They say that the best survival knife is the one you have with you at the time. While that’s certainly true, I personally like to up the odds in my favor by including a few different blades in my main kits.
A good quality knife is probably the number one most important tool in a survival kit. With it, you can fashion together just about anything else you need. Without it, you’re behind the proverbial 8 ball. Sure, you can probably make do in a pinch but having a good knife makes things just so much easier.
In a true survival situation away from home, there are essentially three types of blades to consider. The first is a small pocketknife. With a blade length of 3″ or so, it is small enough to handle more intricate work. Plus, keeping it in your pocket ensures you have it with you at all times.
The second is a good quality sheath knife. This one will serve as your primary tool with most camp chores that require a blade. You’ll use it to dress game, build shelters, cut firewood, and other such tasks.
The third is a machete type blade. While your sheath knife can do much of what a machete will, the longer and heavier blade will work better on clearing brush as well as serve as a defense weapon if needed.
You could combine the latter two categories and carry a large sheath knife. Personally, I bounce back and forth with that option. The caveats about using a larger sheath knife are:
1) They can be awkward for some tasks. You might find the larger sheath knife just too big and the pocketknife too small for some things.
2) Using your sheath knife to clear brush will dull the blade quicker. If it isn’t truly high quality, you could end up damaging the blade with nicks and such.
For my primary use blades, here’s what I carry in my kit.
A Victorinox Swiss Army Spartan. This is my primary pocketknife and I’ve had it for going on 30 years now. It has stood up to everything I’ve thrown at it without trouble.
My current sheath knife is a Becker BK9 Combat Bowie. It is, simply put, a beast of a knife. While I only recently got it, I’m confident it will handle everything and anything I ask of it. It arrived hair shaving sharp and has only required very minor touch ups since. The sheath is a nylon/Kydex mix. I’m working on attaching a separate small survival kit right to the sheath. It is a big knife, yes, but probably the highest quality blade I’ve ever owned.
I choose to carry the Cold Steel Kukri for my machete. Honestly, you just can’t go wrong with Cold Steel products. I had originally bought one for my father in law a couple years ago and was so impressed with it, I got one for myself. It has a good weight to it, not so heavy that it wears you out but plenty of heft to get the job done.
Over the years, I’ve owned many, MANY knives. Some were all but worthless, others I carried for a long time. My Becker replaced a Tak Fukuta benchmade bowie that I’d carried as my sheath knife for well over 20 years. The main reason I switched was because the Becker will withstand a bit more abuse than the Fukuta.
When choosing a knife, there are a few things to look for. First, for a pocketknife, you want a knife with a solid pivot when you open and close it. The knife should snap open and snap closed. While I’ll admit my Swiss Army knife lacks these features, I recommend getting something with both a locking blade as well as the ability to open one-handed.
For the sheath knife, get something with a full tang, nothing less. The tang is the part of the blade that goes into the handle. A full tang means the blade is one solid piece of metal all the way through to the bottom of the handle. Notice that this precludes the use of the popular hollow handle survival knives. There’s a reason for that — with rare exception those “survival knives” are crap.
You want good quality stainless steel like 440C. Personally, I’m not overly fond of serrated or half-serrated blades. While I recognize their usefulness, I question how you’ll be able to sharpen it in the field. Remember, you want your knife SHARP at all times. A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one as you’ll need to apply more pressure to a cut, which increases the chances of a slip.
The handle should not be completely smooth and should have some texture to it. This helps you hang on to it when it gets wet. Remember too that you’ll be using this knife a lot in the field and it should be comfortable in your hand.
The sheath should be protective of the blade and be comfortable to wear for extended periods.
There’s no need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a single knife but this isn’t a place to cheap out on one either. I know a few people who just buy cheap and toss the knife when it breaks or gives out. Personally, if I’m going to bet my life on a piece of gear, I want it to hold up.
Your assignments this week:
1) Begin shopping around for a pocketknife and sheath knife. Purchase them as your budget allows but don’t linger too long on this. Remember, a good blade is the most important tool in your survival kit.
2) Add to your food storage more pasta, canned soups, and canned meats this week.