I show you how to choose the best combat knife and bushcraft knife. I show you the components of a great fixed blade knife in detail so you KNOW exactly what you want and how it should be made. By the end of this post, you should be able to look beyond the marketing and get what you need.
There are many survival knives on the market today. Military survival knives, tactical knives, and even those great knives with “SURVIVOR” Printed on them that look like Rambo himself designed it (and it has a chamber for more survival items in the handle to boot!) are all things that you can find.
The problem, just like every other consumer product, with choosing the perfect survival knife is the fact that most of us know that we “need” the item, but we don’t know what exactly we need. We are ignorant to the components of a knife, and the best design for those components. Because of our ignorance, we can get taken by every “cool” or “tactical” knife that comes out on the market.
What we need to look at on our knife is the blade, tang, pommel, handle, grind, and steel. There are a few “accessory” features on knives, but these are the most important basic components to consider.
The most valuable component in a survival knife is the blade:
You want a fixed blade knife. Pocket knives are great for convenient every-day carry, but you will not be able to rely on them in a survival scenario. Try opening a nice pocket knife and hit it on the handle. The handle with shatter and you are left with nothing but a blade. Hardly useful.
Your blade should be 4-6 inches long. Anything longer than this lacks mobility and is sub-par in a little more precision work. Anything shorter lacks some utility and functionality, such as hammering it for chopping saplings and such.
You want your knife blade to be fairly thick, but keep a nice edge. A thicker blade is harder to sharpen and a little more difficult to penetrate. A thinner blade lacks durability and may not hold its edge quite as much, but the grind also plays the big influence on the edge and sharpening. Too thin a blade will not provide you with the durability you desire. Go with a blade thickness of 5/32 – ¼”
The metal in a blade will be probably be one of three materials. High Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, and High Carbon/ Stainless Steel hybrid.
Carbon Steel Blades are harder and stronger, hold edge better, and take abuse like crazy.
Stainless Steel Blades have chromium added to reduce detrimental rust, and is better for marine use.
High Carbon Stainless Steel blades exhibit the best quality of both the carbon and stainless blades, but obviously not as well as either one.
If it holds edge better, chances are, it takes longer to sharpen.
Straight Edge is my preferred design, but it does come with drawbacks. It is best for battoning and is easier to sharpen, but it doesn’t saw well. I carry a designated saw and prefer chopping and hammering if I will be using my knife.
Saw Tooth Back Edge is good for providing higher friction to saw through things that are difficult for a straight edge. Just try sharpening, and you will see why I stay away. It also “looks cool” so cheap designs have this component and it does not function well.
Partially Serrated Edges provide both benefits and drawbacks of flat and serrated. The serration gets in the way in my opinion, however can provide a long lasting edge to cut with if your blade dulls or chips.
The best blade grind for your survival knife blade:
Full Flat: Blade tapers from spine to edge. Difficult to grind. Low edge durability and high in sharpness.
High Flat: Flat grind except doesn’t go all the way up to the spine. Secondary bevel at the edge of the knife. Scandinavian or convex are types of high flat.
Scandinavian / Sabre: Like flat except bevel starts at middle of the blade, not the spine. Lasting edge, but loss of some cutting ability. Extremely popular for bushcraft and survival knives.
Full Convex (axe grind): Curved taper to the spine, leaving lots of metal behind the edge. Strong, sharp edge. Hard to sharpen.
Hollow: usually on straight razors. Very straight, but weak edge. Common on skinning knives. Concave and beveled cutting edge.
Normal: Curved Edge and straight back. Easier cutting, best for thrusting, and good for chopping, picking and slicing.
Clip-Point: Normal profile with the back concavely formed to make thinner tip and sharper. Best suited for picking, notching, skinning, and cutting in small places.
Drop-Point: Convex curve of the back. Stronger point than clip-point and less suitable for piercing.
Kamazu Kissaki: Chisel-like, and strong. The point is a second edge at an angle of 60-80 degrees.
The best tang on a survival knife is a full tang:
The tang of a knife is the portion of the blade that extends down into the handle. It provides the handle with strength and durability. Here lies the biggest problem with the “Extra Super ULTRA-MEGA Survival Experty Knives” with the hollow chamber housing super small, yet convenient survival kits in it. They can only make room for these by using a partial tang. The kit is a gimmick and will ruin a knife.
You only want a full tang, which will travel the extent of the knife handle. If you bust your handle, which is less likely, you can easily fasten a make-shift handle out of paracord or sapling wood on the tang of the knife.
All of the different tang designs in survival knives:
Scaled Tang: Found on full tang designs. Handle is two separate pieces fastened on both sides of tang.
Encapsulated Tang: Found on full tang designs. The handle is molded around the tang and fastened in place.
Extended Tang: Found on full tang designs. The tang extends beyond the grip of the handle. The benefit of these is that the tang also doubles up as the hammer-pommel.
Stick and Rat Tail Tang: Found on full and partial tang designs. Where the blade and tang meet, there is a large reduction in the metal. The tang is narrower than the blade. Although this tang is lighter, it also has reduced strength. Now before you go blaspheming this tang design, you must know that the USMC Fighting Knife by Ka-Bar (with its renown strength and durability, and its cult following) is a knife of this design.
Hidden Tang: Found on full and partial tang designs. Usually a protrusion is designed on the sang to provide surface resistance against the handle coming off. Then the handle is fastened to the tang in a way that neither the tang nor the fastener are even visible.
Skeletonized Tang: Found on full and partial tang designs. Large sections of the tang are precisely cut away, reducing the amount of stock and reducing the weight of the tang while maintaining most of the material strength and support.
Tapered Tang: Found on full and partial tang designs. A gradual precise reduction in one or more dimensions along the length of the handle. This design also reduces the amount of material and weight without sacrificing too much strength horizontally or vertically.
Push Tang: Found on full and partial tang designs. The blade and tang is constructed and then inserted into a premade handle, and then fastened.
You want a pommel on the end of your survival knife:
If you can, chose a knife with a pommel for hammering.
What you want in a survival knife handle:
If this is something that you are going to be beating and banging and relying on, the handle just has to be comfortable and be of a slip-free design. So choose something that you feel is comfortable.
Synthetic handles, such as zytel, grivory, kraton, micarta, and G10, tend to be more resistant to chipping cracking and swelling, whereas natural wood, look great.
Bottom Line, most handle materials are good enough provided that you keep away from handles with gimmicks, such as survival kit stashes and compasses. The ergonomics are lacking, the durability is lacking, and you will lose the contents if you hit it or break the handle. I do however enjoy having a knife with a predrilled hole for a paracord lanyard.
Survival Knife Sheaths:
Many knife manufacturers pay less attention to the sheath of the knife, and any of them that are generic, probably are not paying attention to it at all. Combat sheaths are the best overall sheaths for survival situations.
Sheath Material and Components of a Good Survival Knife:
Zytel: Low in cost, doesn’t retain moisture, doesn’t become brittle, doesn’t rip
Kydex: Sturdy construction, becomes brittle in freezing temperatures, Fallkniven abandoned use of this material due to failures, Expensive
Nylon with hard insert: Flexible, inexpensive, versatile, but can rip on sharp edges.
Strap: Go with a high crossover strap that is used where the handle and sheath meet. Straps toward the bottom allow the knife to fall out.
Attachment: A well-thought-out sheath design will have a good belt loop, and will have holes or slits designed down both sides so you can attach it to backpack straps. They also have holes or attachment points on the bottom so you can attach it to your leg.
Go ahead and click the link if you would like to see a review of the Colt Tactical Fighter Knife that I have done.
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