I know it sounds like a tall order; Choosing the best survival knife in the world. Nobody will argue however with the fact that the knife is the most important piece of gear in your survival kit. If you are putting together a survival kit for either an urban or wilderness environment, it makes sense to choose the best. In this post I will cover what factors need to be considered before you make a purchase.
Parts of the knife
Lets examine what we are working with here full circle starting from the tang and working our way counter-clockwise:
Tang – The tang is the part of the blade secured into the handle. Tangs come in a few varieties: full, tapered, hidden, partial, rabbeted, or threaded. For all intents and purposes, choose a knife with a full tang. (see below)
Pommel – The pommel terminates the knife and secures the tang to the handle (Partial tang only.) The tang is threaded or sealed onto the pommel which strengthens and bolsters the knife. On some knives the pommel functions as a balancing piece although this is mainly seen in swords. The Pommel is strong and it’s a great part of the knife to pound with. It should be noted that on a full tang knife this part of the blade is simply called the butt.
Quillon – The quillon is the curve in the handle that keeps your hand from sliding onto the blade. Sweaty hands make this a common injury on knives without one. Cuts inflicted in a survival situation can become infected and you may lose the ability to use one of your hands. Your hands are too important to buy a knife without a quillon.
Bolster – The bolster does exactly what it sounds like. It strengthens the crucial point of the knife where the blade meets the handle. This part of the knife is very strong.
Ricasso – The ricasso is the unsharpened length of the blade between the blade itself and the bolster.
Choil – The choil is the area between the cutting edge and the tang. The choil often designates the specific point where the blade begins to take an edge. Even though many choils appear grooved out to fit a finger, this is not the case and shouldn’t be used this way.
Edge – The cutting edge of the blade.
Tip – The end point of the knife often used to start a cut. Also the part of the blade most vulnerable to fracturing.
Spine – The spine of the blade is especially strong and serves to strengthen the whole knife. Parts of the spine are thicker in crucial areas like the area between the blade and the handle.
Thumbrise – this part of the knife allows the thumb to apply exact pressure and precisely guide the blade for the desired cut.
Fixed Blade VS Folding
These are the two common varieties of knives you will come across. A folding knife might sound convenient (and they are) but nothing beats the strength of a solid fixed blade knife. Folding knives have a joint that makes them vulnerable to breaking. The folding knife can easily stow away in your pocket but doesn’t have the resilience needed to handle many of the tasks around camp. With your survival knife you will have to baton wood, make shelter, cut cordage, dig holes, prepare wild game, and a host of other tasks crucial to surviving. If your knife breaks these jobs become extremely difficult. Choose a fixed blade knife and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget the sheath!
Handle material varies widely but most are very strong and robust. Avoid knives with hollow handles designed to stash small pieces of gear. If a knife has a hollow handle you know right off the bat that it’s not a full tang knife (which you want.) Hollow handles sound cool but they don’t stand up to the pressures of survival. As I mentioned above, a handle with a quillon will prevent your hand from slipping down the blade. Consider a handle with a quillon when selecting your knife.
Full tang all the way – and by tang I’m not talking about the delicious orange drink with the monkey on the container. A full tang blade runs the length of the knife including the entire handle. This makes the knife extremely robust. Even if the handle breaks you still have a usable blade.
Carbon vs Stainless Steel
There are endless debates online about which type of steel is better but here are the raw facts: Carbon steel will take an edge easier than a stainless steel blade but is prone to rust. Stainless steel won’t rust and is virtually indestructible but doesn’t hold as sharp of an edge and is harder to sharpen. If you get a carbon steel knife you must maintain it and keep it dry. You won’t have to babysit a stainless steel knife but you trade off for a duller edge on the blade. However, as knife manufacturers begin to use proprietary steel blends this debate is becoming less of a hot issue.
As a rule of thumb your blade should be large enough to handle larger jobs like batoning wood and small enough for the smaller tasks like carving up small game. In an ideal world you would have multiple knives on your person but this may not be practical. A 5 – 6 inch blade is a well rounded length that can handle most survival tasks.
A flat 90 degree spine on the back of your blade works well with a ferrocerium rod. Ferrocerium rods with a good knife provide an effective way to make fire even in wet weather. A rounded or beveled spine on your knife will make this nearly impossible and ineffective.
The BK2 fixed-blade knife from Kabar is widely regarded in the survival community. Outside of the survival niche the BK2 has also been issued to all the branches of the military including police forces. It features a 5.5 inch blade made of Kabars specialized 1095 cro-van steel. The BK2 has been well tested in many environments and remains an extremely competitive and affordable knife.
Cold Steel SRK
I have met die hard fanatics who absolutely swear by this knife. I will admit, I’ve never personally held one but the internet is flooded with positive feedback and rantings from raving knife lunatics. I have to admit, it does look really clean.
This knife looks good, feels good, and the edge is sharp as hell. Baton some wood and turn right around to slice into a nice summer sausage. You can feel that this knife won’t be going flaccid anytime soon. A Well balanced and well rounded knife from a reputable company.
Choosing a survival knife is a no-brainer if you stick to a few basic principles. If you remember anything remember this: Fixed-blade, FULL-tang. A good survival knife could be boiled down to those two characteristics. Everything else is an added bonus.
Did I miss anything? Let me know what you look for in a survival knife in the comment section below!