KNIFE BUYING 101
10 TIPS TO CONSIDER WHEN DECIDING WHAT TO BUY
Don't pull the trigger on a new knife until you read this. Our top survival expert provides 10 key items you must know. By Kevin Estela
As a professional survival expert and Filipino martial arts instructor, I field many questions about the knives I’ve carried over the years. Students and seminar attendees want to know what works best for me.
While I do have my preferences and find it flattering they respect my opinion, I generally respond by asking questions to help these inquiring minds discover which knives suit them best. The same logic we use in, say, finding footwear, should also apply to preferable cutlery. My size-13 winter boot would be too loose for a smaller foot, and too warm for someone in a tropical climate.
We differ physically and have distinct attributes, making the perfect fit anything but universal. To help you determine what works best for you as a knife buyer, here are a few questions to get you started:
01 WHAT’S MY BUDGET?
Here’s an expression that rings true for knife purchases: “When you buy quality, you only cry once.” You should purchase the best you can afford. The key word is “afford.” At every price, there are knives for survival in the street as well as in the woods. Knives beyond your budget are fantastical; spend too much on a fancy-looking knife and your heart may break when your circumstances require you to use it as a tool. Don’t buy what you can’t replace. Stay within your budget.
02 WHAT’S THE TASK?
Knife designs can evoke emotional responses. Sometimes the knife we want is not the knife we need. Popular fictitious characters like Crocodile Dundee, Rambo and Jack Bauer blur the understanding of a knife’s function. Instead of focusing on form first, think about the knife’s function. A large Bowie knife isn’t the best choice for filleting fish. A double-edge dagger serves as a better defensive blade than a bushcraft knife. Think about what tasks you need to accomplish before settling on a knife design.
03 WHICH STEEL IS BEST FOR MY PURPOSE?
The average knife user has a hard time differentiating between most of the exotic steels available. Without the label, it would be tough to tell the difference between carbon and stainless steel. There are various grades of carbon steel, crucible metals and non-magnetics. With all the options available, do a quick internet search on “which steel is best for ___,” and insert your need in the blank. Instead of jumping right for the latest and greatest, a bit of research will help you purchase a more reliable and longer-lasting blade.
04 IS THE HANDLE COMFORTABLE?
“THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN FINDING OUT THE KNIFE OF YOUR DREAMS IS A QUARTER-OFAN-INCH TOO LONG FOR EVERYDAY CARRY.”
When watching others use a knife, we sometimes forget about the handle inside their clenched fingers. Just like my analogy with shoes for the right fit, a handle with a thick contour (my preference) won’t fit as comfortably in a smaller hand. Depending on the use of the knife, an aggressively textured handle is a better purchase in defensive scenarios, but can cause blisters during prolonged use. Whenever possible, hold a knife and work through various grip manipulations to get a feel for the handle. If the knife isn’t comfortable in your hand, move on to something that works for you.
05 WHERE AM I GOING TO USE IT?
Think about the environmental factors that may affect your knife’s performance when you use it. This can help
you address which steel and handle you preferably want. Bushcrafters in dry environments may favor 01 steel and other high carbons, but those in coastal areas where moisture is high will likely prefer 3V, S35VN or S30V steel due to its corrosive resistance. Of course, you’ll need to balance these factors against the results from the questions you’ve answered.
06 WHAT DO OTHERS SAY ABOUT THIS KNIFE AND WHY DO OPINIONS VARY?
Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find reviews of just about any knife. Depending on distribution, you may find a few hundred observations or reviews from people who have used knives in the field. Look for patterns and repeated comments. Opinions will vary based on the overall experience of acquiring and using the knife. Be wary and look at the big picture: Some feedback may be negative due to a buyer’s expense or user error. Likewise, overly zealous feedback might lead you to believe the knife could chop firewood all on its own. Each user has his own opinion when it comes to knife use. Experiences vary based on knowledge and blade skills. Take them with a grain of salt and try to get a balanced view by reading a wide range of opinions.
07 CAN I LEGALLY PURCHASE, POSSESS, AND CARRY IT?
Consult with a reputable source, such as the Legal Blade app from Knife Rights (www.kniferights.org) before your knife purchase. There is nothing worse than finding out the knife of your dreams is a quarter-of-an-inch too long for everyday carry. Be a smart and legal knife owner when buying, carrying, and using knives.
08 IS THE KNIFE DURABLE? WHAT IS THE WARRANTY?
A good warranty on a knife means the maker stands behind his work, which means you can trust its durability. A good warranty also means it can be serviced if it’s accidentally damaged during training. Personally warranties don’t mean a damn thing in an emergency, but buy the most robust knife you can afford.
09 HOW DOES THE SHEATH CARRY THE BLADE?
A sheath is to knife, as holster is to pistol. A sheath should hold the knife in a secure, but easily accessible manner. Self-defense knives should be easily drawn from sheaths, free of interfering straps. Bushcraft knives should have deep pouch sheaths to protect the blade and handle and should fasten securely to prevent accidental loss. Tactical knives likely have provisions to attach the blade to MOLLE or web gear in any number of positions. Depending on the user, the sheath may feature “click” retention or a friction fit. Also worthy of consideration is the location where the sheath allows carry on the body or pack.
10 WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?
Once you have your knife selection narrowed down, it’s time to search places such as ebay, Amazon, Google, online message boards, and forums to locate potential bargains. The extra money you keep can be placed aside for a backup blade purchase, supplemental gear, or for training. Don’t waste any of your hard-earned money by paying too much.
“THINK ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS THAT MAY AFFECT YOUR KNIFE’S PERFORMANCE WHEN YOU USE IT.”
Top) What is the purpose of the blade you want? The RMJ Kukri is a chopping machine and perfectly suited for cutting through material in urban and remote settings. The reverse curve of the blade maximizes cutting potential. Right) A compact blade, like the RAT from Headhunter Blades, is a great option for those who go into harm’s way. Worn opposite the firearm, it provides another option for lethal force when it is deemed necessary. Photo credit: Voodooman
Utilizing an S35VN blade, the Martin Knives Phoenix is a top-of-the-line hollow-handle survival knife that holds up in the dampest environments and keeps the handle contents dry. Martin Knives has never had a blade returned broken at the hilt. A Scandi-ground knife excels at cutting wood and holds up to the elements when ground from a “super steel” like the Martin Knives Bushcraft Classic in S35VN. The comfortable handle will not blister the hand after prolonged use.
The Vehement Blades Combat Dagger is an excellent example of a done-right double-edged defensive knife. Perfectly balanced and made from modern materials, it is an excellent complement to the combative loadout.