Best survival knife

A great survival knife is a must-have item in your bug out and get home bags. Top experts curate the best choices among hundreds of options.

[See the full post at: Best survival knife]

  • Comments (38)

    • 6

      Fallkniven F1:

      I have this knife,

      it is my total favorite to carry,
      it feels so sweet in the hand,
      is tough beyond belief,
      takes a huge amount of punishment and comes up smart,
      cuts through anything,
      takes an amazingly sharp (razor sharp) edge,
      and did I mention . . .
      I Love it!!

    • 2

      Preppers would be better served by spending their knife money to buy the tools needed to make a knife, and developing that skill. Buying a knife doesn’t make me stronger, smarter or more skilled. Building a knife does, and provides me with a useful and negotiable craft. Knives are maybe the oldest of tools-axes and hammers might be older, and don’t need to be CNC machined out of exotic steel to be useful.

    • 8

      Did you ever write the follow up to the Koster Muck?

      • 5

        I didn’t end up writing a followup, no. After much delay and back-and-forth, Koster eventually took the knife back and fixed the most egregious grind issues. It’s better, but the basic problem is still the design. The design is just not good, IMO.

        It’s 6 inches, so it’s right in that middle ground where it’s still not a good chopper but too big to be good at smaller knife stuff. The way it bulges toward the middle also makes it more awkward to use the tip and belly for fine work, because it feels kind of unwieldy.

        Anyway, the design has issues, and the maker definitely has issues, so while it’s a nice knife to look at and I keep using it hoping it’ll grow on me, I still don’t like it.

      • 3

        I have heard of the issues with the maker. Thanks for the reply. Hopefully you get some use out of the knife.

      • 3

        I’m mostly getting use out of it for website photos, because it does photograph pretty well 🙂 But I should probably just sell it and buy something I really like.

    • 5

      >> Heat treatment is more important than type of steel, so don’t worry too much about intricate steel profiles like 1095 vs. D2 vs. VG10.

      Right on first, questionable on second. There are reasons people avoid generic heat treatment D2 on bigger chopping blades.

      • 6

        I’ve updated this to make it a little more clear and remove the reference to D2.

      • 4

        Thanks. It is not like there is no chop-capable D2 blades out there, but, being 1.5+% carbon, it is easier to make (too) hard than tough.

        I do have to disagree on Busse’s INFI composition being close to D2. Open data suggests thrice less carbon, not-so-stainless 8% chromium and less alloying overall (they obviously aimed at having finer grain and Sandvik-esque qualities).

        That is nitpicking on my part, mostly. Cramming all-encompassing reference on commonly used knife steels into this post would have been both impractical and irrelevant. Also, I have a feeling that were not I lazy to use the Force search, I would have come upon said reference 🙂

    • 5

      Build a man a fire, he will be warm for the night. Set a man on fire, he will be warm for the rest of his life.

    • 7

      It’s nice to read an internet article about knives by somebody who actually knows something about knives for a change.

    • 4

      No Mora Knives? I will yield to the experts, but never heard a bad word about Mora Knives and prepares and outdoorsman.

      • 5

        We did include the Morakniv Companion as one of our two picks under $25. It’s not featured in a product card, but it is recommended in the guide (and is a great knife for the money).

      • 3

        I’m sorry, I must have missed it. I read all of the Knives categories and think you guys did a great job of not throwing everything into one article. Too much info!

        Hate to be “that guy” that complains about “his” favorite knife not showing up, but the Moras are great Knives.

    • 5

      Interesting selections. I will respectfully disagree on a few points.

      The Falkniven blades are *not* supersteel in today’s market. VG-10 (used in the core of the blade) isn’t a bad stainless steel. It holds an edge reasonably well. It *was* a “supersteel” compared to the earlier 440C and 8cr13mov types but there are at least a dozen better types of stainless steel like S30VN, S35VN and all of the wondersteels that are currently being used. The 420j2 steel that the VG-10 is sandwiched between has great corrosion protection but that’s about all. It’s soft and has pretty terrible edge retention. *IF* you require a stainless blade, a Falkniven isn’t a bad choice, but it is awfully expensive for the quality of the blade you are getting. Remember that the F1 is military issue. It is “good enough” without being too expensive to issue to troops.

      I’m not afraid of high carbon tool steels. They make awesome knife blades. My Randall #5 has a forged blade made from O1 tool steel. It has not pitted or turned red-orange over the last 35 years. (Neither have any of the old school Case knives that I have picked up over the years.) 1905 is also a terrific steel for blades. I don’t think anybody will scoff over the durability of a Ka-Bar or an ESEE knife made from 1095. Both steels are harder and will hold an edge better than VG-10. If you live in the western USA, in an arid climate, carbon steel will not rust to the point of being unusable. If you are willing to wipe your blade with something or rinse it to get blood, acidic fruit juice, and salt off of it, carbon steel will be fine. Better still, wipe it occasionally with a corrosion inhibiting oil and take care of the freaking thing. Some people believe that the patina that a carbon steel blade acquires over the years gives it character.

      This is my recommendation of the ESEE-4. The F1’s blade is thinner and the steel is softer. It will be more likely to be bent if you get aggressive with it. There are a lot of people who believe that a knife you expect to bet your life on ought to have a blade thickness of 1/4″ or 6 mm.

      Thanks for allowing this critique. It’s worth every cent that you paid for it.

      • 4

        The ESEE-4’s blade thickness is 0.188,” and the F1’s is 0.177″, so not a meaningful difference there, especially when you account for the fact that the F1 is a full inch shorter (so less leverage).

        As for if VG-10 still counts as a “super steel,” this is sort of subjective. VG-10 is dated, but the term “super steel” is itself dated. I definitely agree with you that S35VN is the new stainless survival knife hotness, and I wish Fallkniven would offer the F1 in that as an option (instead of their 3G, which I don’t love).

        As for if the F1 in VG-10 will bend, it won’t. It’ll chip, crack, or shatter, but it doesn’t really bend or roll. The now-defunct knifetests.com did a great series of destruction tests on Fallkniven’s VG-10 (the A1), and it took an epic ton of abuse, and outperformed a number of more modern, more expensive blades. It’s very, very tough.

        Regarding the quality and value of the F1, I have to strongly disagree, there. It’s a fantastic knife, and the price is reasonable. I’ve bought two of them with my own money and used one of them for over 15 years. Edge retention, toughness, and ergonomics are top notch.

        Also, I don’t see how you can ding the F1 for being military issue, then recommend the USMC KABAR in the same post. 😀

        The KABAR is great, though, and I agree that 1095 is very good with the right heat treatment.

        I like high-carbon steels, especially the newer ones like 80CrV2, and especially when they’re coated. So as we said in the guide, if you’re ok with a bit of maintenance, they’re a great option.

      • 9

        It’s no wonder knives are confusing to muggles!

    • 7

      After reading this article, I decided I wanted a new quality knife for my kit. I went with the SOG Pillar. I’ve had several SOGs over the years, they’re local, and I liked the knife and it’s look. Thanks.

      • 5

        Thanks for sharing. If you care to, share your thoughts once you’ve used it!

    • 4

      Thoughts on the SOG Seal Pup Elite? I have a multitool and folding saw in my kit, but would like something that could be used to process wood faster than using a folding saw for everything. The F1 seems to have a shorter blade than most in regards to what you’d want for batoning. I already own a non-serrated seal pup elite I rec’d as a gift, but I’m thinking the swedge in at clip point might make the tip too weak for a beating. I’ve been debating buying a new knife that can be used for general purpose cutting and chopping, or instead keeping what I have and adding a Gransfors Bruks SFA to my kit. What would you recommend?

      Your mixed blades article recommends everyone have a field knife, multi-tool, axe, and folding saw, but your GHB and BOB recommendations always include a field knife, multi-tool, and either a folding saw or axe/hatchet, never both. Is there a reason to prioritize and exclude one over the other?

    • 5

      No Bark River blades?

    • 8

      This post is what has convinced me this website is one of the best resources on the interwebz.  The information is complete and recommendations well thought out and fact based.  Well done!  I oscillated between a bark river bravo, falknaven f1, Lt Wright GNS, ESEE 4, and Bradford Guardian 4.5.  I ultimately purchased a Becker BK2 for the BOB which is basically a sharpened crowbar and would be more useful in my urban location.  I will still probably pick up a proper bushcraft knife and have options depending on the scenario and because Bark River makes some gorgeous knives even if Mike Stewart is a pompous @$$hole.

      • 8

        Thanks! What have you thought of the BK2?

      • 5

        It’s a beast for sure.  I’m considering moving it to my get home back as the all in one tool and going with a smaller (Becker harpoon) knife and kukri for the main bag.

    • 6

      Fallkniven has a limited run of a tungsten-infused VG10 for their S1.  They say it holds an edge better and resists damage.  I haven’t seen a review for one yet, so time will tell.  I have their S1, payment for helping them with English translations of the website in the early 2000’s.  I am quite fond of it.

    • 5

      I love knives, especially beautiful, full-tang ones like these.

      But I am having a hard time seeing how to justify keeping one in a Level 1 BOB. 

      You already have a decent knife in your multitool. So what added benefit is there really with a field knife?

      In a true wilderness survival situation, sure, I can see how it would be handy. But I would much rather have a hatchet+multitool than the somewhat redundant field knife+multitool in that situation anyway. I have spent thousands of hours camping and working in the wilderness as well as working in disaster response. I have always carried a pocket knife and a multitool. For longer periods in the wilderness I also carry a folding saw and sometimes an axe. But I have never missed a field knife in any of these situations.

      Disclaimers: 1. I am not a hunter. 2. I live in an area with hardwood forests.

      The main arguments I have against the field knife are:

      1. It is fairly expensive and relatively heavy in the context of a Level 1 BOB.

      2. In several states, knives of this length/type are illegal to carry in public. I imagine they could also attract negative attention in a refugee camp, public evacuation transportation, or if you were stopped/detained by the authorities.

      So, please convince me: Why include a field knife in the Level 1 BOB? Please give specific examples of what you would use it for.

      I am not posting this to try to convince you that you are wrong. You clearly know what you are talking about and most of the things on this website seem spot on.

      I am posting it to ask you to convince me why I am wrong.

      • 8

        1.   If you don’t anticipate processing much wood then, yeah, it could be seen that way.  But you also state you think a knife is too heavy but you’d rather carry a hatchet/multi tool which is clearly heavier?  Also, a leather man wave is just as expensive as a solid survival knife.  I think a survival knife might make the MOST sense in a level one bag where you might not have a saw/axe/hatchet/Kukri in a more complete bag.

        2. Concealed carry you are most certainly right.  Most states have exceptions for open carry or outdoor activities.  In a scenario where you are bugging out – normal laws will probably be out the window.  It can always be discarded before entering a checkpoint or shelter if needed.

        I don’t think anyone will try and convince you you are wrong – a lot of being prepared is what works for you and your situation.  A multi-tool hatchet combo is fine – hell I think the winner of Alone season 6 had that and butchered a moose with his leather man.  Was it the best tool for the job? No, but it worked…

        I have a Becker in my bag as it would be useful in my urban environment as a knife for basic fire/shelter tasks, self defense, digging and as a pry bar (it’s a quarter inch thick) with a folding saw mostly to clear a road if needed, and a leather man.  Between those I’m confident I can handle 90% what would be needed to get to safety, but clearly I don’t intend to live in the woods for years on end.

      • 5

        These are all great points, and we talk through some of these issues in this article: https://theprepared.com/gear/guides/how-to-choose-bladed-tools/

        My main thought on your particular case is that first and foremost you have to do what works for you. If you have experience with a hatchet plus multitool combo, and that works for you, then that’s probably your best bet. I personally have been trying out that combo and I love it.

        All of that said, I think optimizing for a wilderness survival scenario is a mistake. Even though I live outside of town on some land, I consider myself far more likely to end up in a suburban or urban survival scenario than a wilderness one. And in an urban survival scenario, a good field knife is also a lever that can be used for prying, digging, hammering, etc.

        As an example, on my last family camping trip to Big Bend, I used my field knife to get enough leverage to open up the stuck cap on a diesel transfer flow tank (it’s hard to describe, but it was designed such that you could lay a bar across the top and crank), and then I went inside and broke up an ice bag with that same knife. I’ve also used knives for access — window breaking and getting a door open.

        So if I’m imagining myself trying to get into or out of a man-made structure, or trying to create access holes in such a structure (for airflow, visibility, listening, etc.) then I want something that will get the job done. And a multitool or a wood-handled hatchet aren’t the answer.

        You can do all the “field knife” stuff I mentioned above with a good tactical tomahawk, so if you love the hatchet then maybe multitool plus tactical ‘hawk is a winner. I’m sort of headed that direction, myself, with my own preps.

      • 6

        The other thing I should mention is that a field knife is a compromise all the way around. For slicing, a thinner blade (hollow ground especially) is best. For cutting, especially anything fibrous, you can’t beat a serrated blade. For carving, a smallish Scandi grind blade is best (like a bushcraft knife). For chopping, use a hatchet or kukri. For digging, use a shovel. For prying, use a prybar. For demolition and access, use a fireman’s axe.

        Whatever it is you’re doing with a field knife, you can do better with some other tool. But the reason we recommend one for most people is that you can do just about everything with it. So in my opinion, it’s totally ok to specialize away from the all-purpose field knife if you know what you’re doing and you’ve thought it through.

        And in my own use case these days, a field knife is more like a security blanket. It’s what I’m used to, so I like knowing I have one around. But like you, when I’m in the bush I always end up using a multitool plus a larger blade (in my case, historically it’s a machete because I’m near the Gulf and not around much hardwood, but as I said I’m using a tactical hatchet right now and it’s working really well). The field knife usually stays in the pack or in the truck, unless I’m cleaning game.

      • 7

        Thanks, Jon and Hydrae, for your quick, cordial responses.

        I was being narrow-minded about knives: I’d always considered it sacrilege to use a knife for anything other than cutting and slicing.

        If I think of a field knife less with my preconceived notions about a proper “knife” and more as a versatile chunk of strong, sharp metal with myriad uses, I start to see its value in a level 1 BOB

        Unfortunately, in the northeastern states where I spend much of my time, I’m limited to a 4-inch blade.

        Nevertheless, I plan to pick up a cheap Mora Craftline Robust (only 3.6 inches) and start carrying it daily to see what uses and abuses it finds.


      • 8

        Those little Mora Craftlines are good little knives. A while back I ordered several just to have around, if you lose or damage them they’re cheap to replace. I have 1 in each of my kits, and I even use them to slaughter rabbits. Keep a sharpening stone handy, they will dull but they sharpen up quickly.

    • 8

      FYI: the Fiddleback Forge Duke has been discontinued. Or at least the “mid-tech” (a.k.a. “affordable”) version has.

    • 3

      (Sharing this comment from a reader who wanted to stay anonymous:)

      I recently bought the Lionsteel M4, a full tang 3.74 inch blade, with M390 steel and leather sheath. I thing its far surpass the Fallkniven F1 in every way. It could hold the edge for a whole month after sharpened with daily use, the only downside is super steel are a little bit harder to sharpen if you dull the edge completely, but normal touch up ceramic and stropping would be fine. What do you think about this one, and do you think it should also be on the recommend list?

      • 3

        The Lionsteel stuff is great, but as you’ve noticed the steel is very hard, which makes it a pain to sharpen in the field — especially if you’re using a field-expedient/improvised sharpening method. The F1’s VG10 is quite easy to work with while still having great edge retention, which is why it’s the recommendation and not one of the harder tool steels.

    • 3

      There’s a typo it’s the Becker BK2 not BK22. 

      Curious that the DH Russell Canadian belt knife didn’t get a mention. This is one of the best all around knife designs I’ve ever used. Does everything from delicate tasks like cleaning fish to heavier work like making feather sticks with ease. 

      • 2

        Great catch Clark! Thank you, I’ve fixed the typo in the article.

        The DH Russell Canadian looks like an interesting knife. This is the one you are talking about right?1024x683

        At first glance I thought that it was such a weird design but after thinking about it more I can see how it could be used for delicate work and also be durable enough for heavier tasks like you said. Is there anything with the design you would change? Maybe a more durable handle like a canvas micarta? Wood’s great, but just wondering if you would change anything or if you feel like it is a pretty perfect knife for you.

      • 2

        I find the handle design really comfortable and ergonomic. Wood handle hasn’t ever failed me in decades of use, but it’s nice to know I could probably field repair if I had to. The wide blade is great for things like making sandwiches, and the stippled back edge allows a thumb rest for fine work. It’s also a heavy enough blade for making fire sticks, but not the weight of a BK2. All the Grohmann Canadian knife designs are good, but the one you’ve pictured has been my constant trail knife for over 30 years. Plus it doesn’t scream tactical even when carried (as I do) swinging from the outside of my pack. (Lanyard is attached on mine by an S swivel; it’s never fallen all the way out of the sheath but came close once after a fall)