How to Choose the Perfect Survival Knife

by A Manly Guest Contributor on November 29, 2011 · 150 comments

in Manly Skills, Survival

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

I don’t remember my first kiss or even who it was with. I can barely recollect getting my license to drive. I vaguely remember my high school graduation and my entire time spent at college is a blur. However, I remember exactly where I was, what I was wearing, and how I felt when I got my first survival knife over 20 years ago. Just thinking about it brings back some of my fondest childhood memories. It was the RAMBO knife with the hollow handle that housed a little fishing kit along with a few other miscellaneous items. My love affair with knives began at a young age, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Movies seem to always have the coolest survival knives, but does the survival knife really have a place in the “real world?”

That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it most certainly does.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 2010 marked the highest number of disasters in one year for the United States–totaling in at 91. The disaster tally in 1953 was only 13, and it has been gradually increasing ever since. Despite our advancements in medicine, technology, travel, and communications, millions of people across the globe face disaster and its merciless consequences each year. In addition, thousands of individuals are thrust into unexpected and unpredictable life or death situations where survival depends on experience, knowledge, and the resources on hand. My point? It is wise to keep important survival resources close by–just in case. One of your most important survival tools is a quality knife. The cutting blade has carved itself an indispensable place in survival history. For thousands of years, man has depended on a cutting tool of some kind to help meet basic survival needs: food, water, fire, and shelter. Now, in our modern society, we casually refer to this blade as the “survival knife.” It has certainly earned that name. However, not all survival knives are created equal.

I have the privilege of strapping a survival knife to my hip on almost a daily basis here at Willow Haven. I completely understand, though, that this isn’t practical for most. At a minimum, a survival knife should be kept accessible. You might be surprised how often you’ll use it–even if not in a survival situation. I never travel without my survival knife. I pack it in my checked baggage on the plane. I keep it on my hotel nightstand. It’s always in the console of my truck when road-tripping, and I never set off for an adventure without it. Whether fishing, backpacking, hunting, boating, skiing, hiking, or camping, my knife is a trusted companion. I’m rarely more than a stone’s throw away from it at any given moment.

A “survival knife” is just as it sounds–a knife that can help you survive. It is a tool with literally hundreds of survival-related functions. Below is a short list:

  • Cutting/Slicing
  • Digging
  • Splitting
  • Self-Defense
  • First Aid Tool
  • Food Prep
  • Shelter Building
  • Fire Making
  • Hunting Weapon
  • Prying Tool
  • Signaling
  • Hammering
  • Make-Shift Screwdriver

When it comes to your survival knife, less is typically more–despite what you may see on TV. Hang the cool movie prop knife on a wall and embrace the simplicity of a skillfully designed survival knife. Function trumps styling–always. Your first priority is performance and that will depend on a variety of time-tested key features.

6 Important Survival Knife Features

Survival Knife Feature #1: Size

Does size matter? Yes, but when it comes to your survival knife, bigger is not always better. If your blade is too big, you sacrifice the ability to effectively use it for detailed tasks such as dressing small game or carving precision snare sets.

On the flip-side, a small blade does not perform well with more rugged tasks such as batoning and chopping. Batoning is when you strike the back of your knife blade with a heavy object to drive the knife through thick or stubborn wood. This allows the blade to be used for splitting wood and cutting through large limbs and trees.

Having used many survival knives, I’ve found the ideal size to be around 9-11 inches in length. For example, my Blackbird SK-5 survival knife pictured below is 10” in OVERALL length with a 5” blade.

Survival Knife Feature #2: Fixed Blade

A fixed blade knife is more durable and reliable than a folding knife. While I love a good folder for Every Day Carry (EDC), a fixed blade has the upper hand when it comes to meeting the demands a survival situation might present.

A joint of any kind is a weakness. Minimize the risk of damaging or losing your key survival resource by choosing a knife that is better suited for pounding, chopping, thrusting, prying, and rigorous cutting.

Survival Knife Feature #3: Full Tang

Not only should your survival knife be a fixed blade, but it should also be FULL TANG. “Full tang” indicates that the blade and handle are constructed from one continuous piece of metal. Scales or grips are typically attached to the handle portion for a more comfortable grip. A full tang knife is much more robust than partial tang styles such as the half tang, push tang, or rat-tail tang. As you can see in the photo below, the profile of a full tang blade is much more substantial than its rat-tail friend.

Over time, partial tang knife blades can loosen and develop “play” in the handle–especially under demanding tasks such as batoning, prying, and chopping. If a partial tang blade comes loose from the handle it can be very difficult (and dangerous) to use effectively. In contrast, a full tang knife blade is still very functional even if the scales come off. It can be wrapped with cordage for added comfort and grip.

There is absolutely no advantage in choosing a partial tang blade over a full tang design for your survival knife. It’s difficult to break a solid piece of continuous metal. An easy way to spot a full tang knife is to look for the metal tang sandwiched between the knife’s scales. Below are a few examples. *Note: Not all full tang knife blades have an exposed tang as shown in these examples.

Survival Knife Feature #4: Sharp Pointed Tip

This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen many “survival knives” with angled, rounded, hooked, or straight cut flat tips. Despite any contrary argument, there are many compelling reasons why your survival knife should have a sharp pointed tip. The first is self-defense–against man or beast. Anything other than a sharp spear point tip compromises your ability to effectively thrust or stab your knife as a weapon–especially through thick fur/hide or layered clothing.

Similarly, a spear point knife can be used as a hunting weapon–either by itself or lashed to a pole to create a longer reach spear. I keep the allen wrench (which came with my knife) in my knife sheath pocket at all times. This allows me to remove the scales and lash the full tang blade almost seamlessly onto a staff as a spear-point.

On a more practical note, I find myself using the sharp knife point for all kinds of tasks while teaching survival classes and training in the field. Below is a short list of tasks in which a sharp pointed knife tip excels over other styles:

  • Detailed prying and picking
  • Cleaning/dressing small game such as fish
  • Drilling/Notching
  • Clothing/Gear Repairs
  • Splinters!
  • Processing some wild edibles such as pine nuts, acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts
  • Accessing live bait in hard to get areas

Survival Knife Feature #5: Single-Edged Blade with Flat Ground Spine

Your survival knife should not have a double-edged dagger style blade. A double-edged blade is just not necessary for the vast majority of (if not all) survival uses. Actually, it can be a disadvantage.

Not only do I recommend a single-edged blade, but I prefer for the back side (spine) of my survival knife to have a flat 90 degree grind. A flat ground spine is ideal for striking a fire-starting ferro-rod. Rounded or beveled spines make this almost impossible.

I regularly use my survival knife to baton through large pieces of wood. Whether splitting firewood or constructing make-shift shelters, a sharpened back edge would make this function nearly impossible.

I also frequently use the back edge of my knife as a thumb rest for added leverage and control during tedious carving projects such as feather sticks or notching triggers for traps and snare sets. Projects like this would be difficult and dangerous with a double-edged blade.

Survival Knife Feature #6: Solid Pommel

The “pommel” is the bottom of the knife’s handle–also referred to as the butt. I regularly use the pommel on my survival knife for light duty pounding and hammering. It’s perfect for driving in shelter stakes. I’ve also used my knife point to chip out crude ice fishing holes by pounding the pommel with a heavy stick to drive the blade into the ice. Some knives are designed with a rounded or hooked pommel that is not ideal for hammering. I believe in getting the most uses possible from your knife. A well-designed and substantial pommel only adds to your list of capabilities.

Bottom Line

Use the above 6 criteria as a benchmark for choosing a potential survival knife. Only you can decide the features on which you are and are not willing to compromise. Beyond this, pretty much everything else comes down to personal taste.

There are many survival knives on the market that include these 6 survival features, yet look nothing like each other. There are countless styling options that come down to personal preference and have little bearing on survival functionality. Some of these features include:

  • Blade Steel (Carbon or Stainless – varying options with varying results)
  • Handle Material (Rubber, Micarta, Bone, Antler, etc…)
  • Color or Finish
  • Lanyard Holes
  • Decorative Milling
  • Jimping
  • Serrated or Non-serrated Blade
  • Sheath Design and Style
  • Knife Designer/Manufacturer/Brand
  • Blade Style
  • With or Without Finger Guards
  • Blood Groove

Conclusion

A survival knife is not a magic wand nor does it have inherent magical saving powers. The true value is in the skill of the one who wields it. Skill only comes from practice and repetition. You don’t buy a survival knife to decorate your man cave–it is a tool that’s meant to be used. Since the beginning of mankind, the cutting blade helped to shape how our ancestors hunted, fought, built, and survived. From cavemen with sharp rocks to a soldier in modern warfare, there will never be a relationship quite like that between a man and his blade. Choose yours wisely.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

______________________________________

Creek Stewart is a Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft.  Creek’s passion is teaching, sharing, and preserving outdoor living and survival skills. Creek is also the author of the book Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit. For more information, visit Willowhaven Outdoor.

{ 150 comments… read them below or add one }

1 FredB November 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm

This is what I chose for my survival knife. It’s car oriented with a seat belt cutter and a window breaking spike at the pommel. A folder doesn’t need a sheath. This is in my pocket when I’m in the car.

http://www.bladeops.com/Smith-Wesson-SWBG4TS-Border-Guard-Knife-Black-T-p/swbg4ts.htm

2 Chad November 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Where did you get that sheath?

3 Cheyenne November 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm

while i think all of these are great tips, i still prefer to carry my ka-bar. great article!!

4 dave mckim November 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm

avoid the stag / antler grip… they will break with hard use. Micarta is much better.

5 Dave November 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Best “survival knife” or fixed blade I’ve ever owned was a CRKT Stiff K.I.S.S. It met all these criteria (the pommel was solid, though there wasnt much of it). Just a decent piece of steel with a good edge on it, a rope handle, and a clip-on zytel sheath. I wore it, carried it, and used it EVERYWHERE. And it only cost me $20. Not sure why CRKT ever discontinued that knife… but they still make some other low-buck fixed blades.

6 bluguitar89 November 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm

that’s a sweet looking setup, what knife is that exactly and where can I get one? It would make an excellent addition to my collection : )

7 Ant November 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm

The sheath seems to be from Hedgehog Leatherworks.
http://www.hedgehogleatherworks.com.

8 Hal November 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm

You hit the nail on the head on a few of your points, but I do have to disagree with quite a bit in the article. A lot of the things shown as uses for the knife are what most folks would call “abuse”. The knife is your most important tool, and should be used for what it is: a cutting instrument. Period. If you’re using your knife for EVERYTHING, it just shows that you’re unprepared. Going minimalist is fine and dandy, but you have to keep your needs minimalist as well. If you go out there with a pack of matches and a knife, there’s a lot you’re simply going to have to do without.

To each his own, of course, but keeping the above in mind, I’ve always preferred a smaller knife for the “survival knife”. 3-1/2″ blade is just about right (give or take about a half inch). Hidden tang (Ka-Bar, puukko, etc) is just fine. Synthetic handle (Micarta, G10, etc) is a must. No guard on the rear, guard not much more than a speedbump on the front. Simple, tough steel (O-1, 1095, etc) that can be resharpened in the field. Basically, a hefty paring knife.

9 Kjetil Endresen November 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Survival knife for men?

Here is the ultimate one:

http://www.samekniv.no/index.php?option=com_easygallery&act=photos&cid=70&Itemid=59

A solid 9″ survival knife; every sami on the planet owns one. Perfect as substitute for axe, saw and knife. If you meet the artofmanliness guy deep in the jungle, pointing his tiny fruitknife – be sure you will be the survivor of the battle.. §B-)

10 Asriel November 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Anyone know of some good blades that i can carry in California that wont have me in the back of a cop car, since im not to sure about Knife laws in California.

I currently carry a leather multi-tool with a Kershaw(on my belt), and a second flat multi-tool that fits in my pocket. I would like to replace my Kershaw folding knife with a good survival knife.

11 Cory B. B.A. Ok. November 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Check this one out:http://www.tombrowntracker.com/

12 Ed Sumerdon November 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Thw knife and sheath are both available at http://www.hedgehogleatherworks.com
They also make sheaths for other knives like the ka-bar and the Tom Brown Tracker, which I own. Carry on!

13 Marty November 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I’d rather have a garden pruner than a knife…

14 Robert November 29, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I’ve had my K-bar for years and I’ve used it for all kinds of stuff. Even knife throwing. Even carried it on deployment in Iraq. I’ll never use anything else.

15 Loki Steelheart November 29, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I’d recommend a traditional Khukri from khukri house in nepal,and any of the small carbon steel knives from mora of Sweden.
I could thrive in the wild with those 2 blades alone…although a double bit axe might also help

16 Soumi Poika November 29, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Puuko all the way.

Finns have been surviving with them in the frigid North for centuries.

While not a traditional style, this is another good example:
http://www.kellamknives.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_33_83_87&products_id=792

17 Hal November 29, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Really, my issue is with the concept of “survival” tools in general. I have no idea what kind of situations people would get into (or how in the world they get there) where one specific piece of equipment is going to save them. Survival is a mindset, not something you buy off the internet. The closest thing you’ll have to a “survival knife” is whatever pocketknife you carry, because that’s the only knife you’ll have around when you’re trying to “survive” anything when things go bad. A fixed blade is certainly more convenient, even a small one, simply because it’s always open and it’s much easier to keep clean. Problem is, in most places, you simply aren’t going to have it. In the places you can have it, hopefully you’re smart enough to bring the proper tools to do the job. Let’s face reality. We need to make a distinction between OUTDOORSY knife and SURVIVAL knife. I’ve seen hundreds of articles almost word for word the same as this one online. It’s nothing new.

18 Shane Williams November 29, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I have a Peter Janda Fin fixed blade tactical knife, which is made by Ka-Bar. I love it, it works like a charm for everything I have used it for, which has mostly been backpacking/hiking related stuff. I got it off Amazon when it was on sale, heres a link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00153CWCU/ref=oh_o00_s00_i00_details

@Asriel – I live in CA, and this knife is legal here.

19 Creep November 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Excellent article. I recently purchased a Bark River Bravo-1 rampless as my go to survival knife. I did consider the Blackbird SK-5 for the stainless and the sheath option from Hedgehog, but I just could not find enough reviews. Had I read this article beforehand, I probably would have gotten the SK-5. Then again, I do have two bug out bags. One that I keep by my bed, and one I keep in my car. I think the SK-5 might be a good option to keep in the car.

20 Michael Morris November 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I prefer the Gerber ASEK. I take it when I’m out in the woods and it’s never let me down. http://www.gerbergear.com/Military/Knives/LMF-II-Knife_22-01627G2

21 Sam November 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I just found the knife you mentioned at first, other than the hollow handle it’s pretty freakin awesome!

22 Anonymous November 29, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I’ve decided the best survival knife is the one you have with you all the time. That’s why I subscribe to the everyday carry (EDC) philosophy, which generally doesn’t allow for full tang blades. Try a nice folder like the Benchmade 585 Mini-Barrage with assist or the Doug Ritter RSK Mk1 (mfg by Benchmade). Even a multitool like a Victorinox swiss army or a Leatherman are good choices since those are more likely to actually see use in a suburban environment than someone being stranded in the wilderness for weeks. Ever tried opening a can of emergency food with a full tang blade?

23 David November 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm

I prefer the original of this genre, the Randall Model 18. I’ve had mine since 1982. http://www.randallknives.com/catalog.php?action=modeldetail&id=6

24 DZ November 30, 2011 at 12:44 am

I live in NYC so I can’t really carry anything cooler than a tame folding pocket knife. Then again, I live in NYC. I shouldn’t ever need anything crazier. If I plan to go outside of the city, I’ll pack my Bowie knife.

25 kowalski November 30, 2011 at 1:35 am

awesome article. though I have to agree that a knife would be a last ditch measure for many of the uses listed in the article. A handy hatchet is your friend in the outdoors.

26 Zach November 30, 2011 at 2:05 am

@Hal.
I feel the same as you to a point, but having a knife that fits these requirements, that you carry and know how to use properly is vastly important. Axes are great. I personally do not like anything with a haft shorter than 18 inches, but anything larger can be troublesome to carry. i keep a 4 to 5 inch blade in every bag that goes with me anywhere. I keep a pocket knife with me unless prohibited by law. Ultimately, a knife and a firestarter are your best friends in a survival situation. Anything you truly need (except water) can typically be gotten with the two. Just my two cents based on growing up as a Boy Scout in Alaska.

27 Josh Welch November 30, 2011 at 2:23 am

For my 16th Birthday my Dad gave me his Ka-bar. Best birthday gift I’ve received to date. Goes with me everywhere and I’m now 26! I guess that’s what you get when you have a Marine for a Dad.

28 Nico November 30, 2011 at 2:36 am

Don’t bother looking around too much. Buy a Ka-Bar. It’s proven itself for over a century and through wars. It’s dirt cheap compared to other knives so you aren’t afraid to push it to its limit; also, aside from the sentimental value men attach to their knives, you aren’t so heart broken if you break or lose it.

29 Iblis November 30, 2011 at 2:57 am

@Anonymous who wrote “Ever tried opening a can of emergency food with a full tang blade?”

Easiest thing in the world man. ;) Stand the can on the ground, put the point down on the lid, up against the lip, and strike the pommel to make a hole in the lid. Move the point and repeat, all the way round, and lever the freed lid off . 2 minutes tops.

Personally, I carry a Leatherman Blast, (these days anyway, it was a PST II for 15 years) _and_ either a strong locking folder in urban environments, or a fixed blade hunter (Puma) for outdoor stuff.

30 mekel November 30, 2011 at 3:46 am

Nice article! But why would someone tie his knife to a pole? Even if the Spartans would come for me, I would rather use a sharpened stick and not risk losing my knife. ;)

31 Seth November 30, 2011 at 4:46 am

For urban survival I own and carry a HideAway Knife:
http://www.hideawayknife.com/main.php

It’s design is such that I can carry a flashlight, firearm, or use open-hand fighting techniques without losing or dropping the knife. Also works very well opening boxes and other odd jobs where I might otherwise have to switch between using the knife and my hands. The blade is just under 2 inches long, so I can carry almost anywhere legally (even Germany!), while maintaining a capable weapon. Mine is S30V stainless steel with a black, non-reflective coating, razor sharp, and always with me.

32 Mark Bersch November 30, 2011 at 5:26 am

The “perfect survival knife” is a myth.
If there were such a thing, there wouldn’t be so many “survival” knives on the market. There would be only that one, ideal, perfect one and everyone would buy it and the discussion would be over.
I never needed a knife until they started wrapping nearly everything in these damned, impervious space bags!
If a had a perfect survival knife, I would never die.
I’m just glad I can finally get into the bag of chips so I don’t starve to death.
~Mark (who1buffy)

33 Simon November 30, 2011 at 6:44 am

“Doctor Hibert, you saved him! Thank you!” “Don’t thank me, thank THE KNIFE!”

34 David B November 30, 2011 at 8:01 am

One thing not covered in this article is the type of steel used to construct the blade. Is the type of steel important enough to consider when choosing a survival knife and, if so, which type is preferred?

35 Jeremy November 30, 2011 at 8:08 am

i keep a Puma “New Hunter” on me as much as possible. my father had a Puma “White Hunter”, but that model was discontinued. Dad got his over 30 years ago for about $25. i found mine about 10 years ago for about $145. last i looked in Smoky Mountain Knife Works, it cost close to $300. a bit pricey, and i’m sure it could be found somewhere for much less, but it is the best and most useable blade i have ever seen. meets all of these criteria above admirably. dad’s and mine both have antler scales, and we have had no problem with them, even after years of use. and despite the comment above, whether the uses are classified as “abuse” depends on the user and the use. i keep a Leatherman Wave on me at all times, but if i know i’m going into the woods for any reason, no matter how long or short a time period, the Puma goes with me.

36 Mike November 30, 2011 at 8:33 am

The Bear Grylls knife actually seems decent and might be worth looking into. I held one (in the package) for the first time yesterday and it is the perfect size. It meets all the criteria in this post, and it comes with a firesteel and a small survival guide.

37 GaryS November 30, 2011 at 8:39 am

One thing to cover also is the steel and how thick it should be. Personally I prefer 1/4″ thick steel that is made from 1095 CroVan. It holds an edge, is very durable and more importantly it can be sharpened using a rock if necessary. The S30V and other “super” steels will get dull and stay dull as sharpening them will be virtually impossible without specialized equipment.

38 Aaron Krueger November 30, 2011 at 8:46 am

One that I found is the MAK-10.5 by Michael Morris. I don’t have it yet, it’s on my Christmas list, I met Michael at a gun and knife show about 6 months ago. I didn’t have the cash on me to buy one at that time but I hope to get one before the end of the year. His knives are Awesome! http://www.michaelmorrisknives.com/current.php

39 Andy November 30, 2011 at 9:18 am

I think the best survival knifes come from Cold Steel they last for a longtime and you can get some for pretty cheep (GI tanto $36.99)

40 JoshB November 30, 2011 at 9:24 am

Great knives but who makes that buffalo check flannel?

41 Lefty November 30, 2011 at 10:37 am

The nitty gritty of knives–for all survival tools, really–is hotly debated the world over…the world wide web especially.

Keep it simple. Forget about looks. Rambo’s knife handle is hollow.

Check out the Ka-Bar, Bark River Bravo 1, and my all time favorite, the economical put perfectly viable Mora.

I know too many people who have spent loads of money keeping up with outdoors “technologies.” I did, too.

On the right side of survival, I must say that it’s a satisfying feeling to know that my gear is where I left it, that it’s in fine working order, and that it was well-chosen for its durability and economy.

Manliness doesn’t trade in for upgrades. Manliness knows that progress necessarily includes loss. Manliness says technology be damned if he’s told his leather or steel is obsolete.
Manliness knows what to hold on to: the stories, the virtues, the relationships.

Manliness knows what to keep. To keep close. To pass down.

And Manliness does not ask which brand Buffalo plaid the presenter wears in the images. Manliness is durable and classic; it trusts L.L. Bean and Woolrich and Filson’s.

42 Michael November 30, 2011 at 11:03 am

Great article and even better a lot of good tips and advice for making an informed selection. Personally, I am a fan of the K-Bar and and old folding lock blade my dad gave me for Christmas 25 years ago. Along with my knives I carry 8 feet of paracord braided into a survival bracelet. http://www.squidoo.com/paracordsurvivalbracelet This a just another handy piece of gear I don’t leave home without.

43 Ian November 30, 2011 at 11:15 am

@Lefty
Who is this “Manliness?” And why does he speak in third person?

I’ve wanted a survival knife as a Christmas gift for a few years now. You guys are kindling the fire! Great article and comments. Now I get to go back over my budget.

44 E. B. Van Arsdale November 30, 2011 at 11:38 am

The author makes some excellent points.

If my worst case scenario knife saw regular daily use teaching bush craft like the author does, I would have no qualms about spending the amount of money he did for his obviously high quality blade and sheath. (Best deal I have found ads up to over $400.00 for knife and sheath) .
But, there are plenty of serviceable knife options for considerably less money. I would imagine that one could find many durable high quality blades that fit his described requirements for between $50.00 and $100.00.

I agree with one poster who said that some of the things to which he subjects his survival knife appear abusive and indicate a lack of proper preparation.

However, a proper survival kit is generally set up in levels, the lowest level is what you can comfortably carry on your person at all times. Then you add additional levels as the need is indicated considering the type of activity anticipated and your ability to transport equipment.

I guess what I’m getting at is that no one plans a scenario where they need to baton a blade through a log, but in an emergency you may need to do just that, so a blade that could withstand such abuse once in awhile is a good idea to include in your lower level kit for unexpected emergencies.

The most important things you can pack in any survival kit are knowledge and experience. One should always test their equipment and actually practice making a shelter, building a fire etc. with the stuff they actually carry so that they know what stuff works and what stuff doesn’t. For example: Fire Steels are wonderful survival tools, but they can’t compete with a properly filled and functioning butane torch lighter when it comes to starting a fire with wet kindling when the sun is going down and the wind is shifting around to the north.

In addition, a class in bush craft taught by a competent instructor makes a great Father/Son or guy’s weekend out.

45 Ian Feavearyear November 30, 2011 at 11:55 am

Which model of Ka-Bar is the best? Also, why would someone prefere a serrated blade, like the Bear Grylls/Gerber knife?

46 Eric November 30, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Steel selection is important. I’ve broken a cheaper knife in half (full tang) throwing it.

47 Daniel November 30, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Anyone else have a neck knife from Carter Cutlery? Murray’s hand-forged knives are awesome. I carry mine all the time. http://www.cartercutlery.com/japanese-knives/neck-knives

48 Austin November 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

@IAN

Doesn;t really matter, any ka-bar you go with is the right choice, I had mine when I deployed and love it and still use it. Cant beat it!

49 Mason November 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

A high quality kukri is my choice. I carried an Cold Steel LTC for years. It never failed me and was extremely adaptable to most tasks I found myself needing to accomplish. It doesn’t have the heft of an axe and you really can’t make a good spear out of it, but it is good for nearly any other task. If you had to do field surgery on someone you wouldn’t need pain meds since they would pass out seeing you were about to cut on them with it.

I have to say however, I have gotten away from Cold Steel’s blades in the past few years as I have had two snap on me. My large vaquero snapped on a vine the thickness of a pencil and a chef’s knife broke on a clove of garlic. This was a company that I would have bet my life on their product, but not anymore. If you can get one of their older blades (over 10 years old) the quality is likely still good.

50 jeff November 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Airforce survival knife, same one used by the Army for years and years.

51 wra November 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Remember, this is insurance for when things go bad. I now carry and use a BRKT Bravo-1. Just about right for everything I do or might encounter.

52 Furkan November 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Where can I purchase that knife?

53 bushcraft November 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm
54 Benj November 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm

The best survival knife is the one you have with you when you need it.

55 Christian December 1, 2011 at 1:39 am

I wished I had a survival kife.

56 Andy December 1, 2011 at 4:27 am

This is really just a fleshed out version of blackbird SK-5 designer Paul Scheiters write up on why he designed his knife that way.

I would have liked to see some other possibly beneficial aspects addressed instead or something I’d read before. :\

57 Nick December 1, 2011 at 5:05 am

Suggest people to look at the Falkniven F1. Not cheapest but she’s a Sweedish beauty.

58 Cody December 1, 2011 at 8:53 am

I agree with all this except for using your knife for prying things. Prying is the quickest way to breaking the tip off your blade

59 Cody December 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

I agree with all this except for using your knife for prying things. Prying is the quickest way to breaking the tip off your blade.

60 Waylon December 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

I used to work in apartment maintenance and I used my pocket knife for a lot more things than I ever would have imagined beforehand. A knife is a real life saver to have and it opens potato chip bags pretty good too.

61 Steve December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm

You should never use your only survival knife as a spear. It could be lost or be damaged.

Use the knife or other tools to fashion a spear, that way, if you do lose or damage the spear, you’ve only lost a pice of replacable wood, not your main survival tool.

62 Ben December 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I have recently purchased and started using the Tom Brown Tracker as my primary survival knife. I have nothing but good things to say about it, it is a true design-built, multi-purpose tool.

63 Joe December 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

“It’s always in the console of my truck when road-tripping”

Let’s hear more about the truck! looks like an early Bronco to me. Love these classics.

64 Alan December 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm

WIth a good fixed blade knife and a good multitool, you can pretty much rule the planet! I favor a “Nessmuk” style knife (from SDS Knifeworks) paired with a Victorniox Spirit S tool.

65 James December 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I recently found an old fixed blade Finedge knife that belonged to my Great Uncle. I’m in the process of cleaning and sharpening it for use as a survival knife This article was fantastic, and inspired me to do so.

66 Adam December 2, 2011 at 1:14 am

All great information, but I disagree with the size of the blade. I prefer a blade of at least 7 inches, for me it makes batoning and chopping easier. I save the more delicate tasks for my EDC folder, which is always on me no matter what.

67 Benjamin December 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm

It should be noted, too, that it’s skills that make the knife effective. The Ontario SK-5 is a great knife (essentially a modernized version of a style known as a “Kephart”) but a bit pricy for many folks. There are many quality knives on the market that would perform well as survival knives that are under $50.

My personal favorite woods knife is a Condor Rodan, which is only around $30. Following that is my ESEE-3 or ESEE-6, which are a bit more expensive but of exceptional quality and design. In spite of carrying those knives when me whenever I hit the woods, I keep finding myself coming back to the Rodan.

68 Benjamin December 2, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Furthermore, I should note that I agree with Adam above in that I always prefer a large blade and a folder. My chopper is usually an 18″ to 20″ bladed machete of a heavy pattern, and I carry a small knife for fine work. However, my go-to lately has been this fellow, which is of my own design. 16″ blade length.

http://i753.photobucket.com/albums/xx176/fortytwoblades2/Machete%20Mods/Prototypes/CIMG0284.jpg

69 Mark December 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Carbon or stainless? A high carbon blade can be used to strike a spark with flint (doubles as a fire starter) and is easier to sharpen – they also get really sharp. Stainless holds an edge longer if you are exposing it to corrosive or acidic stuff which happens if you use it for cook prep.

70 alex west December 3, 2011 at 1:02 am

#survival knife

what a frigging idiot..

hey buddy , go to deep forest 20 miles off nearest wall-mart w/out food / water/etc .. and try to ‘SURVIVE’ like our ancestors did and do it for for 1 week..

we will see how good you are..
alx

71 Fight-Bacne December 3, 2011 at 7:51 am

In many parts of the world it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade of any significant length, typically around 5″.

Machete size and styles are great, until you need them and they’re at home or when you get arrested for carrying an offensive weapon.

I firmly believe in carrying one, really good knife, within the local legal limit and with you at all times. That’s vastly more useful than the thing sitting at home. For me it’s the Swiss multi-tool.

No, it’s not full tang but it’s solid as all heck and is plenty capable of splitting wood.

72 Ming Bucibei December 3, 2011 at 10:37 am

It is useful to learn flink knapping and other techniques of stone toll making!! Then one can always make spear points, arrow points, knives and axes from stone and always be armed!1

Ming Bucibei

73 Jake Burby December 3, 2011 at 11:20 am

I can think of three situations right off the top of my head where my Gerber survival knife assisted significantly in the rescue and recovery of civilians under distress off the coasts of Alaska and Oregon during my time with the US Coast Guard.

74 Jake Burby December 3, 2011 at 11:22 am

I can think of at least 3 situations right off the top of my head where my Gerber survival knife assisted in rescue & recovery off the coasts of Alaska & Oregon during my time with the US Coast Guard. Great article.

75 RL December 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I have an Izula and an ESEE4 by ESEE that are used for hiking/camping and truck use, they’re both great knives.

76 David December 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I just want to know who makes that sweet aftermarket sheath…

77 Talbot December 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Sir – your knife lacks one element I deem essential – namely a thumb guard. In any sort of self defense situation a thumb guard is very important (depending upon your training style – mine assumes a very specific grip). Mine is a Buck 120 hunting knife. During the war I actually hacked barbed wire off the axel of our vehicle in a dicy situation with that fine blade. I painted it green for the war (kinda shiney) and most of the paint has worn off since those long ago adventures but you are quite right in saying there is a relationship to be had with a good knife. I’ll pass it to my son of course when i go. My Father’s knife is in my desk drawer.

cordially

78 Josh December 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Great post. Does anyone know what that red buffalo check shirt is?

79 Pete December 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Yo where can I get that sweet plaid he’s wearing?

80 Tim December 5, 2011 at 6:04 am

You call that a knife?

81 lonereader December 5, 2011 at 6:40 am

My go to is a Scrapyard S5LE right now. Great bombproof knife – shame it cost me so much.

Enzo make nice bushcraft knives!

82 Connor J. December 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

What kind of opinions do some you have on the Cold Steel brand? or Benchmade? More specifically I was looking at the Finn Bear knife by Cold Steel. It seems to match the necessary criteria but it’s cheaper than hell, which I’m a little worried about.

83 Benjamin December 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm

The Finn Bear is a nice knife for the money, but an even better knife would be a Mora Companion in carbon (1095) or stainless (12C27 Sandvik) steel.

http://baryonyxknife.com/moraofsweden.html

Cold Steel is no slouch, though! In spite of their over-the-top marketing and occasional “just for fun” products they make some very solid stuff. I own a lot of knives from them, as well as other items, and they’ve all done very well for me. One of my EDC knives is a Pocket Bushman, and their standard Bushman fixed blade is an excellent inexpensive survival knife option.

84 Todd | Channelingmyself December 6, 2011 at 3:23 am

Got to admit I really never thought about making sure I had the right knife, rather just having one seemed good enough for me. Thanks for the great post.

85 Connor J. December 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Benjamin -

Thank you for answering my question, I checked out the Mora Companion and it seems like a very functional knife. I like that some models come in blaze orange sheaths, which could come in handy if misplaced/dropped. Nice and easy on the wallet too. I think I’ll buy one of those and/or a Cold Steel then to keep on me while snowshoeing. Thanks again for answering my question!

86 Terry H. December 7, 2011 at 2:04 am

When I entered the Army just prior to the 1st Gulf War (Desert Storm), I ordered a Randall model 1 just like the first one they made for a serviceman who was headed out to the Pacific in the dark, early days of WWII. It has an 8″ clip point blade & stag horn handle. It has been my go to field knife for many moons.
If it was good enough for the GI’s & Marines serving in WWII, Korea, & Viet Nam then its good enough for me!

87 Erik December 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

David -

I’m not positive, but the sheath may be a hedgehog custom:

http://www.hedgehogleatherworks.com/

88 Erik December 8, 2011 at 7:13 am

Great article, thanks!

Has anyone mentioned the Spyderco Bushcraft knife as the perfect survival/bushcraft knife?

Just as good as an custom knife. Balance is perfect, easy to sharpen and the handle fits my hands perfectly.

For me the ideal survival knife! The sheath is not that great, but will just fine. Especially with the right lanyard use.

89 Benjamin December 8, 2011 at 10:19 am

The Spyderco Bushcraft is a fantastic piece of work, though not the least expensive. Certainly worth the money! I usually go with a trio of a chopper, medium fixed blade, and small folder. If I could keep only one it would be the chopper.

90 Tuomas December 8, 2011 at 2:39 pm

“There is absolutely no advantage in choosing a partial tang blade over a full tang design for your survival knife.” Except during winter when you need to take your gloves off for delicate work, for example when ice fishing. Your hand will stick to the freezing metal and it hurts alot to rip it off.

91 endwahl December 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Wow. The number of fantasists and knowitalls in these comments.

This is an excellent article with regard to choosing or designing a knife for wilderness survival. A lost in the wilderness situation is the most likely dire survival situation most active people will face. Which of course isn’t that likely these days.

92 Carter December 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Great metric for choosing a knife!

I wonder if Creek or any of the other commentors on here have used any of the Bear Grylls line from Gerber. I have handled one and it seems to be of good quality but I haven’t been able to test one in the field. The reviews seem to be good though…

I have linked to it on my Christmas wish list below if anyone hasn’t seen it.

http://amemphistraveler.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-gifts-for-adventurous-gent.html

93 Martin December 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Fight-Bacne:
“In many parts of the world it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade of any significant length, typically around 5.

For me it’s the Swiss multi-tool.

No, it’s not full tang but it’s solid as all heck and is plenty capable of splitting wood.”

I live in New Jersey so as much as I would like to get a real survival knife for the car I’m going with your suggestion. But do you really believe this can split wood?

http://www.swissknifeshop.com/shop/swiss-army/victorinox/swiss-army-knives/boy-scout/swiss-army-boy-scout-tinker

94 patrck December 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm

this is a great article for selecting a knife to take on minimalist camping trip but if you’re looking for a knife to help you survive an unexpected situation you want to own a knife that you’re more likely to actually have with you at all times. aka a good pocket knife.

95 kevin December 11, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Busse. Not cheap at all but they are second to none in quality.
http://www.bussecombat.com/home/index.shtml

96 peter December 12, 2011 at 1:18 am

for looking at survival knives all you need to do is look at equip 2 endure on youtube and adam will have a ton of knife reviews for you for survival purposes.

97 cgw December 12, 2011 at 9:16 am

Just skip the fashion statement and shop for a leuku–the original survival knife used by the Sami who play for keeps.

98 Peter December 13, 2011 at 12:29 am

I suggest overall the Becker BK2 combined with a Leatherman Wave.

If you want something with slightly higher quality I say go with a ESEE 5 and a Leatherman Charge TTi.

99 jameson December 13, 2011 at 2:18 am

here is what i would like to add, though i’m pretty sure it’s common sense especially for my fellow men in pursuit of manliness. never buy a “survival knife” from an infomercial! it may look pretty awesome, but it will most likely snap in two on it’s first batoning. fortunately, i do not speak from experience

100 jameson December 13, 2011 at 2:20 am

i carry a $5 machete i got from harbor freight in my truck at all times

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