How to Use a Survival Knife
You’ve probably heard a lot about survival knives — people will say that this type or that type is best. While it is true that there are benefits and drawbacks to different types and sizes of survival knives, they’re all meant to help you do one thing — survive.
That said, how do you use a survival knife? What can you do with it? How to use a survival knife and keeping you alive is the topic of the day. Let’s keep you alive! Today we also want to talk about the different types of survival knives and how to choose the best one for your needs.
How to Use a Survival Knife
Here we have 12 different ways to use your survival knife to stay comfortable and alive outdoors.
- Use as a Weapon
A weapon will always come in handy, and that’s exactly what a survival knife is — a weapon. While a knife may not be the No. 1 weapon for defense, it’s certainly better than nothing, and you will be thankful for it if you are being attacked by an animal.
Using a survival knife as a weapon for self-defense is as easy as stabbing the intruder or animal with the sharp end. It’s not recommended that you take chances with a bear if you don’t have to, but a knife is better than nothing at all.
If you are forced to defend yourself against an animal, particularly with a knife, remember to aim for the sensitive spots. The eyes, nose, underbelly are the best places to aim for.
- Cutting and Processing Food
You can also use your survival knife to cut and process food. You can use that knife to forage for berries and dig for edible roots. You can use the survival knife to skin and gut animals such as small rabbits, and you can scale and gut fish as well.
You can then use that knife to cut fillets of meat or to cut apart fruits which you may find growing in the wild. When it comes to processing any sort of foods in the wild, nothing comes close to a survival knife.
- Making Weapons and Tools
A survival knife is one of the handiest tools, but it’s not the only tool. You can use a survival knife to whittle or make cooking surfaces and utensils, for whittling stakes and hammers, and more. Any tool that can be made of wood can be whittled with a knife. Of course, we would recommend using the real things, because a tool made out of wood is always going to be weaker than its metal counterpart. However, with that being said, a wooden tool is better than nothing at all.
On that same note, in case you don’t want to use your knife to hunt for small game, which let’s face it, is not very easy, you can always use your knife to build spears, snares, and other animal traps.
On that note, if there is any way to do so, bringing food along or foraging for plants and berries is going to be your best bet. Unless you are a skilled hunter, whether you have a knife or a spear, getting a kill is not going to be very easy.
- Making Firewood
Survival is not just about protecting yourself from dangerous animals, hunting for food, and processing that food. You also need to stay warm. Exposure to the elements is a leading cause of outdoor deaths, and it’s all about staying warm.
A survival knife won’t be able to cut down full-size trees, but you can use it to split small pieces of firewood, to cut down small saplings, and to make firewood. You can also use your survival knife to cut dry bark off of trees. Dry bark burns very well, particularly birch bark.
- Building Shelter
Speaking of cutting down saplings, removing branches from trees, and processing foliage, this will also come in handy for making a shelter.
A good makeshift shelter can keep you warm and dry, and keep you off the ground. If you plan on camping in the wild and surviving the elements, using that survival knife to build a small protective shelter is crucial.
Of course, you need to know how to build that shelter, but having a good survival knife will allow you to cut and prepare the various components required.
- Fire Starter
Going back to the fire, not only does your knife come in handy for processing the bulk of firewood, but for starting that fire too. Your survival knife can be used to make wood shavings from dry sticks and branches, to shave bark off a tree, and to cut dry plants and twigs too.
The aim is to make a small and dry “bird’s nest,” a small pile of dry fire starter to light the larger pieces of wood.
Some survival knives even come with flint fire starters built into them. However, getting one of these is not highly recommended, as hollow handles which contain things like matches or fire starters will reduce the integrity and durability of the handle.
- First Aid Purposes
In a pinch, although it’s not the No. 1 first aid tool, a survival knife may keep you or somebody else alive. You can use a survival knife to cut thread for sewing stitches, for making braces and splints, and more.
If you have suffered a wound that you cannot stitch shut, although definitely not enjoyable, you can always heat that blade up with fire, get it red hot, and cauterize a wound shut. It’s going to hurt, but it might just save your life from bleeding out and becoming infected.
- Modifying Gear
When you go on hiking or camping trips, you may have to modify some of your gear. You might have to shorten cables or ropes, maybe you need to alter clothing, or whatever else it may be. A knife can be used to modify or alter your camping gear for your benefit.
- A Stake
Although a survival knife is not going to make for the best ground stake, it will do in a pinch. For instance, if you lose your stakes and can no longer secure a tent or tarp to the ground, stab it into the ground with the survival knife. Just make sure that you don’t stab into tree roots or rocks, or else you may chip or break the knife.
- A Hammer
A survival knife can also make for a decent hammer if you have nothing else at your disposal. Hammers can come in handy for all sorts of purposes, but of course, you probably don’t have one with you. The bottom of the knife, the butt end of the handle, can be used as a makeshift hammer if need be.
- Reflecting Light
In case you happen to be lost in the woods, there is sun shining, and you are on an open mountainside or hillside, a knife can be used to signal for help. First, that shiny knife blade can be a decent makeshift mirror to reflect light towards potential rescuers. You can also make a fire with your knife and pile plenty of green foliage onto it to create a smoke signal.
- Digging for Food and Water
A decent survival knife can also be used to dig for water. Try digging at the bases of trees and bushes, particularly at the bottom of hills or slopes, as this is where water will accumulate. You can also use that knife to dig for roots and grubs in the ground, as well as to dig for grubs in hollow tree sections.
Choosing a Survival Knife – A Buyer’s Guide
Before you go out and buy the first survival knife that draws your attention, there are a few things which you should keep in mind. Let’s talk about what you need to know about choosing the right survival knife for your needs.
- Blade Material
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the right survival knife is what material the blade is made out of. Not all materials or types of metal are equal here, with some being superior to others. The vast majority of knife blades are made out of steel, but with that being said, there are many types of steel.
A widely used type of steel for survival knives is stainless steel which is quite strong, it’s fairly durable, and it should not stain or rust. If you are looking for a fairly affordable survival knife with a decent level of quality, stainless steel is a good pick.
However, when it comes to survival knives, it’s not exactly the best type of steel you could be purchasing. Most agree that the best type of steel to use for survival knife blades is carbon steel, which is a special type of steel infused with carbon, and this makes the metal much stronger and tougher.
Carbon steel blades are some of the toughest out there, and they can withstand heavy-duty use, such as any of the tasks which we discussed above. Also, keep in mind that most regard 1095 carbon steel as being the best type of carbon steel for knife blades, as not only is it very tough, but also very easy to sharpen.
The only thing you need to keep in mind with carbon steel survival knives is that they can rust and stain, so you need to take good care of them. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for, so investing in high quality steel is something we recommend.
- Blade Length and Thickness
The next factor to consider when choosing a survival knife is how long and thick the blade is. Although men don’t like to believe this, size often does make a difference. However, when it comes to survival knives, bigger is not always better.
Most survival knives have blades that are between 6 and 12 inches in length. However, we would not recommend going with anything that has a blade over 8 or 9 inches in length at most — there is just no point to it. You aren’t going big game hunting and you aren’t John Rambo trying to take out the army of a small country.
If your survival knife is too long, it may very well also be far too heavy, it’s going to be cumbersome, and it will limit what you can effectively accomplish with it. If your knife is too long, it can easily get in your way and it makes it more difficult to perform precision work.
On the other hand, you also don’t want a blade that is too short, because that won’t get you anywhere either. If your blade is too short, digging a hole becomes hard, whittling wood won’t be easy, and cutting through small branches becomes a challenge too. Therefore, a blade between 5 and 8 inches is what most people will go with.
Just like the length of the blade, you also want to get the right width. Either too thin or too thick can be a problem. A blade that is too thin won’t be able to do much at all. If you go to apply a bit of pressure to a thin blade, chances are that you will snap it, thus rendering the survival knife totally useless. You never ever want the blade of a survival knife to bend; you won’t be able to do anything at all with it if it keeps bending.
Of course, a knife that is too thick is not good either, because it makes it harder to perform delicate and precise work. Therefore, a blade that is no thinner than 0.17 inches and no thicker than 0.25 inches is recommended, with about 0.22 inches being the ideal blade thickness for a survival knife.
- Fixed Blade vs. Folding
Something else you need to consider, perhaps one of the biggest aspects of all, is whether you want to go for a folding knife or a fixed blade survival knife. Folding knives come in handy for some things. Particularly, they are ideal for keeping in your pocket and for general transportation.
They are lightweight, they fold down to half their size (compared to when they are open), and they are really easy to carry around. Moreover, they also tend to be fairly lightweight. However, this folding design can be problematic for various reasons. For one, that hinge, where the blade folds, is inherently weak; it can rust, and it can break.
Furthermore, folding knives cannot be full tang (something we will discuss below), and this results in less strength and durability. Also, folding knives have a mechanism to lock them in place when open, but these mechanisms can fail, and it can cause these knives to shut unexpectedly, and of course, that can be dangerous.
As you can probably guess by now, we would not recommend using a folding knife as a survival knife. Fixed blade knives, while they may not be as good in terms of portability, are much stronger and tougher, they have no hinges that can rust or break, and if you need a knife at a moment’s notice, you don’t have to fiddle with it to unfold it.
- Straight Edge vs. Serrated
Something else that you may want to take a closer look at is whether you want a survival knife with a serrated edge or with a straight edge. Generally speaking, while serrated knives are fine for certain things, such as for cutting fruits and veggies and for sawing apart small branches and twigs, past that, they are not overly useful.
A straight edge blade is superior in terms of versatility. There is a lot that you can do with a straight edge blade that you can’t do with a serrated knife. Also, serrated blades can get caught on things; they don’t stay sharp for as long; and they are harder to sharpen than straight edge blades. Therefore, we would recommend going with a straight edge.
That said, there are some survival knives which feature a combination of both, with most of the blade near the front being straight, and a small portion of the rear having a bit of serration. This is always an option.
- Full Tang
Yet another important factor to consider when choosing a survival knife is what the tang is like. The tang of the blade refers to how far down into the handle the blade goes. A partial tang knife means that the metal of the blade only goes down partially into the handle, or on really cheap knives, maybe not at all.
On the other hand, a full tang knife is one where the metal from the blade, a single solid piece, is present all the way through the whole knife, right down to the bottom of the handle. This makes them more expensive and quite a bit heavier than partial or no tang knives.
However, this is small potatoes when compared to how much better a full tang knife is in every other way, particularly when it comes to durability. For one, partial tang knives can become loose, which means that the metal slowly separates from the handle, thus allowing the knife blade to wiggle. This is dangerous.
Partial tang knives aren’t nearly as strong either, and they will bend or snap much easier than full tang knives. If you plan on whittling wood, chopping or sawing branches, or digging a hole, a partial tang knife is likely to break, whereas a full tang knife is much more likely to not suffer any damage.
- The Handle – Material and Durability
The next thing that you need to look for when choosing the right survival knife is what the handle is made out of. First off, something you always want to avoid, no matter the material, is a survival knife with a hollow handle.
Carrying matches or something similar inside of the handle may sound cool and nifty, but the fact of the matter is that a hollow handle is not a strong handle. Your survival knife needs to be able to take a real beating, something that a hollow handle knife is not built for.
Next, when it comes to durability and comfort, the material that the handle is made out of is also going to make a difference. The recommendation is to go with a strong synthetic material, something like Kraton (which is a synthetic rubber polymer), solid rubber, or nylon reinforced with glass and/or fibers.
You really don’t want to go for cheap plastic handles, as they will snap, crack, and break as soon as you do anything heavy with them. While a metal handle might look cool, keep in mind that metal is also very cool, temperature wise. In other words, if it is cold out, that knife handle is going to be freezing, and that’s not going to go over well for any prolonged amount of time.
If you are thinking of getting a knife with a wooden handle, forget about it. Sure, wood looks very fancy and is durable enough for basic use, but it just can’t take the same amount of punishment as a synthetic handle or even one made of metal. Also, wood can get wet and warp over time, thus negatively affecting the integrity of the knife.
- Grip and Ergonomics
Here we are still talking about the handle of the knife. Not only is it important to consider the material which the handle is made of, but also how it is shaped. First and foremost, the handle needs to provide you with good grip.
A survival knife with a flat and smooth handle is useless, for all intents and purposes. If you go to cut or stab something, and you slip, you will end up giving yourself a nasty gash. The best way to go here is with a survival knife that has finger grooves, one for each finger. This provides for a great grip.
Moreover, you also want to look for a heavily textured handle. Each of those bumps will provide you with increased traction and will decrease the chances of your hand slipping off the handle when you go to use the survival knife.
You also want to consider how heavy the knife is. A heavy knife is going to be a pain to carry around. There is no doubt about that a lightweight knife is more comfortable than carrying around something that is cumbersome.
However, even in spite of this, we would not recommend going with something lightweight, and it all has to do with durability. Simply put, for the most part, lightweight knives mean one of two things: that the knife is made with cheap materials, or that the knife is made with few materials (or a combination of both).
Lightweight knives, although they feel comfortable to hold and carry, usually cannot stand up to demanding tasks. Of course, you don’t want to lug around a cinderblock, but going for the lightest survival knife on the market is not a good idea.
- The Sheath
The final purchasing factor when it comes to your survival knife is what kind of sheath it comes with, and yes, it should come with a sheath. We would recommend getting either a leather or a nylon sheath. Both are very durable, although treated nylon will probably last longer, it definitely doesn’t look as stylish as leather.
When looking at sheaths, one thing to pay attention to is if the knife simply sits inside of it, or if there is a strap (maybe with a pressure button), that holds the knife in place. If there is no strap covering the knife handle, make sure the sheath is quite tight so that the knife cannot slip out if you bend over.
Next, also pay attention to how the knife attaches to your person. Generally speaking, unless you are a CIA operative, having an ankle or leg strap is relatively pointless. The best way to go is with a sheath that has a belt loop, so you can keep the knife securely on your waist, always within reach whenever you need it.
As you can see, using a survival knife is not overly hard, and of course, these awesome tools can serve many different purposes. Although not easy, surviving with nothing but a good knife is doable. If all else fails, you have your trusty survival knife.