Finding the Best Survival Knife of 2018:
Having the name “Survivalist 101” we pride ourselves on being able to recognize and recommend the very best survival knife on the market. Over the years, we have tested hundreds of products, and stand behind every recommendation we have made. Survival knives are no different.
So, today we offer up OUR Top 8 Survival Knives of 2018. We have also included below detailed information to help you make your own decision as to which is the best survival knife of 2018. Keep in mind, every knife on the list is a “winner” and our high-to-low ratings are basically our personal preferences.
Our Considerations for The Best Survival Knife
Knife Brand – Ultimately, the reputation, policies and specifications of the brands for survival knives (knife manufacturer) are the only things short of your own field-use that indicate the quality of the best survival knife. In our experiences testing survival knives, we have found the brands that offer “lifetime” warranties typically tend to last longer due to the manufacturer’s liability.
Knife Type – Fixed or folding blade? Almost all survival knives are fixed-blade, compared to pocket knives, which are all folding-blade. The single piece of metal (full tang) OR fixed blade is the strongest knife format if you’re looking for the best survival knife. There are some pretty tough folders out there, however, none we tested could pass the “hammer test” where we use the knife to split a log by hammering it with another log.
Weight – The weight of a knife is relative to its use and to how it feels in the hand. Survival knives tend to be ‘heavy’ simply because they are generally bigger and there is more steel, the best survival knives usually weigh between 8 – 16 ounces.
Overall Length – The main consideration in overall length is how the survival knife will be carried. Survival knives over 12” in length may be difficult to wear from the belt or hip. The best survival knives, almost by definition, need to be instantly accessible, which means they are worn on the outside and not stored in bags or pockets.
Blade Length – Most, and in our opinion, the best survival knife blades are between 4” and 10” in length. Shorter blades are easier to use for small work such as whittling, longer blades are better for chopping and wood splitting. While there is no ‘ideal blade size,’ because it is relative to your personal preference, most experts agree that the best survival knives have blades around 5 to 7 inches.
Blade Thickness – While not the only factor in blade strength, the thickness of a survival knife blade, usually around ¼ inch (0.25”), is perhaps the most visible factor. Some people like a thinner blade for weight, others like survival knives that can split a log. If you have an axe, saw, machete or other heavy chopping device, a lighter survival knife might be what you need for easier use with smaller projects like filleting a fish.
Blade Shape – In general, survival knife blade shapes are determined within the vicinity of the point. The four most common shapes are: Drop (convex curved from point down along the edge), Clip (metal removed from the spine toward the point), Spear (equal curves from point to edge and spine), and Tanto (one or more straight-edged facets to the point). The drop shape is most common for survival knives.
We believe that the best survival knife, the point (or tip) needs to be sharp enough to penetrate tough surfaces, even leather, strong enough not to break when used for prying and tough enough to resist serious wear in uses such as digging. This usually means the points of most survival knives favor thicker designs. There are many blade point designs and with each almost unlimited variations; here are four of the most common blade designs found in the best survival knives:
- Drop-Point – This point features a gradual and convex curve that drops from the spine to the point. It’s probably the most common survival knife design because of its strength and ease of sheathing.
- Clip-Point – The reverse of the drop point, where the curve is concave from the spine to point like metal was ‘clipped’ out of the blade. This too is a common design for survival knives.
- Spear-Point – Like the name says, designed for spearing, with symmetrical convex curves from spine and belly. Since spearing is just one of dozens survival knife uses, this point is specialized and less used.
- Tanto-Point – Points of this kind have many variations but all feature one or more straight edges to the point. The design is optimized for fighting and tactical uses. If you’re looking for a well rounded survival knife, we do not recommend this blade as the best survival knife blade.
Blade Steel – The steel industry uses a large number of identification codes for steel types, only some of these apply to survival knife steel. Knife specialists know these codes, and in our opinion, they’re not extremely vital for selection of the best survival knife, although it’s useful to distinguish between carbon steel and stainless steel codes.
Carbon steels can be tempered differentially (different hardness at the spine that at the edge), which is to say that heat treatment does makes a very big difference in the characteristics and quality of the steel in survival knives. Many experts prefer carbon steel as the best knife steel for survival knives because of their ability to easily take and hold an edge.
They also count on conscientious maintenance of the survival knife blade, as carbon steel is more prone to rust and corrosion than stainless steel. In short, if a carbon steel survival knife needs to be regularly honed and oiled, it’s hard to beat, otherwise….
A couple of points in favor of carbon steel, unlike stainless, when struck with flint, chert or quartz it will make fire-starting sparks. Of course, using a firesteel almost any knife steel will work. Finally, the best survival knife steel made of carbon is less expensive than the best stainless steel.
Carbon steel types often recommended for survival knives: 5160, 1095 and CPM-3V, A2, O1, Carbon V, and CPM 154. For just plain old carbon steel with a long tradition: 1095.
Blade Finish – Mirror and polished finishes are common for higher end stainless steel survival knives, often considered the best survival knives. The satin finish is the most common for all types of knives, and stonewashed, powder coated or pebble blast produce scratch hiding rough surfaces.
Blade Hardness – All of the best survival knife blades have a rated hardness measured by the Rockwell scale (C-scale): High hardness (60-65 HRC); Medium hardness (58-60 HRC); Low hardness (52-58 HRC). In general, low hardness has greater strength but a less sharp edge; high hardness can take razor sharp edges but may be brittle and can break. Most of the “best survival knives” we have rated tend to the medium hardness, often the low end.
Edge Type – There are three types: Straight, Serrated (saw tooth), and Partially Serrated. Some manufacturers use ‘edge type’ to mean the grind type of the edge. Like all knives, a survival knife has two edges: spine and cutting, but the spine edge is almost never sharpened. In fact, the spine edge for survival knives should be flattened (squared-off) for a better striking surface. For the most part, the cutting edge is what the best survival knife is about, so it’s worth understanding a bit of detail when looking at survival knife edges.
- Straight Edge – A smooth cutting, which isn’t necessarily “straight” as it usually has curves, especially a belly.
- Partially Serrated – A portion of the survival knife blade near the handle may have serrations or scallops.
- Serrated Edge– The saw teeth design on blades tends to be a very controversial subject. The majority of survival knife experts don’t recommend serrations on the knife, either on the spine or on the cutting edge. Then why do so many models of survival knives have serrations of one kind or another?
Serrations can cut things, mostly fibrous things like ropes and straps, which are difficult for a straight edge. They also suggest wood sawing, but in practice – not so much. Indeed, the serrations look wicked. Other than that, serrations usually require a special tool to sharpen, tend to clog when chopping, and unless well integrated into the blade design, may weaken the knife. None of the “best survival knives” we rated here have serrations.
Handle Material – There are literally dozens of survival knife handle materials, from leather to no covering at all (bare tang). The goal for all of them is a stable, no-slip, comfortable gripping surface for the hand.
For practical purposes, there are three vital things about a survival knife handle: It must stay attached to the tang; it must be durable, and above all, it should feel comfortable to use. Determining these things when you buy a knife is difficult; mostly they require a lot of field experience.
Other than that, you have to rely on manufacturer reputation, knowledge of the materials and your own sense of the handle. Fit and feel are highly subjective among the best survival knives, but you can get a decent impression on the first opportunity to handle the knife.
The style of the tang (see above) may determine something about the design of the handle, especially with a full tang where the metal is usually exposed. However, manufacturers have found innumerable ways to shape, fit and attach handles – sometimes concealing tang types, sometimes not.
Sheath Type – Survival knives and their sheath can be hung on many places of the body – belt, hip, thigh, chest, shoulder, back. Most, and in our evaluation, the best survival knives come with a belt loop attachment type.
Unfortunately, for many knife manufacturers, even reputable ones, the sheath is an afterthought. It’s unfortunate because the sheath is important. It protects both you and the knife from damage. It determines how quickly you can draw the knife – or not. It, hopefully, prevents the knife from falling out.
There are many types of sheaths, different in materials, attachment capability (MOLLE), body position and storage capability. Many of them are not well designed, or at best, minimal in quality or not appropriate for the way you intend to use the knife.
Fortunately, you are not stuck with a sheath. If you don’t like the one that comes with the knife, then you can select your own. Of course, you pay for it and finding just the right sheath to fit the knife may not be easy.
- Sheath Closure Type – This is an important detail, since losing a survival knife by having it fall out of the sheath is…unacceptable. There are three main closure types: Snap, Velcro and strap.
- Sheath Material – There are many kinds of sheath materials, both synthetic and natural with leather perhaps the most popular (the best survival knife sheath material in our opinion) and some synthetics more durable and weather resistant.
- Lanyard Hole – The hole drilled at the butt end of a knife to attach a lanyard (cord). Useful where dropping the knife might lose it permanently (over water, on mountain cliffs).
TOP 8 SURVIVAL KNIVES OF 2018
#8 – Schrade SCHF9 12.1in Stainless Steel Fixed Blade Knife
#7 – Ka-bar U.S. Marine Corp Fighting Utility Knife
#6 – Ka-bar Becker BK2 “Campanion” Fixed Blade Knife
#5 – Gerber Strong Arm Military Knife
#4 – Gerber LMF II Infantry
#3 – Ka-bar Becker BK7 Combat/utility Knife
#2 – Esee-6 Plain Black Blade w/ Grey Removable Micarta Handles
#1 – Esee Laser Strike Fixed Blade Knife