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Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Survival Knives with Built in Survival Kits

Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo is perhaps the most famous person to use one of these 'Survival Knives' but are they any good? 

John Rambo.jpg
By Yoni S.Hamenahem - Yoni S.Hamenahem, CC BY-SA 3.0Link

Generally I would say NO! the kind of survival kit that can be crammed into the handle of a knife is likely to be so small as to be fairly ineffective. It might have just enough in it to improvise a bit of fishing kit or make a single snare, light a fire (which may well be a life saver), contain a scalpel blade for skinning (although you already have a knife so why bother with a scalpel blade), or a single plaster dress a tiny wound. So while none of those things are useless you would be far better off having those things on your person because in my opinion you are just as likely to loose your knife in a survival situation as anything else. Really I suppose the kit in one of these knives is meant to be a last resort, you wouldn't willingly head off with nothing but what was contained in the handle of your knife (unless you really wanted to test your skills) and would probably have (SHOULD DEFINITELY HAVE) proper, full size, kit as well as what's in your knife should you choose a knife of this type. 

These knives are generally weaker than I am comfortable with though, the handles of the knives you will often find on Amazon and Ebay will definitely break and realistically will probably be made of appalling steel that certainly won't arrive with a decent edge and probably won't ever take a decent edge either, these knives will DEFINITELY break even moderate use putting your main tool out of action and posing a significant risk of injury. 

There are some that seem robust enough to use;

The Cold Steel Survival Edge is a no frills affordable hollow handled survival knife that as well as coming with a good sharp blade contains a small survival kit and houses a fire steel in the sheath. It is remarkably robust, almost miraculously robust, I can't quite work out how it's so strong without a full tang. Other hollow handled survival knives are far too fragile unless you move well up the price range and go for something very expensive. Even then your options will be limited and I would suggest your money is better spent else where but for the £30 you'd spent on this cold steel offering you are basically getting a hollow handled Mora. It wont break the bank and it will perform just fine. The one complaint I have about it is the handle is bit too fat, it's down to the perfectly cylindrical shape perhaps but it just feels a bit uncomfortable. Maybe I have small hands but I can handle a British army 'survival' knife which has a notoriously large handle.   

Another option is this style of knife which does not have a hollow handle but comes with a survival kit in a waterproof container attached to the sheath. In this case a Marco Polo survival knife which isn't made of great steel and has a very oddly placed bottle opener instead of a choil (not that I'm a fan of finger choils on knives, I'll explain why in a later post) but the decision to add a bottle opener there seems very odd. This design does mean I'm not sacrificing strength for a hollow handle though and the specially designed sheath contains compass and a substantial survival kit as well as being engraved with morse code and a ruler. 
The survival kit comes in this waterproof clear plastic case and contains matches, sharpening stone, plasters, fishing kit, magnifying glass and a few other odds and ends. However once you have removed it from the sheath the knife wont go back in and be held securely. But again everything in this kit is so small that it is of very limited use. 

My take on the all in one knife/survival kit package is a little different, as I've said I think a lot of the items stashed in the smaller kits are a bit too small to be useful but this kit has everything of a useful size. Instead of two plasters in a little plastic bag the pouch on the front of this sheath contains a a CAT tourniquet. If your wound only needs a plaster to fix it it's not serious enough to worry about but this will take care of large wounds that really might be a 'survival' situation. 

There is also an extra large ferrocium rod contained in this sheath, instead of using your three matches from your survival kit that have been beat up in their container for goodness knows how long and have all fallen apart to hopefully light one fire, you can use this to light ten thousand fires.
The small knife is a TOPS mini eagle combining a strait edge and a small section of serrations for tasks that the large British Army survival knife is too big for; skinning, food prep, fine carving etc...
TODAY'S LESSON; Forming Kydex

Kydex is a popular choice for knife sheath, I particularly like it because it won't ever soak up blood, grease or other contaminant and become a hygiene risk, this is particularly important for me as I often use my knives to process deer carcasses which will then be sold into the human food chain. 

Image result for chicago screws
Chicago Screws
Making your own kydex sheath is relatively simple with a heat gun, or even with the heat from the oven or toaster if you are careful. It is a thermo setting plastic so as you apply heat it can be shaped to your requirements. It doesn't take long to soften though so be careful not to ruin it by heating it for too long or burning it. 

Once softened you have two basic options for a knife sheath, you can fold it and fasten it down one edge, this style of sheath is known as a pancake sheath. The other is to take two sheets of kydex and fasten them together, like the sheath I made for my British Army Survival Knife. The kydex can be fastened together with Chicago screws. 

To form the kydex to your knife so you get a secure 'snap' fit you can press it onto the knife as it cools and regains it rigidity. I always wrap some cardboard around a knife when I do this and fasten it with tape otherwise the kydex will form so snugly around the knife that you wont be able to draw it again. Trying to press it with something solid like a book of plank of wood wont work you will need something soft which hugs the form you are trying to create, I use an old foam camping mat folded triple which I have stapled to a piece of plywood.  

These sheaths can then be attached to belts or molle webbing. My British Army Survival Knife Sheath has two strips of Kydex along the back which I then attached to a Maxpedition drop leg panel with TacTies. Smaller sheath can be fitted with belt loops of clips to attach directly to a belt. 


If I'm headed out into the wood by choice I'll take all the tools
I want or need, some people will tell you that's heavy but a
full kit with axe, whittling knife, folding saw and main
knife probably wont weigh more than five kilos, if you
can't manage that then you need to worry about more
than a survival kit
If you are in a real survival situation you are just as likely to have access to the bigger kit than the smaller and by that I mean almost zero chance of having either. Choosing to go into the wilderness an use your skills is another matter though so you may as well use the kit you really want to rather than trying to find a knife that does (or contains) everything. So my personal choice would be not to take any of these things pictured above take a bushcraft knife, an axe a folding saw, a ferrocium rod, a full size first aid kit, if you want to go fishing take a rod and spinners, if you want to catch food using traps take some snares or a rifle. 

My current first pick for a main bushcraft/woods knife.
The Eikhorn Nordik Bushcraft

If you're really in a survival situation innovation is likely to be your best and only ally.  

Take a look at what is in your pockets right now because if in the next ten second's you find yourselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse that's all you're going to have.

A typical EDC; watch, butane lighter wrapped in duck tape, wallet (inside the wallet is a Readyman survival card), pocket knife (a griplock by Boker plus), case of plasters. 

Or think of the cliche crashed plane survival scenario what have you got in your pockets, now deduct from that any pocket knives because you wouldn't have those on the plane add a slight chance that you will locate your hold luggage which may or may not contain some survival aids and your best chance is again innovation. Making something out of nothing and the most of what you've got. 

So are 'survival' knives any good? if they are well made they may not be worse than any other knife but ultimately that's all they are; any other knife, the survival kits are fairly poor and need to be supplemented by primary gear. If you have one in a real survival situation then thats far better than nothing but if you are practising bushcraft recreationally they would be far from my first choice. 

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