Survival in a dire situation is always tricky. Both your physical and mental health is at risk, and failure in any action can lead to permanent damage or even death. So, whenever there is a chance that something might go wrong, it never hurts to be prepared. And, for me, the best preparation comes in the form of a sharp knife.
There are few things more useful than a knife in any outdoor scenario, be it life-or-death or just recreational. The capabilities of a sharp piece of metal when out in the field are staggering when you take a step back and really look at them. And when I look back at a survival training course I was on, I would have been lost without a knife.
Knives are great tools from the very beginning – as soon as you step outdoors. But in a survival situation, they really come into their own. First priority is water, and that is down to the individual to find, but as soon as you need to set up a shelter, knives become your best friends. They can easily hack through branches with a few well-placed strikes, assuming that your knife doesn’t already have a serrated edge to just saw through the wood. If you need bindings, sharp knives can glide through bark to make strong and durable ropes. In bush-craft, knives are necessary for anything and everything. Precision whittling, splitting, carving – the list goes on. And I learnt all that in the first few hours.
There is irony, however, in the danger associated with knives – everything you’ve managed to accomplish with your knife can be just as easily taken away by the same blade if you’re rash, reckless and irresponsible. As far as general guidelines go, never grab a knife by the blade, and always try to hold the knife by the handle. If you need to pass the knife to someone else, then carefully hold the handle as close to the blade as you can get, so that the other person has as much handle to hold as possible. Don’t point the point or blade at yourself or others, even if they are well out of reach – it’s a good habit to get into to prevent you from hurting yourself or others. Never ‘strike’ the blade towards you or towards others – always away from the body and into clear space in front of you. If the knife gets jammed in anything, never try to force it through. It’s easier and safer to pull the knife out and try again. If you need extra pressure to cut though something, you can out your thumb behind the blade, so long as it’s not double-edged or serrated. Most of this is just basic common sense, but you always need to keep this in mind when you’re handling knives.
The knife I have is a fixed blade knife – that is to say that the blade is solidly fixed to the handle. There are folding knives available, which are much more discrete and compact, but I find that fixed blades are much more reliable, durable and generally cheaper to maintain. I try to make sure me knife is always sharp, because a blunt knife is much less useable than a well sharpened one. If I find my knife is blunt, I usually spend about half an hour or so with a whetstone, sharpening it. And I always keep it in its sheath with a spark stick, just in case.
You never know when you’ll be on a knife edge … and need a knife.