Testing the Original Bowie Knife for Survival

In the world of fixed blade knives, there are endless options for what you can choose to carry. You might bring along a small neck knife with a 2” blade for an afternoon hike in the woods, but what would you take if you need something bigger, more versatile, durable, and rugged? The original Bowie knife is an American-born beast ready for any sticky situation.

It must be long enough to use as a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.”  Russell T. Johnson

In survival situations, it’s important to know you can rely on the tools you bring on your hip or in your rucksack. Sufficient clothing, shelter from the elements, food—these things are undeniably important, but if you have no ability to make fire you will be dead and FAST. I know what you’re thinking—what does a hunting Bowie knife have to do with emergency survival and making fire?

Equally adept in service as hatchet or blade, the Bowie knife shines where a smaller knife would fail or fall short. Your Bowie can easily fell small trees for firewood and put its razor’s edge to use to produce an impressive pile of tinder or clean your catch.

Bowie Testers

We sent the Condor Undertaker survival Bowie knife to three YouTubers: Aaron from Gideon’s Tactical, Andy from Innerbark Outdoors, and Tim from Everyday Tactical Vids. We asked each of them to show us one survival skill utilizing the Bowie. To wrap up our testing, Joe Flowers, knife designer of the Undertaker, was asked to reproduce each technique.

Aaron hacking down a tree with the Condor Undertaker.

Aaron of Gideon’s Tactical put the Bowie’s strengths on full display. He hacked apart dry wood into equally-sized pieces to create a Swedish torch style fire. A ring of wood, stacked vertically, with a tinder ball inserted into the core, makes for an efficient and long-lasting blaze. Once you’ve got the fire going, throw your pot on top and fresh water is sorted.

Andy masterfully making fire with a bow drill.

Next up, Andy of Innerbark Outdoors stepped to the plate, employing the Condor in his bow drill fire making technique. Andy adeptly used the tip of the Bowie to carve a hole in his hearth board. The bow drill method uses the friction of a dowel spun on a piece of wood to start a fire. Starting fire with a bow drill is hard work, but Andy and the Condor Undertaker made it look easy.

Tim collects bark from a tree using the false edge on the Condor Bowie.

Tim of Everyday Tactical Vids showed us a unique feature of the original Bowie knife that few other blades can duplicate. Collecting wood in a similar way to Aaron, it’s the way that Tim gathered his tinder that really piqued our interest. Using the clip from the spine of the blade, Tim collected soft bark from trees to aid in his fire starting. Want to take your bark accumulation to the next level? Sharpen that false edge—something you’d frequently find on historical Bowie knives.

Joe Flowers uses the blade of the Undertaker to produce a feather stick for tinder.

Any knife would look capable in these outdoor personality’s hands. How did the knife’s designer, Joe Flowers, handle the tests? We met him in the deserts of Nevada. Armed with the right tool for the job, Joe did a great job making fire in a difficult environment.

When it comes to survival, nothing is more important than being able to make fire. Keen for any adventure, bring a Bowie along and you’ll be better prepared than the guy in the next campsite over.

Crocodile Dundee puts the functionality of the Bowie on display.

The History

The Bowie has an illustrious history. We all know that it was the tool of choice for Mick “Crocodile” Dundee, but where does its name originate? In 1827, Jim Bowie used this knife to single-handedly defeat three attackers at the Sandbar Fight in Natchez, Mississippi. Within weeks, the story spread through newspapers across the young United States, and fame was forever guaranteed for both Jim Bowie and the eponymous knife. Bowie died a decade later at the Battle of The Alamo as a heroic pioneer of early America in the Texas Revolution.

“It must be long enough to use as a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.” -Russell T. Johnson

Go big or go home—add an original Bowie knife to your collection. The perfect melding of functionality, distinctiveness, and aesthetics, you won’t regret having a Bowie in your kit.

Hungry for more fixed blade talk? Read about when Ben carried a fixed blade for a week on vacation in Montana here. Hungry for even more Bowie knife talk? Check out our Best Bowie Knives guide.

Ever been in a situation where you wish you had a little bit more knife with you? Tell us your story in the comments below!

Andrew Hamilton showed up to interview at Blade HQ for a copywriter position with 3 knives in his pocket. His love for the outdoors, 3 years on a horse ranch, and strong taste for vintage clothing define his writing and his flow. He's got tattoos of all flavors from sailing ships to skulls, and he carries anything from a Manix 2 to a GEC Whaler. This guy's legit, folks. (bio by Ben)

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton showed up to interview at Blade HQ for a copywriter position with 3 knives in his pocket. His love for the outdoors, 3 years on a horse ranch, and strong taste for vintage clothing define his writing and his flow. He's got tattoos of all flavors from sailing ships to skulls, and he carries anything from a Manix 2 to a GEC Whaler. This guy's legit, folks. (bio by Ben)

2 comments

  1. Every true Texan cringes when they hear this knife referred to as a Bow-ie. David Bow-ie was a British singer. Jim Boo-ie was the famous Texan of whom the knife was named after. Trust me when I say this. I was born 2 blocks from the Alamo on the anniversary of Texas Independence Day. I have lived in Texas for 57 of my 58 years of life (I lived one year in California at age 5 – NOT MY CHOICE).

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