What makes a good survival knife? And do you know how to chose a good survival knife? Does a survival knife have to cost over a hundred dollars and if not, how much should a survival knife cost? Should they have a stainless steel blade or one made of carbon? What type of sheath is best? Does the blade have to be drop point or clip point? Does a survival knife have to be straight edge or serrated edge and does it also have to be a big knife?
The short answer to all those questions is that any knife can turn out to be a good survival knife, even if it is a small blade. A general rule that I like to go by is if it feels right for you then use it!
What to Look For in a Survival Knife?
If you do not have much experience handling knives, there are some standard features that you will want to look for when investing.
- Your primary survival knife should have a fixed blade with a full tang. This means the blade continues through the handle and minimizing potential failure at the shoulder where the blade and handle meet. Partial tang knives can fail where the handle meets the blade during heavy use such as batoning, chopping, digging and prying. Digging and prying is undoubtedly not advisable unless it is necessary.
Should a Survival Knife be Carbon or Stainless Steel?
There is no need to get hung up on which style blade is best; Be it a drop-point, clip-point, hollow grind, flat grind. As long as a survival knife is durable, and can hold an edge well, then you should be good! Now, this brings us to the significant carbon versus stainless steel debate.
- Carbon Survival Knives; A carbon blade will rust, but you can avoid this by rubbing a thin layer of oil on the blade. A survival blade made of carbon is much easier to sharpen and has been a standard for as long humans have been making knives.
- Stainless Steel Survival Knives; Stainless steel blades are more challenging to sharpen though there have been some significant advancements in the past decade. There are two main differences between carbon steel and stainless steel. Knives made of stainless steels have much higher corrosion resistance. This is due to the protective chromium oxide layer that covers the steel surface after the heating treatment.
What To Look for in a Sheath?
Buying the best sheath for your survival knife is almost as important as the knife itself in some instances. Most of the time a knife manufacturer will skimp out on the sheath so they can sell you a good quality knife at a manageable cost. That’s not a bad thing because you can go online and find a custom sheath that is built specifically for the knife you own.
I will give you an example, my preferred survival knife at the time of writing this article is the Ka-Bar BK7 Becker. The blade is top notch quality and durability, but the sheath is rather crappy. It’s okay because I just ordered myself a sheath that now fits the BK7 perfectly. The positive of this example is the knife sells for under $100 at most places, and it’s a steal at that price. You can always buy the right sheath later on when you have the funds to do so; And as I mentioned, the sheath is crappy, but it is still usable, and when you snap it in, the knife will stay in place. Check out my full review of the Ka-Bar BK7 Becker by clicking here.
Avoid Leather Sheaths for Two Reasons.
- A leather sheath can sometimes be unsafe if you harbor a genuinely sharp survival knife.
- Leather Sheaths will hold moister and will also make a carbon blade rust much faster.
A cordura or nylon sheath is better than one made of leather, and Kydex or the equivalent is best. Find a sheath that will not allow the knife to penetrate through it and cause injuries. Also, make sure the sheath holds your survival knife securely and doesn’t wiggle from side to side while you are on the move. Make sure there’s a belt loop attached to the sheath, you’ll know why I say this when you’re hiking, you will want easy and secure access to your survival knife.
What to Look For in a Survival Knife Handle?
Your survival knife handle should be comfortable and not slip when it becomes wet. A cushioned grip will absorb the vibration sent down the spine when batoning or chopping. No matter what type of material your blade handle is made of, make sure it has a lanyard holder; or that you can at least drill a lanyard hole through the knife. Lanyards are very useful.
High durability synthetics are preferable. I prefer a slightly rubbery texture handle for the better grip; there are good arguments for micarta and G10 because they are indestructible; Whatever feels better to you. It should have a full tang and ideally some protrusion at the bottom to smash things. I prefer to have some guard at the front of the grip to prevent slipping on the blade, but that is just a preference. Few moves in a survival situation carry that risk.
Stay away from handles that are hollow unless the entire knife, including the blade handle, are made from one piece of steel, like a cold steel bushman.
What About the Survival Knife Handle Guards?
While the design of a guard is a safety feature, they can often get in the way of choking up on a knife. Knives that do have guards can easily be modified making them more accessible to choke up on for finer carving.
I’m sure many survivalist beginners have asked themselves at one point, or another is “should a survival knife blade have serrations”? For bushcraft related skills a straightedge is a preferred style of blade. Serrated blades are typically used on search and rescue applications since the serrations will quickly cut through synthetic material like webbing, seatbelts, and electrical wire.
Stick to a straight edge blade if you will be using a knife for camping related chores like processing firewood, making traps and cleaning game.
Stay Away From Sawbacks and Double Bladed Knives
Saw teeth on the back of a spine, or even a double edge blade limits the usefulness of a survival knife. You should forget the idea of having one knife that will do it all. Buy a knife that is designed to work well when used as a knife and as a knife only.
Other than cutting, chopping is the only other task to expect from a survival knife. And chopping is only possible with a blade that is six inches or greater.
Should your Survival Knife be Ultralight or Big Blade?
The weight of your survival knife is a significant consideration. Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.
- Survival Knife Ultralight Blade; If you’re into ultralight camping, you’ll want a smaller, lighter knife.
- Big Blade Survival Knife; If you’re bugging out or are camping in more primitive conditions, a more prominent blade will become your best friend. Remember, a bigger blade can do everything a small blade can do. However, a small blade cannot do everything a big blade can do.
Avoid huge, scary looking military knives. It’s not that there is anything functionally wrong with them; but when you meet people in the great outdoors outside of a survival situation, for example when you are training or just generally do some outdoors stuff, it is better not to intimidate and scare people. Choose a knife that you feel comfortable carrying openly during outdoor activities.
How Much Should a Survival Knife Cost?
One of the most popular question regarding survival knives is how much should a survival knives cost? Do you have to spend over a hundred dollars to get a first-rate blade? Perhaps, you might need to pay a bit more if you’re looking for a durable knife with a six-inch blade or larger.
Most three to five-inch bushcraft survival knives range in price from $15 to 75 dollars but are limited in their capabilities; And the would be survivalist would gladly trade their small bushcraft knife for a big blade knife that makes shelter building a breeze.
One thing to remember, I’ve mentioned earlier about the survival knife I currently use, the Ka-Bar BK7 Becker (LINK to my full in-depth review). That knife is under $100 only because they cut cost on other things, like the sheath which you can purchase a better one sometimes afterward. Do your homework before buying your first survival knife. Read some reviews and when you find the one that feels right and would fit your survival lifestyle then go for it!
Survival Knife Summary
When you’re ready to invest in a survival knife, there are some important considerations you need to make. Here is a list of considerations starting with the most important one.
- Durability; Fixed blade full-tang is the only way to go. Forget the hollow handle knives unless the handle and blade are made from a singular piece of steel.
- Safety; The second most important consideration is to Make sure the knife is a size you’re able to handle and that the sheath is secure and protects you from unnecessary injury or knife loss.
- Comfort; The next consideration regarding your survival knife choice is the comfort. Be sure the handle is comfortable and will not tear your hands to shreds when you’re using it for extended periods of time. Choose a solid handle with a lanyard or the potential to drill one.
Take your time and read the reviews of the survival knives that peaks your interest the most. Don’t be afraid to hold some of the knives in your hand at the store. Do not hesitate to ask questions in the comment section below if you’re unsure. If I’m not able to give you an answer, I will be happy to look it up.
By following this guide, you can make an educated investment in a piece of gear that will serve you well in many future adventures.