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The right knife could make all the difference between surviving or falling victim to the law of natural selection.

For outdoorsmen, bushcrafters, survivalists and some preppers, there is a general understanding that the knife is the most versatile and necessary tool for survival in the outdoors. Someone once coined the phrase, “Man’s basic ability to survive comes down to being able to cut things and make fire.”

The Israel-made DuStar Magan has a 5-inch blade and a relatively flat profile, making it an excellent choice for IWB carry as a defensive blade, as well as an all-around survival/utility knife.

As mentioned, many folks are already aware of that little secret, but there are some people who are not into a constant “readiness” mode. And even if they are, they still don’t give due consideration to having a knife on them at all times. For instance, consider men and women who carry concealed as a matter of defense only and are not hip to the latest in the shooting and outdoors industry or to the importance of a knife as both a defensive and survival tool.

A knife is a tool, and each tool has specific jobs that it performs the best.

Preaching to the Choir

Those who are reading this magazine are probably familiar with, and carry, some sort of knife on their person. That’s a good thing. Those that do are not necessarily the target audience for this discussion, except when it comes to helping others. But, too often, it’s not the right rig to carry for the situation or the environment in which they find themselves. That’s why it’s worth mentioning that choosing the correct knife to carry is just as important as having one at all.

The Benchmade 757 Vicar is an extremely robust knife that can be used in the field, as well as serving as a heavy-duty tactical folder for those who want some more meat and potatoes on their plate.

As aficionados of the outdoors and using the right tool for the job, we should all act as emissaries to our friends, families and extended acquaintances whenever we have the chance to educate or influence an individual’s thought process about carrying a knife and which one is best at a given time or circumstance.

… choosing the correct knife to carry is just as important as having one at all.

I have never claimed to be an expert at anything. Much like anyone else, I’ve just had experiences, and from those experiences come certain opinions. So, the things I say in this column are just opinions, although they might help provide a foundation for those who don’t have their own experience to draw upon to get started.

Small fixed-blade knives such as the Bradford Knives Guardian 3 in M390 can be easily carried in a pocket sheath and are stronger than a folding knife with a similar blade length.

Knife Utility

A knife’s usefulness is not just limited to the great outdoors in some faraway place. They can be used to do the following things:

  • Cut a seatbelt to escape a crash;
  • Act as a last-ditch defense tool if attacked;
  • Perform a medical procedure to save someone’s life;
  • Cut boxes and packages at the office or warehouse;
  • Dress and clean game;
  • Chop and process wood for a fire;
  • Pry and lever heavier objects in an emergency;
  • Cut materials to administer first aid;
  • Cut rope, cord or twine while working outdoors;
  • Process food at camp;
  • Carve wood for triggers and traps;
  • Create tinder to start a fire.

And, the list goes on and on. As one can see, the utility of a knife can be just as vital in an urban setting as a rural one. The trick is to have the right type available for a given situation.

… always have a quality fixed blade where possible.

Choosing a Knife

An important aspect of carrying a knife for a particular use is carrying the right one for the job, and there are certain questions that need to be asked to identify the right selection.

  • Where will you be? In an office environment, a large, 7-inch Bowie probably won’t fly, and a pocket knife would have to do.
  • What’s the specific use for the knife? Defense? Opening packages? Cleaning deer? All-around survival? A defensive fixed blade might be double edged and have a flat handle profile for carrying in the waistband. Also, a knife for cleaning game will more than likely have a different blade profile than one for defense or survival tasks.

The Spyderco Junction is a great, low-profile knife for hunters, backpackers and hikers, but in a pinch, it can also serve well as an IWB carry knife for defense purposes.

  • What environmental factors are in play? Being in a maritime environment can play havoc on high-carbon steel. Certain chemicals interact with a knife’s handle and break it down over time.
  • How much attention will you pay to your knife? How good are your sharpening skills? For those who won’t spend a tremendous amount of time keeping their knives sharp, a newer steel such as M390 or S35VN will typically hold an edge for a longer period of time than CPM154 or 1095 steel. However, when it does come time, these can be harder to sharpen.
  • What will the outliers in possible usage be in some circumstances? For instance, if it’s a survival knife that might be used for chopping or other hard use, a steel such as CPM3V or D2 might be in order for those rare occasions.

A large chopper such as the Brush Hog from Hammer Down Forge isn’t the first choice for cleaning game, but when it comes to processing firewood or building a shelter, it is an invaluable tool.

A general rule is to always have a quality fixed blade where possible. Folders are great and have their place, but a good fixed blade will generally always be stronger and easier to clean. There are fixed-blade knives I carry in a pocket sheath that have a blade length of 2.75 or 3 inches and are more robust than a folder. But make sure it’s legal to carry a fixed-blade knife in your pocket where you live.

Small to medium knives, the Bradford Knives Guardian 4 in M390 steel are ideal for most tasks out in the bush and offer a lot of versatility regarding effectiveness at different tasks.

Another rule is to have more than one knife if possible. In the case of carrying a concealed, defensive, fixed-blade knife in an urban environment, one might not want to pull it out for all to see when needing to cut open a box. Having a back-up folding knife would be more appropriate for that setting. Conversely, while out in the field, I’ll generally have three to four knives on my person, just because of how important they are to survive. I’ll usually carry a chopper, a small-to-medium bushcraft knife, a neck knife for quick accessibility and a folder to act as backup. But that’s just me.

A knife is a tool, and each tool has specific jobs that it performs the best. Unlike a one-size-fits-all pair of sunglasses, different types of knives will be needed depending on the job that needs to be done.

So, rather than pick out what looks “cool” or hot at the moment, careful thought should be given to the purpose for each knife that you add to your selection—unless you just like to buy and collect all kinds of knives.

Having a knife and carrying it at all times is a great step forward to having an additional tool at your disposal for completing different tasks. Having the right knife could make all the difference between surviving or falling victim to the law of natural selection.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.