The Bowie knife has a long history that stretches back almost two centuries. Popularized in the early 1900s by the legendary knife fighter James Bowie, the knife has stood the test of time owing to its versatility.
What Is a Bowie Knife?
Historians cannot seem to agree on the exact details of its origins since it is hard to separate fact from fiction many decades later. But this much we know: The knife acquired its legendary status after James Bowie used it in the famous Sandbar brawl that followed a family gun duel.
What Are Bowie Knives Used For?
According to legend, Bowie used the knife to subdue his assailants even after having been shot and stabbed severally. Experts and knife enthusiasts cannot agree on what qualifies as a Bowie knife.
Indeed, many variations have developed over the years.
But generally, it is a large knife with a long fixed blade (mostly 12 inches) that fits into a sheath. You can use it for almost anything, including self-defense, chopping down trees, hunting, fishing, and even gardening.
What Defines a Bowie Knife?
In this article, we list the best Bowie Knives on the market. But let’s first look at what you need to consider before buying one.
Traditionally, carbon steel was the most preferred material for the blade, but modern Bowie knives also use advanced stainless steel alloys that are just as good or even better.
Both options are strong and will take any form of abuse you throw their way without breaking down. They are also easier to sharpen and tend to retain sharpness for longer.
A Bowie knife’s blade could be as short as 5 inches or as long as 15 inches, depending on the type. Large blades have a more cutting edge and will be perfect for heavy-duty tasks such as chopping wood or hunting.
On the other hand, smaller blades are best suited for high precision tasks such as skinning. The size of the blade affects the weight of the knife.
For instance, if you want a self-defense tool, a larger blade will be harder to yield. Instead, consider a lightweight, medium-length blade to give you more control.
The Material of the Handle
A handle made from poor quality materials will not stand the test of time. When comparing handles, you should opt for a durable material with a comfortable grip.
Bone, wood, and antler are all attractive and comfortable options. But synthetic blends like micarta, Kraton polymer, and rubber are more durable and provide a firmer grip.
Design of the Handle
Apart from the materials, the design of the handle also affects a knife’s usability. An ergonomically designed handle is easier to hold and provides a firm grip for more control.
To provide a better grip, some Bowie knives will have contoured handles, while others may include a hook at the end of the handle. You can also add a covering material over the handle, such as natural rubber, for a more comfortable grip.
Tang refers to the shank that connects the blade to the handle. A full tang blade will not break with heavy-duty use. But a half tang is likely to break when used with a heavy blade.
A sheath is a great addition to your Bowie knife. Apart from protecting you and others from harm, the plastic lining also helps to keep the blade sharp for longer.
And thanks to the strap, you can easily attach the sheath to your pants or belt for safe carrying and easy access. But not all sheaths are equal.
While a nylon sheath may not last very long, a leather sheath is stronger and more durable, and you should expect it to house your knife for a long time to come.
The 10 Best Bowie Knives You Could Buy
Like with throwing knives, the list of Bowie knives on the market is long and non-exhaustive. With so many options available, finding the best option for your needs may not be easy.
Luckily, we went ahead and tested all the popular options on your behalf. The following is a list of the best Bowie knives, dive in and take a look.
With 125 years of experience in making knives and other tools for the USA military, you can be sure they don’t disappoint. For the 9.75 inches blade, they use strong and durable high carbon 1095 steel and pair it with a Kraton handle that provides a firm and comfortable grip.
You also get a leather and Cordura sheath for safe carrying the 15.125″ tool and a limited warranty to protect you from manufacturing defects and other faults. The fact that this long knife is made in the USA is also comforting.
The Timber Rattler Western Outlaw is an attention grabber with its classic gray hardwood handle. You could buy it for its charming looks alone, but it performs nearly as well. Its 11 and 3/8 inches full tang steel blade is sharp right out of the box and will come in handy when performing a wide variety of tasks.
Apart from accentuating the knife’s aesthetics, the brass finger guard combines with the hook at the back of the handle to keep your hand from slipping during heavy-duty applications. And thanks to the leather sheath, you can easily carry the knife with you.
The knife was first used by the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War and is still a popular option among both active and retired servicemen 50 years later.
This USA made cutting tool features a 1095 carbon steel blade that is coated with epoxy powder for more strength and durability.
And its high-quality craftsmanship is backed by a lifetime warranty to give you peace of mind. It also includes a 100% leather sheath made from Mexico that protects you and others from harm while also keeping the 7-inch blade sharp for longer.
But the most interesting feature of the KA-Bar U.S. Marine Corps Bowie Knife is the handle that is made from stacked leather to give you a firmer and more comfortable grip.
If you prefer the classic look, you will love the Buck Knives 119 Special Bowie Knife. The ten and ½ inches tool features a classic hardwood cocobolo handle with palm swells to give you a more comfortable grip.
It also comes with a strong 6-inch clip point 420HC steel blade that is heat-treated using Buck Knives’ exclusive heating treatment.
Apart from making the blade stronger, the unique treatment that involves heating, freezing, and reheating also makes it sharper and corrosion-resistant.
And with the high-quality leather sheath, you can retain this sharpness for longer. This sheath also includes a snap fastener and a belt loop that enables you to attach it to your belt securely.
This large knife from Cold Steel features a uniquely curved Japanese AUS8A blade made from high-quality stainless steel. It is fixed on a Kray-Ex handle that feels incredibly comfortable in the hand while also being impervious to the elements.
At first glance, you will notice the secondary finger guard jutting from the handle that prevents your hand from slipping to the blade. And upon wielding it, you will be struck by how lightweight it feels despite its large size.
At only 12.4 ounces, this is the perfect tool for military combat and survival situations. Although the blade is razor-sharp out of the box, you can easily sharpen the Cold Steel Marauder Bowie Knife if it ever came to that.
Moreover, the plastic sheath will help maintain the sharpness for longer.
The 124 Frontiersman Fixed Blade Knife from Buck Knives combines beauty and functionality. Featuring a 16 and ¼ inches high carbon steel blade, this multipurpose Bowie is a good hunting companion and could also work as a survival or combat knife.
Like many tools from Buck, it is a testament to American craftsmanship. And the brand demonstrates confidence in its products once more by giving you a lifetime warranty should the knife ever break, and they rarely do.
The micarta handle will fit comfortably in your hand, and the aluminum finger guard will prevent your hand from slipping to the blade. Although the handle is large, the knife still feels lightweight.
Do you want a large Bowie knife at the best price, the United Cutlery UC2863 Marine Force Recon might tickle your fancy. At 16 and 3/8 inches in length, this Bowie is about an inch shy of a machete. It is large enough to be intimidating but is perfect for tough situations and even tougher users.
The 11 and ½ inches blade is made from AUS-6 stainless steel and perfectly fits into the over-molded rubber handle.
Concealing the blade may not be as easier as with other knives on this list, but its large size and partly serrated 11 and ½ inches blade allow for a wide range of applications. The best thing is that it feels like a firm handshake in your hand.
Just like the Ka-Bar U.S. Marine Corps Bowie Knife, the Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Knife from Becker has everything you would expect to find in a combat knife, and it is no wonder that it is used by all branches of the military and service members.
With a total length of 14 and ¼ inches and a weight of 1.05 pounds, the tool has an excellent weight and size ratio. So you will have an easy time wielding it in survival situations.
You will also love the high carbon 9-inch steel blade that is coated with epoxy powder to guard against corrosion and the ergonomically designed grivory handle that enables you to use the knife for long periods without feeling fatigued.
The ESEE Junglas Bowie Knife was designed originally for counter-narcotics operations in the Latin American jungle, but it is now used for a wide variety of applications worldwide.
The classic 1095 high carbon steel blade is reminiscent of the frontier era in the early 1900s and features a razor-sharp edge right out of the box.
It is easy to sharpen, and you can protect it from rusting and corrosion by cleaning and lubricating it properly. Thanks to the gray micarta handle that fits your hand like a glove, you can maintain a firm and comfortable grip while working.
But the best thing about this knife is the ESEE’s lifetime warranty that promises to repair or replace the tool in case it breaks with no questions asked.
SOG brings the original SOG Bowie knife that birthed the company back to life in this new adaptation that cuts and pierces just as well.
Like most SOG knives, the SOG Super Bowie Knife is uncompromising in quality and performance, and its durability is further guaranteed by the limited lifetime warranty that guards against defects in workmanship and faulty materials.
The blade is a 7.5-Inch AUS-8 metal with a clip point shape, and it is married with an ergonomically countered and well-balanced handle that is made from pure leather for a comfortable grip and classic natural look.
It also comes with an all-leather sheath for safe carrying and a sharpening stone that enables you to grind the blade back to perfection after it wears out with continued use.
If you want a knife that is easy to carry around, an automatic knife is your best bet. However, Bowie knives are more versatility and utilitarian.
But even knife experts cannot agree on what qualifies to be called a Bowie knife. As a result, these tools come in a wide range of sizes and shapes for different applications.
Although we can make a solid case for every knife on our list, the Buck Knives 124 Frontiersman Fixed Blade Knife stands out for its stellar performance and high-quality craftsmanship.
But if you’re looking for the best value buy, you could never go wrong with the Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife.