There was a time when the guys we today call "operators" - Rangers, LRRPs, Snake-eaters, those guys - ONLY carried Randall knives. According to legend, if a guy told you he was a Green Beret, there were four things he carried that would positively identify him as such: a Rolex watch, Randolph sunglasses, a sapphire ring, and a Randall knife. I've never owned a sapphire ring or a Rolex watch, but I've owned several pairs of Randolphs, and I love a Randall knife. But there's a problem: a Randall Model 1 costs $390 and a Model 14 is $410, so I'm not buying any Randall knives any time soon. That's not to say they're not worth the money. In my opinion, Randall knives are works of art all by themselves. But, just like Gibson guitars, if you've priced yourself out of my range, I'll just move on to something more reasonable.
There are tons of more reasonable options for your prepping/survival/carry knives with every bit of the functionality of a more expensive knife, and here are some of my favorites. I don't presently own all of these, but of each of the following, I either own one now or have owned one in the past, or have used someone else's in the field.
FIRST RULE: BUY AMERICAN. There are rare exceptions to this, but I like to know my blades are made in the USA and not some cheap Chinese crap that's going to break the first time I use it. Some European makers are better in quality than the American makers, but they're also out of my price range. There is a viable way around this rule, though. Some American companies will manufacture their goods outside of the US, while continuing to use strict American quality control measures on a sturdy American product design. For example, many of SOG's folding knives and multi-tools are made or assembled in the USA, with the higher priced folders being made by G.Sakai in Seki, Japan. The fixed blade models that were originally made in Seki are now made in Taiwan. According to SOG Knives Collectors, the Seal Pup listed below is one of the fixed-blade models that were once made in Japan but are now made in Taiwan. Bear, Case, Benchmade, ESEE, Emerson, Kershaw, and Ontario also have strong USA-made product lines, and these guys aren't on my list ONLY because I don't have a lot of personal experience with them. I am interested in several Emerson and Ontario products, though, so I may add them to the list in future updates.
SECOND RULE: MAJOR MAKERS ONLY. Again, there are exceptions, but I'm looking for Buck, Gerber, and SOG, almost exclusively. I generally recommend against buying knives that are stamped with the name and logo of a gun manufacturer, like Remington or Smith & Wesson. They are invariably made by someone else, and almost always in China to Chinese standards. The gun maker's name on the blade is nothing more than marketing.
THIRD RULE: IGNORE THE FIRST AND SECOND RULES. In most instances, it doesn't matter if your pocket knife was made by the Xinhiao Manufacturing Concern somewhere in China. Most people will never do anything with a pocket knife that will require made-in-America military ruggedness. I've never - not even in combat - broken a folding knife. I even own a "Smith & Wesson" folder, made by Taylor Cutlery, probably in China, and I've never had any issues with it. Just for fun, I'll include it in Part 2, as it's not a bad little folder.
So, without further whatever, here's Part 1 of my list of favorite knives:
- Buck Nighthawk
A solid, heavy, full-tang fixed-blade pigsticker with military quality fit and finish. This knife is perfectly balanced and features a thick, robust blade that would be perfect in a survival situation, for camping or whatever field work. The green part is like a hard rubber, and while this makes the knife heavier, I think it's overall my favorite knife mainly because of the grip. I can't imagine any situation wherein I'd lose purchase on this thing while hacking or batoning or whatever.
- Buck Special / Buck General
The Special has a 6" blade, while the General has an 8" blade. At first glance you might be tempted to declare this knife too shiny for military-style use, but I carried the longer version of this knife (the General) on my kit for at least three of my Airborne Infantry years. It was necessary to cover the super-shiny pommel with 100-mile-an-hour tape, though. An excellent field knife, this thing held its edge so well that I don't remember EVER sharpening it during that whole time. The current sheath isn't as robust as the one that came with it back then, but I like to replace my sheaths anyway. I wish I knew what happened to my General, but they're easily replaced. The Special runs about $50 and the General about $80 online (Buck no longer sells the General, but it's still available). Buck also sells a smaller version, which they've named "Pathfinder", for around $45.
- SOG Seal Pup
Presumably, this knife was designed as a smaller brother to the SOG Seal 2000, which is...um...bigger. It's the lightest fixed-blade in my collection, and has what I think is a waterproof coating on the blade. The grip is made of a kind of plastic resin (maybe?), which weighs virtually nothing. In fact, I think the sheath is heavier than the knife. Also, this is easily the sharpest knife I've ever owned, right out of the box. The Seal Pup I own right now is my second one (gave the first to a friend), and I will probably buy another at some point. They usually go for $70 to $80.
- The Ka-Bar
Not much introduction needed here, right? The Ka-Bar is the Marine Corps' famous fighting knife, issued from 1943 to present. Its leather washer grip and the simplicity of its construction make it one of the most iconic American knives ever, as well as one of the most functional.
- The Air Force Survival Knife
This knife was iconic in the 70s and 80s as the knife issued to Air Force pilots when there was a reasonable expectation of being shot down. It is ridiculously well balanced and easy to use in all situations, and features the same kind of non-slip stacked leather washer grip made famous by the Ka-Bar.
- The Gerber Mark II
This is another iconic fighting knife. Available with or without the serrations, the original wasp-waisted design dates back to 1966 and was influenced by the British Sykes-Fairbairn fighting knife of the second world war.
There will be more. I'm not even halfway through my list of favorite knives, and I haven't even started on the folders yet. Watch this space for Part 2.