The Best Fixed Blade Knives

April 25, 2016

  • by
  • Peter Reese

Rather than pretend camping and backcountry travel scenarios are pristine, Active Junky prefers to step into the out-there fully prepared. While folding knives and multi tools manage most light-duty requirements from first aid to meal preparation, heavier duty tools need to make the packing (and pack-in) list. And anytime survival tools need to be at the ready.

Fixed-blade knives carry significant advantages over pocket knives that compensate for their incremental weight. Longer – and stronger – blades perform larger cutting tasks from preparing fire wood, to filleting fish and skinning large game, and the repetitive chopping of meal ingredients. In addition, those with full-tang blades (single steel running from tip to butt) go to work when digging and moderate prying are useful. 

Any fixed-blade knife needs to muster five Key Attributes even before considering the merits of specific brands and models. Without these, no level of tactical appearance or lumberjack vibe is enough to justify their purchase: In every case, training and safety are paramount, including steps such as eye protection, off-limits work areas and regular sharpening (dull blades are dangerous). Check out the top performers, and don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Universal Attributes

Present in all five fixed-blade knives evaluated, with individual models flagged for exceptional ratings in specific attributes

Performance is summarized as clean, consistent cutting power in the field, recognizing imperfect grip and accuracy is expected outside in variable weather\

Quality means the blade, head or handle resist chipping, breaking or other damage in regular and repeated use – and that sharpening happens easily in the field

Maintenance focuses on the frequency – and ease – of sharpening and cleaning with minor tune-ups and wipe-downs to be expected

Versatility combines cutting performance with agility to master materials of varying thickness, hardness and stability rather than a single chore

Reputation matters in cutting tools as defects in materials, construction and assembly often reveal themselves in inconvenient settings, elevating the trust needed in the brand’s products 

Trial #1: “Eye of the Spud” to cut potato eyes out quickly, accurately and safely = balance and precision handling at speed
Trial #2: “Chop and Slice” to cut through hard, raw vegetables with uniformity = smooth cutting along the blade’s length with moderate pressure
Trial #3: “Close Shave” to uniformly shave wood curls from a thumb-sized stick = dense material penetration and edge power
Trial 4: “Skin and Grin” to slice an S-shaped pattern into a thick synthetic leather with a fibrous membrane backing = field and kitchen utility as a skinning knife and more
Trial #5: “Splitting Atoms” to divide dry oak quarter splits when blades were struck from above with a 1” wood shaft “baton” = blade strength and impact transfer

Performance Testing Challenges

In addition to simply cutting through paracord and woven rope up to ½” in diameter, each knife experienced the following, progressively more rigorous trials.

Trial #1: “Eye of the Spud” to cut potato eyes out quickly, accurately and safely = balance and precision handling at speed

Trial #2: “Chop and Slice” to cut through hard, raw vegetables with uniformity = smooth cutting along the blade’s length with moderate pressure

Trial #3: “Close Shave” to uniformly shave wood curls from a thumb-sized stick = dense material penetration and edge power

Trial 4: “Skin and Grin” to slice an S-shaped pattern into a thick synthetic leather with a fibrous membrane backing = field and kitchen utility as a skinning knife and more

Trial #5: “Splitting Atoms” to divide dry oak quarter splits when blades were struck from above with a 1” wood shaft “baton” = blade strength and impact transfer

Gerber StrongArm

Gerber strongarm Gerber StrongArm

What can you say about a legacy that circles the globe, digging, cutting, building and defending, as it survives abusive environments. Gerber StrongArm’s full tang 420HC steel blade (stainless steel) stands in the face of corrosive saltwater with a ceramic blade coating to cut and clean up peerlessly – and defy reflection in personal protection scenarios. Despite the blade’s beefy build, a fine edge holds its form as the knife’s balance permits precise movements. As a result, Active Junky glommed on to the rubberized, diamond texture grip for control whether forward or reverse positions were employed. Know that Gerber makes much of the multi-mount carry system spanning horizontal belt, vertical belt and molle strap attachments. On their own, these options would have little practical value. Except that the knife being deployed is a worthy addition to home, travel, wilderness and emergency preparedness settings. Normally, tactical is the opposite of practical. Not here, fellow adventurers.

Tester Comments: As a knife, the Gerber StrongArm is worthwhile. As an essential tool to prepare, fix and fend, it is essential. At under $100, StrongArm takes a military-issue build into the consumer realm without letting go of ancillary functions such as a striking pommel to drive tent stakes and more. Slightly under 5,” the blade is a workhorse for chopping, slicing and sawing even with the fine edge blade (a serrated version is available).

Key Attribute: Performance

Best For: All-around camp and expedition use as at least one fixed blade should be part of a group’s kit

Performance Testing Results:

“Eye of the Spud:” Point is ideal for boring, StrongArm’s weight and force adequate while the flat handle takes some finesse to rotate smoothly while cutting
“Chop and Slice:” Useful cutting power, more than expected for the knife’s moderate blade weight, superior control through repetitions
“Close Shave:” Maximum effectiveness 2 ½” back from the tip, deeper penetration with only incremental energy, handling rated high due to sure-grip material
“Skin and Grin:” Precise from the first, superior penetration through both layers, only moderate pressure required for reliable slicing 1” back from the point
“Splitting Atoms:” Easily handles 2 ½” splits, limited by blade length not apparent strength, superior handle grip a factor even with gloved hands

Benchmade Knife Company 162 Bushcrafter

Benchmade 162 bushcrafter Benchmade Knife Company 162 Bushcrafter Starting at: $164.48

Despite being a new take on a bushcraft knife, designer Shane Sibert’s already carved a legacy with the 162. Active Junky was drawn to the 4.17mm-thick blade sandwiched in Benchmade’s G10 handle composite. The knife’s proportions feel close to ideal, accommodating a wide range of palm sizes short of monstrous. Testers have carried this one around the American West with little thought for the 162’s durability (and resistance to dropping, to be specific).  The drop point blade penetrates easily, converting forward momentum into steady cutting progress. Not equipped for pommel striking, this bushcraft knife nonetheless thrives in scraping, digging and drilling situations (beyond standard cutting duties). With a satin handle finish and the red layering, the Benchmade 162 makes for a proud presentation knife. The included stitched-and-riveted 2.7oz sheath adds Sibert’s personal flair to gift giving.

Tester Comments: Something about the 162 feels well-grounded. The 4” blade’s scale relative to the handle is spot-on for focused blade power. Everyday use is now the 162’s value around the house, with the dual handle holes promising survival reliability when attached to a pole or stout limb. 

Key Attribute: Maintenance

Best For: Repeated slicing and chopping functions, carving with confidence when needed. 

Performance Testing Results:

“Eye of the Spud:” Smooth rotation, superior control, balance and power
“Chop and Slice:” Performs much like a chef’s knife, the right length for food preparation, precise and consistent
“Close Shave:” Consistent cutting to depth starting ½” back from the point, sweet spot is 2” back from the point
“Skin and Grin:” Moderate and inconsistent slicing power for mid-depth penetration, irregular cutting of second membrane layer
“Splitting Atoms:” Splitting to 2” with nice “pop” or spring to the cleaving, increasingly difficult and prone to jam with longer splits or larger knots

Morakniv Bushcraft Forest

Morakniv bushcraft forest Morakniv Bushcraft Forest Starting at: $75.96

Outdoor lovers who’ve never carried a fixed blade knife need to give thanks to solid Swedish workmanship. Unlike other camping knives tested by Active Junky, Bushcraft’s stainless steel blade won’t carry the day in survival situations. Instead, it comes attached to a sure-grip integral handle that takes total weight to 10.5oz. Testers set their sights on reasonable penetration and cutting power – without attempting to take down trees, dig trenches or start sparked fires (requiring higher carbon content in a blade). Two belt clips carry the 9.1” knife to secure transport and easily deploy a 4.3” blade measuring 0.1” in thickness. The Morakniv Bushcraft Forest makes a worthwhile home-and-away knife to justify a place in drawer or pack. Cold-rolled stainless is quick-cleaning, no matter whether filleting pan fish or slicing tomatoes for veggie burritos.

Tester Comments: Sweet handling and surprising out-of-the-package sharpness. Don’t be fooled by the price, but take care as the lighter weight means it lacks the stability of weightier knives. That said, this one belongs in the camp chef’s utensils – and should be a fixture in every respectable tackle box. Buy two and share the chore chart on the next road trip.

Key Attribute: Reputation

Best For: General use in cooking and campsite along with everyday cutting at home

Performance Testing Results:

“Eye of the Spud:”Good penetration and performance, requires significant pressure as the knife is extremely light
“Chop and Slice:” Moderate cutting power, superior precision from the thinner blade
“Close Shave:” Thumb control yielded surprising cutting power close to the handle, care needed to safely control a blade prone to slipping
“Skin and Grin:” Clean cutting through both layers including membrane, above-average pressure required to get results, precise once proper technique developed
“Splitting Atoms:” EXEMPT as trial deemed unsafe, not the knife’s intended purpose.

Ontario Knife Company Ranger TFI

Ontario Knife Company Ranger TFI

Grab it. Once in your clutches, there’s no letting go as the bonded resin micarta handle turns the Ranger TFI into your favorite knife. Instantly. Part of Ontario Knife Company’s Ranger Series, this model is a portable plow horse when a single knife needs to trench, pry, cut and bore. Blade length measure 5 ¼” on the 10 ¼”, plain-edged knife. Active Junky imagined the .26” thick blade had traveled the world, bailing out our crazy Uncle Claude during his pre-Internet age exploits as Aunt Jeanne looked on with mild amusement (and her nurse’s skills at the ready). Full-on 5160 Carbon Steel (hardened to 53-55 HRC) is ground flat, powder-coated and shaped for efficient slicing and chopping. The Allen nut assembly is a smart idea in case TFI’s full-tang blade needs to be attached to another handle in extreme situations.

Tester Comments: The Kydex sheath, replete with a front accessory pocket and molle system ready, was a tip-off. Either Ranger was going to be the real deal or pretend to carry serious field credentials. At 11.6oz, the knife asserted authority with larger-scale tasks, cleaning up fast while never losing control. Yes, the micarta grip and butt-end lanyard slot make it a vintage find (even though the knife came new in the box).

Key Attribute: Versatility

Best For: Field, forest, river, desert during all seasons when straightforward utility is the central metric and weight is not a limitation

Performance Testing Results:

“Eye of the Spud:” Point and tip not purpose-ground, difficulty achieving results quickly or safely
“Chop and Slice:” Above-average cutting power, maximum control and confidence
“Close Shave:” Single-bevel edge precludes fine in-close work, well-sharpened knife delivered sub-standard precision and productivity results 
“Skin and Grin:” Extreme cutting power through both layers, control challenging to get useful precision, high output
“Splitting Atoms:” Hit  3” mark easily including knots, confident and superior strength

Ontario Knife Company Ranger TFI >

Klecker Knives Abiqua Hunter

Klecker Knives Abiqua Hunter

Glenn Klecker’s collab with David Kurt paid off for outdoor lovers tromping range land and forests across North America. Active Junky’ testers smiled every time the flat grind, drop point blade sprung from the thumb-release Kydex sheath. This fast-cutting knife carries all the features hunters crave including thumb jimping (about 1.5” of square ridges) every owner will appreciate. Control with wet hands or thin gloves is the result for resolute performance made possible by G-10 handle material and a grip profile more custom than not. Without ruining the surprise, a bottle opener, removable gut hook, and field dressing aid are concealed inside, never encumbering the nearly 4” 7CR17MoV blade rated at 56-58 hardness. Skirting 9” in length, the Klecker Knives Abiqua Hunter is among the most precise hunting knives we’ve evaluated. And the look is nothing short of stunning even while completing routine camp and kitchen chores.

Tester Comments: Klecker dubs it a “compact hunting” model but our experience warrants consideration as a capable, medium-duty all-rounder. Fisherman can double-down with filleting chores to get even more from their investment. Paracord is our solution for securing a sheath that comes without obvious belt or pack attachment hardware.

Key Attribute: Quality  

Best For: Fast cutting including slicing and carving, camping and field use plus gift giving for grilling gourmets

Performance Testing Results:

“Eye of the Spud:” Pure artistry, fluidity of movement, balanced power with easy rotation
“Chop and Slice:” Precision across numerous cuts, requires point to heel movement and pressure to achieve success
“Close Shave:” Smooth, even cutting over extended periods, balance between sensitive control and solid cutting capability
“Skin and Grin:” Superior point and tip control, plenty of power and progress from the first 1” of the blade, entire blade effective
“Splitting Atoms:” Finer tip profile mitigated against splits deeper than 1 ½”, not a primary application for this model

Check out the Klecker Knives Abiqua Hunter >

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