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The Best Survival Knives of 2022

Wonderful tools to have on hand when staying alive is the goal.

best survival knives of 2022
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The premise of the hit survival-based reality TV show Alone is pretty straightforward: contestants fight to stay alive in remote and harsh environments in British Columbia, Patagonia, Mongolia and beyond — last one standing wins. But while previous shows in the genre pitted human versus nature nearly empty-handed, this one lets participants select 10 items from a gear list that includes shelter, bedding, tools, cooking equipment and even food. In Alone's eight-season run, roughly 70 percent of the contestants have chosen a knife.

It's no surprise that a knife is one of the best tools to have on hand when survival is the priority. But some blades are better at the task — which might involve building shelter, creating other tools, hunting and processing wild game, starting a fire and self-defense — than others.

“Typically, survival knives will be moderate-sized fixed blades with size, geometry and features that maximize the durability and versatility of the knife,” says Vance Collver, director of product line management at Benchmade. “Ultimately, a good survival knife is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.” The sweet spot, he says, is somewhere between a bushcrafting knife and a combat or fieldcraft knife.

"Survival knives should follow the “K.I.S.S.” principle: 'keep it super simple,'" Collver adds. The blade should be robust, long enough for light chopping but not unwieldy, and made of durable steel that can resist impact but is also easy to sharpen. The handle shouldn't be so smooth it's difficult to grip, nor so grippy it causes blisters. And its handle should have a guard to prevent one's hand from slipping onto the blade. "In a survival situation, an injury could be catastrophic," he points out.

Hopefully, you'll never need a survival knife. But if you frequently work or wander in remote locations, one of the following models is your best bet.

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Best Overall Survival Knife
ESEE-4
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The ESEE-4 checks every box for a good survival knife: it has a full-tang construction split between a 4.5-inch blade and a grippy, comfortable handle; its carbon steel blade is sharp and easy to sharpen; it has a guard for added in-use safety. Its blade is also thick enough to take a beating when you really need to test its mettle but fine enough for delicate work like skinning and bushcrafting. Extras include a molded sheath and an exposed tang butt that's good for hammering. Some might knock its size — if that's you, check out the similar but larger ESEE-6 — but we've found it to be just right: big enough for a wide range of tasks, but small enough that you won't think twice about carrying it. After all, a knife left behind can't keep you alive.

Overall length: 9 inches
Blade length: 4.5 inches
Blade material: 1095 carbon steel (also available in 440c stainless steel)
Blade type: drop point
Handle material: fiberglass
Weight: 8 ounces
Best Upgrade Survival Knife
Benchmade 539GY Anonimus
Blade HQ

To create the Anonimus, Benchmade defined what a survival knife is and then fine-tuned every detail of the resulting definition. The grooved handle is ergonomic and grippy, even when wet. The guard is large, as in top combat knives. And Benchmade paid extra attention to the blade, a five-inch drop point made of CPM CruWear, a high-end steel that expertly balances toughness, durability and edge retention with ease of sharpening. It even has modest corrosion resistance, despite not being stainless. All this leads to the Anonimus's high price tag, but such craftsmanship and materials can't be attained for less. And the list of features goes on to include an oversized choil that can be used with a Ferro rod for fire-making — and a Kydex sheath.

Overall length: 9.8 inches
Blade length: 5 inches
Blade material: CPM CruWearBlade
Blade type: drop point
Handle material: G-10
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Best Budget Survival Knife
Morakniv Companion Spark

Normally, a price this low would be a red flag and a marker of low quality. But with over a century of Swedish knife making behind it, Morakniv knows how to draw quality into affordable design. The Spark’s 4.1-inch, drop-point blade is made of stainless steel that resists rust and its simple, rubberized handle is comfy and grippy and has an unobtrusive guard. The Companion Spark even comes with an integrated Ferro rod for fire starting in a pinch and a polymer sheath. The materials won't stand up as long as those of other knives on this list, but for less than $30, you simply can’t do better.

Overall length: 8.8 inches
Blade length: 4.1 inches
Blade material: Swedish stainless steel
Blade type: straight back
Handle material: TPE rubber
Weight: 4.5 ounces
Best Bushcraft Survival Knife
Cold Steel SRK

There's plenty of crossover between bushcraft knives and survival knives. Bushcraft blades tend to be smaller and nimbler with narrower blades for tasks that require a high degree of finesse, while survival knives are bigger, burlier and more general purpose. The SRK represents the best of both, bringing tactical features like a guard and robust clip-point blade to a design that's clean and minimal. Its carbon steel is easy to sharpen and hell, if Navy SEALS rely on it for Basic Underwater Demolition training, you probably can too.

Overall length: 10.75 inches
Blade length: 6 inches
Blade material: SK-5W
Blade type: clip point
Handle material: Kray-Ex
Weight: 8.2 ounces
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awl hole fd gear patrol lead full
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Best Old-School Survival Knife
KA-BAR Becker Kephart

Next to contemporary synthetic materials, wood is sometimes considered too smooth a handle for a survival knife. But plenty of knife companies that have forged their reputations on the classic material still use it today (looking at you, Scandinavians). The Becker Kephart is a modern rendition of an American classic — its name refers to Horace Kephart, an outdoorsman who literally wrote the book on bushcraft back in 1906 — and spent most of his life in the woods and mountains with a similar blade at his waist.

Ka-Bar's update follows the original closely with a broad blade and a walnut handle that includes a subtle guard. It was designed by Ethan Becker and is definitely less tactical than most modern survival knives. (If you lean that direction, try Ka-Bar's wildly popular BK2 Companion, also designed by Becker.)

Overall length: 9.6 inches
Blade length: 5.1 inches
Blade material: 1095 Cro Van carbon steel
Blade type: drop point
Handle material: walnut
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Best Folding Knife for Survival
TOPS Knives Fieldcraft Folder

Folding knives typically don't make great survival knives, and Collver explicitly warns that any instance of design complexity is an opportunity for failure. In a folding knife, that's the pivot. So if you must use a folder for survival, be sure it's burly. TOPS's Fieldcraft Folder is the pivoting version of a fixed blade of the same name and comes with many of the features that have made that knife a favorite, including a finger guard, micarta handle and carbon steel that's easy to sharpen. Its blade is longer than many folders’ at nearly 4.5 inches, and a liner lock keeps it safely deployed. Remove the pocket clip for a more ergonomic grip (it comes with a leather sheath as an alternative carrying method).

Overall length: 9.9 inches
Blade length: 4.4 inches
Blade material: 1095 carbon steel
Blade type: drop point
Handle material: canvas micarta
Weight: 7.5 ounces
Best Multi-Tool for Survival
Leatherman Signal

Again, Collver's warning against complexity rings loud when it comes to multi-tools and all their moving parts, and the knife blade on any multi-tool is likely too short and too flimsy by the standards of legit survival knives. But survivalists still rely on them, and the Signal is packed with functions for staying alive in less severe (and likely more common) conditions. The list includes a partially serrated high carbon stainless steel knife, a saw, a whistle, a Ferro rod, a hammer, a sharpener, a can opener, pliers and a whole lot more (19 total). At the size of a standard pocket knife, you can throw it in your pack and forget about it until the moment you need it most. You can always combine it with one of the other knives on this list, too.

Overall length: 4.5 inches closed, 6.75 inches open
Blade length: 2.73 inches
Blade material: 420HC stainless steel
Blade type: Wharncliffe, partially serrated
Handle material: stainless steel
Weight: 7.5 ounces
Best Small Survival Knife
ESEE Izula-II

Controversial pick alert! Many will say that to be considered a survival knife, the knife must meet a minimum length. There's no consensus on what that length is, though nine inches is a common medium. The Izula-II is only 6.75, and only 2.63 of those inches are portioned to its blade. That's about the length of an EDC pocket knife, but the Izula-II can handle itself in far more rigorous situations than those types of knives can.

Like our top pick, the ESEE-4, the Izula-II uses 1095 high carbon steel that's coated for corrosion resistance and easy to sharpen. Its micarta handle is comfy and, despite its size, allows for a full-handed grip. The blade design includes an extended ricasso — that's the flat, unsharpened side portion of a blade near the start of the handle — that effectively extends the handle and forms a guard in the process. So, even though it's the smallest knife on this list, the Izula-II still has all the characteristics of a good survival blade. And at just 3.2 ounces, there's no excuse not to bring it on any outing that involves a little bit of risk.

Overall length: 6.75 inches
Blade length: 2.6 inches
Blade material: 1095 high carbon steel
Blade type: drop point
Handle material: canvas micarta
Weight: 3.2 ounces
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gerber shard keychain tool
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For most jobs, Gerber's super-affordable keychain tool is all you really need.

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