Monday, March 23, 2015

What’s Wrong with the Ka-Bar Knife?

I noticed in your recent bug-out bag posting that the Ka-bar knife was missing. Any particular reason for its absence?

KA-BAR Full Size US Marine Corps  Fighting Knife, Straight
KA-BAR Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife $71.97
Hello Marvin,
You are making reference to this video that I posted showing a few survival knife options.

At the risk of opening a massive can of worms and offending half my readership, here it goes. Keep in mind, its just my opinion, based on years of using and studying knives:
The Ka-bar is the most famous combat utility knife in the world. In many ways, the Ka-bar is to the knife world what the Colt 1911 is to the gun world, meaning a time-proven classic.
The Ka-bar has many attributes, its greatest achievement being an excellent blade design that has proven to be an all-around ideal combat utility blade shape. You can fight with the ka-bar, you can cut with it, pry open boxes, cut open MREs, smash with its pummel and pretty much use it for anything that a solider needs a knife for. The Ka-bars legendary reputation doesn’t hurt its appeal either. For many years, the Ka-bar has been and still is a beloved, trusty companion.

Having said all this, the Ka-bar is not a perfect knife. The blade shape is fantastic by all accounts, and proof of this is that its by far the one that has inspired most other utility fighting blades, if not being downright copied. The stacked leather handle is also of sound design although the oval shape makes it a bit difficult to keep it from rotating in the hand when used forcefully in certain angles. Some Ka-Bar owners address this by sanding the leather handle and refinishing it to fit their specific hands better. The stacked leather material isn’t as bad as some seem to believe it to be. You’d think leather would just rot in front of your eyes in a matter of minutes accord to some accounts. In reality there are Ka-bars that have been well used for decades and are still very much serviceable. With minimum care, the handle in your ka-bar should outlast all of us. Having said that, synthetic materials are without a doubt stronger and more durable.

The Ka-bars steel crossguard is functional and will keep your hand from slipping forward but it can be bent. People battoning with their Ka-Bars have noticed how the crossgaurd can bend when hit by accident.
Maybe the most noticeable issue with the Ka-bar is its full length, narrow tang construction. The narrow tang is without a doubt is the Ka-bar’s weakest point. As great as the Ka-bar is, there’s simply no way in which the narrow tang construction can compare to a full tang knife. A full tang is a tang that shows all around the handle of the knife between two pieces of handle material. This will always be stronger, simply because it has considerably more steel and lacks stress points. As shown in the image above from KA-BARS website, the blade drops down to a narrow tang and does so at a 90 degree angle.

Image from 12Bravo at

This creates two clear stress points and when chopping , prying or batonning with it there’s a chance of breaking it at this point. The stacked leather handle provides basically no support, so any force applied to the handle goes directly to that narrow tang. Because of this, sometimes the handle in the Ka-Bar bends, which for all practical purposes is better than having it fail catastrophically.
If you want a Ka-bar style knife you have some options that have a similar blade and a much stronger construction. The Ontario SP6 Spec Plus Fighting Knife still has a narrow tang, but it is thicker than the original ka-bar and the transition from blade to tang is radiused, avoiding the stress points of a 90 degree angle shoulders. This is still a narrow tang knife and not as robust as a full tang knife. The closest you can get to a full tang version of a Ka-bar combat utility knife is going for the Becker BK7. Unless you are honestly trying to destroy the knife, you can beat on the BK7, pry and chop with little risk of breaking it.

The Ka-bar is still an overall great knife. Used responsibly and even giving it some honest hard work, for cutting and fighting as intended, the Ka-bar will last a lifetime. From a design point of view, there’s simply no way for a Ka-bar to take the extreme abuse a similar type of knife with a full tang can tolerate.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.


Don Williams said...

Your design analysis is correct. However, I would note that the gladius of the Roman soldier had the same half-tang construction as does the Kabar and yet the Romans conquered the known world with it.

Jennifer Martin said...

I do agree with the author that the Kabar knife is the best hunting camping knife which would be the best for any outdoors survival trips like camping, trekking, hiking and all.