A survival knife is an upgraded hunting knife that can do more tasks as well as handle more abuse. The idea of a best survival knife first originated from the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, a WWII pilot survival knife that could be used for fighting, camping, utility, and chores. A machete is also a good tool. Find the best machete. The Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife was a double edged knife similar to a dagger. Most survival knives today no longer use a dagger like appearance but it was the idea of having a survival knife that created the wave of innovation.
After the end of WWII, the US camping industry developed upon the idea and changed a lot of features about survival knives. The biggest change was that they were no longer designed to have a fighting function. Also, the modern day survival knives have more camping features than the original Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. However, beware, some survival knives that seem to have all the features you ever want are just gimmicks. For example, if a knife comes with fishing hooks, a first aid kit, and other items that’ll fit inside of the handle, don’t buy it. That is a gimmick for amateurs. Real survival knives are built to last a long time.
Tasks of a survival knife
Form is related to function and, because of that, what you should look for in a survival knife depends on what tasks you are going to use a survival knife for. A survival knife needs to be: a hunting knife for catching and field dressing game, a camping knife for camp chores, a rescue knife in case of emergencies, and a general utility knife for work.
A hunting knife is used to skin and prep animals that have just been killed. For that reason, the knife needs to have good grip even if there is blood all over the knife. Slipping on a bloody knife is a dangerous mistake: there are lots of important nerves and blood vessels in your hands and, if accidentally cut, will require medical treatment.
A hand guard is a good feature to have in a situation like this. A handguard is a guard that exists between the blade and the handle. It prevents the hand from sliding off of the handle and onto the blade.
Another good feature to have is a blood groove. Blood grooves are lines that allow blood to flow from the cutting area out to the sides of the knife. This helps keep blood away from your hands, giving your hands more traction.
For hunting knives come into contact with blood and are needed to cut thick skin, it is best to have a knife that is corrosion resistant while having a hard blade. You don’t want to have to sharpen your knife multiple times to finish a deer. For that reason, a purely stainless steel knife is not recommended: it will dull fast.
A camping knife is a special type of utility knife that is used to perform utility tasks in the field. Such things range from nailing doing a tent to cutting wood to cutting up meat for dinner. Because of these things, a very important thing to keep in mind is the blade’s thickness. You can use a heavy object and a knife together to chop wood if needed, if you don’t have an axe or hatchet. If this is the case, you’ll need to have a blade that has a thick spine. The knife’s metal should be hard but not too hard where it’ll break.
On top of that, having a pommel allows the knife to be used as a hammer when no hammer is around. A pommel usually a piece of the knife’s tang that extends out beyond the knife’s handle and forms a metal area that is good for hammering things. Some kitchen knives have pommels as well for smashing stuff like garlic.
A rescue knife is used for everything from cutting seat belts from individuals who are trapped inside of a car to cutting open a fuelsalodge. Because of this, a rescue knife needs to be portable. Size, weight, and bulk are things to keep in mind. You don’t want a knife that is too heavy that makes it hard to carry around. Also, if you are going to be in a survival situation, you might need to hike several miles to find help. A heavy knife would be too much of a liability and not an asset. Some rescue knives feature lanyards that you can tie to your hand to prevent you from losing them. This is good if you are going on long hikes or are prone to losing things.
A utility knife is a general all around knife that is used for cutting zip-ties to opening cans (not recommended but people do it). Similar to a camping knife, a utility knife can be thought of as an urban camping knife: it is designed for more urban uses then a camping knife who was designed for field use. Utility knives need to be very sharp for a lot of urban uses will dull a knife quickly such as cutting thick cardboard.
Qualities to look for
Because of the uses mentioned above, here are things you would want to have in a survival knife. Depending on your use, area, and what you are prepping for, you might not need all of the features listed below. Make sure to think ahead and plan accordingly: too much is not actually a good thing, especially when you have to carry all of it.
The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. A knife can have a full tang, rat tail tang, push tang, or encapsulated tang. A full tang is when the handle is made by placing material on either side of the tang. A rat tail tang is when the tang shrinks like a rat’s tail. A push tang is a rat tail tang that does not extend all the way through a handle. Push tangs are common in cheap knives and are the least sturdy. Do not buy a push tang survival knife. Encapsulated tangs are when a knife maker simply wraps the tang with either rope or plastic. Encapsulated tangs are good for survival as it is a very sturdy knife and, in extreme cases, you can undo the rope to get emergency rope.
The handle is the part of the knife that you hold on to. When choosing a survival knife, pick a knife that has a good grip whose handle is the right size for your hand. A small handle will make long tasks painful and a large handle adds extra bulk that makes the knife hard to carry.
Plastic handles give the user protection from electrical currents. Wood handles are good for they last a long time and can withstand higher temperatures than plastic handles. There are synthetic handles like Myra that are good (but can be expensive) choices. Whatever you do, do not pick hard plastic handles: those suck and will give you blisters. Rubber is a good choice as well.
The pommel is a part of the tang that extends out onto the other side of the handle. It is often used as a hammer and adds extra stability to a knife. It is also used to even the knife’s weight in one’s hand and give the knife balance.
For a survival knife, you would want to have a carbon knife that has alloys that’ll make it more rust resistant. You would rather have a knife with a little rust on it then a knife that is too brittle and crack. You can always re-sharpen a knife after it goes dull.
Thickness of blade
When choosing a survival knife, pick a blade that is about an eighth of an inch thick. Thicker blades give you more weight when chopping but make it harder to do fine work. Thinner blades might snap in heavy duty use. An eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch is my go to range.
A knife’s blood groove is a groove within the blade that allows for blood to escape the cut and out the sides of the knife. The blood groove allows for one’s hand and blade to remain dry when dressing game. It also allows for easier cleanup of a knife when one is finished dressing game. If you do not plan on dressing game a lot, a blood groove is not needed.
A survival knife should weigh enough to help you out when cutting heavy things but it should not weigh more than 1.5 pounds. At that range, the knife is too heavy and is closer to a small axe. The proper weight and what feels comfortable for you depends upon your size.
A knife’s size is important when thinking about survival. A large knife can give you added weight and, therefore, force but it can also decrease your mobility. For me, I like a survival knife that is of similar size to a boning knife. A boning knife is smaller than a chef’s knife but larger than a paring knife. At this size, you can use it for lots of utility work as well as some heavy cutting if needed.
A survival knife should have a point tip. This will allow you to use it as a spear if needed.
I highly recommend you getting a survival knife that has a guard so that your hand does not slip. Safety first.
A knife’s sheath is just as important as the blade. I recommend a nylon sheath that can easily attach to backpacks and tactical belts. These sheaths usually have straps that button into the tactical equipment. Leather is OK but not good when wet. Kydex is a new type of synthetic material that I recommend as well.
When looking for a survival knife, keep in mind all the features mentioned above. Also, make sure to get a high quality knife and not a cheap, imitation survival knife that was made a sa gimmick.