Let’s get real here. Is there really an ideal or “best bet” survival knife? Well, no for the purposes of a general description, but then, yes, for the individual that selects a knife that does all of the tasks they need done. For them, that knife or likely knives is ideal. So, what makes an “ideal” survival knife?
by Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author
Ironically, years ago when the series of Rambo movies were in vogue, the huge radical saw-back bladed knife used by the character John Rambo sort of became the iconic poster boy of survival knives. Later on, copies of the blade had the huge cutting edge, the saw tooth cutting back blade spine and a compass in the handle cap.
Defining the Survival Knife
Screw off the cap and there was storage space in the cylinder styled handle for matches, cord, fishing hooks, a sewing kit and other emergency goodies. Why that knife became the “face” of survival knives is a mystery to me. It was more of a combat-tactical knife, but really it was just a movie knife.
However, after that movie series, the knife catalogs were replete with dozens of choices of Rambo-like knives. In fact, you can still find a modern day copy of the Rambo-ish survival knife at Harbor Freight Supply listed as a survival-hunting knife for the huge price of $8.99. I’ll let you decide on the relative quality of such a knife for real survival work. Tons of these types of knives can be seen at every gun show. I guess knife collectors or blade enthusiasts want these blades, but certainly the cheap end versions are not really serious survival knives.
Despite that off the reservation discussion of a more familiar than real survival knife, there are many other types of survival knives intended for serious survival tasking. They can take all kinds of shapes, sizes, blade types, configurations and price ranges.
Likewise these blades come in a variety of design names which can also be somewhat confusing. These tradenames include Bowie, bush craft, hunters, camp knives, frontiersman, woods knives, woods craft, or just plain survival knives. Remember these are often just proprietary brand names and may or may not actually fit the blade type for actual survival work.
Also a survival knife does not have to be a fixed blade version though that is often the case. If so, pick one with a comfortable handle, a weight you can handle easily and hang on to, has a good sheath, and a blade shape designed for craft work. Keep in mind though, that a lot of good folding knives can be useful for survival work, too. Ideally, I think most survivalists are going to have one or more of both styles. Even pocketknives can perform a lot of survival tasks.
Tasks of a Survival Knife
So, realistically what are our task and work expectations that a knife labeled “survival knife” ought to perform? Again, everyone is different, with differing survival circumstances and needs or wants. If you Bug In, then you may need a different knife or knives than if you are huddled out in the wilderness in a tent camp for a Bug Out. Generally though, our survival knife orientation is more toward the Bug Out camping issues than working around the home or kitchen. It is sort of like having a big gun to take care of everything for lessor needs as well. So, let’s consider the maximum end uses, assuming we can then use a bigger blade to slice tomatoes or cut up wild onions for a salad.
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For Bug Out tasking we would want a knife to take on any kind of bush craft work, making up camp, clearing paths, making shelters, trimming out kindling wood, and everything else a larger, stronger knife can handle. This knife is not for cutting down big trees, but it might be for limbing out a log or branches to make a lean-to. A survival knife is not an ax or a saw in the traditional sense. A heavy survival knife like the Fallkniven S1 would be ideal for cutting evergreen boughs for creating shelter layers.
The survival knife could be used for food preparation such as field dressing game or fish, but I highly suspect from experience there are better, smaller knives for this processing type work. Certainly a survival knife could be tasked with a lot of cooking work including chopping, slicing, mincing, and such food preparation work.
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The SHTF camp survival knife could also be used for cutting vines and bark strips for various woods craft projects such as fabricating ropes, lashing, and tying straps. These knives would be good for cutting down wild cane poles for building structures, camp furniture, hanging poles, and such.
Naturally there are untold more uses for a classic survival type knife. If you have one, then I suspect it will be used for most anything around the Bug Out camp or around a residential home. You certainly don’t need a “do” list for trying to decide if a particular knife can get a job done. You simply grab the knife and go to work. If it falls short, or is too much knife, then you trade it for another useful blade or another tool and go back to work.
In terms of self-defense, certainly a survival knife could be deployed as such. This takes special training to be effective, but that is beyond our purpose here. Perhaps a knife fighting expert will join in here later if the SHTFBlog audience is interested.
Where to Find Survival Knives
As written here before there are all kinds of knives available in the marketplace. There are many good knives that are “cheap” that being a relative term, but there are few really cheap knives worth having. I guess the term “inexpensive” would be a fairer descriptor. Like I tell preppers about riflescopes, “Do you really think that $35 scope is worth having?” Not! Likewise, if you buy one of those $3 knives in the big plastic jug at the checkout cash register, then don’t expect much from it for very long. At the same time, you can spend $1000 or more for a super duper, custom made knife with a noted blade grinder’s name on it. Only you can decide what value (or money) you want to put into a knife for survival work.
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There are many knife brand names to look into and many knife sources for shopping them. Knives with good reputations include Browning, Remington, Ka-Bar, Kershaw, Boker, Case, Buck, Cold Steel, Benchmade, Gerber, CRKT, Al Mar, Spyderco, and Schrade to mention just a small list among many, many more.
Where to shop for survival knives? Well, yeah, anywhere knives are sold of course. I find many at gun shows, hardware stores, outdoor stores, hunting supply shops, and gun stores. Big knife shops and on-line sources include the Smoky Mountain Knife Works, A. G. Russell Knives, Bass Pro Shops, Academy, Dicks, and related type supply sites. There are hordes of small shop custom knife makers, too. Buy a knife magazine to find some of those or just do a universal Internet topic search.
A true survival knife is in the eyes of the beholder. What works really well for you might not for somebody else and vice versa. I like mid-sized knives with fixed blades with a good gripping handle. I never go far from our Bug Out camp without a sheath knife, a folder and a pocketknife. There are usually several in my camp pack, EDC, and BOB. A really good survival knife certainly keeps you on the cutting edge. You know I had to say that.