Best Skinning Knife Reviews of 2017– Buying Guide for the Serious Hunter

Most hunters won’t question the importance of having a quality firearm and crossbow, and yet often times we overlook the true value of a good skinning knife. We’ll see new hunters investing heavily into other hunting equipment, but when it comes to a skinning knife, a hunter’s true weapon for skinning game, preserving meat and desperate circumstances, they skimp on a knife that can properly handle field dressing, cut effortlessly through game, and even be used to get out of life or death situations. Not every knife out there will do the job well, and as with many things in life, you truly get what you pay for in terms of quality.

This is the reason why it is important to know the features that you should be looking for. Your skinning knife will help you to do a number of things, more than just removing the skin from the animal you have hunted. My goal is to create a comprehensive guide that can assist your search of finding the proper knife based on your needs, budget and to help you to steer clear of the trial and error nightmare.

In our reviews we’ll consider:

  • Types of Skinning Knives
  • Style of the blade
  • Blade Length
  • Durability
  • Blade Steel
  • Handle Design and Ergonomics
  • Knife Quality
ImageNameVerdictPriceEdito's RatingCheck Price and Reviews
Benchmade Knife 15001-2 Saddle Mountain Skinner Wood HandleBest Overall Skinning Knife$$$5.0/5.0buy2
RUKO 3-1/8-Inch Blade Gut Hook Skinning Knife with Genuine Deer Horn Crown Handle and Leather SheathBest Deer Skinning Knife$$4.25/5.0buy2
Buck Knives 113 Ranger Skinner Hunting Knife with Walnut Handle
Best Value Skinning Knife$$$5.0/5.0buy2
Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker Black linen micarta handleBest Premium Skinning Knife$$$$4.5/5.0buy2
outdoor-edgeOutdoor Edge Razor-Lite Folding Hunting Knife 3-1/2″ Replaceable Stainless Steel Blade Kraton HandleBest Budget Skinning Knife$4.75/5.0buy2

Top 5 Best Skinning Knives of 2017

Best Overall Skinning Knife

Benchmade Knife 15001-2 Saddle Mountain Skinner Wood Handle

*EDITOR’S CHOICE*

 

Benchmade Knife 15001-2 Saddle Mountain Skinner Wood Handle

 

The first knife that tops our list is the Benchmade Knife 15001-2 Saddle Mountain Skinner. Benchmade is a well-known, and respected brand, and they have specifically designed this knife to handle everything that comes with field dressing. When analyzing all aspects of what makes a quality skinning knife, such as durability, blade steel, handle design, blade length and overall quality, this knife checks all of the boxes.

Out of the box this knife comes extremely sharp. Razor sharp. The Benchmade Knife 15001-2 also features a modified clip-point blade, quality stainless steel with a CPM-S30V premium steel blade, a Dymondwood handle, and a leather pressure-fit sheath. With a large fixed blade, this knife was created to serve as a skinning knife with its recurved blade. The S30V Steel is impressive, and it will help prevent the knife from rusting, staining, while also helping to preserve the edge of this knife.

The 15001-2 has a perfect blade length and shape for not only skinning game, but can also be used for other hunting needs, or to function as a camp knife in a pinch. With such a sharp blade, you’ll be able to glide effortlessly through game. If you are going to be using this knife primarily for skinning, you also want a knife that has a delicate tip, which this has.

This is a good all-around skinning knife that can process both big and small game (e.g. it can handle rabbit just as easily as deer or hogs). This knife has just enough weight to it, and feels extremely sturdy. As many can attest to, it balances very well in your palm, with the handle resting comfortably in your hand. It also comes with a well-constructed high quality brown leather sheath that is lined with thin plastic.

You truly get what you pay for with this knife. For under $150, this is one of the top skinning knives that you can buy (USA made none the less). If you have a bit of a budget for a new knife, and aren’t looking to break the bank, this is hands-down our top choice for the money. However, there are no-doubt cheaper options out there that we will review below.

The Numbers:

  • Blade Length: 4.17 Inches
  • Blade Thickness: 0.14 Inches
  • Handle Thickness: 0.58 Inches
  • Overall Length: 8.73 Inches
  • Type: Fixed Blade

Editor’s Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

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Best Deer Skinning Knife

RUKO 3-1/8-Inch Blade Gut Hook Skinning Knife


The second knife on our list is the RUKO 3-1/8-Inch Blade Gut Hook Skinning Knife. RUKO is not a brand as well-known as Benchmade or Buck knives, but this model is getting respect as one of the best knives for skinning deer. The reason behind this reputation is that the knife is not only very attractive, but built with class-leading quality, extreme attention to detail and a sharpness that will impress most hunters.

This knife comes sharp right out of the box ready to go to work, with a handle that was designed for comfort and balance. It is a very aesthetically pleasing knife, and yet very study and holds an edge well.

Features

  • Sharp blade manufactured from 440A Stainless Steel.
  • Handle manufactured with solid brass guard and pommel cap
  • Equipped with full grain leather sheath
  • Lifetime warranty

As a user of this knife, you will be delighted by the fact that in this age when products are made to look the same, this knife will remind you of that great craftsmanship is still around even if it is rare. Its design is artistic but also practical at the same time. One feature that users love about this knife is the gut hook, which provides for an alternate grip on the blade. Buyers of this product also indicate that they love the fact that the knife fits in the leather sheath seamlessly.

While this knife is admittedly several steps down from the Benchmade, this is one of the best skinning knives for under $100. Also, unlike the Benchmade Knife 15001-2 which can handle both small and large game, this knife handles small game much better. While it can be used for large game, you may need to sharpen it for future usages, and it does not hold its edge as well. However, for the money, it is one of the top options available.

The Numbers:

  • Blade Length: 3-1/8-Inch
  • Knife Length: 8-Inch
  • Weight: 6.80 oz

Editor’s Rating: 4.25 / 5.0

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Best Value Skinning Knife

Buck Knives 113 Ranger Skinner Hunting Knife with Walnut Handle

Buck Knives 113 Ranger Skinner Hunting Knife with Walnut Handle

The third knife on our list is the Buck Knives 113 Range Skinner Hunting Knife.  Buck Knives is regarded as one of the best brands in the industry, and this model illustrates why. There’s certainly some faults, but at this price point, this knife is easily one of the best value buys available today. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s American made either.

Features

  • 3-1/8″ 420HC Steel Drop Point Blade
  • Has Excellent Strength and Edge Retention
  • Arrives as a Sturdy Compact Fixed Blade Knife (faster than a folding blade)
  • A beautiful American-made Walnut Handle with Brass Bolster
  • Genuine Leather Sheath
  • One of the best warranties in the industry, “Buck Forever Warranty”
  • Made in the USA

This is an impressive razor sharp, fixed blade knife. Aesthetically, it has a very nice design and finish, sporting Dymondwood handles and a brass guard. It fits comfortably in your hands, and fortunately doesn’t have any finger grooves that can lead to slippage. The blade size is perfectly proportionate and feels ‘right’. It has a very clean finish, and balance.

Since we’re looking at skinning knifes, of course one of the most important elements is simply how well does it handle field dressing. This blade handles a variety of game effortlessly, and holds up well to squirrel, rabbit, hog and deer. A lot of hunters that use this knife remark glowingly at how well it holds up even after numerous cleanings.

This makes it to number three in our list because of its value. Overall, if you are on a budget, this knife offers the “best bang for your buck”. It is one of the top skinning knives available for under $50. For the money, it’s ergonomic, comes with a razor sharp blade that maintains its edge well, has a handsome design, includes a leather sheath, can handle game of different size, and it is American made as well. It is certainly a quality option at this price range.

The Numbers:

  • Length 8.5 inches
  • Width 2.375 inches
  • Height 1.5 inches

Editor’s Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

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Best Premium Skinning Knife

Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker Black linen micarta handle

Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker Black linen micarta handle

Number four on our list is the Tops Knives Tom Brown Tracker Black linen micarta handle. I’ll start by saying that this is hands-down one of the top hunting knives available in the market. The caveat is based on your budget. Unlike the other ones mentioned, this serves more as a multi-functional, field tool that can also skin game at a high level as opposed to being specifically designed for the sole purpose of skinning.

This is included on our list because of its durability and total usefulness. It’s hard to pin-point its ranking because the quality is superb, but is also the most expensive on the list. The knife is impeccably constructed, featuring a 4.25 inch blade. One downside is its heavier-than-usual weight. However, to its credit even with that extra thickness, it is designed with weight distribution in mind so that it still rests comfortably in your hands with a sturdy feel.

It can handle a lot of wear and tear and still stay pretty sharp which is precisely what you want from a top of the line knife. This could certainly make for a very nice Christmas or Birthday present! It is one of the best skinning knives available for under $250. Made in the USA. 

The Numbers:

  • Knife Length: 11.90 Inches
  • Blade Length: 4.25 Inches
  • Blade Material: 1095 Steel
  • Sheath: Kydex

Editor’s Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

 

Best Budget Skinning Knife

Outdoor Edge Razor-Lite Folding Hunting Knife 3-1/2″ Replaceable Stainless Steel Blade Kraton Handle

outdoor-edge

This skinning knife is ranked fifth on our list because it is one of the best value buys available if you are on a budget. While Outdoor Edge is not as well-known as some of the other brands mentioned, this knife in particular is extremely well praised and reviewed by the hunting community. For the money, it’s a strong contender.

It features a very innovative knife design. The first thing to consider is the interesting replacement blade system that Outdoor Edge has crafted. When a knife goes dull in the field it can certainly be very frustrating. The nice thing about this knife is that by using the push button system you can easily swap in a new blade. Out of the box, it comes with 6 replacement blades and a mossy oak nylon belt sheath. Also donning rubberized handles, it helps to keep a secure, firm grip on the knife in all situations (particularly when it is wet).

The knife comes fastened with super sharp, sturdy blades that can surprisingly handle most types of game.

PROS:

  • Price of this knife is extremely competitive and a budget knife.
  • This knife comes very sharp, and retains its edge well.

CONS:

  • Doesn’t really offer the ability for finer and precise cuts

The performance and quality of this knife is certainly worthy of mention on this list at this price point. If you are on a budget, this is one of the best options for under $50. Unlike most of the knives on our list, it is worth mentioning that this knife is “Made in China”, but it certainly doesn’t demean the quality of the knife.

The Numbers:

  • Knife Blade: 3.5 Inches
  • Overall Knife: 8 Inches
  • Weight: 6.4 Ounces

Editor’s Rating: 4.75 / 5.0

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

 

Buyer’s Guide – What You Need to Know

How to select the best skinning knife

If you’re hunting game for meat, or animal hide, then you know the value of having a dedicated skinner that excels in this function. There are many different types and sizes of knives that can help you on your hunts, but for field dressing, there are particular characteristics that you want to look for.

Not only is a good skinning knife critical for field dressing, but it will make your life easier by working for you. The last thing that you want while out in the field is a dull knife that can damage the game, or injure yourself. You want to be efficient, and a quality skinning knife will help you to quickly gut, clean and remove the hide of an animal. Of all hunting tasks, skinning isn’t always the most pleasurable thing to do, but a necessity. To expedite the process, a knife designed specifically for skinning will help you finesse your way around the game.

Why a Skinning Knife?

There’s two core reasons why you want a skinning knife when you will be field dressing game.

1) Skinning: Cleanly and efficiently cutting through the animal’s skin without accidentally piercing any muscles, organs, tissue or the meat. This type of knife functions specifically to cut through hide.

2) Gutting: While field dressing. The function of a good skinner is to not only help you remove the hide, but begin removing the entrails of an animal which is critical if you are hunting for meat. Piercing the meat or contaminating it with the entrails can ruin the meat (particularly for bacterial reasons). Ultimately, a skinner (with or without a gut hook) will help you with phase one of field dressing, cutting the animal open to remove its organs in a streamlined manner.

Types of Skinning Knives

There are four major blade types of Skinning Knives:

Gut Hook

The gut hook is a special type of blade that has a sharpened semi-circle that is ground into the spine of the knife. It is backward facing, sharp and has a narrow curve. This is an optional feature, and truly depends on a hunter’s preference. The gut hook was specifically designed for skinning, and opening up an animal’s abdomen without rupturing any organs or tearing any muscles or the meat. Beyond the gut hook, the rest of knife operates as a traditional skinner knife.

The gut hook helps to “unzip” the skin of an animal, allowing you to easily open the belly and pull out the insides of an animal. It essentially unzips the hide by hooking into a small cut on the underside of the game and being pulled like a zipper. It effectively pierces the hide, allowing a hunter to pull of the hide without puncturing the meat, or getting entrails all over the place.

Some hunters prefer the gut hook for field dressing because of convenience, and find that it helps them to speed up the gutting process. Others steer away from gut hook knives because they find them be harder to sharpen once they dull, and harder to keep clean because hair and blood can clog the gut hook.

Fixed Blade

Fixed-blade knives are also extremely common, but the difference is the blade shape and the structure of the knife. Unlike with a folding knife, a fixed blade does not fold-in to itself. As a result, it has less parts (less things to ‘break’), making it more durable. Fixed blades are generally stronger, and more dependable to withstand prolonged usage. Some people prefer that fixed blades offer stronger grips, allow the user to feel the full force of knife, more blade strength and cutting force, stronger grip and security. Fixed blade knives are also easier to clean since hair and blood can’t get caught in the middle joints. This will generally be your best choice for skinning, particularly if it has full tang.

Folding Blade

These are very common, but not a personal preference of mine. It is exactly what the name suggests, the blade folds out when you need it, and folds back into the handle when you are not using it. Folding Knives are generally smaller, and designed for safety and portability. Since folding knives take up less space, some brands use special changeable blades so that the knife can serve numerous purposes.

Folding knives certainly have their place, but when it comes to skinning, I prefer to stick with fixed knives. For one, folding knives are harder to clean if anything lodges in to the joint. Also, because of their design, they generally cannot handle the same type of force that a fixed blade knife can. It can be a safety hazard if you are using a fixed knife to gut an animal, and if you use too much pressure on the joint causing it to shut. For tasks that require strength, it is typically best to avoid a folding knife.

Swing Blade

A swing blade skinning knife has two blades that normally serve for different purposes. They can be useful for field dressing bigger game, however, for skinning, I prefer sticking to a fixed blade knife.

Blade Style

The main type of blade styles that you will see on a skinning knife:

Drop Point

This blade style is when the blade runs from the spine to the tip, curving to create a lower point. The back of the blade curves towards the tip of the blade creating an extensive slicing surface. The curved back normally extends from the handle. A drop point will generally have a larger belly which offers more controllability and maneuverability of the knife.

A drop point is ideal for skinning because it the design of the blade is to avoid accidentally puncturing meat when you are gutting a deer or animal (cutting through the hide). A drop point will allow you to move faster, offering more durability and control for your cuts with less risk.

Trailing Point

This blade style of a trailing point is when the back edge curves upwards, creating a large belly and slicing surface. With a trailing point, the point will be weak, and is perfect for game that has thicker layers of fat (such as hogs).

Clip Point

The blade style of a clip point knife is when the back runs from the end of the handle, stops about halfway up the knife, and then is continuous to the point. When looking at a clip point, it almost seems that the part of the knife from the spine to the point has been cut off. Clip points have been used for hundreds of years because of their sharpness and controllability. Clip points typically have a large belly for slicing, and a narrow and weak tip that is not as durable as a drop point. A clip point is most popular for big game (elk, moose, coyote, etc.)

Blade Design

The design for an effective skinning knife is different than other types because of the work that is required. Generally, a quality skinning knife will have a sweeping or curved blade, and a curved tip. The purpose of the knife is to separate the hide from the animal, and to remove the meat. The curved tip helps to prevent accidentally piercing through the hide, and in doing so, could ruin the meat. The curved blade helps with separating the skin from the meat.

Blade Length

The proper blade length for a skinning knife really depends on the size of game that you will be hunting. These are general guidelines, but it ultimately depends on your preferences and size of the animal that you are hunting. Using a large knife to clean small game will not only make things more difficult and minimize your margin for error, but it increases the chance that you could potentially injure yourself as well.

A good skinning knife should have a short, curved blade (creating a round cutting edge) so that it can bend and reach all of the tightest places of the animal while skinning and gutting.

Typically, a traditional skinning knife will feature around a 4-inch blade. 5-Inches allows for long strokes, but depending on the size of the game, it can be a tad too long (such as for antelope). Ideally, your blade length should be about 4 inches for deer and similar medium sized game as it will offer you the most control while field dressing.

For Small and Medium Game

For game such as rabbit, muskrats, beavers, raccoons and squirrels, 3 – 4 inches is a good size. These types of animals will range from 15 to 50 pounds. As smaller animals, they have shorter hide. You will need to be careful not to strike too deep to puncture organs while skinning. An 8-inch blade would be incredibly difficult to skin a squirrel with.

For Large Game

For bigger game, such as deer, elk, moose, pigs, sheep, boar, goats, coyote, boar, bear, lamb, 4 – 6 inch blades are generally ideal. Larger game normally has thicker hide, so sharper and longer blades will make skinning a timelier and more manageable process. However, if you’re solely targeting elk and bear which could be several hundred pounds, then you may even opt for a 6 – 7 inch blade. This largely comes down to game size, and hunter preference.

Weight

When choosing a skinning knife, you’ll probably be looking for something that is lightweight because it can be detrimental to have to lug around something heavy. For most hunters, the lighter the knife is, the better. For one, a heavier knife is naturally harder to hold because of its weight. That additional weight can weigh your hand down, and over time cause hand fatigue (even leading to stray cuts). Also, you normally don’t want to have the burden of a heavy knife on you as you walk around the woods. A heavy knife is unnecessary additional weight (if you keep it on your persons), and so it’s the reason to steer towards a lightweight and sleek skinning knife.

Sheath Selection

When choosing a sheath, you’re going to face numerous options for different knives. Most commonly, knives will include leather, nylon or kydex sheaths. For a fixed-blade knife, a sheath is very important for safely transporting the knife, as well as providing easy access to the knife. A nice sheath also creates the first impression for the knife. On many high-end knives, brands normally include leather sheaths. Some hunters prefer kydex sheaths because they are impervious to weather.

Regardless of which type, while a sheath isn’t as necessary for a folding-blade, you will need one for a fixed blade. It will protect the knife from the elements, ultimately preserving the blade. For your own safety, you also want a sheath that forms a snug fit for your knife. Some knives are too sharp that they cut through their sheath which is an easy way to slice yourself.

Handle

There are many different handle types, including:

  • Micarta
  • Wooden
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Dymondwood
  • Phenloic

For your own comfort, and safety, an ergonomic handle is one of the most important components of a good gutting knife. First, you will want to select a knife that has a comfortable, non-slip handle. By using a thin handle, your hand can accidentally slide up on to the blade if you strike a hard surface (such as bone while skinning). That’s why a thicker handle is normally more useful in this type of work.

You’ll want to search out a handle that not only has good traction so it won’t slip, but also is made out of sturdy materials so that it won’t break, and can endure prolonged usage. The handle should rest comfortable and securely in your hand; if it slips when wet, then it is a huge liability to your skinning, and general well-being. In bloody, muddy and wet (read: messy) conditions, you should be able to maintain a firm, strong grip on the handle.

Whether your personal preference is to wrap your fingers around the handle, or placing your finger around the knife’s spine, it should sit in your hand comfortably. Ultimately, you have more freedom in handle choice with a skinner because you won’t be using it for the same functions as a hunting knife, but you still want something that is ergonomical, comfortable, non-slip, durable, and weather proof.

Steel Types

There’s many different kinds of steel used, some of the more popular ones are:

  • CPM-S30V Stainless Steel: (a high grade steel that offers corrosion resistance, edge retention and durability)
  • 420HC Steel: (corrosion resistant, and provides force)
  • ATS-34
  • AUS-8: (known to offer strong edge retention, and easily sharpened)
  • K110 Steel
  • 60A Stainless Steel: (corrosion resistant, offers strength and flexibility, strong edge retention, dull less easily)
  • 440A Stainless Steel: (added chromium to help protect from corrosion)

The steel of the knife is important because it is the basis of the blade. The blade will only be as good as the steel. For a gutting knife, you want it to be able to hold its edge for a prolonged period of time because it is time inefficient, and a pain, to have to continuously stop field dressing to routinely sharpen your knife.

Second, in addition to edge retention, sharpening ability is crucial. So, you want to choose a hard steel as opposed to tough steel because the tougher it is, the more difficult it will be to sharpen it (in other words, the tougher the steel, the ‘tougher’ it will be to sharpen). A good way to gauge is by looking for a Rockwell C Hardness of 56 HRC to 62 HRC. This is an ideal balance for steel so it offers both toughness, but can still be sharpened.

However, by choosing a knife with softer carbon steels (easier to shape an edge and sharpen it), it also means that it can also dull quicker. You’ll also see non-stainless and stainless steel. Stainless steels are corrosive resistance, while non-stainless steel is easier to sharpen, but doesn’t hold an edge as strong.

Corrosive resistance is important because you don’t want a steel that will rust or corrode quickly, making high carbon steel your best bet and selection.

Determine the size of the animal

The first thing you need to decide is the size of the animal you will want to use the knife on. The right knife will depend on the game you hunt as the texture of the animal’s skin can vary tremendously. Think about the size of the animal and decide based on that which knife you want to use for it. In other words, if you were skinning a large animal you would want to use a bigger blade than if you were skinning a small animal such as a rabbit.

If you need force and safety

If you will need a lot of force when you are skinning the animal, you may want to choose a fixed blade knife. These types of knives come as a solid piece with the handle attached to the knife. The blade is not only strong, it is rigid too. The risk of the blade moving forward or backward is quite unlikely as long as you keep a firm grip on the knife. The disadvantage with this kind of knife is that it is not very easy to carry around.

Easy to carry

If you are looking for a knife that you can easily carry around without any safety concerns, then you will find a folding knife more convenient for you. When you are carrying this knife, the risk of it being dangerous to you and others is greatly reduced because the blade can easily be folded into the handle and the knife can be safely carried in your pocket. The weakest point of the knife is the area where the blade joins the handle. When you use it, you will want to be very careful that you do not put in too much pressure which could lead to the hinge giving in. You will also have to be careful when closing the knife because if your hands happen to be on the way of the blade you could get injured.

Additional Knives to Consider

Best Hog Skinning Knife

Tops Knives Wild Pig Hunter Review


Features:

  • Equipped with a leather sheath
  • Beautiful Black River Wash Blade Finish
  • Made with 1095 high carbon steel
  • Fastened as a fixed blade for strength

Tops set out on a mission with this knife. To make an elegant, ‘top’ of the line pig hunting and skinner knife. They outdid themselves crafting not only a beautiful knife, but an optimal knife to handle intensive boar hunts. There’s no questions that feral hogs have some of the toughest hide of all game. Some can reach a weight of over 400 pounds. Tops clearly understands that, designing the blade for deep penetration, featuring a very strong puncture point.

This is a heavy duty knife, with a thick blade ground from 1095 high carbon steel. The blade comes razor sharp, and stays that way with some maintenance. The handle is designed with Mountain Tread Micarta Scales which helps to maintain a grip in all conditions. An ideal balance of blade sharpness, shape, edge retention, overall weight and handle grip.

If you are skinning and hunting wild pig then this is a great knife to consider. It is robust and can serve multiple functions (including tactical), but has impeccable craftsmanship in the knife’s construction. It is made for strength and piercing, and a worthy companion for your hunts!

Numbers:

  • Overall Length: 13 Inches
  • Blade Length: 7.50 Inches
  • Blade Thickness: .25 Inches
  • Knife Weight: 14.2 Ounces
  • Blade Steel: 1095 RC 56-58

Editor’s Rating: 4.75 / 5.0

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Hopefully this buyer’s guide has helped you, and don’t forget … to Hunt Sharp!

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