How to Choose a Good Survival Knife (and never regret it)
A first-rate, high-quality survival knife is arguably the single most important tool a serious outdoorsman could have in his or her collection.
That being said, not all survival knives are the same. (Hopefully that’s not the most obvious statement of the century). In fact, in considering your options for a good, quality survival knife. It’s important of course to understand what actually distinguishes a survival knife from, well, other knives.
A survival knife is a non-folding, rigid, one-piece knife with a blade typically between 4 and 10 inches long. It’s difficult to label exactly what survival knives can (and should) do, because that’s their whole point: they’re made to be able to do just about anything.
They should be able to dig, splinter and chop wood, carve tools, skin game or clean fish, and just about anything else you might have to do out in the woods.
For these reasons, a folding knife – even the highest quality ones – are not generally recognized as survival knives.
There is plenty of competition out there amongst knife manufacturers, and plenty of excellent options to choose from. Personally, I have always been an advocate of Spyderco.
Spyderco has some of the best range of models and their design, durability, functionality and craftsmanship are second to none. Here are some of the major things to consider when choosing a good, high-quality survival knife.
Strength, durability, and rigidity
This is dependent on the knife’s tang – how far the blade extends below the handle. A good survival knife should have a ‘full tang’, where the tang goes all the way to the bottom of the handle.
One of the recent marketing gimmicks has been ‘hidden’ storage within the knife handle, to keep matches, fishing line, etc. Although this is a decent idea, it greatly reduces the durability and overall quality of the knife as it greatly reduces the tang. Not to mention, if you were to lose the knife, you also lose whatever you’ve got stored inside the handle.
There are dozens of different grades of steel out there, but a quality survival knife blade will generally either be stainless or carbon-steel. Stainless steel blades typically are less prone to rust and the effects of the elements, but they have a reputation for not holding as sharp an edge as a carbon-steel blade. On the other hand, carbon-steel blades will hold a razor edge for a long time, but are generally more prone to rust.
Blade length is another thing to consider. As I mentioned earlier, a survival knife typically has a blade between 4 and 10 inches long. I have always preferred the shorter end of this spectrum, and prefer to go with a 6-inch blade. A shorter blade will do most, if not all, of the same things a longer blade will, but naturally is easier to carry, transport, and handle.
Blade design is another consideration. Serrated blades have their obvious uses, and can be more effective in cutting or sawing through thick materials, but are much more difficult to sharpen and maintain than a straight-edge blade.
The thickness of the blade is also a major factor to consider. To really be able to do the things that a good survival knife should do, the blade should be no less than about .12” thick. Anything less and you run the risk of breaking it when you really put it to the test.
You’ve got to carry your knife, so a good quality sheath is must in minimizing damage and un-needed wear and tear. Not to mention, protecting yourself.
Taking this all into consideration, I’ll go over a few of my favorite Spyderco knife models and compare them based on all the different factors. It serves to realize, though, that differences in design don’t necessarily mean ‘better’ or ‘worse’. As I mentioned in the article on YETI versus Orca coolers, when you’re dealing with excellent, high-quality products like these, you really can’t go wrong, no matter what you end up choosing.
Spyderco Schempp Rock VG-10
This is a classic, and is probably my personal favorite. It’s got a 6.75-inch (.14” thick) straight-edge stainless steel blade. It’s a pretty bare-bones, no frills product, but it’s a reliable workhorse with a quality sheath, and will get everything done that a good survival knife should do.
Spyderco Bushcraft G-10
This is another great choice, and another pure classic. It’s a little more expensive and ‘luxurious’ (with its elegant handle and leather sheath) than the Schempp Rock, but it will do all of the same things with equal gusto. It’s got a smaller (4-inch) carbon-steel blade, but the same 0.14” blade thickness as the Schempp, giving it a bit more overall rigidity.
Spyderco Aqua Salt
This is an exceptionally durable knife made specifically to be able to withstand super harsh elements with minimal rust or corrosion. It’s actually marketed to be 100% rust-proof, so would be a great option for people who plan on being in marine environments. It has a 4.7” steel blade, in either a straight or serrated-edge option.
~ Mr. General