For a wilderness survival scenario of 72 hrs to a week your big and heavy survival knife is excellent. But as soon as you are past that point you will learn that it completely sucks for long term use.
Let me give you a little context. The summer of 2016 I spent 6 months isolated with my partner in the boreal forest. I brought four cutting tools: a survival knife, a bushcraft knife, a multi-tool, and a hatchet. The only time I used my survival knife during our survival expedition was one day when I needed to do some filleting and my partner was using the bushcraft knife.
My point is that if you are serious about spending weeks or months in the woods leave your survival knife at home; bring a bushcraft knife and a hatchet instead. The only reason to pack a survival knife is as a back up. The truth is that those big, heavy survival knives are great for the weekend warrior but perform very poorly for specific wilderness living tasks like butchering, carving, filleting, cutting logs etc.
The survival knife wants to do it all, but ends up doing nothing well.
Which cutting tasks do you need to perform in a wilderness living situation? Cut firewood, fillet fish, skin a deer, cut meat, carve a spatula, cut saplings, make a deadfall trap etc. The only task in which a survival knife is superior to a knife/hatchet combo is as a self defence weapon. But in that case a fire would be a better deterrent against wildlife than a survival knife.
Bushcraft knife for long term survival
I believe that a bushcraft knife must have these characteristics: lightweight, very comfortable grip, fixed blade, full tang, straight edge (non-serrated). Those qualities make a knife strong, durable and easy to sharpen. Either stainless steel or carbon steel is fine. Stainless steel holds its edge longer but is harder to sharpen and carbon steel is exactly the opposite. Your choice. A bushcraft knife must be geared towards fine, precise tasks, like wood carving and filleting.
The Morakniv knife is a classic example.
Forget about batoning with a morakniv though, it will feel pathetic compared to a survival knife; that’s what the hatchet is for. The only thing that needs improvement in the morekniv is it’s sheath. Luckily there are leather sheaths for it that will strap the knife and prevent it from falling when bushwacking.
The hatchet is for tasks that need momentum or a wedge. You can cut a 10″ diameter tree with a hatchet, but forget about cutting it with a survival knife. With some wooden wedges and a hatchet you could also split a log.
Have you ever looked at the tools our hunter-gatherer ancestors used in the paloeolithic? These are the cutting tools of Ötzi: a copper axe, and a small knife. There is no hybrid, no compromise. Just two tools:
There are so many people out there asking what is the best survival knife. For a short term survival scenario, your “Rambo” knife is great. It will allow you to make a shelter and cut some firewood. But when you spend a couple of weeks out there and you start to make stuff out of local materials or use your knife for filleting/skinning you’ll notice why bigger might not be better.
Hatchet for long term survival
Choose a 12 inch long hatchet and a good sheath. A full tang hatchet would be the most reliable. But you wouldn’t break the handle if used properly anyways. Keep in mind that a plastic handle might break if used in extreme temperatures.
Your survival knife sucks for long term survival
Outdoor equipment is always a compromise, you can’t have it all. Just like life. You will be better off packing a small, comfortable knife and a hatchet, than carrying a survival knife for extended use. I know many of you will think that you just want to pack one thing. I hope Ötzi and I could change your perspective for long term wilderness survival.