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5 Steps in the Process of Choosing a Survival Knife

survival knife
Image via Flickr/Mike Petrucci

If you don’t have a survival knife or are thinking about upgrading, here’s a step-by-step process for making the choice.

A survival knife is unlike any other you’ll own. It is one that, in theory, can do everything you need to survive, and that’s a tough challenge for any knife to live up to. With a bit of forethought and some time, you can pick the survival knife that will be perfect for you.

1. Pick a Size

One of the first things you’ll want to look at when deciding on a survival knife is what size blade you want. There are a few different thoughts when it comes to blade size; some people prefer a knife with an overall length of 9-11 inches, meaning the blade will be around five inches, while others prefer a blade length of 9-11 inches.

If you only want to carry one knife you’re probably better to go with a smaller blade as it will make it easier to do detailed cutting, but if you carry a pocket knife that can be relied on for detail work then a larger blade can be more effective in some survival tasks.

2. Material

survival knife
Image via Flickr/Conny G.

The two most popular materials used for crafting survival knives are stainless steel and carbon steel. Stainless blades offer the big advantage that they are virtually corrosion free. This means that you can store them away for long periods of time without fear or worry of the blade rusting.

Carbon blades biggest advantage is that it holds a razor sharp blade for long periods of time, which carbon doesn’t quite do. So basically your choosing the weakness you think you can better overcome: a dull blade or rust.

3. The Handle

First of all, when you are looking for a true survival knife, you want a blade that is full tang. This means that the blade and all the way through the handle are one single piece of metal. There are some knives out there advertised as a “survival knife” that have a hollow handle meant to be used for storage; while this may seem like a good idea at first what it actually means in the long run is that when you really need to put some pressure on your knife for a task, the handle will cave and break because it’s hollow. A full tang blade will not; it will take any beating you can put on it and keep on ticking.

Outside of making sure your handle is a full tang, the other aspect of the handle is the grip. There are literally thousands of different type of grip options out there to choose from; you can go with a classic wood grip, a paracord grip, a synthetic grip, or even a metal grip. Each and every grip will have advantages and disadvantages so ultimately, it comes down to a personal decision.

4. The Pommel

survival knife
Image via Flickr/James Case

The pommel is the “butt” end of the handle. Most people don’t really pay attention to the pommel, but it is one of the most important aspects of a survival knife. What you really want to make sure is that you have a hard pommel that can take an impact. You’ll want to be able to stab the tip of your blade into an object, and then hit the pommel with a heavy stick or rock to drive the knife in and split the object.

Some survival knives are made with a “tactical” pommel which is sharper and pointed, others come with a handy compass built into the pommel. While these can be useful in some ways, for overall survival they will cause more trouble than good.

5. The Blade

The first choice with blade is fixed blade vs folding blade; for getting the most use out of your knife you’ll probably want to go with the fixed blade. It gives you the full tang and much more stability and usefulness in ways other than strictly cutting.

Once you decide on a full blade you’ve got choices on serrated vs fine edge, blade shape, and even saw teeth on the back edge. Again, each of these will have advantages and disadvantages that must be considered before making your final decision. Let’s have a look at a few of them.

Serrated blades work very well for cutting through anything thick, vines, rope, and small trees, but they are difficult to sharpen and can break off when using the knife for chopping or splitting thicker woods.

Fine edge blades, these work well for most cutting tasks and can be used along with extra force to chop, cut, or split even fairly thick trees and can be easily re-sharpened on the fly. On the negative side it can be quite difficult to “saw” through ropes and fibrous materials.

Saw teeth: these teeth, if offset, can help you quickly saw through small branches or metals that may be difficult to chop or cut. On the other hand, having the saw teeth on the back can make it much more difficult to “hammer” the blade into wood for splitting.

Once you decide what’s most important to you, then it’s time to either search through all the pre-manufactured knives out there, looking for the one that suits you best, or you can do like me and craft your own.

Follow me on Twitter @Chrisbuck243

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5 Steps in the Process of Choosing a Survival Knife