Knives are tools. Yes, they can be used as weapons, but their primary function is to be used as a tool. Owning them doesn’t make you a monster, or mean you’ll go on a killing spree (but I don’t recommend carrying them in public; and I’m sure your local law enforcement agency would agree with me). Owning good quality knives is an essential part of life. Think about the knives you own and have owned over the years. A good quality knife should serve you for many years. How many knives have you thrown away (or put into permanent storage) because they couldn’t do the job you bought them for? A cheap or poor-quality knife is a waste of money.
A good quality knife is an essential tool for the outdoors. In a survival situation, having a knife can get you out of a lot of trouble. There are two categories of knives: Fixed Blade and Folding Blade. A folding blade (ie: pocket knife) is a compact tool that fits into your pocket. It is good for lightweight, basic jobs, but the section where the blade folds is weak, and can break if you apply too much downward pressure on the blade. A fixed blade is the best choice for heavy duty cutting, and general-purpose field work.
The length of your knife is very important. This breaks down into three categories: the overall length (from the tip of the blade to the pommel/butt), the length of the blade, and the length of the handle. A knife that is too big to store in your pack, or comfortably carry on your belt, is no good to you. I know people who won’t use a knife that is less than 14-16 inches in length. I know others who won’t use anything bigger than a fruit knife. I prefer something in-between. I’ve found a knife with an overall length of 12 inches works well in most situations.
Anatomy of a Knife
1. The Tip/Point: A knife with a rounded tip has no capacity to penetrate the material you are working with (such as gutting a fish). But; a pointy tip will snap if it is subjected to too much pressure. You should select the tip based on the type of work you will be doing with your knife. There are many different types of tip available; most of them are designed for specific purposes. I could write a whole blog on that subject alone. But, you’re not here for a lecture on minute details. From a practical stand-point, the three different tips I prefer to use are the Clip Point (as pictured above), Straight Back (like a cook’s knife), and the Drop Point (like the large blade in a standard pocket knife). These three tips are similar in design, and are the most suited to all-round field work.
2. The Back/Spine: The unsharpened edge of the blade.
3. Edge: The edge does most of the work. Blades can be smooth or serrated. I prefer using a smooth edge, because it is less likely to get lodged in material such as wood (while making tent pegs).
4. Guard: This stops your hand from slipping down the handle, and onto the blade. Not all knives have a guard. I do not like using knives that don’t have a guard. Accidents do happen. Surgery and physiotherapy aren’t as fun as they sound.
5. Handle: First and foremost, the knife has to sit properly in your hand. You won’t be able to work for very long with a knife if the handle is too big or too small for your hand. The handle needs to be made from a non-slip material that won’t rub and cause blisters. Blisters reduce your capacity to work, and can get infected. You don’t need me to tell you the sorts of problems this can lead to out in the field.
6. Pommel/Butt: Can be used as a hammer for minor hammering tasks (but only as a last resort. I do not recommend doing this, as it can damage your knife).
7. Tang (this knife has one, but it is not able to be seen in this photo): A good quality knife is made from a single piece of metal that extends from the tip of the blade, to the butt/pommel (you can clearly see the tang in many good quality chef’s knives). If you apply pressure to a knife while cutting, it is the tang, not the cosmetic outer layer of the handle that takes the pressure of the load. Half tang knives have a tang that only goes halfway into the handle. A half tang knife is likely to split or break the handle if too much downward force is applied while cutting (such as whittling wood). You don’t require much imagination to understand the fragility of hollow handled survival knives. Their blade is bolted onto the end of a thin, plastic tube that serves as the handle. (I received one as a teenager; it didn’t last very long). Experience has taught me never purchase a fixed blade knife without a full tang.
Knife blades can be made from a variety of different materials; but carbon steel and stainless steel are the most common. Both of these metals are suitable choices for field work.
Before heading out to your local camping goods store I advise you to sit down and make a list of the things you expect to be doing with your knife. Under no circumstances should you go to the store and expect the shop assistant to make your decisions for you. People with a sound knowledge of knives aren’t very common. A disinterested shop assistant will sell you whatever they are standing closest to, or stock they have been told to get rid of by management (ie: “the latest in-store promotion, for today only”). A dishonest shop assistant will sell you any piece of crap they can’t trick anyone else into buying.
Price isn’t always an indicator of quality, but I can guarantee you a $5 knife isn’t what you’re looking for. In Australia, you can expect to spend $120-150 on a good quality knife; but think twice before spending any more than this. A larger price tag doesn’t mean the knife will be any better quality, (the store just has a higher mark-up price on their stock).
This blog is only an introduction to the subject, and I strongly encourage you to do some research so you can find a brand and model that will suit your requirements. I hope I have reduced some of the anxiety you might have had about selecting a suitable knife for your kit.
Knowledge is only useful if it is shared. I’ve shared my knowledge with you, so now it’s up to you to share it with your friends and family on your social media page.