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How to Choose a Survival Knife

What is a Survival Knife?

The survival knife is an important piece of equipment that can be utilized in the event you become lost in the backwoods, or engaged in some other overwhelming outdoor environment. On the chance that you are lost in the backwoods an appropriate blade might genuinely become a life saver to assist you establishing shelter, starting the fire, hunting, preparing game, digging, and cutting paths, just to name a few.

Generally speaking, a fixed knife incorporating a full tang blade of steel, will be more reliable and less likely to fall apart when put through the paces, than a folding blade knife. An advantage to having a full tang knife is that the blade will be able to withstand immense pressure and excessive use, while simultaneously reducing the risk of breaking under extreme conditions. That being said, a reputable brand name folding knife is probably going to fit better into everybody’s budget. The folding blade knife will allow the user to perform many of the same tasks as a full tang knife, it may not however be able to handle the same type of abuse.

8 Considerations When Choosing Survival Knives

BLADE DESIGN: When choosing a knife for use during survival situations, or under extreme circumstances such as those discovered throughout disaster scenarios, the design of the blade is the single most important aspect associated with the process. The blade design will play an instrumental role in determining whether or not the knife is suitable for the purpose of emergency preparedness. When used during a survival situation, the entire breadth of the blade is often employed by the user, from the tip to the choil (the surface of the blade where the cutting edge stops). In conjunction, there are a number of different blade designs and tips, such as clip points, spear points, trailing points and drop points. However, the points best suited for emergency preparedness application are the drop, clip and spear points.

All three of these blade/tip designs are intended to place the tip as close to the center line as possible. This provides the user with the best possibility of controlling the blade when in use. These three blade/tip designs also create a lighter tip on the blade, which in turn produces a better balance of the blade nearer the hilt. This design attribute also improves control of the knife by the end user. Experienced survivalists generally consider knives capable of use in the wilderness to fall within one of three categories; heavy duty, light utility, and bushcraft. Knives are placed into a category based upon their blade length and design.

A heavy duty knife will primarily be used for chopping firewood, and/or other bulky material not suitable for a smaller blade. It should therefore feature durable construction consisting of a blade between 10”-14” in length. This blade should be manufactured out of strong steel, feature a weight forward design and preferably a saber grind. It should be an ergonomic masterpiece complete with a non-slip rubber handle grip.

The light utility knife should feature a blade in the neighborhood of 3.5”-5” with a flat grind and any one of the three pointed tips mentioned earlier, along with an ergonomic handle as described above, without the rubber non-slip grip.

The bushcraft blade is a medium sized blade that falls in the range of 5”-8” in length. These knives are generally balanced at a point near the hilt of the knife. These blades may feature either a flat or hollow grind and should incorporate an ergonomic handle as described for the heavy duty knife.

FIXED OR FOLDING: A pocket knife is an excellent tool to have available and part of your EDC (Every Day Carry) kit. For the most part pocket knives are good, all-purpose blades; the biggest disadvantage to them is the presence of an additional break point which are not found on full-tang fixed blade designs.

This is a crucial and critical aspect of blade designs, especially when consideration is given to the variety of uses the blade may be subject to. The last thing anyone wants in a serious survival situation is a broken knife. It will make establishing shelter and getting a fire going more difficult to achieve.

It is imperative that the knife be durable and sturdy enough to be used as a leveraging device capable of resisting damage under extreme environments. The knife should have an excellent reputation for durability as well as longevity. Although a respectable folding knife has a place in the bugout bag, or EDC, of any survivalist, it should never completely replace a fixed blade as the primary tool for use in extreme environments.

EDGE DESIGN: The cutting edge of the blade is just as important when making a choice regarding which survival knife is going to make it into your bugout bag. Different edge designs are intended for a variety of uses, functions, and purposes.

Straight cutting edges are specifically intended to be used as general purpose blades. These edge designs can incorporate a positive, neutral, or negative rake angle. The neutral rake angle of the blade is the most common. The positive rake angle produces a downward slope that increases performance parameters for cutting, and/or slicing through material. The negative rake creates and upward angle intended to decrease the amount of pressure applied to the cutting surface when put into use.

There are also recurve edges. These edge designs feature a straight segment which changes to a positive rake near the center of the blade. This causes it to curve upward to the tip and adjusts the balance of the blade forward of the hilt. The purpose behind the recurve edge design is to manufacture a blade capable of cutting, carving, and/or chopping through all types of material.

BLADE LENGTH: Another critical component to consider when selecting a survival knife is the overall length of the blade. Knives consist of different blade lengths specifically for the different purposes they are designed to achieve. As an example, 8”-10” blades are generally long enough and sturdy enough to be useful for chopping through heavy material such as logs. In contrast, these same blade lengths tend to be more difficult to master when attempting to use them for more precise tasks.

Knives which incorporate blades in the neighborhood of 3.5”-5” are far better for delicate, precise tasks and duties, such as skinning small game, processing fish, and cutting up wild edibles and vegetables.

Knives with blade lengths that average between 6”-8” offer an excellent middle ground between heavy duty blade designs and those of the shorter utility knives.

SOURCE OF STEEL: Aside from blade configuration, the source of steel from which a survival knife is created, is quite possibly one of the most critical components to consider when making a selection. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that blade steel falls into two different categories; stainless and high carbon, non-stainless. The major difference between the two types of steel can be identified by the levels of chromium each type of steel contains.

Although high carbon steels are generally more durable than their stainless steel counterparts, which makes them less susceptible to damage, in contrast they are more susceptible to oxidation and corrosion. Although high carbon steel is much easier to hone into a razor sharp edge, they will not hold that razor sharp edge as long as a stainless steel edge will.

Having said that, the edge holding ability and comparative durability of blade steel also relies on its designated HRC (Hardness as determined by Rockwell Scale C). For instance, knife blades that have an HRC between 50-54 will be the most durable, those with an HRC in the 58-62 range will hold a sharpened edge longer, and those with an HRC in the 54-58 range present a compromise between the durable and edge holding compositions discussed above.

Now that we have all of that information we can put it to use. Heavy duty survival knives should be manufactured using high carbon steel and consist on an HRC in the area of 50-54. Bushcraft and light duty knives can be constructed out of either steel type, yet consist of the higher HRC in the range of 58-62.

BLADE GRIND: Equally important as blade and edge design when selecting a survival knife, is the grind applied to the blade. Although there are a wide variety of grinds available for blades, the two which are best suited for survival tools are the flat and saber grinds. The saber grind consists of a primary bevel that creates an axe like cutting edge. As may be obvious, these edges are extremely difficult to hone to a razor sharp edge, yet holds an excellent edge design for splitting and chopping.

The flat grind, on the other hand, consists of a primary bevel that encompasses the entire length of the edge, all the way to the back side of the blade. This represents a compromise between hollow and saber grinds and results in an edge that can be honed into a much sharper edge than the saber grind mentioned above.

That being said, there are a few survival knives that incorporate a hollow/saber grind combination. This allows the spine thickness of a saber grind to be paired with the razor sharp edge capable of being honed onto a hollow grind. While these knives work well for cutting, chopping and slicing, they are not optimally designed to withstand any of these tasks for lengthy periods of time, thus positioning them as tools that bridge the gap between flat and saber grind designs.

FULL TANG OR FOLDING: It goes without saying that the full tang design for knife blades is the preferred option if/when possible and affordable. With a full tang knife the steel portion runs through the handle as a solid piece. This increases overall strength and durability by eliminating the weak points associated with folding blade knife designs.

Full tang knives are the most popular design among survival experts; it should therefore be worthy of consideration by all those looking to better prepare themselves for any type of disaster. The partial tang familiar to folding knives are inherently weaker than their full tang cousins in the cutlery industry. As is the case with most folding knives, the tang does not penetrate into the handle. The blade is affixed to the handle using a dowel that allows the blade to swivel open and closed. This is the weakest spot on a knife and is highly susceptible to breakage when used in extreme environments.

HANDLE FABRICATION: Another important aspect to consider when selecting a knife for survival purposes is the material composition from which the handle is constructed. The reason this is of importance to knife users is because the handle must be durable enough to prevent damage during use, while simultaneously resisting the ability to absorb moisture. Obviously a broken handle on a bladed tool will complicate matters and moisture will eventually result in rot if left unattended for too long. Textured rubber handle configurations will provide a comfortable grip while eliminating the ability of moisture to penetrate and damage the material.

Survival Knife Sharpening

If you plan on spending any amount of time in the great outdoors, then you not only need an excellent survival knife, you also need to develop the skills to sharpen it and maintain an edge while in the wilderness. In survival situations the most recommended procedure for sharpening blades involves the use of water and stones. While honing a blade with oil is favorable under consumer based advertising conditions, it is not necessary when in the wilderness. As a matter of fact, it will be messier and not conducive to conserving valuable time. In the event a water source is unavailable, the simple use of spit and a stone will suffice for knife honing purposes.

Choosing the right blade steel will assist with reducing the time and effort required to complete the task of honing a razor sharp edge onto a blade. The wider a blade is the greater the degree of angle applied during the honing process. Wide blades should be sharpened using a 25°-30° angle, and narrow blades should be sharpened using a 15°-20° angle, for best results.


Survival knives serve several purposes, both in daily use as well as in the wilderness. They are an instrument capable of assisting outdoor enthusiasts with erecting shelter, starting a fire, processing wild game and fish, as well as preparing wild edibles for the stew pot. They are an absolute time saving device when it comes to cutting through tough material such as wood, and can be used to cut away other natural resources when called upon, such as bamboo, sugar cane, sawgrass, and wait-a-minute vines. Survival knives may also be useful as a personal protection tool if/when nothing else is readily available. In the event you are attacked by a predatory animal, or even an adversary, the survival knife can be used to defend yourself and your property at all costs. Bear in mind that knives are designed to have a sharp edge; this means they are capable of causing injury. That being said, a dull knife is almost always considered to be more dangerous than a sharp knife, simply because it creates an environment in which additional focus and pressure may be required to complete the same job as a sharp knife. This in turn can cause the blade to slip, rather than cut, the material it is being used on. This places the user in the unfavorable position of not being in control of the cutting edge, which can then result in serious, possibly even life threatening, injuries. Always practice safety when handling a bladed tool.