Hollow handled survival knives appeal to minimalist survivalists who like a complete survival kit in one item… and to those who like essential survival item redundancy.
With all due respect, the first hollow-handled knives came about BEFORE World War II. My collection includes prewar examples of Case, and Ka-Bar, hollow-handled knives. At that time they were billed as “Match-Safe Knives” because they were intended to hold, and protect, strike-anywhere matches. Even so, both of them include compasses in their screw-off pommels. There are also examples of hollow-handled knives in the Vietnam era — notably the Hackman and Garcia “survival” knives. John Rambo did not invent hollow-handled knives; he merely brought them into modern times.Dufus McGhee
Hollow handled survival knives were made immediately popular in 1982 by John J. Rambo… America’s favorite (although fictional) minimalist survivalist… in the movie First Blood. James B. Lile crafted the knife used by Rambo in First Blood. In honor of Jimmy’s iconic creation the legendary Rambo knife, production of Jimmy Lile’s knives continues today to the highest standards of custom knife making. These tributes to the Lile legacy are the Next Generation Lile knives. The Lile Next Generation “First Blood” knife can be purchased for more than a whopping $2000!
The idea that a knife, considered the most important survival tool due to its versatility, can be made even more useful by including room in the handle for various survival items such as a compass, matches, a wire saw, and fishing/sewing kit, etc… was just too good a marketing angle to pass up after First Blood inspired the “need” for a Rambo knife in an entire generation of prepubescent Rambo wannabes.
Enter… The Survivor… the ultimate survival knife… for only $10!!! Yes! Santa, I want a Rambo knife! And that Christmas and many a Christmas thereafter spawned a generation of Rambo following plastic-hollow-handled-knife wielding “survivalists” ripe and ready for anything nature or man could throw at them… because they all had THE Ultimate Survival Knife! Until it broke from moderate usage. Try batoning with a plastic hollow handled knife. Ain’t happening. But it’s THE… huh!?!
YouTuber PREPAREDMIND101 attempting to baton through a log with The Survivor in his satirical video… “Awesome review of the 80’s Hollow Handled Survival Knife!!”
Not surprisingly, hollow handled survival knives fell out of mass popularity as the age group their marketers targeted them to began to realize several things other than that The Survivor is a total piece of useless crap when it comes to moderate to heavy use.
Reasons they fell out of mass popularity include:
- There were few to zero of any real quality that were affordable.
- Even the best hollow handled knife would not have enough room for any kinds of items other than small last resort redundancy items. Redundancy is good, but if you lost your knife, you lost the items in the handle too! This is not such a disaster unless those items are your only survival kit… which the cheapo hollow handled survival knives such as “The Survivor” were marketed to young minds as being.
- Besides, the high price of even the best quality hollow handled knives, such as the “one-piece” knives made by Chris Reeve, was not justified for most people, by having the means to fit a few small items in the handle.
- It is just as easy to carry those few small survival items in a pouch or other container such as an Altoids tin… which was the next logical step and exercise in learning about survival for this very same generation… but that is a subject for another article.
Chris Reeve’s CRK Model Mark IV (shown left), from the “one-piece” series, circa 1983, is one of the very first hollow handled survival knives of quality.
These days, hollow handled survival knives are on the rise in terms of popularity. This is simply because there are some that are of good to excellent quality and affordable. It seems the ability to include redundancy in a knife handle will never go away.
But as with the difference between the Jimmy Lile First Blood Knife and The Survivor… an immense difference in quality can be found for sale. Here I recommend a few of varying budgets that won’t disappoint you.
IN THE ~$50-100 PRICE RANGE:
Schrade Knives makes several one-piece drop forged hollow handled survival knives, no doubt inspired by the early Chris Reeve “one-piece” series.
SCHF1 Schrade Large Extreme Survival One-Piece Drop Forged Fixed Blade, Matte Finished SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Partially Serrated Drop Point, Water Proof Hollow Handle End Cap with Removable Magnetic 10-pcs Bit Set and Lanyard, Multiple Carry Position Ballistic Belt Sheath with Removable Storage Pouch and Lanyard.
SCHF2 Schrade Large Extreme Survival One-Piece Drop Forged Fixed Blade, Matte Finished SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Partially Serrated Clip Point, Water Proof Hollow Handle End Cap with Removable Magnetic 10-pcs Bit Set and Lanyard, Multiple Carry Position Ballistic Belt Sheath with Removable Storage Pouch and Lanyard.
SCHF21 Schrade One-Piece Drop Forged Boot Knife Fixed Blade, SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Spear Point Blade, Glass Filled Nylon Boot Sheath.
SCHF22 Schrade One-Piece Drop Forged Boot Knife Fixed Blade, SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Tanto Point Blade, Glass Filled Nylon Boot Sheath.
SCHF41 Schrade One-Piece Drop Forged Boot Knife Fixed Blade, SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Partially Serrated Spear Point Blade with Blood Groove, Black Nylon and Leather Boot Sheath.
SCHF1SM Schrade Small Extreme Survival One-Piece Drop Forged Fixed Blade, Matte Finished SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Drop Point, Water Proof Hollow Handle End Cap with Removable Magnetic 6-pcs Bit Set and Lanyard, Multiple Carry Position Ballistic Belt Sheath with Removable Storage Pouch and Lanyard.
SCHF2SM Schrade Small Extreme Survival One-Piece Drop Forged Fixed Blade, Matte Finished SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel Clip Point, Water Proof Hollow Handle End Cap with Removable Magnetic 6-pcs Bit Set and Lanyard, Multiple Carry Position Ballistic Belt Sheath with Removable Storage Pouch and Lanyard.
IN THE ~$200 PRICE RANGE:
Kizlyar Supreme began making their superior performance knives in December 2011 simultaneously in Russia, Australia and Germany. They currently craft two models of hollow handled survival knives, the Survivalist X and the Survivalist Z, each with the option of being made of AUS8 or D2 steel… see notes on knife steel below. The two models are each available in two different blade finishes they refer to as “Black Titanium”and “Gray Titanium” which are actually a hard and wear resistant titanium carbon nitride ceramic coating. The handles are made of dural (or duraluminum, a strong, lightweight, rust-resistant aluminum alloy).
These new Survivalist X and Z knives differ from the Survivalist older version in that instead of a saw on the spine of the blade, the new knives have a specially shaped bevel designed for chopping bones and other hard materials so that the user does not need to risk damaging the main blade while performing these tasks.
Amazon has a few of the older models from Kizylar Supreme which are basically the same as the Survivalist Z but with a saw edge along the spine rather than the bevel found on the Survivalist X and Z models; these older Survivalist models are discontinued so grab them while you can!
All Kizlyar Supreme knives come with a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty, which covers any and all defects in workmanship, build quality and materials used. Keep in mind that this warranty does not cover improper usage that results in defects, dents, cuts, breakages and other damage to the knife… although some models that have specific designs may be suitable for heavier tasks in which case the warranty terms will be honored (e.g. sawing, axing and hacking etc.). I asked Kizlyar Supreme if the Survivor X and the Survivor Z models are covered under this warranty clause and their response is,
Yes, the hollow-handle knives Survivalist X and Z are covered by this clause. We tested the tang-handle connection and it proved to be very good. The older style Survivalist with a saw on its back is not covered by this clause because the saw has too much concentrated tension and with too intensive hacking there is a risk of breaking, especially with hard steel like D2. This is why we got rid of the saw in the newer Survivalist X and Survivalist Z.
Thus I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending Kizlyar Supreme’s Survivalist X and Z hollow handled knives, and I will be reviewing them personally in the future.
IN THE ~$300-500 PRICE RANGE:
There are the RPW X-46 Utility Survival Hollow Handled knives, which were a collaboration between Robson Knives and Calico Forge Knife Company, but now are manufactured by Idaho Metal Solutions who owns the rights to this knife under the “Robson Knives” label.
I mention this high end knife because it is made of a single piece of A2 tool steel, but I can’t really recommend it because there is so little mention of it… and since I can’t afford one to review, I won’t be purchasing. If you have one, please comment and let us know what you think of it. There are several on Amazon.
NOTES ON KNIFE STEELS
A2 is a tool steel (like D2) with a carbon content range of 0.95-1.05% and is very tough and edge retention is high. It is harder than D2 but with less wear resistance than D2. A2 does not contain lots of chromium (typically around 5%) so it is less resistant to corrosion and rust than D2 and needs to be maintained carefully to avoid rust; A2 knives are often coated to prevent rust.
AUS8 is a Japanese stainless steel that has only 0.75% carbon content so it has excellent resistant to corrosion and rust. It is also easy to sharpen to a very keen edge due to its vanadium content which also improves wear resistance and refines the grain for good toughness, but will also need to be resharpened slightly more often than a higher carbon content blade which typically have excellent toughness.
D2 is a “semi-stainless” tool steel with good (not excellent) resistance to corrosion and rust as its chromium content of 12% is just shy of the 14% that qualifies a steel as stainless. It is excellent at holding an edge, but is harder to sharpen to a very fine edge. It has a carbon content of 1.50-1.60%.
SAE-1070 High Carbon Steel is often used in blades such as machetes and kukris because it is very tough and can absorb hacking blows better than 1095, a high carbon steel also commonly used by large knife makers, although 1070 will dull faster than 1095.
What hollow handled survival knife did (or do) you own and what specifically do you like about it?
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