How To Choose a Knife – Philosophy of Tool Use

How To Use a Knife

 If you ask any good survivalist what the best knife to use in a survival situation is…

they will likely answer “the one that you have on you”.

How To Choose a Knife – A knife is a tool, you use different tools for different jobs. If it comes down to a survival situation you can do a lot with any knife that you happen to have on you at that time. But, if you are out camping and you can bring along any knife or tool you desire your options open up greatly. There is a wide variety of knives out there. From small pocket folding knives to large fix blade machete size knives and all shapes and sizes in between. The Price of knives also have a wide range, for the most part you get what you pay for. That does not mean that you cant find a good knife for a reasonable price though.

How To Choose a Knife – The Basics

I am currently in the mindset of using a big knife for the big jobs and a small knife for the small jobs. I currently carry a large 12 inch custom knife and a small neck knife as a companion.  The large knife is designed to do many tasks from digging, scrapping, chopping and scraping – to cutting, slicing and drilling. This knife will handle most of my large fire wood processing and food prep. The small knife was designed to be used for dressing small game animals and it has a lot of control to it for detailed work and ease of cleaning.
With this combination of knives I can undertake any camp and bushcraft tasks that I need. I keep those two knives in one Kydex sheath kit that can be slung over the shoulder or strapped to a pack or belt. With this kit I also keep a feral rod, twine, para-chord, duct and electrical tape, a sharpening stone and a number of ranger bands – which are heavy duty black rubber bands that help secure everything on the kit. When I am not out practicing bushcraft skills or camping I will carry a medium size folding pocket knife with a 2.5 – 3.4 inch blade. Other times while hiking I will carry a medium size fixed blade knife with about a 4-5 inch blade. Like I said, different tools for different jobs. Other knife related tools that I may carry while camping are an axe , hatchet, machete, or  saw. I also carry with me a multi-tool that includes at the least a knife blade, pliers and saw.

Always keep in mind the intended use of the knife you are choosing.

Tips on How To Choose the Right Knife for The Job

  1. First find a size of a knife that you are comfortable with – If you have a small frame and small hands you may not want a larger knife. A lighter knife will not make you fatigue as fast.
  2. Handle shape & size – Find something that fits your hand. After using a knife for extended periods of time you may notice hot spots on your hand. A hot spot is an area (in this case, on your hand) that is rubbing against the handle uncomfortably. This will soon create blisters and soars.
  3. Handle scales are what the knife handle and the material they are made from –  Scales on a knife can be made from many different materials natural and man made. If 90% of knife usage is going to be dressing an animal after a hunt you may not want to choose something that will make the knife hard to clean like a handle made from para-chord. If the knife is going to be out in the weather a lot you may not want a material that could potentially absorb water like wood. Also keep in mind the texture of the grip. If it is smooth it may slip from your hand when wet. If it is to coarse it may cause hot spots & blisters. Also rubber handles may snag clothing more so than harder smother materials.
  4. Knife Blade material –  There are a number of things a blade can be made from these days such as ceramic or titanium. Stainless steel is nice because it doesn’t rust. High Carbon steel is great because you can use it with fire steel or feral rods or even make a spark off flint and other hard stones, to create fire. But you have to keep stainless steel oiled or it will rust. Ceramic is a little fragile for a rough use knife but will hold a razor sharp edge where titanium is super strong and ultra light but it sadly doesn’t hold a sharp edge very long at all. Also keep in mind that not all steel is the same and different knife blades can be tempered to different hardnesses on the Rockwell scale. The harder it is the better edge the blade will hold, but will become much more fragile & likely to break.
  5. Blade finishes – Knives can have different finishes on the blade. Stainless steel blades won’t rust so it doesn’t need a coating on the blade to protect it. If the knife blade is a steel that can rust, then a protective layer of paint or duricoat can be put over all but the edge to save you from having to keep the whole blade oiled. Other finishes I have seen on knife blades are gun bluing which will darken the blade and add a little protection. Stone washing and heat tempering are mostly for looks and don’t add to the preservation of the blade.
  6. Blade shape – When it comes to knife blade shape, it all comes back to the intended use of the knife. If you are using your knife for wood processing you probably want a blade with a flat and thick spine (the back of the knife). If you are going to be using your knife for food prep keep in mind the shape of the knife you would use in your kitchen for that job. You may want a knife with a gut hook and a large belly on the blade if your going to be hunting and cleaning game. A sharp tip may be helpful in self defense, boring holes in wood, or lashing the knife to a stick to make a spear in a survival situation. Also, keep in mind the ability to choke up on a knife handle for more control when doing detailed work.
  7. Blade size – The length of the blade is a huge factor on choosing your knife. You don’t want to use a 12″ blade to pick out a splinter or dress small game. You also don’t want to use a 2.5″ blade to baton fire wood or to bushwack a trail through a rainforest. Size matters in comparison with the job it is intended to do.
  8. Sheath shape & material – Always make sure you have a good and sturdy sheath for your blade. Sheaths come in a number of different materials – the most popular being leather, nylon, and Kydex.Leather is nice it will last a long time if it is taken care of properly. It my need a protective oil rubbed into it once in a while to keep it from dying out. Also if it gets too wet it can absorb water and hold it against your blade causing rust, loose its shape and get damaged by mold & mildew if not dried properly. Leather sheaths also commonly use a strap around a portion of the handle to keep the blade secure.

    Kydex is a plastic material that is heated and pressed to the unique shape of your knife. If done properly your knife will be locked in with a positive “click” noise and won’t slide out of the sheath even when upside down and bouncing around. Some makers will include a retention strap for added security. Kydex does have a reputation of scratching the blade and if it heats up too much it could loose its shape causing less retention.

    Nylon can be a great material for sheaths if done properly. Any sheath with stitching or retention steals has the potential if it being cut by the blade. A lot of nylon sheaths use cardboard inside to create rigidity which can be damaged by moisture. The nylon itself should dry quickly and last a long time and requires little to no upkeep. Some of the higher end nylon sheaths will come with plastic inserted inside to keep the blade from cutting the sheath.

    As far as the shape goes, if you will need the knife fast or while wearing thick gloves make sure the handle is not covered and you can undo any retention straps. Also check for drainage holes in the tip of the sheath, to let water out. Some sheaths will also come with features like a pouch to hold a sharpening stone or a farol rod.

  9. Weight & Size vs. Adventure –  Think about how much trouble it might be to carry a large or bulky knife if you aren’t intending on using it for large jobs but also think about how much easier it might be do do different camp tasks with a knife can handle more than the small tasks. Some knives can come with a lot of features. Do you want to carry a heavier folding knive that includes a folding spoon and fork in your pocket if you are just going to a short hike from camp? Maybe it would be better to opt for a smaller single blade folding knife in that situation.


Hopefully this will help you choose the right knife for your needs! Remember that choosing the best knife for the job will go a long way in getting the job done quickly, efficiently, and safely.
If you have any questions or other tips on how to choose a knife …
please let us know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “How To Choose a Knife – Philosophy of Tool Use”

  1. I think you confused stainless blades with carbon blades with regards to rust. Carbon blades will rust in damp humid conditions. Stainless would be more suitable for those conditions. All around, great article. Thanks for the article

  2. #9 is the most critical element for me. But when considering weight and size, you also need to consider what other items it can replace. If you don’t need to bring a hatchet or a saw or a shovel or a hammer, you can afford to bring a heavy knife. If I bring the compact can opener, or if I am smart enough to pack pop top Spam and Beans, I only need to bring the one big heavy tactical knife. If you can find a good one that is full tang, has a good sawback, a wide blade for shoveling, and a butt that is good for hammering, you have successfully replaced 4 other tools. I have had a United Cutlery UC3021 for a couple of years now. It is a great saw and hatchet and hammer, in addition to being a great field knife. To go lighter I take a leatherman. It has a small saw, but you can’t really dig or hammer or chop with it.


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