What Is The Best Survival Knife

by Leon Pantenburg
(Bend, Oregon, USA)

Bring up a subject around the campfire, like the best caliber for a deer rifle, most reliable four-wheel drive pickup or the best all-around survival knife and you will get opinions!

But the survival knife topic begs to be explored. Of all the tools needed to ensure your survival in an emergency wilderness situation, a good knife would have to be ranked number one. Then the debate begins!

First, you have to know what you need. Your survival knife must be lightweight, convenient and easy to carry, do the job for which it is intended and be adaptable to the situation. Probably most importantly, it needs to be tough, durable and easy to sharpen.

Over the years, my preference in such knives has changed.

On my 1980 Mississippi River canoe trip, a Buck folder rode on my hip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to Venice, Louisiana. The folder, with two, 3-1/2 inch blades, worked well for cleaning fish, sharpening wiener sticks, whittling kindling for the fire and spreading peanut butter. The knife went on backpacking trips on the John Muir Trail, through Yellowstone National Park, and on many canoe trips.

Folding hunting knives were the rage at the deer camp I belonged to in Mississippi in the early 1980s, and a Buck or Schrade was standard. We killed a lot of deer and the folders worked well for gutting, skinning and cutting meat. But we were hardly in a wilderness situation, and seldom far from a vehicle. In retrospect, our folders were great, effective hunting knives, but as survival choices, they had a built-in design problem. Buck 110 Folding Hunter, Lockback Folding Knife

Any folding knife's weak spot is the hinge. When that breaks, you end up with two pieces. So, as well as my Buck had performed, it was retired two decades ago when I moved to Idaho. I was hunting elk and deer in the mountains, deep in the wilderness, and needed a sturdy hunting knife, in addition to a survival tool. That was when I chose my current hunting/survival knife: a Cold Steel SRK.

Now, after several decades of on-the-job testing, I have narrowed my survival knife choices down to three:

Swiss Army Knife Classic. I was given a Classic in 1994. Immediately, I went from wondering what good the dinky little knife could be, to wondering how I ever got along without it!

The knife has a small blade for cutting, a pair of mini scissors, a nail file with a screwdriver tip, a toothpick, tweezers, and a key ring. I ran into a through hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, near Elk Lake, Oregon, and the only knife she?d carried since Mexico was a Classic.

The Classic goes everywhere with me, including hunting camps, but it is definately not the only knife I carry. Along with a bigger sheath knife, the two knives can handle everything. Of the tools in the Classic, you'll find yourself using the tweezers and scissors the most. Victorinox Swiss Army Tinker with Free Classic Knife Fixed blade Mora: The current favorite among survival schools seems to be the four-inch, fixed-blade Scandinavian Mora style knives. I love the design. It looks like a paring knife with a sheath, and works well for peeling potatoes, cutting rope, and other camp chores. The Mora style is a superb choice for cleaning fish, upland and small game, and it rides in my hunting vest when I'm after birds. Frosts Master Craftsmen Triflex Knife

I ordered six different models several years ago to test the steel for fire-making potential and their use with the Boy Scouts.

My favorite Mora ended up being a knife recommended by wilderness expert Peter Kummerfeldt: a Kellam model M571 fixed blade. The knife weighs 2.5 ounces, and the sheath, wrapped with about six feet of bright duct tape, adds another 2.5 ounces. The forged blade holds an edge and is easily sharpened. It's another of those knives I wouldn't want to get along without.

Cold Steel SRK: I bought my SRK in 1991 to use as an all-around general hunting/survival knife. The blade is 3/16" thick and 6" long; the Kraton handle is 4-3/4 inches long; overall length is 10-3/4 inches. My SRK, without sheath, weighs eight ounces, and 10.5 with sheath wrapped in duct tape.

For what I need, the SRK is perfect. The knife has field dressed about 50 deer and been used on several elk. In one instance, I field dressed and quartered three deer without it needing sharpening. The handle never gets too slick to hold safely, no matter how messy the field dressing job gets. The knife's performance is so impressive that two of my elk-hunter friends also bought SRKs.

Another good choice is the Cold Steel Master Hunter. For folks who want a little less blade, but the same none-slip handle and good design, the Master Hunter might be the best choice. The blade design works particularly well for skinning.

My SRK still gets a lot of hard use, since most of camping I do these days is with scout troops. The SRK is pounded with a wooden baton to split kindling, and that allows us to leave the hatchets and axes at home.

A multi-tool frequently goes along on my outings, because a set of tools can prove to be invaluable. I hike and hunt the desert frequently, and find my multi-tool works well to pull rusty barbed wire off abandoned fences.

My favorite multi-tool is the Leatherman Wave. I got the Wave for Christmas several years ago, and so far, it has done everything I ever needed it for. In addition to pulling barbed wire, the Leatherman has also been used to remove hooks from a toothy fish, repair a radiator hose, saw wood etc.

The most appreciated use occurred one morning on the Umpqua River in western Oregon. A buddy and I were fly fishing for steelhead trout when his glasses came apart in his hand. Luckily, the Leatherman has a screwdriver that fit the hinge, and we were able to keep fishing.

Like survival knives, your multi-tool should be chosen carefully, based on your individual needs. They come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of blades and tools. Most knife manufacturers also make multi-tools, so find a reputable company you like and start looking there.

I am a knife accumulator. In my cutlery accumulation, I have the Hitler Youth knife, and Nazi SS dagger my dad brought home from Europe in World War II, and two Samuri swords he got in the Pacific. I designed and had made a custom, hollow handle survival knife that was given to my brother Mike. I still look for knife deals at gun shows.

Maybe I have way too many knives? 20 years ago I never needed to buy another. So based on experience, and enthusiasm for the topic, here's my take: the best survival knife is the one you have when it's needed.

Don't be concerned about the current fad, or how pretty or cool a knife may look. The knife you have along is the only survival knife you have!

For more related Survival Common Sense tips and stories, check out: SurvivalCommonSense.com

Comments for What Is The Best Survival Knife

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Overall Good Article (some comments are a little to long ways off)
by: Alaska Raft Connection

Many a season, I’ve professionally and individually always retained that deep awareness in what works for the Alaska Bush. Some tools are essential, and I’m rarely without a knife of some nature whether it be every-day-carry or heading off into the wilds. Working frequently with knives outdoors in a range of surroundings or situations from a hands on sense is the paramount path to what will be dependably effective for the end user.
Using a knife blade properly outlines no more or less an emphasis attaining skill-sets, observing safety procedures, and establishing comfort-zones… all the while persistently thinking, being aware, and focusing on task.
Choosing an Outdoor Knife translates to continual practice, making objective assessments thru trial & error in this vs. that comparisons, determining ergonomics like suitability combined with quality, fit, function, then in conclusion what you like from a subjective or personal outlook. Real world overall the optimal selections become based on what individual requirements may be… ‘Dedicated’ given specific use vs. ‘adaptable’ (those middle ground concessions) for whatever the tasks. Place emphasis on these properties to make the appropriate choices.

by: HermitCharlie

I agree with the article that the best survival knife is the one you have with you when you find yourself in a survival situation. This normally happens when we lest expect it. With today limitations of what we can have as every day carry puts a severe limitation on us now.

I use to carry a Buck 110 on my side everywhere, but now that spells trouble. My 110 was purchased while in service back around 1970 and has taken a lot of abuse and still is just as strong as the day I bought it. While spending a year in the wilderness I added my Buck General and a fixed blade Gerber to my line and they all withstood the challenge except I did loose the General one day but that was my fault.

I now have way to many quality "survival knife" types in my collection and it would be hard to choose which would be the best one if I had to carry only one. I perfer a heavy full tang knife if and when the SHTF. A think spine will hold up with the abuse that will be needed to be in a survival situation. With that and my 110 on my side I feel that I can once again surive in the wild.

Dont buy a $9.99 flea market special like the hollow handle ones they sale. They will not hold up and you will be without a knife.

Very good post here
by: TNJohn

First I would like to say I disagree with "light is right by: Shaykh Idris". It's not realistic, yes it is good to know how to make a knife out of rocks but in a cold environment a home made rock knife is not going to process enough firewood to keep you alive, ain't gonna happen. Sure it will cut some wood, even feather sticks but you will not cut enough, we all know how fast fire goes thru wood esp when you have to cut it.

Dustin Tarditi has sound advice, you want the best you can get as far as steel goes, a knife that will hold it's edge and not dull readily, one that won't break or chip. Every one of the knives listed here will work for a short term but in a long term, which we all hope will never happen, almost all fall very short, you want the best you can get, your life depends on it.

No I'm not going to plug any brands or models here, do some studying and research. Don't listen to the manufacturers hype esp. Cold Steel, check the reviews, check the knife forums, check out the knife tests on youtube. Take your knife out in the backyard and cut wood 3 days in a row, don't sharpen it just see long it takes before it's not easy cutting. Even if you have to save-up 3-4 months, get a good one. After this then do the very same with your fire starter. Be smart, think, learn, observe, experience, and survive.

Master Hunter
by: Chris

I'd agree with you on the Master Hunter. Awesome all purpose hunting/survival/camp knife. Functions extremely well in every category.

Best Survival Knife
by: JimmyTH

I guess my vote for the best survival knife is the one I've wound up carrying after several decades. It's a Swiss mora style much like the one you have in your Amazon ad, but I bought the laminated steel blade (back in the 70's) from a Swiss company and made the handle myself. Rosewood and brass, and a friction fit belt sheath. I may collect others but this is the one I'll have with me. Usually I take a light tomahawk with me for the heavier camp work but it's a pack tool, not too handy on the belt.

best knife
by: Mike Knight

Interesting post. Enjoyed it. Like everyone I have a fav: Mora military , a good sharp hatchet, and a multi-tool with a good file.

light is right
by: Shaykh Idris

\Heavy knives area waste of energy: a light knife works; if one NEEDS to do heavy work, make a stone axe, or slash with a long stick. In the wilderness, one is surrounded by tools, if he has the wit to see them. Whoso goes in with everything on him, is simply unprepared. Preparation is knowing what to do without any gear.IMHO

Survival knife
by: Leon

I knew there would be a discussion! My point is: the survival knife has to be handy - and light - enough to be convenient to carry. If it isn't, it won't be carried!

Survival Knife Comment
by: Dustin Tarditi

A survival knife should have a full tang - hollow handled knives are not going to stand the rigors of hard use from a survival situation.

I disagree that a survival knife needs to be light. A heavier knife may be more suited for prying and chopping, a solid spine may make it better for batoning through wood.

More importantly, the knife needs to have the right feel for your hand.

The type of steel does matter - if you can't retain a good working edge you may as well just have a club - if the edge chips or the tip breaks easily, you may seriously reduce the serviceability of your blade.

I agree with the advice to avoid fads - but don't be afraid to invest in a good knife - the $10 special may not be worth betting your life against.

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