Trust me, I’m an “Expert” or something…


I was part of a panel of “experts” who were asked what was the most important consideration for selecting a survival knife.

About a month or so ago Darren Ian, the purveyor of the online retailer contacted me about a piece he was putting together for the relaunch of their blog. The post,  “An Army of Experts Share Tips on Choosing the Best Survival Knife” went live today.

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of their site, but they have 66k likes on Facebook (including TTAK’s own Nathan), but more importantly to me a thorough perusal of their previous posts proved Darren and the site’s bona fides. 

Darren was interviewing a panel of “experts” in the fields of knives and wilderness survival to answer the question: “What is the most important trait you look for in a survival knife?” The panel was made up of survival bloggers, knife writers such as myself, and one individual whose CV blows me away to be included on the same panel with.

JJ’s (neither the TopSpec piece nor his blog Reality Survival give his full name) bio includes service in the USAF as a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Instructor. His blog is an incredibly in-depth guide to survival and prepping, and I plan on returning to browse further in the future.

I feel I have a solid knowledge base on woodcraft and survival, but that is lofty company for a guy who sometimes still considers himself a Trout Bum who gets paid to write about knives. That being said, I stand by my answer and put it up against the other ones with confidence.

I said “The single most important consideration for a survival knife is Trust“.


There are two coincidences that made me smile. The first is that this comes out on the heels of my Brian Williams stolen valor editorial last night where trust was a theme. The other is that another blogger, Thomas Xavier, independently chose the same word when I thought my answer was somewhat unconventional. I go onto explain:

“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.”

Thomas’s explanation is similar to mine. He specifies trust in the manufacturer and materials as well, while I did not specifically mention these I believe that they are inherent in the relationship you have with the tool in question. I stressed a more emotional /morale component between the survivor and their tool.

There were 3 closely related answers referring to the blade’s size. Their argument being that cultures that live in the woods rely on tools such a kukris, machetes, and other larger edged tools. I can understand their point, though I have managed to deal with some pretty significant wood processing with my 4.25″ bladed Mora Bushcraft. The Wilmont Wharny that I am currently testing is a heck of a chopping and batoning knife and is still a manageable 4.5″. However, I would certainly be happy to have my 14″ CRKT Halfachance with me in a survival situation.

This ties into David Polczynski‘s answer that the knife should be something you are comfortable with and want to carry. For me, the fact of the matter is I am already schlepping enough gear with me when I guide, that I don’t want to carry something so big and heavy when it is beyond anything I typically would need to deal with on the river. However, should an emergency arise, I know I can cut saplings up to 3.5″ with my Mora, which are perfectly adequate for constructing a shelter or pole drag to facilitate the rescue of an injured client or other victim.

The final answer was Simplicity. It was by Tim MacWelch, Outdoor Life contributor and Author of Prepare for Anything.

“I don’t need a knife that’s also a saw, hatchet, and cheese grater. Quite often, the more features you stack onto a knife, the more each feature suffers.”

I can’t argue with this at all. In a way I would put in into the “Trust” camp, to a degree. Tim is stressing reliability, which I think is a related concept.

The article goes on in great detail on blade styles, shapes, and other considerations as well as a compilation of statistics from another 100 people surveyed. It is well written guide and worth a read.

What do you all think of my answer, and the others? Which camp do you fall in or do you have answer that we hadn’t thought of?



  1. Darren Ian says:

    Thanks for the mention + the contribution. Awesome recap. It’s been fun reading all the comments and knife suggestions! Ill be sure to mention this recap post on the forums.

  2. Don’t sell yourself short, I read your article because your an expert! While I’m not a “survival” person I fish in some pretty tough conditions though, and one of the important things i look for is grippyness. Last thing I want to do is drop my knife somewhere where I can’t get it back

  3. Mike L says:

    Let me pose a simple question. What factor in the survival equation was most important to mountain man Hugh Glass? Was it the “official ” blessing of his extensive equipment? NOT. Was it his “certificate ” from training classes run by survival experts? NOT. His exploit, to this day awe inspiring, was one that exhibited “grit “. Pure and simple grit. The Finns have a similar concept that is part of their culture. Sisu. I would even suggest that the popular fictional character MacGyver has it. DON’T EVER GIVE UP, is the most important survival advice/equipment to carry with you.

  4. KAP says:

    Knowledge, improvise, adapt , overcome! first we have too define failure in whose terms and conditions, Before I trust a Knife, 1. what type of steel used, can I sharpen it with a rock? approximate time frame before re-sharpening! { its amazing how many sharp Knives struggle too cut Para Cord!} 2. what kind of Tang is used? How big? 3. pass a usage test! with gloves ? wet, cold. hot. dry. processing game animals etc!
    Experts are a dime a dozen! some are legitimate most are blow hards, separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak can and is confusing! a person should set their own criteria as to what is acceptable or not!

    1. It seems like the arbitrary label of “expert” has been the biggest nit that people have picked on this. I have been cruising various message boards and following the feedback on the piece.

      I hope that I have never tried to oversell myself. For those who are not familiar with my bio here is what I would put on my CV as to credentials with regards to knife knowledge and survival/outdoor training:

      Eagle Scout

      Shooting Sports Instructor

      Multiple months spent in the bush doing Anthropological fieldwork in Kenya and Venezuela

      3 yrs. Boat Builder/Finish Shop Supervisor Hyde Boats.

      “High-Amateur” level woodworker.

      3yrs volunteer FireFighter/EMT-I

      15+ years as a Fly Fishing Guide in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Tennessee.

      2 years writing/running a knife blog where I have read more and researched more about knives and all things related than I ever imagined that I would.

      There are countless people whom I would look to as experts above myself. But I feel it is a solid resume upon which to base my opinions.

  5. Apropos of nothing at all…

    I just went back and re-read this. It will never cease to feel weird to quote myself.

  6. Jon M. says:

    Nice work H. Clay, and what an informative and excellent post! Lot of reading to be done when I get a break from work.

  7. I gotta admit I got a chuckle out of us having the same answer, lets go with “great minds think alike” ? 😉

    1. Indeed. It ties into Mike L’s comment above about “Never Give Up”. I have dealt with enough situations that while not quite SHTF scenarios, were certainly classifiable as emergencies in 20+ years in the field that I firmly believe that attitude is everything. If you trust in your training and your tools, you are able to deal with most anything.

  8. stuartb says:

    You have to trust your knife (and your other survival tools), your friends, and those who you learn from. If that trust is called into question its time to find some thing or some one more reliable. We’re still reading TTAK, so you have to be doing something right.

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Trust me, I’m an “Expert” or something…

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