5 Features of the Best Survival Knife

Features of the Best Survival Knife

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Your survival knife is without question one of the top three most important items in your bug-out bag. (An ignition device and a metal container are the other top two.)

For many, choosing a survival knife is a very personal decision. With thousands of knives in the marketplace, the choices can be somewhat overwhelming. But remember that the best survival knife is the one that meets your individual needs.

Don’t be fooled by what you see in the movies. The fancy knives seen in survival movies are more for prop collectors than for real survivalists. You don’t know how much you need a good, sharp cutting tool in a survival situation until you don’t have one.

I learned this firsthand on a three-day survival trip in which I was not able to bring a modern knife. I will never take my knife for granted again.

Best Survival Knife: What it Should Do

By design, a survival knife should be fairly simple. It should be about function not “flash.” Below is a short list of tasks a survival knife should be able to assist you with:

  • Cutting
  • Hunting
  • Dressing game
  • Hammering shelter anchors
  • Digging
  • Self-defense
  • Splitting/chopping
  • Making fire
  • Carving
  • Signal mirror (if blade is polished steel)
  • Building shelter
  • Food preparation

Best Survival Knife Features: Fixed Blade

The best survival knife in my opinion should have a fixed blade – not a folding or lockback style.

True, folding knives can be more convenient to carry, but strength is compromised at the folding joint. If the knife breaks during rigorous use, you are SOL.

If you really like folding knives, carry one as a backup, but not as your primary survival knife. I carry a Spyderco Native locking folder as my everyday carry knife and it will be my bug-out bag backup knife as well.

5 thoughts on “5 Features of the Best Survival Knife

  1. JLA

    There’s good advice here. I rarely carry just one knife; actually I never carry just one knife! My typical cutlery load out, assuming that I’m not carrying an ax, consists of a large fixed blade for heavy tasks, a smaller fixed blade for lighter work & fine carving, a good multi-tool and a ‘Swiss Army’ knife. Often I will add one of the tactical folders that I carry daily to that list as well. I know this sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. The large fixed blade & multi-tool go either on my belt or in my pack depending on what I’m doing. The smaller fixed blade is generally carried as a neck knife, and the Swiss Army Knife & tactical folder go in my pants pockets.

    For the large fixed blade I really like a knife with a 6″-8″ blade. I prefer high-carbon steel, but a good stainless will work too, and a full tang is absolutely non-negotiable on this knife. This knife will be used primarily for chopping & batoning. A partial tang knife will not tolerate that kind of use for long. Two knives that I like, and are at opposite ends of the price spectrum, are the Tops Steel Eagle 107C ($190) & the Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Knife ($45). Both are good knives with full tang high carbon steel blades. The Tops Steel Eagle even has a functional saw on the spine of the blade while still leaving adequate room for batoning. (There’s a version available without the saw too.) Obviously there are a lot of other good knives out there besides these two; just look around and if possible handle them before you buy.

    For me the smaller fixed blade is where the traditional bushcraft knife fits. It needs to be sturdy because it will also be used for some batoning when cutting notches and is also the back-up to the larger blade. The one I like a lot is the Tops Fieldcraft Knife, a.k.a. the Brothers Of Bushcraft knife ($130), and I also sometimes carry the smaller Tops Mini Scandi Knife ($70), although its 2.5″ blade is a little small for some tasks. Other popular knives are the Mora Bushcraft Knife ($60-ish), the Mora Light My Fire (around $30) & the Mora Companion Heavy Duty ($20). Mora makes some of the best knives for the money to be found anywhere. They’re not full tang, but they tend to stand up to light batoning & chopping pretty well. They’re also available in bright colors which I like. Blaze orange & neon green may not be as cool as camo, but they’re a hell of a lot easier to find when you drop it forget where to set it down! The Mora Bushcraft & Light My Fire series knives also come with ferro rods for starting fires. The blade steel on the Black Bushcraft & the Companion Heavy Duty are high carbon steel while the blades on the Orange Bushcraft & the Light My Fire series are stainless.

    The multi-tool I usually carry is a Leatherman Charge TTi ($115). I think it’s about the best one on the market, but the Leatherman New Wave ($55) has nearly all the same tools for half the price. The only real difference is the types of steel used; the Charge TTi is made out of pricier materiels. I also own several Gerber multi-tools as well, and they work quite well too ($20-$80).

    My preference for the classic Swiss Army Knife is the Swisschamp Utility Knife from Victorinox ($62). It’s the smallest of the Swisschamp family and has everything you need without being so bulky & overpriced that you don’t want to use it. Two other Swiss Army Knives I like a lot are the Hercules ($62), which is a model with a larger locking main blade but fewer other tools, and the Champion Plus ($50). The Champion Plus is a smaller version of the Swisschamp Utility with fewer tools, but it still has most of what you need. ALL are from Victorinox! I won’t buy a Swiss Army knife from any other company.

    For the tactical folder I really like Spyderco & Kershaw, but use any quality folder you like. One in particular that I like to carry with heading into the bush is the Spyderco Byrd Wing ($30). Unlike most tactical folders which are single blade knives, the Byrd Wing has two fullsize 3.375″ blades, one fine edge & one serrated edge. Both lock up using sturdy liner locks, and both feature the classic Spyderco thumb hole for easy one hand opening. I carry this knife a lot.

    If you’ve got a taste for somewhat expensive but very high quality knives you could also check out Habilis Bush Tools. They make a line of very high quality bushcraft knives. The Bush Tool & the S.R.T., which is just a larger version of the Bush Tool that’s been designed to be a better chopper, are my favorites. These are intended to be the perfect bushcraft knives and don’t look anything like the traditional 4″-5″ bushcraft knife. They are however very well thought out & very sturdy. They run a little over $200 each. You can check them out at http://habilisbushtools.com/

    BTW, all the prices listed here are from Amazon.com. I hope this helps you out!

  2. DHConner

    Loved to read about your Corps days and “camping” out for 22 years. You are one tough old man. I played that game too back in ’64. The day they took our M14’s away was one of the worst days the Corps ever had. That Mattel Tinker Toy sure as hell ain’t what the M4’s are today, but the AK is still the most durable and reliable there is. Yet…. I digress. You are absolutely right about the razor’s edge-that should be on your smaller field knife 3″ to 5″ or at the most 6″. The big blade ought to be around 20-25 degrees. A fine thin edge simply will not hold up the hard use of skinning out, quartering, and so on dealing with a big animal. It may get chipped if you hit a hard knot in a frozen limb or tree. That’s for the big guys thick long blades-animal pelvises, joints, building a bivouac, and other hard demanding tasks. The little knife in the picture above is a tad long for a smaller knife, but it’ll do. For a big knife you want something 9″-11″in blade length with a regular tip and at least .25″ thick. This lets weight work for you instead you overworking yourself with a small blade on a big job. A Randall 26 or 8 are just about perfect for utility, and the 19 is good also. For big knife I’d look elsewhere. Camillus, Case, and other big players make perfectly serviceable big knives at a reasonable price. Since I am a low income knife knut, I really do my research before I spend any money. 2 years ago, just before the Lone Wolf DA/D2 went out of production, I lost it?? I was fortunate enough to find another on the net, and it is safe in the safe. I rarely carry it. But I do agree that trying to cheap out on knives is like tying to cheap out on boots or other things that you absolutely must have is not the wisest thing to do. Do you really expect those $75 “hiking” “slip-on’s” to last you when you have nothing but bad and worse terrain ahead of-maybe a lava field, which will tear up even the best boots? The advice G Man and JSOG6 offer comes from listening, learning, and hard experience under what I read sub rosa as very nasty times, where the penalty for failure may have been death. Thanks Guys-we wouldn’t have country without men (and women-nurse? anybody?) like you to keep us free.

    Semper Fi Semper Vigilans

  3. G Man

    I agree with the author with one exception. He states that your survival knife should be razor sharp and if it isn’t work it until it is. That bit of advice surprises me coming from someone who is an instructor at a survival school and has published a couple of books. A razor edged knife is good for two things…shaving and removing the cape off of game. It is too fine and delicate for practically all other survival tasks such as splitting wood (batoning), carving, building shelter, etc. You can dress game, but if it’s a bull elk or a moose, your going to have problems and will have to resharpen probably half way through. A good keen edge that isn’t razor sharp will serve one much better. I am not a survival instructor but in 22 years in the Marine Corps I did my fair share of “camping” and used a variety of knives quite a bit. I’ve also hunted big game for about thirty years so I know a wee bit about skinning game as well. I know that different types of steel will vary as to how long they will hold their edge and how easy/difficult they are to hone, but as a general rule for survival, “razor sharp” is not the best way to go, in my humble opinion.

  4. JSOG6

    Functional knifes are key to wilderness or urban survival. A realistic approach would be two knifes; one for dressing game (animals and birds) the second for multi-functions. The multi-function knife needs a shank thick enough to split small wood and hack tree limbs. The blade must be edged so a wood knot or hard spot will not break a “razor like finish.” The general rule of SWC, comes into play.
    Spend 35% to 50% more than you budgeted for your knife- your life is worth it. I carry a SOG Trident folding blade with a edge from hell, which is why I like it folded and protected. My fixed blade is a Parker. The parker has opened ammo creates, doors, and a few windows. JSOG6