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Why Bother Carrying a Knife?
We had a new guy at our group a couple weeks ago.
He had a lot of the typical preconceived notions that preppers and survivalists were radicals trying to overthrow the government or anti-social dooms-day’ers that needed to take their medication and calm down.
But he also had some good questions, and I’ve been thinking about one in particular ever since – mainly because some of our regulars really couldn’t answer it as well as I would have liked.
“Why bother carrying a knife?”
He thought that a gun would be more effective, and quite frankly in a lot of situations it probably would be. He couldn’t understand what use a knife would be in a dire situation such as a national rebellion, WW3, or a zombie apocalypse.
Kids these days really need to lay off the video games and internet.
The truth is the chances of encountering any of these situations is farther below zero than my math skills will take me. But we’re not talking about end of the world scenarios.
We’re talking about having to evacuate your home because of a wildfire out of control. Or your car breaking down in the middle of the desert. An accident in the woods that leaves someone injured.
Do you know what the chances are of having a life-threatening emergency in your lifetime where you need to be prepared to act? 100%. Without a doubt, you will encounter a situation that you need to be prepared for.
And that’s what we’re here for.
So let’s review a few a few of the basics, and why you should never leave the house without a good, solid knife.
Okay, this sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many guys don’t really know what the cutting motion actually is.
Simply put, cutting is putting the edge of a blade against an object and moving back and forth until you have created two pieces from the one, or oftentimes a single pull will work. Think of carving the turkey on Thanksgiving – that’s cutting.
Out in the wilderness, there’s no end to the uses of a cutting blade. If you get a few solid ideas in your head now, when you find yourself in a high-stress situation you will be better prepared. And let’s be honest – isn’t that the point?
Here are a few:
Making bandages, splints, or slings from clothing, tent material, or even your rucksack can mean the difference in survival. Not only should you know how best to cut the materials you might have available but you should know how to make a sling or splint.
Use your knife to cut lengths of vine or thin roots and braid or twist to make usable cord for tying your food up off the ground, first aid, shoelaces, tent making, spear making, or – if you’ve done a good job with your cord – aiding in steep descents.
If you haven’t done a good job making your cord, please refer to ‘first aid’.
This one requires you to have your wits about you, as well as your knife.
The first thing you might think of is cutting your seatbelt in case of an accident, but it’s actually more likely that you will find yourself hung up on a branch by your own clothing or careless loop of a shoelace.
Either way, when cutting for an escape always take an extra two seconds to identify the best cutting point and use one swift motion away from your body.
Unlike cutting, this includes swinging the knife in a hacking motion. Not a stabbing motion, where you bring the point down as a first penetration point, but like you would a small hatchet.
There are a few things to remember when swinging a knife; first, always make sure there are no humans or animals along the path between apogee and target of the motion – just in case it slips out of your hand.
Second, if you plan on doing a lot of chopping, a length of cord around the handle and then around your wrist as a makeshift tether isn’t a bad idea.
There’s an endless list of items and scenarios where you will find yourself chopping:
Chopping tree branches to use with a tarp for a makeshift tent, or leafy branches as roofing material, it’s important to know how to make shelter without a tent because you never know what will happen on any given day.
Clearing a path to walk through if you find your primary route blocked, or if the situation necessitates creating a new path.
Preparing food such as fish, other meat, or vegetables.
One of the most under-utilized tasks your survival knife can perform is batoning.
Batoning is wedging the blade in a tree branch and with one hand on the handle of the knife, another branch (or even a rock) is used as a baton, striking the spine of the knife to drive the blade down through the branch, or other material.
In other words, you use your knife somewhat like a wedge.
This isn’t limited to firewood; this process will allow you to cut long, thick strips of wood for erecting a shelter, splints for a broken leg, or even a hefty spear.
Knowing how to split a branch with this simple skill will both preserve your blade and allow you to get better quality of wood, faster.
Carving and Whittling
Carving is about more than making animals from a chunk of wood, and whittling is more than your grandpa making a pile of strips from a branch while telling stories of walking to school in ten feet of snow uphill, both ways.
With just a little effort, there are valuable skills that can be learned from carving and whittling. Coupled with making cord or batoning, they can make a difference in any circumstance from a casual day hike to a serious survival incident.
Bow / Arrows
Unless you’ve got mad skills, you probably won’t drop an elk at 500 yards with one release – but you could do enough damage at a few dozen yards to track it and get a few meals.
When lost or starting down unfamiliar trails, it’s a good idea to mark trees along the way. Not only will this help you get back in case of a trail block, but you will avoid days of walking in the same circle.
Let’s be honest, days in the woods can get boring. Carving a few animals is a great way to keep your hands and mind occupied.
This is much better than a knife-throwing contest, where someone always manages to lose his knife.
It’s highly doubtful you will ever need your knife to perform surgery, but if you’ve ever had a splinter burrowed deep, you can use the same whittling finesse to get it out without causing more harm.
We never recommend it if you don’t have to, but you can certainly use your knife to dig yourself out of dirty situations – like a sudden rain and you need to dig a channel to keep the water away from your tent.
Do think about it and try making a digging stick to have at camp, and not damage your blade.
And before you ask, “What about digging someone out of a mudslide?” or other such scenario, stop and think about it. If you’re desperately digging with your knife to save your buddy, how is it going to help when you accidentally plunge your knife into him?
Use your knife to make a tool. Use your tool to dig. Repeat.
Probably the most common use for a survival knife is in hunting. Being able to take the place of different tools, as well as allowing you to make tools as needed, makes a knife the most versatile item in your pack.
Sure, a gun is a preferred method of hunting, but you need to be prepared for the gun taking a swim or the ammo getting lost – or worse, carelessly used up.
With a good knife, no matter where you are, you will still be able to eat … And as long as you’re eating, you’re surviving.
I’m not sure which I find more surprising; the sheer number and types of traps you can make with natural forest items or how many folks don’t know how to make them.
Once a month we review a new trap and make sure we understand how to make it and what the uses are.
There are dozens of types of snares, all effective with varying degrees of patience. For the most part all you need are some stocks and paracord.
If you’re lacking paracord, make some from vines – but be ready to act fast since the tensile strength will be subpar.
There are many types of these traps, although I find them less effective when constructed of natural materials. But, with patience and commitment you can fill your belly.
They can also be broken down and moved.
A lot of folks – myself included – have been guilty of using their knife as a spear. Frankly, you gotta do what you gotta do.
But if you’ve got a little time and patience on your hands, your best bet is to find yourself a nice, straight branch and use your knife to get a nice point on it.
Or you can spend a little more time and create a four point spear that is good for fishing as well.
It may not be as sharp as your knife, but if you lose it you won’t be up the creek without a paddle.
If you can make a spear, with a little imagination you can make pretty much any tool you might need; hammer, fork, spoon … you get the idea.
Skinning / Cleaning
So you’ve got a squirrel or some other game in your trap. Now what? Do yourself – and the rest of us – a favor and learn how to field dress.
You don’t need to learn how to butcher an elk, but you need to know what happens to your food between the trap and your belly.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times; always choose a knife with full or extended tang. This allows the pommel – aka ‘butt’ – of the knife to be used as a hammer.
The uses of a decent hammer are endless, but include;
- Driving stakes for tents (or vampire control, we don’t judge).
- Break nuts open by cracking them, then gently prying with the blade.
- Make that fish stop squirming with one thwack so you can cook it.
- Breaking glass, either in emergency egress or breaking into a car or house to assist in an emergency.
I could go on, but I think you’ve got the basic idea.
Okay, as bad as it sounds, it’s a part of life. Sometimes, when the SHTF, bad things happen – it’s kind of the definition, right?
Due to the shape and size of the blade, as well as the metal, knives are excellent choices for cauterizing a bleeding wound.
It’s important to understand that cauterization should be used as a last option when death is understood as absolutely imminent.
Without going into the scientific and medical mumbo-jumbo, cauterization takes mortality from a 100% fact and gives you a fighting chance.
A 25% shot at survival is better than nothing – but without professional medical treatment fast, infection will set in and lead to a slower, more painful death.
I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but I’m gonna say it again: knives do NOT make good weapons.
Unless you’re defending yourself from that trout you just hooked, a knife gives a false sense of security and superiority in a situation where absolutely no good can come from.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, you can try to use your knife for self-defense, understanding that it is your last-ditch effort for survival, and as long as you’re smart about it.
You need to approach each situation uniquely and with a cool head, but there are some basics that can keep you out of trouble, and maybe even alive.
- Forget everything you have seen on TV or YouTube. It’s fake and will be of no use to you. Knife fights are bloody and painful for everyone involved.
- When defending against an animal attack, prepare do so only after you’ve exhausted every escape route. Know the area, know the predators, and know the best passive defense. If that doesn’t work, get a good grip on your blade and fight for your life, aiming for eyes of underbelly and throat. Outside of a miracle, you’re probably dinner.
- If approached and surrounded by punks on a city street or alley, just give them your wallet. And then try to talk your way out of the situation. If there is more than one attacker and you’ve managed to draw a weapon, then so have they. Consider if you or they are more experienced, and start praying.
- Never bring a knife to a gunfight.
The Roles of a Survival Knife in the Wild
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Wrapping It Up
Obviously, the uses of a good knife aren’t limited to the side of a mountain; as we’ve discussed you will find many of the same hazards inside the concrete jungle.
Keeping a good head on your shoulders in any situation is important. When it comes to preparedness and survival, always be sure to have a good survival knife with you at all times.