Choosing the best low-cost survival knives for preppers on a budget – Reviews of three knife manufactures that you can rely on for quality

Written by- Jesse Mathewson

knives-budgetOne 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.

knives-budget7.      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).


  1. I have that tomato knife the Opionel in my knife draw. Great little blade with the simple twist lock of the collar. Great info.

  2. around 16 years ago i found cold steel knives and have been hooked on em ever since the first knife i bought from em was the bushmaster its a all one piece survival knife for 30 bucks you cant beat it i have thrown EVERYTHING at it ive chopped wood with it cut up meat carved wood with it ive even dug a fire pit with it from the box you could have shaved with it 16n years later it still have that knife ive used it so much the paint wore off the blade and it still holds a good edge

  3. Very interesting article! Ontario butcher knives, (old hickory), knives of this style were carried by many during the westward expansion of this nation. They were common and inexpensive as well as tough enough for a variety of chores.

    Mora is one of my all time go to knife. They are just handy and posses an all around usefull design. Clipped to a belt, pocket, or around the neck on a piece of paracord they are always handy.

    I like the Opinel’s too, but they are not for wet climates if you don’t keep the wood treated. They will swell when wet. I like the steel they use as well, they can easily be honed into a razor sharpness.

    I absolutely prefer carbon steel however I will carry stainless in a SAK or Leatherman type tool. I use olive oil, aka sweet oil, to keep my carbon blades (and BP guns)lubricated and protected from rust.

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

    Thank you Mr. Mathesson – appreciate the post. Knives are necessary tools, especially in the rurals. If you are looking for a good machete, the South American Tramontinas / Gavilans are far better than the inexpensive Chinese machetes. The Cold Steel kukris are reportedly also worth looking at – plenty of YouTube evidence of how much cutting they can do.

    No experience at all with the Ganzo – need to look them up. Kershaw does a good job for an inexpensive ‘tactical’ knife.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi j.r. guerra, another really good machete is the KaBar Cutlass Machete. 11 inch blade of 1095 steel, easy to sharpen, takes a good edge, and holds it. Excellent for batoning firewood/kindling up to around 6 inches diameter. While the blade is short, it is extremely deep, so it is really good for use in close quarters, and short enough to carry around. Everyone who has used mine has bought one of their own- five people IIRC. About $50 on Amazon.

    • Agreed, I enjoy Condor blades as well and the Gk&Co

  5. Chuck Findlay says:

    Nothing wrong with the knifes above. But if you are on a limited budget it’s likely you have time on your hands to go to a few doz garage sales.

    I find Buck, Case, Victorinox, Cold Steel, Winger, Leatherman, Gerber and numerous other quality knifes for give-away prices.

    Real (as apposed to a China-made knock-off) Leatherman tools are a frequent find for $5.00 or less. These go for $50.00 and up (Mostly up.) I kept 4 Leatherman tools and for my bags and sell the rest of them for 4X times what I spent on them. I buy (and sell) 6 or 7 of them a year.

    I have so many knifes I’ve found at garage sales I will never use 1/4 of them.

    • As always, yes! Love yard sales and pawn shops myself.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        A few months ago the best pawn shop in the city closed after being open for 30 + years, I miss the place. But I guess we all want to retire and he did just that.

        All the other pawn shops don’t come close to what this one was.

        • Pawn shops in my area sucks! It is cheaper to find at thrift stores and yard sales. You pay more then new at pawnshops in my area. They justify it by having lay away policies.

  6. Desertwolf says:

    I found a sale Ozark Trail knives at Walmart last year for $3 I figured it would be a good learner knife for the kids so I bought a pile of them different types, i am quite impressed with them. All around they usually shave out of the package and are quite serviceable blade all the way around I carry their multi tool over my leatherman you can get them on Amazon regularly for under $10

  7. Axelsteve says:

    I have a kabar and a bushman I also have 4 or 5 folders I also have a couple of multi tools. I even have an old draw knife. I had a Mora but it grew feet. I plan on getting a couple or few more Moras, I like them. I do not spend big bucks on knives but I do not buy junk.

    • Axelsteve says:

      I also have a ulu knife I bought it when I was in Alaska. It is almost half round With a stainless blade. It is mostly used for chopping stuff . I think that it would be a good skinner though. I need to make a sheath for it.

      • Jealous about the ulu

      • The ulu is definitely a great skinner and excels at many chores. I’ve used it on many deer, javelina and wild hog plus blacktip shark, bull reds and drum, large freshwater catfish and other fish. And to think it was originally given to me for mincing herbs.

        Amazon sells a decent sheath for the ulu.

  8. azrealityprepper says:

    Good article. I too like the Mora knives, got 2 of them. I have 2 Buck 110’s and a 7″ Buck sheath knife also. I too have found several knives at yard and garage sales for dirt cheap, have them scattered around for use wherever I might need one; I throw one in each vehicle, in the RV, in tool boxes, in various drawers around the house, on top of having a couple of EDC knives. I love Leatherman multi-tools also. Good knives are a worthy investment.

    • Axelsteve says:

      I have a schrade clone of the buck 110. Good solid knife. I had a couple of 110 in the past. I like them also.

      • azrealityprepper says:

        I really do like the 110s. I had a 112 a long time ago (late 1970s) but left it with my parents when I joined the army and it was lost in a flood. That knife sort of started my lifelong knife “hoarding” habit….ha ha.

  9. Chuck Findlay says:

    Azrealityprepper the Buck 110 (and the Schrade Knife LB7, I have one of each) is a good durable knife. The LB7 is a bit less expensive and the finish is not as nice, but both are durable as heck and will last a long time.

    Not that Buck would ever advertise it, but the Buck 110 was Charles Manson’s preferred knife.

    Can’t see them advertising “The Buck 110, Charles Manson tested tough.”

    • Lol, but they are solid

    • azrealityprepper says:

      @ Chuck Findlay…wow, you learn something new everyday. Charles Manson??? That is kind of creepy…but I still like the knife. Jesse Mathewson, you wrote a good article and I like how you personally try to reply to all the responses. Keep up your writing and product reviews. I too live in high desert country and would never go anywhere without at least two knives on hand.

  10. One of the reasons I favor the Mora Companion HD is the blade is thicker than the others, 0.125″. It/they have served me well.

    The current price of $14.00 is a bonus too!

    • For chopping I have a Kabar Cutlass. I am looking into a Kydex sheath for it now, found what looks like a good one for about $50.

  11. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Thank You Jesse for stirring up the conversation. We use Mora..s in our GHBs and have one each in the door boots of our cars. They are lite.. and fit our needs very well. I gave my SI-law my BK10 to get him started… infected… in the culture. Like Chuck F. I can’t pass by a blade at a garage sale or gun show. You have me looking at the BK5 as an all around camp blade. I watched a youtube of a fellow butchering a hog and another of a fellow doing Walleye. Seemed big and stiff until I saw those Videos

    Good Posting.. good conversation……………………

  12. Thanks for the great website
    check out condor bushlore best cheap beater knife bar none

  13. John Wolfe says:

    Here is a high quality buck knife on Amazon at a reasonable price. It has 5 star reviews.

    • azrealityprepper says:

      I have that exact knife and it is a good tool to have on hand. It is a solid, well made knife and has done everything that I asked it to do other than give me a winning powerball ticket.

  14. I have some buck, case, wenger and other knives, I like all of them. they stay sharp for pretty good long time. the victorinox for some reason does not sharpen very good, but with all the tools on the knife I would be lost without it.

  15. Love me my Mora knives! I’d pick up more but the wife wouldn’t understand 🙁

    And for a multi-tool, I carry a Gerber that I used every single day when I worked in a hardware store. My wife still laughs about the fact that when I totaled my car, my biggest concern was that I hadn’t lost my Gerber . . . .

  16. I have an Ontario m9 bayonet and this is a great overall knife and it fits onto my rifle to become a spear if needed. Solid and sharp and big.

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