The one thing you can’t be caught without – a survival knife.
Any blade in the wild is valuable, but having the RIGHT one is a treasure. How do you choose a survival knife though? How do you fashion one from scratch if caught unprepared? What task would you set it to? We all have some notions on what makes a knife good, but can we quantify those in some meaningful way?
All knives have three main functions:
- Chopping (similar to an axe)
- Slashing (single sawing motion)
- Stabbing (like a stiletto or a rapier)
All knives are compromises between those 3 functions.Let’s take a saber for example, the blade has a curve built into it, so it chops efficiently, and it’s an elongated blade, so it can slash pretty well. It is not, however, the greatest stabbing weapon, because the point is not in a straight line with the handle.
A stiletto is a long, heavy and straight blade, great for stabbing, since all the force is concentrated on the point. It’s not a slashing or chopping weapon since it is completely straight, so a large part of the blade makes contact with the target surface. The more your force is spread out, the more you have to work to achieve the desired effect.
An ulu is a purely slashing knife, with a curved blade that is driven through meat with smooth, round motions.
The coolest survival knife is the one does its job
Now that we have an idea of how knives function, we can look at our needs and choose intelligently.
In addition, knives can take on additional functions, like a fire starter (if it comes with a flint), a saw, and a multitude of other options, depending on the manufacturer’s imagination and, of course, the price.
First things first – when it comes to survival knives, the “coolness factor” is NOT a factor. Never base your choice on what the knife looks like. Functionality and durability should be your number one factors to consider, and their price a close second.
Choosing a Wilderness Survival Knife
- Blade Construction – Your knife should be a full tang, fixed blade for strength. Folding knives do save space, but a folding knife is a knife that has moving parts, and moving parts can and do fail eventually. A full tang (metal extending all the way through the handle), fixed blade is perfect. You should be wary of knives that have storage space in the handle – since there’s no way that they can be full tang. They all fail eventually, unless they belong to a teenager and spend 95% of their lifespan on the shelf.
- The Survival Knife Handle – The handle of your survival knife should, first and foremost fit your hand. Once you spend an hour chopping firewood with your heavy knife, you will know how important that is. Second, the handle should be made of material that will not be slippery, and will not freeze to your hand in sub-zero conditions.
The pommel should be flat so that you can use it as a hammer.
- High Carbon or Stainless Steel – The choice of metal is up to you, only remember that stainless steel is softer than high carbon, and high carbon steel takes an edge very well, but will rust quicker.
- Blade Style – The blade should be straight or partially serrated. I’m a fan of straight blades. All coolness considerations aside, a survival knife must be able to chop through wood and take a lot of punishment. Often times you will take a block of wood, and split it in half, lengthwise, while pounding on the back of the blade with a rock. If the spine is serrated, you will mess it up. Also, if you plan on making shelter in the wild, chances are you will have to sharpen some stakes or dowels. In order to accomplish that you will have to use a drawing motion by grabbing your knife by the handle on one end, and by the back of the blade on the other end, and shape the wood by pulling the knife towards you. It’s difficult to do that with a serrated spine.
- Blade Length – The blade should be a minimum of 4 inches, the maximum length is more or less up to you, just make sure it’s usable. My thinking is that if you want to chop wood with it, it should be long and heavy.
- Security – You should be able to secure it to your belt with a lanyard, so it should have a hole for a lanyard.
- The Sheath – You will need a utility sheath that doesn’t retain moisture. Leather is nice, but it will get damp and rust your knife. It must be sturdy and tight enough not to let the knife fall out even when running, swimming or, by some misfortune, rolling down-hill.
It should not be tactical, since tactical knives are an entirely different ballgame.