Combat knives get a bad rap because of their all-business looks, but they are no more dangerous than similar, tamer-looking knives. Because military life is not all stabbing and killing, combat knives evolved to perform the mundane tasks that enlisted personnel regularly do. They typically have solid, pronounced pommels and full-tang handles for pounding on objects, and their blades are normally rather thick, making them suitable for utility purposes, such as prying.
The same utilitarian abilities that make them useful for servicemen also make combat knives fine camping implements. With wide blades that are typically longer than 6 inches for maximum penetration when necessary, they have the heft to perform light chopping duties, while also being able to serve many bushcraft-type uses. Combat knives also normally have a cross guard to prevent the hand from slipping onto the blade in hard use, and a grip that provides traction for the same reason.
Collectors cherish combat knives for the history many of them represent. Government-issue combat knives vary from service to service, and their representatives from each military branch are highly sought-after. But, there is also a large contingent of Americans that purchase combat knives exactly for their intended purpose. No bug-out pack would be complete without at least one fixed-blade knife. The combat knife solves many issues that survivalists would otherwise have to purchase several tools to cover.
When most people picture a combat knife, this is what comes to mind. The KA-BAR Fighting/Utility knife is one of the most famous combat knives ever produced. It first saw military service with the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and is still issued to Marines today. Like most KA-BAR brand knives, these combat blades are made in the U.S.
The KA-BAR blade is made from 1095 Cro-Van steel, a high-carbon, non-stainless steel with chromium and vanadium. It retains a sharp edge and is easy to re-sharpen. The blade on the full-size model is 7-inches long with a clip point, and the knife is 11.75 inches long overall. There are partially serrated and straight edges available. The included hard-plastic sheath is MOLLE-compatible.
The Marine Corps issues KA-BARs with leather-washer grips, but the black Kraton G handles require less maintenance and are weather-resistant. The partial tang may limit its usefulness in the most extreme utility roles, but the KA-BAR has repeatedly proven itself in combat situations. It is a tough knife that excels at the toughest of jobs.
SOG SEAL Team Elite
SOG has built a history of making quality survival blades since its founding in the 1980s, and its current flagship knife, the SEAL Team Elite, continues that tradition. This new-generation SOG SEAL knife has a partially serrated edge with a hollow-saber grind.
The blade is 7 inches long and is full-tang, ending in an extended pommel that is meant for pounding. The blade material is AUS-8 stainless steel, which utilizes vanadium to improve hardness and edge retention and rates 57 to 58 on the Rockwell scale. SOG cryogenically heat treats these blades, which it says results in greater hardness and a resistance to edge chipping.
The SEAL Team Elite has a glass-reinforced nylon handle, which provides great wet-or-dry traction. It measures 12.3 inches in overall length, and tips the scales at a modest 10.3 ounces. It comes with a functional Kydex sheath, which retains the blade well in all conditions. A smaller version, called the SEAL Pup Elite, is also available.
When military personnel the world over decide to replace their government-issued knives, the Swedish Fallkniven A1 is one of their top choices. The blade is 6.3 inches long, .24 inches thick and 11.8 inches overall. The A1 has an effective, extended pommel on a full-tang, Kraton handle, which provides excellent traction. It also has a single, index-finger guard rather than a double quillon.
The A1’s blade is made from laminated VG-10, a high-carbon stainless steel that rates 59 on the Rockwell hardness scale. Its edge has a durable convex grind that is impressively sharp. Edge retention is equally impressive, and the A1 is perfectly content to chop wood all day long. A great all-in-one knife for camping and survival purposes, the Fallkniven A1 is the Cadillac of combat knives.
Cold Steel Leatherneck Tanto
Cold Steel’s Leatherneck Tanto is a D2-steel combat knife that can hang with almost any knife on the market when it comes to camping and survival scenarios. The tough, semi-stainless tool steel retains its edge impressively, aided by the strong saber grind on the edge. It has black, DLC coating, which is non-reflective and scratch-resistant.
Typical for Cold Steel, the Leatherneck series knives come with a razor-sharp edge from the factory. D2 steel is an ideal choice for outdoors knives, because it is hard enough for light-duty wood chopping and similar survival chores but will still slice through game hides when hunting.
The full-tang blade ends with a steel pommel, and a steel cross guard keeps hands safe from the scary-sharp blade edge. The tanto tip is wide and stout, eliminating any chance of breakage. The 5-inch Griv-Ex synthetic handle provides excellent traction, and the included Secure-Ex sheath holds the knife securely. This Leatherneck is a formidable knife with no glaring shortcomings.
When corrosion resistance is a key demand, Ontario’s MK III dive knife is the go-to combat blade. It is standard issue for the U.S. Navy, with obvious implications of operating in a saltwater environment. The MKIII has seen use in the Navy for generations.
Ontario currently makes the MK III with 420 stainless steel to keep it rust-free. This softer steel, rating 49 to 55 on the Rockwell scale, will take a decent edge, though retention will be an issue when used hard. The blade, which is black-oxide coated, is 6 inches long with a .165-inch width. Overall, it is 11.1 inches long.
Early iterations of the Mk III had a clip point with a pronounced recurve, which Ontario modified to prevent breakage. The blade also has serrations along the spine that are useful for sawing tree limbs or similar materials. It may not take or retain the absolute sharpest of edges, but the Mk III is tough enough to withstand any environment.
One does not need to be facing combat to appreciate a combat knife. The realities of military life dictate that these blades be as much of a tool as a weapon, but they are designed to readily become a weapon if need be. Most combat knives are just as at home in the woods as in conflict. The critical factor is that they be ready to respond with deadly force even after constant utilitarian use.
We think the Fallkniven A1 is the one, in our list, most suited to the modern combat role. It can baton wood for hours, prepare a meal, yet still be sharp enough to handle defense duties when called upon. You may need a bit of practice to perfect sharpening its convex edge, but sharpening is rarely needed. If you use a belt sharpener you’ll get a convex edge regardless. Use it, abuse it, then sheathe it in its zytel sheath, and the A1 will always be ready for more. That is the definition of a combat knife.