In an earlier post, we discussed the need to add a utility/survival knife to our gear and we also made a list of things to consider for a good survival knife. This was primarily going to be my wife’s knife because she had been the driving force leading to the decision to ultimately buy the KA-BAR Fighting Knife. Don’t you just love that? Like always, before spending money on something, we spent some time reading reviews and researching about knives online, so she had a good idea of what she wanted. So the next excuse we had to make the hour long trip into town, we were checking out the knife displays at several stores.
I knew she wanted a real utility knife to use as a survival tool and not just a Hollywood-inspired, chromed-out, testosterone-dripping, wantabe tactical knife and I knew she wasn’t planning on spending more than $100, but I was curious about which knife she would actually choose. I assumed she might pick something on the smaller end of the scale, but I’m not sure why because she regularly works with some pretty big knives in the kitchen. Gotta love that too.
She looked at a variety of knives, but decided that a large Bowie knife (I don’t remember the make) with a 10 – 12 inch blade and the Big Brother version of the Ka-Bar were too big. She rejected the Sog Seal knife because it didn’t have a straight spine and it costs more than $100. She also rejected the Sog Seal Pup and the small sized Ka-Bar because they were too small (4.75 and 5.25 inches respectively). She also looked at other more expensive options and still decided they didn’t offer anything special to justify the cost.
In the end, she chose the full-size black KA-BAR knife (Made in U.S.A) with the synthetic rubber Kraton G® handle instead of the stacked leather washer handle of the more traditional USMC version of the knife. She also decided on the partially serrated edge version of the Black Ka-Bar knife.
So, how did the Full-size Black KA-BAR knife with the partial serrated edge stack up to the best survival knife checklist?
√ Check. The fixed blade length of the Full-size Ka-Bar knife is 7 inches and the total length of the knife is 11.75 inches long. The knife also weighs in at 0.65 lbs (10.5 oz or 294 g).
√ Check. The full-sized Ka-Bar has a full tang. Click on the link to see a naked Ka-Bar blade, the best view of the blade is at the “Grinding” link. Also click on “Cap/Pin Assembly” to see how the tang is secured. How KA-BAR blades are made here.
Solid Handle with Hilt and Flat Pommel
√ Check. The synthetic rubber Kraton handle has a solid feel and the handle has an ample protective hilt that extends at least 1/2 inch from the handle on both top and bottom. The flat pommel holds a pin that also extends through the tang. I have seen this knife criticized for having a hilt that was both too big and too small by different people. Too small for great big hands and too big for doing fine detailed work. I am not sure why each of them bought the knife, but it seems about right to both my hands and my wife’s hands for a general utility knife.
Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel. √ Check. The Ka-Bar knife is made of Cro-Van Steel (Chrome and Vanadium), which according to Kabar is also known as Sharon Steel Co. 170-06, 1095 Cro-Van or 1095CV. The Cro-Van Steel rates 56-58 on the Rockwell C hardness scale.
The Ka-Bar we chose has the partially serrated blade, with 6.5 inches of the blade is sharpened and 1.75 inches is serrated. The blade has a straight spine and typical of many bowie knives and the tip is a slight concave clip point with an unsharpened swage grind for a sharper tip. The original marine fighting knives had sharp swages for back slashing and stabbing, but due to laws in many States against “double edged” blades, Ka-Bar no longer sharpens the swage. After using the knife, we prefer the unsharpened swage for a survival/utility knife.
One online reviewer questioned if the Ka-Bar knife without a sharpened swage could still kill a bear. Of course it could. Personally, if I knew I was scheduled to fight a bear, I would bring a gun to the party (actually better take pepper spray), but if I had no other options, I would rather go “knife to claw” with a black bear with the full-sized Ka-Bar knife with the un-sharpened swage than any other knife I have. Like John Steinbeck was credited for saying, “if you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.”
The full-sized Ka-Bar knife also has 2.5 inch fuller to reduce the weight of the blade without any sacrifice in strength. Some call the fuller a blood groove, which refers to the erroneous idea that a groove is needed to allow blood to drain out and allows the air back in to reduce the suction, so the blade could be pulled out of a body.
Blade Length 4 – 9 Inches
√ Check. The blade length of the Full-size Ka-Bar knife is 7 inches.
Blade Thickness (0.125 – 0.25)
√ Check. The blade thickness of the Ka-Bar knife is 0.165 inches.
Lanyard Holes for Security and Lashing to Pole
No. The full-sized Ka-Bar does not have any lanyard holes. But what is does have is 5 deep grooves in the handle and the hilt extends at least 1/2 inch on top and bottom. If needed, I can use the grooves and the hilt to lash or wire the knife to a pole to make a spear.
Maybe. The sheath that came with the knife is a black leather sheath. Nothing special. It does have a very wide loop to fit any sized belt and a snapping strap to hold the knife securely. The sheath also has a hole near the point so the sheath could be strapped to your leg, if you like that sort of thing. We haven’t carried the knife in the rain yet, so the sheath hasn’t had a chance to get wet. I think if it were raining, I would throw the sheath in the pack to keep it dry.
Survival not Tactical
√ Check. The black Ka-Bar knife as well as other full-sized versions of the historic Marine fighting knife, is really more of a robust and versatile tool than a specialized tactical knife designed for special combat or rescue purposes.
A Great All Purpose Survival/Utility Knife
So, if we had it to do over again, would we buy a full-sized Ka-Bar knife? Yes, especially for the price. We bought the black Ka-Bar knife for about $65, with the leather sheath, but have seen the same full-sized Ka-Bar listed recently for as low as about $55 and as high as $93 with the same sheath. There is no reason for anyone to pay the full $93 list price for this knife when it is available at so many reputable places. Remember that Amazon will always make good on any legitimate issue with any product. It usually costs about $8 more with the kydex sheath, which we also recommend.
Our full-sized Ka-Bar came out of the box with a very sharp edge. We have tested it a few times cutting and splitting wood, cutting heads off of fish and a few chores around the house and the edge is still good. One of the reviews I read about the Ka-Bar knife sums it up very well. The full-sized Ka-Bar knife is very good at many tasks, but does not excel at any. But isn’t that exactly what we want for a general purpose survival utility knife?
Could I use Ka-Bar Fighting Knife to cut wood for the shelter or for fire? Yes, but I would rather use an ax or saw.
Could I use the Ka-Bar it to field dress an elk or deer? Yes, but again, I would use other knives I have if I had a choice.
Could I use if for self defense? Yes again, but I would go for my .45 first if I could get my hands on it, but yes, this is my best fighting knife.
Could I use it to dig for bait, cut line, clean fish? Sure and the list goes on and on.
When I first wrote this post, there were 299 reviews of the various versions of full-sized Ka-Bar fighting knifes (USMC and US Army), with either leather or kydex sheaths, but all with the Cro Van Steel blades sold by Ka-Bar through Amazon.com.
Now there are over 1,500 reviews of just the plain edge Fighting Knife and 90% gave it 5 stars.
But make sure you when you are looking a Ka-Bar knives in Amazon, that the seller is Ka-Bar, so you get the real thing and not a poor quality knock off.
There are other sellers that sell Ka-Bar knives at Amazon, but I limited the original query to Ka-Bar knives that ship from and are sold by Amazon directly, because they always makes good on any issue with any item and that is why we personally use Amazon for many items.
Of the 299 original reviews, 254 of the reviews gave the Ka-Bar fighting knifes 5 stars (85%) and 28 rating were 4 stars (9.4%). Only 17 reviews (5.7%) gave the full sized Ka-Bar knife 3 stars or less.
It is interesting that one reviewer that gave the Ka-Bar knife only 2 stars did so because his knife was not sharp when he received it. He sharpened it himself and then stated that he still recommended the knife.
Another 2 star rating stated that “quality was unbeatable”, but the full-size knife was “way smaller than similar Ka-Bar” knives. Not sure what this means or why the low rating.
Several of the ratings that were 3 stars or less seemed to be as much about rating the sheath for being a poor quality or for the fact the sheath was not made in the U.S.A. (leather sheaths are made in Mexico).
One 3 star rating was because the knife was too big for his son to use for hunting and complained the knife was “more like a weapon”. Hmmm. What would you think a “fighting knife” was?
When I originally wrote this post, there was only one 1 star rating due to a shipping error. The box came with only a sheath, but without the knife. This person should have waited until order was corrected, this bad rating had nothing to do with the Ka-Bar knife. The current 1 star reviews should not be attached to the Ka-Bar fighting knife. People are getting cheap knock-offs from other sellers and then leaving the review at the wrong place.
Even if we don’t ignore a few of these questionable low ratings, the vast majority of people (94.3%) rate the full-sized Ka-Bar knives as 4 or 5 stars. We have no way of knowing if the few claims that knives were not sharpened on arrival or that the blades appear not to be hardened are true or not. Our Ka-Bar Knife was exactly as advertised. We suggest that you test your knife a soon as possible to make sure it is “good to go”, before you really go.
Story of the Ka-Bar Name
The Ka-Bar website tells a funny little story about how they got the name “KA-Bar”. An old trapper wrote a testimonial about how his gun jammed after he wounded a bear. The bear evidently attacked him, but he was able to kill the bear with his knife. According to the story “… all that was legible [in the letter] was ‘K a bar’.”
The KA-Bar company still makes the Marine utility and fighting knife that was issued during WWII and they also made slightly different versions for the Army and Navy. These knives are so well known that like the brand name “Crock Pot” is synonymous with other slow cookers, many refer to all similar fighting knives as “Ka-Bars”, even if made by other manufacturers.
KA-BAR USMC Fighting Knife Models
Ka-Bar produces at least 17 versions of the full sized or larger Marine Fighting Knife (counting tanto blades and the Big Brother versions).
- Full size black Ka-Bar, Straight edge
- Full size black Ka-Bar, Serrated edge
- Presentation Grade USMC Ka-Bar
- Full size USMC Ka-Bar, Straight edge
- Full size USMC Ka-Bar, Serrated edge
- Full size US Army Ka-Bar, Straight edge
- Full size US Army Ka-Bar, Serrated edge
- Full size US Navy Ka-Bar, Straight edge
- Black Ka-Bar Tanto
- Leather Handled Tanto
- Leather Handled Tanto, Serrated
- Black Ka-Bar fighter
- D2 Extreme Fighting/Utility Knife
- Kraton Handled Big Brother
- Leather Handled Big Brother
- Foliage Green Fighting/Utility Knife
- Foliage Green Fighting/Utility Knife, Serrated
KA-BAR Commemorative Knife Models
Ka-Bar also produces 31 different Commemorative Ka-Bar Fighting Knives:
- Korean War Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- Pearl Harbor Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- Iraqi Freedom Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- Iwo Jima Commemorative (USMC & US Navy)
- Viet Nam Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- POW/MIA Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- Desert Storm Commemorative (US Army & US Navy)
- Purple Heart Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- 110th Anniversary Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- 9/11 Commemorative (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
- Operation Enduring Freedom (Afganistan) (US Army, USMC & US Navy)
Question: Have you ever used a KA-BAR knife or other similar survival knife? What did you like or didn’t like about it?
Here is our best survival knife checklist to help with choosing your next knife, KA-BAR or not.