Choosing The Best Survival Knife – What You Need to Know to Avoid Making a Costly Mistake

by Josh C

The Best Survival Knife

Photo by: Bill Bradford

Any Scout, Hunter, Camper or Outdoor Enthusiast should have a the best survival knife, for their needs, and know how to use it. A good survival knife is the single most important piece of equipment you will ever have or use. With it you can procure fire and food, and create shelter and other structures. Just as there’s a tool for every job, a wrench for tightening bolts, a hammer for pounding nails, there’s a knife for every task.

If you’re blazing trails or clearing brush you would want a Machete. If you’re splitting kindling or dressing game the obvious choice would be a Fixed Blade. Cutting rope and carving tent stakes then falls to the Folding Knife. Let’s take a look at the parts of a knife. The blade is made up of the edge, the tip, the point and the coil. The tang is the part of the blade that runs through the handle.

When choosing a Survival knife there’s a simple guideline to follow:

Hold the knife, how does it feel in your hand? Does it fit your hand comfortably? Is it to heavy for you to use effectively? Is it to big? Look it over, what is it made of? Are you going to be comfortable carrying it around with you on outings? Use the knife, is the blade shaped correctly for the jobs you may need to use it for? Will you be able to comfortably use it for an extended period of time? Go over all the cuts and slices you may need to make. Research it; ask people who have it how it handles. Read reviews on it, many times have I bought a knife on impulse to have it break the first time I use it. Price It, I have never spent more than twenty-five dollars on a knife. That said you should not skimp on quality, the knife you purchase has to be perfectly suited to you for you to survive.

Now lets take a look at the types of Cutting Edges there are available.

Machetes: In a survival situation a good chopper can make a world of difference. While an axe or hatchet would be equally useful for chopping, they lack the finesse of the machete. There are several different styles of machetes ranging from the Gurka Kukri to the South American Bola. The only good way to find the style that suits you is to get out there and use it.

Fixed blades: A good fixed blade is essential to your survival. When choosing a fixed blade one thing to keep in mind is whether or not it has a full tang. The tang is the portion of the metal that runs through the handle. A full tang provides extra support for chopping and slicing or anything that requires putting any stress on the blade.

Also try to stay away from hollow handled “survival” knives. These are accidents waiting to happen. If it has a hollow handle than it has no support from the tang and is therefore probably the worst tool you can take in to the woods. A blade length of between 4 and 7 inches is probably best for survival and bush craft purposes, any larger and it becomes to cumbersome to use effectively, any smaller and you might as well use a folding knife.

Folding Survival Knives: The Folding Knife provides amazing control when carving and doing fine work. There are to types of folders, Pocket Knives and Multi Tools. Pocket Knives can be divided into two further categories, Jack Knives and Pen Knives. Jack Knives are hinged on only one end but may have more than one blade.

They are traditionally the only type of knife with a blade that locks in place, although it does not have to. Pen Knives are hinged on both ends and have multiple non-locking blades. Multi-Tools are divided between Multi-blade Knives and Multi-pliars. Multi-blade Knives are hinged on both ends like Pen Knives but in addition to multiple blades they have tools such as scissors, bottle openers, cork screws and screw drivers. This style of knife was made popular by the Victorinox knife company . Multi-pliars are basically Multi-blade Knives that fold up inside a folding needle nose pliers.

The Leatherman Knife Company made this tool popular. Sometimes generic multi-pliers are referred to as Leatherman tools. There are two common types of steel used in making knives. The first being stainless steel, stainless steel has the advantage that it is virtually indestructible and in theory won’t rust. That said, it will tarnish over time, and will not keep a good edge for very long.

The other type of steel is ‘carbon steel’. Carbon steel will take and hold an edge better than stainless, but will rust if exposed to the elements. There are several things that you can do to extend the life of your knives, or any tool for that matter. First, keep it dry. ‘Dry knives live long lives’. The process of rusting is scientifically known as rapid oxidization . If you leave an apple out in the open air for any period of time you will notice that it will start to turn brown. That is called oxidization, which basically means that the fruit is loosing moisture.

Rusting occurs when metal gains moisture (whether it’s through being left out in the rain or other), and then rapidly loosing it. Keep it clean. If you ever have to cut a piece of food with your knife, and it’s still all sticky from that piece of pine you cut through the other day, then what are you going to do. Sap and other sticky substances and residues can easily be removed by rubbing at the sap with rubbing alcohol and using a dish scrubby or rough sand paper. Finally keep it sharp. A dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one.

When carving with a dull knife you have to force the knife more than is necessary, making it harder to control. It is also a lot easier to work with a sharp knife. There are many methods of knife sharpening, included are: The Sharpening Steel (honing rod). The honing rod is a long round file used for quickly sharpening longer blades. Sharpening (wet) Stone. The sharpening stone is the most reliable knife sharpener out there. It has been used since before our forefathers came to America. Precision Sharpening Systems. There are many different types of manual sharpeners and kits on the market.


  1. You can use the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup (where the glazing is not) to sharpen a knife. I have a ceramic tube from some old knob-and-tube wiring, that I dug up out of my yard while gardening, that I cleaned off and keep as a knife sharpener. (Some knob and tubes are glazed and some are not. Of course, choose the unglazed ones).

    One pawn shop owner I met had a pair of these tubes fastened to a bit of wood in a V, he kept it on the counter and sharpened his knives on it. He struck me as the kind of guy who would sit there and sharpen knives when he was bored, whether they needed it or not.

    • One of my favorite sharpeners is the ceramic insulator out of an Audi spark plug wire. Fits neatly on the end of dowel rod to keep my fingers more or less intact…lol. Been using the same one since the early 80’s.

  2. livinglife says:

    a whet stone doesn’t actually mean wet but using oil or water helps float away metal particles and speed up the sharpening process.
    A razor strop doesn’t actually sharpen a blade, it polishes. To date I have not had to re sharpen my straight razor, strop it before use, 8-12 times per side, much easier to maintain an edge than put one on.

    there isn’t a single do all knife, multi tools are great but realize their limitations. a butcher knife doesn’t filet well and vice versa.

  3. ultimately, if you only have one knife, rather a larger heavier blade, it isn’t perfect for small jobs, but can; while a small light blade can never do the work of bigger / heavier blades.
    example: a kukri can be used to whittle or make a fire stick, but you would never use a small folder (even SAK) to split logs

  4. I have had a long affection for my blades, from the first pocket knife my dad gave me when I was twelve (I still carry it daily 43 years later), to the last knife I just received from Knives Ship Free; including all of my straight razors (16 of them), and my Kukri and my Gransfors Bruks hunters axe.

    I must agree that keeping your knife clean and sharp are paramount, and keeping a thin coat of oil on the blade helps prevent oxidation. You can find various oils, but mineral oil and olive oil have always worked well for me.

    Sharpening the blade depends on the grind of the blade. Most blades can be sharpened with a whet or oil stone, a coticule, ceramic sticks set at an angle, or some set of bench stones with progressive grits. These stones work great for blades that have a Scanti, Hollow, or Flat grind, however if your blade has a Full-Convex grind, then you need to use a leather strop as its grind is typically sharpened in the reverse direction from normal ‘flat’ grinds with a beveled edge. If you sharpen a Full Convex blade like you would a ‘flat’ blade you can destroy the characteristics of the blade, not to mention you would have to remove significant amounts of metal from the blade to make the convex grind a flat grind.

    Right now I am lucky that my job pays well and I have the ability to purchase some very good quality knives from Bark River, Fallkniven, ESEE, Lon Humphrey, and Wusthof to name some of the more high end, along with Benchmade, Mora, and Buck on the lower end of the cost spectrum.

    If I had to do it all over again, and I was limited to only buying ONE fixed blade knife, that would have to be the Fallkniven F1 from my experience at home, work, and the field. Yes, Bark River is 100% American Made and is a great knife, the Convex grind does become a bit harder to sharpen using the leather strop, where I also need a stone (coticule) to sharpen my other tools such as my axe and Kukri. So with the mindset of having a common sharper for all tools, the flat grind of the Fallkniven is a better match to accompany other ‘sharps’ in my bag of tricks.

    So far, I have only considered the straight fixed blade knives versus multi-tools knives. For me, after trying different multi-tools, the Leatherman Wave is the only multi-tool I keep around; in my vehicle kit, my daypack and my BOB.

  5. Years ago a buddy of mine bought a hollow handled rambo knife. I was with him at the shop and they had a WW2 bayonet. He paid about 24 bucks for the survival knife and I paid 10 bucks for the bayonet. I still have and use the bayonet for all kinds of heavy blade work. The first time he tried to use his knife for anything hard it broke.

    He laughed when I bought what I did, I laughed and loaned one of my back-up knives for the rest of the hunting trip.

    Don’t buy trendy, but quality

  6. mora knives are hard to beat. They are cheap, easy to keep scary sharp, and .as unbreakable as it gets. I have a bunch of them. Trade stock should I be able to keep my stores

  7. Just a couple more opinions from a flashlight and knife addict. Multiple blade folding tools like the Leatherman or the Swiss Army knife can be very useful, but generally for all of the tools except the knife, at least in part for my second opinion. Any folding knife needs a locking blade. I have seen more than one typical folding pocket knife close up on someone’s hand, and cut it severely. This is generally by a misuse of the knife, but any of us can have wet hands (e.g., while field dressing a deer) or get careless, and the locking blade will be much more forgiving.

  8. I have always use a buck folding knife. My father gave me one when I was 15 years old. Still have it.

  9. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Speedy Sharp makes a pretty good carbide knife sharpener. I was recommended this earlier this year and have only good to say about it. Do be careful if your knife is very finely made – it will scratch that steel. Does a GREAT job with machete’s and axes too, I keep one now in my machete sheath in place of the steel file I used to have there.

    I agree with OhioPrepper above, if its a folder, a real good idea if it is a lockbladed model. Having one close on your hand / finger would not be good – you need your hands.

    Inexpensive place to find multi-tools – pawn shops. I’ve found many used Leatherman Waves for $20 and even less. That is about 1/4 to 1/3 the price of NIB. What you gain are some scratches, maaaybe a dinged up Phillips screwdriver bit so inspect before you buy. Leave the Chinese manufactured cheapies there unless they are strictly trade stock – You are going to need a tool you can depend on. The heavy duty tool – SAK Spirit or original Multi-tool, built like tanks but are heavy. Still, they will take a lot of killing.

  10. Just an old cowboy says:

    @Mike – the Fallkniven F1 is advertised as a convex grind….

  11. I’ve never had any luck at pawn shops. But I totally agree that Mora knives are a must-have in any emergency situation – they’re just not my every day carry knife (EDC knife). As the Editor at I get to try a lot of knives out and have been really happy with the new CRKT Carajas, just about any Benchmade knife and a couple of the Kershaw ones.

    Take a look at my Top 10 EDC Knives of 2013 post at

  12. Thank you for the informative article. As you point out, Victorinox is one of the oldest multi-tool knife manufacturers. Victorinox AG, was founded in the town of Ibach, canton of Schwyz, country of Switzerland in 1884 as a maker of commercial cutlery. In 1891 the Company began delivering knives to the Swiss Army, and in 1909 adopted its now famous “Swiss Army” logo/emblem – a white cross within a red shield. Today, Victorinox is still headquartered in Ibach, and prides itself on never having laid off even one employee for economic reasons in 129 years.

  13. A friend asked for advice on what kind of knife would be best for a survival tool. Without hesitation I suggested, “One small enough to skin a squirrel and large enough to gut an elephant.”
    He grinned at the idea and, wise man that he is, bought himself a Bowie type.

  14. Thank you so much for this advice – I’ve been looking at knives for xmas gifts and this really helped me understand what to look for 🙂

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