Knives for low budget prepping: Reviews of three knife manufacturers you can rely on for quality

Written by- Jesse Mathewson – product review editor

One of the most underrated and over marketed essential components of a bugout, survival, bush crafters 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 life time 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 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 than 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 manufacture 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 Chinese version of Benchmade’s famous Axis Lock. For the purists, I have several benchmade knives and love them all. The axis lock 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).

Comments

  1. Gordon Rottman says:

    I think about the best and most effective low-cost utility knife you can fine is the Air Force survival knife. It can cut through aircraft aluminum, has a serrated top edge, a stout guard, non-slip grip, a “nut” on the pommel to use as a hammer or head-knocker, and comes with a good sheath (recommend it be dyed black unless in a desert environment) and a sharpening stone. Just make sure its American-made, not a foreign knockoff, which are common. I carried one for 26 years in the Army to include in Vietnam and its been on all my backpacking and hunting trips. Regardless of what kind of knife you use it should have a serrated or saw edge to allow it to cut through polyester rope.

    • Serrated definitely has a place.

    • I still have a ’67 Viet Nam era Air Force survival knife and K-Bar (which are very similar). The top edge does cut through aluminum very well. However. it does not cut wood or rope without a lot of work. A serrated knife was originally made to cut rope, and it does a find job. I do have some serrated knives, but unless cutting rope (which I agree with you about cutting rope), the serrations do not help with prepping. There are a few knives that have what is called serrated, but they actually have a cross-draw like a saw would have and cut wood well. These would be easier in a survival/prep situation.

      My brother and I have tried several colors on the sheath. Where I live, brown or grey is probably the best. The brown does not stand out in the woods/forests and the grey would be better in a suburban area and it does not stand out in the wooded areas nor fields. I love black, but it does seem to stand out when other people are around and they seem to notice it more (that’s just my opinion with the black).

  2. Buy cheap, buy twice. K-bar before it was made by Ontario, was a good knife, but hard to keep an edge. I don’t think Ontario ever made a good blade, but I haven’t picked one up in 40 years, except I did stop at their plant for a tour of K-bar & Ontario several years ago. I also stopped at the Zippo factory shortly after they merged with Case. Case makes very good knives that do hold an edge. I have one from WWII that I’m passing on to my grandson when he is old enough to appreciate it. I don’t have an opinion on Mora, but they do have a good track record. Chinese? Not if my life could depend on it! I own & carry Gerber Knives in my Kit. They are more mid-level in quality & edge, although some are now made in China. They are also issued to our troops. Like I said, buy cheap -buy twice.

    • Right is RIGHT-wrong is WRONG says:

      Nnook…It is my opinion that people forget (when they are putting down Chinese quality) that manufacturers that have their products made in China do so according to their specs and all do not have the same specs. A better company that is known for solid products that hold up well will have higher specs when their products are made in China and as a rule will be higher priced.

    • Remember every major manufacturer has knives made in china, not all of their lines. The products have gotten much better, you should try a ganzo – youll be surprised.

      • Oldalaskan says:

        Hugue no longer is custom gun parts but a major maker of tactical knives and are made 100% in the united states unfortunately many are made in Komunistfornia.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        Remember every major manufacturer has knives made in china

        This is a big reason why I look for used older knifes. I really get tired of the quality of things going down.

        I understand there are a few China-made things that are good, but it’s no way common.

    • Btw gerber has their blades made by fiskar and in china or Taiwan these days.

      • I only buy the Gerbers that are stamped made in USA. I’ve got an ammo can full of fixed blades & folding knives for my kids & grand kids. Took me a few months to collect them all. I also have several of the the camulus demolition knives. They are getting rare & expensive but are great utility knives for every day carry.

        • Chuck Findlay says:

          I lost a small pocket knife a few days ago and today I looked at Menard’s for a replacement. For the same size knife Gerber wants $10.00, Kershaw wants $40.00

          Gerber-made in China.
          Kershaw-made in USA.

          Both are basically the same knife, I went with the Kershaw in hopes it’s better made, but who knows?

          You know you are a prepper when you have a replacement item put up (I have lots of knifes) and still buy another knife…

  3. Right is RIGHT-wrong is WRONG says:

    About 20 minutes ago I bought a Glock field knife from my gun shop. The blade is about 7 inches long and 1 inch wide. It has a double serrated edge which means that it as though you take two saw blades (reverse one) and combine them both. The belt loop on the sheath can be locked in place on your belt without threading the sheath through your belt after you take your belt off. The sheath is plastic (Glock started out in plastics and metals in 1963). According to my gun shop this field knife (made in Austria) was the first thing Glock made for Germany following with a survivalist shovel and then on to guns (made in the USA). The Glock field knife is held in place with a plastic snap which you learn to use your thumb to unlatch regardless of right or left hand use. This one was $40.00.

    • Honestly, knives for me rarely function in more than a single need role. However, it is nice to have some that do, let me know how you like it.

    • Axelsteve says:

      Where I live carrying a double sharppend blade is illegal. And I am not talking about a sick bird. Not worth getting arrested for it. Cold Steel makes some nice budget priced knives.

      • They do. And so does IWI.

        • Axelsteve says:

          last week I found myself a nice Gerber folder. It has a skelotinzed body and about a 3 inch blade. It is dull but in good shape. I found it in the parking lot of a grocery store was closed due to power outage due to wildfire. I think it is a keeper.

  4. Jim Knight II says:

    Great post. My everyday cary knife just broke the other day so I am looking for a new one. I grabbed a small buck knife out of my junk drawer to get me by til I find a good one. I don’t like asking another man to let me hold his knife if i need to cut something. I will check these out. Thanks!

  5. Don’t know about the Ganzo as I have never tried them . The other two are hard to beat for the price . that said I like my Cold steels.

    • I have a couple cold steel knives, but again, this is an approach for low budget prepping. Many cold steels cost what all three of these brands may together.

      That being said, have been using knives fir decades, I remember when buck and gerber still made most of their knives in the usa…times have changed. 🙁

  6. I really like my Gerber Strongarm fixed blade knife. The reviews are all very good. The sheath can be worn on a belt or mounted on Molle straps on a vest. The pommel is pointed to break glass. About $46.00 on Ebay. It comes in black or coyote

  7. My etc knife is a pre-1920 CASE TESTED XX 2 blade Jack knife. There is no knife made today IMHO that has as good of steel in the blades as the 100 year old classics. Now I admit I baby it some,,i don’t beat on it or pry with it, but it will cut anything I have ever tried to cut wit it. Such a pleasure to use and sharpen, and carry.

    That being said I have many other rough use knives. My favorite new survival type knives come from ESEE Randall survivor series. I own at least one of everysize they make. My favorite being the ESEE-6. nearly indestructable, short of a cutting torch.

    I love being part of the prepping, surviving and blade world.

    Okg55 Out

  8. I would have to add the CRKT line of knives. I have at least a dozen of their knives and they are an excellent value, not to mention a great performer. They hold edge well, have name designers behind many of them, and almost the whole line is at 100.00 or under.

    • I love crkt knives, they fill a great niche.

      • j.r. guerra in south tx. says:

        Yeah, the CRKT Obake makes for a fine steak knife. About $30 retail, but you can find for less money if you search around. For a small neck knife, one of the Minimalists or even older Ringer series are nice to have – you forget you have them on you in fact.

        Kershaw makes some good knives too, the Hinderer designs like the Thermite are great.

        Thanks for the post – knives are a favorite subject of mine.

    • Seasoned_Citizen says:

      Thanks for that tip on the $15 Klein duct knife. Just what I need to keep in my p/u for all manner of chores!

    • Apologies, the Klenk is the one I am referring to review wise. Regardless, an interesting knife.

    • Axelsteve says:

      Gerber makes a knive like that. They make it for hvak folks. Gerber also makes one. Just don`t get caught it a black lives matter riot with it. In Komradfornia it is illegal cause of the 2 sharp edges,the commies call i ta dagger.

  9. I have several short machetes aka great big knives, but my favorite is hands down the KaBar Cutlass Machete.

    1095 steel, easy to sharpen with a file, holds an edge well, great for batoning firewood logs up to around 6 inches diameter, will split wood down to less than a half inch and fine for making fuzz sticks, excellent for working in close quarters because the blade is only 11″ long but deep so it has plenty of mass for really good chopping.

    It has a point which is handy for anything which needs to be poked, like a can of food or a slavering vampire marmot. I’ve never used one to open an oil drum, but I expect it would work fine.

    What it is not good for: Processing food, especially root vegetables. The curved belly makes for awkward slicing -which is why kitchen knives have straight edges- and the thickness of the blade makes it wedgey: cut into a carrot or a potato and it will cut in a little way and then act like a wedge to split the root. It works, but not ideal.

    Less than $47 on Amazon, shipping included if you have Amazon Prime. So, not super cheap, but not crazy expensive either, and it is a seriously good tool. Four people have used mine, and all of them then bought their own.

  10. R. Murphy skinner. They made them for Herter’s back in the 70s and before. The design is the Canadian Belt Knife, it’s carbon steel, it holds a great edge and it fits the hand like an extension. They’ve gone up in price. Now about $55. But for a small workhorse knife it’s worth it. I’ve had one for half a century and my wife used one as a kitchen knife. One to pass on down the generations.

  11. Very good article! One of the recommended knives, I had never heard of before (I didn’t believe this could be possible), I’m going to check it out for my own information. I have often stated, and still maintain today that “The finest survival knife one can have is the knife you have on you right now”.
    Thanks for a very nice write!

  12. Jesse

    How about it Jesse, no opinion on old classic knives or ESEE,,,,,just wondering.

    • I love em, and will write up some reviews for them as well. ESEE is an odd brand, some great knives for sure, but some that make you go, hmmm what were they thinking?

  13. Condor makes really nice stuff and is generally overlooked. Their machetes are very sharp and are closer to short swords than machetes. Prices are resonable esp for the quality of the item.

    Ontario makes tough affordable options s well RD6 is a great woods knife.

  14. Carl Tilley says:

    Bear & Son of Jacksonville, AL offers a complete knife line all made in USA. Check out their site.

  15. Chuck Findlay says:

    If a person is on a tight budget garage sales are the place to find knifes.

    I have been buying knifes at garage sales for years (and new knifes from stores and Amazon) and have a box full of them to choose from. Swiss Army, Buck, K-Bar, Gerber, Leatherman Tools (have 5 of these, 3 of them from garage sales) all kinds of quality knifes.

    • As usual, right on Mr. Findlay, my daughter and I haunt local pawn stores and garage sales. 🙂 picked up three summer sleeping bags with stuff sacks in great condition for $3 apiece the other day. Cant beat a good garage/yard sale.

  16. I have been researching the C.F.K. Cutlery knives of late, not much is known of the manufacturer of which I speak but their knives look acceptable and are priced well. The company claims the knives are manufactured in the US. Not sure where they are getting their supplies, and perhaps they are assembling components in the US and calling the knives American made? They advertise them as being made from D-2 which is a good HC tool steel and a lifetime replacement guarantee. Who knows, perhaps someone on this blog has experience with the company. Several of their designs appear to be copied from noted individual craftsmen. I’m seriously considering ordering one of their knives for testing purposes.

    • D-2 is a difficult knife steel, it is really a better tool steel, however, as I have several japanese and american built D-2 knives, it depends on how they temper and treat. Yet another I will need too purchase, addicts, we are fine if we get our fix, and blades…thats my fix

    • Axelsteve says:

      Col D
      Companies get kinda creative on ow they call a product Murican made. Some car companies get to call a car murican if a certian perchantage of there parts are made here. Many of there parts are sourced abroad and are called murican.People fly there flag and they say theyhave a murican car when most parts are made in Tiawan and the fasteners are metric.Piss on that.

  17. Oldalaskan says:

    Hugue is not just quality gun parts anymore they make quality top-of-the-line knives and fighting hatchets. Their main plant is unfortunately in Komunistfornia but they also have plants in Arizona, Henderson, NV and other places to manufacture or assemble what cannot be done in Komunistfornia.
    Folks on a side note money talks and with the way this country is going I am stopping or limiting my purchases from liberal owned businesses, this includes Starbucks and Target both anti 2nd. Amendment and locally owned stores as I find them.

    • Oldalaskan

      This old hillbilly agrees 1000%. Shame where this country is headed…at least us old farts can get our two cents worth in.

    • Axelsteve says:

      piss on Starbucks I can make my own coffee.

      • Curley Bull says:

        I have always felt that Starbucks was very over rated as well as very over priced!! Maybe I’m too picky, but it’s hard for me to find a really good cup of Joe away from home!

      • Axelsteve:

        I’m one of those guys who won’t pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but will spend $150 on a knife I probably won;t use!

  18. The Ontario Rat folder (Taiwan AUS-8) I use as one my EDC knives (I always have a minimum of two with me) is $25 bucks on Amazon

    A Buck Bantam (420 HC steel) is only $14 bucks (Amazon) Made in the USA with USA and imported parts. I have several of these to be given to the grandkids as their first knives. Mostly because I expect a certain amount of attrition due to loss.

    A Buck 110 is only $40 and as a bonus its: Made in the USA and Forever Lifetime Warranty (Amazon)

    I have two Mora knives. One is an wood handled antique I got in a trade way back in the 60’s or 70’s, one is the Light My Fire. Don’t like either of them though the Light My Fire is in the car bag but only for the firesteel in the handle. The belt knife I use constantly is a little Condor Kephardt. Made in El Salavador 1075 high carbon. Great little knife for $30. I stripped the black off it and treated the blade with vinegar to get a patina. At home, in the house, I carry a Cold Steel Ti-Lite because its the style I learned to knife fight with though it’s a far cry from from the cheap Mexican switchblades I used in a misspent youth. But there I can indulge myself with a tangible memory.

    My second EDC folder is a Zero Tolerance 0350TS I got on sale. It’s a beast.

    • Agreed that ZT is a beast but a beautiful one. My dad still has his 110 from the early 80s. Love that knife.

      • I carried a 110 back in the 70’s when in garrison. They were great trading knives, too, but hard to keep an edge. Mine cost about $20 in the PX. When deployed, I carried Gerber Mark One & Mark II’s. I remember in the eighties, in Alaska, the whole grip separated from the blade it was so cold. When I got back to Bragg, I reattached it and still have both knives to this day, but not to carry. I’m not planning to need any daggers any time soon (I hope).

    • Gotta agree with you on Buck knives. The Buck 110 is an excellent folding hunter, and the 105 is a great fixed blade sheath knife. Older made in USA knives of many types typically have good steel.

  19. I sm not going to run out of knives any time soon, but….Every oneof my kits has a Mora knife in it. They make 2 badic ones with green handles, the one with the gold lettering is about $5 more and has a thicker/carbon steel blade, that’s my choice.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009NZVZ3E/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    • I absolutely love Morakniv styled and Morakniv branded kniven, knives. My all time favorite is a knife I picked up for $15 at a pawn shop, a Karasuando Kniven similar size and blade shape to the Morakniv Companion, however, its actually a custom built knife from Sweden, originally costing $165, when I saw it all I could think was…how fast can I get my wallet out…best part is, I would have paid the original $30 they were asking, however, they told me, that if I took three of the $20 Leatherman tools without sheaths they would knock $5 off them and half off the “foreign” knife.

      I was quite happy!

  20. Chuck Findlay says:

    A Buck 110 is only $40 and as a bonus its: Made in the USA and Forever Lifetime Warranty (Amazon)

    I have a 110, never use it much, but it’s in with all the other knifes I have, well made but kinda heavy to carry unless it’s on a belt pouch.

    I think Charles Manson favored a Buck 110. I’m sure Buck Knife Co wants to downplay that fact.

  21. Chuck Findlay says:

    I can’t see them advertising “The Buck 110, Charles Manson tested and approved.”

  22. I would go with Ontario Knives, since their products seem stronger. On the other hand, the Morakniv line is impressive, it’s really popular. Good investment at an affordable price.

  23. Chuck Findlay says:

    Jesse do you salivate when you look at the back cover of Backwoodman’s Magazine each month? It’s always filled with 20 old knifes for sale.

    It’s kinda like knife-porn, you can’t help but to look with desire…

  24. Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife 20CBL is my No. 1 goto knife. Been using them for the last 3+ years. Have lots of them. Be very careful extremely sharp out of the box. Rugged. Hold an edge. You can slice and dice multiple deer without having to sharpen them. $9.99
    https://www.amazon.com/Cold-Steel-Canadian-Knife-20CBL/dp/B000WADUIW/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1471447768&sr=8-7keywords=cold+steel+knives

    Cold Steel Survival Edge Black Knife is my No. 2 knife it’s a survival style knife with a fire starter. Same as above very sharp. $19.99 https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_3?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Acold+steel+knives&page=3&keywords=cold+steel+knives&ie=UTF8&qid=1471448250spIA=B00T0URB44,B0168E0Y3O,B00PTRJZBE,B01FM4JOU0,B00TK4L2HW,B001TKEB64,B0041EKQSC,B00YG9K60A

  25. The Kershaw 3/4 ton is cheap and tough. It is the best expendable knife I’ve found for ranch work, i.e. couple dozen times out of the pocket per day. Lose it, no crying, although spray painting orange helped on that issue. Liked them so much I bought a dozen and a half…….Soapweed

  26. For cheap knives I like the s&w branded knives. Yes they are China made but they come with a decent edge and hold up well. My edc is a circa 1970s Schrade Skinner. Then I have about a dozen knives I’ve made myself. They vary from thin neck knives to heavy machetes made from ferriers files

  27. Thanks for comment