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
Different cultures around the world have their own iconic “big knives” that serve purposes like combat and light chopping. Examples include the Bowie knife from the American South, the Saxon seax, the Japanese tanto, and the Sami leuku.
In our best survival knife review, we suggest that most individuals opt for blades under 5.5 inches in length. This size provides versatility and serves as a do-everything blade. Larger knives, while they may have their appeal, tend to be unwieldy and less effective for survival tasks compared to a combination of a smaller knife alongside a larger hatchet or saw. It’s important to note that larger knives are primarily intended for fighting.
However, some preppers may have a personal preference for larger knives, and that’s acceptable as long as they have experience and fully understand their choice.
The Best Bowie Knives
1. Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie Knife
The Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie Knife is an excellent example of a modern take on the classic Bowie design. The 12.25-inch blade is made from high-quality 1085 carbon steel, providing excellent edge retention and durability. With its hardwood handle and brass handguard, this knife is a perfect combination of utility and style. It also comes with a heavy-duty leather sheath, ensuring your knife stays protected when not in use.
2. Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Knife
Designed by Ethan Becker, the Ka-Bar Becker BK9 is a robust and versatile combat Bowie knife. Its 9-inch blade is constructed from 1095 Cro-Van steel, which offers outstanding edge retention and is easy to sharpen. The black Grivory handle is lightweight and comfortable, making it suitable for extended use. The Becker BK9 is perfect for heavy-duty tasks such as chopping, batoning, and even breaching doors.
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
The Ontario Knife Company’s Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie is designed for heavy-duty use and is ideal for military, tactical, and survival applications. Featuring a 9.75-inch blade made from 1095 carbon steel, this knife is both durable and reliable. The Kraton handle is comfortable and provides excellent grip even in wet conditions. The Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie also includes a nylon sheath with a built-in sharpening stone, ensuring you’re always prepared.
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 excellent option is the Ontario RAT7, priced at $65, which is a highly favored large bushcraft knife designed more for chopping and carving rather than combat. This knife serves as an outstanding all-around camp tool and is frequently included in the gear of preppers. The inclusion of a finger choil allows for better control and precision during detailed tasks, enhancing the knife’s exceptional versatility in various field scenarios.
Best Pick for Cost-Effectiveness: Schrade SCHF3N
An excellent choice for those on a budget is the Schrade SCHF3N, priced at $45. This knife represents Schrade’s comeback as a significant contender in the modern knife industry, offering a larger size and contemporary design. Despite its affordability, the Schrade SCHF3N receives high praise and remains popular among preppers, even those who could afford more expensive options. It boasts a durable high-carbon steel blade and a comfortable Micarta handle, making it a formidable competitor to pricier alternatives 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 note: The term “Bowie” is pronounced as “boo-ee,” not “bow-ee” like the singer.
Despite the widespread use of the term “Bowie knife,” there is no universally agreed-upon definition for it. The original fighting knife wielded by Jim Bowie is lost to history, likely taken from his body by an anonymous Mexican soldier during the Battle of the Alamo. Only a few vague descriptions and the enduring name remain from the original design, which continues to generate 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 modern Bowies are large fighting knives, typically exceeding 5 inches, featuring a clip point of some kind. However, beyond these general characteristics, the specifics become blurry. Renowned Bowie knife maker Bill Bagwell, an ABS Master Bladesmith, had his own set of criteria for what constituted a Bowie knife, emphasizing a curved rear false edge as a key feature. However, Bagwell’s perspective leaned more towards promoting the concept of the Bowie knife and perpetuating local Arkansas lore, rather than strict historical accuracy.
Given the varying opinions and perspectives, we revert to our working definition stated earlier. If you purchased a knife because it was advertised as a “Bowie,” regardless of its appearance or composition, it can be considered a Bowie knife.
Our general approach is to recommend field knife blades that are under 5.5 inches in length. This is based on the consensus among survivalists, modern military experts, and our own experienced team. However, when it comes to big tactical knives, personal preferences and specific situations play a larger role.
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 Time-Tested 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 expertise in utilizing 1095 cro-van steel combined with their precise heat treatment results in an exceptionally tough blade with excellent edge retention. Many preppers have tested this knife extensively and found it to outperform higher-priced alternatives.
The stacked leather handle is lightweight and comfortable to hold, and the flat metal pommel can be utilized as a hammer if needed. Despite its size, the KA-BAR remains lightweight and boasts a classic fighter Bowie blade shape, suitable for both stabbing and slicing tasks.
Downsides: The stacked leather handle can become slippery when wet, and proper care is necessary 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 effectively protects the hand during stabbing motions but can obstruct thumb placement for enhanced control. Some users choose to modify the guard by filing off the back portion with a Dremel tool to address this issue.
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 Good and Tough 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 rather than combat. It excels in wood processing 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 crafted from reliable 1095 carbon steel, renowned for its performance and subjected to excellent heat treatment. Its black powder coating enhances rust resistance and durability, although it has its limits under extreme abuse.
The canvas Micarta handle offers an excellent grip, while the aggressive yet balanced jimping on the spine ensures 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 primary drawback of the RAT7 lies in its sheath. Numerous customers have expressed dissatisfaction with the thin, cordura sheaths, perceiving them as flimsy and of low quality. Therefore, it is advisable to allocate an additional budget of $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 crafted from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel, known for its exceptional toughness and ease of sharpening. It is a stainless blade that can withstand heavy use and maintain its performance.
The presence of canvas Micarta handle slabs, a feature typically found on higher-priced knives, further enhances the overall value of the SCHF3N. Combined with the excellent steel and design, this knife gives the impression of a much more expensive blade.
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 selected the non-serrated version of this knife.
Brand and Product Reputation: The Schrade brand had faced a decline in reputation among knife enthusiasts until recent years. The older Schrade knives from the 80s and 90s were well-regarded, but the quality had suffered in subsequent years. However, the SCHF3N and other outdoor knives from Schrade have helped resurrect the brand’s reputation, receiving rave reviews in forums, YouTube, and across the web.
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 follows the classic Bowie pattern, featuring a long and slender blade and a handle that pays homage to the traditional “coffin” shape of Bowie knives. It is specifically optimized for lethal purposes, yet its blade thickness allows for efficient cutting of moderate-sized branches and trees.
The guard on the knife provides hand protection during stabbing motions, and the Kraton handle offers a secure 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 notable size and higher price tag of the Trailmaster should be taken into consideration. Additionally, the round guard design restricts options for carrying and concealing the knife due to its bulging shape.
Brand and Product Reputation: Cold Steel’s reputation has experienced fluctuations among knife enthusiasts over the years, with recent perceptions leaning more toward the negative side. However, the Trailmaster itself remains a flagship product and stands out in the company’s lineup. Reviewers highly praise it, and there are minimal reports of issues associated with the knife.
Top Pick for a Premium Option: Spartan Horkos
Specifications: The Spartan Horkos features a 5.7-inch blade made of S35VN steel, with an overall length of 11 inches. It has a full tang construction 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 inclusion of a large finger choil allows for choking up on the edge, enabling precise work. Additionally, the sculpted handle beneath the choil prevents hand slippage during stabbing motions.
Downsides: The main downside of the Spartan Horkos is its high price. Additionally, some individuals may consider the use of stainless S35VN steel instead of high-carbon steel as a potential drawback. However, there have been no reported issues 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.
Selecting the best Bowie knife or large knife is a matter of personal preference and intended use. From classic designs like the Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman to more modern takes like the Cold Steel 1917 Frontier Bowie, each knife offers its own unique set of features and benefits. Whether you’re looking for a reliable tool for outdoor adventures, a durable combat-ready option, or simply a stunning piece to add to your collection, the options in this comprehensive guide will ensure you find the perfect large knife.