The Survival Knife: How to Choose Your Best Friend in the Wild

| July 29, 2013 |

How to Pick a survival knife

This article has been superseded by our feature article on the best survival knife

A survival knife is just a knife: It pokes, it slices, it might even saw a little bit, but in the end it’s a cutting implement. Right?

Well, kind of. When choosing a survival knife, there a number of things you have to take into account that don’t really factor in when you’re picking, say, a kitchen knife for example. Take for instance, the tang of the blade. The tang is the part of the blade that is buried in the handle of the knife; you don’t see it, but it’s vitally important to how well your knife will perform under stress. Many knives have a tang that only extents about halfway down the handle. The problem with this is that the blade can more easily flex and possibly even break because it isn’t as stabilized. When picking your knife, I’d make your first and most important criteria that the knife have a “full tang,” or a tang that extends the entire length of the handle.

Next up, avoid gimmicks. In the knife world, these gimmicks include things like hollow handles for storing matches or other items, or built-in compasses. First of all, if the knife handle is hollow enough to hold other supplies, then it certainly can’t house a full-length tang like we talked about above. Additionally, the handle will be weak and ineffective for hammering tasks, like pounding in tent stakes. Speaking of hammering things, that’s the reason you don’t want one of those compasses in your knife handle. They are often located on the bottom of the knife and thus can inhibit pounding. Others, which are embedded in the side of the handle, can make gripping the knife awkward or even difficult. Just avoid these things, trust me on this one.

Next, you’re going to have to make a choice I can’t make for you, and that’s whether to get a serrated blade or not. There are pros and cons to both, but in general it’s good to have at least on partially serrated blade on hand in case you need to do any sawing or cutting of rope. The teeth on a serrated blade make this much easier. However, for other tasks you may want a blade that is smooth the whole length. It is a good idea to keep one as your primary knife, and pack the other as a backup.

Another common question when it comes to survival knives is how long they should be. The problem with this question is that, like with the serrated vs. non-serrated debate, it very much comes down to preference. I recommend a knife with a total length of ten to 12 inches, which should give you about a 5-6 inch blade. Any bigger is too bulky and can be cumbersome to use in certain situations, while a smaller blade might not be long enough for tasks like splitting firewood.

When it comes down to it, you’ll probably want to do some trial and error to find out what you like best. Try not to break the bank right away, there’s really no need and there are a lot of cheap knives that you can at least use to try out various styles before making a more permanent purchase. Eventually you’ll find what you like, and take the time to do so, because it could just be your best chance of survival someday.

Category: Survival Guides

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