Best Bowie Knife and Large Knives: A Comprehensive Guide
The Bowie knife, named after its legendary creator, James Bowie, has held its place in history as a versatile and powerful tool. Known for its distinctive blade shape and size, this large knife has become an icon in the world of knives. In this article, we will explore some of the best Bowie knives and other large knives on the market, and discuss their various applications, materials, and designs. Whether you’re an outdoorsman, a collector, or simply an enthusiast, our comprehensive guide will help you make an informed decision when choosing your next large knife.
- The Best Bowie Knives
- Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie Knife
- Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Knife
- Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman
- ESEE Junglas II
- Ontario Knife Company Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie
- Best Pick for Versatility: USMC KA-BAR
- Best Pick for Camp Life: Ontario RAT7
- Best Pick for Cost-Effectiveness: Schrade SCHF3N
- Best Pick for Traditional Fighting: Cold Steel Trailmaster
- Ultimate Pick: Spartan Horkos
- What is A Bowie Knife?
- Blade Size
- More Detailed Reviews
Across the globe, different cultures have distinctive “large knives” used for combat and minor chopping tasks. Examples are the Bowie knife from Southern America, the Saxon seax, the Japanese tanto, and the Sami leuku.
In our survival knife assessment, we recommend most people go for blades shorter than 5.5 inches. This size offers versatility and functions as an all-purpose blade. Although larger knives may have certain appeal, they can be unwieldy and less effective for survival tasks, compared to using a smaller knife along with a larger hatchet or saw. It’s worth noting, however, that larger knives are mostly designed for fighting.
But, some preppers may still prefer larger knives, which is fine as long as they are experienced and mindful of the implications of their choice.
The Best Bowie Knives
1. Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie Knife
The Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie Knife is an excellent contemporary interpretation of the traditional Bowie design. The 12.25-inch blade, made from superior 1085 carbon steel, offers excellent edge retention and durability. This knife perfectly blends utility and style with its s hardwood handle and brass handguard. It also comes with a durable leather sheath for protection when not in use.
2. Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Knife
Engineered by Ethan Becker, the Ka-Bar Becker BK9 is a sturdy and adaptable combat Bowie knife. Its 9-inch blade is designed from 1095 Cro-Van steel, providing excellent edge retention and sharpening ease. The black Grivory handle is lightweight and comfortable for long usage. The Becker BK9 is perfect for demanding tasks such as chopping, batoning, and door breaching.
3. Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman
Buck Knives has a long-standing reputation for producing high-quality, American-made knives, and the 124 Frontiersman is no exception. This classic Bowie knife features a 6.25-inch blade made from 420HC stainless steel, ensuring excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention. The black Micarta handle is both durable and comfortable, while the aluminum pommel and guard offer additional protection. The 124 Frontiersman also includes a genuine leather sheath, adding an extra touch of class to this iconic knife.
4. ESEE Junglas II
Although not a traditional Bowie knife, the ESEE Junglas II is a large and impressive fixed-blade knife, perfect for those who need a versatile tool for outdoor adventures. With a 10.38-inch blade made from 1095 high carbon steel, the Junglas II excels at chopping, cutting, and batoning. The canvas Micarta handle is comfortable and provides a secure grip in any condition. Additionally, the knife comes with a Kydex sheath and MOLLE backing, making it easy to attach to your gear.
5. Ontario Knife Company Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie
Ontario Knife Company’s Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie is crafted for heavy-duty usage. This knife is ideal for military, tactical, and survival applications. Bearing a 9.75-inch blade made from 1095 carbon steel, it is both durable and dependable. The Kraton handle ensures excellent grip even in wet conditions. It also comes with a nylon sheath with an incrorporated sharpening stone for readiness.
Best Pick for Versatility: USMC KA-BAR
The top choice for a Bowie knife among many individuals is the renowned USMC KA-BAR, priced at $70. This knife features a stacked leather handle, a flat metal pommel, and a 7″ black 1095 Cro-Van steel blade. Known for its versatility in tasks such as opening MREs, digging latrines, and combat in the Vietnam jungles, the USMC KA-BAR continues to hold its ground even in the era of advanced super steels. While many things may be hyped up, the USMC KA-BAR lives up to its reputation and remains an exceptional choice.
Best Pick for Camp Life: Ontario RAT7
Another great option is the Ontario RAT7, priced at $65. This highly-favoured large bushcraft knife, designed mainly for chopping and carving rather than combat, serves as a superb camp tool and is often carried by preppers. Its unique finger choil design allows for greater control and precision during intricate tasks, enhancing the knife’s exceptional versatility in various field situations.
Best Pick for Cost-Effectiveness: Schrade SCHF3N
For those on a budget, the Schrade SCHF3N, priced at $45, is a perfect choice. This knife marks Schrade’s reentry as a key player in the contemporary knife industry with its greater size and modern design. Despite its affordability, the Schrade SCHF3N receives high praises, popular even among preppers who can afford more expensive options. With its durable high-carbon steel blade and a comfortable Micarta handle, it gives tough competition to higher-priced counterparts like the KA-BAR.
Best Pick for Traditional Fighting: Cold Steel Trailmaster
For those seeking an extra large Bowie knife, the Cold Steel Trailmaster priced at $120 is a top contender. Renowned for its timeless design and versatility as a big chopper and fighting knife, the Trailmaster consistently garners praise from enthusiasts. The O1 steel variant specifically enhances the knife’s durability, ensuring it can withstand rigorous use in the wilderness without succumbing to damage. With its impressive 9.5-inch blade, the Trailmaster firmly establishes itself as a formidable weapon. Its exceptional balance, classic Bowie blade and handle shape, and silver guard contribute to its status as a functional work of deadly art.
Ultimate Pick: Spartan Horkos
In the realm of high-end tactical knives, selecting a definitive champion can be challenging. However, at present, we consider the Spartan Horkos priced at $360 as the premier premium tactical knife. Spartan Blades has cultivated a stellar reputation for producing top-quality blades, and their Horkos model exemplifies their craftsmanship. Originally commissioned by the Combat Weapons Team of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Horkos is a custom-designed blade that seamlessly combines fighting and utility capabilities. Crafted from S35VN steel, a leading stainless steel for larger premium knives, the full-tang blade offers exceptional strength and durability. The DLC coating further enhances the knife’s resistance to extreme corrosion. Not only does the Horkos excel in its performance, but its grip, balance, and overall design exhibit flawless precision and attention to detail.
What is A Bowie Knife?
Please be aware: The term “Bowie” is pronounced as “boo-ee”, not “bow-ee” like the singer.
While the term “Bowie knife” is used widely, there is no universally accepted definition. The original fighting knife carried by Jim Bowie has been lost to history, likely claimed from his body by an anonymous Mexican soldier during the Battle of the Alamo. Only a few imprecise descriptions and the enduring name remain from the original design, still generating significant profits.
In essence, the entire category of Bowie knives can be defined as “a ‘Bowie knife’ is whatever a knife maker can market and sell as a ‘Bowie knife’.”
Most contemporary Bowies are large combat knives, usually more than 5 inches, featuring a clip point in some way. But the specifics beyond these generalized attributes become vague. Bill Bagwell, a famous Bowie knife maker and ABS Master Bladesmith, had his unique criteria for what a Bowie knife should be, highlighting a curved rear false edge as a key feature. But Bagwell’s view leaned more towards promoting the Bowie knife’s concept and heritage in Arkansas, rather than strict historical authenticity.
Given the differing opinions and perspectives, we return to our initial working definition. If a knife is bought because it was marketed as a “Bowie”, irrespective of its design or composition, it’s considered a Bowie knife.
Generally, we recommend field knife blades shorter than 5.5 inches. This belief is endorsed by survivalists, contemporary military experts, and our experienced team. However, personal preferences and unique situations are significant considerations when it comes to big tactical knives.
Here are some guidelines to consider when thinking about the size of a big tactical knife blade:
- Larger blades (7 inches or more) are advantageous for chopping, prying, and digging.
- Smaller blades (under 6 inches) are better suited for carving, slicing, game and food preparation, and other tasks besides chopping, prying, or digging.
- When it comes to fighting and hunting, both larger and smaller blades have their tradeoffs. Smaller blades offer concealability and maneuverability in tight spaces, while larger blades provide increased reach, force, and a more lethal cutting edge.
- Blades around 6 inches are a compromise that can handle various tasks, but they excel primarily in killing. For other tasks, they may not perform as well as more suitable blade sizes.
Considering these parameters and envisioning how you would use a knife in a disaster scenario, the decision becomes complex. Finding a clear winner for your specific situation, let alone one that works for everyone can be challenging.
Additionally, body size plays a significant role. If you are tall, a 6-inch blade might be considered a medium-sized field knife in your large hands. Conversely, if you are shorter, blades over 4.5 inches could be challenging to use effectively, except for chopping.
In conclusion, there are no rigid rules when it comes to big blades. We discourage the notion of a single knife that can fulfill all tasks and instead recommend carrying multiple tools that can cover a range of uses.
More Detailed Reviews
Top Pick for A Proven Design: USMC KA-BAR
Specifications: The USMC KA-BAR features a 7-inch blade made of 1095 cro-van steel, with an overall length of 12 inches. It has a stick tang and a leather handle.
- Lightweight design
- Well-established and trusted reputation
- Durable and tough construction
- Stacked leather handle can be slippery when wet and requires maintenance.
- Stick tang design is less sturdy for heavy-duty tasks.
- Metal guard can hinder thumb placement for added control.
- Limited chopping ability due to blade design
Who Should Buy This: The $70 USMC KA-BAR is an excellent choice for preppers seeking an affordable and reliable fighting and utility knife. It has been extensively field-tested and proven over many years of use. If you require a large knife for your bug out or get home bag and prefer a well-established option without the need for extensive personal testing, the USMC KA-BAR offers a safer choice compared to newer designs.
Benefits: KA-BAR’s skill in using 1095 cro-van steel combined with their precise heat treatment results in an extremely durable blade with excellent edge retention. Many preppers have thoroughly tested this knife and found it to exceed the performance of more expensive options.
The lightweight stacked leather handle is both comfortable and easy to grip. The flat metal pommel can be used as a hammer if required. Despite its size, the KA-BAR remains lightweight and boasts a classic fighter Bowie blade shape, making it ideal for both stabbing and slicing tasks.
Downsides: The stacked leather handle can become slippery when wet, and it requires proper care to prevent rot over time.
The stick tang design, while lighter, is less robust compared to full-tang blades, particularly for heavy-duty applications such as prying and batoning.
The metal guard provides effective hand protection during stabbing motions but can hinder thumb placement for better control. To counter this, some users choose to modify the guard, filing off the back portion using a Dremel tool.
Although the blade measures 7 inches, it is not as proficient in chopping as other knives of similar size. The weight distribution favors the handle, and the scallops on the blade’s sides reduce weight further. Consequently, the KA-BAR excels as a fast and maneuverable fighting blade but may not perform as well in chopping tasks.
Top Pick for A Sturdy Chopper: Ontario RAT 7
Specifications: The Ontario RAT7 features a 7-inch blade made of 1095 steel, with an overall length of 12 inches. It has a full tang construction and a Micarta handle.
- Excellent reputation and popularity
- Durable and tough construction
- Effective as a chopper and for wood processing
- Versatile for camp chores
- Unfavorable user feedback on the sheath
- Additional investment may be required for a better sheath
Who Should Buy This: The $65 Ontario RAT7 is recommended for preppers seeking a larger knife with a focus on bushcraft activities instead of combat. It performs excellently in processing wood and camp tasks.
Benefits: The RAT7’s drop point tip is sturdy and suitable for stabbing and digging, providing deep penetration into various materials.
The blade is made from dependable 1095 carbon steel, which is known for its excellent performance and is subjected to top-notch heat treatment. Its black powder coating boosts rust resistance and durability, albeit it has its limits under extreme abuse.
The canvas Micarta handle ensures an excellent grip, and the aggressive yet balanced jimping on the spine guarantees secure handling.
The well-designed balance of the knife contributes to its effectiveness, to the extent that when RAT (Randall Adventure Training) concluded its collaboration with Ontario and transitioned into ESEE, they retained essentially the same design in the slightly shorter and pricier ESEE 6.
Thanks to its grind and weight distribution, the RAT7 excels in chopping tasks, making it ideal for cutting and limbing small trees and branches as well as batoning.
Downsides: The main downside of the RAT7 lies in its sheath. Many customers have reported dissatisfaction with the thin, cordura sheaths, viewing them as cheap and of low quality. So, it’s wise to allocate an additional $10 to $40 for either a standard leather knife sheath or a Kydex sheath.
Due to the RAT7’s popularity and dissatisfaction with its original sheath, there is a thriving online market for RAT7 sheaths. Alternatively, KA-BAR leather sheaths have been reported to work well and are affordable.
Note: We have chosen the RAT7 without serrations, as we believe that knives intended for field use should avoid serrations.
Top Pick for A Budget-Friendly Option: Schrade SCHF3N
Specifications: The Schrade SCHF3N features a 6.4-inch blade made of 8Cr13MoV steel, with an overall length of 12 inches. It has a full tang construction and a Micarta handle.
- Durable and tough
- Affordable price
- Excellent design and popularity
- Impressive value for the cost
- Hollow ground blade compromises toughness and chopping ability.
Who should buy this: The $45 Schrade SCHF3N is recommended for preppers seeking a serious and durable tactical fixed blade knife at an affordable price point. It provides exceptional design, materials, and performance, making it an excellent choice for those looking to add a reliable “big knife” to their emergency kit.
Benefits: The full-tang blade is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel, renowned for its excellent toughness and easy sharpening. It’s a stainless blade that can withstand heavy use while maintaining its performance.
The presence of canvas Micarta handle slabs, typically found on higher-priced knives, further enhances the overall value of the SCHF3N. Along with the superior steel and design, this knife comes across as much pricier than it actually is.
The edge grind of the knife allows for precise slicing and deep biting into various materials, including wood and flesh. It also excels in carving tasks.
Downsides: The SCHF3N’s hollow ground blade is not ideal for hard field use. While it is a cost-effective option for mass-produced blades, it sacrifices some toughness and chopping capabilities compared to other blade grinds.
Note: We have chosen the non-serrated version of this knife.
Brand and Product Reputation: The Schrade brand’s reputation suffered among knife enthusiasts in recent years. Its older knives from the 80s and 90s were held in high regard, but the quality had declined in subsequent years. However, the SCHF3N and other Schrade’s outdoor knives have helped rejuvenate the brand’s reputation, receiving rave reviews across forums, YouTube, and the internet.
Top Pick for A Well-Balanced Chopper: Cold Steel Trailmaster in O1 Steel
Specifications: The Cold Steel Trailmaster boasts a 9.5-inch blade made of O1 steel, with an overall length of 14.5 inches. It features a Kraton handle.
- Exceptionally tough and durable
- Well-balanced with outstanding fit and finish
- Impressive chopping capabilities
- Traditional design adds to its appeal
- Its large size presents challenges in terms of carry and concealment
Who Should Buy This: Priced at $120, the Cold Steel Trailmaster in O1 steel is the top choice for individuals seeking a hand-to-hand weapon that embodies the spirit of the “Jim Bowie” style. This award-winning design is highly suitable for combat situations and stabbing wild hogs, while also serving as a reliable tool for wood processing in outdoor settings. If you desire a traditional and distinctly American weapon that can also excel at chopping tasks, this knife is an excellent option.
Benefits: The Trailmaster adopts the classic Bowie pattern, showcasing a long, slim blade and a handle reminiscent of the traditional “coffin” shaped Bowie knives. While it’s primarily optimized for lethal purposes, its blade thickness allows efficient cutting of medium-sized branches and trees.
The guard on the knife protects the hands during stabbing, and the Kraton handle ensures a firm grip.
While the Trailmaster is available in cheaper SK5 steel, we recommend opting for the superior O1 steel. Given the size of this knife, it is crucial to have a steel that provides maximum toughness, and O1 steel excels in that regard. While a laminated stainless variant is also available, unless you reside near saltwater environments, the tougher and high-carbon O1 steel is the preferred choice.
Downsides: The Trailmaster’s significant size and higher price tag should be considered. Additionally, the knife’s round guard design can make carrying and concealing the knife challenging due to its protruding shape.
Brand and Product Reputation: Cold Steel’s reputation has experienced ups and downs among knife enthusiasts over the years, with recent opinions tilting towards the negative. However, the Trailmaster continues to be a flagship product and stands out in the company’s lineup. It receives high praise from reviewers, with minimal reported problems associated with the knife.
Top Pick for a Premium Option: Spartan Horkos
Specifications: The Spartan Horkos carries a 5.7-inch blade made of S35VN steel, measuring 11 inches in overall length. It has a full tang build and a Micarta handle.
- Outstanding pedigree and design
- Utilizes super tough S35VN stainless steel
- Offers best-in-class performance
- High price point
Who Should Buy This: Priced at $360, the Spartan Horkos is designed for preppers who seek a highly effective edged weapon crafted by modern warfighters for modern combat scenarios. It serves as a contemporary alternative to the USMC KA-BAR, excelling as a lethal weapon. While the Horkos can also function as a compact and versatile field knife, its primary purpose is focused on combat.
Benefits: The Horkos knife was developed in collaboration with the Combat Weapons Team at West Point, with each graduate of that elite class receiving one of these knives.
Its compact design ensures concealability while remaining highly effective in close quarters combat.
The blade is constructed from S35VN steel, which is renowned as one of the best stainless super steels available for large knives. It offers exceptional corrosion resistance, combined with toughness and excellent edge retention.
The harpoon tip design provides both tip strength and deep penetration during stabbing, digging, and drilling tasks.
The large finger choil allows for better control over the edge for exact work. Additionally, the shaped handle beneath the choil prevents hand slippage during stabbing movements.
Downsides: The Spartan Horkos’s main downside is its hefty price. Some may also view the use of stainless S35VN steel over high-carbon steel as a potential drawback. However, no reports have been made regarding chipping or breakage with the Horkos.
Brand and Product Reputation: Spartan Blades has managed to rise above the crowded tactical knife market since its establishment in 2008. The company has garnered accolades and secured prestigious military contracts from early on. The Horkos serves as one of the flagship models that exemplify the company’s reputation and commitment to quality.
Choosing the best Bowie knife or large knife comes down to personal preference and usage intentions. From classic designs like the Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman to contemporary interpretations like the Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie, each knife provides its own unique features and benefits. Whether you’re seeking a reliable tool for outdoor adventures, a sturdy combat-ready option, or a beautiful piece for your collection, this comprehensive guide’s choices ensure you find the perfect large knife.