According to various survival experts around the globe, the most important tool or item in your survival kit is a dependable survival knife. It is easily the most useful thing when it comes to surviving in extreme environments. You can use it as a weapon to hunt small prey and as also as a tool for different applications. So, it is imperative that you choose the right survival knife when looking for proper survival gear. Believe it or not, it might just save your life. But, like any tool it’s only as good (or effective) as the hand and brain that uses it.
What a survival knife should do
A good quality survival knife can be used to perform multiple functions in difficult situations like:
- Chopping wood
- Building a shelter
- Preparing food
- Signaling, with a polished blade
- Starting a fire
- Using as a hammer
- Hunting or skinning animals
- Prying something open, if necessary
Now, you have to make sure that your knife can indeed be used for all the functions mentioned above in a reliable way. In the wild your knife will be your best friend. You will be depending on each other. The knife will depend on you for proper use and you will depend on for its functionality and reliability. You will need a knife that you can rely on, so it’s time to take things a bit more seriously.
This survival knife guide aims to help identify the most important attributes in a quality survival knife. So consider the following 5 features when selecting a survival knife. And in full disclosure, let me say right up front I’m a huge fan of the Ka-Bar Survival knife (Check prices here). It’s not perfect and it’s not the end-all-be-all, but for it does everything I need it to do well enough for me to have a chance to survive.
While not included in the top features of a survival knife, and for a good reason, a folding knife makes a bad choice when it comes to survival knives. Almost every survival expert agrees that a folding knife is not a versatile as a fixed blade nor as strong. No matter how strong it appears it will at some point in time break, all folding knives weaken and are weak at the joint. It can break easily as compared to one that has a fixed handle. But you can always take a folding knife as a backup option or when doing tasks which requires a shorter blade.
Survival Knife Buyers Guide
5 Top Things to Look for in a Quality Survival Knife:
1. The Tang
Ever notice the part of the knife’s blade that elongates into the handle? That’s called the tang. Under the handle of the knife, the tang extends to the tip of the knife and is made of steel. Bear in mind that the tang and the blade are not different pieces of steel. The tang which elongates all the way to the end of the knife’s hand is referred to as a ‘full tang’. A full tang survival knife is considered by many survival experts as the perfect choice when selecting a survival knife.
A fully extended tang adds more strength and durability to the blade, lessening or even zeroing its chances of breaking as compared to a knife with a shorter tang.
A majority of survival knives are between 5 to 12 inches in length. Any less than 5 inches and it might not help you perform functions like chopping wood or prying things. But, on the other hand, if you buy a blade which is bigger than 10 inches, you will have a machete on your hands. But we are talking about survival situations, and a blade this long would only get in the way. A big blade is hard to control and wield.
But, depending upon the terrain and my needs, I do sometimes have needed and used a bushwacker machete.
3. Blade Design
The design of the blade is also argued amongst various users, but it mainly depends on what you will be using the knife for. Here are some factors to consider when it comes to the design of the blade:
When it comes to blade edge, the debate is between straight and serrated blades. A smooth straight blade will be useful for chopping wood and doing intricate work. Plus, it is much convenient to clean and sharpen. And due to the fact that it is straight, you can use any stone to sharpen it. So don’t worry if you lose your blade sharpener stone.
When it comes to serrated edges, you might want to stay away from them in survival situations. While a serrated edge holds up well for many tasks, it requires a unique sort of blade sharpener and it isn’t easy to sharpen the serrated blades when you’re out in the open. Unless you will be cutting rope on your journey, you won’t miss a serrated edged knife.
Spine of the Blade
It is good to find a knife that has a flat spine (the back of the blade), preferably without any serrations. A flat back blade makes it easy to crack wood and you will be able to use it with fire steels to make fire. The spine of the blade depends on what you use it for. For example, there are double-edged spear point and tanto knives used by the military for close-quarters combat. But it will do you no good when having to survive in the wild. Although you can use tanto knives to fatally wound animals, you can’t chop or split wood with it.
Clip Point Blade
A clip point blade is shaped concavely so that the tip becomes thinner and ultimately sharper. The back blade of the clip point is usually sharpened to create a double edge. When you sharpen a clip point’s wrong edge, it becomes ideal for piercing and thus can be used for skinning small animals. You can also use the sharp tip to pierce holes in cramped places. As an example, the Ka-Bar Survival Knife has a clip point.
Drop Point Blade
A drop point blade’s back edge is designed to hunch downwards from the middle to join with the curved edge of the blade which is above the middle of the knife. What’s more interesting is that all well-known survival blades and knives have this shape.
The grind on the knife can tell a lot about the purpose of a particular survival knife’s design and what it should be used for:
The scandi grind is like a straight grind with only one difference: the bevel starts in the middle of the blade and not on the back of it. But a grind like this is designed to add durability to the blade but it falls back on cutting abilities a bit. Still the scandi grind is usually used for survival knives.
A hollow grind is designed to give a concave attribute to the knife with a beveled cutting edge. The design is similar to the one used in straight razors used normally for shaving. But the problem is that a hollow grind has a weak edge. Although it is really sharp, it would require stropping repairs. And you won’t find a grind like this on survival knives.
A high flat grind is comparable to a flat grind with the exception that a flat grind is not designed to travel all the way to the spine. Hollow grinded knives have another bevel at the edge. The second bevel could either be scandi or a convex.
In this grind, the blade narrows down to the spine from both the sides of the blade. In the process, a significant amount of metal is removed. This is why it isn’t considered to be a proper survival knife. Because much of the metal is removed to make the blade sharper, its durability drops considerably. The Finnish Puuko is a perfect example of a full flat knife.
Instead of narrowing down the blade with straight lines, the taper is given a curved shape. This allows the blade to retain a proper amount of metal, making the edge more powerful and deadly sharp. This type of grind is often used to make axes and is also referred to as an axe grind.
5. Blade Metal
There are two types of steel used for manufacturing survival knives, pure steel and carbon steel. Each type of metal has its own merits. The type you choose depends on what you need the knife for.
I am not a fan of stainless steel knife blades on a survival knife. Stainless steel can be okay when you are in areas which is marine or harsh environment like a coastal areas. Stainless steel lasts ridiculously long and does not rust. Plus it is a durable metal. But in terms of sharper and stronger edges they don’t hold a candle to carbon steel blades. Carbon Steel knives are strong and durable as compared to its stainless steel counterpart. Plus, most survival experts say that carbon steel blades are convenient to sharpen. The only disadvantage the blade has is it can easily rust. So, you have to take care of it.
Knife handles also vary in terms of the materials used, some are made of leather, hard rubber others use durable plastic, strong wood or micarta canvas. In terms of handle materials, all of them are good but it depends on how much you sweat. If you have sweaty hands, it is a good idea to go with a rubber grip.
Be sure to look at the handle, if the handle is hollow, it is clear that both the blade and metal inside the handle are separate, which could end up breaking, not ideal for surviving conditions. Plus, if you are keeping something important inside the handle of the knife and if the handle breaks away, you could be in an awkward situation. So, try not to pick hollow handle knives. They are not easy to grip and not even comfortable.
Hollow handle survival knives come with a compass attached at the bottom, so forget hammering anything because you will break the compass and risk getting sidetracked. If you want a compass then buy a durable one which is waterproof and break proof. Always look for a survival knife which has a whole body, meaning the metal inside the handle and the rest of the blade should be one. Search for knives which have micarta canvas handles. They are much more comfortable and durable.
So, the next time you decide to upgrade your survival kit and plan to replace your old survival knife, be sure to keep the above mentioned factors in mind before buying a survival knife.