Bowie knives – what’s the best low-cost, high-value version?

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.



  1. No experience with the 10″ Camp, but I own the 18″ version, and use it for chopping down small trees. It’s a very useful tool for light brush work.

  2. You get what you pay for so swallow hard and sign the check…
    I’ve had cheap knives and expensive knives. There is no substitute for quality. ESPECIALLY when your life depends on it…
    I’m currently saving my change for a Kabar Becker Bowie. I’ve got different knives but I don’t have a fixed blade field knife. When I wore a parachute and camouflage clothing most of our outfit carried kabars or Gerber blades on the LBE and a Buck lock blade and a Swiss army knife for backup and small utility work.

  3. Last year I bought a surplus M9 bayonet (also made by Ontario iirc) for like 30 dollars, not sure it fits the specs desired but its a solid freaking knife and the one they sent me must have sat in an arms room or something because it was in WAY better shape than any bayonet I was ever issued. I’m pretty sure I got it from Midway.

  4. When I was reading up on the “Bowie knife” one of the features was the thick blade with the flat back so you could get your other hand on the back and push the whole knife down.
    You can’t do that with the back being a saw edge.

  5. Never got the point of paying big money for a knive.
    In all honesty when we talk about the basics: it’s a flat piece of steel stock that’s been sharped and heat treated.
    If I want “made in the US” I’ll pay for it – but if I just want a knife that uses the same freaking steel I’ll just buy something that has been made in china by illiterate monkeys. It’s a knife and 440C is 440C.

    And personally I don’t want a working knife to hold a wicked edge. It’s a tool that mostly gets used for prying open steel bands on containers and hacking some feisty kindling. It gets sharpened with a file every other year and it better likes it. 😀

  6. I read that Ford was ill(flu) when they filmed that scene, and he decided that he wasn’t up to the rigors of the action needed, and switched to guns.

  7. Can’t beat that Ontario bowie. Have had one for several years and use it working in yard. Ohia, guaivi, and such fall easily. The blade coating does drag on set wood, but it is well worth the good price.

  8. Frankly your arbitrary $50 limit eliminates too many possibilities from consideration. Think of it this way: how much does a good hotel room cost for a night? Around $100. A meal for two at a good restaurant? Again, $100. Your $50 limit eliminates quality products from Case, Cold Steel, Condor, Atlanta Cutlery,and many others. What it basically limits one to is Chinese-made unbranded products of dubious provenance and questionable quality.

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