How to buy a Survival Knife?

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Looking to buy a Survival Knife? Not sure where to begin?
 
The purpose of this guide is to help you with 7 basic points to consider when buying a survival knife.
The below represent my own opinions based on my own experience – other knife enthusiasts or experts might hold different opinions and you are more than welcome to examine them for yourself.

 

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can get the highlights by reviewing the Bottom Line Summary below. If you are interested in the details, simply continue reading.

Bottom Lines Summary

  1. The Tang: Bottom Line – I’d go for the Full Tang.
  2. Fixed vs. Folding blade: Bottom Line – I’d go for the Fixed Blade.
  3. The Size: Bottom Line – I’d go for an overall length of 8”-10” (20-25cm)
  4. The Blade: Bottom Line – I’d go for Carbon Steel, plain tip, single edged design partially serrated blade.
  5. The Handle: Bottom Line – I’d go for a non-slip, solid, non-hollow and comfortable handle.
  6. The Pommel: Bottom Line – I’d go for a solid and flat pommel.
  7. The Sheath: Bottom Line – I’d go for a versatile and secure sheath that has plenty of attachment and storing options, is comfortable, durable and, not sure why, a leather sheath just feels right.

Points to consider when buying a survival knife:

1. The Tang

Tang is basically an indication of the part of the knife's blade that extends into the handle.

The point to consider here is that the Tang of the knife is a direct indication of the strength of the knife as a unit and is usually considered a mark of quality in Fixed Blade knives in general and specifically for Survival Knives.

At the end of the day – a full tang knife is stronger and more durable than any other tang made of the same steel and with the same handle type.
You will, in some cases, be able to identify a full tang knife by looking at its handle – you will be able to see the blade continuing all the way to the base of the handle.
There are plenty of “Survival Knives” that offer a hollow handle that can store additional gear such as matches, micro-saw etc. – these are, by definition, not full-tang.

  • Bottom Line – I’d go for the Full Tang
 

 
2. Fixed vs. Folding blade

Not much to say here – while a folding blade is great for EDC  (every day carry), its joint is a weakness that is not likely to meet the durability and longevity of a fixed blade as a survival situation might require.

  • Bottom Line – I’d go for the Fixed Blade



 
3. The Size
Size matters. Too big or too small can both be problematic. I see a lot of people go for the “Rambo Effect” and buy a huge blade thinking it will serve them well (Over 12”/30cm). While I agree that it could be useful in specific conditions (such as a Machete if you’re in the jungle), a huge knife can turn a simple task into a tough one. One of the requirements of a survival knife is to cater for delicate tasks such as carving snare sets, skinning small game etc, a huge knife will not serve you well if you try and use it as a harpoon that requires agility (Note – use your knife as a harpoon only as a last report – it is very easy to lose your knife while harpooning and you’ll be much better off carving a harpoon).
A small knife (Less than 6”/15cm), on the other hand, is very easy to carry, is light weighted, easy to conceal but might not be ideal for Batoning (that’s when you use an object to strike the back of your knife in order to cut through a stubborn chunk of wood), harpooning, hunting etc.
  • Bottom Line – I’d go for an overall length of 8”-10” (20-25cm)

4. The Blade
When looking at the blade, there are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Material – There are plenty of materiel types used for knife making. You can basically break it down to 3 main types – Stainless Steel, Carbon Steel and Damascus Steel.
    1. Stainless Steel – probably the most common materiel used for knife making – it’s durable and can take quite a beating. Some types are prone to corrosion and rust, and keeping them sharp requires maintenance.
    2. Carbon Steel – tougher and more durable than Stainless Steel, easier to sharpen but also more susceptible to corrosion.
    3. Damascus Steel – enchantingly beautiful blades characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Tough, resilient and beautiful (ergo – usually pretty expensive).
  2. Design – there are so many designs out there it is very hard to decide what is best, and people tend to go for the blades that look more elegant or tough. It is an ongoing debate and different knife enthusiasts will have different opinions, and as I already mentioned, these are my personal preferences.
    1. The Tip - When the purpose of the knife is survival, it is important to keep in mind the