Ask any experienced survivalist or survival instructor, and they’ll tell you that a knife is the most basic and most important survival tool. If I had to go into the woods for a week and I could only take one thing with me, my knife is what I’d choose. While there may be many other important pieces of gear; that one tops the list.
With that in mind, it really makes sense to ensure that you have a good knife as the core of your survival kit. If you have more than one survival kit, such as an EDC kit and a Bug out Bag, then each should have a high-quality survival knife. You really can’t have too many.
So, what makes a good knife? There are a number of key attributes you should look for.
- Quality Steel – The most important part of any knife is the steel that it’s made of. There are a number of different grades of steel which have been developed specifically for knives. These seek to provide the balance between being easy to sharpen, holding an edge well, and avoiding chipping. As all three of those attributes work against each other, the dance in finding the right compromise is challenging in the least.
- Fixed Blade – While folding knives are useful tools and can even be high quality ones, there is always a chance of them breaking, as well as the possibility of closing it on your hand and injuring yourself. A fixed blade knife may not be as convenient to carry, but as a tool, it is better.
- Full Tang – The tang is the part of the blade that goes into the handle. Manufacturers of cheap knives will try to have as short a tang as possible, as this will help reduce costs. But that short tang makes for a knife which can break off from the handle easily, something that can’t happen with a full tang.
- Blade Shape – There are a number of different types of knife blade styles out there, all of which have certain benefits and disadvantages. I’m not going to try and convince you that one is better than another; but I will say that you want to avoid anything with a narrow point, as that will be weaker. When you compare a tonto blade to a stiletto, the wider metal behind the point means that the tonto blade won’t break as easily, although it isn’t as good for sticking in someone’s guts either.
- Blade Thickness – While it’s not often talked about, the thickness of the blade is important too and a fairly good indicator of quality. Thinner sheets of metal are less expensive, so are commonly used for cheap knives. A thick blade demonstrates that the manufacturer isn’t trying to cut corners. But, this factor must be used in conjunction with the kind of steel being used and the blade sharp.
- Comfortable Handle – Another factor that isn’t talked about much is how well the handle fits into your hand, although that’s something we all appreciate. You’ll be using the knife a lot, including to cut things that probably need something bigger than what you have; so you want something that will be comfortable to use, giving you a good grip. At the same time, it needs to be strong enough that it won’t break.
As I just mentioned, some of the things you’re going to be doing with that knife, might very well be things that you normally wouldn’t use a knife for, such as cutting off a tree branch or splitting wood. The knife needs to be strong enough to handle that sort of abuse, without being destroyed by it.
Don’t get caught up in the hype of something being called a “survival knife.” Typically the manufacturers of these knives add other features to the knife, which could be useful in a survival situation, then call it a survival knife. But in order to add those things, they use a lower quality steel in the knife; so, the most important thing is minimized, in order to give you whistles and bells that you may never use.
One final thought; always make sure that you carry a honing stone along. Without the ability to keep it sharp, that knife is going to lose its effectiveness real fast.