Best Survival Knife Review Guide and What Do You Really Need a Knife
The choices are endless as is the pricing when it comes to survival knives. Price, however, is not always an indication of usefulness. Some of the more expensive knives on the market today may look great mounted over the fireplace but have no practical value in the field. However, as any expert will tell you, the best survival knife there is, is the one you have on you in a survival situation.
Your survival knife is a multi-tool and you should be able to skin/dress wild game, clean fish as well as chop/split wood for a fire or for shelter building. You may need to use your knife as a digging tool, cutting tool for gear repair/thread cutting and carving small items such as wooden fishhooks. Your knife is also an eating utensil.
Picking out the Right Knife for You
Some experts or survivalist go on and on about a knife’s weight. The lighter in some people’s mind the better because after all less weight in a pack or on the belt is better. Quality steel is heavy and depending on the blade thickness, a good survival knife will have some heft to it. However, do not purchase a survival knife just because it is “space age lightweight” or feels like an ax in your hands. There are several factors you must consider when purchasing a survival knife.
In some cases, manufacturers will lighten a knife blade by cutting notches in the Choil (unsharpened edge) this is called “jimping” and they serve a purpose by giving you a thumb or index finger grip to choke up on the knife for delicate cutting tasks. However, some makers of knives are all about “show” so they will cut deep multiple notches to give the knife a dangerous, fierce or tactical look and thus weaken the blade.
Many manufacturers have developed knives that are lightweight yet the blade is high carbon steel. The blade has to hold up under the rigors of camp life and carbon steel is harder than stainless but it takes more effort to put an edge back on the blade and carbon will corrode/rust unless oiled regularly.
Stainless is a softer material in comparison to carbon steel so the edge will dull faster but it can be sharpened more quickly. Stainless is corrosion resistant so rusting is not something to worry about and quality stainless steel can be used around saltwater for marine applications.
For those of you that do not want to hone your blade that often then carbon steel blades are the obvious choice and is a good choice for any skinning knife. On the other hand, you will need the proper honing stone to put the edge back on because of the hardness of the metal.
A stainless steel blade with a certain percentage of carbon will hold an edge fairly well and because it is a combination of stainless and carbon it can be honed in the field using a semi-course stone you would find laying about, sandpaper and the file blade on a multi-tool.
I have picked out some knives for comparison to give everyone a general idea of what to look for. Some of the descriptions will be abbreviated but the most pertinent information will be left on, information such as lengths along with blade and handle material.
However, before we get to the choices here is some information on handle and blade materials. The list is by no means comprehensive but contains some of the more common materials used in the making of handles and blades.
Knife Handle Materials
Glass Reinforced Nylon (GRN):
- Is impact and abrasion resistant thermoplastic polyamide (a form of nylon), combined with fiberglass (from 13% to 60%). GRN is resistance to most common chemicals such as motor oil, transmission fluid, and methanol
- Has good mechanical properties and is one of the most common alloys for general-purpose use it is typically anodized for extra protection and color (hard-anodized coatings offer superior scratch resistance)
- G-10 is made up of fiberglass soaked in resin then compressed and heated. The technique makes it resistant to liquids and allows it to remain stable under extreme temperature fluctuations G-10 is commonly black but it can be custom ordered in various colors
- Carbon Fiber is a modern composite, which is made from thin layers of carbon strands tightly woven and cured under high pressure with resin
- Micarta is created from soaking layers of linen cloth/canvas in resin, then pressing them together under heat and it is available in various colors and can be ordered in a smooth or rough finish
- Kraton is a synthetic replacement to rubber and it is typically over-molded on the knife handle to provide added grip
- Natural Materials include bone, wood, and leather
Common Blade Materials
Chosen Best Survival Knives
1.) ESEE-3P-KO-DT, PLAIN EDGE
- ESEE-3-DT with green canvas Micarta handle
- Plain edge (ESEE-3P-KO-DT) or serrated edge (ESEE-3S-KO-DT) By ESEE Knives
- Overall knife Length is 8 5/16″
- Cutting Surface length is 3 3/8″
- Total Blade Length: 3 7/8″
- Maximum thickness: 1/8″
- High Carbon 1095 Steel
2.) Columbia River Bez Tine Skinner 2850
- Length of blade is 3.25″ (8.3 cm)
- Thickness is 0.16″ (0.40 cm)
- Steel composition 1.4116, 55-57 HRC
- Total length: 7.375″ (18.7 cm)
- Weight: 2.6 oz. (74 g)
3.) Full-size Black KA-BAR 1214 with Serrated Edge
- Steel: 1095 carbon
- Handle material: Kraton G
- Edge angle: 20 degrees
- Blade length: 7″
- Overall length: 11 3/4″
- Weight 0.66 lbs.
4.) 14101BT/Benchmade-14101SBT, PLAIN EDGE
- 9CR13 tanto blade (58-60 HRC)
- Heavy duty 0.20″ thick blade
- Blade length: 4.80″
- Blade material: 9CR13 stainless steel
- Blade hardness: 58-60HRC
- Overall length: 9.00″
- Blade style: tanto
- Weight 11.22oz.
5.) Blackhawk Tatang 15TT00BK 15TT10BK, SERRATED EDGE
- Overall Length: 13.500″
- Blade Material: 1085C high-carbon tool steel
- Blade Finish: Black epoxy coating
- Edge type: Plain or partially serrated
- Handle Material: Thermoplastic rubber with textured panels
6.) Kershaw Field Knife 1082, BLACK
- Overall length: 7 1/4″
- Weight: 4.0 oz
- Handle: textured G-10 overlay
- Steel: Sandvik 14C28N, stonewashed finish
7.) 158OT Old Timer 7 1/4 inch Guthook Skinner
- Overall length: 7.3″
- Handle length: 3.7″
- Blade length: 3.5″
8.) SOG Knives SOG-E37TS-K
- Thicker steel stock (.185)
- Newly designed longer ergonomic handle with deeper finger grooves
- Racy new blade shape with longer cutting edge
- Injection molded glass reinforced handle scored with grip lines
- Blade length: 4.85″
- Overall length: 9.5″
- Weight: 5.4 oz
- Edge: Partially serrated
- Steel: AUS 8
- Handle: zytel
- Blade length: 5.3″ x .173″
- Overall length: 10.43″
- Weight: 8.4 oz
- Edge: straight
- Steel: VG-10
- HRC: 59-60
- Handle: zytel
10.) RAT Cutlery ESEE-4S-MB
- ESEE-4 serrated edge knife, black sheath, MOLLE back, Paracord, black blade, grey linen Micarta handle
- Overall Length: 9.0″
- Cutting Edge length: 4.06″
- Blade Length (end of handle to tip of blade): 4.5″
- Blade Width: 1.25″
- Maximum thickness: 0.188″
- Knife Weight: 7.4 ounces
- Drop point blade style
- 1095 Carbon Steel – 57 Rc
- Rounded Pommel w/ lanyard hole
- Vertical and horizontal carry
Personally, I do not care for serrated blades on a survival knife, because of how difficult they are to sharpen, but some of you might. What exactly is a serrated blade used for and do you need one. The military has a knife for every occasion and troops do not mind having a few strapped to their bodies for various tasks but when putting together a survival pack you do not want a dozen tools you want a tool that does a dozen jobs.
The serrated blade was and is used for cutting webbing mainly chute harness and straps on tactical gear or restraining belts such as seat belts for rapid deployment from a tight spot such as when hung up in a tree or trapped in a vehicle. The serrations cut through heavy cordage and nylon/canvas webbing quickly and even through clothing on an injured individual. Each aviator and others were issued a fully serrated blade.
Then came along the partly serrated blade thus the beginnings of a multi-tool where you only had to carry one knife.
Unless you are looking for a machete, the overall knife length should be less than 12 inches. Any longer than that and the knife gets awkward to handle and some tasks may be difficult or impossible to accomplish.
My Personal Favorites
The RAT Cutlery ESEE-4S-MB is one of the better knives on the market. It is a tough beast of a knife. It is a survival knife in the truest sense of the word. The blade material is carbon steel and holds an edge through some of the toughest chores to include the skinning game. However, it is not designed as a skinning knife any knife should be able to be used as one. You cannot carry a knife just for skinning, or just for carving, you need one that can do it all.
The handle is Micarta and some of the polished Micarta handles look and feel like glass but with a texture that will not slip even when wet.
The SOG Knives SOG-E37TS-K has an excellent design and fits well in the hand. Once you hold this knife, you feel as if anything is possible. Big enough for some heavy chores like chopping wood or heavy vines. It is carbon steel so it must be oiled now and again but once sharp, it stays that way. A drop point blade is ideal for strength so you can do plunge cuts into ice or the ground. The drop point design helps prevent snapping off the blade tip under stress. It has a Micarta handle that fits your hand like a glove.
The Full-size Black KA-BAR 1214 with Serrated Edge lets you know that just by its looks it can get the job done. Used by the military for decades the name KA-BAR has always been associated with quality knives. A KA-BAR keeps doing the dirty jobs long after most other knives have given up. Even though it has a partially serrated blade, the fine edge is enough for any job and the heavy serrated blade makes short work of vines, heavy rope, leather and heavy nylon/canvas.
The knives listed above are for comparison only and each one has a uniqueness about it that sets it apart from other so-called survival knives.
You want to look at blade material and handle material. Remember you will be in the wilds depending on your knife. If asked what tool would you pick if you only had one to choose it would have to be a knife and if your life depends on your knife it had better be up to the challenge.