Finding the best survival knife that can do it all is a daunting task to say the least. There are many choices available. So many in fact, that research can boggle the mind. And, as far as I'm concerned there is not one, perfect, survival knife. But here is a quick list of knife qualities I use when considering purchasing the best survival knife.
Best survival knife
What to look for in a survival knife?
A working survival knife must have the following qualities.
- durability - unbreakable
- thin blade relief
- easy to sharpen in the field
- comfortable handle
- easy to carry
- gadget free
Best Survival Knife for the beginner
For beginners, I recommend a fixed blade that is four to five inches in length. Making sure the Tang runs the full length of the handle for strength and long-term durability.
A thin carving edge is my preference for a survival knife
The cutting edge of the blade, called the relief, should be thin for easy carving. Not a thick carving edge which is designed more for chopping. Such as an ax edge.
Thick edged knives
Most unbreakable survival knives have a thick edge. The thicker edge is to prevent the chipping of the edge through hard use. Such as chopping or cutting hard, dried, woods.
Medium thick edged knife
An example of a medium thickness blade for a sturdy survival knife is the FallknivenF1.
However, even though the F1 has a thicker knife edge compared to SOGS Northwest Ranger. It still meets my requirements for a great field survival knife!
Knife Handles for comfort
The handle should fit comfortably in the hand and balance well. We're not looking for a Machete or a Bowie here, a good strong, comfortable working knife with a thin relief blade, (Scandi grind if possible) is what we're after.
The comfort of a knife handle is a key factor to consider for the beginner. After a short time of steady carving. Uncomfortable handles will make your hand sore and more than likely blister.
My short list of Survival Knives I recommend
- F1 Fallkniven
A very short list, Right? There are many excellent survival knives produced in the USA. And I have more knife company's listed below that you should definitely check out.
The information provided here is to help you with your own decision to find the best survival knife. A knife that suits you.
Utility Survival Knives
For general use and a functional utility survival knife for everyday carry. I like the Järvenpää Classic Puka. I use this knife frequently for a variety of bush craft applications. Such as my hand-carved Netting Needles. But I do use a variety of knives for any given carving project.
If all I had was my Puka (Puukka) with me during a full survival exercise. No worries. This little Puka would get me through just fine.
Your skill in the use of a knife. Trumps any knife.
The Fallkniven F1, SOG Ranger, and the Finnish Puukka are all useful knives. I often will use all three for carving my Netting Needles. I have other knives of course but these are the blades I use most often.
In the photo below, beginning from left to right are my
- Folding Crosscut Saw (Not a knife, but very handy).
- The Fallkniven F1
- UKW Survivor
- Järvenpää Puka
- Village Parang by Condor knives
Fallkniven Swedish Knives - Wienert's choice
I love the simple and economic lines on the Swedish Fallkniven A1. And my personal favorite, the F1 survival knife.
Both are devastatingly economic in no-nonsense knife application. The F1 would be my recommendation for, THE EDGE. Extreme survival training.
They both have classic a straight back, which is a must for me. No gimmicks. Because of their lightweight both of these knives are excellent for use with a baton. Each one a serious working knife for the bush.
The F1 Handle
The F1 handle is made of Thermorun, (Trademark) is very comfortable and easy on the hands. Especially if you're not used to carving.
Mora carving knives
You do not need to spend a lot of money for a carving knife for practicing survival skills. Down the road when you have some carving time behind you, you will have a better idea of the type of knife that fits you best. As well as the type of work you use it for the most.
Mora sells, excellent, affordable, knives for day to day carving. I recommend these knives especially if you haven't carved for a while. A note on Mora's companion series of knives. Many of Mora knives do not have a full tang. But they still are excellent lightweight carvers. These knives are recommended for most of our camps and the Father Son Survival Camp.
If you want to learn more about the knife steel Mora uses for their knives. Read their article "The Steel Makes the Knife."
Mora Companion Knives
Mora knives, especially their Bushcraft series, are lightweight. So be careful how you treat your Mora blade. The edge will chip if used on hard, dry, woods. Also do not pry with these lightweight knives. Great knives for carving but not for rough treatment.
We have been issuing these Mora's for our Teen camp since about 2006. The edge of the blades have seen some chipping over the years. But with a little sharpening the edges comes back quick.
Knives and manufacturers
All major knife manufacturers make knives for survival and bushcraft. So, check out the manufacturer's I have listed below. I also recommend visiting several knife stores in your area and have a look see. Listen to what the dealers have to say, but at all costs, stay away from hollow handle knives.
Many of these long-winded knives have a survival kit stashed in the handle. Some even come with a compass at the end. This is a good idea but unless the quality is high stay away.
Kill me a Bar
A couple of students showed up with Rambo type knives at camp. They looked like they were ready to take on a Grizz instead of carving wood. They soon learned about these types of knives.
After one minute of carving with these monsters their hands were sore. Not far behind, blisters on the horizon. Sorry, these are weak knives and cheesy as well. If that's all you got. More power to you.
There are times when a heavy knife is appreciated when there is a lot of chopping to make your way through thick jungle.
Condor Tool & Knife
This is a new knife company to me. They have some exciting knives. After reading about the Parang knife used by the peoples of Malaysia. I had to have one. I didn't want a 3ft machete so I chose the Village Parang SS, designed by Joe Flowers. The Village Parang is 12" in length, two lb. in weight and all serious knife.
The Walnut handle is a pro finish. For heavy chopping, this heavy weighs in at around 2 lbs. I've had some time to take this knife to task harvesting small dead spruce poles. Cutting, limbing, and peeling bark. Does the job.
Bench Made - made in Oregon City, Oregon. My son in law raves about their pocketknives. They make a higher end woods knife-the Bush Crafter Family. Worth checking out.
Buck Knives make many good knives as well and offer a variety of price ranges. Most are good solid knives though the edge from my experience is dull out of the box and need some relief grinding to get a professional edge.
Cold Steel - Check out the wide variety of knives these folks carry. One of our staff uses the Cold Steel Bowie and has been carrying it with him for many years. It's a keeper.
ESEE Randall's Knives - some great knives! Their Laser Strike fit's our recommendation for everyday carry. definitely check out their knives.
KA-BAR knives have a long history of use. KA-BARS carbon blades do sharpen easily which is positive and their inexpensive. Originally made for heavy utility use, digging foxholes and such, as I said, they are tough!
Ontario knife, I bought their Spec-Plus Bolo knife almost twenty years ago. I liked the look and feel of this large blade, machete-style knife. I use this knife for chopping brush along the trail. But it can be used for any traditional bush field work.
Swiss Army Knives I have had several of these very handy and useful pocket knives over the years. When I snow camped traveling on ski's. The knife with the scissor, toothpick, and screwdriver. Are essential gear for the backcountry.
TOP Knives make a variety of Tactical knives that are in the high dollar range. TOP makes the Tom Brown Tracker Knife, which if you have never seen one check it out on their website. It’s a multi-application knife.
Very beefy and well made. I have tried the earlier version made by Beck, it's quite heavy and expensive, but it’s a work of art. Tom also developed a companion knife to go along with the large Tracker knife.
Utah Knife Works - Mark Russon the owner and knife maker for Utah Knife Works, sent me Russon's UKW Survivor Knife.
The UKW survival knife is indestructible! Which is what you want in a survival knife. However, my main issue with Russon's UKW, is the aggressive saw teeth on the front top of the blade. These teeth are sharp! And will easily take off skin if you handle this knife without leather gloves. Otherwise, the UKW is surprisingly field functional.
The Best Survival Knives
The SOG Northwest Ranger and SOG's Bowie are two knives I have used in the field over the years. Of the two I liked the Ranger the most because of the blades thin relief which makes carving simpler. I still use the NW Ranger today and it sharpens up easy.
SOG Northwest Ranger
As a wilderness skills instructor for over a quarter of a century, for a wood skills knife I like the Northwest Ranger. (This knife is no longer available through SOG.)
It's lightweight, which is good for packing around but to light for chopping. It has a thin relief for carving, important, and it sharpens easily and holds an edge.
The blade has a nice length. A little long, but what it was originally designed for, blade length is fine. The blade is a high grade of stainless steel.
The NW Rangers Finger Guard
There are a few things about this knife I don't like such as the index finger guard can be rough on the finger, but it was designed for use with gloves. And I have learned to use it.
The sheath it comes with is the standard sheath style. If you're crawling around in the brush with it your apt to lose it from the sheath. I have a couple of techniques I use to keep this from happening.
The Ranger is too light to use as a chopper like the Bowie. But having a baton handy helps with that. The Kraton handle is amazingly comfortable, has a lanyard, always a plus with me. It took me a while to get used to the feel of the handle due to its thinness. But after using it for years now I recommend this knife.
The SOG Bowie
I have used this heavy, stainless steel, seventeen ounces, single fixed SOG Bowie many years. The Bowie has a lanyard at the end of the handle. I find lanyards on a knife an important part of its usability. See the SOG Bowie.
The SOG Bowie I use is a commercial high-end version of the Vietnam War Era's fifth Special Forces Groups known as the Study and Observation Group, made by SOG Knives.
The overall length of my version; tip to handle - 11 1/8", The blade length itself is six inches, the width is around 1 1/8", at the middle of the blade. The blade is thick where it meets the handle, a solid one-quarter inch, and tapers to a point thickness of 1/16 at the blade tip, or about 1/32 at the leading edge of the blade.
A comfortable handle makes the difference
The handle is a rubber type material (Kraton) for a better grip, which I have had to re-glue and rivet because of wear. For protection of the hands from slippage there is a brass guard for forefinger and thumb.
First, let's talk about the positive benefits of this knife.
I love the weight of this knife. I use this knife as I would a small hatchet. The weight and the thickness of this blade makes it great for splitting and chopping.
You can get away with some prying with this knife due to the thickness of the blade. But you can break the tip as I have done.
I use a baton with this knife for splitting wood and making spindle blanks for the bow drill. I take a baton (A heavy piece of wood such as a throwing stick, or limb wood) to pound on top of the blade to control my splitting.
The technique works very well with this blade, if I'm careful and stay away from large knots. Rhododendron makes a particularly good Baton as do many hardwoods.
I have skinned many animals with this blade, and I have found that it is not the best type of knife for skinning. But I have also found that the more I used this knife the easier jobs like skinning became.
SOG knife steel
SOG knife blades are made of various stainless steel and chromium blends. Carbon, chromium, and molybdenum blends are excellent quality steel for knives.
Stainless steel reduces the problem with rust but are harder to sharpen. Adding more Chromium to the steel adds hardness and performance. Expect to pay more for a knife with a higher Chromium content.
Knife blades hardness ratings
The hardness rating of the SOG Bowie is Rc. 57-58. The knife buyers guide on the SOG website has great information on the different blade steels including D 2 tool steel. Tool Steel with High carbon-chromium: the D series
Easy to sharpen steel
I prefer soft carbon steel over stainless because it's easier to sharpen in the field. And because it's a softer steel I can dress the edge with a strop to get it working sharp again. Without spending a lot of time on sharpening.
You can reduce rust on both types of steel by keeping it dry and oiling it often. And if you're storing your knife for a while wrap it in an oily cloth. I use vegetable-based oil because I use my knife in food prep.
Gun oil just doesen't taste that great with peanut butter and jelly
The newer model the SOG Bowie, has a black coating. My older model is bright stainless steel and not painted. The knife balance's well in my hand.
The handle has a covering of Kraton. A rubber like substance. Kraton gives the handle a better grip when the knife is wet. It has a sticky feel to it but works well.
Negatives of the SOG Bowie
I found detailed carving with this knife difficult. Especially when cutting notches for a fireboard. The reason is the thickness of the blade edge. Therefore, this blade works well for chopping and not so well for fine carving. I get around this problem of a thick blade using a baton.
This knife has a thick blade. A better blade for fine carving is a blade on a Swiss Army Knife. This very thin blade, when sharp, cuts through softwoods fast. So now this brings up another question...thick blade or thin blade survival knives. I'll get into this in a bit.
Now let us consider the weight of this blade. Weight is an important consideration with gear on your back.
The more you know the less you carry
The SOG Bowie is a very heavy knife. Once you have packed up all the essentials and take your pack for a long hike. This is when you decide what you will carry or leave behind. The difference in weight of a Bowie and a lighter knife will make a difference.
There are advantages to packing a lighter knife with you. You can pack a bit more food, gear, or that extra pint of medicinal spirits that, cough, cough, might be a clever idea.
But then again, I backpacked with this knife many times and was willing to bring the extra weight. It was handy when I needed it.
Another point to consider about stainless-steel knives, is that they take a while to sharpen by hand and in the field. And I'm not that impressed with the SOG Bowie's ability to hold an edge with heavy use.
Having said that. It's possible that it's my sharpening technique at fault. But the proof of the pie is in the eating. And so is the difference between the ease of sharpening carbon again stainless steel.
I use Spyderco's ceramic sharpening system for touching up the my knives. And I use a sandpaper sharpening system which takes a lot of patience to use. But amazingly effective. Especially if you want to save some money. You can read more about the sandpaper sharpening system on my blog post, How to sharpen the Tracker knife.
Stropping is the last part of any knife sharpening system. When I notice my knife edge is beginning to dull. I'll strop the edge to get it back to a polished and sharp edge quickly. So I rarely have to resharpen my knives. I just touch them up with my Strop.
My conclusion and observations on the SOG Bowie
I would not recommend this type of heavy knife for backpacking or the fine detail carving bushcraft demands. Also, over these many years of using knives in the field. I much prefer a thinner relief for a cutting edge as it allows for faster carving.
The Bowie has a thick relief, edge, which makes the blade stronger. And for what this knife is designed for it excels. The SOG Bowie was designed for use in the jungles of Vietnam.
Leave a review of your favorite Survival Knife
Let us know about your recommendations on the Best Survival knives. Or any good sharpening systems you recommend.
A closeup of a Mora companion bush craft knife. Handle and blade.
Wood Jewel "Bear Leuku" Survival Knife Finland
F1 Fallkniven Swedish Pilot Survival Knife