Top 5 Survival Knives for 2020

What’s the most important part of your kit? The first thing that should pop into your mind is your survival knife. Let’s face it, when you’re in a S.H.T.F. situation you need a tool that’s versatile, strong, and capable.

That screams survival knife.  Whether you’re carrying it as part of your EDC.  Or you’re packing it in your best survival kit…getting the best survival knife for your situation is crucial.

How do you know what’s real and what’s a poser when it comes to knives? Glad you asked. Here we’re going to break down the five best knives we found on the market.

But before we do that, let’s look at what survival knives mean, for, well, survival.

What is a survival knife used for?

Picture this, what happens when it’s just you and what’s left of the world? What are you going to do? Here’s the short list:

  • Whittling
  • Shaving
  • Prying
  • Starting a car
  • Kindling
  • Tent stake
  • Self-defense
  • Gutting fish and animals

Whittling: No, we’re not talking corn-cob pipes here, we’re talking things like fishing poles, spears, supports, and any structural thing you might need to make.

Shaving: Okay, maybe you don’t care, but some guys don’t like the beard thing going on. You can shave with a survival knife, just be careful about it.

Prying: You might find something you need between a rock and a hard spot, fortunately for you a good survival knife stands up to prying most anything open.

Starting a car: In a pinch, with a survival knife and a little bit of knowledge you can power through the fact you’ve lost your keys. Check it out on YouTube, it’s a thing.

Kindling: Okay, you’re going to need to cook and be warm. That means you need fire. Can’t start a fire without kindling. Break out the knife and break down some wood.

Tent stake: Wouldn’t be the first choice of uses for a survival knife, but at the end of the day stick that long blade deep in the ground and it’ll hold down what you need held down.

Self-defense: This is a no-brainer. Whether it’s an animal or an enemy, don’t just bring your knuckles to a fist fight. Bring a good survival knife.

Fire Starting: Some survival knives have flint and striker. Put it against some dry weed and get a fire going. Even if the knife doesn’t have a proper flint and striker, you can use the blade to build a fire starter that spins a dowel against a piece of dry wood.

Gutting fish and animals: You’re going to have to clean everything you kill, and you’ll need a sharp knife to do that with. Not only cleaning, but you may have to butcher your meal too.

How about knife construction?

There are a few questions you need to answer before you choose as survival knife. Not all knives are created equal, and how they’re built can make a huge difference in how they’re used.

Bushcraft knife: Don’t confuse the word bushcraft with a brand of knife. A bushcraft is an actual knife design.

Bushcrafts are made to be tougher than normal. They usually have higher grade steel and are bulked up to withstand frequent and heavy use. You can beat a bushcraft and not have to worry about ruining it.

Their sharper blades are more designed for hunting and cleaning instead of general use. Because of their unique design, having a bushcraft knife alongside a utility-based survival knife in your kit makes good sense.

Should survival knives be serrated?

You bet they should. The serrations make the survival knife the do-all tool that it is. Without the serrations you wouldn’t be able to cut line, rope, snares, or basic medical attention like removing dead or diseased skin.

Just because it’s called a survival knife doesn’t mean its only use is defense in S.H.T.F. situations. Survival knives need a high degree of utility, that’s what the serrations are for. The business edge of the blade is for cutting whatever flesh you need to cut.

But the serrations shouldn’t be the full length of the blade. In fact, they should have a 2:1 ration of straight edge to serrated edge.

Survival knife maintenance and sharpening

Dull knives do no good at all. They’re probably going to hurt you more than anything you encounter in dodgy situations. Here’s a quick lesson on sharpening a survival knife. Keep in mind, you ought to do this before you need it and you’ll need some materials.

With a #400 grit stone, hold the blade at a 23’ angle and draw it across the stone base to tip ten times. (More on high carbon steel blades)

Next, with a #2000 grit stone, draw the knife shank to tip five to seven times at a 20’ angle. This gives a sharp edge strong enough to withstand repeated use.

After you’ve stoned the last edge, you must hone the blade. If you don’t hone the blade, you’re wasting your time. With a honing stone, draw the blade shank to blade a few times.

Once honed, your blade is ready to cut.

Our five favorite survival knives

  1. Gerber Bear Grylls ultimate knife
  2. StatGear Survuv-All fixed blade bowie knife
  3. KA-BAR full size marine corps fighting knife
  4. Ontario 499 Air Force survival knife
  5. Mossy Oak survival knife

Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Knife:

  • MSRP $46.09
  • Size: 10”
  • Type: Serrated
  • Handle: Rubber
  • Blade material: High carbon steel
  • Full tang: yes

When Bear Grylls puts his name on something you know it’s the best. Everything about this knife just works. The weight in hand is perfect, the grip feels like it’s meant to fit in your hand, and the firestarter is stationed just right so it won’t fall all over the place when you need it. It’s simply awesome.

StatGear Survive-All:

  • MSRP $32.56
  • Size: 9”
  • Type: Bowie
  • Handle: Rubber
  • Blade material: 440 stainless
  • Full tang: yes

StatGear comes a close second. It’s got a great feel and the handle weight feels great in hand. The firestarter protrudes slightly, we’re not sure about that. But the 440 stainless blade and the overall utility of the knife as a kit makes it a top choice.

KA-Bar:

  • MSRP: $69.93
  • Size: 7”
  • Type: Fixed blade
  • Handle: Leather
  • Blade material: Cro-van steel
  • Full tang: yes

KA-BAR is the knife best known for survival, and that’s for a reason. The blade is 1095 cro-van steel with a thicker bulk to it, and the leather handle is durable with good traction. It’s a powerful knife that will do you well in the wild.

Ontario 499 Survival Knife:

  • MSRP: $42.79
  • Size: 5”
  • Type: Fixed blade
  • Handle: Leather
  • Blade material: High carbon steel

The Ontario 499 is a budget conscious survival knife with the same basic characteristics as the KA-BAR.  It’s a capable knife with everything you need. The feel is good, the leather gives you good traction, and the sheath fits the entire blade. You’ll also find a sharpening stone on its underside.

Mossy Oak Survival Knife

  • MSRP: $19.99
  • Size: 15”
  • Type: Fixed blade
  • Handle: Textured rubber
  • Blade material: 440 C stainless
  • Full tang: yes

Budget minded and impressive, the Mossy Oak shows a full 15” of blade. It looks like the folks at Mossy Oak wanted to give you plenty of bang for the buck, and they did a fine job. It comes with a sharpener and a firestarter which is nice, but the serrated edge is not the best. But the Mossy Oak gives you plenty of possibilities.

Survival knives

There you have it. A quick run down on survival knife features and our five top picks. If you think we’ve missed something shoot us a message. We’d like to hear about it.