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Extreme Survival Knives

You could argue till you’re blue in the face about who makes the best survival knife, but as cliché as it sounds, the best survival knife is the one you’ve got with you when “normal” all of a sudden becomes survival. This will be an article about some of the best survival knives on the planet, from $15 to well over $500— you decide where you fit in.

Excellent Choices from $15-$50

  • MoraKniv $15-40 (depending on type)

Talk to anybody on a budget or that likes to do intricate work, and this is in their top three survival knives. There isn’t a lot to say about the Mora that hasn’t already been said on 8 trillion other forums on the Internet: it does the job for $15, day in day out. If you’re looking for a stainless survival knife, meet the Mora. The “Mora” of the story is when you can do something this well and you price it fairly, you gain a lot of fans.

  • ColdSteel Bushman $20-30

Perhaps a more versatile knife does not exist – at least not for the money. You can turn this incredibly versatile blade into a spear in a few seconds flat, and you can put an edge on it that rivals some of the best in the world. It’s a “beater” knife, one you know you’re going to beat up, but also one that can come back and take the abuse day in and day out in the field. If you’re looking for a world-class beater on a shoestring budget, there’s no other. For under twenty-five bucks you can find out for yourself if I’m telling the truth, but know that I’ve used this thing as a survival knife in some very harsh environments and purposefully tried to destroy it. I only had to buy one, and I still own it: it’s nearly indestructible.  I have chosen this knife over my other 100+ options more times than not, and it has yet to fail me.  Sure it’s been used and has some battle scars, but I can trust my life to it.

  • ColdSteel Finn Bear $15-20

This is ColdSteel’s take on the Mora, crossbred with the Fallkniven F1.  It’s cheap, sharp from the factory, and styled very well. It’s one of the best bargains in the survival knife market.

  • Buck 119 Special Fixed Blade $40-50

It’s a classic, it feels good in the hand, and up until last year at least, it was still made with the best materials. There are rumors that some of the design will change on this classic, but until that happens, the story’s the same here. You don’t have to be a Buck knives fan boy to like this specimen.

Excellent Choices from $50-$100

  • KaBar Becker companion BK2 $60-75

In the price range, there isn’t a more no-nonsense, basic, and capable knife, plus it comes with as much heft and toughness as the BK2. It’s like the private security guard without the ego: when he’s there, you don’t have a lot to worry about – the job’s going to get done. With at least ten other knives potentially making this list from KaBar, only this one meets all the requirements for this very specific list. Call me crazy, but I’ll take function over form any day; add-ons are almost always frivolous. Sure, anyone who has used the G.I. modeled KaBar has just found a new writer to hate, but the truth is the truth. This is the best KaBar in the entire line when it comes down to an out-and-out survival knife.

  • RAT RC-4P $90-100

This is one of two entries in this list for RAT—one of only three manufacturers with that lofty distinction (no really, not many knives made this high end list). It’s the baby brother, the mischievous and smooth baby brother, of the RAT RC-5. It has all the same DNA and one heck of a thirst for the great outdoors.  It’s not a bad defensive weapon either with its finger guard, slick feel, good quality blade, and no-nonsense attitude.  In fact, if you like the smaller pieces, this is a venerable opponent to just about any other on this list, including some knives with resumes and accolades that extend far beyond normalcy.

  • Fallkniven F-1 $90-100

“The official military survival knife of the Swedes”— although that’s a moniker that may not necessarily make your heart go pitter-patter. Well, this knife just put you in check. The Swedish military put this thing through the ringer, and guess what? Just about every review on this thing by hardcore survivalists, as well as the author’s personal point of view, puts this knife leaps and bounds ahead of most of the competition. Even though it bears a slight resemblance to a cheap kitchen knife, this piece of steel is all business. When it comes down to it, there are few knives you can trust to perform better than this one in a real survival situation.

  • Benchmade CSK II $80-100

Everybody knows Benchmade, but maybe it’s time you got acquainted with the CSK II, Benchmade’s full-fledged utilitarian survival/fighter.  Just because it’s priced like a middle-of-the-road knife doesn’t mean it behaves like one; it’s got the big budget for R&D in the deep pockets of Benchmade, and it puts a lot of other knives at this price point to shame. If you’re a Benchmade fan, this one’s a good one. There’s nothing particularly new or innovative about this design, but it does a lot of things very well.

  • Helle Eggen $80

Three layers of laminated steel, one of the best survival knife reputations on the planet (for the manufacturer), and a utilitarian design coupled with excellent ergonomics and subtle design intricacies—it all adds up to create one of the better bargains for those looking for a no-nonsense traditionally styled survival knife.

Excellent Choices from $100-$250

  • Helle Temagami (the Les Stroud knife) $150-185

What further endorsement does a knife need than being co-designed by one of the Earth’s most hard-core survivalists? But long before Les Stroud was defying physics and blowing people’s mind on cable television, Helle was producing incredible, no-nonsense, traditionally designed survival knives. If you know about Les Stroud, know about Helle. Just get to hold one of these knives: that triple laminated blade sells itself. That’s not even mentioning the utilitarian good looks that come standard issue.

  • RAT RC-5 $125-135

This is an excellent knife: it’s got clean lines, incredible workmanship, innovative designs, and the best materials available at the price point. It is one of the better-known survival knife companies of late, and this model combines modern technologies with traditional old-world design sensibilities. It’s about as close to a custom survival knife that you can get in the mainstream mass-production model. If you’re looking for a knife with custom-designed details and a modern profile, this is about as good as it gets in the price point.

  • Relentless M3T $245

The relentless M3T is certainly unorthodox looking, but it has the heft and swing capabilities of a much larger knife. It’s got a good grind on the blade with an excellent amount of relief, plus it is very well made with heavy attention to detail. The materials used are the best available, and when you buy this knife, you’re getting a truly unique survival piece. It does look a little bit like a Japanese vegetable knife or a blunt-nosed samurai sword (the six-inch version), which should actually add quite a bit of versatility when using this knife. It won’t be the best knife for close, controlled work, but it should have advanced capabilities for most of what you’re going to do involving branches and trees.

Ultra Premiums $250+

  • Tom Brown Tracker $200-300

Sure, some of the price tag comes from the name attached to it, but when the name’s “Tom Brown,” it probably means something. Is a design or style unorthodox if it actually does the job better than anything else? Doesn’t that just mean it’s a best in class? While the author doesn’t personally own one, he has used one fairly extensively and certainly respects this knife’s capabilities.

  • Bob Horrigan Fighter $450

Cryogenically tempered? It doesn’t really matter what that means, as the Bob Horrigan fighter will have hard-core fans no matter what you or I think about it; the fact that it is one of the best fighting/survival knife’s on the planet certainly doesn’t detract from its reputation. It’s mean but refined. The 440-stainless pays homage to the great steels of the last decade, but the design and functionality coupled with nearly unmatched toughness puts this thing in a league of its own. It’s probably better in the bug-out bag than in your hip pocket in the wilderness, but it eats branches for breakfast, so if you don’t mind wielding a beast, open your eyes to a Bob Horrigan fighter.

  • Bussey knives $275+

“That’s not a knife… This is a knife.” The Bussey modified Bowie and clip-point survival knives are capable of just about any punishment you can throw at them.  A more vocal set of fans may not exist in the fighter/survival category, and guess what?  They are right.  It’s hefty, has a long lifespan, and feels like power in your hand.  It’s got a lifetime warranty and all the bragging rights of being a Bussey owner.

  • Trace Rinaldi LEO $250

It is well built, dark, mysterious, and means business: the trace Rinaldi LEO looks the part perhaps more than any of the other knives on this list with a nontraditional style. It’s equally adept in the combo holster supporting your highly customized 1911 .45 auto you are tromping around in the wilderness looking for large game to skin and tree trunks to hack through. If you’re looking for a custom knife that is still easy to wield and has incredibly good looks, this knife should be high on your list. The maker is one of the hot-shot new knife makers making sexy-looking knives that actually perform; if Trace Rinaldi’s the type of knife maker we have to look forward to, the survival knife industry has a bright future.

  • Phil Rose PSK-6 $420

While the Phil Rose PSK-6 is a bit pricey, you’re not only getting a quality survival knife for your money but also a true work of art. With its sleek lines, its satiny finish, its amazing materials, and its incredible attention to detail, you can almost justify spending nearly $500 on the 3/16 inch thick piece of tool steel whose sole purpose in life is to get beat up chopping down branches and whittling snare triggers in the great outdoors. It’s so seductive though, even with its bright orange composite handle material (which you never liked before); the longer you look at it, the easier it is to part with 400+ dollars. Did I mention it’s completely customized to you? Knives this expensive are more than just about what it can do for you in the field— they tend to require a bit more passion for knives, art, or craftsmanship Only you can determine why you’re willing to spend this kind of money on a knife. At least with the PSK-6, you know it will do what you originally bought it to do. Bottom line: it’s not just another pretty face.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Microtech Jagdkommando MT105-1TA $750

It’s a very cool looking knife, but a bit unusable as a purely survival weapon (unless you are Jason Bourne and need to kill people).  It’s a great fighting knife in theory but very unconventional and not enough of a real blade to do any good.  To be honest, the only reason it gets an honorable mention is the unique concept and the incredibly high quality of manufacture.

  • Trace Rinaldi Armageddon $275

It’s a beast of a weapon and every bit a good enough survival knife to be on the list, except it’s too big. It’s really more about the “zombie apocalypse” than it is about practical survival duties.  It’s essentially an overweight, higher-quality machete.  It is pretty intimidating though.

  • TOPS American Trail Maker $150

It certainly looks the part—a 9-inch long, ¼ inch thick modified hatchet/kukri design, with a lot of features that seem well suited to the survival scenario. It’s right on the cusp of being on the above list, but there are just a few items that need to be improved/modified. (For instance, the crackle finish blade covering is relatively heavy and makes fast woodwork more difficult.)

  • The Ron Hood ATAX $200

It’s an unconventional take on the survival knife, but it’s well built and versatile. A bit heavy and awkward at first, the main reason why this doesn’t get one of the places on our list is that it’s a little awkward to learn and wield, and it tries to do too much. In the end, it doesn’t do anything incredibly well and is therefore not quite up to the task of the survival knife.

*An important note: several brands, including well-known survival brands, were left off of the list.  It does not indicate that they are not excellent knives, simply that they are outclassed (in the specific relative requirements of each list) by the others on the list.  SOG, Gerber, and several others offer excellent knives, but in head-to-head, competition they will usually fall short when put up against those mentioned above.

This list is about the absolute best in innovation, construction, and flat-out real life usability of a knife made for when things get down and dirty. If you want to trust your life to something that a lot of people said just works well, then fine.  But if you take it a bit more seriously, you need a knife that the hardest of the hard can count on day in and day out when they face incredibly harsh environments and difficult survival scenarios.  Take no offense to the specific choices in the article: use it as a means to understand that beyond the mainstream brands and the mass production facilities, there lies quality and passion in knife making that is unmatched in a world run with “lean production” theories.

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