How to Pick A Survival Knife for Beginners

By Ryan M.
So you're about to buy a survival knife? That's great! This is an important and significant purchase and you've come to the right spot for everything you need to know before purchasing one. We've done all the research for you and summed it up here. Soon you'll understand knives like never before!

Why do You Need a Survival Knife?
Hatchets and saws all cut larger firewood better than a survival knife, and a pocket knife can carve smaller pieces of wood just fine. So why do you need a survival knife? With a survival knife you can do both small and big jobs with just one tool that you can strap to your hip. The flexibility and mobility of a survival knife are what make it such a powerful tool. You could walk with a hatchet on your hip everywhere you go, or somehow try to cut firewood with a pocket knife (good luck,) but it's not nearly as efficient as carrying a survival knife. To get the best of both worlds you're looking for a heavy duty piece of full-tang high quality steel that will last and be reliable.

Which One is Best For Me?
Once you want a survival knife the natural question is which one is best for me? The better question is, what will your knife be put through? Here are some issues that you'll need to think about. For a summary on the main points I'll discuss, go to the infographic at the end of the blog!

Carbon vs Stainless
There are some very strong opinions about this debate. Basically, if you live somewhere humid or you expect to get salt water on your knife, you'll want stainless steel. It has a larger amount of chromium in it, which makes it rust resistant. If you want the blade to be easier to sharpen and for the edge to hold longer, then choose carbon. Just make sure you take proper care of a carbon blade, since it rusts easier. Anytime it gets moist make sure to clean and dry it. Both have been improved with modern technology so drastically that either option will work great for most people. If you're not sure what to decide, try a carbon blade. They are sharp and caring for a carbon blade is a rewarding experience.

Smaller (Like the Mora Heavy Duty) or Larger (Like the Ka-Bar Becker)
The Ka-Bar Becker is 10.5" long (overall length) and weighs 1 lb while the Mora Heavy Duty is 8.5" long and only weighs 5 oz. Whether you should go big or small depends on the jobs you need to do with it. If you're primarily going to be batoning wood, even though the Mora could handle it, the KA-Bar or LMF II would perform much better. However, you might want the sharp agility and affordability of the Mora. If you want something in between, the 9" long 5.4 oz Seal Pup is sharp and light, a great middle ground knife.

Which Type of Steel?
Modern "super steels" have risen in popularity lately but in reality they mainly serve marketing purposes. They claim to be sharper and harder, and they're right, but the difference is small. Almost more important than the type of steel is the way it's heat treated. A steal with a high hardness potential won't ever reach that potential if it's heat treated incorrectly. On the other hand, steal with a lower potential can be made to a very high quality if it's heat treated correctly. For example, many Buck knives uses 420 HC steal. It's a good steal but pretty basic. However, Buck Knives treats their steal so well that the 420 HC on a Buck knife out performs many other knives. However, it's hard to research how a company heat treats each knife. As long as you are buying from a trusted company, though, you will be just fine. If you do really want to be specific about steel type, then these are just a few, not all, of some proven, over-all high performing steels:

Find a Durable Handle
No matter what application you have for your knife, you'll want a full tang knife. Full tang means the metal that forms the blade extends throughout the length of the whole knife. A couple exceptions to this include Mora's knives and Gerber's LMF II Infantry. These knives quality of construction makes up for not having a full tang. Looking for full tang means that hollow handled knives are not durable enough to be a survival knife, either. The Cold Steel Bushman is one of the very (and I mean very) few exceptions to this rule. Because the whole knife is just one piece of metal, it is plenty strong to stand up to abuse. The hollow handle allows it to easily be made into a spear, which makes it worth it.

Comfortable Grip Goes a Long Way
If you need to cut for a long period of time then a handle's material becomes very important. Stay away from small handles, such as paracord wrapped handles. The larger the diameter of handle the more comfortable the knife is to use over long periods of time. Make sure the handle is grippy enough to use when wet. Some good materials for handles are listed here:
  • Micarta
  • Nylon
  • Kray-Ex
  • Wood
  • Phenolic
Watch Out for the Quality of Sheath
Make sure you are comfortable with the sheath your knife comes in before buying it. Companies often don't make really nice sheaths in order to save money. If the knife you want to buy doesn't come with a great sheath don't worry, you can always buy a custom one. A knife that does come with a fantastic sheath is the Gerber LMF II. When looking at sheaths you may want to consider:
  • Durability
  • The different ways you can carry it on you (horizontal, vertical, molle, etc)
  • How easy it is to take the knife out with one hand
  • How much noise it makes while walking
  • How secure it holds the knife
  • If it drains water or not
When it comes to sheath material here's a list of some good materials:
  • Kydex (the best and most expensive)
  • Leather
  • Secure-Ex (What Cold Steel uses for a lot of sheaths)
  • Nylon
Surprisingly, the plastic Mora sheaths are cheap but not bad quality. They include a drain hole, don't make noise, and hold the knife very securely. So, moral of the lesson, just because a sheath is made of plastic doesn't mean it's horrible. Look up reviews online to be sure.

Grind can Make a Difference
The grind is how the actual cutting edge of the steal is shaped. (see infographic at end of this article for pictures of each grind.) The most commonly used by manufacturers is a hollow grind because it is very sharp, but it is also less durable. Some more higher quality grinds are the flat grind and the scandi grind. These are the easiest to resharpen, keep a good edge, and are tougher than the hollow grind. As a side note, the scandi grind is a type of sabre grind. A sabre grind in general includes two bevels. The scandi simply removes one of them. If having to take a longer time sharpening your knife doesn't bother you, then you might want to look into the convex grind.  The convex grind is a beautiful blend of finesse and durability. It's downfall is that it's difficult to sharpen. These three, the convex, flat, and scandi, are all strong choices and versatile. The single bevel grind is a great grind if you're planning on chopping, but it's hard to do detail work and versatile.
A Few Last Things
As a few last words of advice. Generally you want to stay away from serrations. There are great serrated knives out there, but generally serrations make a knife less versatile. In the end it's your preference. Also, the shape of the knife blade can matter a lot if you need the knife for specific tasks.
  • The clip point or gut-hook is specifically designed for hunters because the sharp points are great for field-dressing game.
  • A drop point is one of the most versatile because the point is durable but still sharp.
  • A tanto edge works best for chopping, but not much else.
  • Trailing edge makes a great slicing knife, but is sometimes more just for show.
  • The spear point specializes in self-defense but doesn't make a good survival knife.
  • The sheepsfoot blade is mostly for food preparation or applications where you don't want to worry about a sharp point. 
There's all the information you could need to find a great survival knife! On your search, you may be on a budget or wish to save money. The next section is for you. You'd be amazed at how many high quality knives there are that won't break the bank!
Advantages of Affordable Knives
Maybe you're just getting into knives, or maybe you want a new knife just for fun but don't want to pay a lot. You'll find that the good qualities in knives that we just went over exist in many affordable knives. Not only that, but lower priced knives have some advantages of higher priced ones:
  • An easy way to get into knives: Beginners usually start with the less expensive knives until they know more of what they like. 
  • Stashing knives in various places: Affordable knives are for the veteran survivalists, too. The less expensive a knife is the more of them you can buy. Having knives stashed in several different places, like your car, nightstand, suitcase, cabin, bug out bag, etc, is a wise prepping practice. Stashing knives can easily cost over $1,000 if you're buying a Fallkniven A1. With a Mora Companion, it would cost only $90. 
  • Worry free: Another advantage of an affordable knife is you don't have to worry so much about it. If you scratch it, lose it, or somehow break it, it's not as big of a deal to replace it. 
  • The most bang for your buck: While the ESEE 6 is arguably better than all the knives in the following table, the difference is small enough (for most people) that you could save 50 bucks for a comparable knife. If you're a beginner or just wanting another knife, that's a much better deal. Here's a list of some good affordable knives if you're interested:
High Quality Knives Under $80

    Do some of your own research and let me know what other knives would be affordable but high quality options and please comment below!

    Last thing, before you go check out this great info-graphic on some basic information about knives!

    For an additional resource on choosing the right knife for you, check out The Reviews Insider's article Best Self-Defense Knives: Choose the Best Blade To Protect Yourself
    Previous article The Normalcy Bias in Today's World & How It's Proving DEADLY

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