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Choosing your survival knife

Choosing a survival knife like choosing a car and choosing a .. well just about anything. It is based on so many factors that we will all have our favourites and all will be different. I’ll just be explaining why I chose mine and what the reasoning behind that was.

First of all. It’s for the UK. So I’m not looking at fighting my way through jungles or swamps and I’m in a generally damp but not humid environment. Most of the work will be chopping branches, cutting string, chipping wood branches, carving chips from larger pieces of wood, cutting up vegetables and meat as well as acting as a fork. In addition you need to be aware that certain knifes are illegal in our nanny state and this makes your choices more complex.

Basics first though. For a survival knife I want something that is solid. No hollow handles with little fishing kits in. A solid fixed blade, about 3 to 6 inches long. I want to be able to handle it, use it for cutting branches, a bit of scraping and digging in earth and in wood and I want to put a bit of weight on it to cut through things. I don’t want the blade or the handle not being able to survive a bit of work so solid blade and solid handle. Oops, that makes it illegal already. To be legal in the UK it needs to be a non locking folding blade but a folding blade could collapse under stress and may cause you serious injury. As we are looking for something for use in a survival situation that does not seem a good choice. So to keep the whiners happy we will go with the assumption that society has collapsed and the laws are no longer valid. So we are buying the knife to keep at home for that event.

As far as the steel goes there are many different steels in use. For a survival knife I want one that will hold its edge as long as it can without needing sharpened. In a survival situation I may not have a sharpener, although I would buy one with the knife anyway but things get lost. I’ll hold on to the knife for dear life and it will be on a lanyard but I could easily drop the sharpener or lose it whilst stalking something or climbing a fence. This requirement means I need really good quality steel and this unfortunately makes the knife more expensive but you get what you pay for. There are several different steels on the market in knives and all are made with different compositions of carbon. Stainless steel or carbon steel is what you need to look for. The harder the carbon the longer the blade holds its edge, the more brittle and expensive it is and the quicker it rusts. I would be looking at a 440A minimum if price was a major factor but preference towards BG-42 or S30V with 440C being a good compromise. (Why they don’t have an easy standard is beyond me) If however you are looking for a knife to use at sea you may be better going for a 440A. For much more details on steels read the steel FAQ.

The width of the blade will also make a difference, it needs to be thick enough to take a bit of pressure and not flex too much. It should not have too pronounced a point. Some good military style knives have points which I have seen break off whilst being used to lever something away. OK, not their purpose but I would steer clear of a thin point because of this.

The shape of the blade itself is important. I have knives with serrated edges, double sided and with nice curves but they end up being difficult to sharpen or get stuck in wood. Keep it nice and basic and it will give better service. I prefer a straight edge because I can put my thumb on it and give it a bit more pressure if I need to. You could even bash it with a bit of wood. We don’t need it to have a sharp blade both sides. We are not using it for knife fighting.

As if that isn’t enough you also have a choice regarding the way the blade is ground. There are several but for our use I would look at having a Convexed Grind, this is not common however and a Compound Grind is more commonly found on survival knives. Once you have chosen your steel and the blade shape you may not have much choice available though. It all comes down to compromise but I would not compromise less than the minimum specifications of fixed blade, solid construction and good steel.

Finally, I want a handle that I can get a good grip on, it needs to fit comfortably in the hand. I don’t want it to slip while I am putting weight on it or when it gets stuck in wood or on bone.

Now this is where the rambling starts. Most people will be thinking of a Ka-Bar US Army type knife. It is a known name and easily recognised. They are good knives that fit the profile well and there are several others from other suppliers in that same format such as Becker, Cold Steel, etc. You cannot really go wrong with those but they are in the more expensive bracket. There are also many others with slightly smaller blades from MeyerCo, CRKT, Spyderco and Gerber for example that will also do the job and many people swear by them.

Now just to confuse you further. This knife has really one purpose only in life. It is going to be a tool that you can use for survival, preparing a camp and cutting wood to make shelter. For everyday use, whittling wood, cutting boxes open, cutting string, plastic, rubber, gutting animals and skinning them, you want another tool. One you can control easier and is small enough to carry with you all day every day. Now if you needed to you could also use your survival knife but it wouldn’t be ideal.

I looked at an assisted opener so I could operate it one handed with a blade material of around 440A. I’m going to keep it sharpened as necessary and although I like tanto blades I stuck with a straight edge again. It must have a locking capability. Again, this means it is not UK legal. (what is nowadays?) I think that fixed blades are better but I settled for a folder here to fit in the survival kit. I alway feel that a knife has to be comfortable in the hand, be able to used with precision and be razor sharp. I chose a Blackie Collins because it fitted perfectly into my hand and I could easily open it one handed and it is razor sharp. Again, I didn’t go for serrated or with a gut hook but just a straight blade, easy to sharpen and keep clean. There are many similar ones out there are prices range from £12 to £70 with some good ones available in the £25 to £35 range. Just make sure it fits in your hand. A good knife will feel right for you. Here is a cheap but nice example of the type of knife I am suggesting.

Just remember though that these knives are just tools, not life long companions so make the most of it while it works and then replace it. It is better to buy two good quality knives rather than one very expensive one or 10 cheap ones. You never know what will happen, it may get lost or broken.

This leaves us with a significant number of knives of varying prices. The only problem we have is finding a supplier that sells a wide variety so you can have a decent range to choose from and the best I can find is Knife Bargains and they don’t have many of the Ka-Bar type knives (Typical). I’ve gone to a few fairs and shops as well, I like to visit these shops on my travels, and I’ve made my purchases from there. My favourite knife is actually a Blackie Collins folder which clips to my belt when needed. I always carry a Swiss Army knife which is attached to my keyrings and my real survival knife, a Cold Steel SRT, is with my survival bag in the boot of my car at home by the door. It is the right size and weight for cutting branches, it is sharp enough to cut through everything I will need to cut through in the woods and its solid enough to survive anything. I also have a Blackie Collins folder in there as well.

I’d would have liked to recommend a few suppliers to you that I have tried and are happy with to give you some options when you look but it is so difficult nowadays to find someone who will deal in what appears to have turned into contraband even the guy I used to deal with on eBay has been driven away by their nanny policies and has stopped selling. I bought all of my knives before the hysteria took hold and now just look around on my travels for interesting blades. In saying that you can still buy the knives you need you just need to now what you want and search around. Expect to pay £20 to £40 for a cheap one. £40 to £60 for a good one and £60 plus for an exceptional one. Many brands have their entire range over £100. I would aim for a £50 plus one minimum but a £20 one is better than nothing. In fact I have several £20 knives as well as some a lot more expensive. A cheap and solid one being a Muela Mirage I bought a while ago.

My opinion is that you buy a good quality knife such as the Cold Steel SRT and then buy two of the CRKT type locking folders or two small CRKT type fixed blades that suit your hands as soon as possible. Total price will be less than £160. These need to go in your bug out bag in the car, bike or in your backpack with your small survival kit which should be your next purchase. (More on in another post). Then when funds suit buy a few more of each for your tool set.

2 comments to Choosing your survival knife

  • Skvez

    My understanding of UK knife law (and again it’s something that’s slightly different depending on whether you are in England/Wales/Scotland or Northern Ireland) is that all flick knives or knives where the blade comes out with the use of a single-hand (such as ‘butterfly knives’) are illegal.
    Locking knives, knives with a fixed blade or knives with a folding blade longer than 3” are illegal to carry in a public place *without a good reason*. And this is where you get into a grey area. If you’re going camping you arguably have a good reason but if you pop into the supermarket on your way camping you don’t. And remember despite what you might think the boot of your car is a public place.
    Generally the police are more likely to be upset if the knife is easy for you to get to in a situation where you might be able to use it in a fight. If it’s on your belt or on the passenger seat of the car that’s bad. If it’s in a box in the bottom of a bag in the boot of the car that’s *less likely* to bother them.
    If the police office is in a good mood and not stressed s/he is likely not to bother a middle aged person being polite about a knife tucked safely away in some camping gear but if they are upset with you for some reason or stressed they may just decide to be awkward.
    Your lawyer may well get you off but you may well spend a few hours in the station and never see the knife again.
    Of course everyone eating steak in a restaurant is breaking the knife law.
    And don’t forget an offensive weapon is any item that’s being wielded in an offensive way, anything at all; from a pen to a lollipop.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    Thats about right. These laws that talk ‘reasonable’ make sense to politicians because it means by changing the meaning of reasonable in that case only they can change the laws in their favour.

    The country is not lawless enough to require you to be armed but it is so lawless that they need armed plod to look after them. Hypocrites.

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