CAMPING & HIKING

Best Bowie Knife: A Comprehensive Guide to Buying Your First Bowie Knife

Bowie knives line up
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

Any self-respecting outdoorsman or survivalist knows the importance of adding tactical knives to their arsenal of survival gear. Many people have this popular notion that tactical knives are only for combat due to their rugged design which can be attributed to how they’re depicted in movies and television shows.

What most people don’t know is that the main purpose of tactical knives lies more on the utility side. When it comes to survival / tactical knives, the bowie knife is one of the most popular. Your chances in a survival situation are significantly improve just by having the best bowie knife that meets your needs.

What Is A Bowie Knife?

A bowie knife is a type of fixed blade combat knife that was originally created by James Black during the 19th century for Col. Jim Bowie. The knife’s first claim to fame was when Bowie used it during the famous duel known as the Sandbar fight. The bowie knife is known for its recognizable features such as large sheath knife, a cross guard and a clip point.

Bowie knife

Although it may not be the most popular knife in terms of combat and self-defense, it is undoubtedly an excellent hunting knife along with its other survival utilities. With its classic good looks, the bowie is a favorite among survivalists, military types and collectors.

What to Look for in A Bowie Knife?

Interested to buy your very first bowie knife? Not all bowies are created equal and it’s more than just having the sharpest blade on the block. Thus, you need to take into account several factors and features before you decide to buy one. Here are some features you should consider before buying a bowie knife:

Materials

The traditional bowie knife is made from carbon steel as it is instrumental in keeping the blade sharp. Over the years, stainless steel alloy production have advanced and enabled blade makers to create knives that could measure up to the quality of the carbon steel versions.

Bowie knives

Those who wish to go with the traditional bowie knife can still buy them in the market. It’s a good thing that both types of material are sufficient for both utilitarian and hunting purposes.

Blade Size

When choosing the blade size for a bowie, one should take into account its intended usage. Large blades are for tasks that require power and smaller blades for precision jobs. Large blades are great for clearing weeds or chopping small pieces of wood.

Hunters and fishermen use smaller blades for skinning and cleaning meat. Overall, bowies are known to be large blades so evaluate your intended usage and choose the right knife for the job.

Handle

Many people buy knives just by looking at their handle alone. It’s really not that hard to be impressed with a knife just by seeing its handle. For the most part, handles are made with aesthetic purposes in mind. However, it’s not strictly just to make the blade look handsome but it’s for grip and comfort as well.

Bowie knife handle

A bowie with a beautiful handle will not serve you well if it fails to provide a solid grip, it may even end up in injuries. Some handles also serve a special purpose like for example how antlers and stacked wood feel great in the hands during colder climates. The best rule of thumb is to take the grip yourself and determine how it feels in your hands.

Tang

Another thing that buyers should check when buying a bowie knife is the tang. The tang is the part of the knife that connects the blade to the handle. Bowie knives in general are large including the blades, so it needs a full tang to prevent the blade from breaking at the hilt especially during intensive tasks. For knife collectors intending to display their knives, a full tang might not be necessary.

Blade length

As mentioned, long blades are the trademark of bowie knives. The very first bowies had a standard length of 9.5 inches. Nowadays, bowie knives are manufactured in various lengths but they’re usually not shorter than 5 inches. After all, the length is required for tasks that regular knives can’t achieve.

Long bowie knife

Again, you need to assess your intended usage to determine the blade length you want from your bowie.

Sheath

You need something to protect your knife from the elements as well as to keep it sharp so it’s also important that you invest in a good sheath. Not much can be said here except to make sure you get a good quality sheath preferably something that’s made of leather or synthetic material.

Again, buying a bowie knife is not just about picking the sharpest or the most eye-catching one. You have to take several factors into account to ensure you end up with a knife that best fits your needs.

Quick Care Tips for Bowie Knives

Bowie knives are some of the most reliable hunting and survival tools that you can find. However, even the most expensive and highest quality knives can fall victim to rusting, corrosion and the good ol’ wear and tear. If you know how to take care of your bowie knife properly, it can potentially serve you for many years, not to mention minimize safety hazards.

Bowie knife maintenance

So here are a couple of tips for caring for your bowie knife:

  • Know its proper usage: some bowie knives have specialty uses. The idea here is to use the right knife for the right job. Otherwise, you run the risk of doing permanent damage to your knife.
  • Cleanup after use: another surefire way to lengthen the lifespan of your knife is to keep it clean at all times. This means that you need to clean both the blade and the handle. Keeping it clean will keep away harmful bacteria from the blade. Just use running water and dish soap on the blade and handle.
  • Keep it lightly oiled: to prevent friction, oil your knife on a regular basis. Oil provides a protective coating that prevents rust from forming on the blade. Be wary about oiling the handle because it can get slippery. Bowie knives with wooden handles can be treated using linseed oil. Just keep in mind that a little oil can go a long way.
  • Mind the sharpness: a dull bowie knife is pretty much useless and may even be a safety hazard. Keeping the knife sharp should be in your best interest so it can perform whatever the task at hand. For this purpose, you can opt to see a professional to sharpen it for you. However if you are in this in the long run, it would be best for you to learn knife sharpening skills yourself.
  • Observe proper storage: when storing your bowie knife, make sure that you keep it in a humidity-free environment. When exposed to humidity, the blade will eventually rust. In addition, storing the knife with a leather sheath is not the best idea. Leather can attract moisture which could lead to rust buildup.

Quality bowie knives can last for many years. With proper knife maintenance and care, they could potentially last you a lifetime.

Our Top Bowie Knife Picks

Now that you are aware about which features to look for in a bowie knife, we’ll take the liberty of recommending some of the best blades that money can buy. Regardless of your needs and requirements, we guarantee that these knives are worth looking into. Without further ado, here are top bowie knife picks:

12″ Survival Bowie Knife by Elite04

12" Survival Bowie Knife by Elite04

Weight: 16 oz

Dimensions: 7 inches (blade), 5 inches (handle)

Features: 7 1/2″ black anodized stainless steel blade, ABS sheath, lanyard cord

Best use: Outdoor survival, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking

Description: Let’s start off with something affordable.12″ Survival Bowie Knife by Elite is a perfect product to start a knife collection. For a fairly cheap product, this knife ticks all the checkboxes of a good survival knife.

It is sharp and feels well-constructed. The handle provides decent comfort and grip. It certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the looks department. Plus it comes with a plastic sheath that provides good protection for the blade.

Although it’s labeled as a military knife, it’s best use for hunting and survival applications. Based on the pictures alone, I thought it would be a somewhat smaller in size and was pleasantly surprised that it’s actually quite a large knife.

As mentioned, the best part about this knife is the price. For $10 (current sale price as of this writing), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value.

Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knife

Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knife

Weight: 1.05 lbs

Dimensions: 16 x 4.8 x 2.6 inches

Features: 1095 Cro-Van steel blade, Grivory handle for reducing fatigue, 9-inch blade

Best use: Camping, hiking, outdoor survival, hunting, fishing

Description: Ka-Bar is a name that is synonymous with high quality tactical and utility knives. The Becker BK9 is yet another excellent product from this company.

One look and you’ll see that it’s a really good looking knife; rough and utilitarian as opposed to being elegant. Customers love the no-nonsense approach to its proven design. It’s not the flashiest knife out there but it can handle anything you’ll throw at it. The 1095 Cro-Van steel blade is very sharp out of the box.

The knife only weighs about a pound but it feels surprisingly solid. The Grivory handle provides the much-need ergonomic feature that actually minimizes user fatigue which should come in handy for long, intensive tasks.

It comes with a nylon sheath that gets the job done plus it looks rather nice. Overall, this is one of the best bowie knives that money can buy. Definitely a worthy addition to anyone’s bowie collection.

Puma 116396 Bowie Fixed Blade Knife, Plain Stag

Puma 116396 Bowie Fixed Blade Knife, Plain Stag

Weight: 9.3 oz

Dimensions: 11.6 x 1.6 x 2.6 inches

Features: Hollow ground drop blade, True naturally-dropped stag antlers, Custom proofed 57-60 Rockwell Hardness, Includes leather sheath

Best use: Camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, outdoor survivalist

Description: If you are in the market for a bowie knife with an antler handle, you should take a look at this product from Puma Knives. The idea for Puma 116396 Bowie Fixed Blade Knife, Plain Stag is to have a simple, well constructed tool that can withstand a good deal of punishment.

Handmade in Germany, the 6 inch D1.4 German stainless steel blade is truly a thing to behold and is super sharp out of the box. If you wish to sharpen the knife, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s quite easy as well.

Of course, you can’t talk about this knife without mentioning the stag horn handle which is absolutely beautiful. To top off its classic look and feel, it comes with an elegant leather sheath. Customers who love 70s classic look for knives will surely love this Puma product. It’s just a world class cutting tool for hunting and other outdoor applications.

Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife

Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife

Weight: 2.4 lbs

Dimensions: 17 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches

Features: 11 3/8 inch razor sharp stainless steel blade, Brass plated guard, Hardwood handle, Full tang construction, Comes with leather sheath

Best use: Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, outdoor survivalist

Description: Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife is another highly rated bowie knife that any survivalists and collectors should check out. The 11 3/8″ razor sharp stainless steel blade is set to surprise in person. True enough, many customers are shocked at just how large this knife is. It weighs nearly 2 lbs and it really feels solid and well-built.

The hardwood handle really wraps up its classic look and it provides decent grip and comfort as well.

The handle can be small especially in relation to the knife’s overall size but experience should depend on the size of the user’s hands. It comes with a brass plated handguard to protect your hands from potential injuries. This knife features a full tang and a leather sheath. We gave this knife a spin and it really holds up in terms of toughness. For $20+, you really can’t go wrong with this bowie.

Cold Steel Natchez Bowie 01 Steel Knife

Cold Steel Natchez Bowie 01 Steel Knife

Weight: 1.4 lbs

Dimensions: 18.5 x 4 x 2 inches

Features: SK-5 High Carbon, Blade Length: 11-3/4″, Handle: 5-3/8″, Black Thick: 8MM, Secure-Ex Sheath

Best use: Camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, outdoor survivalist, tactical training

Description: As far as production bowies go, the Natchez Bowie 01 Steel Knife from Cold Steel is tough to beat. The SK-5 High Carbon steel blade ensures sturdiness and precision which could handle tasks of survival and tactical nature. The carbon steel also gives it a great sharpness over time which means you’ll spend less time sharpening it.

Like most bowie knives, this thing is quite massive with its 11-3/4 inch blade and its sharpness is something else. However despite how large of a knife this is, we were surprised at just how lightweight it is.

This is good because you can put more strength into using the blade than carrying it around. The knife comes with Secure-Ex Sheath which unlike leather doesn’t hold moisture and won’t leave scratches. When it comes to large, high quality bowie, this product comes with our highest recommendation. For $189.99, it sure feels like a steal.

SOG Creed Fixed Blade CD01-L

SOG Creed Fixed Blade CD01-L

Weight: 12.8 oz

Dimensions: 12.1 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches

Features: Satin-finished stainless steel blade, Sturdy kraton rubber handle with white washers, Durable leather sheath, Straight edge, 7.5-inch AUS-8 steel fixed blade, Kraton handle

Best use: Camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, outdoor survivalist, every day carry

Description: We have always been a fan of SOG because of their high quality specialty knives so we didn’t hesitate including this knife on the list. If you are looking for a bowie that’s both sharp and tough, the SOG Creed Fixed Blade CD01-L is an easy recommendation.

One thing we’ve noticed right away is the thickness of the blade which is almost twice as thick as most army knives. Combine that thick profile with the AUS-8 steel sharpness, you get a formidable tool for chopping and piercing.

The handle is made from synthetic rubber material and it does a great job of providing a no-slip grip and ergonomic comfort. The black leather sheath is also included in the package and it complements the overall look and feel of the knife. For the quality and build alone, this knife should have no trouble performing well even in the most adverse conditions.

Gerber Winchester Large Bowie Knife

Gerber Winchester Large Bowie Knife

Weight: 1.1 lbs

Dimensions: 15.8 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches

Features: Rugged and reliable design, 8.57-inch surgical stainless steel fixed blade, Durable finger grooved wood with brass cross guard, Full tang construction, Includes a ballistic nylon sheath

Best use: Camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, outdoor survivalist, every day carry

Description: Looking for an every day carry knife that won’t break the bank? Gerber Winchester Large Bowie Knife should be more than enough to meet your needs. This knife features an 8.57-inch blade which makes it the smallest one featured in this article. However don’t let the size dissuade you because this bowie packs quite a punch.

The knife is not only made with strength and reliability in mind but also precision. The smaller blade gives you that precise control and stability that you might not find in larger blades.

We have used this knife for tough tasks like skinning carcasses, stripping wires, repairing ropes and nets and it just won’t quit. The wood and brass combination for the handle really gives it a stylish and classic look. Even when wet, we didn’t have a hard time holding on to the grip. The overall quality definitely exceeds the price.

Ontario Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie

Ontario Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie

Weight: 1.4 lbs

Dimensions: 18 x 3 x 2 inches

Features: 1095 Carbon Steel, 9.75 inch plain edge blade, Kraton handle, Piped lanyard hole, Includes leather cordura sheath

Best use: Camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, outdoor survivalist

Description: Last but certainly not the least, we have a mid-range product from Ontario Knife. The Spec Plus Marine Raider feels a little bit on the heavier side but what can you expect? This knife is a juggernaut with its 9.75 inch blade that’s made from 1095 carbon steel.

It’s also ridiculously sharp out of the box and didn’t require sharpening for the longest time, edge retention is definitely top-notch. Corrosion is also less of a concern due to its anti-corrosion powder coat.

The Kraton handle is made from synthetic rubber materials and comes with finger grooves for a more secure grip. The leather sheath is not the nicest one out there but it’s plenty functional and decent. At the end of the day, this is a solid knife that can handle any tasks from outdoor survival to tactical applications. However, it’s not for those who are looking for a lightweight bowie knife.

And there you have it, the bowie knives that come with our highest recommendations. Hopefully, these products can help set your bowie knife shopping on the right track.

Final Thoughts

In extreme critical situations, a good bowie knife can mean your very survival. When shopping for your first bowie, make sure you don’t buy the first product you come across regardless of how impressive it is. You need to consider many factors to ensure that you can wield it properly and fulfill its intended usage.

Shopping around for bowie knives can be a lot of fun so feel free to compare and contrast.

Bowie knife on a finger

Are you a fan of bowie knives? What’s your favorite model? Let’s get that discussion going in the comment section. Also, make sure to share this article with folks who are looking to start or expand their bowie collection.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Tyler Johnson

    The BK9 “Combat Bowie” is a pretty big knife but it can stand up to some pretty heavy duty jobs. Extremely tough knife with a comfortable handle that can be used for hours straight. I took this on a weekend camping trip and battoned it through small logs and chopped down small trees for a total of about 5 hours. When I got home, the blade could still cut through paper smoothly. I still have not sharpened this knife. It is crazy how long this knife holds a sharp edge!

  • Walker John

    My favorite bowie knife is the Spec Plus Marine Raider. I like this knife even better than my RTAK II which is saying something. The handle absorbs shock and the deep belly of the bowie blade allows batoning wood beyond what the size of the blade would indicate. Yes, it will hold it’s own against an RTAK II and in my opinion will perform better than a Becker BK9 (which I also have and love). If you are going to have 1 “big knife” this is definitely worth consideration…for the price it’s a “best in class.”

  • Mark Foster

    Have you tried using this knife in cleaning and cutting fish? Smooth, sleek and ultra sharp. You’ll love how the blade seemed to glide! In one of my trips, we caught some fish on the lake and I’m glad that I have the “Combat Bowie”. It also helps that the handle grip is well designed for comfort. You won’t fear letting go of the knife while in the middle of a task. This is a no-nonsense knife and I like it that way.
    Thanks for dropping by Tyler!

  • Mark Foster

    Hi Walker! I wonder how the Spec Plus Marine Raider compares to your RTAKII? I was able to use it and what I found great about it is the blade (yeah, always the blade) 1095 Carbon Steel.The leather cordura sheath is not bad, either and provides just the right protection for the bowie knife. I guess the sheath counts a lot, too since you don’t want to accidentally hurt yourself. Overall, good choice Walker!

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