The steel a knife blade is made of is like a recipe, followed very precisely to produce a metal with certain properties. Here's how you can start navigating all the different steels out there.
Look through the internet or in a magazine these days, and you'll find plenty of articles about choosing the right knife. But not all of them clearly distinguish the kinds of steel used, which can make a big difference. Although all "stainless" steels contain metal alloys that make them harder to corrode, not all steels are created equal. Some fracture more easily than others; others might have a little "flex room" before fracturing (but, as a result, need to be sharpened more often).
The reason you need to shop around for the right steel is that no steel can be the absolute best in every category: a steel that's more durable, while retaining an edge longer, will usually be more difficult to sharpen. At the same time, because of their ingredients, the toughest steels on the market (the kind that'll keep an edge over years of hard use) can also turn out to be the most sensitive to corrosive elements.
Here's a good rundown of what to check for when you're wisely noting the type of steel that knife you have your eyes on is made out of.
This is an American steel with a terrific balance between edge retention, durability, and corrosion resistance.
Steel workers would know CPM-S90V is one of the most advanced steels available, with incredible edge retention and great corrosion resistance.
Any high demand use can be handled by this type, be it hunting or otherwise.
N680 is an Austrian Steel with unparalleled corrosion resistance.
Because it's not susceptible to corrosion, N680 is ideal for marine, diving, or fishing knives.
Some would remember 440C steel as a high performance steel, and while still good, it is now below average on everything but corrosion resistance.
You really wouldn't want to use 440C for anything other than hunting or fishing.
An American made, air hardened tool steel, D2 is pretty unstoppable. It's an industrial grade, semi-stainless steel and is extremely durable and tough, but not great for corrosive environments so is best when coated black.
Many tactical knives are made of D2, and for good reason.
Need to know more, or want to see a great selection of knives to choose from, of all types of steel?
Go check out Benchmade.com and you'll find what you need.