Bowie knives have been around for hundreds of years, popularized by their namesake frontiersman Jim Bowie and used ever since as an indispensable survival tool. These knives are designed as survival fixed blade tools, with a relatively long and single-edged blade ending in a clip point and with a crossguard separating the blade from the handle. In the backcountry, a trusted Bowie knife is likely to be one of the tools that will see the most use during your trip, and it can easily be the difference between life and death in a survival situation.
The most immediate and critical use of a Bowie knife is for hunting. The sharp, long blade of a Bowie knife is perfect for skinning and cleaning game – which might be your primary food source in an emergency. The clip point is also helpful since it allows you to get into otherwise tough to reach places with your blade. Just as important, a Bowie knife can help you establish shelter and a fire in a survival situation, since it can be used to carve wood into the shapes needed to make an emergency cover or to notch out a bow and spindle. Bowie knives can also be deployed for self-defense – the long and sharp blade is sure to make any attacker think twice, and a well-cared for blade can certainly inflict damage on an attacker when needed. Beyond it’s survival uses, a Bowie knife comes in handy for all the myriad things that require a sturdy knife in the backcountry, from cutting cordage to preparing food, or as a great addition to your Prepper supplies!
BEST BOWIE KNIFE OVERALL
BEST BUDGET KNIFE
SOLID HIGH END OPTION
GOOD MIX OF SIZE AND VALUE
SOLID HIGH END OPTION
SOLID BUDGET OPTION
SOLID BUDGET OPTION
6.25 inch blade
10.4 inch blade
6.25 inch blade
9 inch blade
6.4 inch blade
11.4 inch blade
10 inch blade
What to Look for in a Bowie Knife
Bowie knives come in a huge variety of designs, in large part because the knives can be put towards so many different uses and finds popularity among both hunters and preppers. Here, we’ll cover some of the most important features to look for in the best bowie knife for survival use.
The first thing to decide when considering a Bowie knife is what size you want the blade to be. Bowie knife blades range from three inches at the small end to blades that are a foot or longer. Smaller blades, or blades in the middle of the range, tend to make the best prepper gear since they are less heavy to carry and are more adept for skinning game and cleaning fish. Longer blades are intended in part for chopping, which can be an advantage if you plan to use your blade as a makeshift machete or for chopping small branches into tinder.
The vast majority of modern Bowie knifes are made with carbon steel blades, which are extremely sharp and durable. Alternative steel alloy blades are also available and offer many of the same benefits.
The tang is the piece of metal that binds the blade to the knife handle. Bowie knives typically use a full tang, meaning that the metal shank runs through the entire handle, since the large blade itself is heavy and the knife is designed for durability. However, particularly small Bowie knives may be constructed with less than a full tang.
The handle material isn’t just for style, and the decision of handle material goes beyond what feels comfortable under pleasant conditions. Natural materials, such as bone, stacked wood, and antler will not transfer heat as rapidly as synthetic handles under cold conditions, which means that your hand won’t be frostbitten trying to use the knife. On the other hand, synthetic materials like rubber and kraton are more durable if you expect your knife handle to get wet from weather or blood. In addition, is always a good idea to test the handle’s comfort under working conditions, since what feels good in your palm might begin to cause pain after hours of skinning.
A sheath is an important tool for keeping your knife sharp and protecting it from the elements to increase its lifespan.
Best Bowie Knife
SOG S1T-L - This knife is a modern remake of the knives American Special Forces units used in Vietnam 50 years ago. The 6.4-inch blade is made with high-quality steel and finished with NiTi alloy for sharpness and durability. Preppers and hunters alike use this blade thanks to the moderate blade length and the extremely comfortable leather handle, which makes working with the blade for long game cleaning sessions easier on the hands. In particular, the rivets in the handle are epoxied over to avoid friction against your palm and the handle has finger holds subtly carved out. Users found that the blade was nicely balanced and appreciated the oversized crossguard for preventing slippage in the case of sweaty palms when working with the knife – especially since some people found the leather handle to be somewhat slippery. Another advantage to the leather handle is that it is extremely durable and can be maintained over the lifetime of the blade with just a bit of leather oil. The knife also comes with a leather carrying case and a sharpening stone, which has its own pocket in the carrying case so it is always with you when you need to sharpen the blade.
Best Budget Knife
Schrade SCHF45 Leroy
Schrade SCHF45 Leroy - Don’t let the budget price for this Bowie knife scare you away – it truly is an extremely well-made and durable blade at only a fraction of the cost of similar knives. Plus, since it costs so little, you won’t feel bad about using the knife to its fullest and risking the blade on heavy duty jobs. With a 10.4 inch blade, this is a big knife, but it has a full tang and thick steel construction to get heavy duty cutting and chopping done without issues. Although the blade itself is somewhat thick and does not use particularly high-quality steel, the edge will hold reasonably well after sharpening.
The biggest downside to this Bowie knife is the lack of a serious crossguard to protect your hand from the blade. Instead, it only uses a finger guard at the top of the handle and it seems easy for your hand to slip onto the blade in the process of skinning game – which is why many users designate this primarily as a chopping knife. The handle itself is made with rubber, thus requiring nearly no maintenance over the life of the blade, and is designed ergonomically with finger holds. The knife also comes with a nylon sheath, although many users found that this sheath falls apart within months of use.
Solid High End Knife
Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman
Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman - This Bowie Knife from Buck, a well-established name in hunting knives, is beautifully designed and extremely functional. The 6.25-inch blade is manufactured with high-grade carbon steel and holds a razor-sharp edge that won’t dull as rapidly as the edge on lesser knives. Plus, thanks to the quality construction, the knife can punch above its weight in taking on difficult cutting jobs and excels at skinning and cleaning tough game. The knife is large and heavy enough to take on some chopping work, although given the price and detailed construction it is likely too nice for this purpose. The weight unfortunately poses some issue for taking this on the trail, since it is somewhat heavier than necessary for achieving the needs of a survival situation.
Although the spine of the knife is relatively thick, the weight of the knife is balanced back onto the handle thanks to the aluminum pommel at the base of the handle. The handle itself is constructed from micarta and grips comfortably, while the crossguard is elegantly designed to offer plenty of protection from the blade. The knife also comes with a leather sheath, although this was designed to be very tight making it difficult to remove the blade without yanking.
Good Size and Value
Ka-Bar Becker BK9
Ka-Bar Becker BK9 - Ka-Bar has an excellent reputation among knife companies since their knife is standard issue within the US Marine Corps. This 9-inch blade is extremely sharp and durable, but thanks to the length is also quite heavy – you will need some arm endurance to wield it for repeated chopping. In addition, the blade length is relatively long for hunting use since it will have difficulty working delicately in tight quarters around a skin. The knife itself is made with 1095 Cro-Van steel, a carbon steel alloy that is durable over repeated sharpening and holds its edge well even when used for wood chopping.
The handle is made from two layers of Grivory nylon glued together and skewered with three rivets through the full tang. Although the handle is made of two pieces rather than one, users did not find any issues with its durability over the life of the knife and found that the handle was comfortable to hold during extended chopping. The knife does not sport a full crossguard, but rather an extended finger guard that is curved just enough around the top of the handle to make dangerous slippage unlikely.
Although not as budget-friendly as the Schrade SCHF45, the BK9 is a relatively inexpensive knife for the power it wields and the quality of the construction.
Solid High End Knife
SOG S10B-K - This Bowie knife from SOG is designed for detailed knife work, making it perfect for anything from skinning game and cleaning fish to carving wood at the campsite. The 6.4-inch blade has a beautiful curvature to the design and is finished with NiTi alloy for durability and strength. Unlike larger Bowie knives, the clip point on this blade is extended far enough to be very useful for working in tight spaces.
The handle on this knife is also greatly appreciated by users. SOG opted for a glass-reinforced nylon handle that has a rubberized coating around the outside, so it is easy to grip even when your hands are sweaty from hours of work. The finger grips in the handle are ergonomically designed for a comfortable hold, and the crossguard is burly without being intrusive. The handle also adds some weight to the knife, with users noting that it felt weightier than other Bowie knives of this size.
The knife also comes with a Kydex sheath, although users noted that this was a tight fit and recommended storing in a cloth soaked in gun oil to keep the blade sharp and fresh.
Solid Budget Knife
Timber Rattler Western Outlaw
Timber Rattler Western Outlaw - If you need a chopping knife that you won’t feel bad about beating up on, the Western Outlaw Bowie knife is inexpensive enough that a ruined blade won’t leave a hole in your wallet. This knife wields an 11.375-inch stainless steel blade with a full tang. The stainless steel is less expensive than carbon steel, but also does not hold its edge as well and is not as durable and users report that the knife is sold with a very dull edge. However, if you plan on using this knife primarily for large chopping jobs as it is designed for, you likely won’t miss the hair-cutting sharpness found on carbon steel blades. Although it has a clip point, the point is relatively blunt and is more stylistic than good for use.
The handle is made from hardwood, which is easy to hold and helps to keep the weight of the knife reasonable given the massive size of the blade itself. Unfortunately, there are no ergonomic hand grips carved into the handle, so it can be difficult to hold steadily when your hands are sweaty. The crossguard is prominent enough to keep your hand safely on the handle, though.
The knife also comes with a leather sheath, which helps with storage and keeping the blade’s edge once you’ve sharpened it thoroughly.
Solid Budget Knife
Uncle Henry 181UH
Uncle Henry 181UH - This blade is one of the best budget Bowie knives on the market. At a fraction of the cost of high-end knives, this Bowie brings a lot of knife to bear for chopping wood and whatever other heavy-duty jobs you need it for. The blade is 10 inches long, manufactured out of carbon steel, and comes sharp enough to split hairs. Users found that despite the low price point, the knife held up for chopping without developing nicks in the blade and the full tang construction holds up well under pressure. Be aware that the knife is heavy – unsurprising given its full 15-inch length – but is well-balanced and does not feel unwieldy.
The handle is constructed out of staglon, which many users found feels cheap and is not as durable as the blade itself. Since the rivets are exposed, it is possible to replace the handle with a true wooden handle. Although the blade does not incorporate a full crossguard, the nickel-silver finger guard is plenty to keep your hand from sliding onto the knife edge. The Bowie knife also comes with a polyester sheath, which users found was well-stitched and surprisingly sturdy.
A Bowie knife is an essential piece of prepper gear since it is one of the most valuable tools you can have in an emergency. Whether you use your blade for hunting, chopping wood, building a shelter, or working to start a fire, having the best camping knife can put your mind at ease during a trip and make every task that much easier to tackle.