When a disaster or emergency strikes, your chances of survival depend on your available resources, knowledge, tools, and experience. One of the most important items to have handy as a permanent part of your emergency preparedness kit is a quality tactical or survival knife. They come in handy for many reasons beyond simply surviving if you get lost in the woods. In fact, the proper knife is a vital necessity in a variety of environments—urban survival included.
Not just any knife will do. Every prepper magazine, supply depot, and website claims to have the best knife in the industry. When the stakes are this high, choose your knife the way you would a car or any other significant purchase. Spend a decent amount of time researching the pros and cons of several different models.
A superior knife could last for the rest of your life and should be considered as an investment piece. So, before you rush out to buy that shiny new tactical knife on sale, there are several things you want to consider for ensuring the perfect match!
One term you will come across when knife shopping is “tang.” It refers to the tongue connecting the blade to the handle or shaft. The most common tangs on today’s survival knives are half tang, full tang, rat tail tang, and push tang.
Half and full tang knives have the sturdiest construction, are less prone to harm, and are costlier than other types. Half tang knives are characterized by metal that runs half the width of the handle and encompasses the full handle length. Full tang knives are a single solid metal piece with the two pieces of blade pinned on to the metal.
Rat tail and push tangs are weaker than half or full tang. Rat tail tangs are threaded at the end and gradually narrow as they go down the handle. Push tangs refer to the how the tang is glued in place after being pushed into the handle.
There are two kinds of push tangs—partial and full. On a partial push tang, the tang is shorter than the knife, whereas a full push is a full-length tang pushed into the blade. When choosing your survival knife, look for a wide, full tang model for durability, strength, greater weight, and a better feel when handling.
There is more to steel than just iron that contains some carbon. All steel has carbon present, but, to enhance specific properties, various alloys are added, each with its own unique element.
- Nickel adds toughness, while both sulfur and phosphorus reduce the toughness of the steel.
- Chromium increases both durability and resistance to corrosion.
- Vanadium and tungsten are carbide formers to resist wear.
- Silicon adds strength.
- Manganese encourages hardenability.
There are different grades of steel and the higher the grade, the more expensive the tactical knife will be. However, steel quality is one area where price skimping should not occur. Additionally, premium steel keeps its edge longer, resists the elements better, and sharpens easily.
The two common steel types are stainless and carbon. Carbon steel survival knives are incredibly sharp and have a toughness that makes them ideal for splitting, batoning, and chopping. Stainless steel has increased rust resistance, but these knives are harder to sharpen because they are more brittle than carbon steel.
While it might be tempting to choose a multi-tool or small survival knife, in the end you will be better off with a bigger model. Something like a Swiss army knife is handy to have and carry with you, but this would not be strong or durable enough to be the only one to depend on in a crisis.
A knife that is too big will come with its own set of problems. The major disadvantage will be the difficulty you may have performing detailed tasks better suited to a smaller blade. Although the magic number will vary from person to person, a tactical knife roughly nine to eleven inches is perfect for most uses.
Fixed vs. Folded Blade
There is greater durability in a fixed blade than in a folding blade survival knife. Much of this consideration comes from personal preference, but the biggest risk to folding blades is the potential for the joint to sustain damage and eventually break.
One Blade and Tip Type
Knife tips are varied, and each one has its use. When looking for a survival knife, the best tip is a sharp one, such as a clip point or drop point. Both are versatile and offer the ability to quickly adapt the use of your knife depending on the situation.
When considering blade edge, survival knives need to handle as many tasks as possible. Choosing a single edge exponentially increases the number of things your knife will do since the flat spine can go from splitting wood to cracking open foraged nuts. Although they look very cool, double or triple-edged blades work best as a primary tactical knife or secondary survival knife.
No matter what, there are certain standards that every tactical or survival knife should meet. Once you have knives under consideration that fit all the above criteria, then you can ponder other options, such as finger guards, lanyard holes, blood grooves, and handle material.
Most of your final decision will be based on what you prefer and what fits your skill set and needs. Don’t just rush out to buy the first one you see—instead, make sure your final decision fulfills your requirements and feels like a trustworthy choice.