Choosing a Knife According to Your Survival Needs

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Written by James Walton


Any person who starts down the road of preparedness must understand the threats they are faced with and the hurdles to mitigate these threats. You see, the location of your survival plans and resulting actions are very important.

Understand Your Unique Survival Circumstance

While you may live in the city, it might be the mountains that you plan to escape to. This means you must be well versed in escaping a city as well as surviving in the wild. For most of us it’s one or the other.

This is why having plans is such an important part of prepping. If you fly by the seat of your pants, I can assure you that something will be left behind and forgotten. That is never a fun scenario to dream up. How on earth are you going to tackle an environment that you never planned on entering?

Urban or Wilderness?

There are two important distinctions to make in regard to your survival plans and choosing the right survival knife among other tools. That is the environment that most of your survival will take place in.  If you plan on taking on the wilderness than you are going to have specific tasks that you ask of your survival knife. These have to be considered.

If you are one of the unlucky people who is left with few options and must take on the urban environment, you will need a very specific set of tools and the tasks you ask of your survival knife will be very different than those you will need in the wild.


Let’s have a look at those particular tasks that might be asked of your survival knife in the two environments that are outlined. While some tasks may be similar, others will be very different.

Wilderness Survival Tasks

Processing Firewood

No one really appreciates what a dog it can be to gather and process enough firewood just to get yourself through one cool night. Depending on the tools that you have packed in your bag, you may use your survival knife for processing wood and that is going to lay a heavy burden on that knife.
The reason I bring this task up first is because it best articulates the importance of having a strong, full tang survival knife. All other designs will undoubtedly perish under pressure.

Building Shelter

Whether you are carving stakes from wood or breaking down branches to build a lean-to, the survival knife plays a massive role in the creation of shelter. You will even need its cutting edge to take advantage of all that cordage you packed. You did pack cordage, right?

A quality survival knife is going to offer you a number of solutions when it comes to shelter creation and even modifications. Now, I wouldn’t recommend the survival knife being your only cutting tool when building shelter but, remember, it could wind up that way.

Processing Game

You could argue that this task would fall into both the urban and wilderness survival categories. In the wilderness, you would likely be killing and skinning things like squirrels, rabbits and maybe deer. While in an urban environment you would probably be breaking down birds like pigeons and dove while also taking advantage of things like an opossum.

Urban Survival Tasks

Self Defense

Perhaps the biggest difference in tasks is the fact that your survival knife will likely be used in self-defense. The sheer number of people that you will face in an urban collapse will put the odds in favor of conflict. Remember, a gun can be virtually useless in someone closing on you at 20 feet. The urban scenario could be a lot of that.
A task that will define your urban survival knife is going to be its ability to be effective as a self-defense weapon.


In the urban environment, you are going to have lots of resources to scavenge. You will need a quality survival knife to take care of quick tasks like separating rusted pieces of metal or maybe even cutting straps or plastics.

One of the most important parts of scavenging is to get in and out fast. Chances are you won’t be the only person looking to gather resources in that area.


Since there will be an abundance of resources and materials around you will likely do a bit of cobbling things together. While most of what you find will be damaged, you will be able to add other parts from other things to craft the items that you need.

Look for a strong spine survival knife that can also carve well. When cobbling together makeshift resources you will need to make small modifications and the right survival knife will make these possible.

Other tools

The survival knife will be your go-to piece of equipment, but you should consider carrying other tools based on your environment. Below we are going to look at a number of other tools that are worth their weight for the Urban and Wilderness survivor.

Bolt Cutters

Access is always going to be an issue. You will find that the urban environment is full of barricades. Locked doors, windows and gates are some examples of this.

Pry Bars

With access and scavenging in mind, it’s easy to understand why something like a prybar would be a great option in urban survival.

Hand Saw

On the wilderness side of things, you will want to have an item like a handsaw to work through fire wood and maybe even use in building shelter


The hatchet is indispensable in the wild. While you might think you can use your survival knife as a hatchet its not a great way to have a knife last a long time.


Your survival knife should reflect your circumstances. How you use that knife should as well. It is very important that you choose this tool wisely and maximize what you get out of that simple blade.

It’s amazing when you consider all the things your survival knife can do for you and it’s just a thin sharpened piece of steel.

About the Author

James Walton is the host of I AM Liberty a podcast that airs on He is also the author of Come Unity, Community a book about neighbors and prepared communities. You can read more by James at

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  1. A firearm WOULD NOT be ‘… virtually useless at 20 yatds’. 20 FEET? Yes. I’m a former LEO, firearms are nstructor, and competitive shooter. 20 YARDS is a loooong distance in the world of CQB.

  2. Long time survival/SUT instructor here. Tools are secondary to your plan. If you’re talking about leaving, you better have a place to go that you can reach in a couple days at most, on foot. Knowing when to leave is just as important as what you take and how you go. If you can’t get out of the city (a virtual death sentence), you better start training at a reputable school on CQB, how to defend in a built up area (we used to call it, “Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain,” (MOUT back in my day), and you better get a good carbine & pistol, lots of ammo, and practice, practice, practice. That’s simply the beginning. Firearms trump blades every time. Knives are ‘last ditch’ defense weapons. Training to shoot at someone at or inside of 21 feet is standard fare in training these days.

    Not trying to rain on your parade here, simply cutting to the chase. Any good full tang, fixed blade knife that has a good edge on it will do. A multi-tool (good quality – Leatherman or Gerber come to mind) is also essential.

    Hammers, saws, and bolt cutters are great; you better be in good shape to carry them. Weight adds up very quickly, which means your fitness level will have a direct impact on your survival chances, which, in the city, aren’t that high to begin with, especially once food, fuel and power runs out.

    Lots more to think about. First items? Where are you going? How do you get there? PACE – Primary; Alternate; Contingency; Emergency (routes/methods). How do you navigate? What/whom do you take? Who’s likeminded if you have to stay put? Can you protect what you have?

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