Contrary to popular belief, survival knives are not necessarily designed for hunting purposes, and the same thing also applies in reverse. While their roles and functions do certainly overlap in some areas, they are two different tools built for specific tasks. Hunting knives are used for cleaning, skinning, boning, gutting and dressing game. Survival knives, on the other hand, are designed to accomplish jobs related to — well, survival. The list includes prying, hammering, spearing dinner, shelter building, fire building, batoning, food prep, digging, splitting, creating improvised first aid items, and so on and so forth.
Now that we have established the distinction between these two, it is time to focus on what exactly makes a survival knife good. Whether you are looking for a cool accessory to decorate your living room or you want a reliable tool for camping trips, this article will teach the essentials of survival knives. If you want more technical details on how to choose the best survival knife we recommend the comprehensive list compiled by the survivalist experts at Reviews Outdoors.
Size of the Survival of the Knife
The first thing you should do is ask yourself an age-old question: does size matter? As clichéd and obnoxious as this question might seem, it serves a vital role when it comes to survival knives. Our answer? Yes, it does matter to some degree, but bigger does not necessarily mean better.
For instance, if the knife is larger than average, you will be able to perform tasks such as hammering, digging and batoning — this involves striking the back of the knife with a heavy object to drive the blade through a piece of wood or other object. Meanwhile, you will be sacrificing the ability to accomplish survival actions that require a certain amount of finesse, such as dressing small game (rabbits, birds, or squirrels if you are that desperate), building snares and preparing some foods.
Naturally, a smaller survival knife is not capable of handling tasks that require brute force, like chopping and batoning. However, it is more compact. Ultimately, this all depends on your particular situation. If you plan on spending more than a weekend outdoors, a bigger model is more suitable. However, if you want something that can carry you through two days of casual camping, bringing a big survival knife along might be a tad overkill. Of course, there is always the option of buying both, but since a zombie apocalypse is quite unlikely to occur, you might as well get a small knife and call it a day.
Essentially, “full tang” is a term used to describe knives that are constructed from one uninterrupted piece of metal. In the case of full tang knives, the scales (grips) are attached directly on top of the handle to provide the user with a reliable and comfortable grip. Always choose a full tang knife over partial and or half tang models.
There is a good reason why we are stressing this idea. Over time, partial tang knives have a tendency of loosening up and develop a “play” in the handle. Then, there is the fact that the more batoning, prying and chopping you do with the knife, the faster will the blade detach itself from the handle, making the tool difficult and dangerous to use. In other words, there is no advantage in choosing a partial tang over a full tang.
Sharp Pointed Tips are Better Than Angled or Rounded
As obvious as this might seem, you would be surprised at the sheer variety of survival knives with rounded, hooked and angled tips. Even though you are unlikely to be thrown in the middle of a situation where you will have to fend for your life, even if you are not nuclear fallout survivalists, there are many other compelling reasons to choose a sharp tipped knife over other types:
- Prying and picking become much easier
- Clothing and gear repairs
- Dressing small game such as fish
Not to mention the fact that knives with angled tips are boring but hey, we are not opening that can of worms. (See what we did there?)
Just as you will need a knife to survive out in the nature, you will need a reliable sheath if you do not want to fall victim to the stupidest accident ever. To untrained survivalists, sheaths might seem less than important. In reality, the quality, size, model and design of the sheath will influence lots of adjacent factors, from the way you carry the knife and how you draw it. Here are some types of common sheaths:
- Belt and lanyard attachment
- Lowe Attachment — lets you strap the knife to the leg, backpack or directly on the belt
- Crossover straps
Finally, the element that will influence your experience the most is arguably the quality of the steel. Steel quality determines the toughness, strength, durability, ease of sharpening, and how many times the blade can be used before becoming blunt.
Generally speaking, survival knives are made from two broad steel types — stainless steel and carbon steel. While both are perfectly viable, there are some distinctions all potential buyers should know before making a decision:
- Stainless steel, while being more resistant to rust, is more difficult to sharpen and can become brittle over time.
- Carbon steel is tougher, sharper and great for jobs such as chopping and splitting. However, without proper and regular maintenance, carbon steel knives rust quicker than average.
Ultimately, whether you are going for half, full, partial tang, carbon steel or stainless steel, pointed or angled tips, the true value of the knife sits is highly dependent on the skills of the user. Skills come through repetition and persistence, and while you are at it, you might as well get a reliable knife to make the process easier.
This article was written by Carolynn Mims.