Compared to folding knives, fixed blades seem simple.  After all, there are no pivots to worry about, nor clips, thumbstuds, or locks.  In fact, it’s easy to believe that it can be hard to make a bad fixed blade.

But nothing is further from the truth.  The mechanical components are simplified, sure, but that means that design really shines through—both good and bad designs.

Cold Steel SRK

To truly appreciate a fixed blade, you need to take it out and use it.  Unless you’re looking at collectible pieces or custom knives, on the macro level there really isn’t a lot to differentiate one fixed blade from another besides size.  But the minute you try and do a difficult cutting chore with a badly-designed knife, you’ll feel the difference, and realize just how hard it is to design a good fixed blade.

Fortunately, the Cold Steel SRK is a great fixed blade.  If you’re looking for an affordable mid-sized outdoor survival knife, something that can do the heavy tasks like chopping and batoning, but that isn’t incapable of delicate work either – a knife you can rely on in any situation – then the SRK should be on your short list.

And now, please compare the Cold Steel SRK to other great knives that are available on the market today:

PhotoModelPrice
Cold Steel SRKCold Steel Survival Rescue Knife (SRK)$$$
Gerber LMF II Survival KnifeGerber LMF II Survival Knife$$$
Ka-Bar Fighting KnifeKa-Bar Fighting Knife$$
Esee-3ESEE Knives 3P$$$
SOG S37-K Seal Team KnifeSOG Seal Team S37-K$$$
cold-steel-recon-1Cold Steel Recon 1$$$

A Cold Steel classic

“SRK” stands for Survival Rescue Knife, an appropriately hyperbolic name.  Cold Steel has a reputation in the industry for two things: an incredible amount of bluster in advertising, and for really strong, useful, and affordable knives.  The SRK—Cold Steel hype aside—has a proven track record.  In fact, the SRK has been around and popular for more than 20 years, and in fact the Navy SEALs were issued SRKs for BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs) training.

There still isn’t a huge amount of recorded history for Cold Steel knives, but this forum thread shows the various releases over the years, and how little the actual design has changed.  The biggest difference between models (other than various sheath materials) is steel choice. 

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives currently for sale on Amazon:

BEST SELLERS
1) Mossy Oak
2) Ka-Bar USMC
3) Cold Steel Survivalist
5) Camp Lore PR-4
4) Cold Steel San Mai SRK

Over the years the SRK has been available in:

  • Carbon V
  • AUS-8A
  • VG-1 San Mai with 420J cladding
  • Pure VG-1
  • 3V

This review will concern the pure VG-1 model, because it is the most readily available.  The SRK is in the same class of knife as the ESEE-6, Fallkniven A1, the SOG Force, and the Cold Steel Recon Tanto and Master Hunter.  Throughout this review I’ll discuss how these knives stack up to the SRK in different categories.

Simple and shock absorbent handle

Ergonomics are important on every knife, but absolutely integral to the performance of a fixed blade.  When you use a knife for high impact tasks like chopping wood, batoning, prying, or (theoretically) self-defense, a good, comfortable grip is essential. 

Happily, the SRK’s simple handle accommodates a variety of comfortable grips.  Hammer grip, reverse grip, ice pick grip—it’s all good.  In handle design, simplicity—even if it looks less visually exciting—is always better than complexity.

There isn’t a lot to say about a handle this simple, but in this case that’s a very good thing.  With the SRK in hand, you’re focusing on the task, not getting distracted by onerous jimping or imperfect balance.  The knife is slightly forward heavy, but that’s less a negative than something to keep in mind. 

Many people prefer a knife to be balanced in such a way.

Fallkniven A1

The Fallkniven A1

As with the Fallkniven A1, the Kraton handle is slightly rubbery, making shocks from heavy impacts less harsh on your hand.  The tang goes through the whole handle but doesn’t ruin the balance of the knife (although the SRK is somewhat forward heavy).  The quillon keeps your finger from sliding forward if you’re stabbing or leaning into a cut, and the overall thickness is quite nice. 

It gives the correction impression: that this is a knife you can use and abuse and not worry about over the long term.  It’s tough, just like a chopper should be.

The ESEE-6’s handle, by contrast, is also very good, but not quite as comfortable in my hand as the SRK’s.  I will say though that I like the forward choil on the ESEE and the control over my cuts it gives me. 

The A1’s tang is much thicker than the SRK’s, and so it feels a little more balanced, but otherwise very similar. 

The SOG Force is clearly inferior, hampered by finger grooves that SOG loves so much; I can’t think of a better illustration of an overdesigned handle interfering with performance. 

The Cold Steel Recon Tanto and the Cold Steel Master Hunter’s handles are almost identical, and identically good, but both are balanced a little better than the SRK.  This isn’t surprising in the Hunter’s case, given that it isn’t meant for chopping.

Hardcore clip point punches above its weight class

The SRK has the burliest clip point blade I’ve ever seen.  It’s a good choice on behalf of Cold Steel, as clip points generally have excellent piercing capability, but are more fragile than drop points.  By incorporating super thick blade stock and a generous swedge, the tip is very durable while retaining all of its fineness. 

A good camping knife needs to be able to pick and pry and dig, and that’s what the SRK’s blade shape and grind bring to the table, in addition to excellent chopping capability, of course.

Esee 6

The ESEE-6

As a chopper, the SRK can take huge chunks of material with ease.  It’s here that I think the somewhat forward balance becomes a boon, because the extra momentum it gives you during chopping cuts lets the SRK punch above its weight class. 

In short, this 6” blade chops like a 9” blade. 

The steel, VG-1 as mentioned earlier, is a good but not great choice.  Compared to its close cousin, the VG-10, it gets dull quicker but is more durable—meaning that you shouldn’t have to worry about chipping or brittleness. 

I approve, but am not super-impressed, particularly considering that there is a 3V model that is sometimes available.  That’s a steel that can take a ton of abuse, and that holds an edge for a long time.

The ESEE-6 is a more elegant cutter, but not as tough, and I’m not a fan of 1095 steel’s rust prone traits.  The Fallkniven’s convex-ground VG-10 combines durability with better edge-holding, and is a definite improvement. 

The SOG Force once again falls behind with AUS-8 steel—not bad, but worse than VG-1.  Why?  Well, it’s less corrosion resistance, less tough, and has poorer edge retention. 

The Master Hunter and Recon Tanto both feature VG-1 as well.  What’s really going to be the difference here are the blade shapes: the Recon Tanto is, well a tanto, and the Hunter is a shorter drop point blade, so they’re really designed for different types of cutting tasks. 

But they’re both more specialized than the SRK, so I’m giving it the advantage here.

The SRK is ready to soak up the abuse

Cold-Steel-Recon1-Tanto

The Cold Steel Recon 1 Tanto

Cold Steel prides themselves on their knives’ insane durability.  The SRK is purposely overbuilt to be abused, and believe me, there are hundreds of torture test videos starring this knife online. 

The SRK’s reputation as a hardcore, hard-use blade is deserved, and you’ll have to do very little to this knife to maintain it besides sharpening.  If you take your SRK out with you on an extended camping trip, by the time you’re done, the edge will need touching up. 

VG-1 isn’t a super steel, but it is easy to sharpen.  The Kraton handle doesn’t retain a bunch of dirt or gunk, and it cleans up easily.  And because this isn’t a folding pocket knife, you don’t have to clean out pivots, locking mechanisms, or other susceptible parts.  As with most well-built knives, if you use common sense while maintaining and storing the SRK, you won’t have any issues.

The black blade coating on the standard model of the SRK is bad.  More or less just paint, it comes off almost immediately.  This isn’t really a problem unless you are very picky about the way your blade looks, but a better coating would be nice. 

To be fair, Cold Steel has taken steps towards improving this in recent years.  The 3V model, for instance, had a better coating, and they’re presumably going to roll it out on the standard model as well.

The ESEE-6, with its non-stainless 1095 blade steel (coated or not), will need more care.  The A1’s VG-10 is a real low-maintenance steel, and the convex edge can be stropped very easily, meaning that you’ll have to sharpen it less.  The SOG Force’s AUS-8 will need to be sharpened more, and is more susceptible to rust.   

The Recon Tanto and the Master Hunter are made of identical materials, although they do lack the (mostly useless) coating.

Conclusion

The SRK looks simple, but it is anything but—or rather, it is simple in the sense that something that is very, very refined is simple: reduced to just the essentials and perfectly executed.  But in this case, refinement doesn’t mean delicateness.  In fact, the SRK’s refinements have led to one incredibly durable blade. 

Overall, this is a medium-sized knife that cuts like a larger blade.  And all of this is before you take into account the price: the SRK only costs about $90.  Therefore, if you want a simple, effective tool, the Cold Steel SRK is one of the best available on the market.

  • Rating: 5/5 stars.

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