How to Choose the Best Survival Knife

When it comes to wilderness survival a quality knife is one of the first tools anyone would choose to have with them in their time of need. A quality survival knife and a little knowledge can equate to shelter, food, fire, and protection. When you are deciding to pick out your next (or first) survival knife, choose carefully. This article is designed to help you pick out the best survival knife for you.

Best Survival Knife Size

As with many aspects of life, size does matter. A knife that is too big can be a pain in the ass to carry, to do any fine carving with, or for skinning of smaller animals. A small knife will not allow you to baton wood of any decent thickness nor will it serve as decent protection or weaponry. I find the best knives have a blade that is about 5 inches long. This is a size that is portable but can also serve most other purposes needed in a survival situation. Of course this depends on the location you are looking to survive in. If you are lost in the jungle, you may choose a machete over a 5 inch knife.

LMF II is well known knife in the survival world. If you are in need of a good survival knife, check out this review to see why the Gerber LMF II will fit your needs.

LMF II is a well known knife in the survival world.

Best Survival Knife Blade Design

Blade design is perhaps one of the most critical features you need to think about when choosing your best survival knife. There are two main blade designs I will be discussing in the section: full tang knives and serrated vs. non-serrated knives.

Full Tang Survival Knives

Full tang simply means that the knife has a solid piece of steel running from the blade all the way through the handle. The reason for this is simple; strength. If you are using a knife that is not full tang there is a good chance that with enough pressure it will break. There are a few different types of knives you should avoid with regard to tang; partial tang, no tang and  folding knives. These knife styles all have their place in the knife industry, but when it comes to choosing a quality survival knife that you may trust your life on, go with full tang.

Non-full tang fixed blade knives are extremely weak right at the point where the blade connects to the handle. The handle is designed for grip, it should not be part of the structural integrity of the knife. Partial tang knives only have a small amount of steel in the handle. Although better than non-tang knives, this small amount of metal does not offer the support needed in many survival situations. Folding knives are designed for portability and the joint will be the weakest point of the knife. All these knives can be a huge safety issue, especially when you are in a survival situation away from any medical help.

Because knives that are not full tang are easily broken, I would never recommend one for a survival knife. Should you ever need to baton wood for a fire or lash your knife to a stick for protection you will want a full tang, tough-as-nails knife.  Although, there are some exceptions such as the Gerber LMF II, a knife which I do recommend. This knife is designed to have the ability to cut through live electrical wire (not ever recommended) and not shock the person holding the knife. There is a small non-metal gap between the pommel and the knife blade towards the end of the knife. This small separation between the two metal pieces prevents current from running through to the pommel, which the person may be touching. Other than a few exceptions, I would ALWAYS recommend that anyone looking for a quality survival knife needs to get one that is full tang.

Straight Edge vs Serrated Edge

Which is better, a straight edge or a serrated edge for a survival knife? This is perhaps one of the biggest arguments in the survival knife industry. Both have their benefits so it really comes down to personal preference.

Straight edge knives, when sharp, can cut most things like butter. They seem to be better for batoning as well as carving wood for spears or stakes. When straight edge knives get dull they easily become a pain, while the sawing ability of a serrated edge allows them to stay sharp, or at least continue to cut even if they are a little dull. Of course when the serrations do get dull, it can be hell to sharpen them. Probably the best use for serrations is cutting rope. If you find yourself constantly using rope (such as on a boat) you may want to consider picking up a knife with serrations. If you do not need to cut much rope then its up to you which would work better for your personal needs. From what I have seen and read, most survivalists do tend to go for straight blades though.

Sharp pointed tip:

I suggest avoiding any knife with a curvy tip for one basic reason, the puncturing or stabbing ability. If your survival knife has curves or is not even pointed at the end it will be much less effective should you need to lash it to a stick for protection or spear fishing. Also, the standard pointed design is a very strong design, which is needed in any survival knife.


The pommel does have a critical purpose should you need to break glass or hammer anything.  Provided your knife is full tang, the pommel can be a tough and valuable surface of the knife. These can be designed to break glass (usually more pointed), or to be used like a hammer, or both. No matter what pommel style you choose, just make sure it is strong.


The sheath of many quality survival knives is almost like a tool belt. They can hold the knife as well as other items such as a sharpener and flint. Many survival knives come with these included on the sheath, and trust me they are useful. While the sharpener will keep your blade tuned as long as you have it, the flint will give you fire. Gerber has two knives that include these, they are the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife and the Gerber LMF II. Also, the attaching ability of the sheath can be very useful. Most are designed to attach to your belt but also can strap to your thigh, lash to a bag and more. A good sheath can be a great accessory, so be sure to consider them in your decision.


When it comes to choosing the best survival knife a lot of the decision comes down to your own personal opinion, but I hope the tips above help guide you in your decision. A quality survival knife can give you food, shelter, and fire, but you are on your own to find water. Before I end this article, I would like to list off a few uses you may need you knife for in a survival situation. This list may open your eyes to the many uses of a survival knife, and may help in your decision as well.

The Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife

The Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife

Survival knife uses:

  • Skinning game
  • Sharpening sticks
  • Lashing to a stick
  • Spearing fish or game
  • Protection
  • Drilling
  • Fixing gear or clothing
  • Shaving equipment or skin
  • Picking out splinters
  • Throwing
  • Cutting rope
  • Breaking glass such as a car window
  • Cutting food
  • Opening cans
  • Cutting holes in items
  • Cutting fishing line
  • Hammering
  • Digging in ground or rotten logs
  • Cauterizing
  • Prying
  • Wedging
  • Protection
  • Starting fires
  • Welding plastic or rubber

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