Thursday, April 7, 2016

Survival Knives: Choosing The Best For You

In 1982 the movie “First Blood” was released. It was a movie about a Viet Nam veteran, John Rambo, who is an ex-green beret. He is chased by a small town Sherriff who drew first blood. It was an action movie but by today’s standards would be tame. Rambo had a knife. A big knife. This knife was patterned after the Viet Nam era survival knife that was issued to flyers. It had a hollow handle with a survival kit in it. My Viet Nam era knife is a little different. It is much smaller than Rambos. His was huge. It had a 9 inch blade and was almost 14 inches long! Mine is a Camillus 5 inch blade. Anyway, between the two I would choose the smaller of the two. The Rambo blade was made of lesser steel and because of the hollow handle, had horrible balance and a limited tang.

Anatomy of a fixed blade.
The Tip or Point of a blade is simple; it’s the pointy end of the blade. You should know that by now, but I won’t blame you. Tip and point can be used interchangeably but may be used separately to describe two different aspects of the anatomy. The “point” being literally the point where the spine and edge meet and the “tip” referring to a small section at the front of the blade that leads up to the point.
The Cheek or Face of a blade refers to each side of the blade, often used to refer to the section separate from the grind but can be used to refer to each side of the blade, including the grind.
The Spine of a blade refers to the dull, unsharpened back of a blade, the opposite side of the edge. Double edged blades (daggers) do not have a spine but most knives found in the home or for outdoor use will have a spine.
A Fuller or Blood Groove is a decorative feature that runs the length or a partial length of the blade. A fuller may be used to reduce the weight of the blade but often is used purely for decoration.
The Edge is the cutting surface of a blade that extends from point to heel. It’s the sharp part!
The Tang is the stock material portion of the blade steel that extends from the blade for the purpose of attaching the handle and hardware. Tangs are an important factor when constructing a blade; they will help determine overall weight, balance and usage of the knife.
I like full tang knives. This gives the knife some weight, but also lots of strength. Rambo’s knife tended to be weak at the hidden tang handle, between the handle and the blade.
After the tang I would say that the next consideration should be weight. I live by the philosophy of SWB (size, weight, bulk). I want to keep the SWB down. In the military we had a saying, Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain.

I would also consider the size (bulk) of the knife. Bigger knives have more weight but are harder to conceal, and sometimes harder to use. I like about 6 to 10 inches overall. Closer to 10 for me is ideal.

The edge would be my best consideration. Serrated edges are good, and the look good, but they’re not so practical. They are a pain to sharpen and they are more for specified work. A straight edge is better for survival and combat.

Many will ask if a folding blade is better for survival than a fixed blade. Folding knives are not the best for survival. With a full tang fixed blade you will have a tool you can use to skin a deer, baton firewood, or cooking dinner. Folding knives are not as strong as fixed blades but I do carry one.

Another thing you need to be aware of is what the knife is made of. Make sure it is a high grade of steel. Usually you can guess the steel quality by the price (you get what you pay for). There are many different steels out there. I would choose D2, CPM 20CV, or M 390. These will be high end price knives. Many over $100 so be prepared for sticker shock!

Last but not least is the sheath. Make sure you can wear it or mount it in many different configurations. My military sheath is made for a belt. I’ve had to modify it to work for me. Also make sure it’s made well and doesn’t fall apart. It should have some sort of retention to it too but not something difficult to get the knife out.
It’s your choice whether you have any type of lanyard or not. Sometimes it’s good to have the option of a lanyard.

Choosing a survival knife is not too difficult. But you should have some guidelines that your knife will meet before you shell out the big bucks for gear like that. Stay sharp!

Semper Paratus
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