One knife to rule them all? That would be the KA-BAR USMC fighting utility knife. I don’t say that arbitrarily either.
For example, If you gave someone a pencil and asked them to sketch an “army knife,” 9 times out 10 they’d draw an outline strongly resembling the KA-BAR USMC fighting/utility knife.
The KA-BAR USMC Fighting/Utility knife is easily the most recognizable and iconic fixed-blade of this century and for good reason. It has served at the side of the US armed forces for over 70 years including WW2, Korea and Vietnam. It is quite safe to say that no fixed-blade knife collection is complete without a USMC KA-BAR.
As with other well-respected knives, forgeries of the KA-BAR are common(even on Amazon). If you want the real deal, stick with a licensed dealer. I personally recommend BladeHQ because they usually beat Amazon prices and carry all the KA-BAR variants.
KA-BAR USMC Specs
- Price: 79.99 at Blade HQ / Check Latest Price on Amazon
- Made in the USA
- Overall Length: 11.9″/30.2 cm
- Blade Length: 7″/17.8 cm
- Blade Thickness: .165″/4.2mm
- Blade Steel: Full-tang, 1095 Cro-van with 56-58 RC hardness rating
- Blade profile: Plain edge, Clip point, Flat grind
- Weight: .7 lb/ 318g
- Handle: Stacked Leather
- Sheath: Leather (made in Mexico)
Whenever I hold the USMC KA-BAR I keep having the silly urge to say, “That’s not a knife… This is a knife!” in an Aussie accent.
The KA-BAR’s 7-inch bowie blade and stacked leather handle combine for an intimidating yet very visually pleasing effect. This knife exudes a character that other knives don’t have.
Good looks aside, the KA-BAR is unapologetically a tactical knife, meaning, it is a formidable self-defense weapon. While it is a decent survival knife, it is not as well suited for this task as the likes of the ESEE 6, KA-BAR Becker BK2 or the Gerber LMF2. (links to my reviews of each)
- Excellent value (under $100)
- Good quality 1095 steel
- Great look/imposing
- Light & Fast for self defence
- Full tang
- Genuine piece of American history
- There are more capable survival knives out there
- Leather handle version doesn’t like lots of water.
- Tang is not very thick
The Rich History of the USMC KA-BAR
To say the KA-BAR has a cult following in the US Marine Corps is an understatement. This thing is hard-baked into the Marine’s DNA. Veteran Dads still present KA-BARs to their sons when they complete boot camp or head off for their first deployment.
The USMC KABAR fighting knife has been at the side of the US Marines and other armed forces since WW2 Pacific theater conflicts like Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa all the way to the Vietnam and Korean wars.
The knife was originally dubbed the 1219C2(boring!) and jointly designed with the Union Cutlery Company(KA-BAR), Col. John M. Davis and Capt. Howard E. America.
You could literally say, the KA-BAR is Captain America’s knife!
Interestingly, the 1219C2 was actually manufactured by multiple cutlery companies to satisfy the volumes needed for the war effort during WW2. Camillus actually produced the lion’s share of 1219C2s, but KA-BAR’s version proved to be the most popular among the troops.
Similar to what Kleenex is tissue paper, and La-Z-Boy is to recliners, the KA-BAR name has become synonymous with the 1219C no matter who manufactured it.
Later on, the Navy and Army began utilizing the KA-BAR as well. Many variants have followed, but If you are a collector, the 1217 USMC Fighting Utility Knife is the original design.
“If it was good enough for gramps in Iwo Jima and for my old man in ‘ Nam than it’s, sure ask heck, good enough for me!”
Although the USMC KABAR is no longer standard issue for Marines the KABAR tradition is so entrenched in the Marines that they are still taking them on deployments to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the Marines still insist on using a KA-BAR for cake cutting ceremonies!
For more history on the USMC KA-BAR Wikipedia has a good article.
The “KA-BAR” Name
KA-BAR’S USMC fighting knife became so popular that it has actually eclipsed its own brand name.
These days, if you simply say, “KA-BAR,” most folks will assume you are speaking of the USMC fighting knife unless you say otherwise. In actuality, KA-BAR is the brand name not the model of the knife.
The KA-BAR brand name has a quirky origin:
Legend has it, that the name KA-BAR comes from the phrase, “Kill a Bear” when said in a heavy backwoods-accent (apparently an Alaskan one.)
As the story goes, during the 1920’s a bear skin and letter was delivered to the desk of the president of the Union Cutlery Company in Oleans, New York.
The letter, written by an Alaskan fur trapper, shared how he “kild-a-bar” using nothing but one of Union Cutlery’s fine hunting knives.
Apparently, he had shot and wounded a grizzly which then charged him and knocked his rifle from him. He managed to draw his knife and actually kill the angry bear with it. He sent the bearskin as a thankyou to the Union Cutlery Company for making the formidable knife that saved his life.
This incident attracted a so much publicity and sales for Union Cutlery that they re-branded themself as the KA-BAR brand.
Full KABAR USMC Review:
I’m quite pleased with the general quality of the USMC KA-BAR. Powder coating is even, the blade ships razor-sharp, and the workmanship is excellent. The simple leather sheath is definitely old-school but, I can’t picture a knife with a history like this in anything other than a leather sheath.
Its worth keeping in mind that the KA-BAR USMC fighting knife was designed to be a cost-effective mass produced military knife.
This is, by design, a blood n’ sweat, “get er’ done” kind of knife, not a high-end show knife.
Over the years the steel in the KA-BAR has been upgraded to 1095 Cro-Van, but the knife remains largely unchanged from the original. It is a full-tang knife, albeit, a narrow tang.
Make no mistake. The KA-BAR USMC is a large knife. The 7-inch blade strikes a fierce look and the generously-sized stacked leather handle is big enough for even Rambo’s big mits.
The 7 inch blade is much larger than most survival knives (typically 3.5 to 6 inches), yet it remains on the smaller side for a bowie fighting knife(typically 5 to 12 inches.)
As a tactical knife it is surprisingly light and quick.
The USMC KA-BAR has that classic Bowie knife profile. Bowies are large-bladed fighting knives featuring a clip-point and distinct cross-guard at the hilt.
1095 Cro-Van Steel
1095 steel is one of the best all-around steels for a modern fixed-blade. KA-BAR adds chromium and vandium for extra strength and corrosion resistance. The powder-coated blade holds a very sharp edge even through heavy use while remaining easy to sharpen.
The spine of a clip-point blade has a distinctive “clip” on the swedge near the tip. The clip point itself is not sharp but it is beveled for easier penetration in tactical situations.
A clip point has its advantages and disadvantages:
- Very efficient penetration ability
- Excellent slicer
- Finer tip for drilling or precision work
- Less tip strength( don’t pry or batton the tip)
- Harder for gutting wild game
Fuller Groove(AKA Blood Groove)
Most reviewers miss this detail. On either side of the KA-BAR’s blade, you’ll see an elongated hollow known as a Fuller. Some call it a “blood groove” but the real purpose has nothing to do with bleeding out wild pigs etc.
The Fuller serves three main purposes:
- It stiffens the blade in a similar way that an “I-beam” is more stiff than a regular beam.
- It lightens large blades, although it is negligible in this case.
- It helps break suction from materials while slicing
KA-BAR says that the USMC fighting knife’s blade is a “flat grind.” In my opinion, that is not technically correct. It is actually a Saber grind since the blade only begins narrowing about half-way down from the spine. A flat grind begins narrowing from the spine itself.
Saber grinds are arguably the strongest blade from an engineering standpoint. This is because they maintain more blade thickness further down the side of the knife which, in turn, yields more strength.
I butcher plenty of chickens every year. Without getting into the gorry details, I’ll just say this knife is the most efficient “slicer” I own. A single pass from the KA-BAR’s 7-inch blade does very clean work of a dirty job.
Many knife purists prefer plane edge knives. I’m impartial. Serrations come in handy too, especially when working through bones and cartilage.
You can get serrated versions of the KA-BAR. Blade HQ has the largest selection of KABAR versions I’ve seen, and they carry serrated versions too.
I have to admit, the USMC KA-BAR’s stacked leather handle is stunning. The tan leather offset by dark grooves creates an eye-catching contrast unique to the Kabar.
In practical terms, the oval-shaped handle tapers on either end for very natural purchase. The grooves offer plenty of grip even when wet.
On the downside, leather does not like water and prolonged extreme exposure to water will can cause the stacked leather to swell. So, if moisture is a concern for you, the I’d suggest getting a Kraton-handled version of the USMC fighting knife.
The circular butt cap has rounded edges and a flat surface. It’s a nice look but, in my opinion, has limited usefulness beyond light hammering. The buttcap is mated to the tang via a steel pin.
This design makes it easy for mass production, but as a tactical knife, it would have been better suited with a punch/skull crusher style pommel.
I’m not experienced in tactical knife handling, but I can tell you this: the KA-BAR is the quickest and cleanest knife I have for humanly butchering my meat chickens.
I own and have used the ESEE 6, Becker BK2, Bear Grylls survival knife and Gerber LMF, but the KA-BARS is, by far, the most “efficient” knife for dispatching birds.
I hope I never have to use my KA-BAR USMC fighting knife for a self-defence weapon. If I needed one, it would be my first choice.
Looks are half the battle…just drawing the KA-BAR will make a bad guy think twice.
Just tell the bad guy what happened the last time you drew your KA-BAR as a Marine in Afghanistan. Explain, how messy the blade has already gotten and how you don’t really want to get it dirty again. Tell him that “It’s probably best to just call it a day and save all the mess.”
While many reviewers praise the USMC KA-BAR as an excellent survival knife, I think there are better options out there these days.
Large clip-point blades are over-kill for bushcraft, especially for carving etc. A drop-point blade is more robust and generally preferable for tasks like gutting wild game.
This knife is very nimble and quick. It’s lighter than my ESEE 6 and far lighter than the popular KA-BAR BK2.
The guard(quillon) is large and very reassuring. Your hand is well protected from accidentally over-running the blade. The trade-off is that there is no thumb ramp on the spine and the guard impedes choking-up on the blade for finer work.
The seven-inch blade allows the USMC KA-BAR to baton larger pieces of wood than most survival knives.
A word of warning: If you batton wood like a Neanderthal, you may miss and end up damaging the guard. Just bring a hatchet for goodness sake! It’s a technology modern Homo-Sapiens have come up with and it is much more efficient.
The knife comes in a simple yet attractive tan-leather sheath embossed with the USMC KABAR logo. The belt loop is fixed so you’ll have to remove your belt in order to mount it.
The sheath does not have lashing points for molle webbing so you’ll need to go aftermarket or purchase a more modern version with a GFN(Glass-filled Nylon) sheath. The knife is secured in place by button clasp.
It’s like this: No knife collection is complete without a KABAR USMC Fighting/Utility Knife. I mean that. It is literally the most famous and well respected fixed blades of this century.
Is it the best fighting knife out there? It’s darn good, but there are probably better options.
Is it the best Survival knife out there? Definitely not. The ESEE 6 is better (see my review.)
In the end, though, who the heck cares? This is USMC KA-BAR for goodness sake!
It is the most respected fixed blade of the century. It’s an unpolished brute yet pure eye-candy. It’s beautiful yet terrifying to bad guys.
To purchase a USMC KA-BAR is to own a significant piece of American history that is still made in the USA. Who could have buyer’s regret for that?
Whether you take this knife on your next deployment or hang it on your wall, one thing is for certain: They’ll fight over your KA-BAR when you’re dead.