Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Survival" Knives

One of the questions people often ask is regarding the so-called "Survival" knives; whether they are a good choice for hiking, camping and outdoor activities. Firstly, I would tell you that a "Survival Knife" is whatever blade you have on your person when a survival situation presents itself.   Usually the humble slip joint pocketknife is what most folks carry, and it will answer most trail and camp chores satisfactorily:

Common slip-joint pocketknives

A fixed blade sheath knife with a 4 to 5 inch blade is very useful for chores requiring a heavier, stronger blade, such as carving tent or tarp pegs or splitting kindling [batoning]. A knife with a full tang is an excellent choice. Two that I own and use are the traditional KA-BAR fighting utility knife of U.S. Marine Corps pattern and the Gerber "Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife". Both have a strong tang inside the handle that will withstand heavy use:

Ka-Bar 1211 knife [USMC pattern], 7.5" blade 

GERBER "Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife", 5" blade

Some folks choose hollow-handled, sawback [HH/SB] survival knives like those made popular by the RAMBO movies of the 1980's. These knives often incorporate a compass into the pommel cap and the handle is equipped with a few survival necessities, such as matches, and some fishhooks and line. As can be seen in the photo below, these knives have a very small tang which fits into a hollow handle. Usually they fail under heavy use and separate at that critical blade/handle joint. The knife below was broken by me after only a few minutes work chopping a limb for kindling: 

Inexpensive hollow-handled "survival" knife

Personally, I really like HH/SB knives. The problem is, I've never owned one that could hold up to the work I assign it...they seem to be either very cheap and poor construction or very expensive custom-made knife [beyond my budget]. I've yet to find an affordable "quality" HH/SB that could perform hard use tasks.   

As stated before, if I am going in harms way, I'll take a full tang knife, usually my KA-BAR 1211. I don't need a hollow handle to carry matches and water tablets [you should be carrying an ALTOIDS kit in your pocket with those things anyways].

I'm also fond of having a neck knife for small chores. These are a small [sub-3" blade] fixed blade knife that is worn around the neck and easily accessible:

KA-BAR "ESKABAR" neck knife, 3" blade
KA-BAR "Acheron" neck knife, 3" blade
Something else to consider: There's a saying that "Two is one and one is none", meaning you should carry a spare in case one is lost or fails.I would also state you should consider having a slip joint pocketknife, a multi-tool, or a large hard-use folder on you to back up your heavy duty sheath knife.

One final suggestion: Keep your large knife attached to your pack when not in actual use. If your fixed blade is on the dresser at home it will do you no good when you need it. By keeping it attached to your pack, it will be readily available whenever you decide to go trail hiking or camping and less apt to be forgotten at home.



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