Blades and Knives

Five Essential Survival Items the Experts Use

Green-handled fixed blade Boker knife

When considering what survival gear to purchase, you must feel confident the products are going to work reliably. A $30, or even a $5, small pocketknife is fine for EDC, but when your life depends on it, you don’t want to end up holding on to nothing but a broken knife and broken hopes.

It’s a fact that some of the cheap stuff works—Aron Ralston saved his life by using a crappy blade from a multi-tool to sever his arm. However, his story is rare and those who adventure without the right tools don’t always make it out when accidents happen. Equipment failure can kill.

To those who “survive” for a living—teaching, selling survival products, writing, or appearing on TV—not only are packing the right tools everything, but also is complete trust in those tools. Every survival and bushcraft expert has their tried and true favorite items that have, in all seriousness, helped save their lives.

All survival experts will tell you to carry a:

When asked, most of them will tell you what equipment they prefer. Knives, in particular, are a popular topic. In fact, many of them design, make, and sell their own knives, like Mykel Hawk, EJ “Skullcrusher” Synder, Ron Hood and Ray Mears. This is no wonder. A knife is an essential tool in building a fire, making a shelter and preparing food—three of the most important skills to survival and bushcrafting. And none of them recommend a cheap knife as their first choice.

Knives are certainly important, that is why they compromise half this list, but clean drinking water is also essential to survival and to many of us—so is a means of protection.

The following five items are some of the greatest survivalists’ favorite products:

Best Survival Tools

David Canterbury – Aquamira Water Filters

Army veteran Dave Canterbury owns the Wilderness Outfitters Pathfinder Training School, is the best-selling author of Bushcraft 101 and has appeared in Discovery Channel’s “Dual Survivor.” Canterbury practices and teaches what he calls the 5 Cs of Survivability—cutting tool, combustion device, cover, (a) container, and cordage. He depends on the Aquamira water filter for clean and safe drinking water while in the bush. Aquamira is the maker of the best-selling and top-rated Frontier water filter straw. This pocket-sized water filter allows you to drink straight from a water source. Aquamira also offers personalized water filter bottles, filters that fit on regular-sized soda or water bottles and purification tablets. All of Aquamira’s filters remove 99.9% of Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Les Stroud – Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool

Les Stroud is probably the most recognized and well-known name on this list. His show, “Survivorman” aired for five seasons. He is also an award-winning professional musician. His gear changes depending on what scenarios he is surviving, but he does like Leatherman—the go-to brand of multi-tools. The Wave is one of his favorites. It has 17 tools including pliers, wire cutters, two knife blades, scissors, a saw blade, a can and bottle opener and screwdriver. The blades open one-handed and are outside accessible. The main plain and serrated blades are made from 420 HC stainless steel and are 2.9 inches long.

Mors Kochanski – Boker Fixed Blade Knives

Mors “The more you know, the less you carry” Kochanski has been teaching bushcrafting and survival skills since 1968. He served in the Canadian Navy and was kicked out of the university for a “lack of direction,” but that did not stop him from becoming one of the most notable survival experts in our lifetime. He has used many knives throughout his career, naming Schrade and Boker as two of his favorites. He prefers a pry-bar blade, because he says those styles perform best on wood.

Mykel Hawke – GLOCK

Hawke is a former combat vet who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret. He appeared in numerous TV survival-style shows: Man, Woman, Wild, One Man Army, Elite Tactical Unit, and currently Lost Survivors. Hawke has been teaching survival skills for over 20 years. He has his own extensive product line, but when asked by the Daily Caller what his favorite firearm is, he answered, “It is hard to beat a GLOCK.”

Creek Stewart – Ontario Black Bird SK-5 Knife

Stewart is the founder of Willow Haven Outdoor Survival Training School and the host of The Weather Channel’s survival show, “Fat Guy in the Woods.” His pick is a 5-inch spear-point fixed blade from Ontario Knife Company. The Black Bird SK-5 is made from 154CM stainless steel and has a Micarta handle. Designed by Paul Sheiter for no-nonsense utility, it comes with a MOLLE-compatible nylon sheath and is made in the U.S.A.

No matter what brands you chose or how much you spend on survival gear, always give the items a trial run before having to depend on it. Even the fanciest, most expensive gadget can fail you—especially if you don’t know how to use it.

For more about knives, click here.

For more on water filters and water purifications, click here.

To learn more about GLOCK firearms, click here.

What are your go-to survival items? Tell us in the comment section.


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 (21)

  1. 3 of 5 are knives of some sort, then a pistol and a water filter. I would have like to see an example of each of the 5 items.

    The USMC Ka-Bar-style knife is the best all-around field knife I have ever used. Chopping down small saplings to build shelter, processing wood items for fire, making traps and snares, and processing animals for food were a breeze for this knife.

    Definitely for the car when taking a road trip or: 1) knife; 2) multi-tool; 3) fire starter; 4) two lighters; 5) candle; 6) compass; 7) flashlight with extra batteries; 8) 1qt pot and drinking bottle; 9) water filter and purification tablets 10) blaze orange panel; 11) milsurp wool blanket/poncho liner for each person in the car.

    Including a firearm in this kit depends on where we are going and through which states we have to pass.

  2. ” but when your life depends on it, you don’t want to end up in Africa, naked and afraid with a broken knife.”

    Is that last phrase some meme I’ve never heard of?

    If I am flying to Africa, I certainly can’t carry-on any of the knives or the glock; I’ll be lucky if I can bring a knife in my checked baggage…

    of course if the plane crashes and I am “naked and afraid in Africa”, I guess I can use my teeth to chew through the fuselage to get to my baggage…

  3. You can buy Mora knives at many places here in the USA — on line even !
    The models that I bought are apparently not made anymore — #542.
    The newer ones with the same blade configuration are in the 600 series, but don’t have the guard or end cap that mine do. Apparently these options were done away with for cost or other reasons. New handle materials are also shown that were not available 40 years ago !

  4. I have been impressed with Spyderco knives out of Golden, CO. They are stainless, easy to open and have been widely copied. I find a Leatherman hard to live without but it would be outstanding if the diamond impregnated “blade” could be detached so it could be used for sharpenling the blade. That plus a chunk of carbon steel and a fire sparker would make the Leatherman a survival tool. Thor

  5. I bought several of these through CTD, years ago. But I don’t now weather they still carry them. IT’S A MUST HAVE product. It’s called X-Pack and it’s an Emergency Water Forward Osmosis Purification System, which will provide you with ~8.5-gallons of Potable Water for 10-days. NO MATTER HOW “BRACKISH” the Water Source is. I Carry one in my “BOB Q.U.E.S.T. Vest” and another in my “Wheelchair Bag”. I got so use to carrying it, that I forgot all about it…

  6. Lifesaver 20000

    If bulk water storage is a Problem, try Lifesaver 20000 by (www. lifesaversystems. com), it’s about the size of a 5-Gallon Jerry Fuel Can (49″ x 18″ x 35″) and weigh’s just 9.7-pounds. But will Filter ~5,283.4-Gallons of Water at a Rate of about 4.9-Gallons/Minute. eBay price is ~$300.00 USD. I carry Two for Redundancy Purposes. GREAT if your Supplying Water for a Family of 4 or Greater. It Requires ABSOLUTELY NO POWER TO OPERATE…

    1. @Secundius

      I’m going to look into that. I have a considerable amount of water stored in various types of containers, and a generator to power my well pump, but redundancy is the name of the game is survival.

  7. Mora of Sweden

    The town of Mora in Sweden has been a center of knife making for many centuries. The naturally superior Swedish steel, combined with skilled craftsmanship, resulted in knives that became famous for their ability to hold a superior edge and sharpen easily. The smiths in Mora developed a basic functional style that became a classic, known simply as the “Mora Knife.” Until recently there were two remaining large companines in Mora, KJ Eriksson and Frosts of Mora. They have merged into “Mora of Sweden”, but some stock is marked with the previous names.

    Mora knives place function before style. But the simplicity of functionality has a beauty of it’s own. The quality and prices are great, and they’re one of the best knife bargains around. They have the flat Scandinavian grind that goes cleanly to the edge, and come from the factory very sharp. This style of grind is easy to sharpen without jigs or gadgets.

    Carbon steel blades are hardened to 59 – 60 on the Rockwell scale, stainless blades to 57 – 58. A specialty of Mora is the laminated carbon blade. This is a three part sandwich, with a core of high carbon steel protected by sides of tough lower carbon steel. The core of the laminated steel blades is hardened to about 61 on the Rockwell scale. Normally, I prefer carbon steel over stainless steel, but I have to admit that the stainless Mora knives take and hold an excellent edge. They are made of Swedish Sandvik 12C27 steel, hardened to 57 – 58 on the Rockwell Scale. For use around water, especially salt water, stainless may be the better choice.

    The classic Nordic knives come without a guard (like most kitchen knives). This enables you to make cuts you could not do otherwise, but you do have to be careful not to cut yourself. Once you are accustomed to it, it isn’t a problem. I’ve been using them for over 50 years, and don’t ever recall cutting myself because of a lack of a guard. Be careful though, they are really sharp!

    One exception to this suggestion is hunting. When cleaning game your hands may be wet and slippery. When cleaning large game you may need to reach into the body cavity. If the point of the knife catches on a rib the knife can slide in your hand with nasty results. I strongly recommend a finger guard for a hunting knife.

    Some of the older models come with sheaths that have belt slots intended for very thin belts. It seems the wide and thick American style belt is not used in Europe. Many also have a slot for fastening to a button, such as a coverall button. This is very tradtional in Scandinavia, and modern coveralls as well as the folk costumes often have a button for the purpose. It’s easy enough to open up the belt loop if you prefer. The sheaths are thermoplastic, which means they get soft when warmed. If you warm the belt hanger, and insert a piece of wood or even a ruler, it will keep the new shape when it cools.
    There is such a variety of Mora knives that it can become confusing to choose.

    1. That’s some high R-C scale numbers. I was testing some tool steel which were checking out in the R-C with readings in the low 60’s and I dropped one which shattered like glass. The pieces checked out at R-C 64!

      Naturally this type of material would make a wonderful scalpel, but would be much too brittle to make a good woods or hunting knife.

      One must be careful to inquire on the blade material and R (Rockwell) C (diamond penetrator) scale reading for any exotic corrosion resistance steels (NOT “stainless”) should be perfect for the ranges you specified, which would be R-C 57 – 58. You’d get good edge retention with enough flexibility to withstand, say dressing game and making fuel for a fire.

      If you pay less than $30 it’ll bend, more than $50 and you’ve overspent. The only exception you mentioned is the sandwiched blade. Stiffened outer material over very hard center edged material. The inherent brittleness of the center edged material is bolstered by the stout outer layers. That would be a “keeper” in my BOB.y

  8. Another water filtration option is a LifeStraw. Small and very easy to carry, it’s good for around 200 gallons, give or take, depending on how much particulate is in the water. I direct safety and security for people being fielded into remote areas globally, and I always recommend a LifeStraw be in their bag.

    A bandanna is another important item, as you can use it to strain water through before drawing it through your filter which will increase the filter life.

  9. Years ago the gunsmith that I worked with told me a story of how he almost lost his life, going back into the woods to retrieve an expensive survival knife. After that he only took cheap but good knives with him on his jouneys. The best he said were made, at that time by MORA.
    They made a laminated blade knife you could shave with or cut bones — with the same knife. They are still made today, but nobody talks about them. WHY NOT ???

    1. @Bob M

      If you’re talking about Mora of Sweden, they make great outdoor knives that range in price from about $18 to $65. They will ship free to the US on orders of at least $95. I haven’t found a US distributor yet, but picking up three of their great Outdoor 2000 or Bushcraft 2010 at $38 each would get you the free shipping. If you didn’t want to keep all three, they’d make great Christmas presents.

    2. @ Bob M.

      Try either Stone River Ceramic Hunting Knives or Boker Ceramic Combat Knives. Fairly Cheap and Extremely Sharp, and hold a Edge 15x Longer than Steel Knives. (www. knifecenter. com)…

    3. If you’ll note in the original article the word “knife” is bolded – indicating a hotline. Click on the hotlink and you are magically transported to CTD knife section, where they sell those oh so hard to find Mora knives.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.