Bring up a subject around the campfire, like the best caliber for a deer rifle, prettiest girl, toughest NFL team, most reliable four-wheel drive pickup or the best all-around survival knife and you will get opinions!
But the survival knife topic begs to be explored. Of all the tools needed to ensure your survival in an emergency urban or wilderness situation, a good knife would have to be ranked number one. Then the debate begins!
First, you have to know what you need. Your survival knife must be lightweight, easy to carry, do the job for which it is intended and be adaptable to the situation. Probably most importantly, it needs to be tough, durable and easy to sharpen.
Over the years, my preference in such survival knives has changed.
On my 1980 Mississippi River canoe trip, a Buck folder rode on my hip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to Venice, Louisiana. The folder, with two, 3-1/2 inch blades, worked well for cleaning fish, sharpening wiener sticks, whittling kindling for the fire and spreading peanut butter. The knife went on backpacking trips on the John Muir Trail, through Yellowstone National Park, and on many canoe trips.
But, any folding knife’s weak spot is the hinge. When that breaks, you end up with two pieces. So, as well as the Buck had performed, it was retired two decades ago when I moved to Idaho. I was hunting elk and deer in the mountains, and needed a sturdy hunting knife, in addition to a survival tool.
Now, after several decades of on-the-job testing, I have narrowed my survival knife choices down to three:
Swiss Army Knife Classic: I was given a Classic in 1994. Immediately, I went from wondering what good the dinky little knife could be, to wondering how I ever got along without it!
Measuring 2-1/4 inches long, and weighing one ounce, the Classic contains all the classic Swiss Army tools, including a small blade for cutting, a pair of mini scissors, a nail file with a screwdriver tip, a toothpick, tweezers, and a key ring.
The Classic is a favorite with the lightweight backpacking crowd. I ran into a through hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, near Elk Lake, Oregon, and the only knife she’d carried since Mexico was a Classic. She claimed it was all she needed.
The Classic goes everywhere with me, including hunting camps, but it is definitely not the only knife I carry. Along with a bigger sheath knife, the two knives can handle everything. Of the tools in the Classic, you’ll find yourself using the tweezers and scissors the most. In fact, you’ll find the Classic is worth carrying just for the superb tweezers!
Fixed blade Mora: The current rage among survival schools seems to be the four-inch, fixed-blade Scandinavian Mora style knives. I love the design. It looks like a paring knife with a sheath, and works well for peeling potatoes, cutting rope, and other camp chores. The Mora style is a superb choice for cleaning fish, upland and small game, and it rides in my hunting vest when I’m after birds.
I ordered six different models several years ago to test the steel for fire making potential and their use with the Boy Scouts. My favorite Mora ended up being a J. Martinni knife made in Finland. The knife weighs 2.5 ounces, and the sheath, wrapped with about six feet of bright duct tape, adds another 2.5 ounces. The forged blade holds an edge and is easily sharpened. It’s another of those knives I wouldn’t want to get along without.
Cold Steel SRK: I bought my SRK in 1991 to use as an all-around general hunting knife. The blade is 3/16″ thick and 6″ long; the Kraton handle is 4-3/4 inches long; overall length is 10-3/4 inches. My SRK, without sheath, weighs eight ounces, and 10.5 with sheath wrapped in duct tape.
The SRK comes with a black blade so the first thing I did was remove the paint. I intended to use the SRK for meat cutting and hunting, so the painted blade seemed weird and Rambo-like. Besides, I hunt with several former military types, and they would have laughed a “tactical” or survival knife out of camp!
For what I need, the SRK is perfect. The knife has field dressed about 50 deer and been used on several elk. In one instance, I field dressed and quartered three deer without the knife needing to be sharpened. In hunting camp, it is my most-borrowed knife.
The knife still gets a lot of hard use, since most of camping I do these days is with Boy Scout troops. The SRK is pounded with a wooden baton to split kindling, and that allows us to leave the hatchets and axes at home. It has also whittled countless wiener sticks, and been part of many carving projects around the campfire.
I have way too many knives, of all sorts, sizes and descriptions and 20 years ago I never needed to buy another. So here’s my take: the best survival knife is the one you have when it’s needed. Don’t worry about the current fad, or how pretty or cool a knife may look. The knife you have along is the only survival knife you have! Make sure it’s a good one!