If you’re out in the wild, chances are that you are going to need a knife. The worst thing that could happen is to have that knife fail you in a time of dire need. That is where survival knives come in. Designed specifically to handle any situation you throw at them, whether it be splitting firewood, cleaning an animal, or even as a weapon, a solid survival knife is literally built to save your life.
Obviously, it isn’t worth buying a cheap knife that isn’t up to the task. So what are the best survival knives on the market today? And what factors should you consider when buying one? Read on to find out!
My #1 Recommendation
Before we get into the meat of what survival knives are and what to look for, I want to share my number one choice with you so you can keep it in the back of your mind while you read. The Cold Steel SRK is the knife that I’ve found to be the ideal choice for virtually any survival situation. It is made of the highest quality materials available with great craftsmanship, and it has never let me down. It’s fixed blade design makes it virtually indestructible, and capable of performing many tasks a smaller knife never would be up to. Now with that, lets dive in!
What is a Survival Knife?
A survival knife, as the name implies, is designed for survival purposes when you are out in the wilderness. Many military units will issue such a knife to help their teams survive in the event that they are shot down from the sky or stranded in some capacity. Anyone and everyone can use a survival knife, though it’s important to know how they differ. (Read the Wikipedia entry on Survival Knives Here)
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that survival knives began to emerge. Prior to that period, hunters and outdoorsmen would use knives very similar to what a butcher would use. A blade was simple. It featured the metal blade itself between two slabs of wood and held together with rivets.
The hunting knife was initially introduced by Webster Marble. This featured a heavier blade as well as pommels and crossguards. It wasn’t long before other manufacturers began creating other versions. These were often carried along with bolos and machetes by outdoorsmen and the military all the way until the 1930s.
Survival knives started to evolve during WWII. In Vietnam, Randall created a variety of knives and it was Captain George Ingraham, a combat surgeon in the U.S. Army that asked for modifications. This included serration on the spine to be able to cut through fuselage to rescue people who were trapped as well as a hollow handle to be able to store survival gear. The modifications were made and the first modern survival knife was born.
Today, there are all sorts of survival knives. They range in color, size, manufacturer and much more. While all of the knives share a few things in common, it’s not like you can just choose any knife and know that it’s going to work when you need it most. You have to do some research to find out what’s available and what they can do so that you get your money’s worth out of your purchase. Knowing more about the knives and how to search for one that will work for you is critical. Remember, it isn’t if you’ll need the knife, but when you’ll need it!
Key Components of a Survival Knife
Survival knives today can vary dramatically from one manufacturer to another. Much of this has to do with the various reasons to carry a knife. What you would need for surviving in a war is going to be different from surviving in the wilderness and therefore there are going to be some different features to look for.
Some of the key components of every survival knife include:
Each of these will vary, but they will be present on each and every survival knife that you come across. Noticing how they vary can help you make the decision to buy one over another.
The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. In most instances, the blade and the tang is going to be one solid piece to provide strength and stability. When you see a “full tang,” it means that the metal goes all the way to the end of the handle and these make for the best survival knives on the market.
As for the handle, most of the knives are not going to be hollow because the tang needs to be there. It’s probably not a good idea to store supplies inside of your knife anyways for the simple reason of losing too many supplies. If you lose your knife, you automatically lose other supplies as well and this is not going to make it easy to survive.
The blade has to be considered as well. You have stainless steel and carbon as the two primary metals to choose from and both have their benefits. You also want to look at the design of the blade to see if it is straight or serrated. You may want one or the other depending upon what you are going to do with it. A new feature that is found with many survival knives is a straight edge on one side and a small area of the other side with a serration to be able to cut rope and other materials.
The sheath also has to be a consideration because you want a way to hide the blade when you carry it. Some sheaths are more comfortable to wear than others. Many will attach to a belt loop and some also have a flap over the blade to hide it from view. You may or may not want this flap because if you need to be able to reach for your knife quickly, it could stand in your way from being able to do so.
The survival knife can be used for many life saving tasks, including:
- Fire making
- Food prep
- First aid
- Make-shift screwdriver
A strong, solid handle can help you with the hammering that you might have to do, such as hammering a post into the ground. A sharp, pointed edge can make for a great screwdriver and be used for first aid, food prep and various other things. The blade or blades are then going to help with everything else that’s on the list so you know that you can get things done.
If you are going to be fending for yourself in nature, versatility is everything. You don’t want to bring a lot of gear with you because it’s only going to weigh you down. Much of what you need can be found outdoors as long as you know how to work with what you have. A good knife is going to take you far. You do want to prepare for the unexpected, too. If you are unable to radio for help, you may be out in nature for hours or even days longer than you initially intended. You may face harsh weather and therefore you will need your knife to cut through more things and help you in more circumstances.
You don’t want a one-trick pony. A standard blade is not going to work. Instead, you want versatility. The list above is only some of the things that your knife can do when put to the test. You may be surprised what else it may do when you are out in nature alone and forced to survive.
Since your knife has to do so many different things, you want to make sure it is capable of doing all of these. Many people assume that a Swiss Army knife is a survival knife. While it can help you to do some of these things, the size is simply inadequate for fire making, digging and other such things. The size of the blade does matter and while you want something that is comfortable to carry, you want a blade that can provide you with protection.
Tips for Buying a Top Quality Survival Knife
You want to make sure you buy the right survival knife based upon where you are going and what you could possibly be doing. There’s no rule that says you have to own one and only one survival knife. You may want one when you do a lot of hunting in the woods by your house and another when you go camping in the state park.
There are some tips that you should follow to make it easy to find a knife that is going to work well for you and your needs.
- Identify needs. Go through the list of what you expect your knife to be able to do. Once you create a list with at least 5 actions on it, you will be able to find a knife that can do all of those things. For example, if you are going to take rope along with you, you need a knife with serration to be able to cut through the rope. If you find a survival knife that doesn’t have any serration, you want to keep looking.
- Find one that’s easy to sharpen. The steel that the knife is made from and the profile of the edge, such as hollow or compound, should be explored. You want a knife that is not too difficult to sharpen in the field, but maintains an edge for a considerable amount of time. For example, hollow-ground blades are sharp, but difficult to sharpen when you’re out in no man’s land.
- Look at handle materials. You want a knife that’s going to be easy to hold no matter what. If you are in the rain or snow, you need the same level of grip on the knife as when it’s the driest night in the middle of summer. If you cannot maintain a good grip, you could end up hurting yourself with a single slip.
- Protect your fingers. Some kind of finger guard is good to have so that you can protect your fingers from whatever it is that you are cutting. Past experience with knives may be able to tell you whether you need a large guard or if a small one will do.
- Work within your budget. While you want to make sure you get a knife that does everything you want it to do, it’s imperative that you set a budget and work within what you can afford. You still have to be realistic, however. A good survival knife is going to cost you upward of $100.
- Choose a well-known manufacturer. There are some great manufacturers on the market today. Whether you choose Tom Brown, KA-BAR or any other brand, you want to make sure it is one that you have heard of so that you can have a testament to the quality and the overall value that you are getting.
- Read reviews. The reviews from people who have used the knife in the past as well as reviews from outdoor and military publications can tell you a lot about the blade and the overall knife that you are thinking about buying. The reviews will often tell you what the knife can and cannot do, how easy it is to sharpen, and what it’s good for so that you don’t have to wonder whether it is going to meet your needs when it is just you and nature.
The tips are things for you to consider so that you get the best possible knife. There are so many selections, so it will be easy to find a knife that’s going to meet all of your needs. They can vary in price, so you want to take the time to establish a budget. You also want to make sure to read the descriptions featured with each knife so you don’t go based on a photo alone.
Whenever possible, look at the knives in person where you will be able to hold them in your hand, experience the weight, see how the weight feels, and look at how your fingers are protected behind the guard. If you have large fingers, you may not be able to get away with a single finger guard because one of your fingers will protrude way beyond it, therefore offering you little to no protection against whatever it is that you may be cutting. Here is a video with six more tips on picking a survival knife:
Top Survival Knives in the World
There are a few really great survival knives on the market. You want to make sure you take the chance to review them to see if they are going to meet your needs. Reputation of the manufacturer, reviews by previous users, and the features that a knife has should all be taken into consideration when you look at a survival knife. Outside of the Ti-G10 I mentioned above, my top three are listed below.
This is a knife that has been around for a long time. It was first produced for the US Marine Corp during WWII and it became the standard for soldiers as a working knife. Survivalists, outdoorsmen, and military alike have tested this. It is an American classic and features a 7” blade length. It is considered one of the longer knives on the market. There’s also a stacked leather handle to provide you with a good grip and there is a generous finger guard that will protect your hand when working with it. There’s a flat-to-ground edge and you can sharpen it with ease.
This knife comes from Cold Steel, a high quality knife manufacturer. SRK is an abbreviation for Survival Rescue Knife and provides a significant amount of versatility. The blade is 6” long with the entire knife measuring 10 ¾”. There is a single finger guard with a checkered grip to make it easy to hold onto the knife for an extended period of time. You can buy one on Amazon.com or read my review of the SRK here.
This knife was designed by Tom Brown, Jr, a wilderness survival expert that is highly respected in the community. It’s important to look at what this has. While it has a shorter blade length of only 4 ¼,” it is very similar in nature to the KA-BAR for overall length. The edge and blade design is what’s unique about the knife. There is a mini saw on the back with serration. The blade and handle shape also make it easy for chopping, which provides a survival took instead of just a survival knife.
While these knives vary by manufacturer, they all have a few details in common, including having a relatively thick blade, a full tang, and a good grip on the knife. When you decide to buy a survival knife, you want to make sure these features are present. As for the other details, it is a matter of preference.
It’s always a good idea to look at what’s selling and what’s the most popular knives on the market. They are popular for a reason – they work. The KA-BAR, for example, has been a knife of choice for decades because the design works well. There is no need to perfect something that has already been doing a great job in many situations. There’s not too much technology that can be integrated – it is simply a matter of choosing from a manufacturer that has the experience to know what does and doesn’t work out in the field.