When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you need all the tools you need to survive. One of those quintessential tools for cutting, trapping, wood carving, and other tasks is a survival knife. The best survival knives are durable, fixed, full tang, and thick—just like the ones you’ll discover in this article.
What Exactly is a Survival Knife?
A survival knife—or what others prefer to call a “field knife”—is used for a variety of tasks that could help you survive and thrive in the wilderness or in an emergency. You can use it for building a shelter, defending yourself, starting a fire, splitting wood, and preparing food, just to name a few.
A survival knife that we know of today was pioneered by Jim Bowie, the inventor of the Bowie knife. This knife style was issued to U.S. soldiers, especially to air crew members, during the Second World War. U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War also had survival knives to help them survive and fight in the jungle.
Common features of a survival knife:
- 3/16 to 1/4 inches thick blade
- 4.5 to 6 inches long blade
- 90-degree blade spine (unsharpened part)
- 1095 or D2 high-carbon steel for the blade material
- Flat or Scandinavian (more popular) blade grind
- Handle material is typically made of durable and lightweight Micarta
- Fixed and full tang (Meaning, the blade and handle are formed from a single, continuous metal.)
But, how does a survival knife differ from a hunting knife?
The first difference is their purpose: the hunting knife is mostly used for skinning an animal, boning and skinning fish and meat, and even opening canned goods. On the other hand, a survival knife can perform the same things that a hunting knife can do, plus more.
A hunting knife has a hollow grind, which has an excellent slicing ability. A survival knife can either have a flat grind (best for general tasks and whittling) or a Scandinavian grind (best for bushcraft tasks).
Survival knives are usually longer and thicker than hunting knives. Anything shorter than 3.5 inches or longer than 4.5 inches will make it slightly challenging for you to control a hunting knife.
The fixed blade of the well-respected Buck 119 hunting knife is only 0.175 inches thick. Compare that to the blade of a survival knife, which could have a thickness of 0.188 to 2.5 inches.
Now that you know the basics of survival knives, let’s talk about your best options right now.
The Best Survival Knives for Living Off-Grid
Ka-Bar United States Marine Corps Fighting Knife
Ka-Bar’s United States Marine Corps Fighting Knife is probably one of the most popular fixed-blade knives in the world. If you’re looking for an exceptionally sharp and versatile survival knife with a good-quality sheath to boot, this is a must-have for your gear.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) Fighting Knife boasts of a 1095 Cro-van steel blade with a gold-plated guard (quillon) and pommel. Designed with a long, continuous cutting edge, this 7-inch survival knife can do almost anything, specifically batoning, woodworking, and cutting or chopping soft and hard foods in a few simple strokes.
The USMC is sharp, tough, and has a good edge retention. But just like other survival knives made from the same material, it can rust easily. To solve this issue, Ka-Bar coated it with epoxy powder to provide additional wear and corrosion protection.
Chris Reeve Knives Pacific
The Chris Reeve Knives Pacific is an award-winning survival knife.
The Pacific’s blade (can be serrated or non-serrated) measures 6 inches long. It’s made out of CPM S35VN stainless steel, which is a common material for outdoor knives that need to be exceptionally tough, sharp, and wear resistant. It’s coated with Cerakote to protect the blade from abrasion and corrosion, while enhancing its strength.
Together with its textured canvas Micarta handle, the clip point shape of the blade makes sure you get a good grip and control of the knife. And because of the sharper and thinner spine, it can easily slice and pierce into almost anything.
Ontario Knife Company 499 Air Force Survival Knife
Designed to meet the U.S. army’s specifications, the 499 Air Force Survival Knife by the Ontario Knife Company (OKC) can exceed expectations. It’s a robust tool that you can use for almost anything, from cutting to pounding to skinning.
The 4.5-inch handle is wrapped in brown leather. The pentagon-shaped butt end is made from heavy-duty metal that’s well-suited for minor pounding jobs.
The full-tang, serrated blade is 5 inches long and 0.1875 inches thick. It’s made from tough 1095 carbon steel that’s coated with zinc phosphate to make sure it doesn’t rust easily.
The Ontario Knife Company 499 Air Force survival knife is so sharp that it can literally shave your forearm hair. It’s also easy to sharpen. That’s why it includes a sharpening stone with pouch, so you can sharpen it wherever you are.
Gerber LMF II Infantry
The field-tested Gerber LMF II Infantry was designed by Jeff Freeman, a well-respected knife maker and a military veteran. So, it’s not surprising that the quality of this survival knife is outstanding.
At 4.84 inches, the LMF II Infantry has a relatively short blade that fully extends through a glass-reinforced nylon handle with a TPV overmold for a more comfortable grip. The fixed, partially-serrated blade is made from 420HC stainless steel that’s incredibly tough, rust resistant, and easy to sharpen.
The handle of the LMF II Infantry has dual holes in the guard and a single hole in the butt. These holes can come in handy when adding a safety cord or fastening the knife to a stick or fishing spear.
The American-made ESEE-5P Knife is a beast. With its size, quality, and weight, it can do heavy camping and hiking tasks without problems. The best part is it’s backed with the most thorough warranty in the industry. With proper care, it can offer years of service.
The ESEE-5P has a total length of 11 inches, with its drop-point blade measuring 5.25 inches long and 0.25 inches thick. It’s made from full-tang, 1095 high-carbon steel that has a textured powder finish. It has a 5.75-inch canvas Micarta handle with a bow drill divot for starting a fire. Its spine also features thumb jimping for a more stable grip.
When not in use, you can put it inside its Kydex sheath with clip plate. It doesn’t only hold the knife securely, but it’s also less likely to damage it, regardless of how many times you take it out and place it back inside.
Tops Brakimo (said as Brah-key-moe) was designed by no less than Joe Flowers, an international knife designer and a bushcraft and survival instructor. It’s meant to function as your go-to survival knife and, if necessary, as your machete.
The blade is 5.25 inches long and 0.18 inches thick. It’s made from 1095 high-carbon steel, which is usually tough and can hold edge well. It has a stonewash finish, which is effective in hiding fingerprints, surface scratches, and other imperfections, as well as making the blade less reflective.
The blade’s Scandi grind is a beginner-friendly feature because it requires less effort to sharpen on the field. And since it has a hardness rating of 56-58, it stays sharp longer.
Trivia: In case you’re wondering, Brakimo comes from the language of the Brazilian Matis tribe that means “very good.”
Benchmade 539GY Anonimus
If you’re a fan of Benchmade’s 375-1 Fixed Adamas and 162 Bushcrafter, you should check out the 539GY Anonimus. Light, tough, and well-balanced—it’s a good hybrid of a survival knife and a tactical knife.
The Benchmade 539GY Anonimus features a 5-inch, drop-point blade that’s finished with Cerakote coating. It’s made from CPM Cru-wear steel, aka “super steel,” which provides a great balance of properties—toughness, effortless to sharpen, and excellent edge retention. With a hardness rating of 62-64, it can cut through almost anything, from the branches of a dying tree to chunks of firewood.
This low-profile survival knife includes a large striking choil without a finger guard. The OD green handle is made from high-strength G-10 material. It’s textured to offer a solid grip, whether in dry or wet conditions. It’s wide and thick enough to comfortably fit a large hand.
SC X Michael Vagnino NK1
The SC X Michael Vagnino NK1 is a product of the collaboration between ABS Mastersmith Michael Vagnino and Terrain 365. This reliable, fixed-blade knife is ideal for various purposes and outdoor activities—camping, day hikes, hunting with small game, recreational water activities, and much more.
Measuring at 3.25 inches (blade length), this lightweight survival knife makes accurate slicing possible. The full-tang blade is made from Terravantium dendritic cobalt, which doesn’t corrode and rust easily.
When it comes to its handle, you don’t need to worry it won’t fit your hands. It’s wrapped in durable ALSE-type paracord (3mm) that you can adjust or remove in just a few minutes to suit your needs.
The James Brand Hell Gap
The name Hell Gap comes from the Native American arrowhead in Platte County, Wyoming. This is actually the company’s first fixed-blade survival knife, and it didn’t disappoint. The craftsmanship is simply perfect.
It has an overall length of 7.8 inches, with the blade measuring 3.8 inches long. It might be small, but its CPM S35VN stainless steel blade is more than capable of doing a lot of demanding tasks, from food prepping to setting up a trap for a small prey.
The knife handle is made of textured canvas Micarta scales, which is a popular material in heavy-duty survival knives. It also comes with a paracord lanyard and two options for the sheath: nylon and Kydex.
Toor Knives Field 2.0
The Toor Knives Field 2.0 is an aesthetically appealing survival knife. The fluted wooden handle is handmade in the Crelicam Ebony mill that’s based in Cameroon, so each user get a unique piece every time. Toor Knives also offers text or image engraving option for a more personalized touch.
Designed for everyday carry, the Field 2.0 is made from CPM 154, a high-end stainless steel that offers a great mix of exceptional toughness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. The 0.1875-inch thick steel blade can handle virtually any task out in the wild, including cutting through large animal bones, while retaining considerable sharpness.
This survival knife comes with a sheath made from the best-quality Hermann Oak saddle leather. And to ensure you get your money’s worth, Toor Knives backs it with their lifetime warranty.