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Buying the Right Survival Knife

When you’re trying to find the perfect survival knife, there’s no one-size-fits-all choice. Your ideal blade might be different than someone else’s, and it’s worth putting the time and effort into researching what will work best for you; that way, you’ll be completely comfortable with your choice when you need it.

Folding Survival Knives vs. Fixed Blade Survival Knives Whether you choose a folding survival knife or a fixed-blade survival knife will depend on a variety of factors, including what other tools you intend to carry with you.

Folding survival knives have their own unique set of benefits. Folding survival knives are generally:

• Easy to carry and can safely slip into a pocket or backpack
• Lighter than fixed-blade knives
• Smaller and less conspicuous than fixed-blade knives

On the other hand, they have drawbacks. With a folding survival knife, you might have a hard time performing big tasks, like chopping through saplings for shelter or making kindling.

Fixed-blade knives are usually:
• Larger and thicker than folding survival knives
• Stronger, especially when they feature full tang construction
• More intimidating in combat situations

The biggest concern most people have is strength. If you’re willing to trade a little bit of strength for convenience in carrying, a fixed-blade knife might be right for you. However, if you know you’ll be up against tough situations that require an unyielding blade, you may not mind toting around a larger, more durable knife.

Blade Materials: Do They Matter?

Blade materials do matter in most situations. Avid outdoorsmen who live in areas with high humidity usually find that a stainless steel blade is a necessity because rust is a very real danger. While stainless steel blades can rust if they’re used without being cleaned or coated with oil every now and then, they’re less likely to fall prey to oxidation than carbon steel blades are.

Stainless steel blades are often the right choice for use at sea, for food preparation or for frequent use in moist environments; carbon steel blades are better when you’re on a budget or live in an environment that doesn’t encourage rust.

Choosing the Right Blade Design, Length and Thickness As far as survival knives go, there are two styles of blade: straight and serrated. Straight blades are easy to sharpen; they can even be sharpened without special tools by using a smooth stone in a survival situation. Straight blades are designed for chopping and making clean cuts. Serrated blades require a special type of sharpener that you’re not likely to find in the wild, and they’re designed to saw through tough materials; they’re not as useful for chopping and hacking as straight-edged blades are.

A quality survival knife should be somewhere between 6 and 12 inches long. That’s because you need a blade substantial enough to get the job done, but one that’s portable enough to carry and use when you’re in a difficult situation. Many outdoorsmen are concerned about the “scare factor” of carrying an extra-large survival knife when they encounter others (or running into law enforcement personnel with a knife that pushes the legal limits).

In most cases, the thickness of a survival knife’s blade also matters. It needs to be thick enough to withstand abuse but thin enough that it’s not cumbersome. A quality survival knife should be in the ballpark of 0.25 inches thick, give or take.

Get a Grip: Finding the Right Type of Handle

If you don’t have a good grip on your survival knife, you won’t have a survival knife for very long. When you’re choosing which type of handle will work best for your needs, consider:

• How much traction it will provide. A good survival knife will let you grip it in temperature extremes, in dry conditions and in wet conditions.
• How the handle is shaped. If it’s awkwardly shaped, it won’t fit well into your hand; that can put you at a disadvantage when you’re in a survival situation.
• Whether it’s hollow or solid. A knife with a hollow handle doesn’t have full tang construction, which means that it’s not as strong as a survival knife should be. Remember that if you’re storing things in your hollow knife handle, they’ll be gone if you lose the knife.

A survival knife needs to fit snugly in your hand and have features that enhance, not detract from, the quality of the grip you’ll have on it.

Carrying with Sheaths, Lanyards and Clips

Most fixed-blade survival knives can only be stored or carried in sheaths. Sheaths are ideal for protecting your blade (and yourself), but you probably don’t want a knife that doesn’t come with a built-in lanyard hole. A lanyard hole allows you wind a fastener, such as paracord, through the hole and create an extra loss-prevention system while it’s fixed to your gear.

Some fixed-blade and folding survival knives come with ambidextrous clips that allow you to secure them easily. Clips can work with MOLLE gear as well as on pockets, traditional straps and belts.

Choosing the Perfect Survival Knife
Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to find the right survival knife for your needs. After that point, the hardest part becomes choosing between styles that reflect your