If you depend on one knife to survive, it must be a jack of all trades, both versatile and practical. One knife is all you have, so it’s got to fill every role. The best bug-out bag knife is a fixed blade made from carbon steel.
A survival knife is a personal choice. You will hear a million different opinions on which knife is the best, but if you pick a knife with 11 characteristics it will be the best knife for your bug-out bag.
Best Bug Out Bag Knife: Top 11 Characteristics
#1 Full Tang
Choose a bug-out bag knife with the blade and the tang as a continuous piece of metal from the tip of the blade to the back of the handle. A full tang provides strength to the blade when using it to twist or pry with the knife. Knife strength is important when batoning wood for a fire or working with wood to build a shelter.
#2 Fixed Blade
A fixed blade knife is fixed open so it won’t fold up on your fingers when you use it. I remember widdling with a case pocket knife when I was a kid
- A fixed blade knife is fixed open. It doesn’t fold but instead slides into a sheath of some type.
- Unlike a folding knife, there are no moving parts to break.
- Folding knives aren’t built to take the abuse of being smacked with a piece of wood, a mallet, or being used to pry or create leverage.
#3: Blade Length 3″ to 6″
The optimum blade length for a survival knife is between 3″ and 6. I prefer a smaller blade length around 3″ to 4″. because I like the dexterity of a shorter blade for intricate carving and small work like carving spoons, totems, and faces on walking sticks.
The larger blades, closer to 6 inches are better for batoning or splitting wood and for prying but they are unwieldy when trying to carve.
A smaller blade, less than 4″ won’t span across bigger pieces of wood for batoning so it isn’t as useful for breaking up kindling.
#4 Blade Thickness 3/16″ to 1/4″ (bug out bag knife)
If you want the perfect combination of weight and utility, choose a survival knife with a blade that is between 3/16″ and 1/4″ thick. A thick blade has the weight and strength needed for use in a survival situation and will make short work of saplings when buttoning or chopping them down for shelter building.
The thinner the blade, the weaker the blade but there is a happy medium. If you plan on doing any carving or bushcraft work like spoon carving a 1/4″ blade may not be ideal.
As already mentioned thinner blades flex and aren’t as strong but I prefer them. I know I can’t button large wood or pry up rocks for crayfish but I can carve a stick for that purpose.
- Thin blades perform better when slicing with a knife, but the blades are weaker.
#5 Spine Ground At 90°
A straight-backed knife is superior for striking a Ferro rod to light a fire, scraping bark and small sticks for kindling, and batoning wood.
Fact: Avoid double-edged blades; they limit what you can do with a survival knife in the field. Activities such as batoning and creating feather sticks for fire starting is more difficult with a double-edged blade.
#6 Blade Profile (Scandinavian Grind)
The Scandinavian grind, also known as the V grind, is the best grind profile for a bug-out knife. This type of grind is the best for working with wood and skinning small game and fish. More importantly, the Scandinavian grind is the easiest to sharpen in the field because the bevel is easy to see and the easiest to maintain. Finally, the Scandinavian grind doesn’t hold an edge as well as other grinds but it takes a really sharp edge for little effort.
Convex Grind (best knife for a bug-out bag)
The Convex grind has a higher learning curve when it comes to keeping the blade profile so it’s much harder to maintain in the field. If you are a beginner, leave the convex grind to the knife gurus. The last thing you want to focus on in a survival situation is your knife grind.
Fact: The Scandinavian Grind will chip more easily than some of the other edge grinds and it gets dull quicker but it is the easiest to sharpen quickly and accurately.
#7 Light Weight
The optimum survival knife should weigh 12 oz./.35 kg or less. The lighter, the better. In a survival situation, you will be carrying a lot of gear. You want to minimize weight, including the weight of your bug out knife.
4 Characteristics that affect a survival knife weight:
- Blade Length
- Blade Thickness
- Handle Material
- Full or Partial Tang
Choosing the right survival knife is a balancing act. To get the best knife, you may have to compromise.
#8 Carbon Blade Steel (1095 Carbon)
The best steel for the best knife for a bug-out bag is 1095 plain carbon steel. 1095 is the easiest to sharpen in the field, it takes a razor-sharp edge, and it’s inexpensive.
I break some of the rules because my favorite bug-out bag knife is a MORA or Morakniv #1 utility knife. The problem is they aren’t full tang but the steel takes a razor-sharp edge and is great for wood carving. Would I like to have a custom made $1000 bushcraft knife for my bug out bag knife? Yes, I would.Scott, Ready Squirrel
How can I keep carbon steel from rusting in the field?
The drawback of carbon steel is that it’s not corrosion-resistant. This can be handled by wiping the knife off after use and never putting it away wet and never putting it in a wet sheath. Or don’t worry about it, rust isn’t pretty but it doesn’t affect the performance of your blade.
If you can’t stand a little rust on your bug out knife, consider carrying a knife maintenance kit with your sharpening stone. Use a ziplock bag with an oil rag to maintain the blade, or use 0000 steel wool that seconds as a fire starter. You can also use rendered animal fat or chapstick to coat the blade, and use sand to polish it.
#9 Knife Tip Spear Point
A bug out bag knife should have a spear point. Without the spear point, you are losing functionality, not good in a survival situation. The spear point punctures fur or skin when dressing game animals or fish, and prepares wood for bow-drilling, fire starting, and careful prying or picking in small spaces.
#10 Handle Type Wood
The best bug out bag knife has a wood handle. Wood knife handles are tried and tested in the field and they are beautiful feel perfect in hand and have been used on knife and sword handles for thousands of years;
#11 Use The Knife You Own
Ok, this is where I tell you to throw all of the best knife characteristics out the window because the best knife for a bug out bag is the one you already own. A knife that isn’t optimal but that you really like using might be the best choice. If you like the way it feels, how it sharpens, and you can afford it then it is the best choice as a bug-out knife.
A bug out knife you love using is a knife you will keep on you and learn to use. The Mora Bushcraft-Black breaks a lot of my rules. It has a blade that is too thin, but it’s super easy to use. The handle isn’t wood but a rubberized plastic that feels really good in my hand. It isn’t a full tang blade, so it isn’t the strongest. In a nutshell, the Mora is not the best knife to depend on in a survival situation. But, I like the Mora because it feels good, keeps a good edge, and it’s super lightweight at 8.1 oz. I know going in that I won’t be pounding in stakes or prying up rocks with the Mora. I will carve the necessary tools to do the job. And, it’s the knife I can afford.Scott, Ready Squirrel
13 Uses For a Survival Knife
When choosing Your best knife for a bug out bag take a look at the list down below and decide if you want your blade to be a jack of all trades but master of none or if you are willing to forego certain attributes to really get what you want. Depending on the weight of your bug-out bag you may be able to incorporate another tool such as a foldable saw to process wood for shelter building or use the tools on a multi-tool. Let’s take a look at the 13 uses of a survival knife.
- Skinning and debarking: wood, small game, and fish
- Batoning or splitting wood for shelters or fire making
- Cutting or slicing for food preparation
- Carving for bush-craft items like cooking and eating implements, tent or tarp stakes, or making animal traps
- Food Preparation
- Carving tools for digging, shelter building, or to make things you need
- Fire-starting: splitting, feathering, and shaving wood
- Light prying to find grubs or crawdads under rocks. Better to use your knife to make a tool for this purpose.
- Digging: I would carve a stick for this purpose; I wouldn’t use my knife.
- Split plant fibers for rope and small line making
- Carve traps, spears, or walking sticks
- Cutting green saplings
- Beaver cutting used to process large pieces of wood into smaller pieces
If you don’t know how to use a knife in a survival situation, it doesn’t matter how awesome your knife is. A survival knife allows you to make 1001 tools for hunting, camping, cooking, and shelter building. The things you can do with a knife are almost limitless. Learn knife skills, and you have a much better chance of making it through a survival situation.
Let me know how I’m doing in the comment section down below.
Keep on prepping.