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Survival Knives: How to Choose the Best Survival Knife

Survival Knives: How to Choose the Best Survival Knife
by Bradley Page, Copyright ©
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The best survival knife: What you need to know to make the best choice in a blade.

This is why we'll let you know all the ins and outs of choosing the best survival knife on the market. Plus, since this is going to be your best friend from now on, and you're probably going to use it in many different situations, you shouldn't just get the first one you see and be done with.

Why do you need the perfect survival knife?

If you're not yet convinced about the many benefits of having a top notch knife while outdoors, you've come to the right place. There are a lot of features you can't benefit from if you're choosing a mediocre tool, so just think about all these things you need to get done in the wild:

• Slicing your food. You'll probably have some food with you if you haven't hunted it by now, so you'll need to use something to eat it with.

• Splitting. Durability is key at all times. When you want to cut your way through thick brush, splitting it requires some handiwork, but a tough knife too.

• Self-defense. Animals, humans? Who can say what's coming to get you in the wild? Defense is something very important to consider.

• First Aid tool. Heat a knife's blade in the fire and you can cauterize your wounds like in the good old days. Or just cut tourniquets, it's still a world of help when you have a fractured wrist.

• Preparing food. Yes, we've already talked about food, but preparing it requires more effort and cutting than eating it. The eviscerating of the game requires sharpness which is one characteristic of a pro knife.

• Building shelters. Cutting branches, carving, making holes, notching tree limbs, cutting tarp - you need a versatile knife that can safely be used for all these actions.

• Making fires. Apart from cutting firewood, did you know a survival knife can be used for making tinder out of inner bark by manually threshing it? Plus, you can use it on your Ferro rod to light it.

• Hunting animals. Tie a knife to a longer stick and you have yourself a spear. But the knife has to be strong enough to penetrate through the game, which is why you need a sturdy one.

• Prying things. Are the doors of your car or cabin jammed? Pry them open with a durable knife. No, a pocket knife won't do.

• Signaling. Are you lost? Signal your presence by carving messages on tree bark.

• Hammering. A high-quality knife is strong enough to be used as a hammer because it has a resistant handle.

• Improvising DIY tools. You may not have a multi-tool hidden in the shaft, but you can use the knife's tip as a screwdriver to fix stuff around camp if it's sharp enough.

What main features you should be looking at?

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Seeing as there are so many uses of a knife in the wilderness, you should definitely look out for things like:


You need a strong knife, that won't break or damage in the middle of nowhere, leaving you absolutely defenseless. Make sure the craftsmanship is exemplary and that its parts are well joined together. Also, make sure to choose a good brand that's had positive reviews over the years.


Many good knives can be used in a plethora of ways. Check for the versatility of all your tools, because carrying a lot of equipment will add to its bulk as well as weight. A few of the best knives have extra stuff included like:

• Screwdriver.

• Multipurpose tool.

• Handle washer.

• Flint and tinder.

• Sheath.

• Belt clip.

Quality of materials

You can't get a top grade item without considering the quality of its manufacturing and its materials. When it comes to knives, the best materials will accentuate its strength and durability, but will also render it lightweight and easy to carry:

• Hard rubber and a sort of resistant polymer for the handle. Don't go for hollow handles, because that indicates your knife doesn't have a full tang, which means it can get damaged faster.

• Stainless steel or carbon steel for the blade are both amazing. Stainless steel is sturdy and long-lasting, but it's not as sharp. Carbon steel is easier to sharpen and be kept that way but is less resistant to rust.

• Leather or a sort of polymer for the sheath. These materials are resistant, waterproof and can withstand many uses, just be careful not to choose a sheath made out of cheap plastic.

Budget for a Survival knife?

Plan your budget carefully, because acquiring a survival knife should be a long-term investment, not something to buy every other week. The factors that will help you decide how much you want to spend are:

• How often you're going away.

• What type of environment you're going in: the mountains, the plains, etc.

• How long your trips usually are.

• What you're planning to do with the knife. Esse, Ka-Bar, and Fallkniven are all well-established and trustworthy brands on the market, which is why their knives cost a few hundred dollars. That's because they're made from great materials, they're lightweight, comfortable, easy to handle, resistant and have great extras, including top warranties, which means they don't need changing or repairs all the time.

The various types of survival knives on the market

Depending on these features, knives can be chosen by considering their elements independently and assessing their advantages and liabilities.

Blade size - How big of a blade should you get for a survival knife?

When you're looking at a survival knife you have the obvious choice between big and small, and each can fulfill some specialized purposes.

Bigger blades

• Amazing for cutting tree limbs or hammering.

• You may not require other extra tools, like a hatchet.

• Not good for small chores.

• Bigger weight and harder to carry on your belt.

Smaller blades

• Great for precision tasks like carving or dressing.

• Lower weight and easier to carry.

• You may still need to take bigger tools with you, like a small ax or hatchet.

• Not great for rugged tasks. The common blade length for a survival knife varies between 6 and 12 inches, so if you're considering a smaller one you should know it won't do you much good in survival situations that require chopping and cutting. Keep in mind, even if you have a big knife it is not recommended for tougher tasks calling for a hatchet or folding saw (chopping small trees for example and large branches).

Around 10 inches of the blade, which is the medium length, should help you in most circumstances encountered outdoors when a sharp edge is called for.

Blade mobility

At this point, the choice comes between:

Fixed blades

• Durability.

• Resistance.

• Ability to use as a weapon.

• Harder to carry.

• More volume.

Folding blades

• More compact.

• Easier to carry.

• Good for carving.

• Less resistant to impacts.

• Can't be used for rugged tasks.

Blade shape: What kind of shape for your survival knife?

The blade is the most important element of your knife, which is why we're talking so much about it. Its shape can be:


• Better for chopping.

• Can be sharpened fast with almost any sort of stone.


• Better for slicing.

• Requires a specific sharpener.

Blade edge: What kind of edge for your survival knife?

There are different survival knives when it comes to the edge of their blades too. Consider choosing between:

Single edge

• Good for striking the Ferro rod and making fires.

• Batoning wood.

• Splitting.

• Building shelters.

• Resting your thumb on the flat side.

• Cutting.

• Providing more control.

• Safer work.

Double edge

• Better for stabbing.

• Amazing for self-defense, because your opponent can't disarm you as easily if they don't want to get themselves hurt.

• More likely to hurt yourself with it, especially if your grip isn't that good because of perspiration.

• Not particularly good for most of the uses of a single-edged knife.

The tang: What kind of tang for your survival knife?

This refers to whether or not the blade and the handle are one piece or not, and on the market, you'll find knives that are:

• Full tang.

• Partial tang, like skeletonized, push or rat-tail.

Sturdy, robust needs require a full tang survival knife which:

• Has a very strong grip because of the scales on its handle.

• It can't break in two since the blade and handle are welded together firmly.

• Has a massive profile.

• Doesn't loosen over time if you're constantly using it for rugged tasks like hammering or chopping.

• It's safer to use, and even easier.

• It's multi-functional. However, if you're not that interested in doing robust chores around camp, you can get a partial tang knife too. That is best for precision tasks and occupies less space.

The tip: What kind of tip for your survival knife?

The tip of the knife is another element you shouldn't neglect because it can assist you differently depending on its shape. As such, the most common are:


A small angle is more appropriate for getting through softer materials, while a bigger angle will allow you to penetrate through denser materials, having an increased durability.


If carving is your main interest, then having a round knife will help you make very fine cuts. And even manually threshing bark for fires can easily be done with this kind of tip.


These sort of tips come in handy for dressing the prey you catch, as well as for skinning and slicing them. On the other hand, the hook portion is very hard to sharpen, as is their edge.


While all these above options are well endowed for certain purposes, the most multi-functional knife tip we know and love is the sharp one. That's because it can be used for:

• Self-defense. Since it's very easy to thrust it, it can gain enough momentum for a proficient penetration, and therefore it's the most effective way of protecting yourself from all these options.

• Hunting. The above reasons also make it great for hunting. Improvising a spear with a sharp tipped knife is an effective way to mortally hit all sorts of animals.

• Prying open any sort of jammed door.

• Picking locks. That is if you've practiced before.

• Preparing food if you've hunted down smaller animals, although it's not that good for the bigger game.

• Making notches in order to build your shelter definitely requires a sharp tip.

• Repairing the clothes and other pieces of equipment that got damaged.

• Removing your splinters fast.

• Eating walnuts is easier if you can pry them open with your knife tip, rather than breaking them with a stone.

The handle of your knife

You need to make sure that your handle:

• Has a strong grip.

• Is rounded and comfortable to hold.

• Has detachable scales.

• Isn't hollow.

• Has an optional lanyard hole to insert a piece of cord and carry it easily.

The pommel of your knife

While the handle must be tough enough and manufactured from good-quality materials, it's not that hard picking a good one. That's mainly because it doesn't have too many uses apart from providing a strong and comfortable grip. On the other hand, the most important part of a knife's handle is its pommel, a.k.a its butt, in laymen terms.

Having a sturdy and flat pommel, not rounded or hooked, can help you with tasks like:

• Hammering.

• Making repairs.

• Building your shelter by fixing stakes into the ground.

• Ice fishing: break the ice with the knife tip, by pounding its butt with a stone.

• Self-defense.

The final selection

After you've considered all these characteristics and types, remember that the final choice is completely up to you. At the end of the day, your personal preferences and style count just as much as your purpose so choose a versatile knife that can be customized and improved constantly.

Backpacking and outdoor adventure are second nature for Page, and when it comes to high-quality gear he knows the ins and outs of survival knives, having had to learn what blades do what from personal experience. He's written extensively on choosing the best survival knife. Visit his website to read more about survival knives and more articles by Bradley Page.

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