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How to Choose a Survival Knife

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Few things are as fun or as exciting as getting outside in the wilderness to camp, explore and enjoy the fresh air. Most camping trips go off without a hitch, but there are those rare moments where the unexpected happens and you find yourself in a scary situation. It’s been said time and time again that the right tools can be the difference between life and death. Knives are one of the most useful tools in any survival situation. Whether you find yourself in sticky situations or you just like to have peace of mind while you adventure, the right survival knife can make all the difference. In this How To we break down a few things to look at when you choose a knife to take with you out in the wilderness. Let’s get to it!

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Survival Knives - Purpose


Like any knife purchase you need to decide (1.) how you plan to use a knife and (2.) what your knife preferences are. From there you should be able to choose the knife that will best suit your needs. In a wilderness survival scenario, a knife that you’re most comfortable with will keep you safe and help you accomplish your goals. Some knives are better for building fires and processing small game while others are more apt for trailblazing and bushcrafting. Something to note: In most survival situations a fixed blade knife will be more reliable than a folding knife. How you plan to use your knife is the most important part of choosing a survival knife.

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Survival Knives - Materials


Steel Choice

The second piece to the survival knife puzzle is understanding what materials you need for the work you’re doing. While batoning wood for a campfire requires a durable blade with steel that will withstand hard hits, a task like carving a makeshift fishing pole or cutting paracord may need a knife with steel that holds an edge much better than softer steels do. In either case blade steel should be easy to maintain and able to withstand varying atmospheric conditions.

Whether the knife is used for camp chores or self-defense, the right blade steel can make all the difference. Check out our blade steel guide for a comparison of all the best blade steels. A general rule for survival knives is that they should be strong but forgiving meaning they can be used hard, but easy to maintain.

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Handle Material

Not all handles are created equal. Some are certainly more comfortable, better in certain conditions, and more suited for wilderness survival than others. Choosing the right handle material is equally as important as the blade steel you choose. You want your knife to have a handle material that works best for the conditions the knife will be exposed to and durable enough for the work you plan to do. The handle should fit your hand well and provide you with optimal grip. Materials like rubber and polymer are great for wet conditions because they won’t swell or warp, but they could become more slippery. Alternatively, handle materials like micarta, G-10, leather or wood provide excellent grip, but don’t handle wet conditions well. The trick is finding the right material for the conditions you live in.

Blade Shape & Edge

Survival Knives - Blade Shape Edge


A knife is only as good as the shape of its blade and the profile of its edge. In a survival situation your knife is likely to see a variety of tasks ranging from building a shelter to prepping food. A great all-around survival knife will have a blade designed for anything you might encounter. Need to process firewood? Done. Need to skin a small animal? Easy. While some survival knives are big and burly, they can be incredibly capable for little tasks. The trick is choosing a blade with a grind and thickness that can handle the jobs you anticipate doing. To learn more about knife grinds and blade shapes, check out our other guides in Learn Knives.

Size & Weight

Survival Knives - Size Weight


Few things can be as tiring as carrying a heavy pack for several days and ending up in a less-than-ideal situation. The weight of each item you carry can dramatically impact your morale and energy along your journey. When choosing a survival knife it’s important to find one that works well for the situations you might be presented with, but also what you’re capable of moving and using. The size of a knife drastically influences what you can do with it while the weight can both affect performance and carry-ability. Whichever way you choose to slice it, it’s important to choose a knife that will balance your needs both in terms of workload and energy expense.

Carry Options

Survival Knives - Carry Options


The way a survival knife can be carried falls along the same lines as size and weight. It’s important to establish how you like to carry your knife and where you plan to keep it on your person or in your pack. A neck knife might be a great way to provide an extra level of protection when you venture into the wilderness because it is lightweight and easy to access when you need it most, but neck knives are also quite small and won’t do well in situations where you need to make a shelter or build a fire. In other, more common situations, a hip sheath or pack-carry setup is more ideal. Most bigger knives come standard with a leather or polymer sheath with multiple ways to mount and carry it, and many of these sheath options also give users the ability to mount a fire steel or other tools they may need.

Final Thoughts

Survival Knives - Final Thoughts


Being prepared for whatever life has to throw at you can be daunting. No one wants to be put in a situation where they have to put an emergency plan into action, and more importantly no one wants to be put in a situation where they aren’t equipped with the proper tools for such instances. Choosing a survival knife is a big deal. The knife you choose can make or break your survival situation and, in some cases, can be the difference between life and death. If you’re someone who prepares for everything, you probably have a great knife in your bugout bag. If not, we have a great selection of wilderness survival knives to choose from and we hope this article finds you well and provides the right information to inform your next purchase. Thanks for reading!

Learn more

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Take a look at our Best Survival Knives to get more inspiration for choosing your next survival knife. Though it isn’t a comprehensive list of everything we have at Blade HQ it’s a great place to start your hunt. Check out our Ultimate Survival Knives video below to learn more about choosing the right survival knife for you!

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