Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What To Look For In A Survival Knife

What To Look For In A Survival Knife
I have been asked countless times where should I start in my Outdoor/Preparedness Journey when it comes to purchasing gear and for the most part that really depends on what gear you have on hand, what your skill level actually is and where you live. I always recommend that people start with a good functional knife the last time I answered that question I realized I probably need to do a post on what I look for in a knife. I also have a post planned for some knife options to start with and a basic starter kit that will last a lifetime and won't break the bank.

 So What Specifications Should I Look For In A Survival Knife? 

1) Fits Your Hand Comfortably In All Positions You Will Be Using The Knife: I haven't seen this requirement on anyone's list for survival knife requirements and I think it should be at the top of the list as if you don't feel comfortable with the blade in your hand you won't carry it and if you don't carry it you wont have it on your hip when you need it. Also if the knife is not comfortable in your hand you will not be as likely to practice your skills with that knife and a failure to practice will lead to failure when your life depends on that skill.

2) Manageable And Effective Blade Length: 4.3" to 6.75" seem to be the lengths that I use the most for a one tool option with 5.5" being the blade length I choose the most often with a 4.3" blade length for my backup knife. The length range seems to be a good length in which you are able to process large circumference wood for firewood and shelters (batoning) and still be able to do the fine carving required of making spear points, snare sets, fish gigs and other like tasks.

3) Solid/Flat Pommel: If you you think of a one tool option a hammer is often needed for long-term self reliance tasks such as pounding in makeshift tent stakes, break open nuts, grind wild edibles against a rock, drive makeshift nails into a structure, open seafood shells, etc. The solid pommel also provides you with the ability to drive your knife into an object by hitting it with a large stick (ice, wood, frozen animal, etc.).

4) One Cutting Edge With No Serrations: I like a blade with a Convex or Scandinavian grind (most have a Scandinavian grind with a secondary bevel) on my knives as they are the easiest for me to sharpen and also seem to have the best edge retention. Having only one cutting edge on your blade also means that you will be able to baton wood (see next requirement) which would be next to impossible with a double edged blade. The single cutting edge with opposing 90 degree spine makes for a good thumb rest when you are fine carving as well. Also avoid serrations as they are much more difficult to care for in the field and also makes batoning wood more difficult to accomplish without breaking the serations.

5) 90 Degree Edge On Spine: This element is critical for making fire as a 90 degree spine will allow you to process tinder for a tinder bundle (rub the spine on tulip poplar limb to process inner bark for a tinder bundle or find a deer rub and scrape that tree for tinder bundle material),will also serve as a sufficient scraper to remove material from a ferro rod and you can use a piece of flint to remove material from the spine as a makeshift flint/steel kit (assuming it is a high carbon steel blade). Other possible uses are to remove material from a hide, a flat striking surface and a great rest for your finger for fine carving. 

6) High Carbon Steel: 1095 Steel or O-1 Tool steel seem to be the most prominent high carbon blades on the survival market and both blade compositions will serve you well. Either of these steel compositions will enable you to use your knife as a makeshift flint and steel kit. This steel composition will also provide you with a knife that has excellent edge retention and is fairly easy to maintain an edge on the knife in the field. One thing to note is you need to dry this knife after each use and be sure to have oil in your kit to treat your knife; otherwise you will have a rusty blade on your hands.

7) Sharp Point: I have seen a resurgence in flat tip utility knives being promoted as survival knives for their prying ability but I must say that the advantages of a prying device are no where near the advantages of a sharp point. A sharp point allows you to use your knife as a defensive weapon (fashion a spear or use in hand-to-hand combat), as an awl for leather work or making a bearing block for a bow drill set and can be used as a punch by tapping on the pommel to force the tip through the material.

8) Heavy Duty Sheath With Ferro Rod Loop:  Yes I know this isn't part of the actual knife but if you want to carry a knife it must be capable of not only holding your knife in a secure manner but also a combustion device (Ferro Rod). If your sheath is more multifunctional than that all the better! knives such as the Mora Bushcraft Black comes with a sharpener and others come with pouches for a small fire kit.Just be sure it allows for a comfortable secure carry, otherwise you will be less likely to carry the knife consistently.

9) Thick Enough To Withstand Prolonged Abuse: 1/8" to 3/16" blade thickness is the optimal range for a survival knife as anything in this range can still accomplish fine carving tasks but is substantial enough to effect heavy duty tasks like batoning wood for fire starting. This thickness also allows for light prying on wood (when making primative traps).

10) Fixed Blade With Full Or Nearly Full Tang Blade:  It is essential that you not rely on a folding knife when your life is on the line. I don't care how amazing that custom folder performs, given time and enough stress the folder will fail at the joint. While many require a full tang knife I do believe in two 3/4 tang knives that I have beat the crap out of on a daily basis and they have not failed me (Mora Bushcraft and Mora Pathfinder) outside of these two knives I would always recommend a full tang knife as if the knife handle fails you still have the ability to use the knife with just the solid steel underneath the handle. 

A survival blade will most often be one of the most expensive parts of your kit (as it should be) and if you are planning on spending good money on a blade get a good blade that will serve you and probably your children a lifetime. Stick to the 10 principles outlined in the article when selecting your knife and I promise you it will not fail you when your life is on the line!

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  1. Nice list of criteria, brother! Sharing!

  2. If you added a patina to the blade it still keeps it from rusting, i patina mine with lemon juice til thw blade turns black and youre good to go..