When you’re looking at which survival knife to buy and the different types of survival knives out there, there’s a lot to choose from.
As mentioned in our earlier blog about the Most Important Survival Items To Carry With You, a survival knife is certainly one of the most (if not the most) essential pieces of survival gear on that list.
1. Before you consider the more detailed aspects around blade length, thickness, and coatings etc…the very first decision should be the type of survival knife and whether you’re after a:
- fixed-blade knife
- folding knife
- multitool knife
In part, this comes down to what you’re likely to use it for when you really need it in the field (even though we can’t really anticipate when or where we’re likely to come into a survival or emergency situation).
It also comes down to preference though. Many people prefer the toughness and capability of a fixed-blade knife, especially where you have a full or extended tang right the way through the handle for added strength.
There are also a large number of people who prefer to sacrifice something in terms of strength and weight – by opting for a folding knife – but who gain a lot in terms of having a much smaller survival knife to carry.
Typically, with folding knives, there isn’t a full tang because of the mechanism used to tuck the blade away safely, however, it means you can even carry it inside a pocket, depending on the overall size.
As the name suggests, this type of knife is one where the blade locks when folded out and in use – but is mainly concealed inside the handle when folded away.
The other types of survival knives are multitools. Many people like to carry a multitool either as a back-up knife or as one of their main fieldcraft tools).
Most multitools have a folding-blade knife within the numerous tool options housed within a single, hand-sized implement. Again, this comes with the same advantages and disadvantages as the folding-blade knives have.
2. The next thing to look for with a survival or bushcraft knife is that it should really only measure between 4 and 5 inches in length. Bigger knives are highly useful as field knives, camp knives, and choppers etc, but with a survival knife, it ideally wants to be on the smaller side for ease of manoeuvrability etc.
3. The third critical thing you want to look for is that it should ideally have a full or extended tang. The advantages of these types of tangs are the real strength and toughness they bring to the knife, particularly when using it for things like ‘batoning’ in order to cut down small trees or branches etc.
Batoning is the technique used to cut or split wood (such as a small tree or tree limb etc) by using a baton-sized stick or mallet to strike the spine of a sturdy knife, in order to drive it through the wood.
A full tang blade extends fully through the handle both in length and width, and the handle is often sandwiched between two pieces of micarta, wood, plastic, or other material – where you can see a strip of the tang.
An extended tang extends even further, passed the end of the handle material to create a small protrusion, which is often used for either a lanyard hole, a window breaker, or a bottle opener etc.
4. The next important thing to look for is the thickness of the spine of the blade. Ideally, the spine should be approximately 5mm thick, so it can handle all of the batoning, prying, hammering, and occasional digging that you’re likely to throw at it when you’re up against it.
5. Types of steel: there is almost too much to write on knife steel options alone, but the choice really does come down to personal preference and what you’re intending to do with the knife.
Some survival knife blades are made from steel that is typically used for tools (such as D2 and derivatives from that), some are from N695, some from 1095, and others from AUS-8 – just to name a few.
Many blades are made with a high carbon content, but they then have a mixture of other elements added to the steel to help either make it less corrosive, or easier to sharpen etc.
6. Another top tip that’s often misunderstood is you shouldn’t choose a survival knife with either a serrated edge or a sawtooth spine.
Serrations on a blade area mainly there to cut rope, but a serrated blade on a multitool is better for this single task, and if you need a saw for cutting wood – then a small, lightweight folding saw or commando saw is better for this purpose.
Both of these can actually weaken the blade and are very specific in what they can be used for, however, will mostly hinder all of the other uses you have for your number one survival tool.
7. You’ll want to think about whether you want your knife blade to have a coating or finish on it. Coatings come in a few different varieties, but are nearly all black or grey in colour.
Some can be finished in Titanium Nitride (or TiNi finish for short), which is an extremely hard ceramic material. Others can be coated in black oxide (also called blackening), Teflon coating or powder coating, or even have a gun metal finish.
You can also have no coatings on the blade, where it has a natural or satin steel finish to it. There is much more of a likelihood that this will start to rust in wet conditions out in the bush, but there are a number of steels available on the market which have an increased level of carbon content, as well as little-to-no chromium, which protects it from rust.
8. Lastly, here are some examples of good and fairly diverse survival knives. Here at SCT, we’ve field-tested all of these bushcraft and survival knives over recent years and they have performed well within their design parameters when it mattered:
- Cudeman 124-M Survival Knife
- Morakniv Bushcraft Knife Black
- LionSTEEL B40 G10 Knife
So, when you’re considering which survival or bushcraft knife to get, think about the different types of survival knives you can buy first before you follow our other top tips on choosing the right type of blade for your survival knife.
That should get you well on your way to making the right decision as to what your best options are for a survival or fieldcraft knife.