The Art Of Choosing A Survival Knife

The best survival knife is the one you have with you.

How To Choose The Best Survival Knife

Choosing the best survival knife for your particular needs can be an intimidating task. The key is understanding how you will be using the knife for and knowing the environment you will be using it in.

Will you be batoning or chopping wood? If so, then a kukri or other similar thick bladed knife will be in order. Will you be skinning game? Then you will probably like the old Green River Buffalo Skinner that has been in use for close to 200 years.

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Not too long ago in the near past almost all men carried what today can be thought of as a survival knife.  It might have been a skinning knife or a hunting utility knife but few men went without a knife on their belt.

Times have changed. Now it is easier to find men that are scared of knives than those that carry them. It’s a sad change. I guess that many men don’t see a need to carry a knife anymore. They possess a false sense of security. Please don’t be one of those that has been  lulled into complacency; there are still plenty of good reasons  for you to carry on your person or in your bag a good survival knife.

Owning a survival knife isn’t just for men, either. I believe that every man and woman should have a good survival knife. You should also make it the best knife that you can get. There is no sense in you owning a piece of junk that won’t perform when it matters. I’m not saying you should go off and buy a $1000 custom survival knife just because you can afford it…but if you decide a $150 blade is the best choice, why skimp? Are you willing to risk your life on an inferior blade or no blade at all? I didn’t think so. Staying alive is just too important.

Your survival knife should be the one knife you would carry if you could only choose one knife for a desperate situation.

How do you choose the best survival knife?

Factors to consider are length of the blade, type of blade, type of tang, blade thickness, the type of steel used to make the blade, and of course how you will use the blade. For the sake of brevity I’m going to assume that you will carry only one versatile knife that can perform several different tasks.

Blade Length

As a general rule a survival knife blade should be between four and six inches in length. This length allows the knife to be versatile without becoming a burden. At four to six inches you will still be able to control the knife well in situations like skinning game. If you need a longer blade then by all means get a machete or axe to supplement your pack. A long (over 6 inches) survival knife just isn’t versatile enough to be an ideal choice.

Blade Types

The main two types of blades for survival knives are smooth and serrated. Smooth blades can do just about everything that serrated can do, just not as easily. For instance, a serrated blade is much better at cutting through a seat-belt or sawing through flesh. A serrated blade is not as easy to sharpen though. For most survival purposes, a smooth blade will be just fine.

Tang Types

The tang is the part of the knife blade that attaches to the handle. The tang can be full, half, or the push tang which is practically nonexistent. The best is of course is the full tang. It is a continuation of the knife blade and is the same length and width of the handle. In a half tang the tang material is reduced in width but still extends the full length of the knife to the end. Half tang is only slightly less desirable than full tang. If you can avoid the push tang please do so. The push tang is used in cheaper survival knives and is not nearly as strong as a full or half tang knife.

Blade thickness

For a survival knife, a thickness of 1/8 inch to 1/4  inch works well for many people. A thinner blade might be too flexible for your needs and a thicker one too difficult to use for fine work. Using the knife is the best way to tell if its thickness will meet your needs.

Types of Steel

There are two basic types of steel to consider when choosing a knife; stainless steel and carbon steel. Within each type there are very many different kinds to choose from. Stainless steel is of course more stain and rust resistant than carbon steel. No matter what kind of steel the knife is made of, the thing that matters the most is how well the blade is tempered.


I have listed a few of my favorite survival knives for your consideration.

A few good survival knives:

Gerber LMF II Infantry Survival Knife

The Gerber LMF II Infantry is an excellent choice for a survival knife.

The Gerber LMF II Infantry is my favorite Gerber survival knife. Its blade is 4.84 inches long and 3/16 inch thick. It is made of 12C27 Stainless Steel which is an excellent choice for a survival knife. The people at Gerber really know how to temper the steel properly to get the steel hard so it will hold its edge well. It has a metal butt cap that is designed to break glass. The non-reflective, serrated blade easily cuts through seat belts. Another nice feature is that it has lashing holes built into the handle to convert it into a spear. The low profile sheath comes with a built in sharpener. I highly recommend this durable, military grade survival knife.

SOG Seal Pup Elite Survival Knife

The SOG Seal Pup Elite is a great knife.

SOG Seal Pup Elite Knife is another good choice. This knife has a 4.85-inch long, 3/16 inch serrated blade. It is made out of AUS8 stainless steel that has that has been properly tempered (heat treated) so that it will stay sharp. The knife is very lightweight (5.4 ounces) yet incredibly sturdy. The handle has finger insets that give it a good contoured fit. It comes with a tactical Kydex sheath which will not absorb water. The triple stiched sheath comes with a front pocket that is the perfect size for a small sharpening stone or flashlight such as the surefire elite.

Ka Bar makes some good survival knives.

The Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion is a workhorse that will help you survive.

Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion is a good choice for a carbon steel blade. It is designed by Ethan Becker, a chef and survivalist. This knife has one of the sturdiest, most durable blades that you can find in a survival knife. Made of 1095 cro-van steel (trademark name for 50-100-B steel) and ¼ inch thick, this 5 ½ inch blade is  a workhorse that you will soon come to appreciate. This knife is able to cut down branches and fillet a fish with ease. Because this is a carbon steel knife I recommend that you clean the blade and oil it down with a vegetable oil after every use.

Regardless of what knife you choose, I suggest that you use it as often as you can so that you are familiar with it…even cozy with it. It should become a companion to you so that when the time comes that you need it, it is not a stranger.

To recap, here is a video that covers the basics of choosing a survival knife very well:

Featured Image  courtesy of: Mike Petrucci

  1. Carbon Sword
    Carbon Sword11-09-2011

    Lots of good information in your posting, I would like to tweet your blog post so I can visit again in the near future. Thanks a lot.

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