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6 Best KA-BAR Knives [Hands-On]

Ka-Bar knives are the gold standard for fighting knives, but how are their other models? We hands-on review 6 of their most popular to see if they're worth it.

A good knife can make all the difference, for utility and for self-defense.

But as anyone who has actually carried a knife for work can tell you, not all knives are made equal.

Everyone knows that the Ka-Bar combat knife is one of the gold standards for knives, but Ka-Bar makes a whole range of knives now — so are they any good?

Ka-Bar All
Ka-Bar! Top rotating clockwise: Potbelly, Ka-Bar Short, Ka-Bar Full Size, Hunter, Small Boi?, Coypu, MULE.

Branching out from the standard combat knife, we’re going take a close look at a range of Ka-Bars to see how the rest of their line up fairs.

Read on and you’ll discover my favorite Ka-Bars (and maybe your next EDC)!

Why Ka-Bar?

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock since World War 2 — here is a quick rundown on Ka-Bars.

Really the story starts with World War 1 and the Mark 1 Trench Knife. Possibly the coolest looking military issued knife since the time of the Romans, it is also kind of… crapy.

Mark 1 Trench Knife
Mark 1 Trench Knife

Expensive to make, cumbersome to use, too brittle for a utility knife, and did not allow for very much versatility in combat handling. But it wouldn’t be until after World War 2 that we finally replaced it.

Enter: The Ka-Bar.

7-inch blade KA-BAR

Designed in 1942, adopted in 1944, the Ka-Bar has served in every American theatre of war since. From Korea to Kosovo, the Fall of Saigon to Fallujah, where American warfighters have gone — so has the Ka-Bar.

With that legendary pedigree in mind, can the rest of their products live up to expectations?

Best KA-BAR Knives

1. Short Ka-Bar

It should come to no surprise that the classic Ka-Bar combat knife is on this list… kind of.

If you need to fight a bear or an insurgent, the full-sized 7″ Ka-Bar is the knife to choose. But for the rest of us, it’s a bit much.

Ka-Bar short and sheath
Short Ka-Bar and hard plastic MOLLE sheath

The Ka-Bar Short is exactly what the name says, all of the ruggedness of the real thing just smaller dimensions.

Made in the USA and featuring a 5.25″ 1095 Cro-Van blade, this is hands-down one of my favorite camp knives if I’m feeling classic. It’s large enough to be useful, but small enough to not get in the way.

This is modeled after the more modern Ka-Bar featuring a Kraton G handle that is grippy even when wet.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

It even comes with a MOLLE compatible sheath that is functional and well made, not pretty to look at but that’s okay.

Ka-Bar short

2. Adventure Potbelly

Do you need a knife that you can pull out and say “This is a knife”?

Well then, this Potbelly is the knife for you.

Coming in at a monstrous 7.25″ long, 0.25″ thick, with a 1095 Cro-Van blade and a huge belly — this is a workhorse knife, period.

It’s also just too big.

Ka-Bar potbelly on side
Ka-Bar Potbelly, thicc.

I admit I bought this knife because it looked cool. After using it though… it still looks cool, but it actually has a purpose also.

For backpacking, I always take a survival knife with me. A large knife that can chop, cut, split, and more. But this is a knife that lives in my pack, not on my person.

The huge belly on the Potbelly moves the weight of the knife forward and really does make chopping easier while the highly textured grip ensures you don’t send it flying.

Ka-Bar potbelly handle
Potbelly handle is covered in raised stipples, this doesn’t move in your hand even when swinging it.
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Carrying this beast of a knife is impractical at best, so it’s best left at the bottom of your pack until you actually need it. Alternatively, it does come with a great MOLLE seath. The sheath is every bit as durable as the knife, but it’s also on the heavy side.

Ka-Bar potbelly molle sheath
Potbelly Sheath

Small Boi

Mine also came with this small extra knife that I’ve come to call “Small Boi”.

Ka-Bar Small boi
Ka-Bar Adventure Piggyback, AKA Small Boi

Its real name is the Adventure Piggyback, but that’s a silly name. So far I have found it to be utterly useless.

Ka-Bar claims it is “perfect for skinning small game” but I haven’t bagged a squirrel to test it out on and I don’t plan to anytime soon. The Small Boi is well made and basically comes free with the Potbelly, but for me it isn’t a selling point.

But if you find yourself in a knife fight with a small rabbit or maybe a large rat, you can keep this on you just in case.

3. Folding Hunter

A more classic knife from a more civilized age.

The Folding Hunter is a throwback style that your grandfather likely carried as his EDC. But today feels a little dated.

Folding Hunter

However, Ka-Bar has done a nice job of updating this knife while keeping the retro-soul intact. Featuring G10 grips instead of wood and a reversible pocket clip, these are small nods to the modern age.

A feature or flaw depending on how you want to look at it is the blade material. Made of 5Cr15 Stainless Steel, this is on the softer side for steels.

But since it is a slightly softer steel, it takes a really nice edge and is very easy to sharpen. Using a good set of wet stones, I’ve been able to put an outstanding edge on this blade.

Opening the blade is smooth, but closing it is a bit clunky since it uses a straight lock in the back of the handle.

I don’t really like this style of lock since it’s hard to work without putting your fingers where they might get cut if you’re not careful and it’s effectively impossible to work one-handed.

Ka-Bar hunter, Coypu, mule
Ka-Bar Folding Hunter, Coypu, and Mule
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

If you need to cut boxes all day, this isn’t a great option. But if you’re looking for a classy knife to keep with you for the occasional use from tape to fish to whittling a stick, you can’t go wrong with a Folding Hunter.

4. Coypu Folder

For years I’ve carried a simple Kershaw knife as my EDC, but I wanted to upgrade and my hope was that the Coypu would be with me for the next several years.

Ka-Bar Coypu
Ka-Bar Coypu

After giving it a couple of weeks in my pocket, I’ve decided to try something else. Partly because 5.11 sent me a cool prototype knife to try out, but mostly because the Coypu is a great knife that is just a little too heavy for EDC.

Featuring a glass breaker and a seatbelt cutter, this knife doesn’t lack features. But features add weight.

While I didn’t try cutting any seatbelts, I did use the seatbelt cutter on other materials and found it to work outstandingly.

Ka-Bar Coypu
Ka-Bar Coypu, note the seatbelt cutter in the back. Very sharp and great for slicing.

The steel is 5Cr15 stainless, the grips G10, and the blade is 3.75″ long making the whole package almost 9″ when deployed.

Everything about the Coypu is thick, a little overbuilt, and well made. It fits my hand nicely and the blade strikes a nice mix of being small enough to be handy, but large enough and thick enough to muscle through most tasks.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

I did have one major issue though, but I can’t tell if it is a design problem or a manufacturing one.

If you open the knife with motivation, such as with a flick of the wrist, the blade will overtravel the lock and get stuck on a ledge.

Ka-Bar Coypu lock
Ka-Bar Coypu lock

Once caught, I can’t get it unstuck without something solid to wedge in there and force it.

If I was looking for a duty knife, I would recommend the Coypu — but also check your knife for the overtravel issue. If you know about it, it’s not a problem.

Since I’m not in a duty role, I keep mine in the center console of my vehicle right next to an IFAK.

5. Black MULE

This is actually my second Mule and possibly my favorite knife from Ka-bar.

If you want a lightweight, handy EDC knife, this isn’t it. If you want an EDC knife that you can also use as a hammer and will literally survive anything, the Mule is amazing.

Ka-Bar mule, Coypu, hunter
Ka-Bar MULE, Coypu, hunter

Weighing in at almost a full half-pound the Mule has some gravity to it. A 3.8″ blade made of AUS-8A Stainless Steel, it takes a great edge and is durable over long use.

My first Mule I used while working at a summer camp. 14+ hour days, 6 days a week, 8 weeks long. The amount of abuse I put that poor Mule through in such a short time should have destroyed most other knives.


But while my coworkers were replacing their knife mid-summer, my Mule survived. All the way until the last couple of days of summer when my Mule walked off…

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Ka-Bar offers the mule in a wide range of grips, serrated and non-serrated, and blade profiles. Personally, the Black Mule with a straight edge and a clip point is my pick.

6. USMC Ka-Bar

The legend itself. Ask any Marine and they will tell you that the Ka-Bar is one of the best knives ever made, and they would be right.

But that doesn’t always make it the best knife for you.

Ka-Bar full size with sheath
Ka-Bar full size with sheath

While I love my Ka-Bar, I almost never actually use it. As a survival knife, it is very basic and a little lacking in the chopping department, a feature I require from mine.

Since I’ve never been in a knife fight and probably never will, the combat aspect of the Ka-Bar is lost on me.

The fact remains though that the Ka-Bar is a knife that works. Made in the USA with a 7″ 1095 Cro-Van blade, this is a knife that you can depend on with your life — literally.

What I Carried KA-BAR (1)

It also enjoys a huge aftermarket making finding a sheath that you love relatively easy. And since it is nearly indestructible, it’s a knife that you can pass down to the kids knowing they will get decades of use out of it.

The Single Mark Ka-Bar with its leather-wrapped handle is the true classic, but if you want to actually use your Ka-bar effectively I would recommend the slightly more modern version with a Kraton G handle.

Ka-Bar full size
Full-sized Ka-Bar with Kraton G handle
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Leather is nice to look at but slippy in your hand when wet. Kraton G ensures your knife stays with you no matter what.

What’s your take on the OG Ka-Bar?

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (748)

Your Rating?

Parting Stabs

The Ka-Bar brand was built on the back of the Ka-Bar knife, in fact, they even renamed their company after the legendary knife.

While many other brands have been bought out or taken over by bean counters and accountants, Ka-Bar remains dedicated to making great knives at reasonable prices.

While they might not be the lightest weight or the prettiest to look at, you can always be sure that your Ka-Bar won’t fail.

What knife do you EDC? have any cool stories with your Ka-Bar? Let us know in the comments! If you’re ready to take your knife game in a weird direction, take a look at the Best Neck Knives!

CRKT Minimalist Neck Knife, Bowie
CRKT Minimalist Neck Knife, Bowie

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8 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    David Milisock

    I carried a Ka-bar for work and as civilian a tool. I have a few issued from WWll, Korea and a more modern leather 7" for carry. I also have an over 30 year old hunter. Great steel and they really hold an edge, yes with Arkansas sharpening stone sets you can shave with them.

    March 4, 2020 9:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I really like my ka-bar war sword. It’s great for camping, and a buddy made a custom stingray leather sheath that looks great!

    February 29, 2020 2:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Check out the kbar bk2 it's a great survival knife it's great for batoning and keeps an edge well. It would be difficult to skin and gut small game like a squirrel but I edc a leatherman free p2. I have the 3189 hunter too it's a sweet knife.

    February 28, 2020 7:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I always carried an Ontario Knife Company Spec Plus SP1 Ka-Bar with me in the field. I abused that thing in ways unthinkable to good military discipline, it did all I ever asked of it and more and never once failed me. Once you got a good edge on the steel it stayed there.

    February 27, 2020 6:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Cory B Shelton

    I have the 7 in Kbar black, 7 in USMC Brown Leather knife, Mule, I have put these three knifes through their fair share of work. I love Kbar its more than a brand. It is part of military history. Although I did not serve in the military I do know plenty about the use of this brand. My favorite is the Mule with Tanto tip. I have used this a a knife, a hammer, a screw driver (even when it didn't not fit). I wish i would of put some lock tight on the screws to preserve a little more. I wish I could get my hands on a real trench knife. That would be awesome. Take care guys.

    February 27, 2020 4:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Kershaw 3/4 ton is what I carry but I have an Ontario 5” In my pack that looks like the Kaybar 5 1/4”. Both knives have done a lot of work for many years. If I lose that Kershaw I’ll just order another. I’ve given them to friends as Christmas presents and they love them.

    February 27, 2020 4:25 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    What Todd said. Ka-Bar TDI.

    February 27, 2020 4:10 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    No TDI? That's one of the best edc knives on the market....

    February 27, 2020 3:39 pm
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