Cutting Tools and How to Use Them for Survival
By Frank Bates
Show me a bug-out bag that does not include a survival knife and I’ll show you a basically useless bug-out bag. A good survival knife is not a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity. The only way you’d be able to get along without one in an emergency that forces you to leave home is if you’re checking into a five-star hotel. This is an item that might save your life on more than one occasion.
But your survival knife will get lonely if it is your bag’s only cutting tool. You will probably have some problems if you don’t include others, and they can go a long way toward making your bug-out experience more tolerable and ultimately successful… especially if a crisis situation lingers longer than anticipated.
Let’s first examine the types of survival knives that are most appropriate for bugging out, as well as their features, then we’ll discuss reasons for including additional cutting tools with a variety of uses. You won’t require each one I’ll include in this article, but this will provide you with a few choices. Then you can decide which ones are right for you.
Some folks refer to a quality survival knife as the most important item in a bug-out bag that you can’t eat. I’d suggest spending a minimum of $40 and a maximum of $100 on this. Make sure it has a single-edge, fixed blade, six to eight inches long and made of quality steel. Choose one in which the heel of the knife is flat.
The handle should be comfortable in your hand. This is considerably more important than creative ridges, fancy designs and other ornamentation. Remember – a survival knife is for survival, not for show. The protruding guard between the blade and the grip, called the hilt, needs to be solid due to the fact that it is what prevents your hand from sliding down the blade when you’re applying cutting pressure. Keep your knife in a leather, web or composite sheath so you can wear it on a belt and have quick access.
What types of survival knives don’t you need? Overly large knives that are impressive looking but are difficult to maneuver, and knives with double-edged blades and no heels that you might need for splitting wood. Whatever kind of knife you own, don’t use it as a pry bar because once that blade breaks off, it will be useless.
Other Cutting Tools
Now let’s take a look at other cutting tools that could come in very handy when you’re in the wild. Include a medium-size lock blade folding knife with a blade of 2½ to four inches with a leather holster, web belt pouch or external belt clip in your bag. This knife is convenient for smaller jobs. You can probably acquire a good one for about $20.
Another item that should be included in your bug-out bag is a multi-tool. You can get one for $20, but you’re better off spending $40 to $80 for this tool because the quality of steel will be better. Find a model with all of its blades and tools locked, as this will prevent them from folding back on your knuckles while using it.
Some features to look for with this item are a folding set of needle-nose pliers with wire cutters, a can opener, screwdriver blades, a small saw or fish-scaling blade, a course-tooth file, a boring awl, ruler markings and a fold-out lithium LED flashlight. All models should include at least one pocket knife-sized blade, some of which are serrated or partially serrated and others that are straight. Multi-tools are highly convenient, but they can’t replace your main survival knife.
With both a quality survival knife and a multi-tool, a pocket knife or pen knife is not crucial, but it can’t hurt to include one. For about $10 to $15, you can buy a small or medium Swiss Army knife to handle finer tasks, including removing splinters.
And speaking of “minor surgery,” include a couple of sterile-packed disposal scalpels in your first-aid kit.
If you think there is any chance you might have to construct a wilderness shelter and/or cut firewood for more than a couple days, it might be a good idea to include an ax or hatchet in your bug-out bag. It could come in handy and will be worth the extra weight. This one-piece item with a steel blade should be at least 12 inches long, and you can probably acquire a suitable one for $25 to $30.
There are a couple alternatives for axes, but they have their drawbacks. A lightweight, compact camp ax with a synthetic material handle and titanium blade that won’t break or corrode is easy to handle, but requires considerably more effort to get the job done properly. A modern tactical ax looks like a tomahawk with a pickax on the rear of the cutting head. This item, which tends to be expensive, cannot be used as a hammer.
Regardless of your ax choice, make sure it comes with a complete head scabbard or reliable blade guard. Otherwise, it will move around in your bag and could cut other gear or the bag itself. An option if you prefer not to carry an ax is a folding camp saw. Some of them look like giant lock blade knifes (12-18 inches when closed). They run about $20.
Remember to keep your cutting tools sharp. This is imperative both for their usefulness and your safety. Dull blades require you to work harder and increase your injury risk. A pocket sharpening stone or sharpening steel device can be found at sporting goods or cutlery stores.
If you’re fortunate, your bug-out experience will be short. But it could last a long time, so it’s best to error on the side of caution and include a wide variety of cutting devices in your bag. You will be grateful that you did.
Frank Bates, founder of 4Patriots LLC, is a contributing writer to Patriot Headquarters, a website featuring hundreds of articles on how to be more independent and self-reliant. He also offers Food4Patriots, a supplier of emergency food suitable for long-term storage, survival and emergency preparedness.