BLADE Magazine

Best Rescue Tools & Knives: Must-Have Lifesavers (2023)

Profiles of all rescue tools

Six Jim Dandy rescue tools, from top: Emerson Knives, Inc. N-SAR, Ontario RAT-3 Gobar, TOPS Knives Pry Knife, White River Knife & Tool Lifespike, Winkler Knives AF-ERT and KA-BAR USSF Bridge Breacher.

Emergencies happen anytime, anywhere. This means, having the best rescue tools & knives at hand is imperative.

When it comes to edged, prying, breaching and other tools for emergencies, there is no one-size-fits-all remedy as no two situations are ever alike. Because of this, many such tools are made to perform a broad range of tasks.

I have taken a fair number of classes and am certified in a wide variety of emergency skills. What I have learned across the board is there is no one right answer, and the tools you have on hand you had better know how to use. (Having these tools on hand or in your vehicle is really what we are looking at here; they must be readily accessible to be of use.)

Let’s take a look at some of the best options when it comes to rescue tools and knives. These instruments can handle situations from cutting a downing person out of a tangled line to prying an accident victim out of a car. And, most importantly, are sized to be at hand at all times.

What Makes A Good Rescue Tool

Given there is no way to prepare for every eventuality, it’s impossible to have one tool to address all emergencies. That said, the supreme value of a rescue tool is its versatility. In general, it should be capable of handling some of the most common tasks faced in most rescue situations, such as:

Yes, other situations require other tools. And certainly, there are options out there that are larded with all sorts of doodads to address these. However, these systems can prove overly complex and not as robust as more Spartan designs. Simple, reliable and flexible are the keys.

Buy Quality

It’s easy to blow off preparing for the worst. After all, the worst doesn’t happen all that often. However, when it does do you want to trust your life to a dime-store rescue tool?

Planning means spending money on the best possible equipment. In short, the best rescue tools are made of quality steel, built with robust materials, smartly designed and sized to be part of your kit. When your loved one is strapped into a wrecked car you need to get them out or other such disaster, you’ll be glad you spent the money.

White River Knife & Tool Lifespike

If swung like a hatchet, the White River Lifespike can slash sheet metal into shreds.

The Lifespike by White River Knife & Tool is arguably the most versatile of the review tools. Designed for first responders, it is an exceedingly tough implement that is very well thought out. However, it is not a do-all-be-all in that it lacks in a couple of important areas. I will cover those areas first to not detract from the utter beast of a tool it is.

The Lifespike really needs a seatbelt cutter integrated into the pommel/pry tip area—just a small one but one that doesn’t necessarily present the sharp tip to the chest. Moreover, the pry end is opposite the sharp tip, and if you try to pry with it you’re going to put leverage on the blade and edge. Hence, a vigorous rescue could lead to the rescuer becoming a rescuee. The location of the wrench socket is also not ideal; the height of the handle scales can impede its utility if trying to turn a bolt.

The White River Lifespike can punch through some very serious metal without taking edge damage.

That said, the Lifespike can punch through just about anything. Not only can it penetrate sheet metal with eye-opening ease, if swung like a hatchet it can slash the metal into shreds. It simply blasted through most of the test media and the edge held up extremely well. As far as durability and ease of deployment, you really can’t ask for much more. Breaking glass is possible, but the Lifespike is hard to control in that it doesn’t have a dedicated conical point to use in the role. Overall, I think it’s nearly perfect for dealing with automobile accidents. I’d be confident in using it to force open a door, but by the nature of its design there is the possibility of harming yourself if you aren’t 100 percent aware of where the blade is pointing.

White River Knife & Tool Lifespike Specs
Knife Type: Self-contained rescue multi-tool
Blade Length: 4.65”
Blade Material: 80CrV2 carbon steel
Blade Grined/Edge: Chisel/plain
Handle Material: G-10
Special Features: 1/2” channel gas line wrench, 9/16” wrench, pry bar pommel
Weight: 13.4 ozs.
Overall Length: 11.5”
Sheath: Kydex
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $300

Winkler Knives AF-ERT (Air Force Emergency Response Tool)

The Winkler AF-ERT is excellent for medium prying work and can be pounded into a gap quite easily.

Constructed of the same material as the company‘s knives and axes and bearing the same rugged finish, the Winkler Knives AF-ERT (Air Force Emergency Response Tool) is extremely tough and surprisingly compact. It is so small and slender it can easily ride in the MOLLE loops on your gear. The AF-ERT provides a surprising degree of function and exceptional strength. The head functions not just as a two-size wrench but also as a hammer and a glass breaker. The interior edges of the head cutout are sharp and can even be used to pull a ferro rod through to generate sparks.

The wrench sizes are very functional and work with a wide number of common scope mounts and automotive nuts and bolts. The head, while narrow, is functional as a small hammer. Of all the tools tested, the glass breaker was the most utilitarian and safest to use. It keeps the hand at a healthy distance from the glass and reduces the chance of getting cut. You can also rest the glass breaker on the surface and strike the face of the hammer with another object if you don’t think you can get enough leverage to swing the tool itself. Though it works quite well, the AF-ERT is quite lightweight and doesn’t possess a great deal of momentum when swung.

Using the wrench of the Winkler Knives AF-ERT as a striker is not only safe but extremely effective.

Prying with the tool is easy; the tip of the prybar is quite narrow and can get into some tight spaces. It is simple to tap it in because the head is flat and not sharp in any way. While not the largest tool, it probably has the most across-the-board daily uses and would not be out of place in a camping bag or glove box.

Winkler Knives AF-ERT Specs
Tool Type: Self-contained rescue multi-tool
Tool Material: 80CrV2 carbon steel
Head Width: 21/8”
Tool Thickness: 3/8”
Tool Finish: No-glare black oxide
Handle Width: ¾”
Special Features: Compact tool that can be tucked into MOLLE loops; features glass breaker, 3/4” and 1/2” wrench sockets, hammer head, nail-split pry bar
Weight: 12 ozs.
Overall Length: 9”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $85

KA-BAR USSF (United States Space Force) Bridge Breacher Tool

Because of its mass and length, the KA-BAR Bridge Breacher easily outclasses the other review tools for prying material apart. You can get much more leverage with it than the other test tools.

The KA-BAR USSF (United States Space Force) Bridge Breacher Tool is a substantial, heavy piece of steel that can get most emergency jobs done. It has a stepped wrench cutout located toward the tool’s business end. You can operate it from the handle end if you are prying, turning a nut or splitting material. Because of its mass and length, it easily outclasses the other tools when it comes to prying stuff apart.

The Bridge Breacher has a relatively blunt-edged, chisel-like blade on one side for chopping. In a pinch it can even be used to split wood. It bends and crushes metal and does not cut through it the same way as the Lifespike. I am not a huge fan of the squared edges in the grip area. I would like to see them more rounded for comfort, and also something other than the rubberized grip material. If you need to hammer the Breacher in to open something, the grip material shreds away quickly. Nonetheless, it is an excellent choice for the heaviest tasks and for material breakdown.

KA-BAR USSF Bridge Breacher Tool Specs
Tool Type: Self-contained rescue multi-tool
Cutting Edge: 2”
Edge/Tool Material: 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel
Blade Grind: Chisel
Handle Material: Blue Plastisol
Special Featues: Nail-split pry bar tip, slotted wrench cutout, chisel edge
Weight: 1 lb., 9.6 ozs.
Overall Length: 13”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $85

TOPS Knives Pry Knife and Pry Probe Punch (PPP) Tool Combo

The Pry Knife and Pry Probe Punch (PPP) Tool Combo by TOPS Knives is a beefy, substantial dual package.

The Pry Knife and Pry Probe Punch (PPP) Tool Combo by TOPS Knives is a beefy, substantial dual package. It is truly a hybrid of a prybar and a knife, with some strengths and weaknesses of both. The knife has sharp edges and a very comfortable handle. It handles a wide variety of cutting chores. It can be used to split a dizzying amount of material, and is robust enough to chop wood and even through metal. The secondary edge has a steep angle and segmented serrations for cutting through such tough material as rope. When it comes to prying, the blade can be used with substantial force. Thanks to its chisel grind, it can be used to gain leverage from a variety of angles. The finish is quite durable, though it comes off the high points quickly.

The PPP is a relatively compact, ergonomically designed device that features an angled prybar with a conical spike glass breaker. The tool is wrapped in paracord with rubber gaskets toward the end. It is quite effective at prying. However, I don’t like the location of the glass breaker. If you are prying quite hard and slip, you may end up skewering yourself on it. It is extremely sharp and, while very functional, is more of a liability than need be.

The aggressive glass-breaker punch of the TOPS PPP is utilitarian but not ideally located.

A weakness of this set is the sheath. It is a piggyback set up but features fabric-fastener and buckle closures. While it is easy to remove the tools, the sheath does not hold them very securely. Moreover, while I did not throw the sheath in the mud for this test, fabric fasteners do not work when clogged with debris.

TOPS Knives Pry Knife/PPP Combo Specs
Tool Type: Combination knife/pry tool package w/piggyback nail-split pry bar/glass breaker
Blade Length: 4.5” (pry knife)
Edge: Serrated (pry knife)
Blade/Tool Materials: 5160 carbon steel (pry knife)/5140 carbon steel (PPP [pry probe punch])
Handle Materials: Black linen Micarta® (pry knife) and rubber and paracord (PPP)
Special Features: Piggyback sheath carries both tools; pry knife is 1/4” thick and can be used to cut and chop; PPP features a heavy-duty glass breaker and nail-split pry bar
Sheath: Black nylon
Weight: 16 ozs.
Overall Length: 10.75” (pry knife) and 71/4” (PPP)
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $275

Ontario RAT-3 Gobar

The Ontario RAT-3 Gobar is shaped like a 90-degree cleaver and can handle most knife tasks.

The Ontario RAT-3 Gobar is shaped like a 90-degree cleaver and functions for most knife tasks. The square-edge blade tip cannot be used for stabbing in the traditional sense and functions more along the lines of a fixed-blade box cutter. It has the ability to pry, though the blade material is relatively thin for any serious work. It can get under seat belts and cut them but is not ideal for the purpose.

It works in a pinch as a rescue tool and can be used to lever or jimmy windows and doors. It is not a tool I would baton with a mallet for fear of snapping off the blade. The cutout at the ricasso is too small to fit a finger into despite giving the appearance it should accept one. The corner of the edge recurves slightly backward, and if you get your finger in there like I did, you may get a nasty cut. A bonus is the tool is quite thin. It takes up little space and at only a few ounces is lightweight. The sheath is an afterthought. I would like to have seen this one come with a dedicated polymer model given that the one supplied is too long and features only a snap button to retain the blade.

Ontario Knife CO. RAT-3 Gobar Specs
Knife Type: Fixed blade/pry tool
Blade Material: Carbon steel
Blade Grind: Chisel
Handle Material: Black Micarta®
Special Features: Lightweight fixed blade can chop and do light prying
Weight: 5.8 ozs.
Overall Length: 7.8”
Sheath: Black nylon
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $91.95

Emerson N-SAR (Navy Search and Rescue)

The N-SAR remains functional as a belt cutter with the blade closed.

The Emerson N-SAR (Navy Search and Rescue) is small and easy to store, and is also exceptionally durable and sharp in all the right places. This is a tool for cutting a person free safely. The blunt tip is not designed to stab. The blade is not impossible to cut with, it is simply unlikely you would stab through a person’s clothing when trying to free them. It zips through any type of common restraint. The main edge serrations can cut thicker material.

The blade opens one-handed or with the Emerson Wave feature when pulling it from a pocket. Care must be taken with the latter, as the dedicated belt cutter on the spine of the blade can become caught on a pocket accidentally and slice your clothing. I know this from experience. Though somewhat pricey for a knife that isn’t good for normal cutting chores, it is invaluable for extracting individuals from standard seat belts, child seats or any manner of physical restraints. The belt cutter can cut cable ties as well. I have begun leaving an N-SAR in an easy-to-reach place in my vehicle for cutting seat belts and straps in emergencies.

The Emerson N-SAR can easily and safely cut cable ties. Moreover, it wouldn’t damage your wrist if you should find someone needing rescue from a seat belt or other kind of strap.

Emerson Knives, Inc. N-SAR Specs
Knife Type: Folding rescue
Blade Length: 3.5”
Blade Grind: Chisel
Edge: Plain and serrated combo
Blade Material: 154CM stainless
Handle Material: Black G-10/glass laminate
Pocket Clip: Yes
Lock: Linerlock
Special Stuff: Safety blade tip (blunted), Wave opening feature, integrated belt cutter
Weight: 4.1 ozs.
Closed Length: 4.7”
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $299.99

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