A small survival knife is an invaluable piece of kit. It can help you prepare food, make a fire, build a shelter and trap small prey. A poor-quality model, however, won’t cut the mustard.
A compact survival knife should be about half the length of a standard model, with the blade measuring between 2 and 3″. They need to be as durable as the standard-sized model and capable of operating in extreme conditions.
They must be corrosion-resistant as well as strong while weighing no more than 4 oz.
After trawling through a few hundred product reviews and putting several knives to the test, I realized that, while foldable knives are convenient to carry, the inherent weakness in the joint makes them unsuitable for high-pressure outdoor tasks.
I also found that straight-edge knives are more versatile than serrated blades, while those with a sharp point are more functional and capable of performing a wider range of tasks.
As a result, I decided to focus only on full tang, fixed blade small survival knives, and here are my recommendations.
Our Top Pick
Reviews Of The Top Six Small Survival Knives
#2 Benchmade Hidden Canyon Hunter Knife
Spyderco and Benchmade are often pitted against one another in a battle of the blades, and there’s little to choose between Spyderco Ark Salt and the Benchmade 15017 in terms of either versatility or craftsmanship. The Spyderco is considerably easier on the pocket, however.
The Benchmade boasts a blade of premium grade knife steel, which explains the inflated price but also guarantees functionality. The drop point design makes it ideal for everyday tasks and hunting, while the flat grind makes it sharper enough to split a hair (or a hare).
It’s a little heavier than Spyderco but, at 6.42″ long, perhaps a little easier to handle accurately.
#3 ESEE Knives Izula-II Black Survival Knife
This is the largest of our small survival knives and a few ounces heavier than either of our top choices, but it’s covered by an unconditional lifetime warranty, making it a tempting option. ESEE knives are known for their functionality and durability.
Price-wise, it hovers between the Benchmade and the Spyderco. It also competes in terms of craftsmanship with its 1095 carbon steel blade and drop point design.
#4 Böker Plus Prymini Pro Fixed Blade EDC Knife
This affordable knife has a blade of high carbon-chromium steel with a strong G10 handle that’s designed to last. The Sheepsfoot blade design detracts a little from its functionality as it lacks the sharp point of the drop-point blade.
At 3.46 oz, it isn’t exactly heavyweight but does weigh more than any of the other knives reviewed here. Nevertheless, it’s a highly durable and cost-effective model that won’t let you down.
#5 Fred Perrin Shorty Neck Knife
While this didn’t quite make the grade as the best neck knife for survival, as a small multipurpose knife, it’s got a lot going for it. At 4″ long and 1.7 oz in weight, it’s one of the most compact and lightweight knives we reviewed.
The finger hole in the blade is reminiscent of the old Indonesian karambit. While this can give you greater accuracy when using the knife for some tasks, it makes it more difficult to change your grip when skinning an animal or preparing food.
Rather than a drop point blade, the Fred Perrin features the Wharncliffe design with a straight edge and curved spine. This makes it suitable for a range of carving and cutting tasks but limits its versatility.
With its high carbon martensitic stainless steel blade, this knife requires minimal care but is tough enough to survive some pretty rough treatment. It’s not the most cost-effective, however, and the Spyderco offers more bang for your buck.
#6 CRKT Minimalist Bowie Neck Knife
With a high-carbon stainless steel blade and resin-infused fiber handle, this knife can withstand rough conditions and tough tasks despite being just over 5″ in length. With its drop point design, it’s just as versatile as our top choices and comes with a conditional lifetime warranty.
#1 Spyderco Ark Salt Fixed Blade Knife
This is a versatile piece of equipment from one of the most well-respected tool manufacturers in the US. The H1-steel blade is rust-resistant and capable of holding a sharpened cutting edge comparable with a premium carbon steel blade.
Its hollow-ground design enhances that sharpness, making it the perfect knife for hunting and food preparation.
Despite its high quality, the Spyderco Ark Salt is affordable and lightweight. At just under 5 inches in length, it’s a perfect fit for most people without being too small for larger hands.
Five Things to Consider When Buying a Small Survival Knife
The material used in the blade’s construction will dictate its durability and the price to a large extent. The Benchmark’s costly price tag reflects the expensive materials used in its construction.
A knife made of premium-grade steel is worth the investment if your budget stretches that far but a cheaper version made of either 1095 carbon steel or H1 steel offers a more cost-effective but equally reliable tool.
Both carbon steel and stainless steel are corrosion-resistant and capable of performing a range of tasks in challenging conditions.
A full tang blade extends into the knife’s handle, increasing its strength and making it more reliable. This is the best option for a survival knife of any size.
A half tang blades come in several designs, including stub, half, and three-quarters. A half tang knife may be lighter than a full tang but will bend or break more easily if used for heavy-duty tasks.
While a very small survival knife can be challenging to use, especially if you’ve got big hands, a blade of between 3.5″ and 6″ is ideal for most bushcraft tasks.
Some of the best bushcraft knives, like the Fallkniven F1, fall into this category but tend to be a little heavier than the small survival knives focussed on here.
Convenience and comfort are crucial considerations when choosing a small survival knife.
A drop point blade curves evenly from the handle to the tip. This makes it easier to control, so more suited to intricate work like dressing and skinning an animal. The wide, curved belly of the blade increases both its versatility and durability.
Other types of blades, like the Sheepsfoot and Wharncliffe, are less versatile are nevertheless good options for a survival knife, especially if hunting and skinning aren’t on your agenda.
Most of the knives reviewed here are hollow ground. This is a popular grind as it provides a balance of sharpness and strength. The thinner edge also makes it an excellent slicing knife, while the flat ground blade of the Benchmade 15017 makes it more of an all-rounder.
See our guide to survival knife sharpeners.
You don’t need a hefty survival knife to prepare food or build an emergency shelter. A small survival knife is easier to handle, so requires less skill, and can cope with a wider range of tasks than a larger bushcraft knife.