Survival experts will tell that a quality fixed bladed knife is the most valuable tool you can carry. They are called survival knives for a reason.
There are literally hundreds of styles to choose from but not all knives are made equally. Knives can range from the very costly to moderately priced to very inexpensive. Price is not always an indication of durability and usefulness. There are several things to look at before deciding on a survival knife. Remember your survival knife is a tool, and it is to be used. You may need it to chop small branches or split larger pieces of wood. The blade quality should be such that the back of the blade can be struck with a solid piece of wood to drive the blade through wood. After that, you may need to skin and animal, or cut some thread for gear repair. The list of uses is endless.
Qualities to Look For
Full tang refers to a knife that is all one piece this means the handle and blade is made from the same piece of metal and the tang would extend the length of any attached handle. For strength and durability, the tang should extend the length of the handle so there are not any weak points.
Some knives without a full tang may only be attached to the handles with soft rivets or even epoxy glue; in this case, you essentially have a two-piece knife that is simply not durable enough to be called a survival knife.
This knife is what many refer to as a “Rambo knife”. The knife is called a survival knife but the handle is hollow and the manufacturer states you can put matches, fish line, hooks and so on in the handle. It also has a compass that closes off the storage compartment. A hollow handle means it is not a full tang knife. The blade is only an inch or two into the handle and likely glued to the handle because you cannot detect any rivets. The knife would be ideal for displaying and simply looking at but would not hold up under the rigors of camp life.
KA-BAR™ knives are noted for their leather handles and were a standard military issue for many years. The only downfall to leather handles is that over time they can dry out and shrink. However, a quality knife such as a KA-BAR would hold up for many years and could conceivably last a lifetime if taken care of properly. Imitators may use leather handles that will not wear near as well and may crack and fall off the handle. Wooden handles can also dry out and even split apart over time unless properly treated. You want a handle that can take a beating just like the blade can and one that is impervious water and even saltwater. Molded high impact hard rubber or polymer handles are ideal for survival knives. The handles will not chip, dry out and crack and the grip is solid even when
Some like to wrap their knife handles in paracord or purchase a knife with it done for them. Wrapped handles are adequate and it simply comes down to personal preference, The knife will weigh less than one with a traditional handle so it may take more effort to chop with it but many have more than one knife and may use this type for smaller jobs. Note the Ferro rod and there is a compartment on the sheath for storing the rod. The picture on the right is of a handle that is riveted to the tang using brass rivets.
The handle is solid and shatterproof made of polymer. The rivets indicate that the handle is not molded around the tang.
Typical choices are stainless steel and carbon steel. Once again, it comes down to personal preference. Stainless steel will not rust or corrode and saltwater has no effect on the metal. Most however believe the edge does not hold up as well but once dulled it is relatively easy to put an edge back on even using stones found in the field.
Carbon blades will rust over time, but hold an edge much longer and they make ideal skinning knives because of this. They are harder to sharpen once dulled and may require several type stones to maintain its edge.
Blade Thickness and Length
Between six and 12 inches is a good blade length. More than 12 inches then you are getting into machete lengths and knives that large are not ideal for smaller applications. Blade thickness as measured from the backside should be between 3/16 and ¼ thick. This means the blade will hold up if you have to pry with it or strike the backside to chop wood. Hold the knife by the tip and the end of the handle and try to flex the blade. If the blade has give to it that means it is to thin for its length.
Leather indicates a quality sheath but leather needs care and does not always hold up well in wet conditions. A heavy nylon sheath with snaps or Velcro straps to secure the knife will hold up well to wear and tear and will not rot, shrink or harden when it gets wet and dries out.