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The Cold Steel SRK | The Best Survival Knife?

571 300 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

You can’t compromise on survival gear quality, so over 20 years ago, I invested in a Cold Steel SRK. If I could only have one survival knife, which would also be used as a field dressing tool for big game and a meat cutting implement, it would probably be a  SRK. Here’s why.

by Leon Pantenburg

After my first Idaho elk hunt in 1990, I had to make some gear changes. My wood-stocked BDL 7mm Remington Magnum caliber went synthetic. I got heavier boots, warmer hunting clothes, better binoculars and a Cold Steel SRK.

The upgrade was great: What hunter ever needs an excuse to buy new stuff? But  I got almost emotional upon replacing my Model 371 Buck folding hunting knife. I bought the Buck new for $25 on August 31, 1976 at the Ace Hardware Store in Lovell, Wyoming, and the Buck and I have bonded.
The Buck was in my pack when I hiked the John Muir Trail in California; the southern loop of Yellowstone, Death Valley

Your backcountry tools need to be carefully chosen!

and the Wind River Range on several other long hikes in various western mountain ranges. It rode on my hip on my  end-to-end Mississippi River canoe trip from Minnesota to Louisiana, and also went on canoe trips through the Big Black and Okefenokee Swamps.  The Buck has been used to clean hundreds of fish, squirrels and rabbits; cut summer sausage and spread gallons of peanut butter on crackers and bread. I used it to gut and skin my first deer.

But after my first backpack elk hunt, I realized a different knife was needed. Weight was an issue, and there is only room to carry minimal equipment into the backcountry. A knife would have to do everything, so it had to be virtually indestructible.

This ruled out folders. Any folder’s weak point is the hinge. Break that, and you end up with two pieces. And, a hinge attracts hair, dirt and other stuff that will eventually gum it up.

Then,  I also wanted a longer,  thicker blade for gutting and quartering a  large animal. While there are folks who regularly take care of their hunting needs with a jack knife, I prefer a four to six-inch-long blade.

My backcountry knife also needed a non-slip handle. Inevitably, the knife gets covered with blood and body fluids during a gutting operation and a slippery handle is dangerous.

And I don’t like guthooks. In my opinion, the hook is a gimmick and only good for a couple of cuts, such as the initial incision to open up the body cavity. Otherwise, the guthook dulls easily,  looks terrible on a knife blade, can hook on the sheath or your clothing and serves no other purpose.

I needed the best survival knife, that could also double as a hunting knife. So I thought long and hard before deciding on a SRK. The initials stand for “Survival Rescue Knife,” but I bought it because of  the reasonable price, design, handle composition and the reported durability.

Cold Steel SRK, best survival knife, best hunting knife

My Cold Steel SRK has had hard use and is still among  my first choices for a survival knife.

My SRK’s high carbon steel blade is 3/16″ thick and 6″ long; the Kraton handle is 4-3/4 inches long and  overall length is 10-3/4 inches. My SRK, without sheath, weighs eight ounces, and 10.5 with sheath wrapped in duct tape. It appears to have a full-length tang, and the sheath was reasonably good nylon.

The knife came out of the box shaving-sharp, and the steel holds an edge very well. The blade came with a black finish I don’t like. My first action was to remove it. There’s never been a problem with rust.

My SRK was used for everything. Over the course of its career, the knife has been carried hundreds of miles on backpacking and hunting trips. It has been used to whittle wiener sticks, been battoned through firewood, and has been pounded through a deer’s pelvis with a rock during butchering.  It is the knife I use for beheading fish. Several kids have learned safe knife handling, using the SRK, around campfires at Boy Scout campouts.

The only thing I'd change about the SRK is the finish on the blade! The sheath has been upgraded since I bought my SRK in 1991.

The only thing I’d change about the SRK is the finish on the blade! The sheath has been upgraded since I bought my SRK in 1991.

For what I need, specifically, a survival tool that can double as a backcountry big game hunting knife, the SRK has been just right. My SRK  has field dressed well over 50 deer and been used on several elk.

In one instance, the knife field dressed and quartered three deer without it needing sharpening. The handle never gets too slick to hold safely, no matter how messy the field dressing job gets.

The knife’s performance is so impressive that two of my elk-hunter friends also bought SRKs. Several years ago, I bought a SRK for a hunting buddy who refused to accept my fair share of the gas money on a hunting trip.

But there are some other tasks where the SRK doesn’t particularly shine. It isn’t a particularly good camp knife, since the thick blade doesn’t work all that well for slicing tomatoes, potatoes, or summer sausage. It’s clumsy for peeling potatoes. But that’s why I also, weight permitting, carry some form of Mora-style knife.

The clip point design works well for gutting and most field dressing chores, but the SRK  is not the best skinner. And there are better knifes for meat cutting. Forget about filleting fish: the knife is just too big and inflexible.

Other than a few minor cosmetic tweaks, my SRK has worked  just fine for a couple of decades. Even though it has been retired from active duty,  there is no replacement  in sight!

CHECK OUT LEON’S PERSONAL CACHE OF KNIVES FOR SALE
Bark River Knives, best survival knives, Ambush knives

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12 comments
  • Garry

    So, if you were on a backpacking trip, and planned on fishing, which knife would you take along? I have an old wooden handled 6″ Rapala fillet knife that’s served me for a decade.

  • Leon

    Thanks for the feedback. I find there are a lot of people with opinions that are based on hearsay and conjecture, not actual use.

  • Big Sam

    This guy tells everyone his experiences of over twenty years with a knife and a few people try to crap all over him for it. He didn’t say it was the best survival knife every made, he asks the question. HE offers his experiences with the knife, experiences in back country elk hunting, some heavy duty work. His experiences express a knife that has performed admirably. For the price, twenty years of hunting and back country use is a bargain by almost any person’s standard. There are better knives, but they also come with a higher price, and if this one does the job for him, why crap all over him and his review? If you have other experiences, not just what you have read online, give them in your own review.

  • Jeniffer Martin

    I usually go for outdoors survival trips like camping, trekking and hiking. I always take along with me the best survival knife from Cold Steel which is generally fixed blade. Without the cold steel knives, I can’t dream to going into the woods.

  • Brinkley

    Cold Steel has some good knives,but the majority get shamelessly overrated,and are not the world beaters they are made out to be..In my opinion the best knives to ever bare the Cold Steel name were the carbon v knives that were made by Camillus for Cold Steel,just like the SRK you own and reviewed here.But unfortunately the carbon v knives were overrated just like the majority of CS’s knives.Don’t get me wrong,the carbon v knives are good knives,but they don’t do anything special that a Bark River,Dpx Gear,Entrek,Esee,Fallkniven,Hogue,Svord,Tops,or any other quality named brand can’t do..TBH,a Becker knife is just as good,and costs less…Cold Steel overhypes their knives to a point that there’s no way they can live up to expectations..If your looking for a survival style knife,there’s several brands that are just as good,and quite a few that are down right better than a Cold Steel,and some costs a little more,and some about the same..That’s what i can’t understand when so many talk about CS being the best value for your money…I don’t see it like that…

  • Brinkley

    With all due respect sir your review thing here is a bit misleading,and misinformed due to the fact your knife is a Carbon V model that was made by Camillus,and the model that has been sold for the last several years have been in Aus8 stainless steel.The Carbon V model is a far superior knife compared to the Aus8 model.In my opinion the BEST Cold Steel knives were the Carbon V knives that were made by Camillus.I used to be a Cold Steel fan back in the 80’s-90’s,but after they went overseas in search of cheap labor,no thanks..Although their TM,and RS are good knives considering there Taiwan made mass produced knives,they are simply not the quality they once was..If your going to drop $150-250 on a fixed blade i highly recommend the following brands over Cold Steel.:Bark River..DPx Gear…Entrek…Esee..Fallkniven…Hogue…LionSteel…Svord…Tops…White River…Silver Stag…Just to name a few…Don’t get sucked into the hype that is Cold Steel..They do have a few good knives,but the majority get shamelessly overrated,and are grossly overpriced considering materials..I’m not bashing Cold Steel,i think their a good company,but their knives are not what CS and their loyal die-hard fanboys claim they are, they are not the world beaters their made out to be..

  • Leon

    Yours is the first complaint I’ve heard about Cold Steel quality. I base my opinions on the SRK from more than 20 years of active use as a survival/hunting knife. More recently, I used a Master Hunter during the 2010 elk hunting season. I can’t comment on what the steel is in the blades, because I don’t know.

    But in one instance, my SRK was used to to skin and quarter three deer without sharpening. I did skin, and quarter a cow elk in 2010 with the Master Hunter, and the edge was still razor-sharp at the end of the job.

    My experience has been that the steel in the Cold Steel blades holds an edge very well, and this comes from a lot of field use. After seeing my SRK in use at elk camp, two of my hunting buddies also bought SRKs.

    I do know that Fallkniven blades are made in Japan (Here’s my F-1 review: http://witzendhosting.com/survivalcommonsense/best-survival-knife-we-check-out-the-fallkniven-f1/)

    I’ve also tested the ESEE-3 (http://witzendhosting.com/survivalcommonsense/review-check-out-the-esee-3-for-a-reasonably-priced-useful-survival-knifefeed/) and several Bark Rivers. (http://witzendhosting.com/survivalcommonsense/category/how-to-chose-the-best-survival-knife-and-reviews-of-cutlery-products/)

    There is no question that a Bark River is a higher quality knife. But a BR will also cost close to twice as much as a Cold Steel SRK or Master Hunter. You get what you pay for, and IMHO, a Cold Steel SRK or Master Hunter are excellent, mid-range knives. They have been my backcountry knives for years, and they do the job very well.

  • blair

    The Cold Steel SRK knife and all Cold Steel products are crap. In fact I am more than a little offended that you would even recommend this as a “quality” survival knife. Really? What type of steel do they use? How does it compare to VG10, S30V, D2, Aus 8, 1095, etc.? And no this is not just my opinion. If you google knife testing, knife steel, and survival knives you will discover that Cold Steel is a poor choice for a survival knife because it does not hold an edge, the steel changes based on the availability and cost, and the steel is not a consistent formula. That is why they do not state the chemical composition of their steel. Instead they make up their own “brand name”, for example San Mai. There is no steel called San Mai. There is no combination of steels that make up San Mai. It is a marketing gimmick to convince those people who do not do their research that their knives are something special. I have, and have had many knives and the Cold steel is not even in the same league as Falkniven, Knives of Alaska (in D2), Ontario Rat 4, and some of the Bark River products, to name a few. I do not mean to be rude, but your advise is misguided and misleading.

  • Tom

    I concur. I picked up an SRK at a gun show in 1991 and tried to destroy it. 22 years later, it is the standard by which everything else is measured. I have tried to leave it, but its merits always bring me back. I agree 100% about the smaller Mora for slicing and fish and I carry the Light My Fire Mora. I didn’t like the original sheath at all, so I put mine in a SpecOPs Brand Combat Master that rides on my hip, my plate carrier, or Life jacket. I can recommend the SRK and Combat Master without reservation. If I could make any modifications, I would add a butt cap, but is is not critical. I’ve used mine on deer, rabbits, squirrel, BBQs and firewood in desert, mountains, raft trips and the gulf coast. It has never failed to serve and protect.

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