I’ve had an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend over the past few days. He wants to buy a Bowie-style knife, but he’s budget-limited, and furthermore isn’t a knife expert or aficionado in any way. He wanted advice; but I’m not an expert in the field, so I was limited in what I could suggest.
We tossed ideas back and forth for a while, and came up with two sets of criteria. The first is for the best budget Bowie knife; low-cost, but high value-for-money in terms of quality, functionality, etc. We set an arbitrary limit of fifty dollars as a maximum price. The second category is for a no-holds-barred, any cost, anything-goes Bowie knife. This is, of course, wide open. There are Randall knives, and Bagwell bowies, and a host of other competitors, many costing well into three figures and some into four. I can’t afford them, and neither can he, so that’s up to the experts with deeper pockets to argue about.
We have a plethora of choices in the first category, for “budget Bowies”. I’ve tried half a dozen of the lower-cost blades in that category. To my mind and limited knowledge, the best overall utility and value-for-money proposition at that $50-or-less price point is currently the Ontario Knife Company 8684 SP10 Spec Plus Marine Raider, shown below.
It has a 9¾” blade with a black powder coat (useful to reduce light reflection at night), a Kraton handle that helps prevent it slipping in one’s grip when wet, and a decent but not unmanageable heft at almost 23 ounces. It’s a multi-purpose tool rather than a fighting knife, useful in camp and on the trail (with its relatively deep belly, the blade could even be used for skinning in a pinch). In that sense, i.e. overall utility, I find it comparable to the 10″ Kershaw Camp Knife (shown below), which is also available for less than $50.
My choice would be the Kershaw first, and the Ontario blade second, but that’s because I don’t have a particular preference for a Bowie-style knife. I like the Kershaw’s heft and balance in my hand (although I’ve tried and don’t dislike the Ontario’s – I just have my own preference). I’d have liked to have had either knife available in Africa during my years in the bush. The Glock field knife is cheaper than either, but just as useful for cutting. However, its lighter blade makes it less useful for chopping, and might be less strong when it comes to batoning. Whatever large knife I chose, I’d also carry a Mora knife for lighter tasks. They’re excellent value for money, and some models are very affordable. A big knife isn’t optimum for everything – too big can also mean too unwieldy.
When it comes to fighting with a knife, I’m ambivalent. I’ll use any of the alternatives above if I have to, and I’ll be grateful for them, but (on the basis of a modicum of unwelcome experience) in a knife fight I prefer the Indiana Jones technique. You get cut less that way.
I thought I’d throw this open to you, dear readers. What budget Bowie-style knife, or reasonable equivalent (like the Camp 10 above), would you recommend, and why? It has to cost less than $50 – that’s a hard limit, so please don’t exceed it. It also has to be tough and utilitarian. Furthermore, it can’t be a thinner, more flexible machete-style blade (like, for example, the Cold Steel Bowie Machete); it has to be a real working knife that can handle a broad variety of situations. Please let us have your suggestions in Comments.