tactical Combat Style Knife
The full-tang design is the main highlight of this knife. It gives it amazing durability even though it’s not a carbon steel blade.
What's not to like about the Snake Eye Tactical Combat Style Knife
The knife comes with a nylon sheath. However, it’s rather thin and won’t last long in real survival situations.
3. Morakniv Kansbol Fixed Blade Knife
This survival knife comes with a plastic sheath or a MOLLE multi-mount system. It’s just as effective as a combat knife as it is a survival tool. This has gained the Morakniv Kansbol a reputation that’s more of a cult following than mass appeal.
The fixed blade design makes up at least 50% of the value. Although it is a slightly more expensive survival knife, it has all the right qualities that people look for.
The blade length is 4.3”. This means you can use it swiftly and efficiently in many applications, apart from digging perhaps. The 12C25 stainless steel alloy guarantees edge durability and retention, as well as great corrosion resistance.
The spine design makes for an excellent fire starter tool too. The total length of the knife is 8.9”. This creates a very nice balance between the handle and the exposed blade.
What's to like about the Morakniv Kansbol Fixed Blade Knife
Having no serrated edges makes the knife very durable. It also allows you to use the back of the blade as a hammer.
What's not to like about the Morakniv Kansbol Fixed Blade Knife
Although the blade design is very good, the knife offers little use when you have to pry something from a tree or from the ground.
4. Schrade SCHF36 Frontier Fixed Blade Knife
The Schrade SCHF36 Frontier is one of the most reliable survival knifes on the market. With its budget price, great blade alloy, and decent anti-corrosive properties, it’s definitely worth testing under extreme conditions.
The 5” blade can handle a lot of abuse and a variety of tasks. From cutting fabric to digging holes and chopping wood, there’s pretty much nothing it can’t handle.
The 1095 carbon steel alloy is known for its hardness and longevity. The blade is also full tang which means it offers a great deal of leverage when trying to lift debris, hammer down spikes, or digging a shelter.
The handle is surprisingly good too at this price point. It’s a thermoplastic elastomer handle with heavy ring texturing that improves the grip even in humid or wet conditions.
What’s also nice is that you also get a sharpening stone and a ferro rod. This means you get your maintenance stone and fire starter.
What's to like about the Schrade SCHF36 Frontier Fixed Blade Knife
The combination of the high-quality carbon steel alloy and the very useful survival accessories give this package great value for the money.
What's not to like about the Schrade SCHF36 Frontier Fixed Blade Knife
The lack of any type of teeth on the blade makes it difficult to use the knife as a prying tool. Sometimes that may be more important than having a reliable hammer.
5. Buck Knives 0110BRS 110 Folding Hunter Knife
This knife walks a fine line between a luxury accessory and a true survival tool. It’s a solid hunter’s knife but despite its reliability, it offers a more limited use in survival situations.
The extra sharp blade point offers great piercing potential. It’s also very thin which makes it superior for carving and slicing tasks.
The blade is made from 420HC stainless steel which means that it has above average strength. However, the length of the blade is just 3.75”. This makes it a bit difficult to use for heavy duty work like building a solid shelter or digging holes.
The extra-strong handle makes it easy to grip but it doesn’t feature any texturing. However, due to its rigidity, it can be used as a hammer for a long time before any signs of structural damage.
What's to like about the Buck Knives 0110BRS 110 Folding Hunter Knife
Although it has its ups and downs, this is hands-down one of the best survival knives for avid hunters. The quality of the alloy and the blade design is perfect for cleaning small game, building traps, and gutting fish.
What's not to like about the Buck Knives 0110BRS 110 Folding Hunter Knife
The folding blade design may appeal to some people due to its portability, but it doesn’t offer the same structural durability and consistency as a full tang fixed blade.
Bigger is not always better. When it comes to survival knives, you’re looking for a blade that can handle a lot of abuse and a knife that’s easy to carry and conceal. Balancing blade length for durability and maximum efficiency usually means that you’re looking for something in the range of 4 to 7 inches.
However, the majority of survival knives come in the 6 to 12 inches range. There’s no denying that a longer blade can help you deal with debris, cutting large pieces of wood, or even hunting. But, handling it and carrying it is not going to be easy.
So, if you do get a survival knife with an overall length of 10 to 12 inches, make sure that the blade is no longer than 7. This length is very versatile as it’s equally effective at chopping and batoning wood.
This is where things get complicated. Most survival knife blades are made of steel. But there are three types of steel that you may encounter.
Carbon steel is usually the preferred choice by hardcore survivalists, preppers, and wilderness instructors. You can find carbon steel blades with 0.5 to 1.5% carbon. The more carbon the steel has, the harder the blade is.
Also, the better it is at powering through heavy objects. The only downside of carbon steel is its lower corrosion resistance, which may depend on the rest of the alloy materials. There are various carbon steel alloys that are used in knife making. The most popular carries the 1095 designation. It has a carbon content of around 1%.
Stainless steel is a lot more available commercially than carbon steel. It’s easy to work with, which makes it a preferred material of knife manufacturers. What makes stainless steel great for survivalists is its high chromium content. Chromium gives stainless steel its durability and anti-corrosion resistance.
The least amount of chromium content you should look for is 13%. Anything less than that usually indicates that the alloy is subpar in quality. This shouldn’t be a problem as most stainless steel these days contain 16% and up chromium. Among the most popular stainless steel alloys are the 420, 440, AUS-6, and ATS-34.
Tool steel is a general steel alloy. It’s not as popular as the other two alloys when it comes to survival knives. However, it still ranges in quality from ok to very good in terms of cutting power. As far as durability and corrosion resistance go, it comes in third after the other two.
So what does this all mean? It means that there’s no one knife that’s definitely better than the rest. Each alloy has its own advantages in certain situations. For instance, carbon steel may be the preferred choice because of its bashing power and resistance to chipping and breaking.
But, if you’re looking for something that lasts and you aren’t expecting to build entire shelters with your knife, then a stainless steel blade would probably be better. It will require less maintenance and it won’t corrode or go dull beyond help.
If the manufacturer lists the designation of the alloy, it becomes easier to determine just how good the blade is. Information on alloy hardness and makeup is easy to find online.
Getting the right alloy is not enough to guarantee a durable and heavy-duty survival knife. There are two more design features to consider. The first one is the joint design. There aren’t that many folding survival knives but there are enough out there that may lead some amateurs into making the wrong decision.
Generally speaking, you want a fixed blade. A survival knife needs to be able to handle rough work. This means that it doesn’t need to have any weak points especially at the joint.
The second important aspect is blade extension or tang. Knives either have a partial tang or a full tang. This refers to how deep inside the handle the blade extends. A full tang means that you have a knife blade going from the tip all the way back to the end of the handle.
Note that this indication is not usually given in inches. When reading specifications for various knives, the length of the blade refers only to the portion of the blade that is exposed.
Why is a full tang preferred? It allows you to get more leverage when digging or trying to pry stuff from the ground. It also guarantees that you won’t develop blade wobbling or “blade play” in the handle since you’re holding the tang of the blade. By the same token, you can keep using it even if you damage the handle.
There are quite a few materials used for knife handles.
- Hard rubber
- Strong wood
The handle material matters less than the actual grip. It matters even less if you get a full-tang survival knife. Why? Because even if the handle breaks, you can still make your own handle by using paracord or whatever fabric you can scrape off the ground.
The handle is important in balancing out the weight of the blade, but you can do this with pretty much any type of material. A strong wood handle is not as durable as a hard rubber handle but it may offer more utility.
You can use it to hammer stakes into the ground without having to put the blade through more unnecessary abuse. Plastic, leather, and canvas handles are usually more about offering an ergonomic grip and non-slip texturing, as well as lowering the cost of the knife.
Weight is something very subjective when it comes to survival knives. You obviously want something light that’s easy to handle and easy to carry. But, you should also try to get a full-tang blade.
A full-tang blade will make the knife heavier and perhaps harder to use. The good news is that there’s no real standard or baseline regarding the optimum weight. You can pick whichever weight you feel most comfortable with.
Remember that a heavy knife is not necessarily more durable than a light knife. There are other considerations that determine how good or bad a knife is.
Survival Knife F.A.Q's.
How to Choose a Survival Knife?
Setting aside pricing, choosing a good survival knife involves finding one that meets the following requirements.
- The right alloy for the environmental conditions you will face
- A blade length between 4 and 7 inches
- A full tang blade design
- A fixed blade whenever possible or reinforced joints
- Good balance between blade and handle
How to Sharpen a Survival Knife?
here are two tools you can carry with you at all times for sharpening a survival knife. Whetstones and ceramic sharpeners are both highly efficient. But each one has its own degree of difficulty.
Whetstones have different grits which means that you can use either coarser or finer stones. A coarser surface helps with creating an edge on dull knives.
Fine whetstones are good for maintaining the blade extra sharp. The whetstone should be kept wet during sharpening. Avoid oils or commercial lubricants if you want a quality blade.
These tools come in various shapes and sizes. Unlike whetstones, they have more striations and they're a lot easier to control.
When using a ceramic sharpener you simply have to follow through with the knife between the metal rods. This sharpens both sides at the same time.
It's very important to keep the knife angled at its bevel angle. Not all knives are built the same way. For best effects, you’d want to keep the original edge bevel angle.
To find your knife's bevel angle, it's best to take it to a specialty shop or check its manual. This specification is rarely listed on the packaging.
The blade should be brushed softly across the stone. The motion should be circular. Depending on the hardness of the knife, you may have to do around 12 or so rotations on each side until the blade is razor sharp.
What is the Best Steel for Knives?
There are two potential answers to this question because determining the best blade steel depends on the type of environmental conditions you will face and the tasks you need accomplished.
Stainless steel blades have high chromium content. At least 13% chromium in low-end and medium-range knife blades.
This material is one of the most popular with knife makers. The high chromium content gives it good corrosion resistance. However, it still requires proper care and storage, as too much exposure to harsh elements can result in blade rust and discoloration.
Carbon steel is known for its superior durability. Carbon steel blades usually have between 0.5 and 1.5% carbon which makes them very tough. It is not as popular as stainless steel these days but it has a considerable advantage in certain situations.
Carbon steel blades are harder and can handle cutting large pieces of wood, digging holes, bashing fish, a lot better. The downside is that carbon steel may not be as long-lasting. No matter how much maintenance you perform, the blade will eventually succumb to corrosion.
How to Use a Survival Knife?
Survival knives are used for many things. You can use them to chop firewood, cut down objects in your path, hunt, dig, make clothes, make weapons, start a fire, use as a hammer, cut meat, break stuff, and more.
Depending on what type of knife you have, certain tasks may not be easy to take on. For example, unless you have a full-tang knife made of heavy-duty carbon steel, you shouldn’t try to break things with the back of the knife.
There’s also no right or wrong way to hold a knife. This is evident in how many knife fighting styles there are in the world. It’s more about what makes you feel most comfortable.
There is however a right way of striking or cutting with a survival knife and it all depends on the bevel angle of the blade. Not all knives come with the same cutting angle. If your knife has a 30-degree bevel, it means that you have to chop down wood at that angle to use it at maximum efficiency and to protect the blade.
The same concept applies when sharpening the knife. Always sharpen at your knife’s specific bevel angle and not the 45° angle that TV cooking shows teach you.
Survival knives come in many shapes and sizes. However, this is not just a marketing gimmick. As you can see from this list and the buyer’s guide, certain design features and blade alloys are best in slot under specific circumstances.
Some people will prefer concealable knives and using multi tools for other tasks. Others like to pack light and use their trusty survival knife to peel a wild carrot and take down a bear. It all depends on your preferences and wilderness skills.