I can’t even remember who my first kiss was or with whom it was. I have no recollection of getting my driver’s license. My high school graduation is all I can remember and the entire time at college is blurred. But I do remember where I was and what I was wearing. I also remember how I felt when my first survival knife arrived over twenty years ago. It brings back fond childhood memories. The knife had a hollow handle and contained a fishing kit, as well as other miscellaneous accessories. Since then, my love affair with knives has been a lifelong passion. The coolest survival knives are always in movies, but does that mean the survival knife has a place in “real life”?

It was a rhetorical question. It most definitely does.

Millions of people around the world are still in danger each year, despite all our advances in medicine, technology and travel. Thousands of people are forced into unpredicted and unpredictable situations that could lead to death or life-threatening injuries. Survival depends on knowledge and experience. What is my point? Keep important survival tools close at hand in case of an emergency. A quality knife is one of the most essential survival tools.

The cutting knife has held a special place in survival history. Since thousands of years ago, mankind has relied on some type of cutting tool to meet his basic survival needs, such as food, water and shelter. In modern times, this knife is often called the “survival blade”. Not all survival knives are the same.

Willow Haven gives me the opportunity to carry a survival knife on my hip almost every day. However, I understand that it isn’t practical for everyone. A survival knife should always be available. It might surprise you how often you use it, even in survival situations. My survival knife is always with me when I travel. It is always in my checked baggage. It is kept on my nightstand in my hotel room. When I travel, it is always in my truck’s console. It is also on my hotel nightstand. My knife is my trusted companion, whether I’m fishing, backpacking or hunting, boating and skiing, hiking, camping, or just going out for a day. It’s never more than a stone’s distance from me at any given time.

A survival knife is a tool that helps you survive. This tool has literally hundreds of survival-related functions. Here’s a brief list:

  • Cutting/slicing
  • Digging
  • Splitting
  • Self-defense
  • First aid tool
  • Preparing food
  • Shelter building
  • Fire making
  • Hunting weapon
  • Prying instrument
  • Signaling
  • Hammering
  • Use a screwdriver as a temporary tool

Your survival knife should be smaller than what you see on TV. The cool movie prop knife can be hung on a wall. Enjoy the simplicity and utility of a well-designed survival knife. Styling is secondary to function — always. Performance is your first priority. This will be dependent on many time-tested key features.

6 Important Survival Knife Features

Survival Knife #1: Size

Is size important? But size does not always mean better when it comes to survival knives. You risk losing the ability to use your knife effectively for small tasks like dressing small game or carving precise snare sets.

A small knife will not work well for more difficult tasks like chopping and batoning. To drive your knife through dense or difficult wood, you will batonize the knife’s back by striking it with a heavy object. This allows the blade for cutting large limbs or trees and splitting wood.

I have used many survival knives and found that the perfect size is between 9 and 11 inches in length. My Blackbird SK-5 survival knives, pictured below, measure 10 inches in length overall with a 5″ knife.

Survival Knife #2: Fixed Blade

A fixed-blade knife is more reliable and durable than a folded knife. A good folder is great for Every Day Carry (EDC), but a fixed knife is more reliable and can handle the demands of a survival situation.

Any joint is weakness. You can minimize the chance of losing or damaging your survival tool by choosing a knife that’s better suited to pounding, cutting, thrusting, prying, as well as rigorous cutting.

Survival Knife #3: Full Tang

Your survival knife should not only be a fixed-blade, but also FULL TANG. Full tang means that both the handle and blade are made from one piece of metal. For a more comfortable grip, scales or grips can be attached to the handle. Full tang knives are more durable than partial tang styles like the half-tang, push tang or rattail tang. The profile of a full-tang blade is more robust than its rattail counterpart, as you can see from the photo.

Partial tang knife blades can become loose and have “play” in their handles over time. This is especially true when performing demanding tasks like prying, batoning and chopping. It can be dangerous to use a partial-tang blade if it comes off the handle. A full tang knife blade, on the other hand, is very functional even though it has lost its scales. You can wrap it with cordage to increase comfort and grip.

A survival knife with a full-tang blade is better than one with a partial tang. It is difficult to cut a piece of solid metal. A full tang knife can be identified by the metal tang that is sandwiched between its scales. Here are some examples.

Please note: Not all full-tang knife blades have an open tang, as in these examples.

Sharp Pointed Tip #4 Survival Knife

Although it may seem obvious, I have seen survival knives with flat, straight-cut tips. Contrary to popular belief, survival knives should have sharp pointed tips. First, self-defense against man and beast. Any other tip than a sharp spearpoint tip will compromise your ability to effectively thrust your knife or stab it as a weapon, especially through thick fur/hide and layered clothing.

A spear point knife can also be used to hunt. It can be used by itself or attached to a pole to make a longer-range spear. The allen wrench, which came with my knife, is always in my knife sheath. I can remove the scales, lash the full-tang blade onto a staff almost effortlessly and use it as a spear-point.

Practically, the sharp knife point is useful for many tasks. I use it while training field survival instructors and teaching classes. Here are some examples of situations where a sharp pointed knife tip is superior to other styles.

  • Picking and prying in detail
  • Small game like fish can be cleaned/dressed
  • Drilling/notching
  • Repairs to clothing/gear
  • Splinters!
  • Some wild edibles like pine nuts, acorns and walnuts are processed
  • Live bait is available in difficult to reach areas

Survival Knife #5: Single-Edged Blade With Flat Ground Spine

A double-edged blade for a survival knife should be avoided. A double-edged knife is not required for most survival purposes, if not all. It can actually be a disadvantage.

A single-edged knife is not only recommended, but the back (spine), of my survival knife should have a 90 degree grind. Flat ground spines are ideal for starting a fire with a ferro-rod. This is almost impossible with beveled or rounded spines.

My survival knife is used to cut through large chunks of wood. A sharpened edge makes it nearly impossible to do any of these tasks, whether you are splitting wood or building shelters.

For added control and leverage during tedious carving projects like making feather sticks, traps, and snare sets, I use my knife’s back edge as a thumbrest. This type of project would be dangerous and difficult with a double-edged knife.

Survival Knife #6: Solid Pomel

The knife’s “pommel”, also known as the butt, is the bottom of its handle. The pommel is a part of my survival knife that I use for light duty pounding or hammering. It is perfect for driving shelter stakes. My knife point has also been used to cut ice fishing holes. I used a heavy stick to pound the pommel to drive the blade into ice. Some knives have a hooked or rounded pommel, which isn’t ideal for hammering. I believe you should get the most use out of your knife. A solid, well-designed pommel will only increase your capabilities.

Bottom line

These 6 criteria can be used as a guideline for selecting a survival knife. Only you will be able to decide which features you want and what you won’t. Everything else is a matter of personal taste.

Many survival knives are available on the market with these survival features but look different from each other. Many styling options are available that can be customized to suit your personal taste and do not affect survival functionality. These features include:

  • Blade steel (carbon and stainless) – There are many options available with different results.
  • Handle material (rubbers, micartas, bones, antlers, etc
  • Finish or color
  • Lanyard holes
  • Decorative milling
  • Jimping
  • Non-serrated or serrated blade
  • Style and design of the sheath
  • Knife designer/manufacturer/brand
  • Blade style
  • With or without fingerguards
  • Blood groove


Survival knives are not magic wands or have magical saving powers. It is the skills of the person who uses it that make it valuable. Only practice and repetition can make you a skilled knife-wielder. A survival knife is not something you buy to decorate your man cave. It’s a tool that should be used. The cutting blade has been a key part of human history since the dawn of time. It helped shape the way our ancestors hunted and fought and built their homes. There will never be another relationship like the one between a man’s blade and his knife, from cavemen using sharp rocks to soldiers in modern warfare. Make sure you choose wisely.