Survival Saturday: Choosing A Survival Knife According to

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of recently came out with an article on choosing a survival knife. While I was ready to go in and tear apart their suggestions, they actually did a pretty good job of laying out the pros and cons of different blade styles in a way that would make sense to the layperson. Remember, Backpacker’s target audience are not necessarily all knife people so it was refreshing to see good advice.  To wit…

From Ask an Expert: How to Choose a Survival Knife:

From What are the pros and cons of fixed-blade versus foldable knives?

Fixed blades are preferred for their strength while batoning, chopping, and digging, and are also the preferred method for defense against other mammals. The downside of a fixed blade, though, is their size and usually, their weight. Sheath folding knives are preferred if space and compactness are priorities, but they are inherently weaker at the pivot point.

I think we can all agree with this paragraph. I would personally never recommend any folder as a “survival knife” but remember, some of their readers may not even consider a fixed blade. We’ve made progress in recent years, but knives can still carry a stigma for some, and a folder is generally more socially acceptable. The last line at least tells them the downside of a folder.

The article also gives some good (general) advice on knife steels, something this type of article will often overlook.

And how about the material of the blade?

Carbon steel is the most common on large fixed blade knives, like machetes or axes, and can hold an edge for a very long time. This material is more prone to rusting, and needs to have a coating or mirror polish to reduce corrosion. Stainless steel, generally found in small fixed blades and sheath folders, is the most common steel available, is often the least expensive. With either material, the general rule of thumb is that the less carbon content, the quicker the edge will go dull. Yet it’s easier to resharpen and will be the least expensive.

The other thing I appreciate about the article is that they avoid recommending any particular product. This puts the onus on the reader to take their information and apply it to their search for a knife, ultimately making them more invested in the decision of what they buy. Who knows, this may spawn some new knife nuts along the way! What is not to love?

This was a similar approach taken by, when they interviewed Clay for a feature on choosing a survival knife. Here is what he had to say.

“The single greatest consideration for a survival knife is trust. You need a knife that says ‘I will not fail you.’

The number one rule for survival, if I remember my merit badge, is ‘maintain a positive mental attitude.’ I can think of little more devastating to one’s personal morale than to have a tool fail at a critical time. With a good knife and the knowledge you carry in your head, you have the foundation to begin to take control of your situation.”

I think this is the perfect bit of advice to compliment Backpacker’s well done article.

OK, since I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m going to contradict my earlier paragraph and offer some specific suggestions, and I would ask you to chime in on the comments as well. What do you think are the best “backpacking survival knife” options out there?

In my mind, the ultimate would be the Big Chris Hiker that I had the opportunity to review. The svelte blade plays right into the concerns of the weight conscious, while still providing a stout knife that can take a beating. The 3V steel may not be easy to work with for knife newbies, and the price tag certainly isn’t either, but I can think of no more perfect backpacking survival knife than this.


So what about something more affordable… something that would make a good recommendation for Backpacker’s readership?

Astute readers may remember that I have recommended the Fällkniven F1 in the past, and while it is certainly a very good knife, I have been gravitating away from rubber handles more and more. I don’t like how they can introduce hot spots because of too much grip, or that they can get pretty banged up when batoning.

Part of me really wants to recommend the Becker BK16 that I just finished up reviewing but the tactical style sheath could be a turn-off to more “mainstream” backpackers. If you don’t mind it though, it is a shoo-in. Balanced, lightweight, and capable.


If I had to offer one specific suggestion to the Backpacker readership, at this point I would have to go with the Morakniv Bushcraft Black. It may have rubber handles, but for the price it is still hard to beat Morakniv’s quality and fit & finish, even if the knife is not as inexpensive as it used to be. As Clay proved in his review, the knife is strong and the sheath neither looks tactical, nor does it take up a lot of room on the belt. All good things for the backpacker.

Now off to you fine folks! What “survival knife” would you recommend to the backpacking crowd?


  1. Robert Evans says:

    I’d agree on the Morakniv Bushcraft, but in orange, not black. A backpacker has no need for a knife in a subdued color; the orange knife would be easier to locate if dropped on the trail or left at a campsite.

    1. knightofbob says:

      I’m pretty sure the orange is only available in stainless, the black is carbon steel with a corrosion resistant coating. I see where you’re coming from, but I’d go with the black over the orange.

      1. Sam L. says:

        I put a fluorescent orange key-ring tag on my black Boy Scout knife so it will show up if I lay it on something, or drop it.

  2. aircooledTOM says:

    Ontario SK-5. I have two. One in my car, one in my truck.

    1. QuantumZen says:


      Also, Gideon’s Tactical just did a review of this 11 oz. knife if one desires a single, large fixed blade survival knife solution, the HK Feint made by Benchmade (and it’s 440c stainless steel, very nice for those in wet/humid climates):

  3. stuartb says:

    Survival over bushcraft, the Gerber LMK II, pictured at top, takes some beating

  4. Robert H says:

    So much depends on preferences of the backpacker. Some of those guys are crazy weight obsessed…with their gear. If it’s going to be something just thrown in a pack then the Mora with the fire steel would be a fine choice and Amazon has those for $25. My Fallkniven F1 has been getting micro chips in the vg10 edge lately.

    1. sagebrushracer says:

      yeah, I think you would get the MOST bang for your buck in both dollars and ounces with a mora.

  5. CJ says:

    Like the ontario RAT series, the TOPS Pathfinder is pretty nice too. A 4″ blade seems to be pretty versitile and comfortable to carry, although I do carry a ‘hawk as well. And a CS Recon 1… and a SOG multitool… and a Becker necker… Stiff KISS…

    Maybe I shouldn’t be giving advice.

  6. AW1Ed says:

    Buck 119. I carried one in my survival gear for years, flying in the Navy after “losing” the near worthless knife that was issued to me.
    Still have the -119.

    “Survival” knife looked a lot like this:

  7. Jeff O. says:

    When I backpack I carry a Morakniv Companion. It’s light, strong, and holds a good edge. Most readers of Backpacking magazine, however, are going to actually be the opposite of the bushcraft crowd. They’re not likely to be batoning firewood, cleaning small game or building camp furniture with field-made cordage. Most of their knife uses will involve opening freeze-dried meals or cutting parachute cord. I don’t say this to be disparaging in any way, but just to point out that there are major differences in knife requirements for the Go-Lite crowd than the wool-blanket folks. My own style is somewhere between the two, and on my last trip the only times I used my knife were to clean my 6 year old’s first fish and then to whittle some sticks around the campfire. (His little Gerber LST, however, was out constantly, and no stick for 30 yards was safe!)

    1. aircooledTOM says:

      This is an excellent point. Could be that a skeleton rubberized grip, 3-4 inch kydex sheathed, kinda thing…. Maybe that’s the best option for these packing by ounces types.

      1. this might make a good question of the day sometime. Thanks.

  8. Dan l says:

    The mora with fire steel is a great choice, it has been one of my goto pack knife for a while now. I just switched. For 45 bucks you can get a d2 bushcraft style knife from real steel. It’s made in china, but d2 steel, full tang, Scandi grind, kydex sheath, .14 inch thick, 4.2 inch blade, 6 ounce knife, I can’t find a better value in the bushcraft style knife space….if I can ever get a kershaw skyline fixed blade I might try it out, at under 3 ounces it’s super light full tang and has the same great ergonomics of one of my favorite folders. I think a 3.5 to 5 inch full tang knife, and a small folding saw are the way to go btw, together about 8 ounces, about a third the weight of a hatchet or machete. I used to carry a kukri and now feel like it’s just carrying an extra pound and a half, unless you are in a mangrove swamp, or have coconuts to harvest

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Survival Saturday: Choosing A Survival Knife According to

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email