How to Survive in the Woods with Just a Knife
We’ve all heard people talking about how knives are great survival tools. You might also think that knives are only good for cutting and stabbing.
However, this is not really true, and when it comes to an emergency situation, a knife can and often does make the difference between life and death.
Surviving in the woods with just a knife is what we’ll be discussing in this article. We have got a list of everything you can possible do with your survival knife, as well as some great safety tips, maintenance tips, and more.
How to Survive in the Woods with Just a Knife
- Hunting and Trap Making
If you are stuck in the woods with just your knife, one of the things you can do to stay alive is hunt for food and make traps. There might be some edible berries and mushrooms around, but that probably won’t keep you going for too long.
A good knife can be used to make traps and hunting equipment. You can use them to make snares for rabbits and other small animals; you can make spears to hunt for bigger animals, and you can even make spike pit traps as well.
Unfortunately, knives on their own are not ideal for hunting, unless you know how to hurl it through the air with pinpoint accuracy like an action movie star. That said, it would not be the first time that somebody has managed to kill an animal with a small knife.
- Digging for Water and Making Water Collection Devices
When stuck out in the woods, even more important than food is water. Humans can go for up to 2 weeks without food, but only a few days without water. A good knife can be used to dig a small hole at the base of plants and trees, especially at the bottom of hills where water tends to collect.
Even if this is not an option, there are a plethora of DIY water collection devices that can be made with nothing but a knife and a couple of other things. Finding clean drinking water is going to be a problem, but this is made much easier if you have a good hunting, camping, or survival knife.
- Building a Shelter
Shelter is also essential to survival when you are out in the woods. This is not going to be as important in the summer months, especially if the forecast calls for good weather. However, during the spring and fall, nighttime can get cold, plus wind and rain can be issues, not to mention the winter.
With a survival or camping knife, you can cut down small trees, cut branches off trees, strip trees and bushes of their foliage, cut bark off trees, and do anything else you need to build a makeshift shelter.
Dying due to exposure to the elements is a leading cause of death in hikers and campers, particularly those who get lost or stranded. Therefore, being able to build a shelter that can protect you from wind, snow, and rain, and one that can keep some heat in, will be essential to your survival.
- Cutting Wood for the Fire and Lighting the Fire
One of the best ways to keep warm outdoors is with a warm fire. However, depending on the situation, there may not be any wood on the ground that you can burn as is. You may have to find wood or cut down small trees or branches, something that can easily be done with a survival knife.
You won’t be chopping down trees or splitting massive logs with a camping knife, but you’ll still be able to handle small bushes, twigs, sticks, and even cut bark off of trees that can act as kindling.
Speaking of fire starters, if you invested in a good knife, you may have one that comes with a fire starter. Many survival knives come with flint fire starters just for this purpose, and this is something that will come in handy when you need to keep warm and cook food.
- Skinning, Gutting, and Cleaning Animals
If you are able to trap and kill an animal, of course, you can’t just eat it as is. You will first need to skin the animal, or pluck it if it is a bird. You will then need to gut and clean the animal to remove entrails and other inedible bits.
You will then need to cut off bits of meat. Seeing as you won’t want to eat your catch raw, you will then also need to make a stick or spit to hold the animal as it cooks. A knife can be used to do all of these things.
Moreover, your knife is also going to come in handy to make the fire you will use to cook your catch. Just so you don’t have any illusions here, unless you are John Rambo or some sort of master game hunter, catching and killing an animal in the wild with nothing but your knife is not going to be easy.
- Signaling for Help
If you know what you are doing, then a knife can also be used to signal for help. If you have a very shiny and large knife with a reflective blade, if you are trapped somewhere with lots of sunlight, you can use the knife blade like a mirror to reflect light and signal for help. Mirrors are good survival tools, but if you don’t have one, a shiny knife blade is the next best thing.
Going back to the fire, fires are great for signaling for help as well. Build a fire, start it with the knife, and then use the knife to cut greens and foliage off from the forest around you. Green foliage will create a lot smoke, thus signaling your location.
Of course, a knife has a pointy end, and it can be used to stab something that is posing a threat to you. As long as humans have been around, some version of the knife has been used for defense. Warding off a bear or a large animal that is threating you is not easy, but it can be done.
Once again, just so there are no illusions, defending yourself with a knife is not easy, and in fact, can be quite dangerous. That said, a knife is always going to be a better option for self-defense than your bare hands alone.
Survival Knife Maintenance
Something else that is important to consider is the maintenance of your survival knife. Whether you are looking to cut branches, dig a hole, gut a fish, or anything in between, if your knife is not well maintained, you are going to run into serious trouble sooner or later. Therefore, we want to go over some of the best survival knife maintenance tips out.
- Proper Storage
Let’s start with how to store your survival knife. Yes, even if your survival knife is not being used right now, it can still suffer damage if it is not stored properly. First and foremost, the most important storage tips that we can give you is that your survival knife needs to be stored in a dry place.
If you store your survival knife in a dry place, even the most durable and corrosion resistant metals will eventually rust. If your knife rusts, the metal will literally start to chip away and erode, not to mention that keeping it sharp becomes a real challenge. Always keep your survival knife as dry as possible.
Moreover, depending on the type of sheath you have, especially synthetic sheaths, if they get wet, they can leach chemicals into and onto the knife. These chemicals can degrade the quality of the knife and may also cause corrosion.
Therefore, it is recommended that survival knives not be stored in their sheaths. It is best to wrap the knife’s blade in some paper, tape it shut, and then put it in a dry place. Even better is if you can keep it in a waterproof container that will stop any and all moisture from getting to the knife.
- Regular Sharpening
One of the worst things that can happen to you outdoors, particularly in a serious survival situation, is to realize that you have a dull knife blade. Of course, if your blade is dull, it will be much harder to accomplish a variety of tasks. Whether you are cutting wood, rope, fish, or anything in between, a dull blade just won’t do.
Next, and perhaps even more important than overall functionality, is safety. A dull knife is not a safe knife. If your knife is dull, you will struggle to cut anything. When you struggle, you will push too hard and you might slip. When your knife or your hand slips, you can cause yourself serious injury, which is bad when you are stuck outdoors.
Therefore, ensuring that your knife is as sharp as can be at all times is crucial. You can sharpen your own knife; but you do need to know what you are doing. You can get a simple sharpening stone to sharpen your blade. That said, sharpening a knife blade is easier said than done.
It may look easy, but it actually takes a fair amount of skill and practice to do it right. Do it wrong, and you will actually make the knife duller; you might totally destroy the blade; and you might actually render the knife useless. Therefore, if you plan to sharpen your own blade, get some practice in with other knives that are not as important. Your survival knife should not be your guinea pig.
If you are not comfortable with sharpening your knife on your own, it is probably best to go to a shop and let a professional do it. It’s worth spending a few dollars to have a pro sharpen your survival knife the right way. Buying a new knife because you mangled your old one trying to sharpen it is going to be far more costly than hiring somebody to sharpen it for you.
- Oiling Your Knife
Something else that you should consider doing on a regular basis when it comes to survival knife maintenance is to oil the blade. You may never have considered oiling your blade, but this is actually very important, particularly for straight-edge blades.
For one, keeping your blade well-oiled will go a long way in reducing friction. An oiled blade slides through whatever is being cut much easier, whether rope, meat, or wood. It’s much easier to cut something when the blade causes minimal friction.
Next, having high quality honing oil on the blade also effectively creates a moisture barrier. Therefore, some good honing oil can stop your knife from rusting and corroding. Pretty much any honing or household oil, besides motor oil, will do just fine here.
Just don’t overdo it, because you don’t want to end up with a slippery and oily blade. Also, never oil up the handles of your survival knives, particularly those with canvas or plastic handles, as oil can damage those, not to mention that nobody wants to use a survival knife with a slippery handle.
- Proper Cleaning
Yet another important part of survival knife maintenance is keeping the knife clean. If your knife is left dirty after use, you can run into quite a few problems. For one, sand, grit, and dirt on your knife, particularly when you put the knife back into the sheath, can cause some pretty bad scratches from top to bottom. Although scratches are not horrible, they certainly won’t do you any favors.
Moreover, if there is sand and grit inside of the sheath, it can rub against the sharp edge of the blade, effectively dulling it inside of the sheath — definitely not a good thing. Perhaps even worse is if you leave your knife wet or moist, as this can quickly cause corrosion and rusting, plus it may also damage the handle (depending on what the handle is made out of).
The best way to clean your knife is by using some warm water, a bit of gentle soap, and a very gentle scouring pad or brush. Never use anything with a coarse surface, such as steel wool or anything like that, because you will scratch the life out of your blade.
Also, never use harsh chemicals or cleaners on your knife because these can cause damage in various ways. After you have washed your knife and removed all debris, be sure to dry it thoroughly. Never leave it wet.
- Don’t Misuse It
One of the biggest and most important survival knife maintenance tips that we can give you here is to never misuse the knife. Survival knives can do a lot and they can certainly keep you going in the woods when all else fails. However, with all of their strengths and advantages, survival knives are not infallible or indestructible.
For one, knives are made to slice or maybe lightly chop at something. However, although you can break apart sticks and smaller branches, you can’t use it like an axe. You can’t just start swinging away at a log and expect the knife not to crack or snap.
Also, using the tip of your knife to do things like opening metal cans or screwing in screws is not a good idea. Remember that the tip of the knife is generally the weakest part, so applying large amounts of pressure to that small tip can be very risky for the health of your knife, not to mention that you can cause yourself serious injury if you slip.
Survival Knife Safety Tips
Just like the maintenance of your survival knife is important, safety is also paramount. After all, a survival knife will do you more harm than good if you aren’t safe with it. Let’s take a look at some of the most important survival knife safety tips right here and now.
- The Blood Bubble
This may sound like an odd term, but it does make sense if you think about it. Your blood bubble refers to how much space you need to maneuver with your knife. Specifically, your blood bubble is the distance from your shoulder to the tip of the knife when your arm is fully extended in any given direction.
This is the radius in which your knife can reach other people. Simply put, you should never use your knife when someone else is within this blood bubble. Moreover, the same goes for other people. If you see someone else using their knife, don’t walk into this blood bubble. This may seem like an overly cautious approach to knife use, but it’s always better to be safe than to be sorry.
- Keep it Sharp
We know that we already included knife sharpening in the maintenance section, but it is equally as important to keep in mind for safety. Remember, a dull blade makes you work harder, it makes you push harder, and it can cause you or the knife to slip. If you want to avoid injuries as much as possible, keeping the blade of your survival knife as sharp as can be is crucial.
- Don’t Use Yourself as a Backstop
This safety tip may seem kind of obvious, but none the less, it’s one which many people neglect to follow. What we mean here is that if you doing something like carving a piece of wood, never rest the wood on your legs or against your body. Sure, you do need something to push against that piece of wood, but it should never be your own body.
You will often see people working with a knife while the wood, rope, or whatever else is resting on their leg; this is a very fast and easy way to cut yourself. If you need a backstop, use the ground, a table, a big rock, or whatever else you can find — just not yourself.
- Beware of Finger Guards
If your knife has a good finger guard, a really prominent one that will easily stop your fingers from hitting the blade if you push too hard or slip, then this safety tip is not quite as important. However, if you have a survival knife that does not have a good finger guard, or maybe none at all, then you need to be really careful.
You may have heard the expression “don’t push on the point.” This applies to knives that don’t have much of a finger guard or no guard at all. The point, just for reference, is right where the blade meets the handle. You might see people placing their pointer finger right on this point to gain more leverage.
If you slip or fall with your finger so close to the blade, and the knife doesn’t have a good guard, you will easily cut yourself. Simply put, hold the knife firmly in your fist with all fingers wrapped around the grip, not with your finger pushing the point.
- Focus and Concentration
One of the worst things that you can do with your survival knife is to try to use it when you aren’t 100% paying attention. Maybe you are talking to a friend, maybe mosquito’s are bombarding you, maybe you are listening to music, or maybe you have had a few too many cold ones.
Whatever the case may be, even if you are just a bit tired and fatigued from a day of being in the woods, it’s best to hold off on using that knife. The majority of accidents with knives occur due to simple carelessness, tiredness, and a lack of attention.
So, if you are using your knife, use it, and don’t focus on anything else. Knives are not toys and if you plan on using one safely, you need to give it all of your attention and focus.
- Falling Knives
You slipped and your knife is dropping through the air. You might be tempted to try and catch it as it is falling, maybe to prevent damage to the knife or to stop it from impaling your foot. Move the foot and don’t worry about the knife.
Catching a falling knife, unless you are a trained circus juggler, is not going to pan out. Chances are pretty high that you will end up grabbing the blade, and we all know how that will turn out. Never try to catch a falling knife.
- Take Care when Sheathing
Something else to keep in mind is that survival knives can be dangerous even when you are putting them away. It would not be the first time that somebody was not paying attention when sheathing their knife, and it can result in you stabbing or cutting your leg.
First off, never put the knife in the sheath without looking. Unless you have 50 years of practice under your belt, you’ll need your eyes to get it in there. Moreover, if possible, always hold the sheath with the other hand. Hold it in place while putting the knife away. Simply put, you should always take great care.
- Elbows on Knees
Perhaps one of the best tips that we can give you here is that if you don’t want to use a backstop, to be safe, always rest your elbows on your knees.
If you are just holding the wood, or whatever else is being cut in mid-air, you want to rest your elbows on your knees to provide yourself with more stability.
Just do a quick comparison. Try cutting something with your arms dangling in the air, and then try the same thing sitting down with your elbows on your knees. You will see which one is easier.
The fact of the matter is that although it won’t be easy, staying alive with nothing but a knife is possible. You need to know what you are doing, but whatever way you put it, a knife is one of the best survival tools available.