There is no more iconic piece of warrior equipment than the blade. Mankind has been hunting, warring, and killing for thousands of years. Though technology may advance, materials get better, new techniques are developed, the human remains the same.
He still requires food, clothing, shelter, and protection from harm. With those motivations driving him, man learned to hunt, build, and fight.
It may not be as necessary in the modern world as it did when men still lived in the bush, but a man never went without his knife. This was a symbol of his manhood, a tool he lived by, and a weapon he would kill or die with in his hands.
his single tool put man not just on par with the animals with tooth and claw, but ahead of them and at the top of the food chain. Though we are predators we were born without the ability to cut into our prey. The invention of the knife gave us that ability.
Knives gave us the ability to cut and with that opened up a world of possibilities. We could hunt larger game. We could cut trees to build stronger shelters.
We were better able to defend ourselves against animals. And yes, we were able to kill one another with greater efficiency. There is not one piece of equipment, no single tool, which has the versatility and adaptability of the knife.
In the beginning the knife was nothing more than sharp sticks and then broken and sharped rocks. It was not until men learned to heat, mold, and shape metal that the modern knife really came into being. Initially the knife was straight with a single or double edge. Then men learned the cutting power of curving a blade.
Over the years, blade design has birthed a wide range of different knives for different purposes. The goal has always been and will always be to cut something but conditions change, circumstances change, environments change.
For example a scuba diver may have a knife that is resistant to corrosion, may have a thicker blade for prying, and have a flat solid steel butt plate to use as a hammer.
With situations being different but many requiring a blade in some form or fashion I have written this article to discuss some knife choices and the pros and cons of each. Maybe you will learn something from this and it will aid you in your knife buying decisions.
For the sake of clarity and simplicity I will only discuss those knife types that have direct applications to survival and nothing as specialized as, say a fine wood working carving knife.
#1 Tactical Folder
A tactical folder is a type of pocket knife that can be deployed with little effort and with either hand. It is constructed to allow the user to deploy the blade with a single hand.
Most if not all tactical folders come equipped with a belt clip allowing one to affix it to a belt, a pocket, or any thin sturdy piece of material. The beauty of a tactical folder is that it can be worn in manners that are most advantageous to the user.
Tactical folders are tactical because they have the advantage of being able to be put into use from relatively any position. A user may be lying on his back, upside down, tied to a tree, or have another hand occupied at the time. As long as the user has a free hand and access to his knife he can employ it with relative ease.
Most tactical folders are designed to fit inside of a pocket. The blade varies in size but is relatively small compared its fixed blade counter parts.
The blades of most tactical folding pocket knives are between three and six inches. Any shorter and the blades wouldn’t be particularly useful and any longer they would be beyond the realm of practicality. Having a folding knife with a foot long blade would be cumbersome to say the least.
Blade design varies slightly depending on the knife. Most often manufacturers assume the user will require a knife that can be applicable in many situations, most of which are in a field type environment.
Campers, hikers, soldiers, police, firefighters, doctors, workers, and the general public carry and use tactical folders. Their employment is largely dictated by the job they need to get done. A camper may need to cut up kindling for a fire where a hiker may need to cut lengths of Para cord for lashing down gear.
To the prepper, this knife would be invaluable. You will of course have many other knife choices but the tactical folder should be one of your first choices and kept close at hand. If left with nothing at all you only need your knife and you can make due with a bit of improvisation and imagination.
The limitation is really your own mind. Like I stated earlier a good knife is worth a field kit of equipment but having said that the real tool is a diverse mind. Get yourself a tactical folder.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
Recommendation: Spyderco Tenacious Combo Edge Tactical Folding Knife
#2 EMS Knife
Now that you have a tactical folder you may want to upgrade to what I call an EMS or first responder knife. For those that don’t know EMS stands for emergency medical services and first responders are those that are trained to render aid when first to arrive on the scene of an accident.
Firefighters, police, paramedics, and EMTs all fall into this category. Military personnel also fall into this category depending on the situation.
The EMS knife is the upgraded cousin of the tactical folder. It has all of the same features of the tactical folder. It can be opened and manipulated with one hand easily.
It has a belt clip so that it can be carried in a variety of places and fashions around the body. Its blade is large enough to work with and small enough to not be cumbersome.
The upgrades come in the form of other tools build into the frame of the knife. Emergency personnel coming upon a car accident may see a person trapped inside of a vehicle unconscious and bleeding to death. They would need to rapidly extricate that victim and render aid.
When a car is damaged there is a chance that the door may not be able to function properly. At this point the EMS will make the decision to break though the tempered safety glass of the passenger window.
The EMS knife is equipped with a small pointed protrusion at the base of the frame. This is a glass breaker for just such an instance. With minimal effort the emergency technician can ball his knife into his fist and effectively shatter the window with a well-placed strike using the glass breaker.
Once the window is broken if the emergency tech is unable to remove the victim from their restraint harness the EMS knife has a remedy for that as well.
Near the base of the knife there is a cut out just wide enough for a thick belt or strap to fit into. Inside this cut out wedged into the frame of the knife is a razor sharp blade no more than a quarter of an inch long that is specifically designed to cut though a seat belt.
This can be done relatively safely as compared to trying to use a blade, and risk further injury to the victim or worse yet injury to the emergency tech. The last thing needed in an emergency is more victims being made.
The lone prepper may one day come upon a motor vehicle crash and only be equipped with his/her EMS knife. With this tool and a little know how they will be more than equipped to handle the situation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the prepper may be the one that is the victim of a crash and must save their own ass because no help is coming. Cut you belt and break you way out. That EMS knife by your side will be a great asset to your survival.
#3. Swiss Army Knife
The Swiss army knife is the iconic knife of the boy scouts. It is a multi-tooled, multi-bladed, multi-function knife.
These knives are not like tactical folders or EMS knives. They are folding pocket knives, but that is about where their similarities end. These knives usually do not have locking blade, are not for doing heavy work, and required both hands to open and close safely.
Where they come out ahead of more robust pocket knives is in the area of versatility. Where single or even double bladed pocket knives require a bit of imagination to be versatile the Swiss army has it built right into the knife. Believe it or not there are some models with over thirty different functions and tools.
Some can get downright ridiculous with the number of devices crammed into a single knife but most are practical enough and very useful.
Many basic models have tools on both sides of the knife that can be unfolded and used. Many have two blades, a long blade and a short blade. Some models will have a tooth pick and tweezers as well as screwdrivers built into the knife. Other models may have everything from a fish scaler to a light tree saw great for small branches.
Originally the knife was made as a field tool for the Swiss army to field strip and care for their service rifles. It was equipped with a blade, a screwdriver, a reamer, and a can opener.
Now, there are various models specifically designed for whatever activity you are undertaking. Some of the more popular models are made for camping and hiking, climbing, hunting, tinkering, and even opening wine bottles.
Having at least one of these in your pack could not hurt. They are relatively light weight and come in real handy when you are missing your tool kit. I am more than certain that you can find a model that will satisfy your needs.
Most, if not all, models have a key ring so you can attach them to your car or house keys. It would be little effort to lash a strop through that ring and wear this handy knife around your neck. It could save your life one day.
Recommendation: Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Pocket Knife
#4 Hunting Knife
Now we will move away from the folding knives and into the world of the fixed blade knife. These are knives that you must keep in some sort of scabbard or sheath for safety. There are small models but since most of these knives will be worn on a belt or in a boot and not inside of a pocket they can be a bit larger that a folding blade.
The hunting knife is a fixed blade knife that is designed for the tasks one encounters while on the trail of game big and small. The hunting knife is mainly designed to do two things; skin an animal, and field strip the animal for food.
The blades of hunting knives are usually wide, relatively slim, and have a single straight cutting edge. Some models have a gut hook for opening the belly of an animal without puncturing its internal organs and tainting the meat.
As these knives are not for stabbing some of the blades will have a curved edge for fine cutting and slicing. Field stripping the animal once killed makes the game more manageable. Instead of trying to carry a single large animal back home or to camp the hunter can cut it up into manageable pieces and carried. Also the animal can be skinned to have the pelt for making clothing.
For survival purposes, you’ll want to have at least one hunting knife kept sharp and ready to go when the hunt is on. Though many of the jobs of the hunting knife can be done with other knives it is always more efficient to have the right tool for the job. When hunting, take a hunting knife.
Recommendation: Buck Knives 0120 General Fixed Blade Hunting Knife
#5. Survival Knife
A survival knife is also a fixed blade knife similar to a hunting knife but it is designed specifically for surviving various scenarios. When surviving you must remember the rule of threes. You can survive for about three hours in harsh conditions, three days without water, and three weeks without food. These are general guidelines and not hard rules as everyone is different and require different levels of nourishment but bear with me.
The survival knife was designed to aid an individual in the acquisition of food, water, and shelter. Survival knives have many of the same features as a hunting knife as it was intended to skin and strip animals for use but they also have features that are quite unique.
For example, there are models that have a compass hidden in a small compartment in the handle. If by chance a hike gets lost he can unscrew a portion of his survival knife and find a small liquid filled compass to help find his way.
There are many models that have hollow grips where one can stash small fishing hooks and a length of fishing line, a bit of minor first aid equipment, or fire starting materials, matches, striker, tender, etc.
Some have blades with serrations on its spine and can be used as a saw. Other models have sturdy enough blade that they can be lashed to the end of a tree limb and used as a spear tip.
Recommendation: Maxam SKJK Survival Knife
The Ka-Bar is the iconic standard issue knife of the United States Marine. Now we move into the realm of utility and fighting knives.
The Ka-Bar, so named because someone used one of the early models to kill a bear, is perhaps the great, great grandchild of the Bowie knife. It has evolved from a frontiersman’s field knife so it was always both a utility and fighting instrument.
The modern Ka-Bar is a fixed blade design with a single edge and robust leather handle. These knives were designed to fill out a hand and made to do heavy work.
The blade is made thick for digging and prying if necessary. The tip is diamond shaped which gives it strength and stability for stabbing. It can be used as a hunting and survival knife but seeing as how it is issued to fighting men it works very well as a weapon.
This knife is the largest of the blades we have discussed so far with a blade length of seven inches. For the prepper this knife would serve well as a survival tool for chopping as it could be placed against a log and hit with another stick effectively acting as a wedge. This would take a little work but one could make do without an axe if need be.
As a defensive weapon, the Ka-Bar would inflict massive amounts of damage due to blade length and width. If someone were stabbed or slashed with a Ka-Bar the wound channel it created would be catastrophic.
Recommendation: KA-BAR Fighting/Utility Serrated Edge Knife
Sticking with the modern war fighter utility/fighting knife we shall move on to the bayonet. Now a bayonet is a special type of fighting knife. It is constructed first for use as a weapon and has secondary functions as tools.
Bayonets vary in length from very long, maybe a foot, down to the shorter end of the spectrum, six to eight inches. The largest characteristic that makes the bayonet stand out from other knives is that is meant to be attached to a fighting rifle.
The bayonet is designed with a combination of special cross guard and grip features that allow the wielder to affix the blade to the end of their rifle. Now we are able to buy bayonets that can be used as utility knives and working tools.
Earlier bayonets were long slim instruments that were solely for driving into an opponent. They did not really have a cutting edge as they were not mean for slashing attacks. Instead the weapon’s profile would be a star or triangular pattern to cause an irregular wound channel.
Bayonets can be purchased easily enough online or from your local military surplus. Choosing a bayonet will depend on the rifle you carry.
Truly the only reason to pack a bayonet is so it can eventually be used on the end of a rifle. It is a very sturdy utility knife and was designed to take hard use but most of them are heavy and unless you were planning on putting it on the end of your rifle will just weigh you down.
But if you do have a rifle or shotgun with the bayonet lug that allows you to equip your bayonet then you will be the proud wielder of one of the kings of hand to hand combat, the spear. It has been overshadowed by the sword in media but the true weapon of a warrior and hunter was and always will be the spear.
This is the grandfather of modern weaponry. The invention of the spear is when men learned to kill with increased range and flexibility. Spears can be thrusted as well as thrown.
To you, and depending on the rifle you own, the rifle with fixed bayonet is a total weapon system. Once your weapon runs dry and you begin to close with the enemy you engage him in close combat using your rifle as a spear, striking with the bayonet and smashing with the butt end of the stock. If you must engage an enemy in smother close range then you will discard your rifle and resort to your bayonet in hand.
Though there are many to choose from the weapon and bayonet combination I favor is the AK47 and the AKM type 1. I would choose this combination because the reliability of the AK47 is legendary.
Possibly being in an austere type of environment where reliability is a factor I would want to have something that requires little maintenance. Also the sheath for the AKM type 1 and the blade itself can lock together and function as a wire cutter. The multi-functionality of this device is appealing to me.
On to the next largest knife on the list the kukri is a big bastard of a knife from Nepal. This is a very distinct heavy blade with an inward curve. You will know it when you see it as it looks like a boomerang.
This is the utility and fighting knife of the Gurkha army. The Gurkha were such badass soldiers and hard fighters that the knife took on their name. In time the kukri was known as the Gurkha knife.
This knife has a blade that is significantly larger and heavier than the seven inch Ka-Bar of the United States Marine Corps. The kukri is closer to a machete than a knife. It has a single cutting edge and a blade curve that can be called severe for beheading an opponent.
Being a field knife made for chopping the kukri is well suited for a jungle environment where thick brush may be an obstacle. The kukri can make short work of hanging limbs and vines when forging a path through dense growth.
As a fighting knife the kukri affords the wielder a variety of options. Your standard hammer grip and icepick grip are really the best ways to hold the kukri. You need a strong firm grip due to the weight of the blade and the balance. It is very front end heavy, great for hacking and chopping.
Traditionally, the handle is capped with a brass or steel butt plate for pummeling an opponent and the apex of the curve can be used as a striking surface as well if the knife were held in a hammer grip with the blade facing the user.
The kukri is not made for fine work. It is somewhat of a cross between a knife and an axe. The blade is thick enough to pry thing up with and heavy enough to hack down small trees. The spine of the blade is wide enough to use as a hammer or even drive a nail if the user is skillful enough to hit such a fine point.
I cannot very well discuss uniquely designed knives without mentioning the karambit. This knife began as a Southeast Asian farmer’s hand tool for cutting grass, digging up roots, and planting rice. The blade has a curve so sharp that the blade’s point may be perpendicular to the hilt.
The karambit is single, double, and even triple edged in some cases. Traditional karambit had a hilt constructed of wood, ivory, or water buffalo horn.
This tools most distinct feature is the finger ring at the base of the hilt. This hole allows the user to place a finger through it for added leverage when cutting.
The ring fits around the smallest finger when the tool is gripped and the blade is on the thumb side of the hand or the ring goes around the index finger when the blade is held in the reverse grip. The blade has a grand curve that was inspired by the curve of a tiger’s claw.
The karambit is medium sized and light weight, ideal for carrying easily and drawing quickly. It would be a sad working implement if it fell through a belt, were too heavy to carry all day, and snagged on clothing when you were out in the fields.
Originally it was a fixed blade knife with a scabbard made of wood or water buffalo horn. In the modern world there are folding pocket versions that can be clipped to a belt or inside of a pocket.
As a weapon this blade can be devastating. A skilled individual wielding a karambit is a force of nature. The weapon affords the user an assortment of option for attack and defense. The curve of the blade makes for very powerful ripping and deep gouging attacks.
The ring ensures that the user will not drop the weapon and have a hard time being disarmed. The ring also adds leverage to cuts, a bonus when you have the need to work through thick clothing in a fight.
A secondary bonus to the finger ring is it can be used as a striking surface. Depending on what material it is constructed from, if it can handle the abuse of multiple impacts it can be used as a single knuckle duster. This feature is somewhat similar to the trench knife of WW1.
In close combat a person with a karambit can seamlessly integrate knife fighting with their hand to hand methods. This knife allows the user to keep the hand the knife is in free to be used as a fist if a less than lethal technique is required.
Now there shouldn’t be a man, woman, or child alive today that is not familiar in some way to this big knife. Weather they have used one, seen one used, or watched a slasher horror movie they should have at some point been exposed to this tool. This is the longest blade on this list at about two feet.
The machete is the ideal survival tool if ever you find yourself in a jungle type environment. Watch any documentary on people indigenous to a jungle and you will see them with machete close at hand.
This tool is a great universal cutter. Given its size it is light enough to do relatively fine work as well as fell trees, and I’m not just talking saplings.
I have seen trees wide enough to crush a man be hacked down with machete. The blade is not a hard inflexible piece of steel, quite the opposite in fact. The blade seems so flimsy and insignificant that is may break with heavy use.
The secret is that, that flimsiness is its strength. Being so thin and light allows it to be swung with great speed and its flexible nature gives it a high degree of resilience. Where a stiffer blade will bend or even break with a poorly angled cut, the machete is forgiving.
Instead of bending or breaking the machete will just bounce off like a leaf spring. Beware; this is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because you can trust your tool will not break and a curse because there is a chance the damn thing can vibrate right out of your hand.
As a weapon, it has the greatest standoff distance of any of the knives. Any sizing up from the machete and we get into the realm of swords and we should save that for another list.
The machete is light and fast. It does not deliver anything in the way of kinetic damage but it being so thin makes it extremely dangerous. A sharp and well maintained machete can be used to cut grasses and vines one day and take an arm or leg of with a single swipe the next day.
Weight is always an issue when bugging out. The machete would be a great blade to throw onto the side of a pack or slip into your belt.
Recommendation: Ontario Knife Co 1-18” Military Machete
#11. Throwing Knives
You being a prepper are by nature a practical person. I know what you are thinking about this article. WHY WOULD I EVER THROW MY WEAPON?! Though it may seem a bit silly and driven by modern television, I want you to consider the throwing knife. Before I get into this weapon I would like to dispel myths.
Movies have us believe that you can throw a knife hard enough to go into a man’s skull and kill him from fifteen yards. Movies will have us believe that you can throw a knife hard enough to pierce through a man’s chest plate and into his heart. I will be the first to tell you that these are simply not true.
Now that the myths are dispelled let’s get into the real world of the throwing knife, its practical uses. There are many different designs of throwing knives.
Some designs have a single blade while others have multiple blades like the star shuriken of the Japanese shinobi. The straight bladed versions will have a blade on one end or both ends to increase the chances of a successful hit. They will be single edged or double edged.
The sizes of throwing knives will vary. They can be small enough to fit in the palm or so large that you would need a small hand bag to carry them. Throwing knives usually have a skeleton or bare handle.
Designs forgo putting grips in them or wrapping the handle because it will affect the flight of the knife. Throwing knives are weighted so that they will strike point first when thrown. They are very front end heavy.
There are models of throwing knives that can double as fighting knives or working knives. An example would be the ninja’s kunai that is popular in the anime sub culture. The kunai we see on anime with the long diamond shaped blade and ring at the base of the grip is the stylized version.
The actual knife had a wide blade that resembled a Zulu spear tip and could be used for all sorts of tasks including a throwing implement.
The true purpose and power of the throwing knife is as a distraction. In hunting small game it may be possible to kill but as a fighting weapon it was never meant to kill outright. Their use in combat was to be thrown at an enemy to break his focus so one could follow up with a killing blow.
The shinobi were known to poison their shuriken. They would only need to pierce the skin of their enemy and then just wait for him to weaken before closing in for the kill.
Throwing a knife and getting it to strike point first at different distances takes much time and practice. If you are planning on carrying them you will also want to plan on learning how to throw then and schedule weekly if not daily training sessions.
Lastly I would like to mention the shiv or as some like to call it the prison shank. Now I know what you’re thinking.
Why would I have all kinds of different store bought knives in my pack and on my belt and keep a cheap piece of scrap metal with a duct tape handle?
Why wouldn’t I just carry another well-made knife instead? I will answer that with another question. What are you? You are a prepper right? Your very nature is being prepared for what comes next.
What is a shiv? Discussing knives as survival instruments we should go back to the original knives. They were sharp sticks, broken rocks, and filed bone fragments. In short the first knives were all shivs. Then technology advanced and they just got better.
Before that men made knives with whatever they had at hand. There are some obsidian (volcanic glass) knives that hold an edge that is sharper than surgical steel.
So Which One(s) Should You Get?
This section is less about a knife and more about the knowledge and training to improvise a knife when the situation calls for it. What if you were stranded on a deserted island with nothing but the trees and rocks?
Could you make a spear to hunt with or a knife to cut your meat, and an axe to chop the logs for your shelter? If you can then you can skip this section because you are already familiar with what I am going to call shiv technology.
You should know how to improvise a cutting tool with almost anything and in almost any environment. You may need it for shaping sticks for small game traps or defending yourself from larger animals. A little knowledge goes a long way with a bit of imagination.
Just stick to the basics. You need an edge for cutting, a point for puncturing, and a handle for gripping. As long as you satisfy those you are in good shape.
Chances are you will have an assortment of different blades for different purposes and multiples of the same blade but for different loadouts.
You may keep a machete, a Swiss army, and an EMS knife in the trunk of your car, while you have your tactical folder in your pocket and Ka-Bar on your belt. Then you will have a different combination of knives on or in your pack. The choices and combinations are without end. Just remember to never go without your blade.
I am from Houston, Texas. I began studying combat when I was six with my first teacher being my father. He took me into our backyard and began teaching me the deadly arts of western boxing. It was like a game then. Later on I got into the Asian styles and it was a flood of whatever I could get into, Taekwondo, Shotokan, Tangsoodo, various styles of Kung Fu, Aiki-jutsu, and Iaido. I also got into Viking Combat for a while and learned sword and shield techniques.
A few years back I joined the world’s greatest Air Force. I did some time in the sandbox and made it home without a single scar, physical or otherwise. I have friends that were not so lucky. The majority of my bush craft comes from a combination of my time as a boy scout, my father, small pockets of military training, and my mentor Vietnam era old corps force recon Marine.