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Survival Knives 101
by J. Foster
When one thinks of survival knives, images of Rambo come to mind. Lets look at those knives and see the pros and cons. I will be focusing on single edge fixed blade knives because of the safety and function factors that should be addressed in a survival situation.
Most of these Survival Knives are large, bowie style blades with hollow handles and saws on the spines. Movies like Rambo made them popular and mass production and a cheap price keep them popular. But trust me, there is a reason for the low price tag.
First lets look at the handle construction. Hollow handles, for the most part, are all fad and a huge "no no" in the survival world. Don't get me wrong, there are 1 or 2 custom makers that take the time and use the right materials to make these knives work well. I own a one piece fixed blade hollow handle knife from Chris Reeve Knives that I trust in the woods. There is no weak point in the blade to handle transition to fail. This is not so in cheap mass production knives. Most are held together with a single nut or rolled pin and they call it good. Trust me, they will fail. Just take one on a camping trip and try to build a shelter with one like I did. 10 chops and that was all she wrote. So for the most part, unless you have to have a hollow handle, lets stick to a full tang with a comfortable, secure handle. You wont be sorry. If you must have the hollow portion go for the Chris Reeve knives.
Next the blade. Once again double edge is a big danger in a survival situation. You can't afford the risk in the woods. A large blade can, and will, do everything a small blade can do plus more. Survival requires a lot of chopping, and large weight foreword blades with a thick spine cut your work in half. That's why machetes are a huge part of outdoor life in many tribes around the world. The saw back spine on early aviator knives were made for aircraft escape, and found there way onto all outdoor knives mainly for looks than for function. It has been my experience that they don't work that well on wood, and its easy to pack a nice saw in a small survival kit. So if you decide to stay with a small blade, you will have a saw to make up for it.
Blade steel is best left up to the person and situation. Air crew may want to stick with the stainless versions that require less maintenance. But on the other hand, they are harder to sharpen in the field. I like a blade with a high Carbon content. It takes more care and maintenance, but the trade off for a scalpel sharp edge that's easy to keep is worth it. In both cases it is best to learn to sharpen your blades and keep a sharpener with it at all times. Do some homework and decide for yourself what would be best for you.
As with any tool, you get what you pay for. By no means do you have to pay hundreds of dollars for a good knife, but a $5.00 Wally World blade won't last long under stress. Remember your life is on the line. That being said, lets look at the specs of a good survival knife.
A quality survival knife has to feature high quality construction with a reasonable price and time tested craftsmanship. Put that into a full tang knife with a comfortable secure handle, along with a good sized thick blade for chopping, with the right steel for you and round it out with a usable sharpener and you've got yourself a nice survival companion.
Now lets put it in a package. Leather sheaths have been around for a long time, and they work well. In many cases it is better to find a sheath the fits securely that is made of a strong webbing and lined with a thick plastic or better yet Kydex insert. This will help protect you and your knife for years to come. They usually hold up well in all conditions. Try to make sure is has a drain hole so no water or dirt stays on the blade.
As a final thought, when you decide on a survival knife, be sure and use it. I have seen too many sit in kits or on shelves and when the time comes for the survivor to use it, they don't know how. Get in touch with your blade until it becomes an extension of your arm. Safety is the key in all things survival. With a little preparation and practice, you will come to trust your blade and yourself in any situation.
Get out and survive.
About the Author
Jimmie Foster does not claim to be an expert. He is 30 with a wife and 3 kids with the 4th on the way. He has been a finish carpenter for 8 years and spends much of his off time in the woods doing the things most are afraid of. He spends much of his time fishing, camping, and just enjoying the outdoor life. He sees that every time he goes out into the woods, he uses at least 2 different skills he has learned, thus always keeps in practice. This is where he began his Survival Preparedness self training. One thing led to another, and now he is learning to make his own knives and build his own survival kits. He went through a lot of trial and error before he started to listen to others who have had even more experience than him. He states that "I'm no Rambo, but who could be, right?" Jimmie Foster lives in Arkansas.