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Survival Knives (Know Your Steel)

When it comes to fending for yourself in the great outdoors, there are few things that are more important than a quality wilderness survival knife.

Steel composition of any fixed blade wilderness survival knife should not be overlooked when it comes to selecting the right one for you.

You may end up relying on it for your very survival.

Close attention should be paid to the molecular makeup of the steel itself, as any knife worthy of becoming part of your kit should be made from carbon steel or stainless steel (must contain at least 13% chromium to qualify).

That sounds much simpler than it actually is, as knife blade attributes can be broken down into 6 sub categories:


-Hardness, Edge, Strength, Wear Resistance, Corrosion Resistance, and Toughness-


When a blade’s hardness increases, it becomes brittle but it is able to take and hold an edge better than its softer counterparts.  Sharpening becomes more difficult as hardness increases (measured using the Rockwell Scale).

The strength of a wilderness survival knife blade refers to its ability to return to its original form without breaking during bashing and prying use.  It is a balancing act to get this quality right, as it is possible for softer steel to have more “strength” than its harder brethren.

Wear Resistance  refers to a blades ability to stand up to abrasion. Abrasion matters most on a knife’s edge where a steel with more wear resistance will keep sharp longer.




There is no “Cinderella” solution.   There isn’t a survival situation that is static enough for that.  Instead focus on blending and balancing the qualities that might matter most to you in your individual survival situation.


 A steel that is hard but rusts may be suitable for a desert environment, but wont last in a rain forest.  One that gets brittle in low temperatures would not be a great choice for the Arctic……you get the point.



  • Common carbon steel for use in quality survival knives are CPM-3V, CPM 154, 1095 (oldest and most common), 5160, 01, Carbon V and A2.
  • Common stainless steel for use in quality survival knives are S90V, AUS-8, S60V, CPM 154, BG-42, VG-10, and CPM S35VN


Any of those steel alloys listed should meet the minimum threshold for survival use.




If a manufacturer doesn’t openly advertise their blade steel composition, your spidey sense should start to tingle and you should probably steer clear and move on to a knife that boasts this information with pride.


While maintenance is definitely an issue for some, if that isn’t the case for you, carbon steel is probably the better choice.


It will take an edge and hold it better than stainless steel, however it does need to be oiled and honed on a regular basis to perform at its best and most importantly, to avoid rusting.


If that trade off sounds worth it, you can also add lower cost of acquisition to that list as you will pay less for a carbon knife.



Check out this video for some extra insight