The single most important piece of survival gear is arguably your survival knife.
Aside from the obvious uses of a survival knife like self-defense, there are countless ways you can use it for your survival:
- Batoning wood
- Making cordage
- Digging holes
- Skinning animals
While a dinky $20 knife made in China is better than nothing, the quality of your survival knife really matters.
Those cheap knives will dull easy. Their poor-quality metal will break when put to the test, potentially injuring you in the process.
There is no reason to spend a fortune on a survival knife though.
Here is what you need to know in order to get a good survival knife for your money.
Weight Made In
Buck Knives 539 RWS
8" 4 1/4" 3oz USA
Gerber LMF II
11" 5" 11.7oz USA
9.1" 4.3" 5.4oz Sweden
KA-BAR Becker Campanion
10.5" 5.25" 16oz USA
Knives of Alaska Bush Camp
10.5" 6" 8.5oz USA
Ontario Rat 3
9" 3" 5.3oz USA
9.25" 5.25" 6.4oz USA
6 3/8" 3" 8oz El Salvador
8.5" 3.7" 5.6oz China
Shadow Tech Wolf
8" 4 1/8" 12oz USA
Ontario Gen II
11" 5.5" 9.7oz USA
What to Look for in a Cheap Survival Knife
If your budget only allows you to buy one survival knife right now, then you want to make sure that it is a very versatile knife.
A machete is NOT a versatile knife!
Nor are any of those other big, intimidating Rambo knives that you see on bad TV shows.
The most versatile survival knives are…
- Fixed Blade: Folding knives have their place, but they are bad choices for your primary survival knife. The fact that they fold means that their blades are weaker and prone to snapping off.
- Full Tang: Full tang means that the blade goes all the way through the handle. Some really cheap knives just glue the blade to the handle, which obviously isn’t going to be very strong.
- Blade Shape: A drop point blade is usually the best choice for blade shape. The shape makes the tip very strong but is easy to control for detailed use. A good second choice would be the clip point shape.
- High Carbon: Standard stainless steel will dull very easily. Look for high-carbon steel.
- Size: Bigger is NOT better! The blade part of a versatile survival knife should be between 4 to 7 inches. Any larger than this and your survival knife will probably be difficult to use for detailed tasks.
- Blade Thickness: I find that the perfect blade thickness falls between 0.17 to 0.25 inches.
- Handle: Avoid any gimmicky knives which have compasses or hollow storage compartments in the handle. These will shatter and break easily. You should also look for a knife with a flat pommel (the back end of the handle) so it can be used for hammering.
- Grind: A flat grind is best because it can be sharpened easily and has many versatile uses such as splitting wood and chopping.
Note that you probably aren’t going to find all of these features in a cheap survival knife. After all, it takes a lot of resources to produce a good quality knife. Just buy the best quality survival knife that you can afford.
To learn more about how to choose a knife, read this complete guide to survival knives.
Best Cheap Survival Knives
Lets dive in and have a look at the best survival knife for the money.
Buck Knives 539RWS
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 8″ | Blade Length: 4 1/4″ | Weight: 3oz | Blade Type: FixedShape: Drop Point | Blade: S30V Steel | Handle: Rosewood | Made in: USA
This isn’t an imitation, and the S30V carbon blade on this Buck knife will prove it to you.
The thing I love best about the Buck 539RWS is how well it sits in your hand. A lot of this has to do with the weight and feel of the Rosewood handle.
Stability really matters with hunting knives. Game knives tend to be thicker so they can handle heavier tasks.
It can really strain your wrist if the knife blade doesn’t balance well with its handle. If you need a knife for tougher tasks, then the Buck 539RWS is a good choice.
Gerber LMF II Infantry Knife
Tang: 4/5 | Overall Length: 11″ | Blade Length: 5″ | Weight: 11.7oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Drop Point | Blade: 420 High Carbon Steel | Handle: Rubber | Made in: USA
This knife is solid, originally designed for American aircrew, it will happily cut through an aircraft fuselage!
This thing is beautifully balanced and just feels “right” in the hand. The rubberized handle provides superior grip and it also has an incorporated hand guard.
The LMF II is incredibly versatile with a strong pommel which can be used as a hammer or glass breaker. Also comes with a high spec sheath and knife sharpener.
For a more detailed look at this knife, check out our full hands on review – Gerber LMF II Review
Morakniv Mora – Black Bushcraft Knife
Tang: Partial | Overall Length: 9.1″ | Blade Length: 4.3″ | Weight: 5.4oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Clip Point | Material: High Carbon Steel | Handle: Rubber | Made in: Sweden
The first thing that will draw you to the Morakniv Mora black bushcraft knife is its sleek design. It feels like a knife that you’d use to take on the apocalypse after the fall.
I’ve got to admit that I thought the knife was a bit gimmicky at first. Anytime a knife has built-in tools you should be suspicious. However, most of those survival knives put their tools in the knife handle, thus weakening it. The Morakniv built survival tools into the sheath.
The only thing I don’t like about the Black Bushcraft knife is the 9.1 inch length. It feels like I’m carrying a saber with me. Definitely not the best choice for everyday carry, but the knife might be good for your wilderness trips.
KA-BAR Becker Campanion BK2
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 10.5″ | Blade Length: 5.25″ | Weight: 16oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Drop Point | Material: 1095 Cro-Van Carbon Steel | Handle: Grivory | Made in: USA
I understand why they named this knife the “Companion” – you want to take it everywhere. Even though it is large at 10.5 inches, it has enough weight to it that you don’t feel like you’ve got a blade flopping off of you.
True survivalists will appreciate the heavy-duty MOLLE- compatible sheath on the Becker BK2. It is a minimalist design to save weight and bulk, and you can quick-release your knife easily.
Yes – I know a lot of people prefer leather sheaths, but you can’t beat the price.
Knives of Alaska Bush Camp
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 10.5″ | Blade Length: 6” | Weight: 8.5oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Drop Point | Material: D2 Steel | Handle: Rubberized Suregrip | Made in: USA
Knives of Alaska isn’t as well known as the other cheap knives reviewed here. However, the company should get your attention for the quality products they make in the USA.
There are a few features which set this knife apart from the others. First, the Suregrip knife is quite long at 10.5 inches. However, it isn’t too heavy at 8.5oz. Those extra ounces matter when you are trekking or backpacking long distances.
Serious hunters will appreciate the non-glare matte finish of the camp knife. Its D2 steel is high-carbon and has a hardness of 59-61. Not bad for a cheap survival knife!
Ontario Knife Company RAT-3
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 9” | Blade Length: 3″ | Weight: 5.3oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Full Flat Taper | Material: 1095 Carbon Steel | Handle: Micarta | Made in: USA
This knife is almost always mentioned in discussions of the best survival knives. It practically has a cult following people like it so much.
As for toughness, the RAT-3 can baton wood, slice meat, sharpen sticks, and survival tasks. It also has an edge that is easy to maintain, which is great considering how much you’ll be using it.
Another great thing about the RAT-3 is its size. Neither too large or small, it fits into almost anyone’s hands. At 5.3 ounces, it is light enough to take with you backpacking while still getting a reliable blade.
KA-BAR 1258 Short Fighting/Utility Knife
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 9.25″ | Blade Length: 5.25″ | Weight: 6.4oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Clip Point | Material: High Carbon Steel | Handle: Kraton | Made in: USA
This is the only clip-point that made it to our best cheap knives review.
In general, drop point blades are stronger and can perform more versatile survival tasks, such as skinning, carving, and batoning. However, clip points that their place too.
Clip points are better for detailed work. They also make better weapons too (and this K-Bar knife would certainly intimidate an opponent!).
If you are more interested in a self-defense tool that can still perform some bushcraft tasks, then the K-Bar 1258 is the right choice.
Condor Bushlore Camp Knife
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 6 3/8″ | Blade Length: 3″ | Weight: 8oz | Blade Type: FixedShape: Drop Point | Material: High Carbon Steel | Handle: Hardwood | Made in: El Salvador
This camp knife might be small, but it is up for hard tasks. The blade shape means that the tip holds up very well and I found that the knife kept its edge well.
Condor added some features that traditionalists will like, such as the 100% leather sheath and the hardwood handle. The only issue is that this knife might be too small for large hands.
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 8.5″ | Blade Length: 3.7″ | Weight: 5.6oz | Blade Type: FixedShape: Drop Point | Material: Stainless Steel | Handle: Paracord Wrapped Steel | Made in: China
Here’s a knife that will appeal to urban survivalists. It is just the right size for EDC and has a skeletonized sheath wrapped with 7 yards of paracord.
While the SOG Tangle might look cool, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for outdoors use.
The blade isn’t large or hard enough for heavy tasks and the handle doesn’t have a flat edge for hammering. However, it is ideal for regular city use.
In a pinch, the knife will still get you through bugging out in the wilderness – which is impressive considering the price.
Shadow Tech Knives 032 Wolf
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 8″ | Blade Length: 4 1/8″ | Weight: 12oz | Blade Type: FixedShape: Drop Point | Material: 1095 High Carbon Steel | Handle: Micarta | Made in: USA
Shadow Tech is another knife company which isn’t as well known. They make their knives in the USA and include a lot of high-end products. You can also find good cheap survival knives from them.
I like the 032 Wolf knife for wood, such as shaving tinder or carving. The thumb block ensures that you don’t slip and slice your hand open.
If you are looking for a knife for beginners, this one is worth considering for its safety and size.
The Shadow Tech knife could be better if it weren’t so heavy (12oz) and had a better handle (Micarta can break).
However, the Wolf makes up for these flaws with its impeccable design. You’ve got to love the black powder coating on the blade.
Ontario Gen II SP-46 5160
Tang: Full | Overall Length: 11″ | Blade Length: 5.5″ | Weight: 9.7oz | Blade Type: Fixed | Shape: Drop Point | Material: 5160 High Carbon Steel | Handle: Kraton | Made in: USA
On most cheap survival knives, you won’t find anything better than a 1095 high-carbon steel. The Ontario Gen II SP-46 can boast a 5160 steel. This steel is incredibly hard and often used for high-impact tasks.
You sometimes see it on swords for this reason.
The blade hardness means that it will handle tough tasks (hence why this knife is known as the “Boar Skinner”) and hold its blade for a long time.
Novices be warned though: Hard blades are more difficult to sharpen.
You’ll either love or hate the convex handle shape. I’m happy for the very large thumb block to keep your hands safe, especially if you utilize the knife for heavy tasks like it was designed to handle.
Tips for Buying Survival Knives on a Budget
Firstly, resist the urge to buy a bunch of cheap survival knives just because they look cool. Having five 20-dollar knives isn’t going to do you any good when they all break or become dull after a few cuts.
Spend your money to buy ONE really good survival knife!
A good survival knife will last throughout the years.
What was your first survival knife? What do you use now?