Few tools can be said to be more essential than a trusty knife. We’ve been using knives for so long that knife usage actually predates humanity as we know it, with the earliest stone knives dating to 500,000 years ago, 200,000 to 300,000 years before the emergence of homo sapiens as an independent species.
From prehistoric steak knives in modern-day Israel and the earliest stone knives found in North America, to ornate decorative knives in Pre-Columbian Aztec-era Mexico and India under the Mughal dynasty, to Regency-era Royal Navy Officers’ knives, and, of course, the Original Swiss Army Knife, well-crafted knives cut through the whole of human history like little else.
Of course, as the adage goes, for every job there is a proper tool, and as that myriad of examples demonstrates, knives are no exception. Using the wrong knife for the job simply won’t cut it, which is why finding the right survival knives may be more difficult than you might initially think.
- What to Look for in a Survival Knife
- Top Seven Survival Knife Options
- In Conclusion
What to Look for in a Survival Knife
First and foremost, it is essential to note that, though they are often used as such by laypeople, survival and tactical knives are not the same. The former is designed with survival and utility in mind, whereas the latter is designed more specifically for military and combat situations. When looking for a survival knife, you’re looking for something that can help you while camping in nature, not the battlefield.
Rather than a single transcendent element, many smaller features define the difference between the two. For example, while both survival and tactical knives have rugged handles, a survival knife’s is designed less with a smoother, more comfortable handle. In addition, a survival knife usually has a much smaller guard (or eschews it completely). Most importantly, while both survival and tactical knives’ blades are typically very durable, they are fashioned with different purposes in mind, which shows in their construction. Tactical knives are designed for combat first and foremost, which means that they’re often narrower and good for slashing and stabbing but not necessarily as good at cutting, prying, and other activities. Conversely, a good survival knife’s blade is often thicker, easily sharpened, and designed to be more all-purpose.
Among the most important functions of a survival knife are:
You’ll thus want to evaluate how well survival knife options are able to perform those functions, and whether excellence in one or two areas outweighs deficiencies in others or more balanced designs.
The ability to carry these tasks out is dependent on other key features, including:
- The size of the blade, with four to eight inches being the average size
- The nature of the blade, with fixed knives being far more reliable and durable than folding ones
- Full tang knives, which means that the metal of the blade extends fully down the handle
- A solid handle that is easy to grip and will not break under pressure
- The strength, hardness, and overall quality of the metal used in the blade
- Whether or not the blade has a sheath
- The shape (straight edge vs. serrated) and pointedness of the blade
With the importance of those factors established, it’s worth thinking about how these different features perform and what that means for your choice of blade.
For example, whether you want to look for a straight edge or serrated blade will depend in part on what you are looking to accomplish with the blade. A serrated blade can assist with cutting motions, though the effectiveness of this will vary from model to model and the material into which you are slicing. For those that choose a serrated blade, a few sharpened teeth alone won’t do the trick, with at least 1.5 inches being necessary for them to be worthwhile. Many blades with serrated teeth situate them close to the handle, which makes whittling wood easier. That said, chopping large sections of wood is often easier with a straight-edged blade.
For as important as the blade is, you’ll also want to pay a lot of attention to the handle. As mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure that you seek out a full tang blade that extends down into the handle and thus eschew a hollow alternative. The hollower a handle is, the greater chance there is of weakness arising between the blade and the handle, which in turn increases the possibility of snapping. In addition, you’ll need to make sure that the handle affords a good grip.
That said, while tactical knives often go for more rugged handles, a survival knife with a too roughly textured handle can feel uncomfortable in your hand. A handle should always feel comfortable and shouldn’t give you blisters or scuff or dig into your hand while you grip it tightly for cutting. Conversely, too smooth of a grip is also a bad idea for obvious reasons. It is thus essential to find handles that offer a good middle ground with enough grip to be easily gripped in all conditions while still being comfortable.
Among the most popular materials for survival knife handle materials are synthetic rubber, hytrel, moulded plastic, nylon resin, and nylon polymers.
Top Seven Survival Knife Options
It can be difficult to find a knife that combines so many different features. Below are seven of the best examples of survival knives that do just that.
1) Morakniv Companion Spark FT 02392 Outdoor Knife
One of the most accessible options on this list for those new to survival knife options, the Morakniv Companion Spark Outdoor Knife is the tiniest bit smaller than other choices here at 3.9 inches long. That said, it is still incredibly sturdy, offering a strong fixed blade fashioned from Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel. The blade is also rust-resistant, dirt- and moisture-resistant, and stays sharp for as long as carbon steel options without costing as much as that typically pricier material.
The handle is only partial tang with the metal of the blade extending only partly into the handle, though this is still better than a hollow handle. The rubber grip is comfortable and easy to keep hold of. As a nice bonus, this Morakniv model offers a magnesium alloy that can be used as a fire-starter and fits onto the handle with a twist. The knife also comes with a reflective lanyard, plastic sheath, and belt clip.
2) Morakniv Outdoor Companion Knife
If you’re looking for a simpler, more streamlined version of a Morakniv knife, you may want to consider this model. It offers a similar stainless steel blade for a lower price in a no-frills package. This means that there isn’t much in the way of extras but it also makes this a very affordable and accessible starter survival knife.
From the blade to the TPE rubber handle, this model offers elegance in simplicity.
3) Gerber Bear Grylls Paracord Knife, Fixed Blade
As indicated by the name, this outdoor survival knife is modelled after the celebrated TV survivalist expert Bear Grylls and his daredevil approach to nature. That said, this blade is also on the smaller side, measuring only 3.2 inches, though it measures 7.75 inches overall.
The blade itself has a unique woven nylon handle. The blade is made from 5Cr15MoV stainless steel and is also on the thin side, though much stronger than is typically expected of thinner blades, making it an ideal choice for situations where precision cutting is necessary. The model also comes with a paracord sheath that can easily fit on a belt and makes transportation easier.
4) Gerber Unisex’s Ultimate 1055367-Ultimate Survival Fixed
This model offers a serrated edge near the intersection of the blade and the handle. Not only can this make whittling easier, but it also offers an additional option for cutting through tougher materials. One of the great benefits of a Swiss Army knife is that it offers different blades for different situations. However, these are not fixed blades, which as stated are preferable for survival purposes. This is why the two cutting edge options offered by this model, both of which are high quality, are so important.
The model on the whole feels very “solid,” and with the stainless steel 7Cr blade measuring 10 inches, it’s one of the largest on our list. For those looking for a more “heavy duty” outdoor survival knife option, this may be one to consider. The handle is likewise very solid-feeling, is sturdy enough to be used for light hammering, features a fire-starter, and even comes with an alarm whistle while the knife sheath is fashioned from plastic and nylon. This is also another model that is made to fit easily on one’s belt.
5) Jack Pyke Unisex Hunters Knife Set
This set is far more geared towards hunting in particular than any of the other outdoor survival knife options listed here, so if that’s your primary interest in looking for one of these blades, this may be a choice to consider. Included in this set is a 4-inch and 6-inch blade, both of which are straight edged, affixed to rosewood handles, and come with nylon sheaths. These are certainly among the most stylish blades on this list. The unique rosewood handles may not appeal to everyone but for those who like them, they can offer a smooth, comfortable, yet dependable grip.
That said, these “hunters’ knives,” though good for hunting and fishing tasks, can be used but are not specifically designed for survival. As a result, they may not be able to hold up to as much strain as others.
6) Ka-Bar Utility Fixed Blade Knife
When looking for a survival knife, UK brands are not to be overlooked — and with this blade being as much as three times the length of others on this list, it would be hard to miss anyway. For those searching for a survival knife, UK brands often speak to quality and the Ka-Bar is well-regarded among British sellers.
They have been in business since 1898 and have made everything from tactical to hunting and fishing knives. This particular model measures an impressive 8 inches long, offers a serrated edge, and is one of the best (albeit expensive) UK survival knife options on the market.
7) Camillus MASK Fixed Blade Knife
With its camouflage handle and unique shape, this is certainly one of the most aesthetically interesting blades on this list. The blade itself is titanium bonded, is made from sturdy corrosion-resistant 420 stainless steel, and is quite versatile.
While not the biggest or flashiest model on this list, it is nevertheless a good option for those looking for an affordable yet dependable survival knife.
Finding the right knife “to cut it” while out camping or in other survival-first situations is essential. As mentioned, when looking for a survival knife, UK options are always worth exploring and the Ka-bar is certainly an option to consider in this regard. The Morakniv options offer a great balance between quality and affordability. Models such as the Bear Grylls Paracord Knife and Jack Pyke Hunting Knives offer unique handles and usage experiences while the Gerber Unisex Ultimate offers arguably the best all-around performance of any of these survival knives.
With hundreds of thousands of years of history and fine-tuning, knives have cut through the trials of human history like little else and the survival knives listed here are on the cutting edge of that process.
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