A guest post by Pete in Alaska
What makes the knife perhaps one of the most important tools you could have in the field or… anywhere? Stop for a moment and consider what you could use a good blade for on any given day.
Go ahead, take five seconds and count them up—surprised?
The important question is, “What tool will serve me wherever I find myself?”
What makes a good edged field tool? How do you make a choice with so many options? For this discussion, let’s just consider fixed-blade knives. You need a a foundation with the following “must haves” (and they are also important in other edged tools).
Consider These Elements
- Full tang blade, essential for strength
- Non-slip or composite grips contoured for safety and positive handling
- Chip, drop or Tanto point, for strength
- Sheath, positive lock, waterproof and durable
A Few Specifics
Environment and projected use will help determine the material type (steel) of the blade you need. Stainless steel blades are most common in today’s market, although not all stainless is equal; some types are much better than others. Stick with the better-known manufacturers when buying stainless. Your requirements help determine the construction and materials you should look for to best fill them.
As most of you are familiar with how to use a knife, not make them, the following is a basic set of guidelines to consider when searching out your next knife. These suggestions were drafted with the fixed-blade hunting knife in mind. However, they will also apply to the better classes of folders, automatics, spring-assisted and multi-tools—for the most part.
A blade with higher carbon content provides a sharper edge and longer use and is also easier to maintain. A non-stainless blade is fine. However, it requires additional care and discolors over time. It may also rust if not taken care of. Rockwell Hardness (RC) is the general standard for the hardness of the steel. It rates the steel’s flexibility (how brittle) steel may be. The RC should be somewhere between RC54 and RC59 for general use.
In general, you want a 4- to 7-inch working area or edge with an .1875- to .25-inch thick by 1.125- to 1.5-inch wide blade. Blade shape is a personal choice, however. For a multi-purpose blade, get a blade that carries its strength to the tip or point.
Stay away from the longhand thin when looking for a general service tool. The full-tang handle, where the steel of the blade continues into the handle and creates the basic handle shape, provides the greatest strength.
The handle fit should be comfortable and feel natural when held. Take the time to find the knife that fits your hand and your requirements.
NOTE: Don’t get a knife just because it looks “cool.” This is too important a tool for that.
The grip should be sure, comfortable and feel solid in your hands: a non-slip grip material is your best choice. A blade should always feel secure and in control in a wet situation. The grip telegraphs the blade’s position even when you aren’t looking at it.
Consider the placement of your fingers when looking for that one knife. The new materials that are rubber-like and, when wet, seem somewhat sticky feeling in the hand are an excellent grip choice for a field knife, if for no other reason than safety in the field.
The sheath is an often overlooked but a very important part of this tool system. Bad design of the sheath spells disaster in the field. Keeping the blade in a positive, secure and safe manner is imperative. The modern thermo-plastic or ballistic nylon designs are perhaps the best for security and safety of your knife today, not “pretty” but purpose-made carriers. Classic leather is still widely used but may cause issues with the blade and security as it gets old, worn and abused, or hasn’t been well cared for.
Multi-Tools, “Survival” and Specialty Knives
These are a category unto themselves. A multitude exist from general-purpose, such as a basic Leatherman to the Leatherman “Wave” and onto the task-specific Leatherman MUT for handling explosives. There are number of good “toolbox in your hand” systems. Perhaps the best known of these is the Swiss Army Knife series.
Specialty knives are generally task-specific and custom knife makers may also fall into this category.
The so-called “survival” knife is, for the most part, a myth. ANY knife may be a survival knife. There are, however, several blades out there worthy of this title, such as the Cold Steel Bushman series.