What is a Survival Knife?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Hikers often carry survival knives.
Hikers often carry survival knives.

Broadly speaking, any knife in decent working condition could be considered a survival knife. Your chances of surviving the outdoors with a knife are much better than being caught without one. However, there is a specific style of knife which has become synonymous with the term survival knife. It combines the hunting blade of a Bowie knife with a hollow handle designed to hold a number of emergency items. This style of survival knife enjoyed a surge of popularity following the release of Sylvester Stallone's Rambo film series. Stallone's character carried a survival knife as he evaded law enforcement officers in the deep woods.

A survival knife may have a compartment to hold matches.
A survival knife may have a compartment to hold matches.

Although some knife experts consider the hollow-handled survival knife to be more of a novelty than a useful tool, many people seek these knives out for extra security while camping. A survival knife usually has a smooth blade for spearing wild game or preparing food, along with a serrated edge for sawing tree limbs. A survival knife may also have a hooked blade for opening cans or slicing rope. Many knife experts suggest avoiding stainless steel blades, since they cannot be used with flint to spark a fire. Some survival knife blades are treated with a black matte finish to avoid glare.

A survival knife may have components that help hikers saw small trees or branches, open cans and peel foods.
A survival knife may have components that help hikers saw small trees or branches, open cans and peel foods.

The handle of a survival knife is usually knurled to provide a stronger grip. The tip of the handle often contains a floating compass as part of the emergency kit. The rest of the emergency supplies in a survival knife are kept inside the handle itself. The user can unscrew the handle and find a number of useful items. A typical survival knife might contain matches, fishing line, fishing hooks, a wire saw, needle and thread, water purification tablets, first aid supplies and pieces of flint. Many survivalists and soldiers modify their survival knife supplies to match their specific needs.

In addition to a survival knife, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.
In addition to a survival knife, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.

Some survival experts recommend buying a high-quality hunting knife and a compact survival kit instead of a multi-purpose survival knife. Others argue that a good survival knife with a well-stocked handle is easier to carry than a separate knife and emergency kit. Both sides agree that finding a knife with a quality blade and handle is more important than the supplies hidden inside. It is essential that survival knife owners keep the blade sharp and protected from the elements.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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    • Hikers often carry survival knives.
      Hikers often carry survival knives.
    • A survival knife may have a compartment to hold matches.
      A survival knife may have a compartment to hold matches.
    • A survival knife may have components that help hikers saw small trees or branches, open cans and peel foods.
      A survival knife may have components that help hikers saw small trees or branches, open cans and peel foods.
    • In addition to a survival knife, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.
      In addition to a survival knife, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.