You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has even the slightest interest in knives not to be familiar with the name of Gerber. Of course, this is partly due to the hype of their products, but also, to an even larger extent, their wide availability. Not only can you find them in most outdoor shops, but also in Walmarts, KMarts, and even hardware stores all across the US.
Their current line-up includes over 120 folding knife models, 82 fixed blades, 35 assisted-opening and automatic pocket knives, 68 multi-tools, and a myriad of saws, axes, and specialty items. Their roster of technical advisors, past and present, reads like a Who’s-Who of famous custom knife designers: Bob Loveless, Blackie Collins, Fred Carter, Ernest Emerson, Bear Grylls, Brad Parish, Rex Applegate, and more.
Two of their former employees, Al Mar, and Pete Kershaw, even went on to create their own formidable knife companies.
You’ll find Gerber knives just about anywhere there are people, from the depths of the oceans in places like SeaLab, to submarines, the frozen wastelands of Antartica and the Arctic, the Middle East, the remote forests of the Northwest, and even in the air on various military aircraft.
The point is simple—Gerber knives are everywhere and people love them. Therefore, this article will help you discover which of the many, many different knives Gerber makes are the best and most worthy of your time, consideration, and money.
But before we do that, please take a quick look at the interactive table below that compares some of the best knives available on the market.
For Gerber Knives, It Comes Down to Steel
I try not to be a knife snob, and to judge knives on their own merits—you know, be fair. But in my over 5 decades of living, growing up in the boonies, and living in a Wilderness Area, I know what is required in a knife in extreme situations.
Even if you live in an apartment in a city, that is no guarantee against the fact that at some point, your life may depend on your blade, and little else. That means good steel—and by good, I mean it has to be able to take a very good edge, hold it, and withstand a certain amount of what most manufacturers would consider abuse—is really paramount when making a knife-buying decision.
And this is where I have an issue with Gerber knives.
If you look at their models on their website, or anywhere else, they are a little secretive on what steel they use in the blades. If it is listed at all, it is usually just described as 440, or High Carbon.
There are 3 grades of 440 steel; A, B, and C. There is a huge difference between 440A, and 440C. And there are dozens of steels that could be called High Carbon, including some really sorry junk that will not take an edge at all because they are so soft the edge curls when you try to sharpen them.
Turns out, there may be a reason they don’t go out of their way to let you know what kind of steel they use.
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|
Although Gerber’s hype is that they are USA-made, that’s not exactly accurate. They may be assembled in the U.S., but a lot of their blades are made from Chinese 7Cr17MoV Stainless, which is actually closer to 440A—not great for an edge, but it is the most rust-resistant steel you’ve ever seen.
Don’t get me wrong, some Chinese steel is great. After all, they invented steel in the first place. I have some knives with Chinese Steel blades that take a great edge, and hold it well.
8Cr13MoV compares favorably to VG-10, for instance.
Some of of Gerber’s higher-end blades are actually made from 440C, which is not bad, and some from 420HC (which is not great), and other steels, but as far as I can tell, few are made from really high-quality steel, like S90V, CTS-XHP, VG-10, SK-5, 4116 Krupp, etc. Gerber does offer a few models in S30V, which is actually good steel, and those models perform well.
With that being said, it seems to me that Gerber knives are marketed more for image than for actual use, and are targeted mostly at Rambo wannabes. Other than the steel, they do have some great designs. So, if you like them, by all means, indulge yourself. Everyone doesn’t need, or even want, a knife than can be driven over with a tank, slice tomatoes paper-thin, and fillet a medium-sized dinosaur.
So, with that out of the way, let’s begin breaking down some of the best that Gerber has to offer.
The Best Gerber Knives
It’s been a job trying to decide which Gerber knives would be the best for different things. I do like their multi-tools, and regularly carry either my Scout 600 or Suspension on a daily basis. I also own a Mark II, an EVO, and a Gator I got back in 1974, but they stay in a drawer most of the time.
I borrowed a few, talked to some friends who own some Gerbers, and tested some other ones. I’ll break it all down for you regarding what I think are the best knives for EDC, Bushcraft, and Heavy Use/Combat.
Gerber Manual Combat Folder – This is far and away the best Gerber for EDC. The blade is only around 3-1/2”, which is a little short, but it is made from S30V steel, which is pretty good.
At a beefy 7.62oz., you will know it is in your pocket, and fills the hand nicely. It takes and holds a good edge, and comes in a straight blade, or combo-edge. The aluminum scales may feel a little cold in the winter, but are pretty much maintenance-free. The “Plunge Lock” is just a cross pin, so don’t expect it to perform like a Tr-Ad lock, but it is adequate for most situations.
The blade was very stiff to get open with the ambidextrous thumb stud, but after 150 times of opening and closing it, it started loosening up a bit. It comes with a wrench to adjust the pins, but loosening them caused the blade to have side-to-side play, so I tightened them back down.
Another problem was that sometimes when I closed it, the edge of the blade would hang up on the pommel. A piece of felt in the handle fixed it. At around $150.00+, it’s not cheap, but it is the best EDC knife that Gerber makes, in my opinion. If a Gerber knife was my only choice, this is the model I would pick.
Other EDC models:
- Applegate Folder – a toy for Rambo wannabes. The lock works loose quickly, the blade does not take an edge well, and the blade shape is useless for most tasks. If you take advantage of the shape by sharpening both sides, it would be illegal to carry in most places.
- Gerber EVO – cheaply-made and the blade does not take an edge well.
- Gerber Air Ranger – I actually liked everything about this knife better than the Combat Folder, except that the blade steel is really junky. It is Gerber’s Mystery Steel—soft and does not take an edge.
Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro – This one really surprised me, as it may be one of Gerber’s best survival tools—at least for the money.
I really like the orange graphics against the black rubber handle. If you drop it, this makes it easier to find. The sheath has an integral sharpener that actually works very well—a nice touch.
At the end of the sheath, there is a lanyard with a whistle, that is plenty loud for signaling—another really nice addition. I would almost buy this just for the sheath.
The handle feels good in your hand and the knife is very well balanced. The rubber scales provide a very secure grip, even with gloves or wet hands. Using it for a few hours was no problem, and never caused me any hand cramps, either.
The blade is a little longer than 4-1/2”—a nice size without being large enough to get in the way on your belt. The steel is Chinese 9cr13MoV, which seems to be really close to D2—not bad at all on this kind of knife.
It took a nice edge, and held it well, even though I batoned it, chipped wood, and did some other tough tasks with it. I was actually able to dress out 2 carp with it, and it did a great job.
When the edge did start to go, a few swipes on the sharpener brought it right back. The pomel is actually an integral hammer, and I used it to pound in some tent stakes. It worked quite well.
Lastly, there is even a fire-striker integral with the handle. It was a little difficult to get out until I figured out the secret, but then again, that’s a good thing—unless you want to lose it. It worked as good as my LightMyFire striker, which is the industry standard.
On my belt, the knife felt good, and not that heavy at about 14 oz. One thing I noticed was that there was nothing sticking out to hang up on things when you’re crawling through bushes and climbing trees.
Overall, this is not a bad bush knife at all. At just under $100.00, it’s a bit pricey, but I think it’s a good investment. If I had to have a Gerber for a bush knife, this would be the one.
Other Bushcraft Knives:
Bear Grylls Scout – Sort of a folding version of the Ultimate Pro, but without the cool sheath and fire striker. Other than that, it is well-suited for outdoor uses within the limits of a folder.
Gerber Strongarm – A basic sheath knife with the blade just a shade under 5”, and a glass-filled nylon handle. The blade is 420HC—not great, but OK for a bush knife. It does take a working edge.
Gerber Drop Point —The sheath has many different mounting options. At 7-1/2 oz. it’s not overly heavy. With care, it would be an OK outdoor knife.
Gerber Gator — This would’ve been my first choice, except for the cool extra features on the Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro. The Gator has the best steel of all of Gerber’s outdoor knives—the S30V.
This blade will not let you down, and takes a great edge. Like it’s folding brother, the Gator Fixed Blade has a nice, wide 4” Bowie-style blade and beefy scales that inspire confidence. Gerber does make a few pretty good knives, and this is one of them. At 10.4 oz. you’ll know it’s there, and it feels as good on your hip as it does in your hand.
Most Gerber knives they advertise for military use are made from cheap 420J steel, and if I had to carry a Gerber in combat, I would carry the Silver Trident, because it at least has some decent steel in the blade. I consider the rest as mostly disposable knives because you will be throwing them away as soon as you can get something better.
The MK II, has a little name value (and some collector value) because it has some combat experience. The MK II is Gerber’s version of the Sykes-Fairburn Combat Dagger (I still have my Sykes from the late 60s), made by Wilkensen Sword (and maybe some other places), only a lot cheaper. It is 420 steel, and the best that I can say is that it looks intimidating. But at least the 6-1/2” blade is big enough to do something with.
The blade is further weakened by the dubious addition of serrations on the lower third of the blade (both sides, believe it or not). It doesn’t even have the sharp pomel of the Sykes.
In Vietnam, the first issue of the Mk IIs had a lot of returns because the cheap blades bent easily. Gerber re-worked them somehow, and the 2nd issue knives served for the rest of the war, albeit in very limited quantities. If you want to look really cool, a MK II will certainly add to that image.
Other Military Models:
Gerber LMF II – Not a bad basic design. The 4.9” drop point blade is a good design, and the glass-filled ballistic nylon (someday, I wish someone would tell me how nylon is ‘ballistic’) sheath does the job.
If they would’ve just made the blade from better steel than 420HC, this knife could be a contender. It’s a proven design, and similar styles are made by lots of other companies.
- Silver Trident – This is another one of Gerber’s blades that is not bad. It could function as a dive knife, a survival knife, or full-duty military blade. It has a 6.18” blade of 154CM steel, which compares favorably to VG-10, AUS 8, and similar steels. It will take a good edge, hold it well, and is easy to sharpen. The scales are made from something Gerber calls Hytrel, which is probably just their version of Griv-Ex.
They are all just polymers that provide a good grip surface, are UV and weather-resistant, and can take a lot of abuse. The Silver Trident has partial serrations on both sides, and a steel butt cap that can be used as a hammer. At over $300.00, it’s pricey—but it is a cool knife.
You may have noticed that Gerber is not on my ‘A’ list of knife makers. But you have to understand that as a former Marine, wilderness resident, and writer, I own, or have access to a lot of really great knives, some high-end, and some that are just good knives.
Price is not always an indicator of quality. Actually, my favorite knives are all under $50.00. But
But I do have high standards. I think most Gerber knives are way overrated, and I am not crazy about their advertising claims, such as, “standard military issue.” But they do make a few models that are quite solid products.
This is just my opinion, so take it for what it is worth (or with a grain of salt. Or both). Because at the end of the day, a lot of people just need a knife that will open a letter, trim some ribbon, or open a few boxes. And if this is the case with you, a Gerber may suit you just fine.
Only you can determine what knife is best for you, and you may have to go through a lot of blades to find that perfect knife.
But then again, that’s half the fun.
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