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How to choose the best survival knife

Updated on January 17, 2014

What can you expect from a survival knife?

Your survival knife is going to be the tool that you are going to use the most in the wild. Setting up your shelter, prepaing your food, self defence, hunting, cutting, you name it. These are only a few tasks that you are most likely going to use your survival knife for.

So the most important feature of a survival knife is its multifunctionality. A knife has to be as ligtweight as possible at the same time. A survival knife will have to be able to perform exceptionally at different tasks, while being durrable and easy to use.

There are some general guidelines for choosing a survival kife. These guidelines will make sure that the above criteria are met by your survival knife. However every outdoorsman is different. Your choice will be influenced by your taste, and the features of your body. For example the size of your palm will be an important factor in choosing the survival knife that best fits your needs.

The size of the blade

The blade is the most crucial part of your knife. It is going to be involved in all the tasks your knife performs. Novice campers might think that a bigger blade is more durable, therefore the bigger the blade the better. Unfortunately this is only true in Hollywood movies. In reality there is an ptimal blade size. Too big blades are not good for detailed tasks such as preparing small prey, cleaning fish, or carving wood. Blades too short are unfit for tasks that require power, such as piercing through fur, or chopping wood. The blade should be around ten inches long, and you should not stray away from this with more than one or two inches.

Fixed blade or folding blade?

A fixed blade knife is preferable to one with a folding blade. A folding blade knife has a joint that is an extra potential source of problems. If sand or dirt gets stuck in the joint it will stop working. Blades with joints are a lot weaker than fixed blades. The joint will break as a result of forceful work.

Dagger

You can make a dagger from your survival knife
You can make a dagger from your survival knife | Source

Full tang

The best survival knives are the ones that have the blade and the handle constructed of the same piece of metal. These kinds of knives are called full tang knives. The blade of a full tang knife can not be removed as easily as another knife's blade could. Other models are the half tang, push tang and rat tail tang knives.

A full tang survival knife can be used as a dagger. Remove the handle by screwing off the nails on the side, and pierce the remaining metal blade into a long piece of wood. You can also fix the blade at the end of the stick with a rope. Once your dagger is ready, you can use it to hunt. Just make sure that the blade is fixed well. Otherwise it might fly off, which can lead to painful accidents.

If the handle comes off for some reason a full tang knife will still be useful. Just wrap some rope around the metal handle, and you have a fully functional knife once again.

Functions

There are survival knives out there that have millions of functions. These are marketed as knives that can do anything, but the reality is that they usually do none of them well. A well made knife with only one blade achieves a lot more than one with a lot of poorly designed functions.

The tip

It should go without saying, but your survival knife should have a pointed tip. A pointed tip is a must for such delicate tasks as gear repair, piercing, hunting, cleaning fish, drilling, or carving live bait or small edible berries out of hard to reach places.

You can't use a fire starting ferro rod with a double edged blade.
You can't use a fire starting ferro rod with a double edged blade. | Source

Single edge or double edge blade?

Single edged blades are preferable to double edged ones. A double edge prevents you from using your knife for a number of tasks. A sharp spine (the other side of your knife) will prevent you from using the spine as a thumb-rest. It will not allow you to use a fire-starting ferro rod. Also you can't baton with a double-edged blade. Batoning is the process of striking your handle with a heavy object on the back to pierce thrugh or cut a bulkier object. Batoning is most often used to cut tranches of wood.

An example of a good handle

How a great survival knife handle looks
How a great survival knife handle looks | Source

Have a solid pomel

The pomel is the bottom of the handle. You are going to use it for batoning, this is where you are going to hit the knife multiple times. It is best to have a pomel that is not too rounded, and not hooked. On the other hand it is good to have a handle that is wider at the end. This will prevent your hand from slipping off the handle while cutting. Obviously your knife is goig to be useless unless you can grab and hold it properly. The handle should sit comfortably in your palm.

The thickness of the blade

You can't use the blade for several important puroses unless it is thick enough. You can't take full advantage of the spine of the blade if it is too thin. Also the blade should be thick enough for you to sharpen it easily, but not so thick that you can't reach small holes, or perform delicate tasks with it. The ideal thickness of the blade is between 5/32" and 1/4".

Edge of the blade

The edge of the blade should be continuous from the base to the tip. These blades are the easiest to sharpen. Even though you might manage to sharpen a non-continous blade at home, it is very hard to do so in the field. Go for the easier one to sharpen, as your survival might depend on this choice.

A great video on how to choose a survival knife

Conclusion

There are many survival knives on the market. however there are some basic tips one should keep in mind when choosing a survival knife. These give you general guidelines to choose a knife that will perform well in the vast majority of scenarios you might encounter in the wild.

You have to keep in mind that every situation is different, and you might want to add a few personal criteia to the ones mentioned above. The best survival knife depends a great deal on what you are going to use it for. Remember, the most important part is that your survival knife performs well in your hands.

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      jgreystoke 2 years ago

      Really nice article. Clear explanation of each point made. Love the accompanying vid.

      I am pretty sure you meant to say that the total length should be around 10", so the blade would then be about half that. That should suit most people, if they don't need a chopper.

      I am quite happy with a 10" blade if it is not too heavy and unwieldy. Have a Martindale Paratrooper with a 10" blade, about a pound weight, on order. Many Bowie knives of the same size are twice as heavy. It will be convexed and sharpened on arrival. Machete manufacturers tend to deliver blades that are totally blunt.

      For a shorter, but heavy, chopping blade, I'm going to order a 7" blade M.O.D. Survival Knife. That will be convexed and sharpened as well. I believe they come dull, but are so brute strong and capable that you won't get much better no matter how much money you spend. Stay safe