The neck knife is an often neglected option for preppers who want to carry an extremely low profile and lightweight secondary or even tertiary blade, or who want a barely-there primary blade.
While users today might think the often concealed nature of these small knives lends itself best to blades of a defensive nature, in reality neck knives started as utility blades.
For your purposes you can get a neck knife with a more defensive design or one that is predominately utilitarian, or even a blend of both.
Neck knives work equally well as last-ditch defensive options, survival tools when you have lost everything except the shirt on your back or generalist knives for ultra-low profile carry.
There is no “true” neck knife, and you should choose one based on your needs and environment.
In this article, we’ll present a list of ten excellent neck knives that are sure to suit any requirement.
What is a Neck Knife?
As gruesome and cool as it would be, a neck knife is not a knife specifically designed for impalement or slicing of necks.
No, a neck knife is a small fixed blade knife whose sheath is worn suspended in front of the chest from the neck by means of a cord, chain or strand of leather or other material. So simply said a neck knife is a knife carried around the neck.
Neck knives are usually carried tip up though some may be carried or are designed to be carried tip down. Tip-up carry mandates a sheath with a fair bit of retention so the knife does not fall free, and is often made of injection molded plastic or kydex.
These knives are usually drawn with a strong pull that pops the knife free of the sheath. Some designs rely on powerful rare earth magnets to provide extra security while smoothing out the draw.
While typically small in size, neck knives might be medium or large blades; neck knives are typified by their mode of carry, not their dimensions, though most knife aficionados would not call a 5” knife suspended in a sheath around the neck a true “neck knife.”
Purpose of Neck Knives
Neck knives today are probably most popular as last-ditch weapons of defense or extremely low-profile primary knives.
A thin chain or cord worn around the neck will often not be visible when wearing a collared shirt, and combined with a very thin blade, handle and sheath they will disappear beneath most upper garments.
This unusual location is easy enough to draw from when worn exposed (hence their popularity with outdoorsmen in centuries past) but is slow and awkward to access when concealed, especially when wearing a shirt tucked in.
But it is concealment and convenience that is the neck knife’s best asset, not speed of access, size, power or anything else.
A neck knife is often missed in physical and metal detector wand searches since the middle of the chest is usually neglected by poorly trained or unmotivated guards.
Used in a survival context, a knife worn on a lanyard around the neck is very unlikely to get lost or go missing with the wearer unawares (assuming the lanyard is strong); you can lose you BOB and the entire contents of your pockets and beltline and you’ll still have the neck knife!
Neck Knife Design
Neck knife design today runs the entire gamut of knife physiognomy. You will see everything from miniature versions of larger knives to radically shaped and profiled specialty blades and everything in between.
Materials and construction likewise vary as much as their larger cousins. While some examples of this typically diminutive breed can still command hundreds of dollars and be made from the best steels around, most are significantly cheaper than their nearest, larger relatives since they are so small.
You’ll see knives with traditional clip point and spear point blades optimized for small-scale bushcraft tasks and exotic, chisel pointed daggers ideal for puncturing an attacker. Anything you desire can be had when it comes to neck knife design and feature set… so long as it is small!
Sheath and Lanyard Options
Neck knives come with their own sheathes as a rule. While typically set up for around the neck carry, the compact size of neck knife rigs makes them suited for attachment to a boot, inside a bag or purse or discreetly tucked behind a belt or waistband if desired.
The lanyard itself deserves more attention than the sheath in many cases.
While many preppers will choose paracord reflexively for its durability and availability, think carefully before putting something so strong around your neck; it could strangle you if it gets snagged or even be used as a garrote against you by an attacker.
Don’t assume the sheath will break away, either; even kydex and plastic rigs will often feature metal rivets for their attachment points and these can have surprisingly high yield strength.
A beaded chain (aka dog tag chain), thin leather thong or simple cord might be the best option if one desires a degree of strength that will still break away if entangled.
A great “no-profile” option is to use a medallion or pendant chain typical for normal jewelry assuming it has the necessary strength to facilitate the draw. This will not draw any extra attention to itself if it is visible around your neck.
The Top 10 Neck Knives for Survival
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Below is our list of picks for neck knives. You’ll find some that are tiny, some that are bigger, and some that are in between with every kind of style and type imaginable.
#10. Blackhawk XSF Micro
This tiny riff on the Brent Beshara designed XSF-1 combat knife features a distinctly racy dagger profile and a single edge, terminating in a chisel tip that optimizes penetration while maintaining strength.
The nominally coffin shaped handle is punctuated aggressively textured G-10 laminate scales and by deep finger choils near the back to help secure the knife in the hand.
A substantial full crossguard, a rarity on any neck knife, provides additional insurance that this one will stay put in your hand doing its job when required.
AUS-8 steel is a quality middle of the road option, and for a knife packed with so many special features it is a steal at its price point. The only downside?
This knife is intended solely for defensive purposes and neither the blade nor the handle lends themselves well to utility work of any kind beyond opening boxes.
#9. KA-BAR Last Ditch
An ultra-minimalist push knife designed for defense, the KA-BAR Last Ditch combines wicked piercing and cutting performance with an ultra-thin profile making for one serious “outta nowhere” sting when the chips are down.
Its larger brother, the TDI LE, has long been a favorite of uniformed cops and subsequently civilians needing an in-your-face defensive knife that builds upon and works with common boxing skills to do its grisly work; a distinctive, crooked “pistol grip” handle affords a very strong grip and delivers devastating thrusts and cuts.
While far smaller than that knife, the Last Ditch relies on the same design philosophy to deliver a bite far in excess of its diminutive size. Its only drawback is its extremely thin profile means the knife is extremely liable to shift in the hand, and its viciously sharp, thin tip is prone to breaking on contact with harder surfaces.
#8. Mora Eldris
Mora knives need no introduction among preppers and bushcrafters, and provide cutting performance and durability far in excess of their modest price.
Plenty of preppers and survival professionals, including such luminaries as Cody Lundin, carry fullsize Mora knives as neck knives with no issues, and their lightweight enables this.
But light weight or no, a typical Mora knife is still a good sized object to have dangling around your neck for some. Enter the Eldris, a smaller, lighter Mora offering with all the cutting performance of its larger kin.
The Eldris is designed to be used with the included fire steel for creating fire and its chunky blade is extremely strong despite its short 2”-and-change blade making it suitable for batoning through thin stock.
A click-lock sheath allows it to ride sublimely in the pocket or securely around your neck, and the edge is optimized for both sharpness and longevity, making it a terrific choice for outdoor survival.
One of the best survival neck knives at any price. Check it out at Amazon.com.
#7. CRKT SPEW (Small Pocket Everyday Wharncliffe)
The CRKT SPEW has an odd name but a great design purpose: offer incredible sharpness and control in the smallest package possible. The SPEW succeeds on both fronts at a price that rules the budget category.
Despite the connotations of the category, the SPEW has terrific features you’d be glad to have on a full-size knife. A hollow-ground Wharncliffe blade is extremely sharp right out of the box and the geometry if this type of blade is renowned for cutting performance. The SPEW also has a needle-sharp point, making it a mean contender for piercing and thrusting.
The handle deserves recognition, too: deeply textured G-10 scales afford a great grip and a decorative cord lanyard provides a mostly stable place for your pinky to latch onto.
While not as conducive to a strong grip as a fullsize handle, it is a welcome and smart addition on a knife class that typically leaves your pinky finger flying free or curling into itself.
Perhaps this knife’s only flaw is the blade steel: “Chinesium” 5CR15MoV can produce a great edge, but wears quickly, meaning you’ll need to keep a sharpening stone handy.
#6. Spyderco ARK
Spyderco is rightly famous for excellence in both design and materials, and though their folders are their stock-in-trade, they produce some truly excellent fixed blades including the tiny but mighty ARK, or “Always Ready Knife.” The ARK was designed as a self-defense knife, but its more traditional shape and highly secure handle make it alright for utility tasks, too.
Perhaps the ARK’s greatest attribute is its H1 alloy construction. H1 is a nitrogen-based steel that is virtually impervious to corrosion. And I do mean impervious; this is not merely stainless steel given some catchy marketing-friendly name.
H1 is in an entirely different category compared to common stainless steels often found in the knife business. For a knife that might have to endure constant exposure to extremely corrosive body oils and salts from sweat, this means the ARK will go the distance.
#5. ESEE Izula
One of the most popular neck knives for general purpose applications and equally adept at both self-defense and survival roles, ISEE’s Izula is in many ways the ideal neck knife.
While on the large size compared to the other knives on this list, you’ll be glad of the generously sized handle and ample blade if it turns out you need this pint-sized powerhouse.
Available in both 440C stainless or 1095 carbon steel, the Izula can also be had with or without optional scales in a variety of materials and colors, allowing you to tailor the knife to your preference. The knife also has an optional survival sheath kit that provides a whistle, flint, paracord and other essentials.
Left on the thin side, without the scales, the Izula virtually disappears beneath a shirt. With the scales attached, it feels and cuts like a much larger blade in the hand.
Backed by ESEE’s ironclad guarantee of quality good for the life of the knife, you know you are getting the Cadillac of neck knives.
#4. ESEE Candiru
The only criticism one can rightly level against ESEE’s superb Izula is that, for a neck knife, it is a bit on the large side at a hair over 5” long. It is also far from the lightest knife on the list. ESEE is ever quick to capitalize on the desires of its users and introduced the Candiru to make up the difference.
About two-thirds the size of the Izula, the Candiru maintains a nearly identical handle and blade configuration, is available with the same survival sheath kit and also supports the addition of optional scales for better grip.
For purely “just in case” wear and use, I give the edge decisively to the Candiru since your average person is far more likely to wear it on a daily basis.
Comparing the Candiru to the Izula in use, however, quickly proves that the Izula is the one you want when it is time to get serious work done, though the Candiru is no pushover.
Ultimately, I would go with the Candiru as a dedicated neck knife (worn as a supplement or backup to my primary knife) and save the Izula for a primary when I need to carry a larger knife discreetly.
#3. TOPS Mini-Scandi
TOPS Blades is known for executing the fundamentals of knife design to perfection. Their Mini-Scandi is no exception. The Mini-Scandi’s name is a play on one of its key design elements; its Scandinavian grind, a choice that is rightly praised for offering an excellent combo of edge retention that is easy to sharpen.
The Mini-Scandi pulls many of its other design cues from one of its larger stablemates in the TOPS lineup, and is intended as a serious outdoor tool.
The handle scales are excellently ergonomic and made from micarta and the blade is freakishly, hair-poppingly sharp right out of the box. Made from traditional and high-quality 1095 carbon steel, the blade and edge can withstand quite a bit of abuse, though you’ll need to stay on top of corrosion.
In fact, the blade performs so well, the biggest let down of this knife can hardly be chalked up as a flaw at all; the short handle robs you of some of the blade’s potential performance, since your grip is much more likely to fail than the blade is. But, if you made the handle larger you’d be getting farther away from the neck knife concept.
At any rate, a great performer in its category, and the equal in strength of knives twice as large. Check out the TOPS Mini-Scandi here.
#2. CRKT Minimalist Bowie
The second CRKT offering on our list is another multipurpose blade with a few nifty features. The Minimalist series of knives comes with a several options for blade style, everything from a drop point, Wharncliffe and tanto to a tiny karambit of all things.
But as nice as those options might be I’ll take the classic clip point found on the Bowie all day. The conservative point does not rise too high past the centerline and offers good piercing and scraping performance while still being easy to sharpen, making this a solid choice for defense or utility purposes.
The CRKT Minimalist series are all instantly recognizable thanks to the skinny handles featuring extremely pronounced finger choils.
While this gives the knife an odd, ill-proportioned appearance, they feel good in the hand and more importantly are locked in solidly even during heavier cutting tasks, something I would not feel too confident in attempting with a more conservatively shaped handle.
A feature found on the SPEW is found on the minimalists also; the decorative fob of cord at the back of the handle gives the pinky finger something to latch on to.
The only flaw in the pearl as it were is once again the steel: 5Cr15MoV works adequately but dulls quickly. Prepare to sharpen. And sharpen. And sharpen…
#1. Gerber Ghostrike
Gerber’s Ghostrike neck knife is fairly called a multi-purpose, multi-mode knife that has a self-defense bias. The Ghostrike has a high-quality multi-position sheath that does everything: you can carry it two ways on your belt, lash it to webbing, lash it to your boot or carry it around your neck.
The 420HC steel is a solid budget steel that offers good performance all around with the trade-off that it is something of a pain to sharpen. The steel itself is coated in ceramic for corrosion resistance.
The skeletonized frame handle features a diamond textured overmolded rubber coating that really helps a knife of this nature stay in the hand during hard use, a welcome feature on a defensive knife.
With an overall length of nearly 7”, and not quite half of that being the blade, the Ghostrike is among the longest of the knives on this list, and grows a little longer still riding in the sheath. As a knife you might want to EDC and occasionally use in a neck knife capacity, the Ghostrike excels.
Neck knives are a valuable addition to any prepper’s blade collection, and useful in primary and backup roles. For self-defense, low-profile carry or just-in-case survival planning, you can employ a neck knife no matter what you are planning for or how. Give this list a once over and see if there isn’t a neck knife that is a good fit for your requirements.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.