What You Need To Know When Choosing A Survival Knife

by D-Poc

By Dale Pocat (D-Poc)Stone Knife

Survival knives have been around in one form or another since the dawn of time. Man has always been looking for new ways to cut things and adapt them to his needs. If Grog hadn’t bashed two rocks together and cut his finger on the one he split open, we would probably still be running around swinging from trees trying to bite things in two.

Ole Grog made quite a bit of headway for us back then with stone knives and if you’ve never messed with one don’t kid yourself, they were plenty sharp. Today we’ve got modern steels and lots of really cool knives that Grog would have LOVED to have. But we’re still cutting and chopping the same things he did and trying to learn what came naturally for him.

So lets lay out all the different survival knives made by all the different manufacturers out there in front of Grog and ask him to pick one. Which one do you think he will choose? I’d like to think he would pick a good sized fixed blade knife that fit his hand with a blade size of about 5″. But he won’t. Just as I thought, he picked the biggest piece of junk with the most gadgets possible that was the brightest and the prettiest. Grog’s not very smart. Let’s face it, he was using a stone knife for Pete’s sake!

So Grog is not a good example when picking out a knife and I think we’ll leave him with his gadget knife that he’s going to break in about five minutes and discuss what he SHOULD have picked.

Let’s start out with the basic question of “Should I have a folding or fixed blade knife as a survival knife?”

This is an easy one. Fixed Blade. It should be a full tang knife, as well. Full tang means that you should be able to see the knife steel all the way through the handle.   There are some knives out there that have what is called a rat tail tang.  This means that inside the handle the amount of steel used drops off considerably and it is narrower than the blade itself.  These are not bad knives and are worth considering. Rat tail designs have been around for hundreds of years and many excellent knives use this design.  The main reason I prefer full tang knives is because if the handle fails you could always wrap it in paracord as a handle and keep going.  That’s going to be tough to do with a rat tail design.

“What kind of steel?”, you ask warily?

Stainless. If you’re a knife aficionado you’re probably not reading this. You already know what kind of knife you like and what steels you’re comfortable with. But if you’re like most people, you’re looking for a good solid knife that will perform well and doesn’t require much maintenance. 440A and 440C are very common stainless steels used in the knife industry. You can’t go wrong with these. Plus, your buddies will be impressed when you show it off.  You can get one with a carbon steel blade but it is going to require more maintenance and if you live near salt water it will rust at the drop of a hat.

Too serrate, or not to serrate? That… Oh never mind, Shakespeare I’m not.

“Should my survival knife have a serrated portion on the blade?”, you ask intelligently.

Yes, you should absolutely get a knife with serrations. You have no idea how much flack I’m going to take for that statement. But that’s OK, I can handle it. Serrations help you cut certain things better due to the aggressive nature of the grind. Think rope, twine, plastics, meat, etc. Yes, they are a pain to sharpen, but they will stay sharp longer than the straight edge portion of your blade and even when getting dull they will continue to rip and tear whatever it is you are attempting to cut. There are several small sharpeners on the market today for touching up those serrations in the field so they aren’t as big a pain as they used to be.

“How long should my knife be!?”, you ask excitedly.

A good rule of thumb is 9 to 11 inches. Many survival knives fall in this range and it’s an easy target to hit. Bigger is not always better! (Remember Grog?) But that should give you enough blade to do just about anything you will need a survival knife to do.

“Is the handle important?”, you ask quizzically.

Absolutely! You should play with the knives some before you choose one. This can be a little difficult but most of the larger sporting goods stores have display knives you can hold. This lets you feel the weight and balance, but more importantly you’ll find out immediately if it will fit your hand or not. Be sure and choke up on the knife a bit to see how it would handle close up work.

Which brings us to features on knives. That was your next question, right?

Finger ChoilThings like a finger choil (a circular formed area where the handle and blade meet that allows the users index finger to “choke up” on the blade while gripping the knife) and jimping (notches on the spine of the blade) are great features on knives and make them more versatile.Jimping on Blade

A couple of other things to look at are the handle materials and the type of blade geometry such as; clip point, drop point, bowie (my personal favorite), and tanto. I will tell you that I don’t recommend a tanto blade for this type of knife mainly because it has two edges and they can be difficult to sharpen in the field.

“How much is this going to cost me?” you ask skeptically.

Basically it comes down to how much you are willing to spend. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a knife, but you don’t need to. There are excellent knives to be had in all price ranges if you take the time and do your research. I have several knives that are in the $65 to $125 range that I switch out from time to time. As long as I take care of them they should last a lifetime.

The mantra of most survival instructors out there is “Whatever knife you have on you becomes your survival knife in a survival situation.” This is very true but I try to have the right knife on me all the time, just in case.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

craig August 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

Thank you for letting us know that a good Bowie in the $100-125 price range is a good knife to have There is a lot of blather and hype about a survival knife costing $400 as the only knife worth considering. Stainless is a good solution and the steel hardness ratings help to understand what to select from the wide range of choices in the marketplace.

emt bag with supplies April 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm

This gives me the security of knowing that we have enough
for a period of time if we break down. You can also
use the headlight of the ATV as a signaling device. Fleece is lightweight and wool
can prevent the effect of flame.

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