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How to Choose A Survival Knife – The Basics

survival knifeImagine yourself trapped in an island, in the Wilderness or in the Desert somewhere. Alone, no food and no one to call for help. Can you survive a day or two while the rescuers are on their way to find you? Yes you can if you have a quality survival knife with you and keep your senses.

Survival knives are probably the most important tool ever created by man. They are made to be used in wilderness when no other equipment is available. Aside from being handy, these knives are designed to do tough jobs like cutting branches and skinning animals. Hunters, hikers, outdoor sports enthusiast, forest rangers and military personnel use this knife.

There are several things to consider when choosing a good survival knife.

1. Tang. This is the part of the blade that extends down into the handle. The longer the tang, the stronger is the knife generally speaking.  A good quality survival knife has a full Tang – the one that goes all the way to the base of the handle.

2. Blade. When choosing a good blade, it is important to consider the thickness, design, length and the type of metal used for the blade. In terms of thickness, a good general rule is about 3/16 of an inch thickness is the best for survival knives. There are two designs available for blades – straight and serrated. Straight blades are best for people who don’t want to waste time sharpening because it took more time and special type of sharpener to sharpen serrated blades. It is also easier to chop or cut woods with straight blade knife.  Most survival knives have blades that range from four to six inches long and are made by either carbon or stainless steel. Most people prefer stainless steel blades because they are virtually indestructible and can last a long time without rusting. If a stainless blade is your choice, than look for ones made from ATS-34 steel. By the way, stainless steel really isn’t a “never stain” steel, it’s a “stain less” steel. It has more chrome content and is more rust resistant than carbon steels.

But having said that, there is a good argument for survival knives made out of high quality steel like D2 and 0-1 tool steel. While not “Stainless”, they are very good knife steel. In fact, since many stainless steels are soft, many experts consider the D2 and 0-1 steels superior. If you really want to get down to the nuts and bolts of knife steel, here’s knife steel chart from A.G. Russell.

3. Handle. The handle of survival knives varies from each other. These can be a polymer, aluminum, wood, bone or horn of animals and even stainless steel. When choosing a handle, it is best to avoid those with cheap features like mini storage area and compass. These are for uneducated people who don’t have a clue. Although it may look cool to have one, these features affect the grip and general usefulness of the knife. In reality many times, suck gimmicks usually signify a cheap knife. Would you wan to depend on a $20 gimmick to save you life? Better handle material tends to be leather, micarta or kraton in my opinion.

4. Sheath. Although sheaths do not affect the performance of the knife, it definitely affects the way you carry it. Some knives are sold with sheaths while others don’t have. Sheaths can be made from variety of materials but the most ideal kind is the one with strap, belt and attachments (lower or lanyard). A perfect sheath is one that allows the knife to be drawn quickly and fits perfectly with it. Leather and nylon are the preferred sheath materials. Some newer models like the Gerber Prodigy have sheaths made out of a combination of materials like nylon and plastic. Surprisingly these sheaths are durable and functional.

It is always an advantage if one owns a survival knife because you’ll never know when you’re going to need it and when choosing one, it is always best to consider the quality first, price second. No one who has ever been lost or stranded has said “Damn, I wish I’d bought a cheap survival knife!