This article is a guide to choosing a good survival knife. It will not recommend any brands or models in particular, but rather cover the different variables that make a good or bad survival knife, so that you can go out into the world with the information you need to select your own.
First things first- the blade. What are we looking for in a knife blade?
The blade should be around 6-9”. This is long enough for most things that require blunt strength (cutting twigs and branches or firewood, etc) while small enough for finesse (fashioning wood fishing hooks, etc).
The blade should be fixed to the handle. It should not be any kind of folding or jointed knife.
The blade should have a sharp point, nothing rounded, hooked or flat. This will allow you to stab, making it easier to cut through things like animal hides. These knives can also be tied to the end of a staff and used as a spear.
The blade should be around ¼” thick, thick enough to withstand some wood chopping.
The blade should be thick at the spine, with a razor sharp straight blade. Serrated edges have their uses, but a straight blade has a wider range of uses and can be sharpened using simply a stone. A straight blade that is partially serrated is a good compromise, giving you the most flexibility (see picture above).
Single edge blades are best, giving you a flat side for hammering and striking.
There are two good types of blade materials: carbon and stainless steel.
Carbon blades will stay sharp longer, but rust easier. Some good carbon steels are A2, D2, 1095, 5160.
Stainless steel blades are more rust resistant, but lose their edge quicker. Some good stainless steels are CPM 154, S60V, S90V, BG-42.
Now, the handle. Let’s get a handle on what makes a good handle.
The handle should be 4-6” long. There should be a protruding end just below the blade, to stop your hand from sliding up onto the blade and getting cut.
The handle should have a non-slip grip, again to avoid sliding up.
The handle should have a solid pommel (the end of the handle), so you can use it for things like hammering.
You want a full tang, not a narrow tang (the tang is the piece of metal that runs through the handle). This way, if the handle breaks you can wrap a cord around the tang and still use it.
Avoid any added gimmicks, such as hollow handles for storage, compasses, etc. Features are often added to low-quality knives as selling features. You want a good survival knife, not a mediocre knife with accessories.
The knife should have sheath to hold it in. It should have a crossover strap to hold the handle in so that it doesn’t fall out. The sheath should be able to be connected to your leg or a backpack, so it should come with both lower and upper attachments. Make sure it is comfortable and easy to carry!
Good luck and stay prepared!