What is a survival knife?
Technically speaking, any knife can be a survival knife. Whether it is a mini swiss army knife or a heavy-duty military dagger, as long as it helps to survive, it is a survival knife.
However, there are specific features which make good survival knives different from any other types of knives. These features allow the knife to be used in basically all conditions and to withstand hardcore activities, such as chopping, cross batoning, hammering, and many others.
A survival knife is also different form other knives due to its versatile nature. While other types of knives are usually restrictive in their abilities, a good survival knife is able to perform a multitude of tasks, from woodcarving to firesteel striking, to food processing.
Why do I need a survival knife?
Your knife is always going to be your most important asset out there in the field. It is the ultimate survival tool, able to perform a wide variety of tasks and activities.
In the wild, your survival knife will enable you to:
- hunt for food, either as a weapon or as a tool to build traps and snares
- build a shelter to protect yourself from the elements
- collect firewood
- light a fire to keep yourself warm
- open food cans and other containers
- clean and prepare your food
- perform essential first aid in emergency cases
- (Read more about survival knife uses here)
Your survival knife will basically do everything it needs to do to keep you alive.
What features should I look for in a survival knife?
Having a survival knife is already awesome. But having a GOOD survival knife is even awesomer. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that you have the perfect survival knife, adapted both to its activities and to its user (you, in this case).
You want your knife to be adapted to what it will undergo. It needs to be big and strong enough for tough survival activities, but you don’t want a machete, since it would mean neglecting the small tasks that can be performed with a survival knife.
You also want your survival knife to be adapted to you. Not just the handle color or the lanyard material, but you have to make sure that it is the right weight for you, that it gives your hand a strong, stable and safe grip, and that it allows you to do what you need to do easily and safely.
I found that the best survival knives generally contain these features:
- A fixed blade: In 99% of cases, a fixed-blade knife will always serve you better as a survival knife than a folding knife. Fixed blades are generally much more reliable and durable than folding blades. This is because any kind of joint creates a weak point.
- Full tang: A good survival knife is always full tang. This indicates that the solid piece of metal that constitutes the blade runs down the handle as well. Full tang knives are much more robust and will always be a better option for all outdoor activities, including batoning, chopping, and levering, where a partial tang knife becomes a hazard.
- A straight edge and a sharp point: Although serrations can present some advantages like cutting ropes or sawing branches, a straight edge will end up being much more versatile than a serrated blade. You blade also needs a sharp point, for self-defense, food processing, gear repairs, splinters, and many other outdoor activities. It can only make your camping life easier!
- The right blade material: The most common blade materials out there are Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel. Stainless blades are stronger, more durable, but hard to sharpen, while Carbon blades require more maintenance, but can be made very sharp easily.
Here are what I consider to be the 12 determining features in a survival knife.
But a very important aspect of a good survival knife is its size. Knives come in all shapes and sizes, which makes them suitable for specific activities, and for their respective user. Indeed, it is always important to make sure that your knife has a blade length that is suitable for outdoors purposes, but that is also comfortable to use.
What are the different knife sizes available?
Knives come with different blade sizes. Here is an outline of what you can expect for these different blade lengths.
This is the general range for utility knives. These are actually incredibly useful. You’ll be surprised how versatile they can turn out to be, even in the most odd situations.
Utility blades are generally very cheap (most of them are under 10 bucks). They are a nice tool to be carrying around, for general all-purpose tasks in the home or in your garage.
Utility knives have a wide variety of uses, including:
- Opening packages
- Cutting string or paracord
- Opening dog food cans
- Cutting cardboard or paper
- And many more…
This is the size of pocket folders and small fixed blade knives. Most pocket knives that you’ll find on the market are in this 2-4 inch range, since it allows for them to be carried in most places without there being a legal issue.
This is also the common range for small game hunting knives. It is an ideal size for everyday carry, since it can usually fit in one’s pocket.
This is my favourite range for survival knives. Not too small, not too big. Knives in this range are very versatile, and perfect for bushcrafting. This is the right size for an all-purpose utility camp knife. You can pretty much do everything with it.
The choice of a knife in this range mainly depends on your hand size and your personal preference.
From personal experience, I have found blades around 5 inches to work really well for me. I feel more in control than with a larger blade, and the knife feels more reliabel than a smaller one.
There are the bigger survival knives. The heavy-duty ones. The ones for the tough, experienced outdoorsmen.
A main drawback of these knives is that they are usually very cumbersome. However, you can still find it many uses, from butchering game to chopping wood.
An example is Helle Lappland Leuku knife, which you can check out here on Amazon.
Larger than 10 inches:
Now these are the true machetes. Lengths like this will not really make handy knives, but rather heavy-duty chopper blades. Such knives can be used to:
- Chop bamboo, cane and other soft woods.
- Cut and chisel snow blocks to build igloos.
- Chop corn and other crops.
- Clear out a path or an area in a dense forest.
- Last-resort self-defense against man or beast.
Advantages and Drawbacks
- (+) Easy to carry
- (+) Lightweight
- (+) Very handy for opening packages
- (+) Looks to cool to walk around with!
- (+) Cheaper (depending on brands)
- (-) Will not really help you out in the field
- (-) Are not usually that tough
- (-) Might not fit all outdoors tasks
- (+) Tough and reliable
- (+) Great for rough terrains!
- (+) Good for hunting
- (+) Generally more versatile
- (+) Strong enough for batoning
- (-) Hard to carry in your pocket…
- (-) Usually heavy
- (-) Can be more expensive
What does the law say about knife sizes?
The legislation around knives is sometimes quite misleading. This is because in general, knife legislation is divided into 3 sets of rules: ownership laws, carry laws and other laws.
- Ownership laws forbid the ownership of certain types of knives, which are usually judged as ‘dangerous’ or ‘deadly’. Many such knives have been associated with unlawful individuals or groups, which is why, for example, ownership of the Bowie knife is forbidden in many states of the USA.
- Carry laws prevent individuals from carrying certain types of knives, whether it be open or concealed. Knives that are deemed to be used more as a weapon than a tool are often barred from carry. In many places, the types of carry plays an important role. For the same knife, open carry may be allowed but concealed carry if forbidden.
- Other laws are often related to aggravated crimes. For example, robbery is a crime, but robbery with a knife is an aggravated crime and the punishment is more than for simple robbery.
The legislation around knife sizes really differs from state to state or country to country.
Some states will forbid the ownership and carry of certain types of knives. The most common examples are Bowie knives and Butterfly knives. For example, Montana and Iowa allow the use of bowie knives and butterfly knives, while Wisconsin forbids their ownership.
Regarding knife sizes, the legislation also varies. Generally, the open carry of knives which have a blade under 3 inches is allowed in most states. I wouldn’t recommend carrying any larger knives in public.
As a main rule of thumb, I would just ensure that:
- you do not own a specific type of knife forbidden in your state or country (bowie knives and butterfly knives often have very strict regulations).
- you do not walk around in town with a large knife (where the blade is longer than 3 inches).
- you don’t use your knife for any illegal activities.
- you don’t ever carry a concealed knife, especially in public areas.
- you don’t walk into a school, airport, or federal/government building with a knife.
Personally, I pretty much only carry my knife outdoors, when I’m camping or bushcrafting, or when I go on a hike. The only other time where I might have a pocket knife would be around my house for general utility. Just don’t be silly and use some common sense!
(Disclaimer: this is not a legal or federal site. While we try to be as accurate as possible when dealing with knife laws, we cannot guarantee that we are 100% correct in all cases. We won’t accept any responsibility for problems arising from possible misunderstandings)
The size of a survival knife is quite an important determining factor. The problem is that there is not one set size for a survival knife. The size has to be adapted to you, and what you are most comfortable with. A good survival knife can have a blade length ranging anywhere between 4 inches and 8 inches long. Smaller sizes are more for survival knives, and more than that gets closer to a machete (You don’t want that).
Personally, I am more comfortable with a 5-6 inch blade. This is generally the right size for an all-purpose utility camp knife. You can pretty much do everything with it. Of course, smaller blades have their advantages. So do larger blades. However, if I had to choose only one knife, the 5-6 inch blade range is probably what I would go and aim for.
You must make sure that your knife is adapted to you, and is neither to big, nor too small, nor too heavy for you. It is important that it suits you personally since it is what will keep you alive in possibly extreme survival situations.
Read more about the features that make a good survival knife by reading our 12 Determining Factors When Choosing Your Survival Knife. You can also check out our 21 Favourite Survival Knives.
Let us know in the comments below if you found this article helpful, or if you have any comments or suggestions. We look forward to hearing from you!