What is the best survival knife?
I’m of the opinion that a knife is the most important tool for wilderness survival and long-term self reliance situations. Seeing as how I rate a knife so highly I’m often asked “what makes a good survival knife?”. So here are the three main things I look for in a survival knife:
- Full tang – the first and most important criteria is that it has a full tang, meaning the knife consists of a solid piece of steel that runs from the tip of the blade all the way through to the butt of the handle. A full tang increased the knives strength and durability when used for heavy tasks such as batoning. Folding knives and hollow handled knives are not particularly good survival knives.
- Carbon steel – the next criteria I look for is a blade made of high quality carbon steel. The most popular kinds of carbon steel include 1075, 1095, O1 Tool and CPM-3V which are all great steels that have been tested and proven by many of the world’s best survival and bushcraft instructors. The downside to carbon steel is that, unlike stainless steel, it rusts quickly when not properly oiled and maintained. However, when it comes to ease of sharpening, edge retention and overall performance carbon steel outperforms stainless by a mile. In addition to performance, striking a high carbon steel blade with a hard rock such as flint, chert or quartz will produce sparks capable of creating fire, something stainless is incapable of.
- No serrations – despite the “tacticool” look of many partially serrated knives the practicality of such features pretty much stop there. In my opinion the only thing that a serrated knife performs better at is cutting rope or metal, two tasks that are rarely of high importance or occurrence. Serrations are very difficult to sharpen, often needing a specific tool to do it correctly. They also tend to increase the fragility of a blade. In my opinion, short of severe urban survival scenarios (like cutting yourself out of a downed helicopter) it is best to stick to a fixed blade knife with a plain edge.
Full Flat Grind
The full flat grind is simply a blade, triangular in shape that begins wide at the spine and gradually narrows until it reaches a point, or the cutting edge.
Full flat grind knives are excellent slicers making them popular for cooking, skinning and prepping food. If you’re an avid hunter or plan to bug out to a location where there is plenty of wild game I would consider a knife with a full flat grind.
The downside to this type of grind is they are harder to sharpen then a Scandinavian and aren’t as proficient at processing firewood, in particular, batoning.
A Scandinavian grind maintains its width from the spine, until approximately two thirds of the way down where it narrows, creating a wedge shape that excels at woodworking tasks, especially batoning. In addition to performing well for woodworking and carving tasks a Scandinavian grind tends to be easier to sharpen due to the ease of finding the correct angle.
The downside to Scandinavian grinds is that it does not slice as cleanly, and therefore, does not perform well when processing food or skinning game.