Fixed blade knives are more purposeful tools than folding knives. Though they are serious tools, they are also often beautiful and designed for aesthetic as much as purpose.
There are all sorts of fixed blade knives, from hunting knives and skinners to tactical knives to utility knives. These vary in blade and handle design, shape, edge grind, steel and certainly size.
In this article, we’re going to look at a popular category of fixed blade knives — those with a blade length of approximately 4 inches. This is a size that is well suited to, and favored for, a variety of tasks often associated with bushcraft or outdoor and sporting use, and so it’s a blade that is available in many forms.
It’s the kind of knife that’s one of the best survival tools you can carry.
Below, take a look at some of my favorite 4” fixed blade knives, as we’ll be going deep into detail about why I think each one is worthy of your consideration if you’re thinking of adding one to your collection.
- ESEE 4P
- Condor Tool and Knife Bushlore
- Helle Harding Hunting Knife
- Case Cutlery Drop Point Hunter
- Bark River Canadian Special
- Buck 102 Woodsman
- Morakniv Companion
- Benchmade Bushcrafter
- Spyderco Bushcraft
- LT Wright Genesis
In the table below, please compare some of the top knives on the market against one another:
|ESEE Knives 3P
|SOG Flash II
|Ka-Bar Fighting Knife
|Kershaw Shuffle II
|Spyderco Paramilitary 2
Without further ado, let’s begin with the Esee 4P.
This list offers a wide range in price and design, though they all share some common ground. These are all utilitarian knives, tools designed to do work, not designed to look badass and scary (which are the criteria for what are usually referred to as tactical knives, meaning meant for combat).
The closest this list comes to a tactical knife would be the ESEE 4P, so I’ll start with this one because it is also one of the most purely function-driven of the set.
ESEE is an acronym for Education of Survival, Escape and Evasion. These knives are produced by Randall’s Adventure and Training (also commonly referred to by the acronym RAT).
These knives are designed from start to finish to be survival equipment — a reliable and versatile tool. The ESEE 4P fits the bill admirably (yes, you are sensing my personal proclivity… I could have just said ESEE 4, or specified the ESEE 4S. I have yet to find the right use for partially serrated blades, and so go for the plain edge “P” over the serrated “S” model).
This knife now comes in two different steel options: a coated 1095 high carbon steel, and an uncoated 440C stainless steel. Both are great options for this knife. With the stainless, you don’t have to be as careful with oiling or treating the edge, but it’s not as tough and a little harder to get a really sharp edge.
The 1095 is a workhorse, but they coat the blade for a reason – it is prone to rust! So you do want to keep it clean and dry.
The blade design has a large belly for slicing and skinning, with a slightly dropped point to give better control of the tip. It’s a thick, sturdy blade (about 3/16” thick with full tang) that can stand up to batoning and hard use. The handle scales are linen micarta, which makes it easy to grip, wet or dry, and they are replaceable as well (there are G10 handles out there too).
The blade features a large concave choil, which can be a finger groove when choking up on the blade, plus allows for ease of sharpening. Provided with an injection molded plastic sheath with a clip mount that can be placed on either side, the ESEE 4P is a great all around 4” fixed blade knife available online for about $100.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives currently for sale on Amazon:
|1) Mossy Oak
|2) Ka-Bar USMC
|3) Cold Steel Survivalist
|5) Camp Lore PR-4
|4) Cold Steel San Mai SRK
Next is the Bushlore from Condor Tool and Knife. A drop point blade design with a little more drop, and a little less belly than the ESEE, the blade is 1075 carbon steel and Scandi ground, so very easy to care for.
You can strop this one up and shave with it. The blade is 1/8” thick and of course full tang with a very flat spine perfect for fire starting with a ferrocerium rod. The handle scales are walnut and nicely shaped to fit the hand grip well, and the nice thing about them being wood is you could sand them to your preference if you felt it needed tweaking to fit your grip.
You can chop with it, baton it, slice, skin, carve, notch, and keep the edge sharp with little more than a strop. This is a serious bush crafting knife for under $50. It comes with a very solid leather sheath and in terms of knife-for-your-dollar may be at the top of the list for 4” fixed blades.
Next is the Helle Harding Hunting Knife. This is a knife that looks as sweet as it works! The handle is a barrel design made from curly birch, oak and leather. The blade is a triple laminate of stainless steel that comes razor sharp. It comes with an embossed leather sheath that has a handle butt retainer clip.
So what sets this knife apart? Well for one, that triple laminated blade is pretty cool! The center layer of high carbon steel is hardened to about 58-59 HRC for fantastic edge retention, and the outer layers come beautifully polished and hold their polish as well as the edge holds its sharpness.
But the handle is the real beauty on this tool. Some folks find the blade edge of the handle a little rough, but the stacked barrel handle is just a work of art regardless. I should point out that this knife does NOT technically have a full tang. It is actually a rat tail tang made to fit into that stacked barrel. But it is certainly sturdy enough to stand up to repeated heavy use regardless.
Next up is the Case Drop Point Hunter. This is an interesting blade design in Tru-Sharp surgical stainless steel. They call it a drop point, but the design is fairly unique with a curving ramp up the spine, and then a slight drop back down so the point is about on level with where the spine comes out of the handle.
This gives the knife a big wide belly that’s really great for skinning and slicing.
It is another stacked handle — this time just stacked leather, which is a classic look and a nice firm grip. With polished nickel silver guards front and back, the grip is sturdy in the hand for heavy work, and the blade is robust enough for cracking bone. The knife is perhaps a little bulky for finer work, like notching out a hearth board for a friction fire or setting a deadfall trap, nor is it really for chopping down small trees, as the blade is thinner than some of the bushcraft knives.
All that said, the blade design, the awesome handle, and even the interesting leather sheath with the side-clipping closure, plus the extremely reasonable cost, come together to make this knife a winner.
I have a soft spot for Bark River Knives, and especially the Canadian Special. There is a quality of precision and elegance in Bark River knives. They are not particularly fancy of flashy, and this knife isn’t even in the the most wiz-bang super steel, and yet it just screams perfection!
There is a precision to the line and balance and form of this knife that is a visceral experience. Mike Stewart, the designer and President of Bark River, has said he wanted a knife that could fit the bill in both hunting tasks and bush crafting tasks, and this knife is the result of that goal.
The blade design is a fantastic arched spine leaf shape with a nice flat section on the cutting edge by the handle for wood working, and also a nice curved belly for skinning and slicing. It is available in either A2 or CPM 3V steel – two really top choices.
Which is best? That’s really more a matter of opinion than of function, though in principal the 3v should be tougher and the A2 more corrosion resistant, but it really all depends not just on the steel but also on how it is tempered and handled. They are both really strong steels with reliable edge retention and strength and both able to be resharpened without a dedicated shop.
One last note is that the handle (usually micarta) has finger grooves, which many serious knife users tend to avoid, but the design and smooth flat surfaces make the knife easy to grip in any configuration for any use. I can’t find a single user forum post or review anywhere where anyone actually had a problem with it.
On the contrary, lots of users report being skeptical of this handle but being pleasantly surprised at its versatility. All this greatness comes at a price, with the knife generally going for just under $200.
So how about a great knife that doesn’t require financial planning to purchase? Next is the Buck 102 Woodsman. Coming in at about $35, this knife offers fantastic value for the dollar.
It is made in a classic hunter style with a clip point blade of stainless 420HC steel (note – the high carbon 420 is harder than the basic 420) and aluminum (or brass) guard and butt.
Though available in wood (for more) the standard is a black Phenolic handle, and it has a great look! It is not technically a full tang – the tang is tapered to fit completely inside the handle, but it is a sturdy knife that can handle boning and skinning straight out of the box.
There are Buck enthusiasts who have used only this knife for 20+ years. It’s a workhorse that has stood the test of time. It’s a classic for a reason — reliability, solid craftsmanship, good materials and a great design, all at an affordable price. This knife isn’t about showing off your fancy knife, it’s about getting the job done.
Likewise, there’s the Morakniv Companion—the essence of a Scandi grind carbon steel work knife. You can get this knife for under $15, with a molded plastic sheath.
It is 1095 carbon steel, and though not as robust as some of the others on this list, and not full tang, it has no problem batoning hardwood or shaving down feather sticks. This is one to have in your pack for sure.
It is a quality you will not believe for the price.
Made in Sweden and arriving razor sharp, this knife has a patterned high-friction rubber type grip that makes it super easy to hold in a variety of uses. This knife is just a no-brainer. It is so inexpensive, and such great quality you won’t even believe it. It may even make you wonder why you ever spent $150 on a super steel blade.
Let’s now turn to one of those higher-end steel blades and see just how sweet they can be! And frankly, it doesn’t get much more impressive in this 4” range than the Benchmade Bushcrafter.
This knife is a beast! The blade is 4.43” long and 0.164” thick and CPM S30V steel and Scandi ground. The handle scales are g10 and held in place with titanium tubing. Expect the best in balance, design and durability.
The Bushcrafter delivers!
The handle has a rather interesting design (sometimes referred to as a “wasp” pattern) with a flare or bulb toward the front end. Some users find this problematic – depends on what you’re doing. For heavy chopping, it could feel a bit slippy. But the finish is smooth and seamless, so what it might lose on a design choice it wins in execution.
Spyderco BushCraft G10
Another of the more visible high-end bushcraft-specific fixed blade knives is the Spyderco BushCraft G10. It is a Scandi grind 4.1” blade of O-1 steel, which is a high carbon tool steel (from the idea that bush crafters prefer a blade you can sharpen and reprofile and work with to one that is super hard).
The ergonomics on this Sypderco survival knife are fantastic. The black G10 handle scales are beautifully contoured to fit a range of grip options, while also providing great leverage down to the slight drop point tip. This knife feels like an extension of your hand, which is what you want for wood work and bushcraft.
The O-1 steel is great for getting real hair-splitting sharpness, but can be prone to stains or corrosion, so should be kept dry, clean and lightly oiled. Coming with a black leather belt sheath, this is a bushcraft dream knife, even though it isn’t (or partially because it isn’t!) in super-fancy steel.
And to round out the list is the LT Wright Genesis flat grind. L.T. Wright is one of those knife making legends a serious knife enthusiast is bound to discover eventually, and there are lots of little touches in this knife that make it clear why these blades are so popular.
This knife is available in many variations, but my preference for this one is the flat grind (because you can’t have ALL Scandi grinds, now can you?). It comes in fantastic A2 steel, which is one of those cross-over steels with some of the best of all worlds, hardness and some stain resistance, but also sharpenable and reasonably tough.
This is a knife that will tear through bush crafting tasks, but also do great at skinning and slicing, so great for hunters too. Of course, everything is give and take, and a flat grind will not carve wood as well as a Scandi, just as a sharp-as-can-be scandi can botch a skinning job by prying the meat instead of slicing it.
But the quality of steel and overall design of this knife (with a spear point giving lots of flat surface behind the rounded belly, and enough choil for serious sharpening, micarta scales with a thumb groove) mean it can do well with wood as well as hides.
This is an all-around knife that is highly functional and beautiful. It comes with a leather pouch style sheath, with a dangler for low ride, which can also be removed for a high ride carry.
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