What to Look For in a Survival Knife
When disaster strikes, you’ll need the right weapons on hand to keep you safe.
A survival knife can help you do more than just slice your way through the wilderness. It is a multi-purpose tool, able to help you create shelter, defend yourself, and hunt for food. That’s why it’s crucial to find one that will give you the best chance of survival.
But with so many knives on the market, along with the jargon surrounding them, it can be hard to know what features to look out for. We hope our guide to choosing the best survival knife can help you to make your decision, and give you a better insight into the world of survival knives.
Most survival knives will feature one of three blade designs: clip point, drop point, or spear point.
These designs all work by ensuring that the blade is closer to the centerline of the knife, therefore increasing control across the whole blade.
All of these designs help to improve the blade’s balance, while also lightening the edge.
Let’s take a look at each design in more detail:
You can expect to find a clip point design on large survival knives. This is partly due to the way the blade curves upwards at the front, making it a great choice for self-defense.
However, this blade design also works well for skinning game, as well as large animals, so it is ideal for serious survival situations where you need to find food and protect yourself.
It is worth noting though, that due to the larger size of clip point blade designs, they aren’t the most suitable for more general use. It may also be heavier than other designs, which isn’t the best when you need to carry lots of equipment on your back.
Different from the clip point design, a drop point blade will be smaller, making it more suited to cutting through all kinds of materials, and carving out where necessary.
The size also means the blade will be more stable, and therefore less difficult to use and get to grips with.
This design features the tip of the blade dropping off at the edge, which allows for a more solid user experience overall.
If you’re looking for a blade with a multipurpose feel, then this might be the design for you to consider. It would work well for food preparation, chopping wood, and carving, along with many other uses.
Wanting a blade that will pierce through anything? Then a spear point blade design might just be your winner.
Like its namesake, this blade resembles a ‘spear’ design, with a needlepoint tip for sharp piercing and stabbing. This makes it an excellent option in the unfortunate event that you find yourself in a particularly hostile and extreme scenario, as you’re guaranteed to do damage on your enemy with this blade.
This blade features a symmetrical design, with the point aligned with the centerline of the blade. However, despite its excellent piercing capabilities, this knife might be the best option for a variety of bushcraft tasks, such as cutting through materials you’re likely to encounter in the wilderness.
One of the most important aspects of a survival knife is the material that the blade is constructed from.
Typically, a blade will be designed from either stainless steel, or high carbon steel. These materials each have their pros and cons, and it’s essential to weigh these up before you make a final purchase.
If you want your survival knife to have a specialist purpose, then it is especially crucial to consider the significance of the material to its overall performance. However, you should bear in mind that the more specialist a knife appears, the more likely it is to lack when used for other purposes.
Both stainless steel and high carbon steel can perform as ‘all-rounders,’ but you’ll need to consider which type of steel will be more suited to your intentions.
So, let’s check out both materials:
Stainless steel is commonly used for survival purposes, as it prevents rust and corrosion from causing long-term damage to the knife. Made from around 12% chromium, these knives are durable and able to survive against the elements in the wilderness.
However, despite its durable exterior, stainless steel blades are not as hard as high carbon steel blades, and therefore may not be as reliable or easy to use. A softer blade also means it can lose its edge quickly, despite being relatively easy to sharpen compared to high carbon steel blades.
Although this may not be a primary concern during survival, it is also worth noting that stainless steel is a recyclable material, which is great for any eco-survivalists out there (which really, we should all be).
Although not considered as tough as high carbon steel, stainless steel blades look the part, and offer a quality design. As they also don’t require frequent sharpening, they’re also easy to maintain, giving you more time to focus on surviving.
High Carbon Steel
If having a hard, strong blade is a priority for you, then you can’t go wrong with a high carbon steel blade.
This material is renowned for its strength, with its hard design meaning it can slice through almost anything.
It has a sharpness that can’t be matched against other materials, so you can rely on this material to support you during even the toughest of survival situations. They are great for slicing through strong materials, while also being an excellent tool for precision cutting. This is the kind of versatility to look out for from a survival knife.
High carbon steel also retains its edge well, due to its hardness. This means you can expect to have a razor-sharp edge that will last you longer, and won’t require as much sharpening to get it back to a high standard. Strong edge retention means you can get more from your blade, for longer.
Folding or Fixed?
Deciding between a folding or fixed survival knife might seem overwhelming, but there’s several things you can consider to help make this choice a simpler one.
Folding knives are essentially designed to be convenient, and would work well if you had to leave with a moment’s notice, or needed to use a knife in an emergency. They’re a great choice for occasional use, and would be a sensible addition to an emergency survival kit.
If you are considering a folding knife, however, you’ll need to consider their quality compared to a fixed blade. For frequent use, a folding knife will not withstand the same level of intensity as a fixed blade, and therefore it may not be reliable in an extreme survival situation (especially if it is a life or death one).
Now, that’s not to discredit folding survival knives completely, as they are ideal for storing away in a backpack and to keep with you on the go. However, fixed blades offer more stability overall, and are known to give better results than a folding knife.
For those serious about survival, a fixed blade knife would seem like the way to go. Generally, they are more robust, and able to help you defend yourself better against real, serious threats. This means they are built to hold up against difficult tasks, including splitting logs and chopping wood.
A thicker survival knife makes for a heavier survival knife, so it is essential that you consider whether this will work for you. In a survival situation, you’ll want to keep your gear as light as possible, for optimum efficiency.
Many survivalist experts believe that the ideal thickness of a blade should be around 0.17 to 0.25 inches. This range of thickness allows for a blade strong enough to handle pretty much all kinds of uses you may encounter.
However, be wary of blades that are thicker than 0.25 inches, as these may be too thick to work well for more precise cutting. It is important to try and find the balance when it comes to blade thickness, and base your decision on how you most intend to use your survival knife.
Typically, it is suggested that the ideal length if a blade for survival purposes will measure between 4 and 7 inches. If a blade exceeds this length, then it may be more of an inconvenience than of any real use to you. A blade that’s too long won’t be the best for precise cutting or delicate tasks, such as skinning small game.
However, a blade that’s too small also has its downsides. It won’t be the most suitable for heavy-duty tasks, so it’s essential that you try to find something in between these sizes for the best chance of survival.
Another crucial component of a survival knife is the blade tang, and it’s a component that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But what is the blade tang?
Blade tang is best described as the part of the blade that runs within the handle of the knife. There are three types of blade tang to look out for: full tang, half tang, and rat-tail tang.
When it comes to survival, full tang is your best bet.
This means that the width of the blade within the knife handle is the same as the width of the blade extending from the handle of the knife. The length of the blade will also run as long as the knife’s handle.
With this type of tang, the two parts of the handle are usually connected to the tang, with no screws or glued sections. Instead, it is one complete object with no separation, making it more solid and durable. If you’re conscious of all of your survival gear being primed for survival, then I’d recommend full tang as the way to go.
However, half tang can also be a great option.
Half tang, often referred to as ‘partial tang,’ is when the blade tang runs about as far as the middle of the handle’s length, but the width is the same as that of the handle.
This is generally considered a reliable type of tang, but you’ll need to think about how there is the possibility of the tang separating from the protruding part of the blade.
You may also encounter rat-tail tang while searching for the best survival knife.
Rat-tail tang is not as tough as the other types of tang, as the tang is thinner than the full-width of the blade that extends out from the handle. Generally, the tang is joined to the blade by welding, which also makes it less reliable and more prone to breakage.
While you may find that blades with this type of tang are more budget-friendly, they are generally not ideal if you’re serious about survival.
You may think that with the features of the blade covered, you know all there is to know about choosing the best survival knife.
Yet you can’t forget about the knife’s handle!
The handle can make or break the performance of a survival knife. You’ll usually find the handle of a survival knife is made from either rubber, plastic, or synthetic materials.
It is advised to avoid plastic handles, as they may dampen the overall quality of the blade and be less robust.
You’ll need to find a knife that has a smooth grip, with the handle not causing you any irritation or discomfort when you hold it, or else it won’t be worth having.
With survival in mind, I’d always choose a synthetic material for the handle.
This will give you the most solid grip, while being safe to use as well. Materials such as metal may compromise your safety, as they won’t be the best to use around fires due to their heat conducting properties.
Look out for knives with handles made from Micarta, GRN, or Kratona, for the best overall user experience. In my opinion, rubber is also an excellent choice, although it won’t be as durable as a material such as GRN.
It goes without saying that a knife is a critical survival weapon to have on hand. There are many benefits to keeping a survival knife with you, as they have many uses beyond self-defense.
I hope this guide has helped to inform your decision, and you can soon enjoy the endless uses of a survival knife, and keep yourself safe in the process.
Thanks for reading, and best of luck on choosing the right survival knife for you!
Author Bio: Terry Daine is a former Royal Marines Commando, enthusiastic about all things survival-related. Terry created Survival Front, to bring you the best survival product reviews, and to help you improve your survival preparation, with quality guides and expert insights. You can also follow Survival Front on Facebook, to stay updated with all of the latest articles.
About the Author
Ahoy there! The name’s Kevin Smith, the proprietor of this little travel and outdoors blog. The outdoors has always been a passion of mine since I was a kid as my parents were avid campers themselves. They taught me everything I know when it comes to camping, hiking etc. and I would like to do my part by imparting my know-how to like-minded individuals who enjoy the same hobby as me. I started this website in the hopes of helping other people when it comes to answering questions, giving tips and recommendations focusing on the camping niche. Along with some close friends of mine, we are here to help you make the most out of your outdoor experience. Enjoy your stay and enjoy the wild side!