What is the Best Hunting Knife?

Best Hunting Knife

I've searched high and low trying to find out what is the best hunting knife in the world.  I've looked at low end budget knives to high end handmade custom knives.  I've looked at Folders and Fixed Blades, Gut Hooks, Skinners, Boning Knives.  You name it, I've looked at it.  And what have I found?  There is no one perfect hunting knife.  

There, I said it.  The best knife for hunting and you will depend on several different factors that I will try to cover in this article and in my reviews.  The best knife for me might not be the best knife for you.  So let's take a look at some of these factors and then you can decide which is the best knife for you.

Best Hunting Knife 2017 Guide

Brand & Model

Blade Length

Blade Material

Price

KnifePath Review

Rating

buck 119

Buck 119 Special Hunter

6" Clip Point

420HC Steel

$$

Our Review

Cutco Hunting Knife

Cutco Model 5717 Gut Hook

4 3/8" Drop Point

440A Stainless

$$$

Our Review

Kershaw Hunting Knife

Kershaw Diskin Hunter

4 5/8" Drop Point

Sandvick 14C28N

$$

Our Review

Winchester Hunting Knife

Winchester Burl Wood Gut Hook

6" Drop Point

Stainless Steel

$

Our Review

Buck 110 Folding Hunter

Buck 110 Folding Hunter

3 3/4" Clip Point

420HC Steel

$

Our Review

Should I buy a fixed blade or a folding blade?

One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to go with a fixed blade or a folding blade.  Both have their advantages and both have their disadvantages.  Let's take a look at a few of those below.

Fixed Blade Hunting Knives - Fixed blade knives are one solid piece of metal ​and are either tang or full tang.  Tang knives have a tapered end that is hidden inside the handles.  Some people call this a rat tail.   A full tang knife is a solid piece of metal with the handles attached to either side.  A full tang blade has the advantage of being stronger but it's also heavier to carry.

A fixed blade knife is made for heavy duty work.  It also has the advantage of being ready to use right out of the sheath.  They are easy to clean because there isn't moving parts and the crevices are minimal.  They also have less maintenance than folders.  The disadvantage to having a fixed knife blade is they aren't as easy to conceal as a folding knife.  If you need a heavy duty knife then a fixed blade is the way to go.

Folding Hunting Knives - ​These are knives that open and close with a locking mechanism.  Folders have the advantage in that they are easy to conceal and slip into a pocket or pack.  They are also usually smaller and are better at fine tasks.   Finally they are safer because the blade isn't always exposed.

The disadvantages of a folder is they are harder to clean.  There is moving parts and crevices that need to be cleaned every so often.  If you don't need a heavy duty knife and want something smaller and easier to carry, then a folding blade is the way to go.​

How long of a blade should my knife have?

I know what your thinking.  The biggest blade I can get, right?  Rambo eat your heart out!   But a large hunting knife isn't always the best. Let's look at some different blade lengths and discuss their advantages.

Blades under 3 inches  - These are usually found in folding hunting knives.  They are small, lightweight and compact. They are good for cleaning and processing small game.  They can do a nice job in field dressing large game animals but suffer when it comes to processing the meat.

Blades 4-7 inches - This is the sweet spot in my opinion for hunting knives.  The blade is short enough it can handle the small tasks like field dressing while having the length to do a good job boning out meat.​  The good thing is there is a lot of hunting knife choices in this blade length range.

Blades 8 - 12 inches - At this point your really getting into specialty knives.  Some are good for cutting roasts and other butchering tasks but most are just for show or knife fighting.  I don't plan on doing a whole bunch of knife fighting do you?​  There is nothing wrong with a blade this length but I wouldn't make it my main hunting knife.

Which Blade Design?

There are several different blade designs and each have their advantages.  We will take a look at the most common designs used in hunting knives and let you decide which one you like the best.

Drop Point - The top of the blade on this design drops down towards the point, hence the name.  This design helps to eliminate accidental punctures while skinning and gutting an animal.  It also makes for a thicker, stronger point.​  It also has a full belly on it making it a good choice for heavier tasks.  This is probably the most popular blade design used on hunting knives today.

Skinner - The tip on a skinner blade design is more blunt which keeps it from puncturing the hide while skinning.  It has wide deep belly which helps it sweep through thick layers while skinning an animal.  This was a common blade design carried by early frontiersmen.  

Clip Point - The clip point design has a crescent tip and a much sharper point than those found on other hunting knife blade designs.  It's great for working in tight areas while processing an animal and for making puncture holes.  However it's not as strong of a design as say a drop point blade.​

Gut Hook - The last blade design I would like to discuss isn't always a blade design by itself.  Most of the time it's added to another blade design.  A gut hook is used when opening an animal.  It's design allows it to complete this task quickly without piercing the gut cavity.​  It's important that a gut hook is wide enough to allow it to cut through a hide without plugging up.

What is the best blade material?

There are several dozen different types of blade material that are used to make knives.  On top of that most manufactures have their own special alloys and metals they use in their knives.  Each have their advantages, disadvantages and different hardness.  For our purpose we are going to keep it a little more simple and focus on the following materials.

Plain Carbon Steels - ​This is made by combining a small amount of manganese with carbon and iron.  These carbon steel blades are usually noted in the 10XX format.  1095, 1055, 1045 are examples of this.  The XX number in this case tells you how much carbon is used in the mixture.  So a 1095 would have 95% carbon.

The advantages of carbon blades is they are the easiest to sharpen.  Another advantage is the more carbon in a knife the easier it is to throw a spark with flint on the spine.  The disadvantage is they are the easiest material to start rusting.  If you want a plain carbon blade then you will need to keep the blade oiled to help prevent rust.  You can also force a petina on the knife to slow down the rusting process.​

Alloy Steels - This steel is made by adding some chromium with carbon steel.  The result is a material that is stronger than plain carbon steel.  However, there isn't enough chromium in this mixture to be considered stainless steel.​  5160 is a knife blade that you will see in this category.

Stainless Steels - This is the largest group for hunting knives.  Once the mixture starts containing more than 12% chromium it is considered stainless steel.​  The carbon is only about .30% to 1.20% in these knives.  

One of the biggest advantages of stainless steel is that it is rust resistant.  That doesn't mean that a stainless steel knife won't rust but it takes some serious neglect.  Also a stainless steel knife will hold an edge better than a carbon knife.

The disadvantages of stainless steel is that they are harder to sharpen than carbon knives.  Another disadvantage in my opinion is that there are so many different stainless steels out there that there is a huge disparity in the quality of this material.  S30V is considered to be one of the best stainless steels for making knives.​  Several high end knives that we will review have this blade material.

Damascus Steel - Damascus is made by folding two different types of steel together over and over.  The steel then is acid etched giving it a unique color contrast and pattern.  Because of this time consuming process, damascus hunting knives are expensive and usually only used on custom knives.

Should I care about what material the knife scales are?

Just as there are several different blade materials, handle options are plenty.   They range from plain wood to high end carbon fibers.  The scales can help improve the grip and help to complete the look of your hunting knife.  Let's take a look at the most common ones. 

Wood - The traditional knife handle.  Wood is durable and easy to clean.  It can be cleaned and varnished to a brilliant shine.  The grip value is somewhere in the middle when compared to other knife scales.

Micarta - ​Micarta is made by applying heat and pressure to layers of canvas, paper or linen cloths.   The result is a material that is smooth, tough, durable and waterproof.  Micarta has no texture and can be polished.  Also it can come in a wide variety of colors.  It does have decent grip capabilities.

G-10 - G-10 scales are made similiar to Micarta except that fiberglass in used in the layers.  Also G-10 is finished with a texture.  The result is a strong handle with great gripping power.​

Bone - Bone handles come from where you might imagine - deceased animals.  The bone is given a texture to improve the grip.  The advantage of bone is it creates an attractive knife scale and it's an easy material to work with.​

Carbon Fiber - One of the most expensive handles that are used on hunting knives.​  Carbon fiber scales are made by tightly weaving thin carbon strands and then setting them in resin.  Carbon fiber is one of the strongest handles on the market.  It also reflects light which brings out the weave pattern made by the carbon fibers.  It's mainly used on custom hunting knives.

What kind of sheath comes with a knife?

Most of the time we are so focused on what makes the best hunting knife that we forget that a good sheath is important.  A sheath helps to protect the blade from getting scratched, damaged and being exposed to the elements.  There is 4 basic types of sheaths.

Leather - Nothing looks more traditional than a leather sheath.  Good quality leather will last a long time if it's taken care of and oiled every so often.  It's also the most quiet sheath you can buy.  

Nylon - Nylon is one of the cheaper sheath materials out there and the quality varies.  Cheap nylon can stretch over time and not protect your knife as well as it should.   Also nylon sheaths tend to use velcro which can be noisy when getting access to your hunting knife.

Plastic - The cheapest of all 4 sheath types.  Not a great knife sheath and is usually on smaller knives under $20.  This leaves some money on the table to buy a better sheath or make your own.

Kydex - ​One of the more modern knife sheath materials.  Kydex is made from thermoplastic material.  The advantage of kydex is it's extreme durability and has good memory retention.  One disadvantage is that kydex is noisy and makes a clanking sound when you draw your knife.  It also can dull a knife blade if you put your knife in and out of the sheath a lot.

So what is the best hunting knife?​

As you can see there is a lot that goes into selecting the perfect knife for you.  I have done my best to give you some of the factors you should consider when selecting a hunting knife.  Also I will continue to review individual knives that you might be interested in below.  Check out these reviews and good luck on the path to finding your new hunting knife!

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