Someone recently asked, “What’s the best survival knife?” Ordinarily, I’d respond something to the effect of, “Get the right tool for the job.” It’s a fairly regular response about the general aspects of survival. There are the day-to-day little stuff to do with a knife, cutting strings and minor details. For that, almost any basic pocket knife variation will do the job. You might be best served by getting a basic pocket knife to carry most of the time for day-on and day-off needs.
You can find a utilitarian pocketknife almost anywhere. They’re not expensive and can cost $5 to $25, and you can find almost anything in a range from a singular blade to three blades. This type of knife could also have attachments such as fork and spoon attachments. The point here is to get a basic tool for the field that resides relatively quietly in one’s pocket.
Kukri: The Ultimate Survival Knife
Then there’s the mitigation of daily survival life that requires a little bit extra. There will be bigger jobs in the field when strength is important, such as when one is interested in building a shelter, setting up structures, or creating some kind of barrier. For things like this a combination between a field-knife and hatchet (or hand-axe) would be most advantageous. In this specific category of the survivalist’s knife, the answer is simple: my personal favorite, the kukri!
Usually between $25 and $60, you can own a fairly decent replica of this knife that was used as both a tool and weapon in Nepal and nearby countries in South Asia. Also referred to as a “Gurkha blade” or “Gurkha knife”, it has an inward curved edge and is similar to a machete. From an aesthetic point of view, the kukri looks like it was made bent the wrong way. At first, it might seem awkward in the hand, but after sharpening it, you can then consider the possibility that there might be something to it.
It has cut firewood into kindling, helped produce spits for roasting, defleshed hides for tanning, and occasionally even dehaired them as well. While I do take relative care of it, I keep in mind that it’s of the scale of a hatchet so it doesn’t have to be razor-sharp, just about as sharp as a hatchet or hand-axe. It’s good enough to accomplish most of the larger tasks at hand, and you don’t wear the blade out prematurely by sharpening all the time.
For duties like defleshing and scraping hides, you can wrap almost anything over the back of the blade for a little comfort to the tool. Between the kukri and a quality pocket knife, one should be able to skin nearly anything up to a buffalo within a reasonable amount of time, using the pocket knife for finer details, say around paws or hooves where a razor-knife might be helpful, and the kukri for major cuts.
Since the kukri is already a hybrid between hatchet and hefty field knife, cutting firewood, makeshift tent poles, posts, and splitting down to kindling isn’t a difficult task. The Kukri truly is the best survival knife, all things considered. Cutting can occasionally even be made easier by the added tapping of a mallet, hammer or even just a fairly hefty rock. (In “bush-craft”, one learns to make greater use of large flat stones.) If you’re attacking a store of meat that’s been frozen solid, it can also be split down to worthwhile portions with a little practice and usually not too much muss or fuss. I recall investing a whole $5 in the thing more than twelve years ago, and having sharpened it a total of three times, I’ve had it everywhere.
Of course, one should consider just how hardcore one wants to become in the outdoor survival game. We are, all of us, individuals with our own ideals of what it should take to survive. The unfortunate fact is that in the survival game, there’s a lot more romanticized ideology available than good sensible advice. You should have tools that group together as something different from each other, and that is how they will complement each other in the tool kit.
This relates directly to why I’d highly advise a basic pocket knife, something more comfortable or practical in one’s pocket, and then a heftier blade to augment it. The kukri is particularly suited here, because its unconventional shape, albeit technically well-developed, makes a considerable difference from any other knife one could get a hold of. It alleviates any necessity to carry around an axe, since most forests have plenty of brush for firewood collections, and it’s still useful as a basic tool for the occasional oversized duties of skinning, where a pocketknife might simply prove less than the task.
Remember that reality TV is an oxymoron, heavily scripted with rescue crews nearby 24/7, and that real survival is largely a matter of function, not fashion. So while you tour and look around at the gimmicks and bells and whistles offered throughout the knife marketing world, do take a little pause to check the oddity in strange corners. There, you will find a find a funky backwards blade, and an excellent multi-purpose tool in the form of a kukri. If you don’t believe me, or you’re worried about costs, just find a cheap one. You can then walk to the woods or a little nearby grove and take down a sapling with your kabar or even the Rambo special, then take one down with the kukri. I’m confident you’ll see the difference right away.
By: Douglas G.