Finding the Best Survival Knives for Outdoor Bushcraft 2024

The right survival knife is more than a tool; it's a lifeline that can make the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Whether navigating the rugged terrain of Jasper, Alberta, Canada or preparing for an emergency anywhere in the world, understanding the features and functions of the best survival knives is critical for any outdoor enthusiast.

Anatomy of a survival knife

10" Red Densified Wood Damacus Tracker Knife

Your survival knife can be the difference between life and death in the wild. You must choose a knife that meets the potentially extreme demands of your outdoor activities, whether hiking the backcountry, flyfishing in remote streams and rivers, or even operating in a tactical environment.

You should consider the following features when shopping for a survival or tactical knife.

Blade knives construction

  • Full tang blade: Full-tang construction means the metal extends the length of the handle, providing durability and balance.
  • Blade material: High-carbon steel is preferred due to its edge retention and sharpness, with an addition of chromium for corrosion resistance.
  • Blade design: A drop point blade is versatile for various tasks, from cutting fishing lines to more heavy use.

Handle material

  • Synthetic handles: Materials like G-10 or Micarta offer a sure grip even in wet conditions and are preferred for their durability over time.
  • Wood or bone: While offering aesthetic appeal, synthetic options may provide a different durability or water resistance than they are.

Additional features

  • Firestarter: Integrated into the sheath or handle, this is an essential tool for the great outdoors.
  • Sheath: A good sheath, possibly made from leather or Kydex, protects the blade and the carrier, with options for free shipping being a customer perk.

Choosing the right survival knife

A bear in the backcountry

When selecting the best survival knife, consider the following aspects:

  • Blade length and thickness: A blade length of 4-7 inches is ideal for delicate and demanding tasks. Blade thickness should be adequate to withstand rigorous use without being overly heavy.
  • Edge type: A sharp edge with a flat grind offers versatility and ease of sharpening, essential for prolonged use.
  • Handle ergonomics: A comfortable grip that prevents slippage ensures safe and efficient use in all conditions.

Survival knife in action

Here are some scenarios where a survival knife proves to be the best tool in your kit: 

  • Scenario 1: Building shelter—With a fixed blade and durable knife, shelter crafting becomes manageable, as the knife can cut through branches and cordage.
  • Scenario 2: Food preparation—A sharp edge and a sturdy handle material make your survival knife perfect for hunting and preparing food.
  • Scenario 3: Emergencies—Your survival knife is an indispensable ally, whether you need to signal for help or cut through obstacles.

Mastering maintenance: Caring for your survival knife

The best survival knife is only as good as its condition. Proper maintenance ensures that your knife is always ready for whatever challenge you face in the great outdoors. Here’s how you can keep your knife in top shape:

Keep it sharp

A sharp blade is a safe blade. Regular honing and the occasional sharpening session are vital. A well-maintained edge reduces the effort needed for cutting, minimizes the risk of accidents, and ensures precise cuts for delicate work.

Rust resistance and care

Even stainless steel blades with a high chromium content can rust in harsh conditions, especially when exposed to salt water. The same applies to high-carbon Damascus steel, which is generally more rust-resistant than stainless steel. Regular cleaning, drying, and using a light coat of oil will preserve the cutting edge and the blade's integrity.

Handle with care

Handle materials range from hardwoods to modern synthetics. Each requires different care. Wooden handles may need oiling to prevent drying out, while synthetic handles can be cleaned with soap and water. Always check for any handle loosening; a secure grip is essential for safety.

Knife care essentials

The following table outlines knife care essentials.

Maintenance task




As needed

Use a whetstone or honing rod


Before/after use

Maintain the edge with a honer


After each use

Clean blade and handle thoroughly


Monthly/as needed

Present rust and corrosion

Handle checks

Before each outing

Ensure no loosening or damage


Maintaining your survival knife is not just about preserving the tool; it’s about ensuring your safety and preparedness in the face of nature’s unpredictability.

A durable blade build for lifelong use

A durable blade is characterized by its ability to withstand the rigours of outdoor life. The best survival knives use high-quality tool steel with properties designed for longevity. Adding chromium, vanadium, or carbon can enhance corrosion resistance and toughness, respectively.

A thick blade, while providing strength, should not impede the knife’s versatility. It needs to be balanced with the knife’s overall design to ensure it can perform various tasks. For instance, while a thin blade might excel in precision cutting, it could fail in tasks requiring brute force.

Selecting a knife for the long haul

When choosing a survival knife, consider your long-term relationship with this tool. It's not just a purchase; it's an investment in your safety and outdoor experiences. Look for a knife that feels like an extension of your hand and aligns with your outdoor activities, whether a hunting knife for the game or a tactical knife for camping.

A knife selection checklist

  • Versatility: The perfect knife can transition from food prep to firewood splitting. Consider the variety of tasks you'll be performing and select accordingly.
  • Legal compliance: Always be mindful of local blade length and type laws. The best survival knife is one that you can legally carry and use.
  • Customer service: A company's customer service indicates the quality of its products. Look for brands that offer warranties and responsive support.

Understanding knife metallurgy

The heart of any survival knife is its steel, which determines the blade’s performance under stress. Survival blades crafted from high-carbon steel are renowned for their edge retention and ease of sharpening, crucial traits for a good survival knife that sees a lot of time in use.

Combined with nickel and other billet metals, a high-carbon Damascus steel knife will be tough, sharp, and rust-resistant, ready to tackle any task. 

Type of steel in survival knives

  • High-carbon steel: Ideal for rugged use, holds an edge well, but requires more maintenance to prevent rust.
  • Stainless steel: Less maintenance and good corrosion resistance but might not hold an edge as well as high-carbon steels.
  • Tool steel: Contains various alloys for increased durability and wear resistance, perfect for heavy-duty applications.
  • Damascus steel: High in carbon content for edge retention and overall toughness, includes nickel and other alloys for durability but requires moderate maintenance to combat corrosion.

Comparing steel types

The following steel compares common steel types. 

Steel type

Edge retention

Corrosion resistance




Very good










Very good

Very high

Very high








In selecting the best survival knives, you must consider the environment in which they will be used. A stainless-steel blade or Damascus steel knife might be the wiser choice if you're frequently around saltwater or humid conditions.

Tactical knives

Tactical knives are designed with self-defence, utility, and survival in mind. They often feature a full-tang construction and fixed blade and are built to withstand heavy use. Their design is for military use and anyone needing a reliable knife that can handle demanding situations.

When considering a tactical knife, focus on the following:

  • Blade thickness: A thick blade can handle more rigorous tasks without breaking.
  • Handle design: Should provide a sure grip even in wet conditions and allow for various hand positions.
  • Sheath quality: A Kydex sheath is often the go-to for its durability and ease of access.

Finding your survival companion

BigHorn Steel Damascus Steel Survival Knife

Picking a survival knife is a personal journey. It’s not about finding the best on paper but the best for you. Consider the following when making your choice:

  • Weight and balance: The knife should feel like a natural extension of your arm.
  • Blade shape: A drop point design is versatile, but you may prefer a different shape depending on your needs.
  • Intended use: The intended use will dictate the best knife for you, whether for fishing line cutting or firewood splitting.

Making the most of your investment

Investing in a good survival knife also means investing in your skills. Spend time practicing and becoming familiar with your knife. Understand its strengths and limitations. A good survival knife can be a lifelong companion, offering assurance that you have one of the best tools available to face the unpredictability of the great outdoors.

Do not settle for a compromise when buying a survival knife

In conclusion, the survival knife is not just a piece of gear; it's an indispensable part of any adventurer's survival kit, a faithful companion in the wild. It's an essential tool that brings a sense of security and capability when venturing into the unpredictable embrace of nature. The quest for the perfect knife is a balance of personal preference, intended use, and environment. 

BigHorn Steel, nestled in the heart of Jasper, Alberta, understands the importance of a reliable blade. We take pride in crafting knives with the perfect blend of functionality and artistry. Our Damascus steel knives are known for their distinctive patterns, strength, and edge retention, making them a top choice for enthusiasts and survivalists alike.

Visit us in Jasper or online to find your lifelong outdoor companion. With BigHorn Steel, you're not just buying a knife but investing in a legacy of quality and resilience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best survival knife in the world?

The "best" is subjective, but knives like the BigHorn Steel’s 12” Bowie knife are renowned for their balance of functionality and durability.

What knives do Navy SEALs use?

Navy SEALs are known to use knives tailored to their missions, with the KA-BAR Becker BK being a popular choice for its robust design. 

What knife does Bear Grylls use?

Bear Grylls is often associated with the Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife, which is designed for many survival situations.

What survival knife does the military use?

The military often uses knives like the Gerber StrongArm, designed for combat and survival scenarios.

More about BigHorn Steel’s survival knife collection

The Bowie knives from BigHorn Steel are designed with the adventurous spirit of the great outdoors. These knives typically feature long blades crafted from Damascus steel, known for its durability, sharpness, and distinctive patterned design. BigHorn Steel's Bowie knives, like the 12" Black/Grey Wood Bowie Knife, are functional and aesthetically pleasing, making them a favourite among knife enthusiasts.

Tracker knives, however, are versatile tools that BigHorn Steel designs for various outdoor activities. They often have features like lanyard holes and thumb studs for easy carrying and usage. A notable option from their collection is the 8" Burgundy Micarta Gentleman's Tracker Folder with Thumb Stud, combining practicality with elegance.

BigHorn Steel's knives come with hand-stitched leather sheaths that ensure safe carry and add to the product's charm. Each knife arrives in an elegant gift box, making it a meaningful gift that can be treasured for generations.

In addition to their standard offerings, BigHorn Steel also produces limited edition knives for collectors looking for unique, exclusive pieces. These knives are often made in small batches and feature intricate designs and high-quality materials.