Survival Knives 101: Types and Uses

Types of knives


They’re found in drawers, shops, toolboxes, on shelves, on display, at the campsite. Of course, I’m talking about knives. Knives are one of the most versatile tools around and have been so for thousands of years. They’ve won battles, honed our hunting skills, put food on the table (literally), and shaped many aspects of civil life. But even for some of the simplest of tasks, like cutting almost anything in two or more pieces, you’ll need a knife.

With so much time to evolve from their stone or wood ancestors, knives have found a multitude of uses, and come with according designs and materials.

There are hunting knives, butcher knives, camp knives, kitchen knives, soldier knives, fishing knives, tactical knives, or a knife for almost any conceivable task. All will be shaped differently, have specific features and add-ons and made of materials best suited to the task. Two things that all knives have in common are the blade, and the handle. Let’s see how these and other features differ in different knife products.

Types of knives

Different types of knives


Knives are distinguished by how and where they’re used, the type of blade and blade materials, and the type of handles and what they’re made of. Some are also categorised by the features on the blade or the handle.


I’ve listed some of the uses of knives above. Hunting knives are divided into how you prepare your kill. Butchering knives remove large pieces of tissue, gutting knives tend to individual organs, boning knives strip muscle from bones, skinning knives cut the skin without piercing tissue inside, caping knives for creating trophies. Gutting knives have a gut hook at the end of the blade to removal internal organs. Daggers are the larger knives that make the kill. Fishing or fillet knives are used to remove the meat in fish. All hunting knives have long, sharp steel or composite blades that slice easily through different types of organs and meat.

In the kitchen, there are also different types you can use. Chef’s and butcher knives are often mistaken. Chefs use namesake knives in carving and slicing meats, utility knives for precise cuts to smaller food items, and pairing knives for fruit and veggies. And don’t forget bread knives. Butchers use butcher knives or cleavers for the larger cuts, boning knives to get the meat off the bone, and carving knives to tend to the rest. At the dining table, there are steak knives, dinner knives, and dessert knives.

Camping knives with shorter stainless-steel fixed blades and scaled handles are worthy tools around the campsite. They’re used for cutting wood, preparing food, as a tool for first-aid and general camping purposes. For more extreme conditions, tactical and rescue knives have slightly longer hardened blades able to withstand exposure to cold temperatures, rust or chemicals and will cut through metal, glass, synthetic fibres, or any other material. Blades are mainly of the fixed type for added strength. Many are used by the military. High-end survival knives go one step further and have thick carbon or Damascus steel, the highest grade in blades. Handles are contoured and scaled in a variety of materials for better grip. The flattened handle ends are rugged and can be used as hammers. Survival knives are extremely versatile. Uses include wood carving, trimming thick branches, as a general-purpose hunter knife, as stakes for temporary shelter, as a weapon and many others.


The shape of the blade determines the cut. Normal straight blades have long straight main sections or spines, and a convex point, ideal for chopping or slicing. Drop point blades have a convex spine curving slightly toward the point, making them good for slicing. Clip point blades have a spine that looks like it’s been clipped off, resulting in a curve or straight line towards the point. Clip points are good for piercing. Features like serrations in the spine tear into materials and flesh like a saw.

Materials in blades vary and are one of the main factors determining price. Most knives are made of steel or steel alloys. Chrome increases wear and corrosion resistance, vanadium and carbon are added for strength, nickel and molybdenum provide toughness, tensile strength and corrosion resistance. Other materials include ceramics, which are harder than steel and resistant to acids and titanium blades are used in diving knives.

Blades can also be fixed or folding. Fixed blades are found in most military, hunting and survival knives where overall strength is an asset, whereas folding blades feature in smaller general-purpose camping and pocket knives, along with other additions like tools, scissors and corkscrews. Blades unfold by way of a locking mechanism. Switchblades are a popular folding knife.


Handles like blades, come in a range of materials, from aluminium or steel, to leather, wood, bone, synthetics or composites. Rare materials feature in collector knives. Most handles are textured along the entire length to provide good grip and balance. Contoured cutouts fit individual fingers. Tactical knives often have a protruding glass breaker at the handle end or butt. Survival and chef’s knives have a flat butt for crushing.

Knife Accessories

Other knife products include sheaths, made mostly of nylon or leather. Sheaths protect from the elements, while also concealing the knife. Storage cases and pouches are used in transporting knives in checked baggage. Collectors use displays to showcase prized knives. There are also sharpening tools like leather strops and bench stones to maintain blade sharpness. And cleaning kits, like various oils, paste and polish for some sparkle.

Buying Knives and Accessories

Knife and a knife sheath


Specialised stores will stock a wide range of knife products. The materials, design and features will impact price as much as brand exclusivity. Popular brands include Benchmade, Gerber, Victorinox Buck, Spyderco and Smith and Wesson among many others.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.