Learn About Survival Knife Steel Types

As you shop for a survival knife, you'll see a variety of steel types. You've probably wondered what the difference is between the different kinds of steel, and how to know what to look for.

The type of steel in your survival knife makes a big difference, and you need to make sure you understand the pros and cons of different types to ensure that you're prepared for a survival situation.

The basic ingredients of steel

The two key ingredients in steel are iron and carbon. Carbon and other materials can be added to increase the steel's hardnesstoughness and strength.

The 3 main factors to consider


Hardness is the ability of steel to resist wear. A harder blade will stay sharp for a longer time, and also be more difficult to sharpen.


Toughness refers to the steel's resistance to cracking under impact (for example, a blade's toughness will keep it from chipping when you're chopping wood). Generally, as a particular blade's hardness goes up, its toughness goes down, and vice versa.


Strength refers to the steel's resistance to failure under stress (for example, a blade's strength will keep it from bending or breaking when you're prying loose a rock or door).

The most common steel types

Many survival knives you'll see are made of either carbon steel and stainless steel. There are a few other, less-common types, including alloy steels and tool steels.

Here are the features of carbon steel and stainless steel, along with a few recommended examples of each type:

Carbon Steel

Features of carbon steel (generally speaking):

  • Easier to sharpen
  • Can be made extremely sharp
  • Harder than stainless steel
  • Holds an edge well
  • Rusts more easily, so must be kept dry and wiped down with mineral oil

A few carbon steel recommendations:

  • 1095
  • A2
  • D2
  • Carbon V

Stainless Steel

Features of stainless steel (generally speaking):

  • Rust-resistant
  • Often more prone to chip than carbon steel (more brittle, less tough)
  • More difficult to sharpen than carbon steel

A few stainless steel recommendations:

  • ATS-34
  • 440C
  • S30V
  • 154 CM

Other Survival Knife Resources: