In the wild, you need a proper survival knife to avoid potential disaster. Sometimes the family budget does not allow for an expensive survivalist knife. That is why we created this list to help you find the best budget survival knife available.
Criteria for a Quality Survival Knife
An informed selection of a survival knife depends on several attributes. While these criteria may seem obvious, first-time buyers will benefit from a rundown of essential features. However, despite extensive research and studied specifications, you must like how the knife feels to you. Personal preference and feel are important factors when selecting your knife. Finding a knife that meets these criteria and feels comfortable and usable to you will be the best-case scenario. With that being said, here are several of the requirements that should be measured when selecting a survival knife.
When I mention the blade, I am generalizing several aspects of the knife. I will go into each of these details separately, but for convenience sake, they all can be encompassed by the general title of ‘the Blade.’
Consider the blade’s material when looking at a knife. Generally, most knives are made either of carbon-steel or stainless steel. Carbon-steel rusts easily; however, it also sharpens easily. Stainless steel knives are the inverse, resistant to rust, but harder to sharpen. Some knives are made out of tool steel, which falls somewhere between the differences of stainless and carbon steel.
Another aspect to consider is the length of the knife. For a singular tool to use in the wild, a beefier, longer blade provides more utility. A common mantra among survivalists states that “a big blade can do anything a small blade can do, but a small blade can’t do everything a big blade can do.”
A fixed blade knife should also be used over foldable knives. Foldable knives often break at the fold and cannot withstand the rigors of chopping or batoning.
Straight edged knives provide better advantages than serrated edges when selecting a single tool for use in the wild. Serrated edges cut better on ropes and animal carcasses, but display significant drawbacks when tasked with splitting wood, carving, or chopping. Also, serrated edged knives are tricky to sharpen and provide more difficulty than straight-edged blades.
In summary, for an all-purpose survival knife, the blade should sharpen easily, be of a durable size and weight, and contain a straight edge. These aspects of the blade provide for the most diversity of use.
The tang of the knife is simply the back portion of the blade that connects to the handle. The tang of the blade dictates much of the durability of the knife. There are many different tangs; however, a full tang provides the most durability and security.
A full tang continues from the blade of the knife through the entire handle. I learned my lesson years ago about always having a full tanged knife on a backpacking trip. I took a nasty fall and cracked my knife’s handle (we will talk about handles in a minute). When I tried to use the knife later, the handle pieces broke off in my hands and left me with a tiny stick of steel remaining for me to grip when using the knife. It did not go over well. Had I had a full tanged knife, I could have wrapped a cord around the full tang and continued to use my knife for the rest of the trip.
That backpacking trip also taught me the importance of an excellent durable handle. Knifemakers use a variety of materials for knife handles. Much of this is subject to preference, but knowing a few of each material’s pros and cons can help in the selection process.
G10 and Micarta handles dominate much of the survival knife options. Both of these materials are resin-based and provide a firm grip and resistance to moisture. These materials are used in most quality black-handled knives and provide excellent versatility in wet or dry, hot or cold weather.
Rubber is another common material that provides a lot of comfort, a good grip, and water resistance. However, a rubber handle becomes suspect under conditions of extreme heat.
Wooden handles look rustic and classic; however, wood can break apart, crack, or wear out much easier than other handle materials. Also, wood can prove slippery when wet and require more maintenance.
Again, whether or not you like the feel of it weighs heaviest with handle materials. I own knives with all different types of handle materials. The key factor lies in the maintenance and ensuring the handle’s durability for whatever project you undertake.
A sheath’s material is critical. Leather looks great, but it retains moisture and could rust your knife if stored inside the sheath for long periods of time. At the same time, hard plastic is cheap and tends to break. Nylon and Kydex provide security for your knife and do not retain water or break easily. One tip for leather sheaths is to apply a little bit of vegetable oil inside the sheath. This oil will coat the knife each time you draw it and help the sheath and knife be more resistant to moisture.
Finally, your sheath should strap itself securely to your body. Some sheaths only attach through Velcro or plastic clips. Avoid these types of sheaths. Belt loop fasteners, sternum harnesses, or similar attachment methods provide the most security for your knife.
Five Knives to Consider
Schrade Frontier (SCHF36)
Best budget survival knife for the value
This knife comes in a complete package with a nylon sheath that includes sharpening stone and Ferro rod. The knife feels sturdy and robust with a good grip and handle. I like the full tang, which provides durability and weight. It can withstand batoning, carving and holds its sharpness after heavy use. The knife measures 10.4″ with a 5″ blade. It meets all needs of durability and provides useful tools that can be carried in the sheath. The Schrade SCHF36 delivers a sturdy, quality knife with some added extras and perks.
Some of the knife’s drawbacks have to do with the coating, the sheath, and the Ferro rod. The coating of the blade makes using the Ferro rod difficult. After wear and tear remove some of the coating, the knife provides better results with the Ferro rod. I don’t particularly appreciate that the sheath wraps around your belt with a Velcro fastener. It may be convenient, but definitely not the most secure.
- A sturdy knife that can withstand a lot of punishment and use.
- The handle provides a reliable and robust grip.
- The blade retains its sharpness after extended use.
- The package includes the knife, sheath, sharpening stone, and Ferro rod.
- The knife has a full tang.
- The company’s customer service is totally unresponsive.
- The coating of the blade sabotages using the Ferro rod.
- The sheath attaches with a Velcro strap, compromising security.
- Some may find the knife a little heavy.
- The included sharpening stone is diamond rough, and it should only be used in emergencies, not for regular maintenance.
The Schrade Frontier combines excellent value with a quality product. I think this knife checks all the boxes despite the sheath being somewhat insecure. It provides a good-sized knife that won’t break down on you, and it can last for a long time. You also get the added sharpening stone and Ferro rod. If you are concerned with getting the most bang for your buck, this knife is the best option.
Morakniv Companion Spark
Best budget survival knife for the quality
The Morakniv Companion Spark does a few things really well. This knife comes incredibly sharp with a plastic sheath and a built-in fire starter. The stainless steel blade provides ease of maintenance, and the rubber handle provides an excellent steadying grip. The fire starter works well wet or dry, and the sheath releases moisture through some drainage holes. The quality design and product make this an excellent outdoor knife. However, it would not make a dependable survival knife.
The Morakniv Companion Spark can help light a fire in a tight spot. The tiny 3.5″ blade would be hardpressed to perform some of the more massive duty tasks like batoning. Also, the rubber grip surrounds a knife without a full tang. If the handle ever failed, survivalists would be stuck without a quality knife. Finally, the rubber handle could be suspect in conditions of extreme heat.
- The knife is of high quality, sharp, and has creative accessories.
- The Ferro rod is impressive and conveniently built-in.
- It is excellent for carving, kindling, and camping.
- The knife is an outstanding value for its price.
- The blade is on the small side, only 3.5″ in length.
- The rubber handle could be compromised in extreme heat.
- The knife does not have a full tang; this could provide some questions to its durability.
I love this knife, and I think that it has its place in survival gear. It truly is a high-quality knife for a great price. However, I would start slow with the heavy-duty work with this knife. If you do not need some hardcore survival work and abuse from your knife, consider this one. It is a quality instrument made by a great company.
Best budget survival knife for its Size
The Hultafor OK4 does a lot of things right. This knife measures 21 cm. which comes out to roughly 8.3″. This knife also has a shorter blade of around 3.5″. However, the Hultafor OK4 can take punishment and proves to be incredibly durable. Its carbon-steel blade holds its edge well and can be used in prolonged situations. This knife does not have a full tang; the tang runs 2/3 of the handle length. However, it can still baton and carve for firewood and shelter. The strong santropene handle provides a comfortable grip, and the knife comes with a black plastic sheath.
Despite many of the good qualities of this knife, some limitations exist. Again, size factors into how much you can do with this knife. Size isn’t everything, but I question the sturdiness of the blade over the long haul. Despite being incredibly sturdy and well built without a full tang, should the handle ever break, this knife would be severely limited.
- Durable despite not having a full tang.
- Easy to sharpen, keeps its edge.
- The knife provides a durable grip and comfortable sheath.
- It boasts tremendous strength and options for its size.
- Small, the smallest knife on the list.
- The plastic sheath could break in harsh conditions.
- The lack of a full tang is concerning.
This little knife is like a pocket tank. Its small size will surprise you, considering what it is capable of doing. I think it is a great value and highly recommendable. The lack of a full tang and limitations because of its size would make me hesitate to make it the only tool I have in the bush. If you are looking for a great compact knife, though, you can’t go wrong with this knife.
Mossy Oak Bowie Knife
Best budget survival knife for Beginners
The Mossy Oak Bowie Knife provides the beefy size I mentioned above. The knife measures a 14″ in length, the blade runs 8.5″ and the handle the remaining 5.5″. This knife looks great with a polished rosewood handle pinned to a full tang stainless steel blade. The knife comes out sharp and is easier to sharpen than most. A leather sheath that attaches to your belt is included. The knife provides a full tanged heftiness that you can feel comfortable having in the outdoors.
While the Mossy Oak Bowie Knife definitely looks the part of a survivalist knife. The materials used are suspect. The steel used for this knife is 3cr13 steel, which is a cheaper but durable steel. The wood handle is another negative attribute of the Mossy Oak Bowie Knife. There are some doubts about the longevity of this knife.
- Its large size and reassuring weight provide excellent feel.
- The knife has a polished and pleasing aesthetic.
- It has a large full tang blade; it is the largest knife on the list.
- It is easy to sharpen for a stainless steel edge.
- Company support is not guaranteed in case of help.
- The blade is of cheaper steel, which makes sharpening more manageable, but durability questionable.
- The wooden handle could eventually crack or break.
- It has questionable durability for the long haul.
Now, the look and feel of this knife fit my fancy. Yet, the question of durability despite the full tang on this knife would make me hesitate when picking just one knife to take with me in the wild. However, I think this knife is a great value, and for those looking to get into survivalist activities and need an affordable place holder while they look for what they like, this is a great beginner’s knife.
BPS Knives BS2FTS
Best budget survival knife with Leather Sheath
The BPS Knives BS2FTS contains a razor-sharp blade that measures 4.25″. The entire knife measures 9″ overall with a full tang. This knife is exceptionally durable for how small it is. It can split wood, carve, and cut, keeping a sharp edge on the carbon steel blade. The wood handle is not as polished, which provides a better grip. The design neatly allows you to remove the wood handle and clean around the tang, or even customize the blade to your liking. This knife is worth the purchase because of the high-quality leather sheath, which fits other small knives. This blade provides a lot of uses and durability despite its smaller size.
One of the downsides to this knife rests in the handle. The wood is somewhat dry, and even though that provides a better grip, it could also lead to cracking. The coating on this knife prevents sparking until it wears out. And, the tang does not seem to be as polished as the rest of the blade.
- The knife is incredibly sharp.
- The handle is customizable.
- The sheath is of high-quality leather and can be fitted to other knives.
- The dry wood helps the grip on the knife.
- It has a full tang, which makes it a more durable knife.
- The wood handle has the potential to dry out and crack.
- The tang is not as polished as the rest of the blade.
- It won’t create a spark until the coating is worn off.
The BPS Knives BS2FTS provides quality with versatility, and I love that about this knife. This knife is durable, sharp, and can serve as a survival knife. The full tang and customizable handle are some awesome perks. I consider this a heftier small knife that can get the job done in a pinch. If you are a fan of going ultra-light in your wilderness expeditions, then this knife is right up your alley.
At the end of all this measuring, comparing, and contrasting, a winner must be chosen. However, if we are true to the blade’s criteria, the tang, the handle, and the sheath, only one knife checks all the boxes in my eyes. The Schrade Frontier would come in narrowly beating the BPS Knives BS2FTS. These two knives have full tangs, but the Frontier gets the nod on weight and durability being the larger knife. I favored the Frontier on the handle as well due to the BS2FTS’s wooden handle. I think the leather sheath of the BS2FTS is nicer than the one included with the Frontier. Both blades are great; the BS2FTS probably has a bit better of an edge. In my opinion, these two knives are incredibly close. Both knives are deserving, but the BS2FTS slides in for the best value, due to the responsive and prompt customer service of the manufacturer, and it is my favorite option for an affordable survival knife.