This discussion is going to breakdown what the best things to look for and consider when choosing a wilderness survival knife. At the end of the breakdown I’ll give my best three options to fit the criteria. The main keys to pay attention to are:
- Blade Length/width
- Blade steel composition
- Handle ergonomics
Let’s jump right into the ideal blade length and width. The reason this is exceedingly important is because a thin knife may not be able to withstand chopping or being struck with a baton stick. The length is important in case you must defend yourself against predators that the blade is long enough to deliver some vital damage to a threat, but is also important for cutting due to the fact you have more blade to stay sharp on different areas keeping an effective cutting surface. A blade between four to seven inches is what I would recommend as a good guideline. Balancing these factors and coming up with the best compromise of the width, length, and weight is not super easy unless the weight is not an issue to you. Most people going into the wilderness or are in survival type situations need something as light as possible yet remain functional.
Blade Steel Composition
Next up is the actual metal composition of the blade. When considering a knife steel keep in mind the area you are in because environmental factors can impact your knife is a negative way. There are alloys that allow good resistance to corrosion while keeping sharpening easy and still hold a good edge. This is important to keep in mind in case you are in a very wet area or an area around saltwater. Stainless steel is a great bet to minimize corrosion and have a blade that requires less maintenance. High carbon steel blades are good blades and offer good advantages like keeping a sharper edge and being able to release a spark from being struck if there is enough carbon in it. However carbon steel does rust and can compromise the integrity of the blade. Oil it with mineral oil (this way it’s still safe to eat anything you cut with it) and this will help to manage corrosion.
Now up is the handle ergonomics. This may seem petty to some but the way a knife feels and stays in your hand can be very important. When chopping or thrusting a knife into something you want a good grip on the knife to keep from slipping off and potentially cutting or dropping your blade. This is all a personal opinion and it just depends what feels right in your hand. Generally some good things to look for are a plastic/rubbery grip and checkering on the grip to prevent slipping. Some blades come with finger grooves molded into the grip that help to form fit your hand. These fall into fits most but not all so try it out and make sure it fits your size of hand before you buy.
Finally for the overview we come to price. If price is not an issue you could find a great knife made with the pinnacle of steel custom handle and have the ideal knife for you but most people do not want to or cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a single blade. There are plenty of good reputable companies that have saturated the market with good quality blades at reasonable prices. Affordable to most is anywhere form $20-$100 dollars and when you take into account this blade could save your life quality should be a concern.
My first suggestion is a SOG made knife that has been my go to wilderness survival knife for the last three years, the SEAL Pup. It has a 4.75” blade made of Aus-8 stainless steel with 1 3/8” of serrations and a thickness of .19” and weighs just 5.4 ounces. It has a powder coat finish to help provide even more corrosion resistance. It comes very sharp and keeps an edge well and sharpens back to that edge after heavy use. The handle fits well in the hand and has good checkering to increase grip. It is light and strong and has been able to handle withstand consistent abuse during camping and used for some wood carving. This knife has gone down in price with the introduction of newer models and variants.
The next suggestion to look into is the battle tested KA-Bar. With a 7” blade made of 1095 Cro-Van steel to help the wearing and corrosion normally associated with 1095 carbon steel. It has a thickness of .25” and the weight is a hefty 10.4 ounces. There is 1 ¾” of serrations on the blade as well. It came very sharp with a good edge. The grip has a hard rubberized feel to it and grips well with sweaty palms or wet hands. The thickness and length of this blade make it heavy and durable and is great for splitting wood using a baton and stays sharp enough for cutting. Even though it has added alloys to help prevent wear and corrosion I suggest wiping the blade down before storing with mineral oil. This knife is the most expensive knife discussed but is still easily found under the hundred dollar amount.
My final suggestion to consider is a smaller lighter option for those who are both cost and size/weight conscious. It is the Morakniv Companion. The Companion has a blade length of 4.1” made of 1095 high carbon steel and is only .08” thick. This is thin but it can be used to effectively work in the outdoors under almost every condition. The total weight is around 2.8 ounces. The blade is very sharp and holds an edge very well. The only downside is the corrosion that can happen to a high carbon steel blade. Oiling the blade and even in some cases making a patina on it (will make a post about different ways to do this down the road). There is a stainless steel model with the same dimensions but is almost double the price and sticking to my cost conscious approach I went with the high carbon steel for the breakdown. If you don’t mind the price remember a stainless model is available with identical dimensions just double the cost. The handle has a rubberized feel to it and provides a good grip with wet hands and is small and sharp enough to work as a filet knife as well.
As stated before these are just a few good suggestions and ones that I have personal experience with and what their capabilities are. I will keep adding to the collection and testing new knives and giving individual reviews. Follow this link for more information on a wider variety of knives other than just survival. Thanks for reading and check out all of the other content we have and make sure to subscribe and comment.