There is a lot that goes into wilderness survival, and picking the right knife can be crucial. There are also a lot of factors that go into choosing the best knives to bring along, so here is a basic breakdown.

Tips for Beginners

There is some basic knowledge you need to know when purchasing your first survival knife. 

The tang of a knife is worth considering. Tang simply means the metal part that extends from the blade into the handle. They are separated into full-tang and partial-tang knives. Simply put, full tang means the metal extends to the end of the handle and partial tang means it only extends around halfway. You generally want to purchase a knife with a full tang because it is going to be more stable. Knives used out in the woods or on treks can often take a beating, so the extra structural integrity can make a huge difference.

Another thing to know about knives is the different types of steel. The two main types used are stainless steel and carbon steel. Stainless steel is known for being resistant to rust. If you are somewhere known for being high in humidity, then you may want to go with a stainless-steel knife. Carbon steel is generally stronger though. This isn’t to say that stainless steel knives are flimsy, but carbon steel knives will usually hold up better. Laminated steel is another option. Basically, you have a carbon steel blade sandwiched between two pieces of stainless steel on the outside. You get the structural integrity of a carbon steel blade with the rust resistance of stainless steel. The only drawback is that these knives are pricier.

Hunting Knives

One of the most common uses for knives in the wilderness is hunting, and there are different types of hunting knives to choose from.

The bowie knife has become somewhat iconic. The story of how the knife came to be involves family, drama, and close combat. It is an interesting story, which you can read about if interested, although it is unclear how much truth lies in the stories. Legends aside, it became a staple of hunting knives and has remained so to this day. For a start, both sides of the blade are useful. The straight side is generally used for slicing meat off of animals. The other side is curved, which gives it much of its iconic look. It is used for separating skin from meat and bone. These knives were also once used as fighting knives, and today they’re sometimes used in boar hunting. 

hunting bowie knife
Ka Bar Bowie Knife

There are more knives that can be used for hunting. For most game, you want to use find a fixed blade knife with a blade that is fairly straight with a slight curve. A boning knife is slim and is used to separate meat from animals. Skinning knives are long and curved blades that are used to separate skin from flesh. While a bowie knife can perform the tasks of both boning knives and skinning knives, some find the bowie knife a little clumsy to use when they want precision. This will mostly come down to personal preferences.

An option you may want to consider is the gut hook. This isn’t a type of knife as much as a feature that some knives have. A gut hook is a part of the top of the blade where the steel curves inward to form a hook. It is sharp, essentially another bladed portion, and is used to “open” animals up, hence the name “gut hook”

Tops Bowie Knife
Tops Backpacker Bowie Knife

Along with hunting, fishing is another great thing to do while out in the wild. While many knives can be used to clean fish, fillet knives are designed specifically for it. They have long, skinny blades that slightly curve all the way through. They are great for making clean slices when cutting fish open and collecting the meat. They aren’t too different from boning knives though, so if you already have one, you can probably use it for fish as well.

Machetes

The machete is a tool hailed by people along the equator in both hemispheres. You’ll find it heavily used in places like the Congo, India, Brazil, and even Florida. They are very long knives that almost border on the edge of swords. They have blades that start off straight, and as you get close to the end they curve.

Kershaw Machete
Kershaw Camp 10 Machete

They are great to bring anywhere where you will be around a lot of thick vegetation. You can use it to chop through things like vines, shrubbery, brush, and small trees. If you’re going to be clearing an area for a campsite or clearing a path through the forest, the machete is a great knife to bring along. 

Rambo Survival Knives

These knives are characterized by a straight, long blade that often has a curvature at the top. You could think of it like a skinnier Bowie knife in some ways. The novelty of these knives comes from the handle. Instead of a tang that extends all the way through, they usually use a circular handle that is hollowed out at the end. The hollowed-out portion can hold small bits of gear like string and matches. The cap that screws off the end will often double as a compass. 

Rambo Style knife
Rambo Survival Knife

Rambo knives get their nickname from the knife popularized by Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo franchise. While all knives come in at a variety of price points and qualities, the gap is very pronounced here. You have cheap knives that are marketed as Rambo knives for the novelty, and high-quality knives actually meant for survival. If you purchase one, just take a little extra care to research the brand and make sure they are manufacturing legitimate survival gear.

Well-Rounded Survival Knives

There may be some cases where it is not practical to take multiple knives into the woods. Maybe you’ll be doing a little fishing, but not enough to come with multiple specialized tools. Perhaps you’ll need to move some vines out of the campsite, but you won’t need to spend more than a minute doing it. Essentially, you need a jack of all trades. This is where a well-rounded knife comes into play. 

Camping knife
Simple Morakniv Camping Knife

Firstly, you still want to follow the rules laid out in the beginning. Go with full tang, choose your steel based on the climate, and probably go with a fixed blade knife. The camp knife is probably the best go-to knife for general survival. It has a fixed blade, and it has a simple drop point blade. You can cut things, skin things, and protect yourself.

It may be worth considering multi-tools. If a “well-rounded survival knife” is the jack of all trades among blades, this is the jack of all trades among tools. The idea was made popular by the Swiss Army Knife, but many companies manufacture them. They generally contain tools such as blades, scissors, files, and pliers among many others. Different companies will manufacture multi-tools with a range of different tools attached.

Protection

When it comes to protection, you don’t necessarily need a specialized knife. In general, a fixed blade knife is a better choice over a folding knife. It takes a time to pull out a fixed blade knife, open it, and ready yourself. Those 5 seconds can make a difference in the heat of the moment. Having a fixed blade knife on your side in a sheathe is going to have you more prepared. The best choices would be between bowie knives, camp knives, and (Rambo) survival knives. 

* This guest post is brought to you by our friend Jay Chambers *

Jay is a pro free speech business owner based in Austin, Texas. Having lived through several natural disasters and more than a few man-made ones (hello 2008), he believes that resilience and self-sufficiency are essential in this increasingly unpredictable world. That’s why he started a business! Jay writes over at Minuteman Review.

Sam M

Sam is an avid firearms enthusiast who loves sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow gunivores.

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