“There is no destiny, there is only the edge of a good blade and the skill of the man wielding it.”
A survival knife isn’t just a knife. It’s one of the most important tools to have on you. Whether you are in back country or packing up your bug out bag – you need a dependable knife. A good knife can cut down branches to make a survival shelter, make traps or skin animals. It can also be used for cooking and defense, if need be. That said, not all knives are the same and understanding this before investing in a knife will help you make the most of your investment.
Before you go out and purchase a survival knife, understand that there are characteristics you must look for before purchasing. As well, keep in mind what uses and environments you plan to use your knife in. Many believe that simplicity is the key – a good blade with a dependable handle is all you need. Inevitably, it all comes down to your preferences, but keep the following points in mind.
Most “survival” knives have fixed blade. That is, they have no moving parts. This makes them more durable and less likely to break. Many will argue that folding knives are great because they are compact, but they are more likely to succumb to pressure by breaking. My personal opinion is to take two knives. One folding “buck knife” and a larger fixed blade knife to ensure you can perform duties pertaining to outdoor survival.
Although it is a matter of preference, the ideal blade length for a survival knife is between 4-8 inches. This gives the carrier flexibility for smaller tasks and is large enough to perform jobs that require a little more oomph when you need it.
As well, a straight or serrated blade is another aspect of selecting a good survival knife. Serrated blades perform well and are very useful in cutting rope and vines. That said, it’s very difficult to sharpen – and you want your survival knife to be very sharp. A straight edge doesn’t have the limitations imposed by serrations, but again, it depends on your comfort level with the knife and what you plan to do with it.
You Get What You Pay For
If you want a blade made from quality materials that you can trust, you need to look at this purchase as an investment. You are paying for quality materials that you can depend on.
A few of my favorite serrated blades are:
Some of my favorite straight blades are:
The steel used in making knives is also a fundamental characteristic of a good blade. Many of the better-made knives use a combination of alloy (i.e. a mix) of carbon and iron, and other elements such as chromium, molybdenum, nickel, and vanadium to improve the strength and durability of the knife. Here is a chart of the different types of steels for you to turn to.
Essentially, a good blade is the balancing and correct ratio of elements that create strength or hardness with toughness. Most knives are listed as 1095 steel which is plain carbon steel with 95 points (0.95%) carbon; 1060 has 60 points (0.6%) carbon; while 1050 has 50 points (0.5%) carbon. The thing to keep in mind is the higher the carbon content of a blade, the tougher/harder the blade is and will have a longer lasting edge. Some of the important properties of blade steel are:
Hardness : A measure of the steel’s ability to resist permanent deformation (measured on a Rockwell Scale)
Hardenability : The ability of a steel to be hardened (through the heat-treating process)
Strength : The steel’s ability to resist applied forces
Ductility : The steel’s ability to flex or bend without fracturing
Toughness : The steel’s ability to absorb energy prior to fracturing
Initial Sharpness : The sharpness of the blade “out of the box”
Edge Retention : The ability of the steel blade to hold an edge without frequent re-sharpening
Corrosion Resistance: The ability of the steel to resist deterioration as a result of reaction with its environment
Wear Resistance: The ability to resist wear and abrasion during use
Manufacturability : The ease with which steel can be machined, blanked, ground, and heat-treated (made into a blade)
Additionally, you also want to consider is how well the knife will withstand normal wear and tear if it is resistant to corrosion, the blade retention or how well the blade retains its sharpness.
The handle of a good blade is just as important as the steel itself. Ensure that the handle of the knife has the following characteristics:
- A slight bulge at the tip for balance, and to prevent the knife from sliding out of your hand during use.
- Solid handle (hollow handles are more likely to break or be damaged)
- Non-slip grip for safety
There are four common types of handle materials that each have their own set of pros and cons.
Metal – Metal handles made from stainless steel, titanium, and other high-end metals, provide balanced durability and resistance to corrosion. As well, this type of handle is not particularly lightweight and a major drawback is the difficulty in the grip. An alternative is a handle made from aluminum. This metal is lightweight and durable making it a viable choice.
Wood – Wood handles are beautiful and very popular amongst collectors. The best woods for this type of handle are hardwoods. Be careful of the types of wood on these handles. Soft or fine woods (like black walnut) can be susceptible to wet conditions.
Synthetic Materials – Composite materials like carbon fiber, G10, and ZYTEL® are synthetic materials that make good knife handles. Many of these synthetic materials unbreakable and resists impact and abrasions. This article details the many synthetic materials that can be used for knife handles.
Natural Materials – Bone, antler, horn and tusks can make fine knife handles and have been used for centuries. This is a sturdy material for knife handles, and aside from the aesthetics, the drawback is once again is with the grip. As well, I have heard that due to the porous state of natural materials, this can make these natural materials susceptible to deformation and cracking. If you have a knife handle like this, make sure you know that temperature, light, and moisture can impact the longevity of a bone handle.
Strictly from a survival knife perspective, composite and metal knife handles are stronger and the most resistant to corrosion. Therefore, these type of handles makes them ideal for survival situations. In a survival situation, many of these materials can be found in the wild. As well, leather makes an excellent material for a knife handle. If you are in a situation where your knife handles breaks, and you have to repair it yourself, a makeshift leather or wood handle is the easiest material to find in the wild.
As well, and perhaps this could be considered a fourth characteristic to consider is the skill of the handler. Always keep in mind that knives are sharp tools that can do just as much damage to tissue than to wood or other materials. If you are in a bushcraft environment, you will be away from doctors, so maintain a level of safety when using a knife. As well, learn about the proper knife grasps to maintain the most control of the blade. Moreover, to ensure a long-lasting knife, it occasionally needs to have a little TLC and be sharpened regularly and periodically oiled.
To conclude, the tools you carry into a survival situation could make you or break you. You have to trust in the construction of the blade, the materials used, and spend time using it to know what it capable of. A prepper’s knife can see him or her through some dark times and keep them alive. And, basing your survival knife purchase on these characteristics will assist you in investing in the right tool for your survival.