Bushlore Topics > Wilderness Survival

The Knife: Most important survival item or not really a big deal?

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Okay, things have been a bit slow here so I thought this might be a good topic to stimulate some discussion!  Occasionally you'll see discussions (or often YouTube videos) of survival kits, and very often you'll hear the claim "my knife is my most important survival item!"  I know Dave Canterbury has said this a few times and it's a common opinion among many internet survival experts.  But is it true?

There are a lot of ways to examine the priorities of survival.  Some like the rules of three- 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Okay, it's a handy mnemonic to help you think about survival.  But while it's true not all of the rules are hard and fast.  For example, while you do indeed need air to avoid a quick and horrible death, most survival situations not based at sea or in flash floods won't require one to look very hard to find oxygen!  And in good weather in the summer shelter might be completely unnecessary depending on your AO.

I guess I prefer Cody Lundin's philosophy espoused in "98.6- the Art of Keeping Your A$$ Alive".  He points out that you need to maintain your body's core temp in order to keep breathing.  That requires water (the main way you regulate temp), food to keep making energy and some means to adjust core temp in extreme environments.

So were does the knife come in?

Perhaps shelter?  It's very handy to have a knife, I won't deny that!  But it it really required for shelter?  If you have a small shelter kit with pretied cordage and a tarp or space blanket you don't really need a knife.  To cut cordage you can use a lighter, too.  A debris shelter is one type of shelter where a knife would almost never be used at all.

Okay, fire then?  Again, a knife is handy to process wood or to make fire in some instances.  If you need to strike a firesteel it's handy if you don't have a striker.  It would be kind of hard to make a bowdrill set without a knife but I suppose it could be done.  But if we're talking a survival kit, does it need a knife?  If you have only one tool, a knife or a BIC I'd say 98% of people would have a lot more luck with just a lighter than with just a knife.  Depending on your AO you may be able to get all the wood you'd ever need without ever cutting or splitting a bit of it. I have one friend, around 80 years old, that claims he almost never needs to cut wood- he can always find enough dead wood and just break it with his feet.

Well, maybe for hunting or gathering food?  Certainly if you need to clean a fish or some wild animal you've snared a knife is pretty handy!  But will the average survival situation involve trapping or hunting?  I know it's a common trope of mini-kits to include snare wire but how often are they used?  Thinking back on all of the stories I've read in the media or seen on the news involving lost hikers I can hardly think of any that hunted or trapped game.

I'm not trying to make the case that you don't need a knife!  I'm more just examining the axiom that states that without a survival knife you're a goner for sure!

Personally, I think a knife is a great thing to have.  If I'm wearing pants you can bet there's a knife in them!  While I'm at work I have a Spyderco Dragonfly in HAP40 on a ring with a small light and a spare battery in a Delrin locker.  That's my minimum.  When I'm off and out and about I swap that out for a real light, a larger knife (either a Spyderco Delica or a Native5 in Maxamet) and usually a sidearm in 9mm. If I'm out on the trails hiking, camping or bushbumming I'll definitely have more!  But a lot of that is because I hike and camp for relaxation and satisfaction.  The activities I do are enhanced by having a knife, be it to carve, whittle or make small kindling.  So I'm not anti-knife!

Another common point brought up is that tools are the hardest things to replicate in the woods.  There I heartily agree!  It's not easy to mine your own ore and set up a forge to make a knife in the wilderness!  And flint knapping is an art not easily mastered.  There's a good reason that aboriginals in the Americas quickly adopted steel and iron when they were exposed to them!  Life in the long term without tools is difficult and everything is harder.  But that's not always the case in the short term.

What do you folks think?  Is the knife the most important survival tool you can have or just another option that's nice to have but not essential?

Moe M.:
  Things have been really slow conversation wise around here for a long time, so yes any contribution at this point is a good thing,  is a knife the most important survival item one should have with them in a survival situation, good question, if, one is in the process of choosing items or assembling his/her "kit".
  Academically speaking the question can be posed in several ways, and there would likely be a different response each time the question is worded a bit differently,  my answer would be no, we all know that early man did a pretty good job of surviving without the benefit of modern tools,  and for those early people survival was their daily challenge.
  Unless one has been through a wilderness survival event it's not unusual to make mistakes when setting priorities and choosing survival items when assembling one's "survival kit",  almost anyone that has been "tested by fire" will tell you that the most important tool that you carry with you is your mind,  and if it doesn't have the proper knowledge and skill set to survive your situation,  your chances of surviving are slim to none regardless of how many tools you are carrying. 
  Viewing or reading the teachings of instructors like Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin are a great learning aid if you actually get out and practice what you've seen or read,  just reading it and understanding the methods they employ aren't going to help you when you're caught in a survival event,  usually, at least for most people who are caught unawares that they're in trouble until it's too late to turn back,  the first thing they experience is panic,  the mind stops working and falls back on past experiences (aka training and practice), no experience, no survival.
  There are other things that can also cause a mental shut down,  a serious injury,  a loss of core body temp will not only affect the thinking process but also impair motor skills,  it's said that a person can live for approx. three weeks without food, generally that is a true statement, but after just a few days without food you begin to get light headed and find it hard to make good choices,  after a week the body begins to weaken, motor skills and balance start to suffer, and the will to do the chores necessary to ones survival and well being start to diminish.
  Every year we hear or read about some well seasoned hikers who go out with all the right equipment and because of an injury or some minor miscalculation end up becoming a statistic in some SAR log, most likely because they were never subjected to a true survival challenge, and when it came they weren't ready for it.
  Back to the knife,  no, it's not the most important item you can carry in your arsenal of survival items,  but without it you're going to have to work harder at some things you'll need to do to survive,  harder work means loosing calories you should be holding on to,  sweating more than you need to,  and making yourself more tired that you would be if you only had a sturdy knife that was up to the task.
  In my area of the country we have some pretty hard stone, usually easy to find along streams and old river beds,  they are fairly easy to break into flakes that are extremely sharp,  fixed to a split green limb with a bit of natural cordage they make a very serviceable knife or stone axe that can be used to cut shelter material, hunt with,  process fish and game, or make a bow or hand drill set,  it's a great skill to learn and a real confidence builder,  but as much fun as it is to learn to make primitive tools,  they don't come close to doing the work of a good quality modern knife or other woodsman's tool,  so in my opinion, while a knife is not the most important survival tool in my kit,  it's right up there in the top three.     

Good points Phadrus. You convinced me.  Since we don't need knives so much we should make a new name for B&B......hmmm....ah ha.

Bics and BarcaLoungers.

I have some admiration for those Northern boys who leave the sticker at home, and go about with an axe instead. So much depends on where you are at the time(ao). It's hard to say what is most important to have. A knife is one familiar, universally useful, and generally small enough to remain a constant companion that it always makes the list. For its utility and the confidence it can inspire, I think a knife is the number one tool.

"No Unk, it's the mind...it's all in the mind." 

I believe where there is a mind, there is a body. If that mind is not strong enough to keep that body in shape- the mind is likely not much good on its own-

My short answer is "I want a knife if I am out in the woods or fields."  It makes life easier and allows one to get the food for keeping the engine running processed much easier.

Is it required?  Of course not.  A sharp stick will do some of the things that need to be done to gut an animal or bird.  A sharp stick can be made with a stick and a piece of broken rock.  A broken rock of the right kind can be used to start a lot of the processes we use a knife to do.  Pierce the skin to get your fingers inside and you can skin a critter with little more than two hands.  A sharp flake of the right kind could replace most of what a steel knife does except create spark.  Friction fire methods would be in your future.

Shelter is made by getting out of the elements.  A lot of dead wood can be worked into pyramids or lean to's without the assistance of a knife.  Fire can be made with friction and a sharp stone flake can make a feather stick.  In addition there are lots of materials in the woods that would not require a knife to harvest them. 

I am writing this quickly as we are off to church in a moment and it also written without benefit of much thought.  If something occurs to me while I am gone perhaps a modification of my initial thoughts will happen. 

Thanks for the topic, something to think about regarding what is probably my favorite thing to have with me all of the time.

Sitting an church I thought about this a bit and am comfortable with what I wrote.  My EDC when in town or walking around the farm most of the time is a Buck 110 with the polyester handle.  It is light compared to the regular 110 but the blade is the same and it is a very useful clip point design.  I would not be disappointed to find myself in a survival situation with that 110 but I would get by without a knife should I have to

I like Madmax's idea of having a pot and a lighter a lot.   

Is it a "big deal" in a survival situation? :shrug:     To ME, it is.....so much so, that I have not even flown on a commercial airplane since the ruling went into effect where I could no longer carry a small SAK in my pants pocket or even my carry-on luggage.   I can't stop my mind from going to a nightmare scenario where I am trapped upside down in a weight-loaded seatbelt in a sinking or burning airplane, not being able to release the buckle of the belt......and NO KNIFE TO CUT IT!  Even worse.....without my SAK, I wouldn't even have ready access to my trusty EDC plastic toothpick! :doh:


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