Three Excellent Survival Knives for Under $100

Outdoorsmen love knives.  The reasons for this are varied, but for me it’s because of the utility they offer.  If all you have is a good blade and the right skill set you could potentially survive in the wilderness for a long time.

How so?  Let’s think of the Rule of 3’s for a moment and see how a knife could help.



Rule of 3’s

  • You can survive 3 minutes without air
  • You can survive 3 hours without shelter (in inclement weather)
  • You can survive 3 days without water
  • You can survive 3 weeks without food
  • You can survive 3 months without human interaction

(These are all highly generalized of course, but the rules give you a “survival lens” to look through when planning your survival strategy.)

Could a skilled woodsman survive without a knife?  Yes, but the people who could do this are few and far between.  Even the folks who could survive indefinitely in the forest with just a knife and their knowledge and skill are probably one in 10,000 or even fewer here in the United States.

How can a knife help?  A knife can help you to cut brush and limbs to make a shelter, split wood, cut tinder and kindling, and make a bow drill to get a fire started.  It could help you take bark from a birch tree to make a container, so you can boil water for safe drinking and cooking.  It can help you to cut sticks for a figure 4 trap to get small game.  It could help you harvest different types of raw materials for cordage, which is very helpful in any survival situation.

You get the idea.  A good knife is an extremely useful resource any time you’re in the woods, but much more so when your life depends on it.

A good survival knife needs to be reliable, durable, and tough.  Here are seven characteristics to look for when buying a good survival knife.  This article sums up the characteristics perfectly and I encourage you to check it out before reading further.

It’s not hard finding a knife under $100, but finding a good knife – something you’d trust your life to – is a different matter.

The following knives all have their strengths and weaknesses and it all comes down to personal preference and what you need the knife for.  This is by no means an all-encompassing list, it’s simply a few of the knives I’ve had experience with and would recommend.

Let’s get started!

SOG Seal Pup


With an overall length of nine inches this clip point, partially serrated knife packs a lot of utility for it’s relatively small size.  My first note about this knife is that it’s sharp coming out of the box.  And I mean sharp.  After I opened it up I immediately took it out in the woods to try out.  It was still winter and I was using it to split some kindling for the stove in my military ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) tent.  I was twisted around in an awkward position and instead of setting the knife on top of the wood when I went to baton it, it slid down the side and touched my finger very lightly.  I was surprised at the amount of blood that poured out of the cut.  After  wrapping the wound with duct tape I used a lot more caution with the blade.

It handled the batoning with no problem and I didn’t notice any appreciable dulling of the blade.

The SOG Seal Pup is light compared to what I’m used to.  I can strap it to my belt and forget it’s there until I need it.  It’s great for jobs like cutting meat, cordage, and whittling those little pieces of dry wood to start a fire.  It’s good for small jobs like making a bow drill set and would be perfect for cutting food up at camp.  You could also use this knife for skinning small or large animals.

About the knife:

This is a full tang knife, or as close as you can get to it.

The Tang of a knife is the portion of the blade that extends down into the handle. The Tang and the blade are one solid piece of steel. A Full Tang, or tang that goes all the way to the base of the handle, is considered the best for a quality survival knife. The full tang gives the entire knife strength. On cheaper knives the blade is only connected to the top of the handle and can break off.

Source

The handle is made from GRN or Glass-Reinforced Nylon.  It fits in my hand nicely and has an excellent grip.  It feels like rubber and has a raised diamond pattern, so even if it gets wet it doesn’t feel slippery.  Again, this is a smaller knife, but I don’t think someone with big hands would have a problem using it comfortably.

SOG prefers AUS-8 Stainless Steel for their blades.  I won’t get into the whole “stainless vs. carbon” debate, but I will say that this knife comes sharp out of the box and you need to treat it with care.

Being stainless you don’t have to worry about it rusting as much as you would with a carbon blade.  Some people say it’s harder to get an edge on the blade, but I’ve always had good luck with them.  I don’t think I could sharpen the blade as well as they did at the factory, but I have a stainless steel dive knife I’ve had for years and it’s still in tip top shape and it has a hell of an edge too.  If the Seal Pup stands up to corrosion as well as that dive knife it should be serviceable for many years to come.

The blade is partly serrated and has a powder cover.  On the back of the blade is a thumb rest for that fine detail knife work you might find yourself doing.  My experience with the powder cover is that it eventually wears off after using it in the field for awhile.  The SOG still has most of it left, but you’ll see pictures of my other knives where it’s worn off in the middle of the blade where I baton wood.

One thing about serrated edges is that if you use them for chopping it will eventually wear the serrated part down or even break them.  Up until recently I really didn’t like a serrated edge, but I’ve tried a few knives recently that are changing my mind up to a point, this blade being one of them.

The knife I ordered comes with a basic Kydex sheath.  Some people don’t seem to care for Kydex, but I like it because it’s formed to the shape of the knife making it hard to fall out if you don’t strap it in.

Overall Score

I give this little powerhouse a score of 4 out of 5 stars.  It’s sharp, tough, and sits on your belt without pulling your pants down or otherwise causing discomfort.

In most cases I’d rather have a smaller knife than one that is too big and if I had choice I’d go with this one.

Ka-Bar Becker BK2


One of my personal favorites is the Becker BK2.  It lists a higher price in the last link than it does on Amazon, so check it out here if you want to buy.

When you pick this bad boy up you know you’ve got a serious tool in your hand.  It’s 1/4″ thick of solid 1095 Cro-Van steel with a drop point and a blade length of 5 1/4″ and a weight of 1 pound.  The overall length of the knife is 10 1/2″, which is small enough to fit comfortably in a pack or to be worn on your belt without banging your ankles.

It keeps a pretty good edge, but what I like about this knife is its muscle.  I’ve pried stuff with this knife I would never try with another for fear of breaking the blade.  I’ve heard it described as a crowbar with an edge, and while it made me laugh, it really is a good analogy.

I’ve used this knife for about four or five years now and it’s still my main go-to knife.  I have pounded this knife, thrown it, pried with it, and abused it in more ways than it deserves and it’s taken it all without complaint.  One of the things I like about it is that it’s heavy, which makes it good for chopping.  Other knives I’ve used, like the Seal Pup, are just too light to make a good chopping tool, but the Becker BK2 doesn’t have that problem.

The Zytel handle can be a little slippery when it’s wet (even then it’s not too bad), but I put a piece of paracord on the end as a wrist wrap and haven’t had any problems with it slipping out of my hand.

The newer handles have a pummel on the base of the handle, but my first generation does not.  This is good for pounding stakes, cracking nuts, bones, or whatever might need to be pounded.

As you can see from the pictures I’ve used this knife a lot.  Its strength lies in it’s durability and because of its weight it’s excellent for chopping and limbing branches.  When I limbed my tipi poles I used this knife and it made short work of it.  When you hit a thumb sized branch at the base of the limb it will take it right off without hesitation.

This knife wouldn’t be so great for skinning small animals, but for most other small jobs it does just fine.

I keep this knife pretty sharp, but haven’t been able to get an edge on it like the Seal Pup.

This also comes with a Kydex sheath and if you look at the picture you’ll see I’ve got some Ranger Bands wrapped around it where I store a firesteel.  With these two components it makes a very good mini survival kit for when I’m walking around in the woods with just the knife on my hip.

Overall Score

In today’s category I give the Becker BK2 4 3/4 stars out of 5.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damned close.

 Ka-Bar Stats off the website:

Weight

1.0 lb.

Steel

1095   Cro-Van

Blade   Type

Fixed   Blade

Lock   Style

N/A

Measurements

Blade   length 5-1/4″; Overall length 10-1/2″

Grind

Flat

Edge   Angles

20   Degrees

Handle   Material

Zytel

Shape

Drop   Point

HRC

56-58

Stamp

KA-BAR   Becker

Butt   Cap/Guard

N/A

Pocket   Clip

N

Made in

Knife   Made in USA, Sheath Made in Taiwan

NSN

1095-01-493-1798   KNIFE-COMBAT

Blade   Thickness

0.250

Cold Steel SRK (Survival Rescue Knife)


Another excellent knife is the Cold Steel SRK.  I bought this knife after talking with Leon Pantenburg at Survival Commonsense.  Read his review here.   After doing some research I discovered that it’s a universally well liked knife.  Leon is a pretty savvy outdoorsman and I liked what he had to say about the knife, so I gave it a try.

I’m glad I did.  It’s a tough, good looking knife with a 6″ blade.  It weighs 8.2 oz, a good deal less than the BK2 and I’ve found that when I’m going through one of my “pack light” phases the BK2 gets taken out and this knife goes in.

This is an excellent all around knife that sits between the SOG Seal Pup and the BK2 in several different categories.  This knife is made from stainless steel as well, but of the three knives I’ve had the best luck sharpening this one.  It has a great edge and I’ve managed to keep it very sharp using my sharpening stone.  When I hand this to people I have to warn them, “It’s sharp.  Be careful.”

The SRK is lighter than the BK2, but heavier than the SOG Seal Pup, and of the three has the longest blade at 6″.  Weight and blade-wise it’s not as good at chopping as the BK2, but better than the SOG.

It’s not as thick as the BK2 at 3/16″ of an inch, but I haven’t had any problems with it during field use.  Indeed, it performs the tasks I use it for extremely well and it’s a pleasure to hold in my hand.  Again, in the picture you can see the black coating wearing off, but I chalk this up to every day use and don’t really expect a knife to hold onto its finish with any serious use.

The overall length of the knife is 10 ¾”, which is within the range of what I prefer for a survival knife.  When you hang it off your belt it’s light enough that it’s no bother and small enough that it doesn’t bang on your knee or otherwise get in your way.

The handle is made from checkered Kraton polymer and feels good in your hand – no issues with slippage here.

The sheath is Kydex and can be configured in several different ways although I use it in its standard configuration.  One thing I really like about Kydex sheaths in general are that they’re molded to the individual knife.  If you forget to strap it in or if you’re wearing it around camp and don’t want to strap it down it will stay locked in the sheath until you need it.  I’ve shaken it upside down and the knife did not slide out of the sheath.  I also use Ranger Bands on this sheath and usually have a fire steel attached to it as well.

I give this knife 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

SRK Specs off their Website:
Blade Length: 6″
Overall Length: 10 3/4″
Steel: Japanese Aus 8A Stainless w/ Black Tuff-Ex™ Finish
Weight: 8.2 oz
Blade Thickness: 3/16″
Handle: 4 3/4″ Long Kray-Ex™
Sheath: Secure-Ex® Sheath

Conclusion

It’s important to note that I don’t beat my knives up on purpose; however, I do use them hard which is what any of us would do in a survival situation.  If it’s going to fail I’d rather it do it on a two day hike than an extended field situation where I really need it to perform.  I’ve broken knives using them in the field and it’s a lousy experience.

The hardest choice with these three knives is deciding which one I’m going to take with me when I go out into the woods for a hike or camping trip.  Sometimes I say screw it and take them all if there’s not a lot of hiking involved and weight isn’t a big issue.  I also have several bug-out bags and keep one in each bag, so if I have to grab one and go I know I’ve got a solid knife to fall back on if I find myself in trouble.  That’s a good feeling to have.

It’s important to remember that a knife is a personal choice.  Just because I prefer the BK2 by a tiny margin doesn’t mean you’ll like it (although most people do.)  Do your research.  Check around to see if any of your friends might have the knife you’re considering so you can get your hands on it.

When you eventually find the knife that is right for you buy it and get to know it.  You won’t regret it.

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor


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24 comments… add one
  • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2014, 11:37 pm

    … and three seconds of in-attention.

    I think the “BK” must stand for “badass knife”. if I could do it over again that’s what I would buy, instead of what I did buy.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle June 11, 2014, 12:42 am

      … and would a “dive” knife have other advantages over the types we usually think of as “survival” or “hunting” knives?

      dive shops are pretty cool places, but I don’t hang out there much, like I would at REI, or at a gun shop.

      Reply
      • Jarhead Survivor June 11, 2014, 5:45 am

        The only advantage a dive knife might have is their ability to withstand corrosion. They are designed to work in salt water, which is terribly corrosive and hard on gear.

        In the water a dive knife is merely a tool, same as on land. People think I’m down there stabbing sharks and stuff like that. Nope. It’s meant for carefully prying and cutting.

        Reply
        • Chad in NH June 12, 2014, 5:58 pm

          I have had my wave for years and it’s been my favorite leather man ever!!! My favorite part is that the tools you use all the time (the 2 knives, file, and saw) all open from the outside. The new gen is a little bigger and has the ruler but I would still take the older one anyday. Always on my belt and a kabar when in the woods make an unstoppable team.

          Reply
  • Chuck Findlay June 10, 2014, 11:39 pm

    I have a Cold Steel SRK from the early 1990 or so. it’s a greatknife and it was only like $25.00

    I also recently bought a Sold Steel Bushman for (again) $25.00. The Bushman is super tough, it;s probably one of the toughest knifes you can buy.

    Both of these are great knifes and they are priced very low.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor June 11, 2014, 5:49 am

      I have a Bushman too, Chuck. It’s a good knife and nearly indestructible, but I don’t like it as much as these knives. It’s a little light and when I baton with it I found that it would twist in my hand. There were a few other things about it I didn’t like as well (minor stuff really.) Having said that I keep one out at my ECW tent year round in case I show up there without any gear. That way I’d have something decent to work with.

      Reply
  • Steve suffering in nj June 10, 2014, 11:54 pm

    I’d take a good leather man over any “survival knife” but that’s just me. Ever remove a tick with a survival knife?

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor June 11, 2014, 5:42 am

      I’ve thought about this is in the past, Steve. There’s some functionality a leather man doesn’t have that a survival knife does. Chopping for example. Having said that I think it would score high in other areas like the one you mentioned.

      It’s a topic worth exploring and I’ll put it in the bit bucket of things to write about. I have a Leather man skeletool for my EDC and I love it, but it’s a pared down version of one of the bigger tools designed to fit in your pocket and not ride on your hip in a pouch.

      Reply
      • Steve suffering in nj June 11, 2014, 5:33 pm

        Jarhead,
        No arguments there. Tough to defend yourself with a leatherman too. Aside from that if I had to try to hack something together or repair a piece of gear leatherman all the way.

        Reply
        • Jarhead Survivor June 12, 2014, 6:33 am

          I was browsing Amazon last night and decided to get myself something nice for Father’s Day. After visiting a few forums I decided to get myself the leather man wave. It’s a tad lighter than others, but has all the features.

          I put a screen door on last night and used my skeletool for most of the tasks that needed to be done to modify it.

          Can’t wait for the Wave to show up!!

          Reply
          • Chad in NH June 12, 2014, 6:00 pm

            I have had my wave for years and it’s been my favorite leather man ever!!! My favorite part is that the tools you use all the time (the 2 knives, file, and saw) all open from the outside. The new gen is a little bigger and has the ruler but I would still take the older one anyday. Always on my belt and a kabar when in the woods make an unstoppable team.

  • Anonymous June 11, 2014, 12:37 am

    So how many stars for the Becker, or is it mentioned in its section and I’m just blind?

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor June 11, 2014, 5:36 am

      Thanks for the comment Anonymous – I’ve updated the post.

      Reply
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 11, 2014, 8:50 am

    Great knife reviews. I have experience with the last two and agree with the above. I sort of prefer the Cold Steel SRK (Carbon V) because the Campanion is TOO much of a good thing. I gorilla glued a sharpening stone to the back of the cordura SRK sheath, its still holding on. But the BKT is probably a ‘forever and ever’ knife, if there is such an animal. Thanks.

    A suggestion about the batoning with the Bushman. You might try inserting a short shaft into the handle and rest the shaft end on something close by. Then bear down on the handle – that might help with the twisting.

    Reply
  • Leon June 11, 2014, 10:41 am

    Glad you like the SRK – I’ve been pleased with mine for over 20 years! For Steve suffering in NJ: I carry a lot of different knives outdoors – one of the perks of my job is getting to try out new cutlery!
    But I always carry a Swiss Army Classic, regardless of what bigger knife I have along. The Classic has a toothpick, small blade, sizzors, and the best tweezers in the world. The knife is tiny, fits on a keychain, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. Mine cost about $12 at the local WalMart. Here’s my review: http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/survival-knife-review-the-tiny-swiss-army-knife-classic-is-a-useful-addition-to-any-survival-kitfeedfeed/
    I think you’ll find the Classic has most of the tools you need, in a much smaller package than my WAVE: http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/review-leatherman-wave-multi-toolfeed/
    Classics also make great gifts.
    Leon

    Reply
  • Pineslayer June 11, 2014, 9:09 pm

    I’m a Carbon V SRK guy. The older ones came with a cordura style sheath that is lighter than the kydex, for what it is worth. They are starting to get pricier, but I did nab one for $45. The guy said that it had surface rust and some pitting, no one else bid. When I got it, it took about 5 minutes to clean it up, the problems were purely cosmetic. What a great score. The whole family has them, but my youngest chose a Mini Bushman for her GHB, that’s my girl. I also have a collection of Bushmans, I know your shocked. Like j.r. said, add a short handle to them and they double as a machete, hatchet, very cool tool.

    I need to get a BK2, they look indestructible.

    So as much as I love fixed blades and always have them in my pack, has anyone played with the Ontario SP8? I bought one because my friend said it looked like you could build a log cabin with one, I got sucked in. Gosh is it a serious tool, pair it with a Mora and you might have all your bases covered, except splinter removal, but who doesn’t carry a SAK 24/7? sorry my mind is wandering

    Reply
    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 12, 2014, 8:53 am

      I’ve got a SP-8 too, its a bit short to use as a machete for our thorny brushy plants, but it does tuck inside a ruck sack very well. It makes for a pretty decent digging stick. The saw blade – its okay, good for cutting notches but for cutting limbs, a lot of work (at least with hardwoods). Branches less than 2″ – fine. I sort of wish the handle was more ‘kukri’ in profile, the in-line handle causes my cutting to be at an angle, vs. straight on. Less precise for me – maybe I just need more practice.

      If you found a Carbon V SRK for $45, you did great – thats what I paid for mine brand new back in very early 90’s.

      Reply
  • Leon June 12, 2014, 9:55 am

    Glad you like the SRK!
    Couple thoughts here: I always carry a Swiss Army Classic – it has a useful blade that can save the edge on your survival knife, scissors, a toothpick and the best tweezers in the world: http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/survival-knife-review-the-tiny-swiss-army-knife-classic-is-a-useful-addition-to-any-survival-kitfeedfeed/
    I carry a Classic in combination with my SRK, Bark River Aurora or Mora. Then you have a very useable blade with the nice to have tools of a Swiss Army knife.
    I also really like my WAVE. I’ve been using it for about 10 years! http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/review-leatherman-wave-multi-toolfeed/
    Leon

    Reply
  • Chuck Findlay June 12, 2014, 7:38 pm

    I forgot to mention my EDC, A Swiss Army SwissChamp knife. I’ve had it since the late 1980s and I always have it on me. I would pick it over any other knife as not a day goes by that I don’t use it for something. It’s well made and I expect it to outlast me.

    Reply
  • ThatGuyinCA June 13, 2014, 10:30 am

    A little while back got a hand-me-down KBAR but not as an EDC. EDC is a folder. I’m generally a hatchet over a knife guy but there are times that the knife is more convenient (even thought the hatchet could still do the job). Actually, I can’t say I’m a hatchet guy anymore. My trusty 20+ year old hatchet was replaced by a rifleman’s tomahawk that a commenter on here suggested. Liked the concept of a removable head/easily replaceable handle (any thick stick would do). But for a knife, the KBAR is all the knife I’ve ever needed. That is one tough SOB, made for heavy use and it feels mighty good in my hand.

    Reply
    • Chuck Findlay June 15, 2014, 9:43 pm

      I have been on this tomahawk thing for the last several months (and I’m sure Amazon loves me for it, I think I alone am keeping at least one Amazon employee paid as I spend way too much there.) And I just bought a Cold Steel Trailhawk for under $25.00 and have modified it (lots of U-Tube videos on Trailhawk Mods.) to make it look older and much more pleasing to the eye. I won’t say a Tomahawk will replace a big knife, but give me all summer camping with it and I may change my mind…

      Reply
  • brian October 3, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Good reviews. My preference would be for something a bit shorter and more utilitarian. Ontario TFI.

    Reply
  • Henry December 18, 2015, 10:31 pm

    Great picks. If you are going for some thing under $50 try Mora knives. They have eeven $15 quality knife

    Reply
  • Abhishek kothari October 21, 2016, 11:38 pm

    hi..
    This is a very good collection of survival knives. i like your guide. i also want to buy a survival-knives. I think this guide help me lots. Thanku so much for sharing this amazing guide.

    Reply

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