Best Survival Knife for a Bug Out Bag
What is the best knife for a bug out bag? There is no set answer but the best fixed bladed, high carbon, full tang knife with a 3.5" - 5" drop point tip that you can afford is often offered as a solution. While definitions vary, basically on full tang knives the unsharpened metal of the knife blade continues the full length and full (or nearly full width) of the handle instead of just part of the way, this provides additional support and strength of the exposed blade. However, having one knife for all your survival chores is a story of compromise. Here are my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of various styles of knives for survival applications.
Spend five minutes searching for survivals knife options for your Bug Out Bag and if you haven’t came across the Mora brand of knives something is wrong. Another thing that quickly becomes apparent is that Mora knives come in a huge variety of styles, colors, blade thickness, and prices. Most of the Mora knife line is very affordable and fall into the $10 - $20 dollar range; however, they do not feature a full tang. I choose to try a Mora Craftline High Q model as it featured a .125” thick blade as compared to the thinner .100” inch blade of the more popular Companion models. On Mora knives the tapered angle of the blade is used to form their cutting edge as opposed to a false edge found on nearly every other style of knife. I’m currently in the process of putting my Mora through the paces and hope to have a review for you soon.
Fixed Blade Hunting Knife
Medium to large hunting knives often find there way into Bug Out Bags and for good reason. This type of knife often features a full tang, 3.5”- 5” blade, and is designed for rugged use. While designed primarily for gutting and skinning big game, a large fixed blade hunting knife can be used for self defense, processing firewood, and general campsite tasks. Because of their medium sized blades they are also capable of handling tasks that require more precision such as gutting fish. Because of their versatility, many of what are often considered the best survival knives closely resembles a full tang drop point hunting knife with a 3.5" - 5" blade. The picture on the left is a Cold Steel Master Hunter which has been my go to hunting knife for over 15 years. The model shown is made of the discontinued Carbon V steel and shows the importance of keeping high carbon blades cleaned and oiled. On the other hand it also speaks to the durability of a good hunting knife that despite some neglect it still shows no sign of slowing down.
Depending on your situation a machete might also make a lot of sense as an addition to your bag. Strengths of a machete include: clearing a campsite, making a trail, gathering wood, and scaring off attackers (nobody wants to mess with a guy holding a machete). The typical discount store ten dollar machete probably shouldn’t be considered but there are some reasonable priced models that should hold up pretty well. I choose to try a kind of a hybrid machete; the Ontario SP-8 Machete is sold as a machete but is really more of an all purpose cutting/chopping survival tool. The SP-8 has a beefy ¼ inch blade, which means this “machete” could be used and misused for a variety of cutting, chopping, smacking, whacking, digging, scraping and prying activities. The down side to this and similar style offerings is they often several time heavier than full sized fixed blade knives and do not feature a pointed tip; however, both the blunt tip and added weight are advantages for many survival uses.
These often look like a hunting knife on steroids and are often the size of a machete. Bowie style knives like the Cold Steel Trailmaster are favored by many outdoor enthusiasts as their choice of survival knife as it can handle almost any survival chore that should be attempted with a knife. Unlike, machetes the Bowie knife’s pointed tip makes it more suitable for self defense as is capable of both stabbing and slashing techniques. However, like all large survival knifes, its size is both its strength and weakness, as its large blade makes small more precise tasks difficult. Another factor to consider is that larger style knives require more material to make and therefore cost more than a smaller knife made of the same materials. The Bowie style survival knife is probably best suited for those concerned primarily with a wood processing tool, as this large blade seems best suited for shelter building, wood gathering, brush clearing, firewood splitting, and of course self defense.
Large Every Day Carry
A large folding EDC knife can pull double duty since you will have it with you at all times, and could be used either as a first rate back up knife for your Bug Out Bag or the primary blade should you need it to. While larger than many EDC knives, folders of this size are nearly as large as most Mora knives and are much easier to pack because of their compact folded size and carry clip. The carry clip not only saves the weight of a sheath but also keeps the knife securely attached inside your pocket where it is easily accessible. The strength of the various folding lock mechanisms is often sighted as a concern, but there are many trusted brands of these folders that would stand up to everything except the most extreme abuse. I am currently carrying an Ontario Rat Model 1 as my EDC knife and would feel very comfortable relying on it as my primary survival knife if need be.
The pocket knife is probably one of the most over looked knife options for a Bug But Bag knife, primarily because of their small size. However, many of the tasks a survival knife is asked to perform doesn’t require a 5” or larger fixed blade. Also, many pocket knives come with multiple blades, and the ability to start out with several sharp blades and even sacrifice one or two if necessary shouldn’t be overlooked. I have had numerous three bladed pocket knives over the years and generally use them as follows. The large blade main blade is generally used for the widest variety of tasks and sees the bulk of the action. Next, the middle blade features a straight edge with no curve and is therefore easy to keep razor sharp; I reserve this blade for special tasks that require both sharpness and durability. Finally, the last blade is often designated as the abuse blade and is used for whittling, prying, scraping, and puncturing. While probably not the ultimate survival knife, the small size, light weight, and multiple uses of a pocket knife like a Buck Cadet make it a candidate for a place in a Bug Out Bag.
Folding Hunting Knife
Knives like the Buck 110 (pictured left) are rarely discussed in conversations about the best survival knives; despite the fact they have many of the same features as there fixed blade hunting counterparts and are more compact. On rare occasion that someone does mention a folding hunting style knife for survival use, the strength of the locking mechanism is immediately called into question. While it is true the strength of a fixed blade full tang knife should be stronger that a folding knife of similar quality, people tend to underestimate the strength and level of abuse these knifes can take. Furthermore, these knives can be packed in the folded position on a belt or slipped into a large pocket and are often easier to pack than a fixed bladed knife. While probably not my first choice, if you have a spare folding hunting knife collecting dust and are missing a dedicated knife for your Bug Out Bag don’t hesitate to add it to your pack.
Finding one knife that can handle every task you might encounter in a survival situation isn’t likely to happen. However, if you combine a large blade knife with a smaller bladed knife, things get a whole lot simpler. A large knife can be used for self defense, batoning wood, clearing a camp site, and other tasks better suited for large sturdy blades. Meanwhile, a smaller pocket knife, folding knife, or neck knife can be used for whittling tent stakes, cutting paracord, cleaning fish or small game, opening packaging, and other tasks that are easier accomplished with smaller blades. Sometime, people get a little too caught up in the “if you could only have one” game and miss a simple solution. It’s true a “brand xyz” knife might be a better survival knife than many other options if you could only have one knife, but the real question should be why can you only have one?