There are unlimited types of survival knives on the market. They all vary in size, shape, steel composition, handle composition, and usage. So, what is the perfect survival knife you might ask? Well, the answer is actually an easy one. There is no perfect survival knife. The closest thing to it, is the one that you have with you in a survival situation. The brand name and quality of the knife are irrelevant at that point. A sharpened rock, a razor blade, broken piece of glass or an expensive, name brand knife can all be useful in a survival situation. However, life is much easier with a good quality knife.
With so many different types of knives and manufacturers out there, what should you buy? There is no hands-down, single knife that could do everything or that should be used by everyone. However, there are characteristics that should be considered when looking for your knife. Here are a few characteristics to consider when choosing your knife.- K12
1) Fixed blade with a full Tang: A "tang" is the rear end of the blade that continues to the handle. A full tang is when the blade and handle are made from one piece of steel. Even if the handle "grips" were to break, you could still use the tang as your handle. You could wrap it with some other material (550 cord, clothe, etc…) for comfort, and still have a fully functional knife. There are knives that are made with partial tangs that do not provide the same strength as a knife with a full tang. Hollow handled survival knives do not have a full tang and have a higher breaking point if you were to chop or baton with it. Also, if you lost your knife and your survival kit was inside that handle, well, you also just lost your kit. Keep your survival kit separate from your knife. Place it either directly on your body, or on your sheath.
2) Steel composition: The two most common types of steel are stainless and carbon. The pro's and con's of both- Stainless will not rust, but doesn't stay sharp as long. Carbon steel stays sharp longer, but will rust if it is not kept clean and oiled. It can also provide a spark when struck with a hard rock like quartz or flint to provide you with another fire ignition source; but it is becoming increasingly rare to find the right carbon content and steel hardness to actually throw a spark with a sharp rock. Many manufacturers coat the carbon blade (except the sharpened edge) to mitigate the potential of rust.
3) Size: The blade should be small enough to do most bushcraft type work (cutting notches for fire boards, skinning game, trap making, etc…) but large enough to withstand heavier tasks like splitting small logs with a baton. Almost all survival tasks can be accomplished with a blade that falls between 4-6 inches.
4) Blade edge: A straight edge blade provides you the most practicality for a survival knife. You can accomplish all of your tasks with a straight edge and no specific tools are required to sharpen it in the field. Unlike the straight edge, the serrated edge will require a sharpening tool to maintain the serration. There is little advantage that a serrated edge can add out in the field; but the serrated edge is a good blade to cut heavy materials such as nylon webbing.
5) Handle composition: Whether the handle is composed of wood, stacked leather, micarta, rubber or paracord, it should feel comfortable in your hand and should not slip. Avoid knives with a hollow handle. As stated above, they will not have a full tang and have a higher probability of breaking.
6) Sheath: The sheath needs to be durable and provide a mechanism to secure the knife. (strap, blade lock) The most effective strap is one that lays diagonally across the handle and the hilt. It secures the knife and eliminates it from sliding out.
There are many characteristics of a knife that you will need to test on your own. Use the basic guidelines provided above, do your research, read reviews, and if possible try out different knives. It is ok to have more than one knife too. I always keep a folding knife clipped inside my front pocket. And remember…a sharp knife is a safe knife. Keep it clean, and rust free. Do not throw it or stick it in the ground. Constantly check for your knife even if it has some sort of locking mechanism to secure it in its sheath. If going on a long trek or you are forced to go through thick brush, dummy-cord it to your body.