The 3 Top Best Fighting Knives for Soldiers and Marines

soldier shaking hands with an Iraqi

Can you guess what knife this LT is wearing?

Are you a soldier looking for a nice tactical knife to attach to your belt? Or, are you a knife enthusiast looking for a wicked fighting knife to add to your collection? Look no further. This article will discuss the top 3 best-selling fighting knives ever made. These are knives used by actual soldiers and marines in combat. The difference between these knives versus other “fighting knives” is that they are field tested. Yes, that crazy shaped knife you seen online that is labeled a combat knife is not really field testing–maybe in the designer’s fantasy.

Do you want a REAL fighting knife or a poser fighting knife? Only real fighting knives are listed below.

What to Look for in a Fighting Knife

Name M9 USMC ZT 0160
Brand Ontario Ka-bar Zero Tolerance
Sheath Synthetic Leather Synthetic
Steel 420 1095 14C28N
Length 7″ 7″ 5″
Blade Razor Razor Razor
MSRP $100 $89 $175
Amazon $95 $50 $128

First off, you should make sure that the knife you are buying complies to uniform standards. You don’t want to buy a slick knife to find out that your First Sergeant won’t allow you to carry it.  If you happened to purchase a knife that is a no-go, you can always carry it around in your pocket instead of on your belt–if no one can see it, it is OK.

A tactical knife must be black or colored in a way that reduces shine. You do not want a glossy coat or a bright color. Once again, bright colors are a no-go and you will be forced to place them in your pocket.

You can get a fixed blade or a folding blade knife but drawing a fixed blade knife is always faster than a folder. Also, since you can attach your knife to your webbing, it just makes more sense to get a fixed blade–you can get some really long fixed blades whereas folders are limited in blade length.

monkies fighting with knives

No knife fight looks like this.

Many people wonder about what steel they should pick for a combat knife. You have basically three options: stainless steel, carbon steel, or a hybrid. Stainless steel is soft and dulls easily. It also allows you to sharpen it easily and it can withstand a lot of abuse without cracking. Carbon steel holds an edge for a very long time but can chip under heavy use. It also rusts much faster than stainless steel. There are also high carbon stainless steels that gives you the best of both worlds. The only downside to this is that it is more costly than the other two choices.

The sheath of the knife is very important as well. A poor sheath is dangerous. You can cut yourself reaching for your knife or, even worse, lose your knife during a march. You can go for the classic leather sheath or a synthetic sheath. The leather ones are quite slick but won’t do well in high moisture climates. The synthetic sheaths are cool but the quality varies a lot. Some synthetic sheaths just suck and are basically nylon. Others are hard plastic that really adds value to the knife.

How long should a fighting knife be? It should be longer than 3 inches (the length of a pocket knife) and less than 12 inches (the length of a bowie). Longer knives are good for getting hard work done because the length gives you leverage. Smaller knives are better for detailed work.

The M9 Bayonet

photo of the m9 bayonet

One of the funnest knives you will ever use.

This is the classic government issued bayonet that attaches to a M16 or M4. Anyone who has been thrown the bayonet course at basic training is familiar with this knife. However, what you may not have noticed is that the ones you use in training suck. Most are old, rusted, and dull. If you get your hands on a new M9, you will see that these knives ROCK.

Not only can you attach it to your AR-15 or Mossberg 590, you can also use the sheath as a great attachment to any MOLLE gear or your belt. It blends right in with your uniform as well.

Now, this knife was designed to be a work horse and it is that; however, it is made of 420 stainless steel. This is good if you hand sharpen a knife once a month. The reason why the Army decided to use 420 stainless was because carbon steel is too brittle for bayonet use. Also, the sharpness doesn’t really matter for bayonetting since the primary action is stabbing, not slashing.

Another thing I dislike about this knife is that it the $100 MSRP. If you don’t know, the government buys this knife too and that is what drove the price up. I don’t think the M9 is worth that much money compared to other knives on the market. For $100, you can buy some really awesome knives. However, if you own an AR15, get this knife since it is one killer attachment!

The Ka-Bar USMC Knife

WWII photo of a knife inspection

WWII of a quarter master inspecting his supplies.

This is the original Ka-Bar design that was issued since WWII. It features a 7 inch blade with a full tang leather handle. These knives have been around for ages and are respected by anyone in the military. There are stories of fathers passing on their Ka-bar to their sons and, all these years later, the Ka-bar still cuts like new.

The Ka-bar comes with a very nice leather sheath that has the USMC stamp right on it. The sheath has a belt loop. The sheath compliments the knife very well in my opinion because the leather of the sheath matches the leather of the handle.

The knife uses 1095 steel. This is a good steal that balances blade retention with ease of sharpening: you won’t need a professional to sharpen the knife for you. In my opinion, this steel is a step up from the M9’s 420 stainless steel.

The Ka-bar USMC knife is Ka-bar’s top selling knife. The company actually changed its name to Ka-bar because the knife was so popular. This knife currently has 5 stars on Amazon with over 280 reviews. All reviews are raving. Read more here.

Zero Tolerance ZT 0160

photo of ZT 0160 knife and case

Insanely slick and modern.

Zero Tolerance is a brand that is under the Kershaw corporation. Zero Tolerance is targeted at high-end knife buyers: people who are willing to pay for a great knife. The build and materials used in Zero Tolerances are usually higher quality than mass produced knives. I usually won’t include a top-shelf knife in a review that contains mass produced knives but, hey, the M9 is $200 and this is only $110. Plus, we needed something to compete against the Ka-bar :-).

The steel used is 14C28N steel, a type of stainless steel originally used for making razor blades. The steel gives can be sharpened to a razor edge very easily and will stay sharp for quite some time. 14C28N is a very high quality steel that Kershaw likes to use a lot.

The handle is made of G-10 grip. Most guns handles are made of G-10 grip (like the ones on an M-16). G-10 is made of layers of fiberglass glued together. The ZT0160 uses G-10 grip that is lazered in a diamond pattern. When you hold it, it gives you great grip with very little weight. It also doesn’t get sweaty after long use. compared to leather, this is a very good alternative if you want a more modern look.

The knife comes with a synthetic sheath that compliments the modern design well. Some people just don’t like the sheath whereas others enjoy it: I think it is a matter of taste. Read more here.


USMC birthday cake cutting ceremony with ka-bar knife.

Marine cuts the USMC birthday cake with a Ka-bar.

So, if you are about to hit the field and want a cool knife to carry around, which one should you pick? If you just want a solid, go to knife, get the Ka-bar. It has been proven time and time again for 3 generations. It is also a great piece of art to have. (You can get an Army verion if you are not a Marine).

The Zero Tolerance is a good choice if you are looking for a modern take on knives. The handle, blade, and sheath are all comparable with the Ka-bar in my opinion. You are paying almost double the price of the Ka-bar but you do get a very slick-looking knife. The Ka-bar was also my best pick for survival knives.

I would avoid the M9 bayonet unless you have some cash to kill and some war memories to relive. For $200, it is too expensive and you can get a much better quality knife for the same price.

So, you found your perfect knife, now what? You can check out some awesome throwing knives to give you that one-two strike that’ll take any enemy down. You can also pair the throwing knife with an awesome throwing axe. Also, don’t forget to comment!


  1. My father was in WWII pacific, while growing up and becoming a rough woodsman, I found his kabar and would sneek it out and use it. Became quite good at throwing it and the military hatchet. The better I got the further away from target I would go and the harder it would be thrown…Ugh’ I broke off the end on the handle on a dougfir bad throw. Man was he upset… I welded it back on short one leather ring, still feel bad about that… Still think a good fixed blade should be thrown and have not found anything durable enough to withstand it. Not interested in ‘throwing’ knives rather a real knife. Any suggestions?

    1. That’s because anything that is soft/springy enough to handle the shock of impact from being thrown will be too soft to hold a proper edge. In this instance you really can’t have both. Suprisingly people still argue that you can, however the evidence is in the lack of being able to find one. As close as you are going to be able to get is a custom that has been differentially heat treated. But still the knife is going to suffer from the stress and eventually break. This will happen sooner than later.

  2. Art, While stationed in Fulda, Germany in the early 80s, I bought an C.J. Herbertz Bärentöter throwing knife that had a 5inch Solingen blade with a leather disk handle. It is perfectly balanced and throws like nothing else I have used.
    Search online, or check Ebay, Amazon, etc…

  3. My father witnessed Pearl Harbor as a 17yo Air Force Draftsman. His last assignment was a loader for the Enola Gray in 1945. He carried a Cattaraugus 225Q while stationed on Tinian Island. Not sure how he acquired it, but I remember he would always carry it when hunting or taking the family out to target practice. He made his peace with God 29 July 1992.
    My sister gave this to me in 1995, after receiving a box of his personal items from his 2nd wives family. The sheath was missing, it’s 6inch blade stained, with a few rust spots, the point rounded and the handle was a bit loose. So far I have cleaned the blade with steel wool and some honing oil. There is pitting from the rust in a couple of spots, and it would seem that someone tried to sharpen it with a grinder, missed a few times , and thankfully gave up before any real damage was done.
    I am using a Smith’s Sharpening Kit and have a nice sharp edge. I went to the local swap meet and found a thin leather sheath for $2, finding that you get what you pay for. The 2nd time I sheathed the knife, it left a half inch slice along the top rivet. Live and learn…

  4. I would add the US Air Force Survival Knife to that list. It has a 5″ blade of 1095 steel, the knife if big enough for fighting and yet small enough for everyday cutting chores. It does not take up as much space on one’s TA-50 as the larger knives. A soldier can buy one at the PX for about $30 new.

  5. K-Bar makes a great plastic sheath for the K-Bar. I bought one to reduce the wear & tear on the fiberglass one that my father’s USN K-Bar came in. He got it in WWII. No idea where.

  6. @Art…well I disagree with throwing the knife for anything other then play purpose (or distraction if you have 2 knives I guess) Ill point to the SOG Seal pup if you havent tried it. Get it serrated. Forego the kydex sheath for the nylon. Good all around knife. Geared more to fighting than survival, but itll stand up to almost every task you need in that respect. It is also fun to throw, and I’ve never broken one. Good knife for around 70 bucks.

  7. Kabar is a awesome knife but no soldier goes around a corner with one, if he had the pre thought he’d have a tomahawk, you only use a knife as infantry once bundled by the enemy so the best fighting knife is one that you can use in a wrestle therefore the British commando knife is best proven by US/UK during ww2

  8. The hand guard on the KA Bar is rattling because the leather washers are drying and shrinking . I was USMC in 80s. And still have my KA Bar. Also rattled after wet and dry. You can apply C L P oil.Or plain olive oil to leather. every now and then. Leather expands and rattle stops

  9. The leather washers on the KA BAR dry and shrink over time . Causing the hand guard to rattle. I was in USMC in the 80s and still have my KA BAR . Did same thing. Apply C L P. Or knife honing oil or olive oil to leather. The leather absorbs oil and expands. Rattle will stop and guard will be tight

  10. constatine what is your email. I got your call today and don’t know how to call back lol

  11. I do agree with Mick the best knife is still the fearburn Sykes issued to HM Marine Commando dating from WW2 and still standard issue it has a exalent double edge blade and a brass bomal holding the handle to the knife the USMC KA BAR is reley only good as a survival knife not a fighting knife if you want a slash and dash knife you would want to take with you a Kukri deadly in the right hands just look at the Gurkha,s

  12. My father had a Marbles 5 in fixed blade.Carried through the Aleutian islands,I lost it in a housefire.Used the issue bayonet and junk knives in 1 tour of ‘Nam.Best fighting implement is an entrenching tool IMHO.Or run Lol

  13. I, finally, got a US Air Force ‘survival knife’, recently. I own an after market Kabar, as well as a large Bowie and even an Arkansas toothpick, (Bud K Knives) amongst my small ‘collection’. The AF survival knife has about a 5″ blade, instead of the 7″ Kabar, the 13-1/2″ Bowie, or the 15″ of the Arkansas toothpick. I also own a British Commando knife, with a 7″ blade. Of all of them, for carrying purposes, I far prefer the AF knife. It is shaped like a smaller version of the Kabar, comes in a leather belt sheath with a metal squared off tip and a sharpening stone, in a pouch for the purpose on the sheath.

Leave a Comment