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Is the KA-BAR USMC Fighting Knife the World’s Best?

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Guest column by Eoin May

The KA-BAR USMC fighting knife has been the king of military knives since 1942. Multiple different companies have made the USMC fighting knife for the military, but the KA-BAR version has always been at the top—so much so that every knife that looks like it is perceived to be a KA-BAR.

The first version of the KA-BAR fighting knife was issued in the run-up to America’s entry into World War II, and was used in different branches of the military until 1995, when the military decided to switch to a synthetic handle. Not only was this knife utilized in hand-to-hand combat, but it was also used as a bayonet for close quarters combat during during that war. Soldiers would use their KA-BARs to pry open crates and as a spoon or fork to eat their meals while overseas. Paratroopers also utilized the blade as a throwing knife or to cut away from a failed chute. In 2012, the military stopped officially issuing the KA-BAR knife, but many troops still insist on the original KA-BAR as their personal fighting and EDC knife while deployed.

What makes the KA-BAR USMC knife so ideal? The blade is 7 inches, and the overall length is 12 inches. The knife has a blood groove to reduce weight and a spear point that improves strength and durability. The 1095 Cro-Van steel and thick spine gives the blade strength and reduces the chances of breaking or cracking. The handle is made from stacked leather so the knife can still be optimized in any weather condition and offer great grip even when the user is gloved. The handle also has a guard to aid in hand-to-hand combat.

The knife comes with a leather sheath, but you can also get a Kydex version if you buy it through KA-BAR. Users may find that the belt loop is too loose on the factory-sized leather sheath, so the knife flails around as you walk. There is a rationale behind this; KA-BAR makes the belt loop loose so the knife can be used in various situations and carried on many different packs or belts.

This knife feels great in the hand and has an amazing balance while being used. I have used this knife to process deer, cut through brush, and as an everyday carry knife. This knife has not failed me yet—it seems it can do anything and everything. The sharpness of the edge makes it great for cutting, while the thick spine also makes it great for chopping. The weight and durability make it a great knife for everyday tasks like opening boxes or working on cars. Over the years this knife was tested in real situations and has been fixed and perfected into the historical and very useful blade we all know today.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. jrkmt1

    December 17, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    Ka-Bar did not design this knife nor did the company receive the first contract to manufacture it for the military. That distinction goes to Camillus. Ka-Bar’s submission for a Marine combat knife was rejected.
    Ka-Bar discontinued production of this knife several times during its manufacture history causing the company to lose its military contract around the second drop from manufacture.
    Camillus had continuous production from 1942 until the company closed its doors in 2002. This included the military contract.
    The only company still providing this knife under contract to the military is Ontario, which was the second company to receive a contract during World War II.
    Camillus manufactured more USMC Combat Knives than Ka-Bar ever thought of. Ontario comes in second.
    As to features, the blood groove was to ease retraction of the blade from flesh. It is carbon steel, not CroVan. The blade is what is called a drop point, not spear point (spear points look like a spear, hence the name).
    The oversized belt loop (and sometimes slots) were so the sheath could be easily slipped onto a pistol belt. Most of us (service members) taped the sheath, usually upside down, to our Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) or pack straps. (That was how I carried my PSK, on the left strap of my LBE, with edge outward.) There are also adaptors to attach the sheath to the newer Load Bearing Vests (LBV).
    You don’t have to order through Ka-Bar to get the kydex sheath. The knife can be purchased from just about any knife vendor with the kydex or leather sheath.
    My preferred military issue knife is the Camillus Air Force Pilot Survival Knife with 5″ blade with sawtooth top strap. Much easier to handle and more versatile. It was produced continuously from the 1950s until 2002. Ontario still manufactures it under contract and for commercial sales. (My second favorite mil issue knife is the PAL RH35, also known as the USN MkI.)
    The article shows a distinct lack of research.

    • Stephen West

      December 19, 2021 at 7:39 am

      If manufactured by kabar the steel used is crovan. They now offer them in D2, I have one, Great knife is D2.

    • David Armitage

      January 4, 2022 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for the Clarification, on a poorly researched article. Being retired Navy, I always appreciate the truth, and have disdain for articles about military gear that are not truthful.
      When I was deployed to Palau I was metal detecting on the Island of Peleliu and had the great pleasure of finding an original knife from WWII.

  2. Al Nash

    December 17, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    I too like KA-Bar Knives, but not especially the USMC knife, even though I am a Marine! I found the MC knife blade too long for practical use, and much prefer a shorter blade 4 – 5 inches. Though I’ve never used a knife in combat, (as a fighting knife) that is. If given a choice of fighting knives, I would much prefer the Gurka’s Kookri, I think!

    • Nick

      January 13, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      I carried the Gurka Kukri in Vietnam. It is one hell of a knife. But I still used my k-bar.

  3. Gary Endo

    December 17, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    Why not just enjoy the damn article… Good knife…yes, best knife…no, popular knife…yes for some, a knife for your collection…yes, some history behind it…yes. Enjoy life…it’s too short!

    Semper Fi

    3/5 Lima Co.

  4. Gary BRAY

    December 17, 2021 at 9:29 am

    “great knife for everyday tasks like opening boxes or working on cars”. Working on cars? I use my pocket knife if I need to cut heater hose or such. I do not slash tires. I have 4 standup tool boxes with tools and not one knife in any of them. I have been working on cars professionally and as hobby for over 60 years. Please give me example of “working on cars”.

  5. William Sullivan

    December 17, 2021 at 9:27 am

    My father was a USMC rifleman who fought on Okinawa. I asked him about the KA-BAR. He just said that they had issued him a big old knife. They used them for opening crates. He had no special fondness for it, because he was also carrying a bayonet for his M-1.

  6. Craig Mezey

    December 16, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    This is my knife, it is the best I have, as long as I take good care of it, it will take care of me. Craig, USMC.

  7. BW

    December 16, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Bo Randall may have made a few knives during WWII but they came on the scene to be well known during the Vietnam War at 100.oo a pop. KaBar was well known by the Marine Corps in WWII. My Uncle that was on Iwo Jima gave me his. They make a copy of the original but it has a pin through the handle cap instead of being held together by peening the tang over the cap. I have several originals in my knife collection.

    • Art Block

      December 16, 2021 at 8:15 pm

      Yeah. Wish I could have afforded one back when. What I did was cut an old Chevy leaf spring in the shape of a Semper -fi toothpick but with a blade about 5 inches long and a long tang. I got some brass guards from a friend and filed one out to the width to fit the knife and anchored it in with some brass-filings-filled epoxy cement, cut some appropriate sized mahogany scales and bought three brass rivets to attach them to the handle, which I sculpted to a curve on the back of the handle since I couldn’t find any reasonable priced bolsters. Then I used nylon cord as serve-and-tuck wrap on the handle and gave it a couple of coats of marine spar varnish. Still got that old horse and after heavy use, it is still uncomplaining. Then about a year ago, I bought a Kabar. Was my old design as good? Not on your Nelly. Nothing better than a good old gyrene Kabar…………nothing!

    • Gregory Webb

      January 5, 2022 at 1:02 pm

      I believe the pin was used because when it was time to repair the leather grip you have to grind off the end of the peened tang which creates a problem getting it back together.

  8. Old Guy

    December 16, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    The KaBar is a good field knife but in combat during WWII the Randall and EKs were the most coveted. The Navy labeled it the Mark 1 and issued it in a bayonet type sheath. The webbing and plastic sheath held up better than the leather that came with the KaBar. I know of no model modified as a bayonet.

  9. Lewis

    December 16, 2021 at 11:55 am

    Hype and more hype. What is the writer’s experience/background – – ever in the military, then what nation, what branch, what MOS, any combat time? In WW II, Randall knives were also widely carried and even more widely sought after. Factually incorrect to assert “used as a bayonet” since knife does not have any of the necessary features for the knife to be fastened to a rifle for bayonet use. Vast majority of bayonets newer (more modern) than plug bayonet (for muzzle loader to be inserted into the bore after firing that weapon’s single shot), and all US military WW II bayonets have two points of attachment to two points of a rifle. Writer is also challenged, politely, to provide any factual (name, date, unit, location) specific incidents of hand to hand combat involving person X, that knife, and enemy combatant (Soldier, Sailor, Marine, etc). Writer is also asked, politely, to explain the phrase “paratroopers utilized it . . . to cut away from a failed chute” to include just how/in what manner the chute failed and exactly how/where/where this action is supposed to have taken place? In the air? Then what. WW II Paratroopers were issued a switchblade, carried in a special pocket near collar of jump suit, to cut suspension lines and thus separate individual from parachute hung up in a tree, but that was not a K-Bar matter nor does it fit into the statement “to cut away from a failed chute.” K-Bar is a good knife but why muck up the article with assertions that do not make any sense to reader with combat experience. Signed: Retired Paratrooper, 49 Months Infantry combat time in Viet-Nam.

    • Richard Kern

      December 17, 2021 at 9:34 am

      Leave it to a army puke to get all pissy over a article over a obvious Marine Corp knife? Since the author puts U.S.M.C. in the title! So was he talking in terms of absolutes, no he was not, was he talking in the limeted terms of Mariner’s, Why yes he was. So calm down soldier. Stop being so jealous, and that’s all this is, is a jealous tirade.
      SEMPER FI Mac.
      2/4 Marines Golf co. 87 – 90

  10. William Moody

    December 16, 2021 at 11:32 am

    I’ve had my KA-BAR since my military days way back in 1965 and it has never failed me. I love it so much that a friend is making a fitted leather sheath for it now. Wouldn’t think of going in the woods or any excursion without it.

  11. Ed

    December 16, 2021 at 10:59 am

    I have owned a KA-BAR for over 15 years and I can honestly say that if I had bought the KA-BAR FIRST I could have saved a lot of money.

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