The Knife Buyer’s Guide
You can probably thank Rambo for the pop culture image of the survival knife: large, intimidating, mean and ready for business. It just looked cool! You may remember seeing ads for “survival knives” with hollow handles stuffed full of fishing hooks, and “manual chainsaws” with crazy serrations. There was no hope of ever keeping the blade sharp. These gimmick knives have no place in a genuine survival kit. If you are concerned about survival, you need a serious knife. So what should you look for in an adventure knife?
Folded or Fixed?
There are two major classifications of knives: folded or fixed blade. That means, does the knife open and close, or is it one solid piece? For everyday purposes or every day carry (EDC), a folding knife is great. Most have clips for your pocket, keeping them handy but out of sight. However, for an adventure knife you want reliability and strength, and that comes from a fixed blade knife. You don’t need moving parts getting in the way when survival is at hand. No matter how strong your blade is, if a screw comes loose, or a spring breaks, it could jeopardize your survival.
It is common to see “survival knives” advertised as being up to 16 inches long, under the assumption that bigger is always better. The truth is, beyond a certain point, a large survival knife becomes useless, unless you are using it as a machete. A good rule of thumb is 10″ to 12″, or roughly the width of your hand for both handle and blade. This balance will allow it to fit nicely in your hand and remain easy to control. Control is just as important as strength for a true survival knife, as you want something that can batten wood (more on that later), as well as perform smaller tasks like feathering branches or processing small game.
Tang is probably the single most overlooked element in knife purchases, and it is one of the most important. The tang is the part of the blade that the handle attaches to. A tang can be partial or rat-tailed, meaning it thins out and is cut down from the full width of the blade in order to save material.
Full tang means the metal is continued fully through the handle and is visible, sandwiched between the handle halves, all the way down. This gives you additional strength and stability that can’t be matched by cost-cutting partial tangs. You need this kind of strength when it comes to tasks like battening, which is using a larger piece of wood to hammer the knife down through another piece of wood to split it. Lesser tangs may break under that kind of pressure.
Sporting double edges and deep serrations, they look like something straight out of an action movie. Unfortunately, in the real world these kinds of blades are virtually useless.
Many so-called “survival knives” sell very well simply because the blades look impressive. Sporting double edges and deep serrations, they look like something straight out of an action movie. Unfortunately, in the real world these kinds of blades are virtually useless. In a survival situation you want a straight blade without serrations (or at most, small ones), and a single edge with a sharp point. This gives you the ability to stab, cut, hack and pry safely. With a double edged blade you could never batten or use your thumb for extra leverage on the back side of the knife.
A good knife is a very personal purchase and needs to be comfortable for you. If you plan on being able to depend on your knife, it needs to fit you and your needs. Keep in mind that there is more to an adventure knife than aesthetics. It is a serious piece of survival equipment and your life could depend on it. By keeping these pointers in mind, you should be well equipped to find a knife that fits you and is built for real use.