The Combat Survival Knife – Our Top Picks

by D-Poc

Combat Survival Knife in Soldiers Hand

The combat survival knife is a staple on any field of battle. It has to be able to cut through anything that is thrown at it including but not limited to perhaps the fuselage of a downed plane, hacking through rough terrain, or cutting items for building a sturdy shelter quickly in the face of a storm. It also needs to be adept at killing game, digging up roots and other vegetables, and a multitude of cooking chores. And, of course, it needs to be able to be used for what could be it’s most important function… dealing with an enemy.

There are many war stories out there that include the simple fact that without a good survival knife a fine soldier may not have survived. In fact there is one modern story of a soldier in Iraq who used his Gerber LMF II to help him remain under cover of darkness. Here is his story:

“Army SFC Dillard Johnson, penned down in an abandoned building by insurgent gunfire in Iraq, came under a heavy night attack after bright lights were used to illuminate his position. With his Gerber LMF II, a rugged 10-inch survival knife with an insulated handle, Johnson was able to sever a pair of 220-volt power cords without being shocked, disabling the lights. Under the veil of darkness, Johnson and a comrade were able to wait for reinforcements before exiting the building unharmed.” Photo of SFC Jonhnson’s Gerber LMF II.

This article will provide an overview of some of the best knives in the “Military Survival Knife” class available today. Feel free to follow the links peppered throughout for deeper details.

 

To jump to a particular knife click on the links below.

Gerber LMF II
Cold Steel Recon
SOG Seal Knives
ESEE RC-5 and H.E.S.T.


GERBER LMF II ASEK
Mfg. Gerber Legendary Blades


Black Gerber LMF II

I have several pages on this site devoted to the Gerber LMF II. I personally own it and it currently resides on my bug out bag. (By the way, go check out A-Poc’s new Bug Out Bag post. I think you’ll like it.)

I will admit that this knife has a few limitations but, in my opinion, this is one of the best knives on the market today for the money. One of the first questions I get asked is, “What are the differences in the Gerber LMF II ASEK, SURVIVAL, and INFANTRY models of this knife?” Basically they are the same knife but with different accessories. For more specific information you can read all about it in my Gerber Fixed Blade Knives post. I also recently wrote a post on a couple of the other Gerber LMF’s features that I like.

If you are curious about the blade on the Gerber LMF II, I got a great question from a reader about the type of steel used in the manufacturing process and learned that it has actually changed a couple of times. Check out my post on the Gerber LMF II Blade Steel.

As to the LMF II ASEK in Foliage Green, you can only get that if you have military credentials but all of the other incarnations of this knife are still available and I highly recommend any one of them. If you have to have a green LMF II you can still get the infantry version and, in case you’re wondering, it IS infra-red resistant

Follow these links to find the Gerber LMF II Survival
, Foliage Green Infantry, *Camel Brown Infantry and theBlack Infantry Knives.

*(Personally, I don’t see a reason to buy the Camel Brown Infantry version, you can get the LMF II Survival that has all the extras cheaper.)

 

RECON SCOUT
Mfg. Cold Steel

 

Recon Scout with Knife and Sheath

I have to say I like the Cold Steel line of knives. They are a no nonsense straight forward knife company. Their knives do exactly what they are supposed to, cut stuff. Lots of stuff. And they cut lots of stuff well. That being said the number one biggest problem I have with Cold Steel is the fact that none of their knives are made in the U.S.A.!! Most of them are made in China, however their company is here in the U.S. and they do employ a lot of Americans.

The Recon Scout comes in two different styles, the standard Recon Scout and the Recon Tanto. The Recon Scout comes in two different types of steel, the SK-5 Carbon, and San Mai III Stainless Steel. Of the two knives the Recon Tanto would be my pick from Cold Steel as a Military Survival Knife.

Cold Steel’s Trailmaster knife is an excellent choice for a survival knife. The only reason I wouldn’t consider it a great military survival knife is because of it’s size. It has a blade that is 9 1/2″ long and this makes the knife 14 1/2″ long overall.

You can find the Recon Scout, Recon Tanto, and the Trail Master knives in SK-5 High Carbon Steel here.

 

SOG Seal Team Elite
Mfg. SOG

 

SOG Seal Team EliteSOG makes some of the most innovative tactical knives on the market today. Their knives are sleek and stylish as well as highly functional and with the addition of Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey as their spokesman look for these knives to gain even more popularity. However, the biggest problem I have with this knife company is that, again, their knives are made overseas. Most of SOG’s knives are made in Taiwan. That being said SOG has two knives I would pick as combat survival knives.

The SEAL Team Elite would be my first pick. The two things to remember about this knife is that it is quite large. It comes in at 12.3 inches in overall length. And it has a partially serrated blade. If the serrations have to be sharpened it’s not easy to do it in the field. Most people don’t want to carry the extra weight of special sharpeners. I have read good things about the nylon sheath that it comes with, such as, it has a pocket on it to hold a sharpener. Personally, however, I would spend the $25 to upgrade to the Kydex sheath.

SOG Tigerstripe Seal PupThe SOG Seal Pup Elite is another fine knife and is shorter than it’s big brother, the Seal Team Elite, by almost a full 3 inches. Since the blade is a little over 4 1/2 inches long, I would recommend getting the E37S-K Seal Pup Elite
straightedge knife with the kydex sheath and the black TiNi blade. The size of the blade would lead me toward skipping on the serrations and going with the straight black TiNi blade with the added bonus that it wouldn’t be reflective. But I must say that I REALLY like the tiger striped version with the black TiNi blade, the only drawback is the serrations.

 

ESEE-5 and the H.E.S.T.
Mfg. ESEE Knives (formerly RAT Cutlery)

 

ESEE-5 Combat KnifeESEE Knives (formerly RAT Cutlery) makes some of the finest survival knives available. Their attention to detail and customer service are excellent to say the least. You can find out how much I like them (and other great info) by going to my ESEE/RAT knife page. One thing you need to keep in mind, when you order an ESEE knife there are codes that determine knife style, color, and sheath options. Be sure you understand the codes before you order your knife.

The ESEE-5 would make an excellent military survival knife. This knife comes with a small divot in the handle so that it can be used with a bow drill for fire making and the butt end can be used as a glass breaker.

H.E.S.T. Survival KnifeThe other knife I would recommend is the H.E.S.T. knife. This knife has many features that lend itself to being an exceptional military survival knife. It has a notch for breaking wire, a bottle opener, and it can be used as a pry bar. Inside the handle is a hollowed out area for some survival essentials. One thing I have heard is that the skull icon on the handle wears off after some use, it’s strictly cosmetic but it’s still a bummer.

I read where one reviewer bought two of these for his sons in the military. Overall this knife does exactly what it was designed to do but if you’re looking for something with a big blade on it this isn’t it, the blade length is only 3 1/8 inches long. Remember though, bigger isn’t always better.

Go here to check out the ESEE-5, and H.E.S.T knives.

 

Ka-Bar and Becker Knives
Mfg. Ka-Bar

 

Ka-Bar Becker BK7 Fixed Blade KnifeKa-Bar is the standard. They set the bar years ago for combat knives and everyone has been chasing them ever since. Yes, there are better knives out there, but you’ll pay more for them. Ka-Bar has stayed the course, they are a consistent company turning out consistent products and they create excellent knives at a great price.

Their original combat/utility knifeis instantly recognizable at the camp site. As soon as you pull it out of it’s sheath everyone knows what kind of knife it is. Of course, being around for over 66 years will do that for you. It has been a favorite of the U.S. Marines since it was first manufactured.

The BK7 and BK9 knives were out of production until Ka-Bar recently took over the duties of teaming up with Becker to manufacture them. These knives were produced by Camillus and when they came out you could pick one up for around 55 dollars. They are a bit more expensive now, they start at around 75 dollars. Don’t let that put you off, these are still excellent knives and that is still an awesome price for what you get. The nice thing about the 0007 model of the BK7 is that you get a small knife that fits in the front pouch on the sheath. It’s great for doing small chores like starting fires and general cooking.

Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Fixed Blade KnifeAlthough the Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knifeis an excellent knife, I feel it is too big for a good combat survival knife. You don’t want a knife that is going to be cumbersome to use in an emergency situation. However, if a big knife is what you’re looking for, the BK9 should be given serious consideration. If you’re going to be doing a lot of batoning wood then you should go with a large knife that can stand up to the abuse.

Check out my other post for more information on Ka-bar Fixed Blade Knives.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat January 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Folks,

Thanks for producing the nice website.

You’ve picked some excellent knives above. I own knives from all the manufacturers but one, and they are all great products and good bang for the buck.

Let me also respectfully recommend the Fallkniven S1. It has a 5.125 inch laminated blade. The inner blade material is somewhat hard, but not hardened to the point of being brittle, and the outside is a ductile SS. I bought a blade only and put on a micarta handle. The stock handle is also good (I have it on my Fallkniven F1).

I have intentionally abused my S1 every chance I get for 2 solid years. I dig in all sorts of ground, cut frozen wood, edge my yard and clean the ice off of my back steps. It’s also my main food prep knife on the trail and in the house. The only damage I’ve been able to inflict is when I broke through some ice on my back steps and smashed the blade tip straight into concrete. This took a very small chip out of the tip. An half hour with a cheap stone and it was back in business.

The blade stone-sharpens very well. I use a small and very cheap stone, and it puts on a fine edge…no fancy ceramics or diamond stones are required.

The Fallkniven would make a nice addition to your excellent recommendations.

caddotx January 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Thanks for the kind words Pat! I have never owned a Fallkniven knife but thanks to your recommendation I’m going to start checking into them. If it’s that good a knife it deserves our attention.

Dustin February 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I did a LOT of research before making my knife purchase.

It was down to:
Gerber LMF II Survival or SOG SEAL Pup

I would have preferred to add Fallkniven F1 and RAT RC-5 to the mix, but didn’t have the $ at the time.

I am now returning my Gerber – the overmolding peeled off of the handle after about a dozen re-sheaths (I could have an entire blog about my opinion on the sheath!).

I will now buy a RAT RC5, I believe – the Fallkniven is a beautiful design, but I need something that has a less fussy metallurgy, since this will be my #1 knife.
RAT Cutlery warranty is simple – break it and get a new one. No questions asked, 100% transferable. I’ve seen a post lamenting about the terrible customer service an owner had trying to get a Fallkniven fixed.

Christraven July 1, 2010 at 1:06 am

Kudos on creating an excellent and informative website. I’ve only recently begun developing a BOB, and I have to say that the information you’ve included has been extremely helpful.

I originally was looking for a kukri blade to use as my knife of choice, until I saw the information here about the Recon Scout Tanto. Since I already have one in my collection, I’ve decided to move the Recon to my primary knife, and to use the kukri as a secondary, brush-cutting blade, should I find a satisfactory one. The cons you mentioned about the Recon Scout series are noted, but I’m not certain they would apply in my case – the Kraton handle is quite comfortable for me, for instance.

The only question I have is about the sheath for my Tanto. It came with a leather sheath, and I’ve been wondering where I might get something a little more durable – Kydex, or similar, if possible.

Thanks again for all of the great info!

Henry Belk September 1, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I have been searching for a new survival knife for some time and currently have a Buck Vanguard as my Primary cary knife. A friend of mine that was in the Army Special Forces (me Navy Diver) told me about his fav. knife, Busse knives,they are all they are said to be and more. Please check them out, and let me know what you and others think. I cannot find another knife that would take its spot even a Ka-Bar.Check out the “Scrap Yard” knives especially!

3gears January 4, 2011 at 11:07 am

Hey great article def thumbs up on stumbleupon. I own the gerber LMF II Survival knife and it has worked very well for me. The only thing is that the knife’s grip is a bit to big for my hands and can’t get a secure grip. I decided to try the Gerber Metolius fixed blade bowie knife and it’s a very good knife. Maybe you can give it a try.

the wired review is here
http://www.wired.com/reviews/2009/07/pr_gerber_metolius/

jrokk April 21, 2011 at 9:49 am

great knife choices. However:
1) the lmf is not full tang(it is glass-filled nylon). full tang is a prerequisit to being a good survival knife imo.
2) i have a seal pup, great combat knife, not so great survival knife.
3) i like cold steel. my beefs with the recon scout are that the guard gets loose after heavy use and its made in china.(nuff said) Id suggest a recon tanto in san mai laminated steel. ive abused this knife and it still looks brand new.
4)now we come to esee. what an awesome company. i have an rc5 and it is my favorite. it is 1/4″ thick and an awesome baotoning knife. this is my #1 pick.
5)not a fan of kabar, but beckers are ok. full tang and solid. for the price, a becker companion is my choice.
6)my 2 cents:
best overall Fiting/Combat knife- microtech crosshair
best overall survival knife- esee 5
thanx for accepting my opinion.

Michael April 16, 2012 at 2:35 am

Thanks guys for a wonderful website. Love the straight forward useful approach untainted by ‘mall ninja’ mind set.
Thumbs up on the LMF. Great knife. Built in sharpener and a handy size. The tang does go through the handle almost the entire way. There is a spacer between the end of the tang and the butt. This is to keep the metal tang touching the metal butt because the design calls for the knife handle to protect the user from electrical shock. I have a few of these and keep them permanently attached to some back packs.

My old Carbon V USA made Recon Scout and Trailmaster have been going for years. No problems with the guards or handles as some have said. Both have abused and still work perfect. I keep them in custom leather sheaths and lube the blades so over the years the leather has soaked up plenty of oil. Leather not considered by some ‘tactical’ enough, but seems to work well for me and has done so for many over a millenium or two :)

A-Poc April 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

Thanks Michael,

We just wish we had more time to update the site!

Josh January 2, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Great Article. Anytime someone shares knowledge and experience I check it out, especially equipment testing. I own the SOG seal pup, the Gerber LMF, ESEE 6, RTAK II, Gerber Bear Grylls, and just order the Recon Scout to test.
My thoughts on these:
SOG Seal pup- good for a wide variety of light tasks, however I have seen them snap in two quite easily when used heavily(prying not batoning).
Gerber LMF- great knife, versitile, strong, many uses. Only con is I would prefer a no serrated blade.
ESSE 6- Best I have seen for all tasks. Good steel, will chop, do finer work, best capability to weight ratio. (will baton however I dont recommend unless you have to, as this breaks even the best knives).
RTAK II- Great knife that can do everything. It is large and heavy, so not for everyones preference.
Gerber Bear Grylls- bought this to test. I was suprised at the steel, it would shave very well out of the box. Good for light work, would not trust it for very heavy work. This knife will not compete with the large survival knives but is way better than most give credit.
My Philosophy: I like to use a two knife system. I carry a pocket knife obviously(CRKT M16), I carry a large knife for heavy work on my pack(RTAK II), and a bush craft knife on my belt. I have a S&W model 6030 in 440C that works great for me. I have carried one for over 10 years in the woods.
Before buying a “survival knife” ask what task you expect it to accomplish. Not every knife will do them all and I recommend having two. Just a note batoning has broken alot of knives even the best. Depending on Location (for me mountains of NC) you should not have a dire need to baton wood in a survival situation. In 15 years in the woods I have never had to baton wood in back country, I have however done this at my cabin where if I broke my knife I would not take away from my survival enablers. Hope this helps.

equip4survival January 22, 2013 at 1:20 am

Nice article and all very nice knives. Unfortunately, all are quite expensive.I think the Schrade SCHF9 is a great low cost option. Under $40.00. 1095 carbon steel, full tang, flat grind. It’s a big chunk of steel, really heavy duty. I did a video review of this knife on youtube. Check it out at http://www.youtube/equip4survival.com

Spencer March 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Great knives! I’ve heard nothing but good things about the ESEEs. I haven’t picked one up myself, but its on my potential buy list for sure. Tons of knives out there to choose from, and I think you definitely hit on some of the best options out there.

I would also agree with the previous comment that the Fallkniven AI Survival knife is worth taking a look at as well.

Kevin March 17, 2013 at 12:25 am

Nice writeup. I really enjoy the Cold Steel knives. But yeah, it would be nicer if they were made in the USA and not in China, Taiwan and Japan. Good products nonetheless.

Loodgieter March 27, 2013 at 3:13 am

Great article, however i am missing the Fallkniven S1. In my opinion a trusthworthy knife.

Brian March 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Hello,

I have to say that knives that are handmade by a high quality solid knifemaker such as Ray Matton, Andrew Clifford, and Andy Wood, also makes some top notch survival knives. people think about the famed First Blood hollow handled knife and laugh and mock it. but they compare the real thing to those cheap Chinese knockoff mass produced hollow handled survival knives. And I tell you, the real deal handmade ones are nothing of the kind when compared to those cheapo ones.

I have a handmade Fist Blood style knife (actually two of them) and I’d trust either of those with my life!

Don’t forget the Randall Model 18. That knife is awesome in quality, loos, and workmanship! Are hollow handles as good as full tang knives? They can be, but usually not. Still though, if they are made right they can be very good solid useful knives.

I have full tang survival knives as well. One of Andrew Clifford’s famous designs is the Full Round Tang survival knife. The knife has a round handle and looks like a hollow handled knife, but it isn’t! It is actually full tang with the handled shaped into a round handle. And I am sure it is a very hard knife to make. Andrew Clifford has perfected this style of knife!

I just bought a very nice handmade Bowie knife made by R Johnson. I tell you this, that knife is full tang and is a real badass of a knife! Ut has a 10 3/4 inch high carbon steel bead blasted blade and has a White very hardwood handle. it almost looks like a bone handle but it isn’t!! Now This knife I trust with not just my life, but a whole batallion’s life!

Matt April 19, 2013 at 1:14 am

Interesting choices, thanks for pulling this together. I personally have always favored the relatively inexpensive Buck 119 which is reasonably heavy but easy to use. Still, I’d love to try the Gerber and ESEE!

Bill April 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

Great list mate…I personally prefer the ESEE6 myself and have been using it a lot over the past 6 months..

A friend of mine recently recommended the Fallkniven AI Survival knife so that’s next on my shopping list! Thanks for this great list though

Gabe April 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Wow the SOG Seal Team Elite knife looks amazing, very mean. And I love the beautiful craftsmanship of the ESEE-5 and the H.E.S.T. I think one of these two will be my next knife because I’m sure they’ll last me forever. I’d like to hold each one before I spend over $100 though.

I recently purchased the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife and for my purposes it’s been really great. It has a built in fire starter and a sharpener and it’s only $40.

George@pocket knife May 17, 2013 at 10:02 pm

SOG is one of the most popular brands in the market of tools. Another very good choice for a pocket knife is the SOG flash II. This SOG tool could be the best pocket knife to suit your needs. Fast, safe, secure and extremely simple and easy to operate, this pocket knife is very versatile.

No One May 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I have to say that my 2 Andrew Clifford handmade knives beats all of these knives hands down. They are made with the highest quality steel, and they are made via Andy’s trademark full round tang style. This means that the knives both have round handles and resemble cord-wrapped hollow handles.

But rather than being hollow handled, which the handmade hollow handles are Nothing like the cheapo mass produced Chinese and Master Cutlery/ United Cutlery cheapo wall hangar knives. But these two knives are actually full tang, but the handles are shaped round. Andy said that this is a very hard knife pattern to make but when made right, and believe me he makes them superbly, they are true beats in the field. Several soldiers in Iraq have had Andy make their knives they use in actual combat.

Those soldiers, marines, Army, Recon, Rangers, and Special Forces units all have said the ame thing when asked how their knives my Andy hold up. They say the knives are pure raw beasts of the field, and that not even a Sherman tank could break them!

And after owning them and using them, because believe me when i say that I am a Doubting Thomas and do not ever just take someone’s word for it, but after my own experiences with my ACK knives and using them intensely, I am inclined to agree with those men of honor and of great courage wholeheartedly anout their ACK knife comments!! Thanks for letting me share and discuss my 2 favorite knives of all!

Steve May 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I would like to take the SOG Seal grip and combine it with the Falkniven F1 Steel and craftmanship with a Becker BK2 deep belly blade. Taking what “No One” said in to account, I believe the handmade custom knives are awesome but I’m just not convinced that I will get a good ROI on a custom knife because of their high costs and because I can be hard on my knives. Just my opinion.

Roger May 31, 2013 at 5:54 am

I like the USMC Ka-Bar myself. The SOG seal team is a great choice as well.

Paul @ Survival Knife Guide July 4, 2013 at 3:39 am

The Bear Grylls is so big time marketing but all the specialist believe that is not so good knife. Anyway my personal opinion is that I love Ka-Bar :D and the Bear Grylls is a good starter bushcraft knife.

Elen @ survival gear August 4, 2013 at 11:31 am

I am looking for a good survival knife and will definitely consider your reviews as well. From the knives listed here I would definitely consider SOG SEAL Pup and Gerber LMF II. Thank you for the good read!

Deb August 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post about this type of knife. Thank you for supplying this information.

Tim's Camping Knife Guide August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I would go with either a Ka-Bar or the SOG Seal. I used to own a SOG Seal Pup but some jerk stole it. It was such a great knife. The Gerber LMF has certainly earned it’s place among the best.

Kenneth @ Best Survival Knife Dude August 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

I agree with Tim. I would go with Ka-bar. Based on my research and actual usage, the Ka-bar line is superior to most of knives on the market. I’m a really big fan.

cold steel knives September 20, 2013 at 6:11 am

The top picks are awesome. I may include Cold Steel on my pick.

Jake`s BarkRiverKnivesGuide October 15, 2013 at 7:36 am

I really like what SOG is manufacturing in terms of survival knives. In particular, the big the Seal Team Elite knife I think is something that can make you feel safe if you are ever in a tough situation.

Tar November 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

These are great choices = thank you!!

Michael @ Best Pocket Knife Tips December 4, 2013 at 5:35 am

Nice layout of the site and I like the knife reviews, thanks!

Ryan December 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Cool list, I would have to say my favorite brand is Cold Steel. Great knives that last!

Best Folding Knife Guide January 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

That’s a great list. The ESEE5 is the standout for me. I absolutely love that knife.

Wan @ Best Survival Knife Center February 9, 2014 at 11:37 pm

In my humble opinion, 3 of the best fixed-blade combat survival knives are Gerber LMF II Infantry, Ka-Bar Becker Combat Utility BK7 & SOG Seal Pup Elite E37T-K. Cheers!

Suresh March 10, 2014 at 10:30 am

Excellent analysis. I would suggest Gerber LMF II infantry which is my all time favorite best fixed blade survival knife.

Thomas Xavier September 13, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Out of those I would pick the ESEE, great heat treat by Rowen and a no questions asked warranty. Ka-Bar/Becker knives would be a close second with their BK-7 offering.

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