5 tips for choosing a versatile survival knife

Maybe you’re an outdoor enthusiast like me, or maybe you just want to be prepared for the unexpected. Whatever the case may be, it can be overwhelming to look at all the survival knives that are available and try to choose the right one.

The truth is that there is no perfect survival knife, and there’s no knife that’s right for every situation. If you’re going to carry just one knife with you, though, it’s smart to have one that’s going to be useful in as many different situations as possible.

You’re probably scouring the web, doing research on what the best survival knife is, so I’m going to do my best to give it to you straight--to give you the down and dirty on top things to watch out for and top features to look for when choosing a knife.

5 things to look for in a survival knife

1. Full tang

A full tang knife is a solid piece of metal. In other words, there are no joints or connected parts--the handle and blade are one strong piece of solid steel. Sure, you might have something wrapped around the handle to make it more comfortable and easier to hold onto, but underneath, it’s all one piece.

This is what a full-tang blade looks like when the handle is removed

Folding knives are easier to carry, but they’re also going to fail on you much more easily when put under a lot of strain. Also, make sure to avoid rat tail tangs and other partial tangs--where the metal from the blade only goes part way into the handle or only a thin “rat tail” extends all the way to the butt of the knife.

This is what you should avoid. Rat tails and partial tangs like this will fall apart under stress!

2. About 10-12 inches long

Too big, and your knife will be difficult to carry and wield with precision and speed. Too small, and it won’t be up to strenuous tasks like chopping and prying. 

Remember, the best survival knife is one that’s actually practical to keep nearby and will be useful in a wide variety of situations.

3. Carbon steel

Your two main choices here are carbon steel and stainless steel. My personal preference is carbon steel, but you may want to read some reviews of both kinds and form your own opinion.

The KA-BAR Becker Crewman is made from 1095 Carbon Steel, one of the most popular carbon steels.

To put things simply, here are the main differences between carbon steel and stainless steel:

  • Carbon steel is typically stronger and can be made extremely sharp relatively easily. The downside is that it is more prone to rust, so you’ll have to wipe it down with oil occasionally.
  • Stainless steel is more difficult to sharpen and not as strong as a comparable carbon, but the upside is that it’s extremely rust-resistant.

4. Straight edge

The Gerber Prodigy Serrated Survival Knife has a half-serrated blade. In general, I recommend avoiding this type of blade unless you’ve tried it and prefer it.

Some survival knives have serrated or half-serrated blades, but in general I’d suggest steering clear of these. Here’s why:

  • A straight edged survival knife is more versatile, since it can be used for carving, batoning, skinning small game.
  • Also, a straight edged knife is much easier to sharpen in the bush than a serrated blade.

5. Sharp pointed tip

The best survival knife for versatility and structural strength is going to have a simple, sharp tip. Some Bowie blades (aka, clip point) are extremely curvy, which makes the knife less useful for stabbing and can allow the tip to break more easily.

And there you have it! My top 5 tips for choosing the best survival knife that will be the most useful and versatile in a variety of environments. If you’re looking for a few specific knives that meet the bill, I recommend that you check out the following: