Blades and Knives

Bug Out Bag Knives

CRKT edged weapons for your bug out bag

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.

Cold Steel SRK fixed blade knives with Kydex/nylon sheath
The Cold Steel SRK (Survival Rescue Knife) is among a long line of legendary Cold Steel 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.

Kershaw Strata folding knives in the open position
The Kershaw Strata is a large, but thin, knife. It is easily carried and fast to open.

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.

Buck/Tops CSAR folding knives
The Buck/Tops CSAR is among the most durable and useful folding knives in the world. It isn’t cheap, but it will be working for you when others are in the trash.

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

Hunting 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.

Kershaw Strata knives in the closed position with a Springfield SA-35 pistol
The Kershaw Strata is a hardy, defensive knife that is well worth its price.

Camp Knives

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.

CRKT Clever Girl field machete in its sheath
The CRKT Clever Girl field machete is supplied with a very well-designed sheath.

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.

Folding Knives

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.

CRKT Sift folding knives with stainless steel blade
Folding knives such as the CRKT Swift is better suited to day-to-day chores than survival or personal defense.

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.

Pocket Knives

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.

Kershaw Strata knife in the closed position with a Springfield SA-35 pistol
The Kershaw Strata is a hardy, defensive knife that is well worth its price.

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.

Compromise Knives

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.

Must-Have Blades

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.

CRKT Chogan hatchet
The CRKT Chogan features a bright orange handle so you can quickly locate it among the camp jumble.

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.

Kershaw Camp Knife 10 Kukri with Kydex holster
Kershaw’s Camp Knife 10 is formidable. And, although it is classified as a machete, it makes for one helluva camp knife.

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.

You can pick and choose a pocket knife for several reasons, none of which mean much in a survival situation. However, when it come to planning for the multitude of scenarios you would grab a bug out bag knife — use, function, versatility, and reliability matter. What knives do you pack in your bug out bag and why? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • CRKT edged weapons for your bug out bag
  • Kershaw Strata knife in the closed position with a Springfield SA-35 pistol
  • CRKT Chogan hatchet
  • Black Cold Steel Swift folding knife in the open position
  • CRKT Clever Girl sheath, black
  • CRKT Clever Girl field machete in its sheath
  • Kershaw Strata folding knives in the open position
  • Kershaw Camp Knife 10 Kukri with Kydex holster
  • Kydex/nylon knife holster
  • Cold Steel SRK fixed blade knife with Kydex/nylon sheath
  • Buck/Tops CSAR folding knives
  • CRKT Sift folding knives with stainless steel blade

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. I keep in my car to get home with a bag containing a good ax (Mini belt hatchet, Gransfors Bruks) a fixed blade Benchmade and a Leatherman Charger. Looking for a good pair of shears or scissors and I think that will do it.

  2. Most low cost knives marked “survival” are not good for the purpose. Many overlook good diver’s knives for the purpose. I find the MAC Coltellerie Nitro B my go bag choice. I also like Tops Backpacker bowie and Becker knives. Many hollow handled knives give you a few inches of storage for the price of a fragile unit. It is important to think about where you may be going and pick the better tool for that environment. But I feel a Multi-tool/Swiss/scout knife as a must. I add a good folder and a tough fixed as the minimum to have in the field.

  3. Knives are an essential part of any emergency/bug out bag, as is a sharpener. Many will include a knife and forget a sharpener and many of the lower priced knives will dull within a day or so of hard use. My edc is a Benchmade Freek, with me everyday, all times, and sharperners are in every kit I pack.
    My emergency car kit includes a limb saw, demolition hammer/hatchet, Leather man MUT, and a cable saw (amongst other items) and one resides in each car. My “bug out bag” includes an Esee5 (fixed blade), tomahawk (Winkler), Woodsmans Pal, Gerber multitool, and surgical steel kit. Esee makes an incredible fixed blade (at a good price point), I was introduced to the woodsman’s pal in Vietnam (former PJ), and the surgical steels kit is essential. Each kit (EDC, Car, Bugout) compliments each other, and can stand alone if needed. Other family members have their own (colored)kits, and mine have a colored ribbon on them so the family knows to take it first if I am not with them when they need to gather them.
    No one should carry an edged weapon they cannot depend on. The Winkler tomahawk is extravagant, but brings a level of confidence that cannot be replaced. The only thing more important in an emergency than a knife is confidence!

  4. There are 3 of us, 2 adults and 1 child. So, our bags split equipment.
    We have
    2 havlon piranta folders and a dozen or so blades.
    1 multitool leatherman type tool
    1 quality limb saw and spare blade
    1 full size machete
    1 CRKT choogan tomahawk.
    1 camp knife/bush knife

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