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.
A survival knife is a personal choice. You will hear a million different opinions on which knife is the best, but if you follow these guidelines, you will pick a knife that will do well in a survival situation.
The Best Type of Knife For Survival: 11 Characteristics
#1: Full Tang
- The tang is the part of the knife blank in the handle.
- The strongest full-tangs are a continuous piece of metal from the knife’s tip to the heal.
- You want the tang to be the full width of the handle.
- A partial tang has thinner metal that may not be the full length of the handle, or it may be welded onto the blade; both characteristics make the knife weaker.
- A survival knife should have a full tang because it provides strength when twisting or prying with the knife.
- Knife strength is important when using the knife for heavy-duty tasks like batoning wood and shelter building.
#2: Fixed Blade
- 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 4 3/4″ to 6″
The optimum blade length for a survival knife is between 4 3/4″ and 6.”
- Go smaller than 4 3/4″, and you’ll have difficulty splitting wood and building shelters.
- Go bigger than 6,”
- detailed tasks will be more difficult
- Knife blades that are larger than 6″ are heavy and more cumbersome.
- You are more likely to carry a knife that is lightweight and comfortable to wear on your body.
#4: Blade Thickness 3/16″ to 1/4″
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. Thinner blades flex and aren’t strong enough to handle the rigors of survival usage.
The thinner the blade, the weaker it becomes.
- Thin blades perform better when slicing with a knife, but it’s not worth giving up a thicker blade’s strength.
#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 can’t be done with a double-edged blade.
#6: Blade Profile Scandinavian
The Scandinavian grind, also known as the V grind, is the best grind profile for working with wood, and it performs well skinning small game animals and fish. The Scandinavian grind is the easiest to sharpen in the field because the bevel is easy to see. Finally, it takes a really sharp edge for little effort.
Some of the other grinds like the Convex have a higher learning curve when it comes to keeping the profile, and they are harder to establish. Leave this grind to the knife gurus. The last thing you want to focus on in a survival situation is your knife grind.
- Aggressive woodcutter
- The geometry of the blade is perfect for working with wood
- You can go super thin on the edge of the blade if you need a sharp edge.
Fact: One drawback to the Scandinavian Grind is that it will chip more easily than some of the other edge grinds.
#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 your survival knife.
4 Characteristics that effect a survival knife weight:
- the length of the blade
- the thickness of the blade
- the handle type
- full or partial tang
Choosing the right survival knife is a balancing act. To get the best knife, you may have to compromise.
#8: Blade Steel 1095 Carbon Steel
The best steel for a survival knife is 1095 plain carbon steel.
- It is the easiest steel to sharpen in the field
- Carbon takes a razor-sharp edge
- Carbon steel is inexpensive.
- Please don’t put your carbon blade away wet. Wipe it off in some grass or on a pant-leg
How can I keep carbon steel from rusting in the field?
The drawback of carbon steel is that it’s not corrosion resistant. Consider carrying a ziplock bag with an oil rag to maintain the blade, or you can use 0000 steel wool that seconds as a fire tinder. Other options: rendered animal fat, chapstick to coat the blade, or use sand to polish.
- If you are working in a marine environment or around saltwater, consider a stainless steel knife or a coated carbon blade.
- If your carbon bladed gets wet, wipe it dry.
- Don’t put your knife in a wet sheath.
- Knives that are used tend to stay in good condition. Stored knives tend to rust.
- Rust isn’t going to affect the performance of your blade. It has been used for hundreds of years. Imagine a french-trapper skinning beaver he probably using a carbon steel Hudson blade.
#9: Knife Tip Spear Point
The spear point knife tip is used to puncture fur or skin when dressing game animals or fish, dress wood for bow-drilling and fire starting, and prying or picking in small spaces.
#10: Handle Type Wood
Handle: The Best handle for a survival knife is natural wood. It’s beautiful, it feels perfect in hand, and it has been used on knife and sword handles for thousands of years; it is tried and tested in the field.
#11: The Knife You Have
The best survival knife; you like to use it and you will carry it with you wherever you go.
- A knife that isn’t optimal but that you really like using might be the best choice. You like the way it feels, how it sharpens, and you can afford it. A knife you love using is a knife you will keep on you and learn to use.
As an example, one of my favorite knives is a Morakniv (Mora)
- 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.
13 Uses For a Survival Knife
It has been suggested that you can use a survival knife for tasks like pounding and prying, but I suggest you avoid this kind of activity. Instead, use your knife to make a tool from wood or natural materials; avoid the possibility of breaking your knife when you can.
- 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.
If you liked this article on choosing the best type of knife for survival you may like this comprehensive guide on choosing Survival Clothing for SHTF.