The Best Survival Knife for Any Emergency?

Wilderness Survival Knife

I suspect this will be a somewhat controversial post because it deals with uncovering the best survival knives.  Let’s face it, when talking about which knife or knives you’d entrust your life or the lives of your loved ones to, emotions run high and people tend to wonder why x knife wasn’t on the list.

Before I go further, I’d just like to clarify that I don’t own every knife in existence.  The survival knives listed here are my personal favorites and they meet my criteria for what makes a good survival knife.  If you have a favorite of your own, please share it in the comments!  I might have to check it out myself one day.

Moving on, I consider a survival knife to be any knife you have on your person during a life-or-death emergency.  This doesn’t have to mean a bushcraft knife because survival situations can happen in any environment, not just when you’re hiking in the middle of the woods.

A good survival knife matches the environment you find yourself in and it should ideally come equipped with the ability to help you work your way out of said situation.  I’ll leave my criteria for what makes a great survival knife at the bottom of this post, but I thought it was good to get that out of the way.

This is why this post doesn’t just list a bunch of knives as so many forum posts, blogs, and videos do.  Some knives just won’t cut it in some situations or environments.

What if you’re lost at sea and all you have is a high-carbon knife because so many people recommend high-carbon survival knives?  You’ll wind up with a rusted-out tool is what will happen!

On the flip side, if you’re in an urban emergency and need to break out of a vehicle or a burning building, what will you do?  Which knife will serve you best?

Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

Best Urban Survival Knives

If you live in or frequent traveling to a city, you could find yourself in the middle of an urban-based emergency.  A nasty car crash, your office on fire, or maybe an encounter with a gang (in which case I recommend carrying a gun instead of a knife) – anything can happen.

Maybe one day that zombie apocalypse will even kick in…

These knives are my favorites for urban survival.  Some of them are more on the self-defense side, which I’m not big on (especially if you have no idea how to knife fight), but what you want out of your urban survival knife is up to you.

Victorinox Rescue Tool

Tools

  • Large Serrated Blade
  • Seat Belt Cutter
  • Window-Breaker
  • Punch
  • Bottle Opener
  • Wire Stripper
  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick

This marks the third time the Victorinox Rescue Tool has been mentioned on Daily Knife Slice and with good reason: everyone should have one.  If you own a vehicle, then you need this.

Strangely, the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Rescue Tool defies my criteria in one crucial way: no full tang on account of being a folding knife.

Why the exception?  Because in an urban emergency situation, it’s hard to beat this.  Don’t get into a knife fight with it, as it’s not that kind of knife.  This was designed by a fireman for rescue purposes.  With it, you can rescue yourself or others from vehicles and most other situations where someone is trapped.

Need to break a window to escape?  This’ll do it.

Need to cut yourself free of something without risk of self-injury?  This’ll do it.

The screwdrivers and such can come in handy in a situation, too, even if they’re likely just there because they’re Victorinox staples.

SOG Seal Pup Elite

Specs

  • Overal Length: 9.5″
  • Weight: 5.40 oz
  • Blade Length: 4.85″
  • Blade Thickness: 0.19″
  • Fixed Blade: Yes
  • Full Tang: Yes
  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Blade Steel: AUS-8
  • Blade Shape: Clip Point
  • Handle: Glass-Reinforced Nylon
  • Sheath Included: Yes

The SOG Seal Pup Elite is on the combat side, so if you anticipate needing to fight your way out of something, then this is probably the knife closer to your liking.  That being said, you’ll find that some knives on this list can be used in multiple situations, and that’s certainly the case here.  With its partially serrated edge, this would also be excellent for use in some wilderness or desert areas as well.

The fact that Navy SEALS usually prefer this knife speaks volumes.  It’s definitely a quality blade, and the handle is ergonomic.  It’s a little smaller than some other survival knives, but I like having the nice grip even if the knife feels a little lightweight overall.

The blade is a bit thicker, but that’s usually what you want in a survival knife (unless it’s a scandi grind).  I like the clip point on it, too.  Clip points are one of my favorite knife shapes because they have sturdy points on them and nice bellies.  The end result is a knife that can rip through almost anything you throw at it and serve you well out in the woods or on the streets.

Spyderco Civilian

Specs

  • Overall Length: 9.188″
  • Blade Length: 4.125″
  • Blade Shape: Modified Hawkbill
  • Steel: VG-10
  • Closed Length: 5.188″
  • Edge Length: 3.75″
  • Weight: 4.75oz
  • Blade Thickness: .125″
  • Handle: G-10
  • Clip Position: Right
  • Lock Type: Back Lock
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Country of Origin: Japan

Another blade that favors combat, the Spyderco Civilian was created for undercover agents.  It won’t do much except help you escape a car or create kindling, but if you know how to fight with a knife, then this is a great knife for you.

Again, this is a folding knife, which is normally not ideal in survival situations.  However, this knife is so specialized that it can’t possibly be used in many situations that would call for a full tang.  Despite what the Amazon listing says, mine came with a note from Spyderco insisting that this isn’t a utility knife and shouldn’t be used as such.

Remember: this is a survival knife best suited for combat.

Best Wilderness Survival Knives

Love to hike in out-of-the-way places where you’re likely to be alone?  Maybe you hunt up in the mountains?  Camp up at the Minnesota Boundary Waters?  Trek through the desert?

Then you want a survival knife that can do it all: get kindling, slice open a cactus for emergency water, build a shelter, scrape your way out of the ice.  In other words, you need tough, and that means full tang and steel that can take the abuse you throw at it.

Hotlzman Gorilla Survival Knife

Specs

  • Overall Length: 8.6″
  • Blade Length: 4″
  • Full Tang: Yes
  • Handle: Fiberglass
  • Steel: High Carbon 1095
  • Blade Shape: Straight Back
  • Blade Edge: Compound Bevel
  • Lanyard Hole: Yes

What a knife!  I’m more tempted to call this a kit than a knife, but all of the attachments can fit on the handle via the Allen wrench.  This knife will suit you well if you find yourself out in the wilderness, and it’s a close contender for my favorite wilderness survival knife.

I was fairly unfamiliar with Holtzman Gorilla Survival before getting this as a gift, but it looks like the company is all about surviving in the wild.  This has a ferro rod and striker, paracord, and Allen wrench.  It’s a nice knife!

If I have one complaint it’s that the 1095 steel is high-carbon, which means it’s very hard.  Some people prefer hard steels in their survival knives, but I definitely prefer something that can take abuse.  It may not retain its edge as long, but it also isn’t as likely to chip.  So long as you can sharpen your knife, I prefer somewhat softer steels.

Regardless, I keep this knife in my truck whenever I’m heading out into yonder woods.

Gerber Ultimate

Specs

  • Knife Blade Type: Straight Edge / Partially Serrated
  • Max Blade Length: 4.75 inches
  • Handle: Rubber
  • Steel: Stainless steel
  • Lanyard Ring: Yes
  • Weight: 14.7 ounces

Gerber makes some decent survival knives.  It was a toss-up between this and the Bear Grylls knife, but I think I prefer the Gerber Ultimate.  Much like the Holtzman above, the Gerber has a lot of little tools that would be good in a wilderness situation.

It has a blade that’s partially serrated and partially straight, making it fairly versatile in the outdoors.  It also comes with a fire starter, whistle, and sharpener.  Sharpeners can be handy when you’re in an emergency and find your knife growing dull.

Now, I really love the rubber handle on this thing.  The Gerber Ultimate really does have the ultimate handle!

Do I think this is the ultimate survival tool?  Probably not, but it’s still a favorite of mine.  If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be on this list!

It’ll more than pull through in an emergency and comes with the other tools you might need to make it home alive if things get really sticky.

TOPS B.O.B Fieldcraft

Specs

  • Blade Length: 4.6″
  • Overall Length: 9.9″
  • Weight: 9.9 oz
  • Steel: 154CM
  • Handle: Micarta
  • Country of Origin: USA

When it comes to a company called Brothers of Bushcraft (B.O.B), you know there are going to be some good survival knives in there.  The Fieldcraft is technically a bushcraft knife, but it can work well in a life-or-death scenario.

There are two sizes available:

  • A Mini with a 3.75″ Blade
  • The Original with a 4.6″ Blade

I don’t recommend the mini for survival purposes (although it makes a great camping knife), but the original size has a respectable blade.  It’s not the longest out there, but I don’t recommend anything under 4″ when it comes to wilderness survival knives.

Like the Gerber, this is a high-carbon blade, so bear in mind that with enough abuse, it could chip.  And, although it comes with a water-resistant coating, I wouldn’t recommend it for any situation where you’re going to encounter a lot of water.

That being said, it’s a full-tang knife with a scandi grind that makes the blade a bit tougher than it would normally be.  The tang actually goes beyond the scales to become something that you can use as a makeshift hammer or as a strike point for a ferro rod.

No ferro rod?  There’s a bow drill pivot on both sides of the scales to help you start a fire.  Ferro rods are easier, but this will do in a pinch.

All in all, it’s a solid knife and I would entrust it to carry me through a nasty ordeal if one ever crops up in my life.

Best Corrosion-Resistant Survival Knives

We aren’t always going to find ourselves lost or stranded in the center of a lush forest or in a bone-dry, sidewinder-infested desert.  Sometimes we’re going to be out in the ocean or waist-deep in swampland.

I can think of two episodes of I Shouldn’t Be Alive off the top of my head where people are lost at sea.  In one episode, four people are trapped in a dingy and surrounded by sharks; in the other, a kayaker finds himself in a life-or-death scenario out in the open sea.

In scuba diving circles, the story of a diver whose diving boat up and left without him, leaving him to float along in the water until rescued.

Unfortunately, most survival knives are high-carbon things that easily rust.  Salt water would eat through them in a heartbeat!

These are the knives I take with me whenever I’m out on the lake (or ocean) or out on a dive.  The survival knife that can resist rust and corrosion is the knife that’s for you if you’re near water.

Morakniv Garberg

Specs

  • Blade Length: 4.3″
  • Overall Length: 9.0″
  • Weight: 6.0 oz
  • Steel: 14C28N
  • Handle: Polymer
  • Country of Origin: Sweden

Another knife with a scandi grind, the Morakniv Garberg one the newest members of my collection.  Someone said it was the knife they keep on their boat, and when I found out it used a hardened version of 14C28N, a stainless steel, I had to check it out for myself.

The hardness of the steel is balanced out a bit by the scandi grind, allowing it to take more of a beating than other hard steels.  I still prefer a somewhat softer steel in a survival knife, but I have to admit that I used this to tear through a lot of bushcraft projects and it’s never failed me.

The corrosion resistance is pretty good, though not as high as the other knives on this list.  I’d recommend this one if you live near a lot of swamps.  There’s a reasonable chance that you’ll get it wet, but it won’t be submerged in salt water.  No wonder so many boaters and fishermen up here love this knife.

Spyderco Schemmp Rock

Specs

  • Overall Length: 12.25″
  • Blade Length: 6.75″
  • Steel: VG-10
  • Fixed Blade: Yes
  • Edge Length: 6″
  • Weight: 9.1.oz
  • Blade Thickness: .125″
  • Origin: Japan

Spyderco makes some amazing corrosion-resistant blades thanks to the VG-10 steel.  While most know Spyderco as a maker of pocket knives or folding knives, they sometimes come out with a killer fixed blade.

The Spyderco Schemmp Rock is a beast with some excellent chopping ability.  Unfortunately, it’s discontinued (you can still get it at the link below).  This is a classic Schemmp design and has a massive blade that excels at chopping.  Definitely not for anyone who likes itty bitty blades.

The Rock is, surprisingly, not as difficult to sharpen as I thought it would be, especially given how poor its edge retention is.  It’s a pretty tough knife, so I expected it would be a pain to sharpen and maintain (I also expected more in the edge retention department), but mine is still kicking and in good shape after three years.

If you go looking for it, be aware that there’s an H1 steel model, which is still great for water survival.  However, this review focuses on the VG-10 model.

Spyderco Aqua Salt

Specs

  • Overall Length: 9.28″
  • Blade Length: 4.70″
  • Steel: H-1
  • Edge Length: 4.40″
  • Weight: 4.6oz
  • Blade Thickness: 0.118″
  • Handle: FRN
  • Origin: Japan

Back to reviewing a smaller blade again, and it’s the final one on this list.  If you’re a fisherman, this is the survival knife you want.  It’s as close to rust-proof in a knife as I’ve ever seen – perfect for lakes, swamps, and oceans.  This is because it’s meant to be a dive knife, but dive knives can be excellent all-around survival knives.

Now, I like serrated knives.  They’re fantastic for cutting through rope, which is something you need on a boat.  It also helps with edge retention, which this knife doesn’t excel in at all.  It’s similar to 8Cr13MoV, according to Cliff Stamp.  Some people don’t care for a serrated edge, though, so I should warn you that there’s no straight-edge version that I’m aware of.

The only thing I don’t care for is the all-black design.  Usually, Spyderco makes its waterproof knives a bright yellow, making them easier to find in the dark.  No biggie, though.  Just make sure you know where it is or slap some glow-in-the-dark paint on the handle.

How to Choose a Survival Knife

You need to be able to trust your life to your knife if you wind up in a nasty situation.  Everyone is going to have different aspects of a knife that they put their faith in, but there are a few rules when it comes to choosing a survival knife.

Full Tang or Partial Tang?

Let’s define some terms first:

Full Tang: The blade material extends the entire length of the knife, including the handle.

Partial Tang: The blade material either only runs partway through the handle or doesn’t run through the handle at all, such as what you see with folding knives.

There are both kinds of knives on this list (because there will always be exceptions to rules), but, with the exception of urban survival knives, you should try and go with a full tang whenever possible.  The problem with partial tang knives is that not only do they lack the strength needed for some heavy-duty tasks, but they also have a tendency to weaken with use.

If you’ve ever used a knife where the blade felt jiggly, you can bet it was a partial tang knife.  You really don’t want a wiggly knife blade when you need it to keep you alive.

Hard or Soft Steel?

There are so many different kinds of steel available it’ll make your head spin!  If you want a whole article about what I’m trying to summarize here, then please check out our guide to the best knife steel.  In the meantime, this is a rundown of what you need to know before choosing a survival knife.

Survival knives have to pull their weight in a way that an everyday carry doesn’t.  EDC knives are great around the office, doing little maintenance tasks around the house, or whittling when you get bored.  They typically aren’t called upon to build you a shelter or a fire, but what do you want when you do want to do those things?

Hard Steels: These are usually made of high carbon, although some alloys manage to get a lot of hardness without using tons of carbon.  On the one hand, they retain their edges better than soft knives and so can stand up to more abuse before dulling.  But on the other, they chip easily and usually rust quickly.  That abuse could easily result in a damaged knife, and you really don’t want to carry one of these knives with you if you intend to be near water.

And if your knife dulls, they’re usually a pain to sharpen.

Soft Steels: Soft steels can take more abuse because they’re designed with a little bit of give to them, and, depending on the steel, they usually resist water and rust better than hard steels.  That being said, they dull faster.  Luckily, they’re easy to sharpen (sometimes all you need is a good rock), but you have to decide if you know how to sharpen a knife when you’re way outside of civilization.

I prefer softer steels, personally.  Stainless steels suit me better than high carbon, but I live in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I like going on dive trips, too, so I’m near water quite a bit.  As for you, it’ll depend on your needs and preferences.  There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing a steel for your survival knife.

What Kind of Handle?

Given the preference for a full tang, you should try and avoid handles that are hollow.  A sturdy blade is no good if the handle is crappy, hollow plastic.  You might have a bunch of cool things hidden away in it, but those things are just taking room that the blade should be taking.  This is why, when choosing knives with fire starters, I pick those with fire starters that don’t just slip into the knife’s handle.

You also want to make sure your knife fits well in your hand.  If it rains and you’re holding onto a knife that’s spinning in your palm, that no good.  You also don’t want to be holding onto a freezing cold handle in the middle of winter!

I prefer rubber handles, personally.  They feel good to hold in just about any weather, they don’t slip easily, and they feel strong and durable.

Final Thoughts

I hope this list helped you!  Even if you haven’t found what you’re looking for, maybe it at least got you thinking.  Remember to take into consideration different environments and tasks that may need to be done if you’re in the midst of an emergency.

Let me know what your favorite survival knife (or knives) are in the comments below, and if you fundamentally disagree about something, let us know that, too.

Ka-Bar Becker Companion Review

KA-BAR Becker Companion

The Ka-Bar Becker Companion is a popular fixed-blade knife designed by Ethan Becker for outdoor use. I wouldn’t consider it a proper survival knife for

Read More »

9 Best Camping Knives (2023)

There are a broad range of knives you can bring camping, but most people don’t think in terms of what they plan to do while camping and what kinds of knives are best suited to those activities. This guide will help you out.

Read More »

Leave a Comment