What Makes a Good Survival Knife?

Survival knives are equipment intended to be used to survive in the great outdoors, such as in the wilderness, at camp, or maybe during a hike. It is usually used in cases of emergency when most of the other survival equipment has been lost or used up. These knives are used for hunting, skinning animals, woodwork (cutting and crafting wood), and for outdoor activities such as climbing rocks.

From the list of uses of these knives, the users are, therefore, hunters, scouts, the military, hikers, and outdoor sportspeople. The features of survival knives vary to fit their specific purposes. For instance, a hunting knife will not perform effectively if used for hiking. Some knives have heavy blades, and sturdy handles, whereas others are relatively light with foldable handles.

In this article, we will explore the qualities that make a proper survival knife with a particular interest of three different groups of users: preppers, bush crafters cand outdoorsmen.

The Origin of Survival Knives

Originally, knives were all thin-bladed and hunters, outdoorsmen, and butchers used the same type of knives. The blades were thin, and their handles comparatively frail. Specialization of knives, per their purposes, had not been explored yet. This was in the 19th Century. In the late 1800s, serrated knives made an appearance. They would be mostly used to saw wood and scale fish.

As the Century came to a close, hunting knives were introduced; they had more massive blades and pommels. In the 1930s, the modern concept of survival knives was introduced, which was incorporated into the military, outdoor activities, and exploration. From then onwards, alterations have been incorporated into these knives to make them even better suited for their purposes.

Features of A Good Survival Knife

A good survival knife should be able to withstand the task it’s built for without wearing off or snapping at the slightest pressure. The blade and grip of a survival knife should be made by the measurements and materials that befit the user and the job. The following are the features that a good knife should possess:


The Thickness of The Blade


The thickness of the blade is an essential factor to consider when choosing a knife with which to survive in the wild. A knife should be either thick or thin enough to endure the task and perform it effectively. According to experts, the blade of a proper survival knife should have a thickness of between 4.76 millimeters and 6.35 millimeters.


The Length of the Blade


For a knife to perform optimally, the length of the blade should be neither too short nor too long. The recommended length is not less than 4.5 inches and not longer than 6 inches. A length too short will rob the knife of its versatility. On the other hand, a blade that is longer than 6 inches will be bothersome, making it difficult to perform tasks.


The Knife should be Full-Tang


The tang is that part in a knife’s handle where the scales are attached in the handle. A full-tang knife is that which a single piece of steel has been used for the blade and the tang. A full-tang knife is not prone to cracking and is not likely to break at the joint where the module meets the handle.


Materials used to Make the Scale


The handles of a survival knife should be made of materials that enable the hand to hold the grip firmly, as this allows for the optimal use of the knife. Materials that are commonly used in scale handles are rubber, wood, bone, and micarta. On survival knives, however, micarta is most preferred because it is made up of linen cloth fibers and polymer. It is durable and provides a good grip.


Materials used on The Blade


The blade of a proper survival knife should be able to hold its own in the wilderness in terms of durability. It should also be easy to sharpen, which is essential for people who spend long periods in the wilderness, such as the bush-crafters. Experts recommend High Carbon Steel as the preferred material to use in making blades for standard knives. For survival knives, however, D2 and 1095 blades are the best. For occasional outdoorsmen such as campers, stainless steel is the most likely option.


Type of Blade Grind


A survival knife should have a blade grind that is readily sharpen-able. Most knives, more so those that belong to people that go for long periods in the outdoors, are made of either the Scandinavian grind or the flat grind. The Scandinavian grind is more popularly used. These two types of blade grinds are the easiest to sharpen.


Type of Edge


Edges could either be smooth or serrated. The type of edges someone chooses will depend on the purpose of the knife and how many knives one intends to carry. A serrated knife is capable of carrying out a myriad of uses; it is more versatile than the smooth-edged knives. If one wants to take just one knife in their venture, then the serrated knife is the better option. If not, then the smooth-edged knife is just fine.


The Blade Spine Should Have a Right-angled Edge.


A spine that is ground to a right-angled edge has the highest utility in the field. An outdoorsman could use this spine to scrape barks from trees. Also, this knife with a right-angled spine can be used to light a fire by striking a Ferro rod or striking flint. Therefore, a survival knife with a right-angled spine is the most preferable in the outdoors.

From the above features, it can be said that an optimal survival knife has these qualities; a blade that is between 4.76 millimeters and 6. 35 millimeters in width, a blade length of between 4.5 and 6 inches, a full-tang knife, a handle scale made out of micarta, blades made of D2 or 1095 materials, a Scandinavian blade grind, a serrated edge, and a right-angled spine.

What Qualities of Survival Knives are Specific to the Different Groups of Users

As mentioned before, the specifics of a knife are dependent on the knife’s purpose and the preference of the users. We will look into three groups of users of survival knives: bush crafters, outdoorsmen, and preppers and what features are the best fit for their knives.

Bush Crafters

Bush crafting is a way of life that involves going out into the wild to become one with nature. Bush crafters go to the bushes armed with the bare minimum because carrying a lot of survival gear would go against the philosophy of bush-crafting. A survival knife is, therefore, an essential item for a bush-crafter. It is small and can perform different jobs.

Activities that Bush-crafters Engage In

In the wild, bush-crafters engage in woodwork where they make traps and items such as wooden cutlery and shelter. They find their food through hunting and light fires to cook them. Also, these outdoor enthusiasts carry out various survival tasks that require knives to carry out.

Optimal Features of a Bush-crafter’s Survival Knife

In the event that a bush-crafter has carried just one knife, it has to have optimal features that would enable the crafter to use it in as many different ways as possible. The knife should have a Scandinavian Grind, which is solid enough to cut through wood and the skin of prey and is relatively easier to sharpen. The handle should be curved, ergonomic, and preferably made of micarta for a firm grip. A knife that is used to split wood should be full-tang and with high-quality blade material, that is, D2 and 1095 blades. Since lighting of fire is involved, a right-angled spine is highly recommended. Examples of knives that are best suited for bush-crafters are the Mora Garberg Carbon and the Enzo Trapper 95.


Outdoorsmen are people that spend a lot of time in the great outdoors carrying out outdoor activities. These outdoor activities include camping, fishing, and hunting. Outdoorsmen associate themselves with nature and obey the rules of nature. They camp not for leisure per se- but to experience nature in its purest form. They use practical knowledge about nature to apply in their skills and activities. The difference between a casual hunter and an outdoorsman doing hunting is that the former will probably hunt from a truck. Outdoorsmen, therefore, have a great need for survival knives.

Activities Carried Out by Outdoorsmen

Any sort of outdoors could be a destination point for outdoorsmen, and as such, activities they engage in could range anywhere from a few to infinity. The common ones include craftsmanship, hunting, building fires, and fishing, chopping things, and sawing through branches. An outdoorsman would require a highly versatile knife.

Optimal Features of Outdoorsmen’s’ Survival Knives

The Edge of the knife should be serrated to increase its utility for the many different uses. A serrated knife can saw through branches and, at the same time, craft wood. A sturdy handle, preferably made of micarta, enables the required firm grip on the knife. A robust thick blade of 1095 will ensure durability. Examples of survival knives befitting outdoorsmen include the SEAL Revolver, the Tom Brown Tracker, and the KA-BAR.


A prepper is a person that foresees the occurrence of a catastrophe in the future and takes precautions in preparation for it. The precautions could be in the form of assembling weapons, stocking food, or building hideouts. Among the weapons are the survival knives. Since the nature of the catastrophe is not often known, the knives do not have hard-defined features like those of bush crafters and outdoorsmen.

Survival Knives of the Preppers

Preppers’ knives are relatively simple and straightforward- they are standard knives. You will most likely catch a prepper with a foldable knife that can easily fit in their pants pocket. The foldable knives are portable enough for one to carry around without calling for attention. Also, they are within reach in case the catastrophe occurs. The blade of a standard prepper knife is made of stainless steel, the edges are smooth, the handle is made of standard wood, and it does not necessarily have to be a full-tang knife. Prepper knives include the Fiddleback Forge Duke and the Bowie.

The Best Survival Knives, 2020

Some knives are better for bush- crafters than they are for outdoorsmen. Other knives do better for preppers than they do for bush- crafters. Then there are knives that are suitable for all the groups because of their all-round features. The KA-BAR is one of the best all-round survival knives. Others include the Gerber Blade Pro, the Schrade SCHF37M, the CRKT Homefront, the Gerber Gator, the Becker Combat Utility and the ESEE. The features on these knives are such that the knives can be depended on to survive most, if not all wilderness emergencies. Let us take the Gerber Blade Pro for instance; this knife is as suitable for a bush- crafter as it is for a prepper and outdoorsman.


The answer to what makes a proper survival knife lies on the user and the purpose of the knife. As such, a prepper’s good knife is not the same as a bush- crafter’s good knife. Before choosing a knife, a person must consider the qualities of the knife following what they intend to use it for. Extensive research is necessary lest one purchases a knife that cannot perform optimally. Knives are always being upgraded and its therefore necessary for knife enthusiasts to be on their toes with the current trend.