Survival knives are for survival, camping, emergency situations, and taking on heavy duty tasks. When you are in any of these situations, you want a good sturdy knife. One that can take a beating and still maintain its quality. A good survival knife should be able to cut, slice, hammer, split wood, self-defense, food prep, prying, hunting, and to help build a shelter. Survival knives started to come around during the 19th century, but they really started to evolve during World War Two. Now you can find almost any style, brand, and size of survival knives. But which of these survival knives is the one that will be perfect for you? Today I am going to go over the characteristics of your survival knife that you should seek out while researching and shopping.
For starters, when you are looking for a survival knife, you should be looking for a full tang blade. The tang of the knife is the part of the blade that extends down into the handle of the knife. When looking at knives, you can choose between a partial tang or a full tang. However, there is truly almost no advantage to choosing a partial tang for your survival knife. A full tang is considered the best quality knife for your surviving needs. This means that blade is made from one continuous piece of steel and it continues all the way into the handle. The handle is then made out of scales or grips that are attached onto the bottom portion of the steel piece. If you are using a knife with a partial tang, the blade can come loose from the handle easier. When this happens, the knife becomes hard to use properly, and it actually can be dangerous to use. If you have a full tang knife and the handle happens to break, you still have the full shape of the knife. If this should happen, you can wrap the bottom of the steel with cord, especially ParaCord, or even tape to create a more comfortable grip. One of the advantages to having a full tang knife is that it is hard to break because it is one continuous piece of metal, there is no welded areas that can break down. An easy way to look for a full tang is to look at the handle. If it is a full tang knife, you will almost always see the metal sandwiched between the knife scales or grips.
You also want to avoid purchasing a knife with a narrow tang. A narrow tang is when the part of the steel that extends into the handle is much narrower than the blade part of the piece of steel. You do not want a narrow tang because it is more prone to breaking than a thick tang, especially if you are hammering or prying with your knife.
The next characteristic that you should be looking for in your ideal survival knife is the handle. Really, most handle will suffice and be great, a lot of it is just based on personal preference. But, you should be avoiding a hollow handle for two reasons. First of all, if it is hollow, then it is not a full tang knife, which is one of the most important aspects. Second, you do not want to store things in your knife handle. When I first heard about knives that you could store things in, I was confused, then I was intrigued. It seems like a great idea at first; you have your knife on you, and you can be storing things in it. In a survival situation, you do not want to be weighed down with lots of things, so yes, this seems like a good idea. However, if you happen to lose your knife, you will have also lost everything that was stored in the knife. Double bummer. Never buy a survival knife with a hollow handle.
Another thing that you should not be getting with your handle is a compass. Again, this seems like a neat feature on paper. But, because of how it has to be built into it, it will mess up your grip. In a survival situation, a solid grip on your knife might be the difference between life and death.
A thing to consider, which really just comes down to personal preference, is whether or not you want finger grooves on your knife. There are times when having finger grooves are going to provide excellent grip. Finger grooves might even be a necessity depending on the handle material; if you choose a material such as Micarta, you are going to want to consider having finger grooves, because Micarta doesn’t have the best grip. However, you don’t need finger grooves. And if finger grooves drive you crazy, don’t get finger grooves. Get what you love and what you are used to using.
There are tons of different blade features that you are going to need to take into account.
Steel makes a very big difference in your survival knife. There is steel strength, toughness, sharpness, and durability. The two main categories of survival knife steels are either carbon or stainless steel. This is a massive, ongoing debate. Which one is actually better? It’s hard to get two people to agree to that answer, so I’ll just go over what the main differences between the two are.
Stainless steel is obviously stainless. This means that it isn’t going to get spots, it’s going to be more resistant to rust and corrosion. Stainless steels can take a pretty good beating and have been considered almost indestructible. If you are going to be in a wet environment, you are going to want to choose a stainless steel option. However, stainless steels can be more brittle and more difficult to sharpen. Plus, they lose their edge much quicker than a carbon steel. If you are going to choose a stainless steel, make sure you know your stainless steels. Some of the best stainless steels for survival situations are S60V, BG-42, S90V, CPM S30V, CPM 154, or 440C.
Carbon steels on the other hand hold a better edge for longer periods of time and are easier to sharpen when you need to. These steels are tougher steels and less likely to chip. However, it will be harder to maintain because it is easier to rust. Some of the best carbon steels for your survival blade are D2, A2, O1, Carbon V, and CPM 154.
The blade design is whether you want a straight blade or a serrated blade. Serrated edges are great for cutting through thicker materials because you can saw. However, they are much harder to sharpen in the field, which is where you are going to be sharpening your blade in a survival situation. You can sharpen a straight edge with a really smooth stone if that’s all you have. Straight edges are better for chopping wood, batoning, or carving. A straight edge is much more versatile. But, if you love serrated edged knives, get a serrated edged knife. Just know what you are going to have to deal with if you are in the field.
This also includes a fixed blade or a folder blade. Always pick the fixed blade for a survival knife. The joint of a folding knife is a weakness. A fixed blade is much more durable and can take a heavier beating. Fixed blades can pound, they can chop, they can thrust, they can pry, and they can cut.
The blade size includes the length and the thickness of the blade. Hollywood has painted a picture that to survive you want the biggest knife you can possibly get. This is not true. The ideal length of the blade is 9-11 inches long. Any longer and you are going to lose control over your blade. If the blade is longer, you are going to struggle with small game, detail work, and shaving wood to get tinder. But, you still want a long blade. If you choose a small blade, you are going to struggle chopping. You need the weight of the longer blade.
The thickness of the blade is where it gets a little bit trickier. This is not as common knowledge as the length of the blade. A good thickness is between 3/16-4/16 of an inch. With this thickness, your knife will be able to stand up to the heavy duty tasks, but it still won’t have too much flex in the knife.
The tip of the knife is what determines what the knife can ultimately do. The blade is shaped a certain way to let you perform a specific task. You want a sharp, pointed tip. You do not want curvy tips, you do not want a rounded tip, and you do not want a hooked tip. With these mentioned tips you won’t be able to stab things as well. In survival situations, you are going to want to have a knife that can act as a self-defense weapon. Some highly recommended tip shapes are the drop point and the clip point shaped blades.
The drop point shape is the most versatile shape of blade. The dull edge of the knife slopes downward at a slight angle about half way to the tip and then meets the tip.
The clip point shape has a slight concave curve at the top. This tip is strong but this shape is also more prone to breaking if you are chopping heavier materials like wood.
The pommel of a knife is the bottom of the handle. If you have a sturdy pommel, you are going to be able to hammer and pound. Some knives have a rounded pommel or a hooked pommel, but those aren’t going to let you hammer well. If your pommel is well designed, if it is sturdy, you are going to be able to accomplish a lot more with your knife. Not only will you have a knife, you will have a well-rounded survival tool. Why wouldn’t you want to get as much out of your knife as you possibly can?
A lot of times, the sheath is forgotten, it is almost an afterthought. The companies put most of the funding towards the blade and the handle. And really, most people don’t mind. The sheath is where you store your knife and that’s it, right? Wrong. The sheath is how you are going to carry your knife. The sheath affects how you draw your knife. You want a sheath that will keep your knife snugly and securely. This means that you sheath will fit closely to your knife. There are three things that you should be looking for in a knife.
A lower attachment. This is a hole or attachment piece that sits at the tip end of your sheath. This is used for strapping your knife to your leg, belt, or backpack strap.
A belt and lanyard attachment. This is a loop that allows you to hook it through your belt. You want to be able to tie a cord through the lanyard hole to let you carry it in different ways.
Strap. A crossover strap is so that you can carry your knife cross body.
A good sheath is versatile. It will let you carry your knife however you prefer to.
You are never going to be able to predict what survival situation you might encounter. And each survival situation is going to be different than the one previously and different than the coming one. With each varying situation, you are going to need a knife that can take on a variety of different tasks. You aren’t going to be able to predict exactly what task your knife is going to have to stand up to, so why wouldn’t you get one that can stand up to any situation? Look for a full tang, look for a familiar handle, look for a strong and sharp tip, look for a quality metal, look for a well-designed blade, look for a solid pommel, and don’t forget to look for a quality sheath.