BLADES a.k.a. STEEL
Without a doubt this is one of most over written about subjects in the preparedness community. With that said, here is more ink wasted on the subject. Going on the fact that a young soldier may look to this site to help make up his mind on the type of steel to carry, we will proceed. It is a favorite subject of U.S. RSOG cadre because we are all blade nuts that take their steel very seriously. All cadre have been carrying a blade since they where of a very young age. Whether it is a pocketknife or a hand-me-down hunting knife, we all have many from way back in our bag of possibles.
There is one thing that we all agree on, that the best blade that a survivor can carry is the one that he has when he/she is tossed into a world of chaos. That blade maybe the one that you knapped out of a piece of obsidian, that you scrounged off of the ground. The point is don’t be caught by the Reaper without some kind of edged tool. Another issue that we all also agree on is the blade size of the primary tool, and that’s “big.” This is not necessarily a well-liked philosophy in the S.E.R.E community. Why do we lean to the larger blades, because you get more edge and utility for the buck out of a stout field blade. When you’re building 20 trap triggers to get your trap line going, the ability to wack those pieces out like an assembly line is part of the larger blade bonus. Now to some people a Marine Kabar fighter sized blade is large steel, to us it isn’t, but it is workable for a number of chopping situations.
How about a folder or 4 inch sheath knife and a hatchet in place of a big honkin field blade? That’s another winning combination. Everyone in the preparedness community must figure out where their happy medium is. When it gets right down to it there isn’t any right or wrong blade choice. We are just trying to illustrate to you what we find works best for our cadre and students when primitive living task are thrown their way in a real-world field environment. All cadre carry two blades on the same sheath. After you spend weeks at a time in the bush you start to appreciate those large 8-10 inch blades. It starts to become a part of your body that ends up tending to any size of task, big or small.
Field that Blade
So what is the evader/survivor using his trusty blade for that the average Joe isn’t? Usually tasks like mass-producing trap parts, chopping every size of pole imaginable to construct shelters, camp furniture, rafts or maybe a litter for a fallen comrade. Then there is always a need to do some emergency digging, notice we say “emergency” because a wooden digging stick should be improvised to save your blade for most jobs. We can’t count the times that it has been raining or frigid cold and one of us had to fly into high gear splitting lumber to get to the dry inner wood, while everyone else was out scrounging up timber to build a warming fire or build a great fireboard for a bow drill.
Time is against you when your fingers are going numb or you can’t stop shaking. Of course butchering game and preparing food is a large part of primitive living that calls for some type of edged tool to assist. Most of you will probably not get to open a coconut husk or a sea turtles shell in this lifetime but never say never. Then there are always those tasks that we shouldn’t use our blade for but do any way like hammering, cutting steel strap on ammo crates, opening tin cans, chopping holes in ice, prying open light duty metals and cutting cardboard etc. etc. Make no mistake when the day comes that you have to chop 50 yards of brush to clear fields of fire for REAL, you won’t baby your blade, you will do it. Not because some one gives you an order to, but because you are doing it for your own safety and that of your comrades in arms on the left and right. Is your steel up to it?
High quality blades will make light work of all of these abuses, but most grunts don’t invest in high quality steel. Don’t confuse a custom built blade with “high quality steel.” Many custom blades have great lines and hold a good edge but they aren’t built for anything outside of normal hunting and camping chores. Some are as tough as you can buy it all depends on who is building it and what they designed that knife to do. Is there the possibility that an evader or grunt may have to use a blade to defend themselves against a hostile attacker or enemy personnel? Sure, even if the chances are slim. Is that big field blade your first choice to do battle with? The answer is NO but it could in a pinch. A 3-inch or shorter fixed blade or folder would be the better choice for a fighter.
Main Field Steel
The majority of cadre carry a large thick bladed knife with some type of synthetic sheath (kydex or cordura). Leather sheaths are highly appreciated but do not wear well in jungle regions. The humidity breaks them down. Leather holds moisture against your blade for many days before drying completely out. All of our blades have some type of kit strapped to the outside of the sheath. Usually this consists of attaching small pouches or cleaning kit pouches of varying sizes, with 550 para-cord or 100mph tape. A second knife is usually hung on the under side of the main sheath against the leg. This blade is the back-up blade and also used for any very small jobs.
Many cadre carry multi-tools as back up blades (Leathermans etc.). The field steel’s blade runs from 8”-12” inches, 10” being the most common. Many custom blades that our cadre carry are custom made by Hazen. Some are “evaluation blades” that are sent to us by manufacturers to field test. Some are so good that they are not turned back in after the testing is over, usually a year later. There are many different field blades on the market that fill the bill like the COLD STEEL Trail Master and Recon Scout as well as Busse’s Battle Mistress to the Spec-Plus series to Randall's customs just to mention a few. Somewhere around a 56-58 RC temper is preferred with a high carbon content. A fifteen-dollar, lightweight machete can easily fill the field blade slot when a Kydex sheath is added and a kit is strapped to it. When we have traveled into Central America, we would see indigenous personnel using machetes to skin every sized animal imaginable. It’s all in what an individual gets used too.
There is an “emergency” technique that we have used in the past to bridge the gap between a large blade and a 4-5” fixed blade when there comes a need to do some heavy chopping. Its called a “flail pole” which is nothing more than lashing a fixed blade to the under side of a 3 foot long pole that is used as an axe type of handle. There is one catch, we would never advise doing this with any blade other than a COLD STEEL product. There is just too much risk of breaking the tip off of the blade.
The following are custom production and common production blades that we carry on a daily basis. The upper end blades on the list can be abused and stand up to the wrath of God. There are some in the lower end that will produce just because they are cheap and you don’t care about them. When you don’t care about a piece of gear it just seems to last forever. That isn’t the best mindset to have but it still seems to be true. Then there are lower end blades that should NOT be abused but do a fine job when kept in their prescribed parameters of use.
they are tough basic designed blades that are built from great steel. Their fixed blades are tops on our list, Trailmaster, SRK, Recon Scout and Recon Tanto.
the entire line of blades are “good steel.”
good steel, good designs.
KNIVES of ALASKA-
their combo kits are worth more than a mention. They are built to be real lightweight and with fine steel. Their designs are classic as well as innovative. If you do a lot of field dressing of wild game these blades are top self. We use them a lot.
the new stainless USMC style blade and the Warthog.
probably the best hollow handles on the market.
for the money they can’t be beat, the Bowie has been a great blade for us.
BMF, LMF, they can be a tough one to sharpen but they are reasonably durable tools.
good blade design but it needs to be kept in the limits of a production blade.
is what it is, for the price they arent bad. Don’t push them past what they are made to do.
some of the new models out are nice tools.
the original blades with the better metal or the American made copies.
without a doubt they are the best skinning knives made.
inexpensive and easily sharpens, every kit should have one in it.
The most carried multi-tools or pocket survival tools that our cadre use are the LEATHERMAN series. The SUPER TOOL 200 is a stout tool, with full sized tools that are commendable. The pliers allow the survivor to hold, shape, unbolt and twist improvised gadgets. Two blades make it twice as usable as other models with just one blade. The saw is a blessing for trap trigger construction. The WAVE and CHARGE Ti hold their own with the addition of the one hand opening design and cross lock safeties. The Leatherman’s traditional styled can opener gets raves from our cadre over the other multi-tool competitors design. A file is a cherished item for improvising fishhooks, metal arrowheads and frog gigs. The diamond stone on the back of the file can be used as an emergency sharpener for main carry blades. Some cadre carry one of the GERBER tools because of the one hand opening pliers design. In the lighter versions our crowd uses many LEATHERMAN PST IIs. KERSHAW builds a hell of a tool as well. Just about all of the utility tools on the market are better than no multi-tool at all. Everyone should own and carry some type of multi-tool. The only thing missing from the multi-tools is a flint rod.
Folders and Back-ups
The top of the list of folders is the AL MAR SERE 2000 because it is tough and versatile. Ready for the field or to be used as a defensive blade. Also on the list of folders is the entire BANCHMADE line. The AFCK and Mini AFCK being two of the best. The 154 CM and or ATS-34 blades stay sharp and are rugged. We stay generally with the straight edge blade for field use. Serrations are great but tough to use when whittling a trap trigger. The handles are tough and the cross-lock a must. The BLADE TECH Professional Hunter is an awesome all around folder. BUCK has a few, from Odyssey to Lightings to 760 Summits to Approaches in ATS-34. Again for the cost they hold their own for skinning game and light duty.
The BUCK Crosslock series are a hand full and have working wood saws too. There is a lot of working edge on a Crosslock. BOKERs ceramic line is worth the mention as well. GERBERs E-Z Out in ATS-34 and The Gator line ATS-34 are a good choice. A good substantial handle is always a good thing when doing field chores. If there is a COLUMBIA RIVER KNIFE & TOOL that catches your eye it is probably worth the money. They are inexpensive and well built. A CLIP-IT Police model with straight edge is very tough, not usually considered a field blade but don’t be fooled they are very capable. The CLIP-IT plastic handled blades are very lightweight but way over priced. A straight edged Endura should cost $19.95 tops, but they don’t. To bad we would carry more of them if they did. Kind of like a lightweight disposable knife that never gets thrown away.
All cadre carry custom neck knives as well. If there ever was a strictly “survival” folder built for the field it could possibly be the BROWNING Big Game II. It’s built with good steel and has a saw, excellent gut hook and two blades with a thick handle to hold on to. One last folder that needs to be put on the list is the carpenter utility blade folders that are on the market. The blades are designed to be disposable but in a pinch are very easily sharpened to extend their life expectancy. Sharpened over and over again and again. We get some real mileage out of these very inexpensive and very sharp folders. They wont replace a defensive folder but they are excellent back-ups to save the edge on the bigger blades. For survival kit blades we recommend a classic two bladed Trapper design. They are very streamline and are usually inexpensive but provide a lot of cutting edge. The majority of knife manufacturers build a Trapper, even COLD STEEL. CASE, SCHRADE (Old Henry) and CAMILLUS are the most prevalent and affordable.
These are the folders that use carpenter utility knife blades. Most tool companies make them now and for good reason. They are inexpensive and very handy. Short of chopping they will take care of most your needs. Although disposable they are very easy to re-sharpen. They run $10-$20 and can be obtained at any hardware store. Grab an E-Z Lap diamond stone to attach to all of your blades sheaths or shove it in your pocket and you are ready to deal.
Our favorite hatchet is the MARBLEs #6 Safety Axe. Wow, what a tool these are. Great steel and great balance, plus you don’t need a sheath. The Gerber hatchet line is a good choice as well. Any of the hatchets made with Swedish steel are real survival tools. The Estwing hatchet is bombproof but it is built from some hard stainless steel. Most good hatchets should be able to be sharpened on a diamond or whet stone. NEVER take a hatchet to a grinder, if you don’t have the skills to sharpen your blade on a stone then get rid of it. There is the exception of using a Dunn paper wheel, which is made for all blades.
Again the best blade is the one you are carrying and the worst is the one that was left back at the barracks.