Survival Knives: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Someone once said that the best survival knife is the one you remembered to bring with you. Some will also argue that a knife is a knife, whether you call it a survival knife or a paring knife. I personally think that a knife is a tool, and there are different tools for different jobs. After all, you wouldn’t use a rubber mallet to hammer a nail even though they are both a type of hammer.

So What Makes a Knife a Survival Knife?

First things first. A survival knife is a knife that your life will depend on. So, to me, this means folding knives are out. Nothing against them, but the last thing you need is for the blade to close on you or somehow malfunction. It must be a fixed blade with a full tang or close to it. The knife must be suited for wood work. Carving, splitting, and even chopping will be required in a survival situation. It goes without saying that you will be (hopefully) using the knife to prepare food in a survival situation. Preferably the blade will be at least 4 inches, but a small blade is better than no blade at all. Overall the knife must be tough. It’s going to get dirty, wet, thrown, and who knows what else. I realize that a machete or hatchet would be ideal in a survival situation, but you usually find yourself in a a situation like this by accident. It could be that you are stranded overnight after getting lost on a short hike and you don’t have everything you normally carry.

The Knives

Schrade Extreme Survival SCHF9

This is a fixed blade knife with a fine edge. No serration on this knife. The blade is made of 1095 steel and has a full tang construction. The blade on the SCHF9 is 1/4″ thick. It is coated in an anti-reflective coating that is designed to keep the 1095 steel from corroding. Being that it isn’t stainless steel, you will want to occasionally apply some mineral oil to the blade. It has a drop point blade tip which increases strength for all around survival use. You should have no issues batoning the SCHF9.

The handle is composed of two halves of TPE materials. Pretty much it is a mix of plastic and rubber for a durable, yet grippy handle. It is textured with tiny circles to make it grip better when wet. There are a few ridges along the top to provide the thumb with more grip. Notice how the handle is shaped for an ergonomic fit for easy handling and chopping.

The sheath is made of nylon and is lined with Kydex. The sheath has a small pouch that can be removed and strapped onto a vest or belt. In this pouch you can fit some smaller survival items such as a knife sharpener, fire steel, fishing line, tinder, etc.

This knife is a beast overall. The only drawbacks are that it’s not made of stainless steel and requires a bit of maintenance. Also note that the blade has a thick point, so it’s not as good as some other knives at piercing objects. But at $39 dollars, I’m not complaining.

Schrade SCHF9 Specifications

  • Overall Length: 12.1″
  • Handle Length: 5.7″
  • Blade Length: 6.4″
  • Blade Thickness: .25″
  • Weight: 15.9 oz
  • Price: ~$39 (Seriously).

Ontario Blackbird SK-5

Designed by Paul Scheiter of Hedgehog Leatherworks, the Blackbird SK-5 manufactured in the by Ontario knives. This is a fixed blade knife with a full tang. The blade is made of 154CM steel which is a high quality american made stainless steel. This knife has a spear point to provide more point strength which greatly reduces the chance of tip snapping or complete breakage.

The handle is made of micarta and attached to the blade with 3 stainless steel Allen screws. All the edges of the handle are rounded to provide a comfy grip. The handle features a nice and deep front finger groove to keep your finger from slipping and touching the blade during use. There is also a lanyard slot on the handle that is wide enough to slip a two-strand loop of cord through in order to form a girth hitch for easy removal later on.

The pommel of the knife is flat to allow you to easily attach it to a small tree to use as a spear like tool. The SK-5 has a smooth spine and a full flat grind which makes it great for use with fire steel. The sheath is MOLLE compatible for use with vests and packs. It has a belt loop for wearing on the hip. There is a hard plastic insert to protect the user and the blade. The sheath is rounded out with a drain hole to keep it from holding water.

Overall this is a great knife except that it’s price is a little on the high side.

Ontario Blackbird SK-5 Specifications

  • Overall Length: 10″
  • Handle Length: 5″
  • Blade Length: 5″
  • Blade Thickness: .13″
  • Weight: 8.4 oz
  • Price: $~122

KA-BAR Full Size Straight Edge

This knife is a classic. Having been in use since WW2, it’s still being used daily 70 years later. This knife is made of 1095 Cro-Van steel. Being that this knife is a combat knife, it has a swedge. This is to make it better at piercing and cutting. Some might worry that this could lead to the tip breaking, but even with a broken off tip this knife will still do much of what you need it to do. This is a full tang knife, but the tang is thinner in the handle.

The full size Ka-Bar can come in many different configurations. From serrated edge to straight edge. There are different sizes. You can choose to have a different handle other than the hardened leather oval grip handle. One of the coolest things about the full size KA-BAR is how you can pick one out based on what you will be using it for. You can also choose between a leather or hard plastic sheath. The blade is think enough at the base to be used for batoning, and it has a nice edge for striking fire steel.

Overall the KA-BAR is a bad ass knife that has stood the test of time. You can get one with a leather sheath for around $60. You really can’t beat that.

Full Size KA-BAR Specifications

  • Overall Length: 11 7/8″
  • Handle Length: 4 7/8″
  • Blade Length: 7″
  • Blade Thickness: .165
  • Weight: .7 lb
  • Price: ~$60

Gerber LMF-II

The Gerber LMF-II is the go to knife for many people, and it is said by some that it is the best survival knife you can buy. While that comes down to a matter of opinion (I disagree), I would be happy to have this knife on my hip in the event that I found myself stranded in the woods.

The blade is made of 420HC stainless steel and it keeps an ok edge after much abuse. However, the sheath has a built in sharpener so you can easily bring the edge back if it dulls. This knife has a 3/4 tang and they claim that they made it this way to prevent electric shock when pilot were cutting through live wires.

The handle is made of a molded material and has lashing holes for attaching to stick to make a spear. The butt cap is made for breaking glass, breaking rocks, and hammering. Be warned though, this is not a full tang knife, and users have reported the handle failing while batoning or otherwise putting this knife to a true test.

The sheath is pretty neat with the built in sharpener and MOLLE compatibility. It has a locking feature that lightly holds the knife in place as well as a dual strap system for securing it. The sheath also has a leg strap to keep it strapped down and can be mounted on the thigh or calf.

Overall this is a good knife, but the handle failing keeps me from having it in my kit. Also, Gerber being a huge brand name and likely paying Bear Grylls a fortune means that the customer pays a premium. Calling this knife the best money can buy would be a stretch.

Gerber LMF-II Specifications

  • Overall Length: 10.59″
  • Handle Length: 5.75″
  • Blade Length: 4.84″
  • Weight: 11.67 oz
  • Price: ~$70

Pendleton Cold Steel Hunter

Although this is a smaller knife, many survivalists carry it in their kit either as their main knife or as a back up. This is a full tang knife. The blade is made of VG1 stainless steel. It is 3/16th’s of an inch thick. The handle is made of Kraton. It has a front finger guard to keep your hand in place while cutting.

This knife has a very sharp edge and is great for cutting meat. With the thin blade and small overall size it might not hold up to heavy batoning. In a survival situation, batoning will make your life easier. I would prefer to have a larger, more sturdy knife if I had to cut up wood for a fire or shelter.

Pendleton Cold Steel Hunter Specifications

  • Overall Length: 8 1/4″”
  • Handle Length: 4 3/4″
  • Blade Length: 3 1/2″
  • Blade Thickness 3/16″
  • Weight: 5.8 oz
  • Price: ~$50