The Best Survival Knife with a Fixed Blade

by Vern Evans

Knives are more than just a tool. They are the most versatile survival gear you can have. If you told ten seasoned survivalists that they could only pick one tool to have on them in a survival situation, every single one would pick their survival knife. Knives are a tool that humans have been slowly perfecting for thousands of years, and the best survival knife selection we have today is the culmination of what humanity has learned.

There are several options to consider when it comes to knives in survival situations: steel type, blade type, quality, etc. This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival knives, tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need to not just use a knife, but rely on it with your life, one of our recommendations will keep your survival skill sharp.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


The Best Survival Knife

ESEE Izula

Strong, Versatile, and Effective

The literal bare-bones survival knife from the top-tier survival brand is incredibly versatile.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

ESEE and Randall are well-known for kick-ass gear and knowing their stuff. The Izula (Peruvian name for the Bullet Ant) is lightweight but built like a tank. With a thick blade and skeletonized handle for reduced weight, this knife is heaven-sent for a bug out bag.

There are several colors to pick from and a wide variety of accessories (including handles) that you can pick up for the Izula frame. Make it your own and then use it for everything survival-related. If it breaks (unlikely), ESEE has its unbeatable lifetime no-questions warranty.

Here is how it measures up:

  • 2.875″ drop point 1095 steel blade, 0.16″ thickness
  • 6.25″ length
  • 1.9 ounces
  • Polymer sheath
  • Lifetime no-questions warranty
  • Made in the USA

With specs like these, it’s easy to see how the ESEE Izula is the best survival knife.


Budget Survival Knife

Cold Steel SRK

Sleek, Tough, and Inexpensive

This big beater is inexpensive enough that you can feel good about abusing the hell out of it.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Cold Steel can put out some beaters for a good price. Our budget pick is the Cold Steel SRK (Survival & Rescue Knife)- the non-compact model. It is half a pound of steel close to a foot long and 0.2″ thick with a sharp edge on it. For the price, you can’t beat it with a stick.

But you can beat it with whatever lying around. I have no qualms about using this as a prybar, wedge, fire poker, or whatever other abuse we can dish out. It’ll keep up.

Here are the specs:

  • 6.0″ clip point SK-5 steel blade with Tuff-Ex finish, 0.20″ thickness
  • 10.75″ length
  • 8.2 ounces
  • Polymer sheath
  • Made in Taiwan

Pick up Cold Steel SRK for survival utility on a budget.


Upgrade Survival Knife

TOPS Brakimo

Metal, Pressurized, and Trusted

Edging out a wide field of top-tier survival knives is a knife perfected by experience.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

This might be the official knife of Bushcraft Global out in the Columbian jungle, but its versatility isn’t lost on the rest of us. With a Scandi hybrid grind, micarta scales, and a Kydex sheath this half-pound of high carbon steel is already kitted out.

The blade shape, the bow drill divot, the perfect blade width and grind, the handle comfort- everything about this knife is a combination of well-thought-out survival versatility.

Here are the details:

  • 5.25″ drop point 1095 steel blade, 0.18″ thickness
  • 10.0″ length
  • 9.4 ounces
  • Kydex sheath
  • Made in the USA

If you are looking for the best of the best, pick up the TOPS Brakimo.


Everything We Recommend


The Knives We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several knives and brands that we tested: ESEE, Benchmade, TOPS, Morakniv, Cold Steel, Gerber, CRKT, KA-BAR, Kershaw, OKC, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on fixed-blade knives, which are universally known to be superior to folding knives in survival situations. The survival knives we focused on tended to be thicker and full tang as well to better handle the unknown that it is expected to deal with. We did not consider gimmicky ‘survival knives’ with hidden compartments in the handles or flashy tactical looks.

We’re always looking for new and better equipment, so if you have a survival knife that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best survival knives have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Steel Type
  3. Blade Type
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Quality

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a survival knife that will cut through all of the bells and whistles that don’t matter. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the knives that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a survival knife shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. Don’t go overspending or overdo it. If you only have $100 to get started in survival, going with a budget pick isn’t the end of the world. Budget according to your risk and your needs rather than just spending lavishly.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. That ‘tactical knife’ that has the compass on the hilt and is made of junk steel is not what you need and isn’t a great deal at $20. Get the right tool for the job.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like knives. I know it can be tough; many people (including myself) get into knife collecting. It’s better to diversify your preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios. There is a sweet spot where you get high value with not too high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.

Steel Type

There are virtually unlimited types of steel, most of them different in various carbon content. ‘Premium steels’ are difficult to manufacture and a few of them are better for survival.

When you are picking out steel for your survival knife- you don’t want to go too brittle or with a steel that is very difficult to sharpen. You also want to keep the steel you select in mind because some require more maintenance with sharpening, oiling, and cleaning.

This is why 1095, typically known to be a relatively cheaper high-carbon steel can excel in survival situations. It is hard, but also easy to set an edge back onto.

Blade Type

There are many blade shapes, but to narrow it down for you quickly you’ll find that the best shape is the simple drop point. The other shapes you will find include:

  • Clip Point (Bowie)
  • Spear Point
  • Tanto
  • Reverse Tanto
  • Standard
  • Sheepsfoot
  • Hawkbill
  • Trailing Point
  • Wharncliffe
  • Recurve
  • Kukri
  • Nessmuk
  • Dagger
  • Chisel Tip
  • Cleaver
  • Leaf
  • Needle Point

So, yeah… plenty of types out there. The drop point is the easiest to sharpen, used for a wide range of survival skills (including batoning, drilling, and feathering), and is geometrically strong.

The other considerations are blade width, length, and serration. The ‘sweet spot’ for blade width on a survival knife is close to 0.18″. If you go much wider than that, it is difficult to keep a sharp edge on it. Serration should usually be avoided since a saw can cut with serration much better anyway. Let your knife be a knife, not a worse saw. Pick up a folding survival saw if you haven’t yet.

Size & Weight

While our top pick is as light as a feather, you don’t necessarily need or want your big beaters to be lightweight. Full tang knives are typically going to be heavier, and the durability that a full tang provides is very important.

Weight ranged from a few ounces with our top pick to close to a pound on some of the larger models we tested. Balance and feel in hand are equally as important as small profiles.

Quality

Shoddy quality isn’t what you need in a survival situation. ‘Mall ninja’ knives continue to sell like hotcakes on Amazon but if you understand knives and what you are getting for that $20, you wouldn’t trust your life with a knife sporting a hollow handle and compass on the hilt.

Many knife manufacturers have forgiving warranties, but none are quite at the level of ESEE. If you snap that ESEE in two, just ship it back and get a new one- and color us impressed.


How to Use a Fixed Blade Knife for Survival

Your best survival knife is also your most versatile tool.

Ranger Survival on YouTube has a good explanation of why small isn’t necessarily bad with survival knives, and how to use them:


Who Needs a Survival Knife?

Survival knives are just regular old knives that are engineered to be insanely tough and reliable. Everyone can make use of one of those, but they are especially important for survival kits.

A solid survival knife is essential for all of these kits:

While we typically recommend folders, you can also use a fixed-blade survival knife in:

When it comes down to it, a survival knife is useful anywhere a typical knife or folder would be, it is just tougher and sometimes bulkier.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival knife is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Bosmia, A., et al. (2015). Ritualistic Envenomation by Bullet Ants Among the Sateré-Mawé Indians in the Brazilian Amazon. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. Volume 26. Issue 2. Pages 271-273. (Source)

Davenport, G. (2006). Wilderness Survival. Stackpole Books; Mechanicsburg, PA. (Source)

Horsfall, I., et al. (2005). The effect of knife handle shape on stabbing performance. Applied Ergonomics. Volume 36. Issue 4. Pages 505-511. (Source)


The Final Word

A fixed-blade survival knife may be the most important tool you can have in an emergency. It is endlessly versatile and can help you with a huge range of survival tasks. It is typically worth the investment to have a reliable knife around every day, but you’ll be grateful when you rely on it solely for survival.

Here are a few other reads our subscribers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the ESEE Izula to be the best option given its value, steel type, blade type, profile, and quality.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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