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Budget Gear Review: Five Best Survival Knives (2016)

If you’re like us, and spend a significant amount of time outdoors camping, hiking, hunting, or simply enjoying nature, you want the best equipment—or at least the best within a reasonable budget. The best survival knife can prove invaluable for numerous tasks you would perform in any outdoor scenario, including survival. The following research and reviews will help narrow this ever-broadening market, and assist you with finding the best survival knife for your needs, and budget.

We have compiled a list of high quality survival knives that offer great value. Our focus is on the quality and functionality of the knife, not celebrity endorsements or fancy packaging. A survival knife is a tool that needs to be relied upon in all circumstances and given the proper care and respect.

With careful ownership, your survival knife could last for years and become almost an extension of your arm. The choice of knife is a decision that should not be made quickly or taken lightly.

The 5 Best Survival Knife For Hunting On The Market

​What to Look for in a Survival Knife

Acommon mistake buyers make when searching for a survival blade is to make a choice based on how a knife appears, or which celebrity, government agency, or branch of the military appears on the packaging. We’re not saying that a celebrity endorsed knife will be of inherently poor quality, but products that focus more on a sexy design or a popular celebrity icon raises a few red flags.

The appearance of a knife tells you nothing about how the knife will function or feel in your hand. Below are a few things to take into consideration when you shop around for a survival knife.

​Size

It's a common misconception that the bigger the knife, the better it can perform all the tasks you will need it to do. In truth, the size of the knife shouldn't be cumbersome or awkward for you to hold. A knife that’s ideal for one person may be too big—or too small for you. If it doesn’t immediately make you think “this feels right” when you hold it, you should probably continue shopping. The ideal length averages between 9-11 inches with a 4-6 inch blade, but this may vary depending on an individual's hand.

Bear in mind that larger knives will not be as efficient at slicing and performing more delicate tasks. Large knives are often ideal for hacking, chopping, digging, and similar uses. Smaller knives will do well at more nuanced tasks, but may fall short will more hefty chores like building an emergency shelter.

Fixed vs. Folding

While a folding blade seems like a great choice for an everyday carry (or EDC) knife—it’s not an ideal choice for a survival knife due to the potential weaknesses created by it’s design. The matter comes down to the joint that allows the knife to fold. This joint is often seen as a weak point in the knife and can be detrimental to your survival should the joint give while you are using the knife.

You can still bring a folding knife with you to handle smaller, less demanding tasks, and quite frankly we recommend doing just this. Almost every outdoorsman can find a use for an old-fashioned pocket knife, smaller fixed blade, or a folding knife for their EDC or utility blade. However, your main survival knife should always have a fixed blade.

Blade

The best survival knife blades are full tang. A full tang is when the blade extends down the middle of the handle to the end of the knife. This can be seen from looking at some knives, while others have a completely enclosed handle, making it hard to tell if the knife utilizes a full tang, three-quarter tang, or other design.

Stainless steel or carbon steel are the typical materials used to make knife blades, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Stainless steel is resistant to rust and corrosion, making it easier to maintain. Steel that is qualified as high carbon steel is harder, and therefor known for retaining an edge better than some other steels.

A serrated blade can come in handy, but a wholly serrated blade will be a problem when you need a straight blade. If you want a serrated blade, look for a knife that has a blade that is partially serrated—this will offer you plenty of versatility in the field.

Handle

The handle can be just as useful as the blade of a survival knife. Choosing a knife with a sturdy pommel at the end of the handle allows your survival knife to double as a striking tool. Hollow handles will not be useful for impacts, because they lack heft and are more likely to break. A hole near the end for a lanyard is a good feature—and shouldn’t greatly impact strength.

The best handles are often coated in a material that prevents the hand from slipping and ensures that the grip is well-maintained. If the handle is uncomfortable, strangely shaped, or imbalanced, you will run into problems while using the knife—problems when using a tool that your life depends on are exactly the type of thing we’d like you to avoid. After all, if you die out there in the field, how are you going to come back to read more articles?

A good handle could very wellbe the difference between avoiding the need for medical attention and—you guessed it—requiring medical attention. In a potential survival scenario, any injury exponentially complicates things, so it’s wise choose a properly designed survival blade.

The 5 Best Survival Knives:

1. The Top of the Multi-Purpose Survival Knives: Benchmade Bushcrafter Knife

The Bushcrafter Knife is manufactured by Benchmade and is designed for heavy outdoor use. Interestingly, the original version of this knife was found and used by explosive ordinance technicians who liked the quality of the knife—and used it frequently for cutting plastic explosives.

Their input lead to the redesigning of the survival knife, and here you have it.

The blade is fashioned using S30V stainless steel and keeps its sharp edge with care. The knife is well-balanced and easily fits in large hands for outdoorsmen and women that find smaller knifes difficult to grip.​

Editor's Rating:

The knife smoothly and efficiently batons, cuts and shaves wood and tinder, butchers game, and can be utilized as a multi-tool. The handle has edges that may dig into the hand upon initial use. The edges can be filed down by hand if they are uncomfortable and the sheath can be replaced with one of your own choosing.

The Bushcrafter’s price is a good deal higher than most survival knives. The higher price speaks to the exceptional quality and durability of the knife. However, it would stand to reason that the handle would be a bit better constructed for such a costly item.​

Things We Liked

  • S30V Stainless steel blade
  • Exceptionally sharp
  • Spine is great for striking a ferro rod
  • High ground drop point with polished finish
  • Thick durable blade
  • Quality leather holster with D ring
  • Full tang
  • Well-balanced

Things We Didn't Like

  • The sheath the knife comes with may be too tight for the knife, requiring the purchase of a separate sheath
  • Handle edges are harsh and may be uncomfortable to grip
  • Large price tag

2. The Top of the Durable Survival Knives: Cold Steel SRK San Mai III with Black Kraton Handle

The SRK San Mai III by Cold Steel is a reasonably attractive knife, if not a bit simple, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for with durability and functionality.

The SRK is sharp and retains its edge even with extensive use. The kraton encased handle helps keep your grip from slipping and makes handling the knife comfortable. The full tang design allows the knife to withstand harsh treatment and being battered through outdoor activities.

The high shine of the blade can be a deal breaker if you are looking for a stealthy knife. While the polish is impressive, it is a bit shocking, but it will fade over time with use. You could also dirty up the blade some to cut down on the shine if it's really a serious concern.​

Editor's Rating:

This knife is a bit expensive and when you venture into the knife market anywhere north of the $100 price range, the competition gets incredibly tough. While the construction is solid and well-done, thematerials alone may not warrant a high price. Still, the quality of the knife is worth the cost, if you can spare a bit more cash.

Things We Liked

  • Kraton handle offers a comfortable, solid grip
  • San Mai III steel made in Japan for high performance
  • Secure sheath comes with the knife
  • Keeps its sharpened edge for an extended period
  • A great survival or fighting knife
  • Designed to take a beating

Things We Didn't Like

  • The Secure-Ex sheath is reported to dull the blade
  • The blade is very shiny and can be almost blinding when the sun reflects off of it
  • May be a cumbersome knife for smaller hands

3. The Top of the Small Survival Knives: Gerber LMF II Survival Knife, Coyote Brown

The Gerber LMF II Survival Knife is a smaller, but sturdy knife compared to others on the market. The weight may not be pleasing to some buyers, but others will find the heftiness a testament to its quality. The pommel is sculpted to become a defensive tool, and can be used to break glass if necessary.

The standard sheath that comes with the knife is versatile and can be worn in several ways. The blade is carbon, which should hold an edge nicely. The serrations would come in handy if you need to saw materials.

Moderately priced, but one thing that’s interested is the LMFII is offered in a few configurations that seem to flex a bit in price.

Editor's Rating:

If you’re serious about this knife, you can find a few great deals on Amazon.​

The LMFII was designed with a few bells and whistles, which drove up the price a bit. It comes equipped with a built-in sharpener, which can be useful, but is unnecessary. The use of plastic in the handle may have contributed to keeping the price down, but a better material would have been a better choice, even if the price went up somewhat.​

Things We Liked

  • Doubles as a glass breaker
  • Built-in sharpener in the sheath
  • Partially serrated blade
  • Well-made, functional sheath
  • Sheath is fire-retardant

Things We Didn't Like

  • Carbon blade needs extra care to prevent rusting
  • Heavy for its size
  • The weakest point seems to be the handle

4. The Top of the Large Survival Knives: Schrade SCHF9N Extreme Survival Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife

Schrade's SCHF9N survival knife was designed for endurance and big jobs. The knife excels at chopping, hacking, and breaking apart materials, but does not have enough delicacy to tackle smaller tasks.

The size and heaviness of the knife lend to its ability to cut and chop wood, but is its downfall for tasks requiring a lighter hand.

Editor's Rating:

On the large side, this knife is perfect for a user with large hands and a good amount of strength. Buyers of smaller builds may find this knife a little unwieldy. A smaller knife is less taxing on the user and less awkward to use for people with smaller hands and less brute strength.

​Sold for around $40, the SCHF9N is a bargain for a survival knife without compromising quality. However, you may need to dole out a bit more money to invest in a knife that can handle less demanding tasks.

Things We Liked

  • Good for hacking, chopping, and heavy tasks
  • Blade is a durable carbon stainless steel
  • Full tang
  • Sturdy

Things We Didn't Like

  • Does not perform tasks that require finesse particularly well
  • Heavy
  • Poorly designed sheath
  • Too large for smaller hands

5. Ontario Black Bird SK-5

Ontario Knife Company had deep set roots in the knife making world stretching back well over a hundred years—125 years according to their web site.

All of that expertise is put into the Black Bird SK-5 and it’s brother, the Black Bird Noir.

The size and materials used to create the knife make it especially durable and well-balanced. The price is on the high side, but as we’ve said before, you get what you pay for.

The SK-5 can be had for around a hundred dollars, but one look at this beauty and you know the price is for the craftsmanship of the knife instead of the aesthetics.​

Editor's Rating:

The designer of the SK-5, Paul Sheiter, said "I believe the more complicated a product becomes, the more likely it is to fail when your life depends on it. For this reason I designed The Blackbird SK-5 Knife to achieve maximum function delivered through pure simplicity.” When discussing the topic of survival gear, we couldn’t agree more, Paul.

The knife comes with a sheath—and if you’re feeling frisky there are plenty of custom options, like this one by Hedgehog Leatherworks, that pair very nicely with the Black Bird SK-5.

Things We Liked

  • 154CM Steel
  • Full tang
  • Extremely durable
  • Stainless steel allen-head screws keep the handle attached to the tang
  • MOLLE compatible sheath that also has belt loops and protective insert
  • Handle has great grip

Things We Didn't Like

  • Only available in one blade configuration
  • Pricey
  • Utilitarian appearance

Of the survival knives we have researched and reviewed, the Outdoorhill overall top pick is the Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5. We chose the SK-5 as our top pick as it can perform numerous functions equally well. It also has the impressive ability to maintain its edge and offers a solid grip to avoid slippage and possible injury. You may find yourself more attracted to a knife that’s designed a bit prettier, and we understand that, but the Black Bird SK-5 would be the ideal choice for any outdoorsman or survivalist needing a valuable tool that can be kept at their side at all times.


Conclusion

It should be noted, that most of the top 5 survival knives we looked at today were sold at high-end prices. This highlights that fact that well-made, high quality knives will cost more, but are worth the expense for meeting your needs. Keep in mind that substance over style is far more important when choosing items you plan to potentially stake your life on.

Always ask yourself, will this knife get the job done? Don't worry about how it will look while doing it.

A good survival knife will aid your survival, not act as an interesting accessory.​

A good survival knife will be your partner in the rugged outdoor landscape. You will need a knife you can depend on, demand the best from on each outing, and wield with precision and confidence. Choose the knife that will bring out the best in both of you!​

See Also:

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