Survival knives can be the difference between life and death in some situations. These multi-purpose blades are designed to serve you well in any situation you might find yourself in.
Whether you need to cut yourself free, skin game, create a shelter, or cut firewood, a survival knife is there to save the day, so you want to make sure you have the best tool for the job.
Below are some of the best and most reliable folding survival blades on the market. These blades all fold for easy carry and safe storage but are strong enough to meet your survival needs.
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OUR TOP PICK
- Made from good quality, high carbon steel.
- Solid, liner locking mechanism.
- Trac-tec handle inserts for extra grip.
- Ambidextrous knobs for single-handed operation.
- Seatbelt cutter.
- Glass breaker.
Top 5 Best Folding Survival Knives
OUR TOP PICK
Smith & Wesson might be a name more associated with guns, but their knives are also high-quality tools.
This knife is 10 inches in total with a 4.4-inch blade. You cannot carry this every day because of the size but it is perfect for outdoor pursuits like hunting and camping.
The blade is the best of both worlds as it is made from high carbon stainless steel. This makes the blade sharp and strong, but crucially it allows it to really hold an edge.
We love the fact that this blade can stay sharp through serious use. There is nothing worse than having a blunt knife when you really need it.
The knife uses a liner locking system to stay in place. The locking mechanism is strong and seems to hold up to a lot of abuse. Users are happy to report that the blade doesn’t slip or jump out of place.
The ambidextrous knobs allow you to open, close, and use the knife with either hand with no issues. This is really helpful for left-handers who can struggle to find blades suited to you.
- High-quality blade metal
- Serrated and straight portions of the blade for multiple uses
- Grippy, comfortable handle
- Ambidextrous use
- Seatbelt cutter and glass breaker added to handle
- Pocket clip is a bit flimsy
- Branded as Smith & Wesson but made in China
SOG is a well known and loved name in the knife world. They make USA produced knives for all situations.
Their tactical folding knife is made from high-grade stainless steel with an aluminum handle.
The blade has a clip point shape which brings the point of the blade in line with the spine and helps with precision and stability. This is a great shape for a survival knife even if it doesn’t look all that exciting.
SOG’s tactical folding knife also features a half serrated half straight blade for multi-purpose use. The serrations on this blade are particularly sharp and give an excellent bite when used.
The anodized aluminum handle is tough and comfortable for a metal handle.
What customers really like about the handle is the hidden seatbelt or cord cutter. You can slip cord, cloth, or seat belts into the indent to reveal the hidden blade and cut them easily. There is also a spare seat belt blade within the handle for when the first loses its edge.
The seatbelt cutter is really good quality. It feels like they put effort into it unlike in other knives where it just seems to be a quirky tack on.
- Strong, quality stainless steel
- Requires little to no maintenance
- Durable and useful seatbelt cutter
- Firm locking mechanism
- Comfortable handle
- Belt clip is a bit flimsy
- Too stiff to open one-handed
Based on Bear Grylls’ Survival Series knives, this is a folding option that will fit on your belt.
The blade is just over 3.5 inches long and folds away using a lock bar mechanism. It is a sturdy knife that will see you through most situations.
The high carbon stainless steel blade construction means that the edge holds really well.
Speaking of the edge, like the Smith & Wesson, this blade has a half and half serrated and straight design so you can use it for sawing and slicing.
The locking mechanism is stiff enough to hold the knife in place, though some do report that it is so stiff that it is difficult to open one-handed.
The handle is rubber and provides a lot of grip. The finger indents are large enough to get a solid hold on the handle which is great.
The pouch supplied with the knife is of good quality. It fits onto your belt easily and is easy to open and store your knife in one-handed. The pouch is advertised as antimicrobial so it shouldn’t get moldy after a few uses.
- High quality, high carbon stainless steel
- Grippy rubber handle
- Easy to access, durable storage pouch
- Strong and durable knife construction
- Plastic and rubber handle feels tacky and cheap
- Joining nut is so tight you can’t open it with one hand
This is another offering from Smith & Wesson and has the quality materials associated with the brand.
The blade is made from high carbon, stainless steel, and the handle from aluminum. Both materials are durable and hard-wearing, though some customers have found that the blade doesn’t hold an edge as well as other Smith & Wesson knives.
The metal construction gives this knife a good, solid feeling in the hand. It feels like it can take a lot of damage and customers tend to agree.
The balance on the knife is dead center which really makes it feel comfortable in the hand when cutting.
This knife uses a Lockback locking mechanism to hold the blade in place. Customers are very happy with the way it stops the blade from closing while in use.
However, many customers find that the mechanism is so strong that they can’t close the blade easily. Some go as far as to claim that the blade has pinched or caught them when closing because of the amount of force they need to use.
- Quality high carbon stainless steel blade
- Strong and comfortable aluminum handle
- Forceful locking mechanism holds the blade in place
- Balanced, solid feel overall
- Difficult to close without injury
- Not the sharpest blade on offer
- Uses materials that can be toxic when ingested so not good for prepping food.
This is a great budget knife for those who are new to the outdoors. It isn’t a life long purchase but it will give you a good feel and understanding of survival knives.
The blade is made from 420 stainless steel which is strong and durable though it is difficult to sharpen.
At 3.7-inches long, you have a decent surface area to work with. There is no serration on this blade so you can’t saw into things.
The handle is made of plastic and paracord which isn’t ideal. The plastic feels sturdy enough but if anything is going to break on this knife it is the plastic. The paracord has a little tail that can be used as a wrist strap to secure it to your hand.
Paracord handles on knives have their uses. In a pinch, you can undo the cord and use it for whatever you need, but ultimately they are quite uncomfortable. For the quality of the blade, we would have expected a better quality handle.
- Good quality stainless steel blade
- Holds an edge well
- Decent, easy-open locking mechanism
- Firestarter rod included and stored in the handle
- Cheap plastic and cord handle
- Firestarter rod may slip out of the holder
Best Folding Survival Knives Buying Guide
A knife may seem like a simple tool, but to make sure that you have a knife you can rely on you need to choose one with the best construction.
Check out this buyer’s guide and FAQs before buying to make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for in a folding survival knife.
Parts of a Knife
Bladesmiths and sellers have their own lingo and it can be difficult to understand what they mean at first glance.
Here is a handy glossary to help you.
The very end of the blade where the two edges meet.
The end portion of the blade. Usually the last inch or two depending on the size of the blade.
The curved bit of the blade that looks a lot like a, well a belly.
The thicker edge that runs along the top of the blade and gives support.
The thin, sharp part of the knife used for cutting.
A continuation of the spine that is encased in the handle. A good, strong tang should stop the blade and handle from snapping.
Material that covers the tang and is where the blade is held.
Thicker material that acts as a transition between the handle and the blade.
The end of the handle that is often used to drive the blade into harder material. It needs to be strong.
There are two major competitors for blade materials, carbon steel, and stainless steel.
Carbon steel is steel which has added carbon, believe it or not! This added carbon affects the way the steel tempers.
Mainly, carbon steel can be heated and cooled differentially so that different parts of the blade have different hardnesses.
Why is this important?
Well, the edge is often tempered differently to the spine making it ever so slightly softer. This means that a carbon steel blade takes and holds a sharp edge much more easily than stainless steel.
Another good thing about carbon steel is that the best types of carbon steel tend to be cheaper than the best stainless steel. It is a more economical blade as long as you keep up the maintenance.
Speaking of maintenance, the downside to carbon steel is that it needs much more maintenance to keep in top condition.
Carbon steel is prone to rust and corrosion and needs to be oiled and honed regularly to maintain the metal and the edge.
Stainless steel is much less hassle in the maintenance department. Stainless steel, as the name suggests doesn’t stain or corrode as badly as carbon steel.
You don’t need to constantly clean and oil a stainless steel blade to keep it free of rust which makes it more suitable for heavily corrosive environments like the seashore.
Stainless steel matches carbon steel in hardness unless you go for a cheap alloy.
The problem with stainless steel is that it is much harder to sharpen, particularly in the field. Once the blade loses its edge, it needs serious work to get it sharp again which isn’t always ideal in a survival situation.
Stainless steel also tends to be more expensive than carbon steel but you don’t need to pay so much in terms of upkeep so it does balance out.
Ultimately, which steel you go for will depend on how much you are willing to pay and how often you are willing to clean and maintain the blade.
One thing you should always look out for, no matter what steel you choose, is the manufacturers listing. If they don’t detail the type of steel used then they haven’t really put thought or consideration into it and it’s probably low-grade steel.
You might be tempted to go for a vintage-looking, bespoke wooden or antler handle. For sure, these look great. But a survival knife isn’t supposed to look nice, it needs to work hard.
Wood and natural materials like antler or horn are prone to damage from the weather, the oils in your hand, and wear and tear. These kinds of handles also tend to be slippery which means that you’ll have a poor grip.
You do not want a slippery knife when you’re trying to cut through dense wood or similar. You will lose digits!
So what is the best material for your knife handle?
Well, you want to go with a synthetic material like Micarta or carbon fiber. These are different materials soaked in resin before being stuck together into sheets.
Carbon fiber covers a wide range of different materials but is essentially any material that uses carbon woven into strips before being soaked in resin.
Carbon fiber is strong and can withstand a lot of force that comes from a single direction. However, and this is a big however, carbon fiber is brittle. If it’s hit by something hard like a rock or mallet, it can shatter.
Micarta is a material that has a long history. The reason it has stuck around is that it is strong and reliable.
Made from paper, linen, or canvas soaked in resin, Micarta will withstand a lot of damage. It is also slightly brittle like carbon fiber but tends to hold out much better.
Folding Survival Knives
Many will tell you that a folding knife is not a survival knife even if they are advertised as such.
They have a point. Folding knives are inherently weaker than fixed blade knives. The folding mechanism will be the weakest link and there isn’t really anything you can do about that.
It doesn’t mean that they are useless, however.
Folding knives are easier and safer to carry. A strong folding knife will be good enough for many basic survival functions but you need to make sure it is strong.
The way the blade stays in place, the locking mechanism should be reliable and made of durable materials.
There are lots of different types of locking mechanisms out there and everyone has their own preferences.
What we recommend isn’t necessarily a particular type of locking mechanism but overall quality.
Avoid knives that use plastic for any part of the locking mechanism. This will break first.
Also, try to avoid mechanisms that use springs. Again, these wear out much faster than other parts of the knife.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I baton wood with a folding knife?
Ultimately no. Batoning is where you hit the spine of the blade to force a knife through a long bit of wood to split it.
Hitting the spine of a folding blade is much more dangerous because the force is sent straight into the blade.
In a standard, fixed blade knife the force is shared between the blade and the handle because of the tang.
What folding knife is used by the military?
If it’s used by the military, then you can usually count on it to be reliable and strong.
The various branches of the military have issued numerous different knives over the years. In terms of folding blades, the Strider SMF was issued to the Detachment One unit in 2003 during the Iraq war.
This knife was chosen for its compact nature and the durability of its titanium construction.
Are folding knives legal to carry?
Generally yes, though do make sure to check your specific state laws.
In most places in the US, you can carry a folding knife as long as the blade is 2.5 inches or smaller.
If your blade is longer than 2.5 inches then you need a specific reason to carry. Obviously, if you are heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip or similar, you have a reason to carry a longer blade.