How to Choose the Best Survival Knife for Your Needs 1We hear all the time about how a survival knife is a must have for any survivalist or prepper, but how do you choose the best survival knife for your needs? The best survival knife does not necessarily mean the most expensive, the best knife is one that fits your budget and needs.

You are going to see a lot of sites and read a lot of articles that focus on getting you to buy a knife that everyone else likes. You are going to be the one buying and using the knife, so instead of buying a knife because Dave Canterbury uses it, buy one because you know what knife you want and need.


Picking the best survival knife whether it is fixed blade or folding blade is like picking the best gun, everyone is going to have their own personal preference and what works for them might not work as well for you.

If you are more educated about the purchase you make, you are less likely to end up with something that just sits in your garage, or even worse, fails when you need it most. There are plenty of knock offs and even though two knives might look the same, they are not.

Just remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. On the flip side of the coin, just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s a good knife.

If you have no idea what survival knife you might need, follow the steps in this article and buy a low cost survival knife that looks like the expensive one you like and test it out. Don’t expect these to be all that durable though, you are testing the weight, balance, grip and overall feel of it when you are performing certain tasks like chopping, slicing, batoning or whittling etc…

After you have given the knife a good test drive you will have a better idea about what you want, and you can use the knife as a backup or even a hand me down.

If this is a self-defense knife that hopefully never gets used you might be able to get away with a low cost sturdy knife with lower quality steel, that doesn’t need to hold its edge as well as the more expensive brands.

Anatomy of a Knife

Anatomy of a Survival Knife 1Before we can choose a good survival knife we need to know the anatomy of a knife. A knife is more than just a blade and a handle, each knife has little differences that make more suitable for certain jobs.

I will list a few of the parts of a knife that we hear all the time, but this article goes into much more detail about different knives.

The Tang: When it comes to a good survival knife a full tang is a must. A full tang runs the entire length of the handle and is sandwiched between the 2 peices of the handle, while a half tang (hidden or partial) does not. A partial or hidden tang runs the full length of the knife, but is not the full width of the handle.

A full tang will be much more durable even with a lower quality knife, and if the knife handle comes off or gets ruined the knife can still be used, whereas a partial or hidden tang knife will be unusable or very dangerous to use.

Blade Style: There are a few different styles of knife blade to choose from, you have the drop point, the tonto blade, the spear point and a clip point. Watch this video to get an idea about what the benefits of each style are.

Blade Style Infographic

Blade Types

Source: Smoking Barrel USA – Knives

Handle Material: There are quite a few materials that are used for the handle of the knife, the most popular are Micarta, rubber, bone and antler. I prefer Micarta because it is lightweight and strong, but the blade is far more important than the handle.

Thumb Rise: A thumb rise is basically what it sounds like, it is located between the spine and the handle of the knife and gives you a more stable grip on the knife. These can also sometimes be part of the handle.

Spine: The spine of the knife is the unsharpened edge of the blade, or top of the blade. These can sometimes be rounded or sharpened, but I prefer a flat spine because it is better for batoning and striking flint to get a spark.

Bolster: This is sometimes referred to as a guard and can be part of the blade of an added thick piece of metal between the handle and blade.

Ricasso: This is the transition area between the blade and the handle. Not all knives have a Ricasso, but most do.

Pommel: Sometimes referred to as the butt of the knife the pommel is the end of a knife on the handle end. Some pommels are smaller, and some are larger and can be used for hammering or pounding.

Choil: A choil is a cut-out out of the blade (on the edge side) were the tang starts right in front of the handle. These are usually made to fit a finger when you are choking up on the blade but not always.

A choil that is made to fit your pointer finger is used for finer woodworking tasks and is not a make or break part of a knife, but it is one of those things that you don’t notice how much you use it until it’s gone.

Quillon: a quillon is part of the handle that keeps your hand from sliding onto the blade. On some knives there are front quillons and rear quillons, stopping the hand from going into the blade or off the heel of the handle.

Picking the Right Survival Knife

Now let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this article, choosing the survival knife that fits your needs. Think about the tools and supplies you have with you when deciding on the best survival knife.

If you plan on having an axe or hatchet with you then you might not need a large knife, you might need something for smaller tasks and lighter in weight, or a tonto blade might be ideal for slicing tasks because of its design.

Folding vs fixed blade: A folding knife would not be considered a “survival knife” in the typical sense of the word, a folding knife has a joint, and a joint is a point of weakness. The more stress you put on that joint, the more likely the knife is to fail.

Folding knives do have their place though, but they are in addition to a fixed blade knife, not instead of. Folding knives are also great for smaller tasks like feathering wood, and everyone should have one as an EDC item.

Steel Quality: This could very well be the most important part of a good survival knife, and it is what separates the $50 knife from the $200 knife. That’s not to say you can’t find a good quality knife for under $100, but just about every high quality knife will be made from Carbon Steel.

There are too many types of steel used in knife making to mention them all here, but this article is a good guide to all the different types of steel used and their quality characteristics.

Most knives you come across will be made from 1095 carbon steel or 440 stainless. Both have their pluses and minuses but carbon steel is almost always better because it holds an edge better, and sharpens much easier than low quality stainless steel.

Stainless steel will be easier to maintain because it will not rust, but the quality of the stainless steel will determine the quality of the knife. You will find that most knives are made from 440 stainless steel, but don’t be fooled, 440 comes in 3 different grades, 440A, 440B and 440C. 440A is the lowest grade (the cheapest.)

If a knife maker doesn’t state 440 A,B or C always assume it’s A, because if someone uses 440C (the best) they are probably going to want to tell you.

Knife Quality: When you purchase a knife don’t assume that because it’s a Gerber or an SOG that it is a good knife, all knife makers have cheap knives and good knives. Use the information in this article and do your research and you will be able to see the differences fairly easily.

Serrated vs full blade: This is all a matter of personal preference, some people like a partially serrated knife, some people like a top serrated knife and some people prefer a full cutting blade. Again, this all depends on how and what you plan on using the knife for.

Blade Length: Yet again this all depends on your needs. I prefer to have a blade that is no longer than 6 inches but no less than 4 because I want it to be big enough to complete large tasks like batoning, but small enough to feather wood to start a fire.

Knife Tasks: All of this is great right, but what tasks can you expect to be using your knife for in a survival situation? The short answer is more than you think, here are a few examples…

  • Digging
  • Weapon
  • First Aid
  • Slicing
  • Chopping
  • Hammering
  • Tool Making
  • Fire Making
  • Shelter Making

Knowledge is Key

In this article from Creek Stewart he states the following about the most important part of a survival knife:

“A survival knife is not a magic wand nor does it have inherent magical saving powers. The true value is in the skill of the one who wields it. Skill only comes from practice and repetition.”

The best and most expensive survival knife in the world is only as good as the hand that it is in. If you are just learning to drive you don’t need a Ferrari, and if you are just learning how to build a survival shelter there is no reason to break the bank on the latest and greatest survival knife until the need arises.

In my opinion the only thing more important in a survival situation than a knife is the knowledge in your head. You can literally make anything you might need in a survival situation with a knife…but only if you know how.

What survival knife do you like the best? Leave a comment below and let us know why?


Survival and being prepared should not only be a passion, it should be a lifestyle. The definition of a prepper is "An individual or group that prepares or makes preparations in advance of, or prior to, any change in normal circumstances, without substantial resources from outside sources" Like the Government, police etc. I don't believe that the end of the world will be the "end of the world" I believe it will be the end of the world as we know it now. You can also find me on Google Plus and Twitter

    11 replies to "How to Choose the Best Survival Knife for Your Needs"

    • Kim

      Condor makes some really great high-carbon steel knives for well under $100.00. The Bushlore is less than $40.00, and is a great knife!

      Mora makes some really great knives, too, and the carbon-steel companion is a good value at well under $20.00 (about $14.00 or so).

    • Pomp

      Good info and all true. Knowledge is the most important tool you have and it weighs nothing.
      One point on stainless steel, a magnet will stick to the 440a and 440b but it will not stick to a 440c. it has more nickle then steel. a good way to check them is with a small magnet.
      I think most people do not see the difference between a good hunting knife and a good survival knife.
      The survival knife must have a Smith sharpening tool and a flint or something similar attached to the sheath and not laying in the bottom of a bag some place.

      a good off the shelf survival knife is the Gerber, Bear grills. they sell two, one for around $60 and the GOOD one a little over $100. they both have a sharpener and a flint on the sheath.

    • Mike T.

      I prefer to have an assortment of knives at my disposal, one isn’t enough. As the article states, I carry a folder to compliment my belt knife, I use one of several custom-made. I also like my CRKT Bear claw and I carry a small home made belt knife made from an old straight razor with a boxwood handle. It’s very light and will cut damn near anything.

    • Jon

      You mentioned a knife brand I’ve not heard of before. “S.E. Knives”…? Is that right? I Googled it and could not find it. Can you please clarify?


    • Johnny

      ESSE Knives are kind of expensive, not as expensive as some of the inferrior knives out there. Keep in mind that ESSE is a little higher but they do have a no questions asked 100% replacement policy which in my book is pretty nice.

    • T Jorgenson

      I really like my Gerber Bear Grylls paracord knife. It’s very comfortable to hold and easy to manipulate. It’s also nice to have the extra 6′ of paracord for whatever situation arises (I re-wrapped mine to change the color and get more length).
      This knife holds an edge well, does well for smaller batoning, and can quickly and easily be lashed to a stick for a makeshift spear, if the need should arise.
      I like the sheath that’s included and the knife will never fall out of it.
      In addition, it’s under $30.

    • Bill G

      I have:

      cold steel master hunter….bob dozier custom….morakniv craftline high q robust.

      for $20 its hard to beat the morakniv. never heard of them? every camper in europe has some kind of morakniv on them

      on Amazon $18. 600 reviews…ALL 5 stars

    • Steve

      Morakniv now makes a dedicated Survival/Bushcraft knife. you can get them from $40-$90 depending on sheath design. These have Black coated 1095 High Carbon steel blades. they are 3/4 tang, but they can, and do hang in with the big name knives. (ESEE, Onterio, Fallkniven, and others) I have this as a secondary survival knife to an old Gerber BMF with the saw top blade, but i find that I use the Mora MUCH more than the BMF due to size. I always have at least 4 folders with me at all times. each with different steel and or blade design, in case I get stuck away from my BOB. My favorite folders are my Benchmade Emerson CQC7, and my Kershaw Tanto Blur. I have, and have had lots of different knives, and as the article said, the best survival knife is the one you feel most comfortable with, have the most skill with, and most important, the one you have with you when you need it!
      Stay safe!

    • James Dupree

      This is a great article and one I wish I had when I was younger. I will share this with my son. I prefer a folding knife though I do have both. I prefer my Zero Tolerance folding knife that I got online at They have a pretty good selection of different brands.

    • David

      Very informative post, Dale. I loved especially how your explained about survival knives. Survival Knife is the most used thing while making shelters, making fire, digging, to rescue someone and many other works.

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