When looking to buy a Survival Knife, here are the factors you need to consider to make the best choice.
- Overall size, because size does matter.
- The Tang.
- Material of the blade.
- The Handle.
- Overall weight.
- Design/Thickness of the blade.
The size of a survival knife is a very important consideration.
Will you be carrying it on your person when you need it most? Most survival knives are 5 to 12 inches in length. Anything shorter and it might not be big enough to do the job. If however you don’t have a role in the latest Rambo movie, you probably don’t want to go past 9 inches. Anything past 9 inches or so and it starts to get cumbersome to use and makes it harder to carry comfortably. You want an effective tool, not a weird limp. Will you be using it on camping trips to your fully accommodated cabin or are you expecting to make shelter when The End OF The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) arrives? Obviously it can be smaller if your purpose is to whittle garden gnomes during your downtime at the cabin but should be on the bigger side if you plan on having a useful tool in any situation you may find yourself in.
The tang is not that gritty orange powdered drink from the 70’s. The tang is the protrusion of the steel of the blade into the handle of a knife.
Cheaper knives will have a separate blade and handle instead of a tang. The best survival knife will have what’s called a full tang, where the blade extends in to the handle of the knife as close to the end of the knife as possible. This is the reason you should not get a survival knife with a hollow handle to store matches or one that has a compass on the end of the handle. If the handle is hollow, then the tang isn’t long enough to provide strength to the blade, or worse there is no tang. My advice is to leave the compass, waterproof matches, fishing line and hooks in a separate bag and go with a solid handle and as close to a full tang as possible.
There are 2 main types of material used in the blade of a quality Survival Knife, stainless steel and carbon steel.
Stainless steel is great because it won’t rust when exposed to the elements, is durable enough to take a beating and will generally last a long time. The downside to stainless steel is that the edge will lose its sharpness faster than carbon steel and requires proper sharpening more often. Carbon steel tends to hold a sharp edge longer but can require more maintenance in the way of blade cleaning or coating of the blade to prevent rust. Either way, if you stick to one of these materials, you haven’t made the wrong choice.
The handle can be made of many different materials from hard rubber to many other polymers.
The handle should be knurled or grooved to fit your hand. A smooth handle makes the knife too slippery at best and too dangerous to use safely at worst. We already spoke against a handle that is hollow. While it looks cool to pull out some candy from the handle of your survival knife like a PEZ dispenser, it doesn’t look cool when your blade breaks off during actual use of the knife. Stay away from hollow handles and make sure the handle has some sort of texture for gripping purposes and you should be all right.
The weight of a knife can vary greatly.
How you will carry the knife makes a difference when choosing the weight. Will it be sheathed on your hip? Will it be in your backpack? If you are going to carry it separately in a pack, then weight doesn’t matter as much to you. If you want it sheathed on your side then 3 to 6 ounces is probably a good place to fall between. This is highly subjective so I suggest you go to a place that you can hold knives of various weights to see what suits you best.
The design of the blade has a few implications.
A straight edge is easier to sharpen. A serrated edge can cut things like rope better but will most likely require a special sharpener. Some survival knives have a serrated edge on top of the blade and a straight edge on the bottom of the blade. This is a great design if you want both edges in one knife. Having both on the same edge can be tricky to sharpen. Another thing to consider is the thickness of the blade. Generally speaking the blade should be 3/16 to 5/16 inches thick. You don’t want any kind of bend in the blade. Blades that thick can be used for chopping wood or prying things open. A flexible blade is not a desired trait in a survival knife.
Obviously there are many options and big differences when choosing the right knife to do the job, but hopefully with these guidelines you will have a better idea of what to look for and will avoid some of the common pitfalls when choosing a survival knife to fit your needs.