What is an inexpensive, quality knife for people on a limited budget? Can you get a good knife for under $20?
by Leon Pantenburg
“Buy cheap, buy often” and “You get what you pay for” are just a couple of cliches’ that apply to knives.
But there is a difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive.” “Cheap” means the product doesn’t cost much because the materials, labor and workmanship are of a lower standard. “Inexpensive” denotes a quality product that doesn’t cost much.
Nobody can afford cheap knives. They will let you down when most needed, and inevitably, the cheapie will have to be replaced.
But maybe you need a quality, inexpensive knife to give a kid (Every youngster with that first knife will try cutting or whittling everything, throwing it, and all sorts of destructive things. Inevitably the knife gets lost.)
Or maybe you’re setting up multiple emergency kits on a limited budget. Each of these collections needs a good knife.
Here are five excellent knives that cost less than $20 each.
Buck Bantam BLW
I carried a Buck double bladed folder on my 1980 end-to-end Mississippi River canoe voyage. I used it every day for a variety of fish-cleaning and canoe-related tasks. The 420 HC steel in the blade held an edge very well, and I had no complaints whatsoever about the knife’s performance.
But I retired the knife after I moved to Idaho and started backcountry big game hunting. My most recent Buck folder is a Bantam BLW.
Here are the Buck Bantam BLW specs:
- Blade Length: 3 1/8″ (7.9 cm)
- Blade Material: 420HC Stainless Steel
- Carry System: Stainless steel belt/boot/pocket clip
- Handle Material: Thermoplastic, textured
- Length Closed: 4 3/8″ (11.1 cm)
- Weight: 2.4 oz. (68.3 g)
This knife will handle most everyday tasks easily. It’s the type of knife you could give a kid, along with proper training, as his/her first knife. The lock blade is as safe as a lock blade can be, and it is not a flipper or easy-open knife. For many youngsters, it will takes both hands to operate the Bantam. This eliminates the potential for quick-draw competitions.
The Buck is also inexpensive enough that when (not if) it gets lost, there shouldn’t be major emotional trauma. Mine cost $17.50.
Mora Model 840 Companion: Mora is a brand of inexpensive, Scandinavian-style knife that I like very
much. I bought several different models of Mora about ten years ago to test as potential tools in conjunction with flint and steel firemaking.
Well, the Moras didn’t work for that, but I found the knives were so handy they got used very successfully as camp and bushcraft knives.
Here’s what you get with the Companion:
- Fixed blade outdoor knife with 3.9-inch carbon steel blade
- Blade Thickness: 0.07″ (1.8 mm), Blade Length: 3.9″ (99 mm), Total Length: 8.5″ (216 mm), Net Weight: 4.1 oz. (116g)
- Patterned, high-friction grip
- Plastic sheath with belt clip
- One-year manufacturer’s warranty
I tend to lose fishing lures, sunglasses and knives on canoe or rafting trips. If I’m planning a water-borne trip, I’ll take along a knife that is more or less expendable. Most of the time, that will end up being a Companion.
Lansky World Legal: I bought this knife out of curiosity, and the fact that my son Dan’s band had an upcoming European tour. He typically carries a Benchmade Griptillian as a utility knife. The Griptillian was probably illegal in some countries, and the Lansky is supposedly safe to carry in 153 countries.
I take this claim with a grain of salt. I think legality of a knife will depend on an individual cop’s interpretation of the laws!
Here’s the Lansky’s specs:
- 2.75 inches 440C Stainless Blade
- 7 inches Overall Length, 6 oz
- Ambidextrous Carry
- Four-Position Deep Pocket Clip
- Nylon Handle
The Lansky is solidly built, the 440c is a good mid-range steel, and the handle design is sound.
The knife is a little too tactical-looking for my tastes, and kinda defeats the purpose of urban camouflage, but that’s personal preference. I also don’t care for the hooky-thingy point, but that’s easily fixed. I got Dan’s Lansky for $18.22.
Swiss Army Knife Tinker: I carry a Tinker every day, and it gets used for everything. My current Tinker was handed down to me several years ago by the late Jim Grenfell, and it was his everyday carry knife.
The Tinker does everything I need a pocket knife to do. It also has the SAK tweezers, toothpick, can opener and a Phillips head screwdriver that will get used constantly.
Here’s the specifics, according to the SAK website:
- Compact pocket knife with 11 tools
- Acid-resistant plastic and aluminum handle
- 100% stainless steel components
- Features blades, can and bottle openers, screwdrivers, wire stripper, and reamer
- Includes tweezers, toothpick, and key ring
Occasionally, you can find deals where a Tinker is paired in a package with a Classic. Get both. You’ll use them a lot.
Box cutter: I carried a box cutter almost daily when I was in college. I worked part-time on the stock crew at the local Hy-Vee grocery store, and the knife was used to open boxes for stocking shelves. About the size of a pocket comb, the box cutter rode to class and work in my hip pocket. It used replaceable single edge razor blades.
It was amazing how much it got used. Even though I carried a pocket knife, the box cutter ended up doing most of my urban cutting tasks.
And don’t discount a box cutter’s value in the wilderness. A trapper acquaintance uses a box cutter to make certain specialized cuts when skinning raccoons.
The cheapest box cutters go for about a dollar each. Lock blade box cutters are also available. I keep a box cutter in a kitchen drawer, hanging on my tool rack in the garage and in every tool box. Use the box cutter and save the edge on that survival knife.
Swiss Army Knife Classic: A knife that always makes my short list of “Cutlery to Have” is the Classic. This tiny, 2-1/2 inch SAK fits on a keychain, and subsequently, will be the knife that gets carried the most.
A Classic, combined with a large folder and/or rigid blade, should cover just about any wilderness/urban cutting needs that might come up. The Classic has a tweezers, scissors, toothpick, blade and fingernail file (I re-grind the tip of the file to fit the hinge on my glasses.)
You’ll go from wondering what good the Classic would be, to wondering how you got along without it.
I promise. (Check out the review.)
None of these knives would be my first or even second choice for a do-it-all survival knife. But any of them are better than nothing, and beat improvising a cutting tool from a glass shard.
Survival gear has to be convenient to carry, affordable and easily available. Any of these knives can fullfill these requirements. And all of them are a good investment for your survival gear.
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