What Are The Best Survival Knives For The Money [2019 Hands-On]

what is the best survival knife for the moneyWritten by – Jesse Mathewson

One of the most underrated and over marketed essential components of a bug out, survival, bushcrafters kit are the knife, or in my case knives. Since the rollover in 2000 and failure to collapse of anything at that time, the prepper, survival world has blossomed as an entirely new industry.

This has led to knife builders getting into designing knives for large production companies versus the plethora of smaller individual builders that used to exist. There are now machine shops producing show-stopping advanced design knives, however, are any of these modern art pieces really worth the money you pay for them?

And do they have a purpose outside of looking pretty when you post an Instagram of your never used daily carry?

As a lifetime prepper/bush crafter who has lived for over two decades in the High Deserts of North America having a useful knife on hand is not only essential, it is a life or death decision. There have been numerous times in my life where a simple Opinel #8 kept me from going hungry, allowed me to start a fire and set up camp.

Knives are tools, essential tools. If you live where you are not allowed to carry a knife, move; honestly it is the height of political arrogance, that people not be allowed to carry even a simple folding or sheath knife.

This being said, time for the basic reviews of three manufacturers I recommend to people wanting to start their kits on the cheap, or even for experienced individuals looking at expanding their tool chest.

Mora of Sweden – manufactures the famous Morakniv line of knives. There are dozens of models available though I have found that for most tasks the simple Companion in either stainless or high carbon works just fine and at an average of $13 apiece on Amazon, they are worth buying in bulk.

1.  These are fixed blade, sheath knives and come with a standard working plastic sheath. Modern polymers have proven time and again to be as strong as many steels so don’t let that deter you. The stainless version most commonly seen is made of Sandvik 12C27 a Swedish steel that is almost naturally occurring and well known for its longevity.

The HC or high carbon version is made of laminated high carbon and softer external steel.

2.  The edge bevel or grind is called the Mora grind, and is a very shallow, thin grind that allows easy cutting and shaving of kindling. It is NOT a good knife to use for chopping, though you can do so, as the bevel of the blade itself lends itself to edge rolling and it will need a quick strop before continuing on.

3. Stainless steel models do not hold an edge as well as compared to the high carbon models; however, they are far more rust resistant than the latter. So it is a toss-up as both easily work for the same tasks when called upon. One simply needs more touch up than the other.

4. The grip is a rubberized plastic and they are a ¾ tang, which is quite strong. Initially, upon testing I hammered two into a tree about 5 feet off the ground, I then hung from the handles and put my full weight on them for as long as I could hold it several times. I have also pried with them, putting them in a vice and bending the blades almost double without any harm occurring in the handles themselves.

5. Speaking of the blades, they are relatively thin running .078” to .098” of an inch wide, however, this is a good thing as it means they will work very well for cooking, camping, picnicking, cleaning game, filleting fish and much more. And yes I have done this with them.

6. Over time they will get a patina from use, this is a benefit, of course, if you want to prevent rust upfront and add a little personal touch, there are hundreds of videos about using mustard through vinegar. My preferred method is heating apple cider vinegar up to boiling and placing the blade in this for 5-10 minutes, rinsing with cold water, repeating until quite dark. Than using mineral oil or really any gun or knife lubricant/ cleaner you wipe the blades down well and store them away. It works and they look very tactical after you are finished.


7. Lastly the spine, these blades do not have a 90-degree spine, however, with a hand file you can quickly put one on and even the stainless model with throw sparks from a Ferro rod!
Ganzo Folding Knives – A Chinese manufacturer of folding knives that has grown in popularity and is very well made using solid steel and well fit parts for a low price.

1.  Again there are several models; they have automatic folders, flippers, frame locks and the much talked about the Chinese version of Benchmade’s famous Axis Lock. For the purists, I have several Benchmade knives and love them all.

The axis lock that is being used on the Ganzo is nothing like the lock Benchmade originated. The design is similar, however, it is not as smooth or easy to use.

2. The blade material is 440C stainless steel, with the plethora of modern super steels and machinist designed blades in existence this steel has lost ground. However, for those of us who understand the purpose of a folding knife and tend to use it for that, buying one or more of these for $13-$31 apiece versus a Spyderco, Benchmade or high-end Kershaw at $100-$1200 apiece is the intelligent approach.

3. I tested several models including one auto version, my favorites are the G738 and G724 and lastly the G7212 (auto) model. They come quite sharp, hold an edge as well as most of the other high-end comparable size, styles available and easily take an edge or retouching if needed.

4. I have destruction tested these as well, nearly cutting my thumb off with one test (it was the Spyderco that failed) where I was testing lock strength. I carry one of the above three as my daily user in my left pocket; my right pocket has a defensive styled folder (Fox Karambit, Benchmade Emerson CQC7, Spyderco Paramilitary) and carry this way every day.

5. They are worth the money and easily among my favorite carry knives these days.
Lastly the large bush crafting blade – my first choice (non-khukri style or blade) is Ontario Knives of the USA. You can get a well-made machete, large butcher knife or the Ka-Bar made by Ontario and all of the above will fit well in the large blade category.

1. I highly recommend any of their machete styles though I am personally a fan of the Parang style for its cutting ability.

2.  The butcher knife is a 7” blade length, inexpensive handle, and no sheath though the ka-bar styled sheath will fit it easily and can be found for under $10 on Amazon. The knife itself runs $10-$12 on Amazon and is worth every penny. You can chop with it and do all sorts of things with it, it is inexpensive enough that even if it breaks (the handle is not attached well) you lose nothing and can try your skills at re-handling.

3.  The Ka-Bar well, it has proven itself as a fighter and for many, myself included as a large bush crafting blade as well.

4.  The steel most commonly used by Ontario Knives is 1095 high carbon which is treated properly, takes and holds an edge well, though I do have my blades chip regularly. (Easily fixed, but still something to consider)

So there is three of my favorite low budget bush crafting knives for your consumption. What say you? Which do you like and why? And remember, this is low budget, not bad knives simply under $100 bucks for the three types of knives every bush crafter should have (to begin with).

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  1. Mora Companion HD is a great knife. I have 4, handed out a few more as gifts.
    At about $15 I’m not afraid to mistreat it. I cut everything from firewood to shingles with them. Best part is they are very easy to sharpen. I’m not the best when sharpening knives but I can always get the Moras back to hair shaving sharp with very minimal effort. There is absolutely no reason not to own one of these.

  2. cold steel came out with a one piece hollow handle blade called the bushmaster and it was around 30 bucks about 20 years ago i bought one just to see how well it worked because i tried some of the hollow handled junk before and found out just how crappy they really are THIS blade how ever took everything i could throw at it ive used it for everything from butchering game to digging firepits and even some more detailed work like for setting snares THIS THING ROCKS

  3. Hi Jesse, Thanks for another good knife article. I like the Mora knives, they do a good job for low cost. As with any tool, use them for their “intended” purposes. Like you said, probably not the best knife for chopping brush or heavier wood. I have a folding Chinese knife similar to the Ganzo, not sure of the brand but it does an adequate job. For the price (under $10) it does simple tasks (opening boxes, cutting cord or package banding, etc) very well and is a tool I don’t mind abusing yet has not failed me in many years of work. I got it at Harbor Freight Tools. I have half a dozen other folders I’ve picked up over the years at yard/garage sales. I sharpen them up and keep them available in tool boxes, vehicles, bug-out bags, around the house. Knives are great tools to have around.

  4. Gordon Rottman

    One needs more than one knife of course, at least a folding pocket knife and a belt hunting knife. It does not hurt to have a back-up knife in your pack.

    If you are on a budget I think the Air Force pilot survival knife is a good bet. Its great as a utility knife, effective as a weapon, heavy and robust enough, has a nut on the pommel as a hammer or weapon, serrated top blade for cutting through aluminum, plexiglass and polyester rope, good scabbard with a sharpening stone, and is of relatively low cost. Make certain its American-made. Foreign knockoffs are common and the tips often break.

    I’ve carried the same one since 1969 in Vietnam and through 26 years in the Army, and many years more backpacking and still have and use it.

  5. Cold Steel for the money is a excellent buy
    I have had one for 20 years amazing lock up
    I have had the Spartan for almost 15 years EDC
    Super solid grip [safe knife]
    It was only $45

    Please share info on emergency radios
    I would like to buy one right away

    • Andy Mann,

      Radios for news, alerts, or two-way communications?

      • I’m sorry I did not see your reply
        It would be what people call a “emergency radio”
        My hope would be AM / FM SW / NOAA

        Multiple power sources
        Solar / wall plug in /battery power / crank

        I do not mind paying more as long as the quality is durable
        I had a C Crane….it was OK
        It just seems so many or minimal quality

        I take all of this very serious and want to make sure I have a quality radio
        Open to your thoughts

    • Jesse Mathewson

      Andy. Baefong uv8 or uv5r are amazing for the money. They have frequency capability for all currently used comms

      • One question on the radio you mentioned
        A few of the buyers say no [replacement ] batteries are available

        One guy says the ones on Ebay do not fit / work
        Do you have back up batteries ?

  6. Jesse good call on the apple cider vinnagar for the carbon steel blade treatment.


    • Cool….just saw your reply on the

      Baefong uv8 or uv5r
      Will check it out right now

    • The two way radio is my next step to the”emergency radio”
      However NOT having a two way is a major “gap”

      Thank you for this valuable tip

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