Bowie Knives: Top Choices For A Historic Blade
Bowie knives are large knives, usually worn on a leather sheath. And while Bowie Knives, named after the 19th-century pioneer, soldier, and slave trader Jim Bowie, were once a practical tool of the American west, they’ve largely fallen out of favor with true hunters and outdoors-folks. Instead, modern hunting knives tend toward smaller blades with high-tech steel, and bushcraft knives often use a different blade shape.
But Bowie Knives still have a strong following among some knife aficionados. As an avid hunter, outdoorsman, and knife collector, I was really curious about the modern Bowie knife and those who bought them. Would you still opt for a heavy, large clip-point blade with an exaggerated belly profile in the modern era? And if so, why?
The History of the Bowie Knife
In the early 1800s, pioneers in the American West needed a stout knife capable of cleaning big game. But during the era of single-shot muskets, knives also served a purpose as a self-defense weapon. That’s because, after the first shot, combat often became a hand-to-hand affair. Knives also were a primary tool, which often had to do many unexpected tasks. So they needed versatility, durability, and quite a bit of size and heft.
At the time, the Green River Knife was among the more popular blades. J Russell & Co shipped more than 60,000 of these butchers and kitchen knives to the west. It had a deep belly and enough blade edge to serve as a fine skinning knife and had enough size to be a formidable weapon. The Bowie Knife grew out of a similar need.
Jim Bowie, the knife’s namesake, was a prominent pioneer of the era. A Colonel in the Texian volunteer army, he was one of the Americans who died at the Battle of the Alamo.
According to the Texas Historical Society, Jim Bowie’s brother Rezin P. Bowie claimed to have invented the Bowie Knife in 1838 while they lived in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. He claimed that blacksmith Jesse Clifft, a close friend and neighbor, forged the knife according to Rezin’s design. While scholars disagree about who truly fabricated the knife, it’s very clear how the blade — a heavy butcher knife 9.25 inches long and 1.5 inches wide with a deep clip point and cross-guard — got its name.
Dozens of stories of Bowie’s exploits for some of the backbone of the “the American West” of lore. And while historians disagree about many of the tales about Bowie, a few a well-documented.
The Sandbar Fight and the Bowie Knife
While Jim Bowie certainly left an indelible mark on American history, his life was clearly violent and wrought with conflict. On September 19, 1827, Bowie his rival Norris Wright attended a duel on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi. While two other men were involved in the gunplay, it was Bowie who emerged as a legend.
After the duel, a brawl erupted among other attendees. During the brawl, Bowie was shot in the hip, hit over the head with an empty pistol, impaled by a sword cane, then shot and stabbed again. But in the melee, he managed to kill Wright with his large knife. Doctors then sewed up Bowie, who lived on, always carrying a large knife, until he died on March 6, 1836, as one of the American fighters during the Battle of the Alamo.
Knife Design and Bowie Knives of the 2020s
Today, the Bowie knife is something of an anachronism. While there are certainly still many knives that fit the definition of a Bowie knife, most serious knife users would tend toward other styles. Most bowie knives today are more decorative in nature, while hard-use knives, fighting knives, and hunting knives, have evolved using higher-end materials.
But you’re probably here because you googled the term “best bowie knife.” And I’m not going to disappoint you. If you’re looking for an excellent large knife for hard use that mirrors the original definition of a Bowie knife, read on. I have some great selections for you below. And even if you just want a badass-looking knife to round out your Crocodile Dundee Halloween costume, well, I included a couple of those too.
So check out the 10 knives below for some solid options that would serve many uses in the outdoors, combat, or survival situations.
- Our Top Choice: Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Fixed Blade Combat Bowie Knife
- Great Combat Blade: Ka-Bar US Marine Corps Bowie Knife
- A Beautiful Classic Bowie: Condor Undertaker Bowie Knife
- Iconic American Fixed Blade: Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman Fixed Blade Knife
- Big, Tough, and Heavy-Duty: SOG Super Bowie Fixed Blade
- Heavy Duty Budget Bowie: Ka-Bar 1278 KA Bar Heavy-Duty Warthog W/Sheath
- Effective and Affordable: Schrade SCHF45 Leroy 16.5in High Carbon S.S. Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife
- Big Budget Bowie Knife: Mossy Oak Survival Knife
- A Good Budget Machete-Bladed Bowie: Cold Steel Black Bear Bowie Knife
- Value Bowie Knife: Mossy Oak 14-inch Bowie Knife
The Best Bowie Knife
The Becker BK-9 is, bar none, one of the best hard-use bushcraft knives on the market. It’s also a top fighting knife, and one of the few selections here that fall into the traditional definitions of a Bowie knife, thanks to its 9-inch blade.
The KA-BAR brand designed the Becker BK-9 for excellence in use and service. And the brand has been around since 1898, so it knows a thing or two about knife design. This particular model is an icon of hard-use knives and called a “do-all survival chopper” by GearJunkie’s knife expert Anthony Sculumbrine.
Knife designer Ethan Becker built this knife with a wonderfully versatile handle that’s extremely comfortable in the hand. So users can swing it, baton it through logs, and even do fine work with the pointed tip. Regardless, it’ll give you a good firm grip and is pleasant to hold.
Ka-bar makes the BK9in the USA from popular 1095 cro-van steel. This popular steel is durable, tough, and easy to re-sharpen in the field. The only real negative is that it requires some care, and should be oiled regularly to protect it from corrosion. The ergonomic handle reduces the occurrence of user fatigue.
We love this Bowie knife because of its durability and quality. It is among the best Bowie knives on the market and used by all other branches of the military. For more amazing blades like this, check out our guide to the best neck knives.
Used by all branches of the military
Great for outdoor use and bushcraft
Tested to ensure durability
1095 Cro-Van steel blade
- Weight1.05 pounds
Tough high carbon steel blade
Comfortable handle scales
Poorly made sheath may need upgrading
Needs frequent sharpening
Our next knife is the KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife. This fixed-blade knife has a strong reputation among combat personnel around the world. K-Bar manufactures it from 1095 Cro-Van steel, a common but good material for this kind of blade. It has a 20-degree angle and a straight-edged 7-inch blade. Besides its durable build, this unit delivers impressive performance and top-notch durability thanks to its robust construction.
This marine corps fighting Bowie knife comes with a leather sheath. It also has a gold-plated pommel and guard which makes it one of the perfect gift ideas for the celebration of retirement or a military anniversary. The included sheath is highly protective and, in combination with the robust and rugged design of the Ka-bar knife, your knife will remain an icon in the sight of both friend and foe, be it for personal use or use in service.
1095 Cro-van steel
Edge angles – 20 degrees
7″ straight edge blade
The overall length of 11.875 inches
- Weight11.2 ounces
Comfortable to use
Versatile and durable
Screws can come loose
Handle can be slippery when wet
High carbon 1075 steel
- BrandCondor Tool & Knife
- Weight1.5 Pounds
Classic bowie knife design
1075 high carbon steel works well for big knives
Walnut wood handle is beautiful and functional
Quality control issues may lead to poor sheath functionality
The Buck knife is an all-American icon designed by a family-owned business with four generations of leaders. While not quite the icon of the Buck 119 Special, the Buck 124 Frontiersman Fixed Blade Knife has a longer blade, making it closer to the historical design of the best Bowie knives.
The Buck 124 has a 6.25″ 420HC steel blade. While 420HC is entry-level knife steel by most companies, Buck is renowned for its ability to harden 420HC. In its use, Buck proves that 420HC steel can offer good strength, edge-retention, and corrosion resistance. It’s also easily re-sharpenable, even with small tools in the field.
While some older models of the Frontiersman may have partial tangs, the current model has full tang construction, which contributes significantly to its functionality and durability. It has a deep choil and integrated finger guard, which improves the knife’s ergonomics.
Of course, the handle of the Frontiersman means business. The durable micarta handle resists damage by chemicals or moisture and offers an excellent grip even when wet. While certainly not a cheap knife, this USA-made Buck knife can last for generations with good care. And it comes with Buck’s Forever Warranty, which means you can make a return whenever you’re not satisfied with the brand’s service. You may also like some of the best Karambit knives from our list, so don’t forget to check them out.
With leather sheath
Full tang construction
Black micarta handle
Protective leather sheath with snap fastener
- BrandBuck Knives
- Weight1.4 pounds
Razor-sharp 420HC steel blade
Great for all outdoor tasks
A little big for some users
The leather sheath could be improved
The SOG Super Bowie is a beast of a tactical knife. This model, new in 2019, improved on its predecessor, the original SOG Bowie knife. It has a full-tang, 7.5-inch AUS-8 steel blade and leather handle. The clip point blade modernizes the classic bowie without losing sight of the original. To make it more resistant to the elements, SOG added a black Tini finish that guards against corrosion, something we don’t see with every Bowie knife nowadays.
While this knife means business, the ergonomic handle is a joy to look at and even better in the hand. SOG knifemakers build the handle by hammering rings of leather over the tang. The design results in a beautifully ringed handle that fits comfortably in the hand. It provides a robust, secure grip.
While this is certainly a durable knife, some users will find its weight (17.4 ounces) too heavy for practical use.
For all the knife enthusiasts, we have also prepared a selection of the best boot knives, so be sure to check them out.
7.5″ aus-8 blade
Leather washer handle
Black tini finish
- Weight1.09 pounds
Durable AUS-8 steel full-tang blade
Ergonomically contoured handle
Perfect for all types of tasks
Too heavy for some users
The Ka-Bar Warthog Bowie Knife is another favorite from the brand and comes highly recommended based on several reviews from customers around the world. It features the body designed from premium material and a spectacular blade fashioned from the best, high-quality carbon steel metal. The quality of this metal is hard to contest, and this is what helps the warthog knife stand out. We love the sheath included in the overall design of this original Bowie knife and its synthetic fabric that keeps the blade protected and away from curious hands. The Ka-Bar warthog knife is manufactured in the USA, with some models made externally and imported. It is comfortable to use and delivers a high level of sharpness that can be used for activities such as hunting. It can also be used as a camping knife.
Made in the USA
Blade length: 6 3/4 inch
Overall length: 12 1/4 inch
Steel: 1085 carbon
- BrandKA-BAR KNIVES
- Weight1.05 pounds
Comfortable ox hide handle
Holds edge extremely well
Iron could be better
Sheath needs improvement
Schrade built the SCHF45 Leroy Knife as a burly outdoors survival knife, and it’ll definitely do the job at a very good price. This knife starts out with a full tang, high-carbon 8Cr13MoV steel blade. Schrade coats this blade with a titanium finish to guard against corrosion. Form all that into a relatively massive (18.5 x 4.5 x 1.75 inches) tool, and you’ve got a bowie knife fit for hacking down jungle foliage. It’s a big, burly knife, and if that’s your jam, this one could fit the bill.
But beware, the Leroy Knife borders on sword length. And it weighs in at a remarkable 23.6 ounces, so it will really weigh you down. The Schrade company has been in this business for decades and has many tools and knives under its brand name. The business focuses on a wide variety of sturdy tools and tactical pens that last. Our guide to the best EDC knives features more amazing blades you will love.
Blade length of 10.4 inches (26.3 cm)
Titanium coated high carbon stainless steel
The convenient black thermoplastic belt sheath
The blade will not slip
- Weight2.63 pounds
Sharp, sturdy, and durable
Comfortable to use
Handle scales and tang not well-matched
This next bowie knife from Mossy Oak is a capable survival companion at a budget price. The Mossy Oak Survival Knife carries a 15-inch blade crafted from 440C stainless steel. It’s decent steel that holds an edge fairly well, and about as good as you could hope for at this price. It’s also resistant to rust.
The back of this blade has saw-like jimping. While you can use it to saw through some hard objects, we’re not a fan of that design as it makes it more difficult to baton the blade when using it to split wood. But we’ll forgive it a little given the super-low pricing and decent materials.
This blade even comes with a fire-starting Ferocerrium stick and sharpener, which is pretty mind-blowing given the price.
As it’s a budget blade, the handle is made from TPR rubber, which is soft but not great over time. It ships with a nylon sheath. While not a serious contender compared with other knives on the list, it’s an aggressive blade at a good price that looks meaner than most of the bowie knives on the market.
10-inch 440C stainless steel blade
TPR rubber-coated handle
Sharpener and fire starter included
- BrandMossy Oak
- ModelSurvival Knife
- Weight1.63 pounds
One of the meanest looking bowie knives available
Comes with a fire-starter
Large and multipurpose blade
Blade chips easily
Cold Steel manufactures affordable, high-quality knives. The brand has a solid reputation for a good value on knives that won’t break the bank. The Cold Steel Black Bear Bowie Knife is one of the most affordable knives in this category. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that it has a 12-inch 1055 mid-carbon steel blade and a classic, utilitarian design.
Consumers report that it arrives relatively sharp but could definitely benefit from some extra sharpening. The blade is extremely pointed and it flares out towards the end. This makes it perfect for cutting through soft bushes and less suited to chopping wood. Having said that, consumers report that it’s still okay at batoning thin logs. We’d just prefer a thicker, heavier blade. The handle is made from polypropylene, making it super durable but not that comfortable in your hand. Still, what do you expect for a knife that costs just over $20?
12-inch 1055 mid-carbon steel blade
High-impact polypropylene handle
- BrandCold Steel
- ModelBlack Bear Bowie
- Weight16.6 ounces
Easy to sharpen
Proven track record
Not the best for real survival situations
The Mossy Oak 14-inch Bowie Knife has a lot going for it. It’s towards the cheaper end of what you should expect to pay for a bowie knife but it’s still a high-quality tool. This is a really pretty knife, with a rosewood handle, finished off with a brass pommel and guard. It gives it an antique look that we adore. And, down the middle of the handle, you can see the full tang blade, showing you just how solid this knife is. The blade runs a cheap 3CR13 steel, which has good corrosion resistance and decent wear resistance at a super low price. While it won’t stack up against more expensive blades, for the occasional user it’s surprisingly good.
Another reason customers love this bowie knife is the genuine leather sheath. It has an integrated belt loop and snap fastener to keep your knife secure. We’d pay the full price of the knife just for this sheath!
8.5-inch 3CR13 steel blade
Full-tang wood handle
Genuine leather sheath
- BrandMossy Oak
- Weight1.32 pounds
Classic, antique look
High-quality leather sheath
Strong full-tang blade
Could have used better steel
Bowie Knife Buying Guide & FAQ
As with any tool or piece of gear, you should first consider how you plan to use a bowie knife in the real world. If you're truly looking for a hunting knife for cleaning wild game, or a bushcraft knife, you likely don't need such a long blade. But if you have your heart set on a 6-inch or longer blade, or if you just want a big, burly knife, there are some really good knives on the market. And our top choices, above, are definitely capable of hard work in the field. Below you'll find some of the considerations we take into account when selecting the best bowie knives.
Durability - Big knives, which you will likely use to baton through wood or swing at the brush, need to be tough. Our top choices use time-tested materials such as 1095 and 420HC steel, which have proven themselves through countless hours in the field. Beyond quality knife steel, look for good handles. Micarta is a wonderful material for knife handles, and one of our favorites. Finally, a bowie knife should have a full-tang handle, meaning that the steel of the blade runs from the tip of the blade to the pommel.
Length - Let's be frank: bowie knives are big. For most users, a knife with a blade over about 6 inches tends to be a liability. It's harder to use them at fine tasks, and easier to injure yourself or a bystander through an errant slip or swing. But when it comes to big chopping knives, the length is part of the trademark design and can add a degree of utility for bushcrafting. If you're in that market, choose the shortest blade that will get the job done well. Overly-long knives will weigh more without adding utility.
Grip - Look for good materials in the handle of your Bowie knife as they significantly determine your grip comfort. A good handle will even improve the safety of the knife, keeping your hands firmly in place even when wet. We're big fans of micarta and G-10 handles. These are very durable, and provide good friction for your grip even when wet.
Bowie Knife FAQ
Q: What is a bowie knife?
A: A Bowie knife is a large knife based on historical blades used for hunting, combat, and survival. Bowie knives often have a wide blade, with modern models made from carbon steel. For protection, every Bowie knife has its sheath that is usually designed and created from leather, plastic, Cordura, or Kydex to keep the blade away from curious hands when it's not needed. The name Bowie was taken from Jim Bowie, a pioneer and military officer who died at the Battle of the Alamo. Since then, Bowie knives are used in the military by officers for both services and in their personal lives.
Bowie knives can be used for many things, mostly occurring outdoors. It is a versatile but large knife that undertakes a myriad of activities with ease, so long as you don't mind it weighing you down.