When folks talk about bug-out bags and how to properly equip yourself for an emergency, the important things are sometimes left out. Are a 9mm pistol and a few magazines are important? Sure, and so is the QuikClot. Certain medications are vital. But knives, well, make room for edge tools because they are very important.
A gun does one thing — it is a personal defense tool. And taking meat (if you have the will, skill, and game is present). The knife is useful for camp chores, making a hasty shelter, cutting rope or vegetation, peeling an apple, or opening a tin can when you do not have a can opener. That being said, be certain you have several good knives.
Flea market specials are a danger to the owner and all who would attempt to use them. Choose quality steel. The most versatile knife will be a full tang knife with a well-designed handle. A knife with three to five inches of usable edge is ideal. A heavy blade, reinforced point, and most of all a credible guard are important.
The knife must be very sharp. A sharp knife avoids stubbing. Stubbing is when the blade stops cutting and the hand runs forward — cutting the user. The knife should be sharp. Even a folder should have a well-designed guard.
You don’t have to spend several hundreds of dollars, but you should spend enough — $50 to 150 — to have on hand a knife that will serve well for many years. Knives are not cheap throw-away items, but you don’t want to pay so much for an edged tool that it would be a hardship to replace it.
You probably need four or so edged tools to cover most eventualities. You should keep a quality folder in the pocket, on the belt, and others in the bag or vehicle. It depends on the environment. As an example, I carry a credible folder with a glass breaker in the handle daily. Years of emergency responder experience dictate this.
In the wild — if you consider Appalachian trails the wild — I carry a longer, stronger blade. In the bug-out bag, I have a hatchet. The hatchet is useful when gathering kindling for a fire. This I have done so many times, although it wasn’t under emergency conditions.
I was caught in inclement weather once. I was glad I was able to make a hasty shelter with an edged tool and crawl into the boughs and limbs to avoid a drenching in a heavy downpour. While I am not eager to repeat this experience, it turned an event that could have led to illness or a fall… into a not unpleasant experience watching the downpour from a curtain of leaves and branches.
Allow me to provide a few definitions before proceeding to ensure we are both tracking. A full tang knife is a solid, single piece of steel. The handles are fitted to the steel. A rat tail blade features an extension in the blade that fits into a handle.
While the full tang design is obviously stronger, do not count out other designs. Knives such as the Ka-Bar military general-purpose knife are rat tail types.
Another test of strength, the knife should be .125-inch versus the usual .100 inch thick. Fixed blade knives are essential for bug-out bags. On the other hand, folding knives are popular, easily carried, but introduce a mechanism into the design. Of course, the difference is significant enough to say there is no general comparison in strength.
Common Types of Knives
Models from CRKT, Cold Steel, and Kershaw are commonly called hunting knives. Those knives are actually skinners. The knives are used to prepare game. They must be very sharp and agile with a sharp point that allows the hunter to properly field dress the animal without piercing the intestines and ruining the meat. Such knives are useful but specialized.
A relatively short three-inch skinner is useful for preparing food. Some folks prefer carbon steel and feel carbon steel holds its edge longer. Stainless, they say, is more difficult to sharpen. Perhaps this is true, but I prefer stainless steel whenever I can have it. A knife in the bug-out (emergency) bag isn’t necessarily the same knife you use every hunting season.
Camp knives are larger, heavier, thicker knives than the average hunting knife. The thin-edged, very sharp skinner isn’t as useful for gathering kindling or chopping big bones for cooking as a camp knife. While we should always remember that knives make poor crowbars and that an axe is the preferred tool for chopping wood, the camp knife will serve in many chores in a push. An emergency is certainly a push. The camp knife is also a good, last-ditch defense knife. Camp knives come in a variety of sizes, and most will easily fit in the bug-out bag.
Large, edged tools may be worn on the belt. If you need to clear vegetation, slapping it out of the way while walking or to clear brush from an area, these large, edged tools are essential. I have seen an increased use of machete attacks in recent years. This is unfortunate.
However, for those who understand the machete, they make a formidable defense tool. At least one South American police force used the machete for crowd control and blunt striking. The flat of the blade strikes a hard, but non-lethal blow.
The machete is useful for more than simple cutting. Models with a large, blunt tip are useful for scaping and digging. Digging roots can be useful, and a thick machete may be useful in prying boxes open. A cheap aluminum machete, as commonly sold at chain stores for a few dollars, is a waste of time. The first time you make a hard smack against vegetation the rebound in your hand will be quite painful!
On the other hand, I have an Ontario from 1944 that is still sharp after a few passes with the India stone, and which works well. The Kukri curved knife is a wonder in some ways. I have used these types for clearing vegetation and for digging. The Kukri is among the most formidable of weapons if it comes to it. I can think of no better edged weapon suited to melee use.
The Kukri is a formidable tool in every way. Be certain to obtain a good example. These large, edged tools are not as well suited to food preparation, modifying clothing, and shaving, but they are essential.
A big knife, a smaller tool, and a pocket folder seem essential. A small whittling knife is a good choice and doesn’t take up much room. You need a knife for making traps. You need some type of tool to dig a waste disposal hole.
A lot of writers seem to give the folding knife more ink than it is worth. The folder is a handy day-to-day tool. For emergency use not so much — with all respect to my drawerful of good folders. I carry a folding knife for day-to-day use.
In personal defense, the knife is an excellent retention tool if someone attempts to gain control of your firearm. This is an urban concern, for the most part.
I have canvassed my friends and cohorts, and among us we have hundreds of years of police experience. My son is a Major (military service) with quite a resume. My research indicates that knife-on-knife fights are extremely rare. Usually, both participants are cut, and they break and run. Not the worst outcome.
For a hasty defense or handgun retention, the edged tool is an essential choice. A sharp knife with an easy-to-open blade and a solid well-tested lock should be chosen.
I am not talking about the larger folders but small knives suitable for light chores such as the ones you could put in a vest pocket. You might be surprised how often such edged tools are brought into use to peel an apple, cull errant threads, and other chores when you are away from the utensil drawer.
A small three-blade knife, one that you will use for years, will eventually feature just two blades as you will probably break one. These well-worn and useful knives ride in a desk drawer, jeans pocket, or the aforementioned suit vest pocket. They are used on a daily basis. At least one of these handy little devils should be in the bug-out bag.
A compromise knife is a large folder, sometimes called the folding hunting knife. These knives are useful but have drawbacks compared to a fixed blade. Blood and debris may get into the locking action when used for the intended purpose.
The lock mechanism is always subject to fail. The test of a folder’s lock is to open the blade and lock it in place. Keeping the fingers out of the way of the edge rap the back of the knife on a desk or hard board several times. The lock should not fail.
The CRKT Cimbri axe is two pounds of efficiency. I would hazard we probably will only carry one axe. The handle is sturdy, treated wood and the head is securely attached.
The CRKT Chogan Hatchet was designed by Ryan Johnson. This is a very handy piece with an orange synthetic handle and well-designed head.
CRKT’s Clever Girl – The Clever Girl kukri showcases CRKT’s ability to produce a versatile knife. While relatively light, the knife is strong enough to clear a path. I especially like the well-designed, fast-draw sheath.
Kershaw’s Camp Knife 10 features a plain-edged recurved blade. This knife is classed as a machete. It will accomplish a lot around the camp. The sheath is well designed and comfortable.
The Kershaw Strata is a big blade, and it grows on you. The Strata is based on the Navaja knife. This is a working-class knife used for defense. With the addition of a liner lock, the Strata, with its 4.5-inch blade, becomes more versatile. If you think the Stata is ball-bearing smooth, it is true as it rides on small bearings to lock.
Cold Steel’s Survival Rescue Knife (SRK) builds on the legend of many Cold Steel fixed blade knives. This is a must-have for the bug-out kit. For camp use, and especially for self-defense, the SRK makes for a great combination.
The Buck/Tops CSAR is a big, burly folder that breaks the rule on ruggedness and ability for folding knives. With a robust lock/handle and heavy feel, the CSAR is among the best choices for all-around belt carry and hard use.
Conclusion: Bug Out Knives
There is no one knife that will handle every chore. If you choose carefully, you will find a knife that handles big chores, a small knife for small chores, and a couple of middle-of-the-road knives that are versatile enough for the rest.