Survival knives are knives intended for survival purposes in a wilderness environment, often in an emergency when the user has lost most of his/her main equipment. Military units issue some type of survival knife to pilots in the event their plane may be shot down. Survival knives can be used for trapping, skinning, wood cutting, wood carving, and other uses. Hunters, hikers, and outdoor sport enthusiasts use survival knives. Some survival knives are heavy-bladed and thick. Other survival knives are lightweight or fold in order to save weight and bulk as part of a larger survival kit. Their functions often include serving as a hunting knife. Features, such as hollow handles that could be used as storage space for matches or similar small items, began gaining popularity in the 1980s.
Most survival knives have fixed blades that are 10 cm to 20 cm (3.9 - 7.9 inches) long with a full thick tang. They many times have hollow handles, which allow the user to store additional equipment in the handle. Some of these knives feature a compass in the cap. A hollow handle survival knife will have reduced strength and may break more easily when performing tasks such as chopping or batoning. Some knives even include holes in the handle such that the knife can be fastened to a long stick and then it functions as a spear tip. The capability to mount the knife on a stick to create a spear allows the user to better hunt wildlife at a safer distance.
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More About Survival Knives
Prior to the late 19th century, outdoorsmen and military personnel did not use knives that were notably different from the knives used by butchers. Blades were relatively thin and the handles were often no more than two wooden slabs riveted to the tang. Serrations appeared on knives in the 19th century for use as a wood saw or fish scaler. Around the turn of the century, the modern concept of the "hunting knife" was introduced.
These knives incorporated heavier blades, crossguards, and pommels. And they resembled miniaturized Bowie knives. Cutlery manufacturers soon introduced similar knives of their own and it is from these that the modern concept of the survival knife is descended. These knives, along with machetes and bolos constituted survival knives as used by military, explorers, and outdoorsmen up through at least the 1930s.
Evolution of Survival Knives
During WWII, survival knives were issued to aircraft crew, as it was a real possibility that these personnel might be shot down over wilderness or behind enemy lines. Lifeboats aboard naval vessels also frequently contained survival kits including knives. These knives varied in design from one branch of the service to another and from one nation to another. The majority of them were simply commercial knives purchased in bulk by the military. From the Vietnam-era and to present, purpose-built survival knives evolved.
One design which became a popular fighting knife for troops in Vietnam was the Number 14 "Attack" Model. During Vietnam, Randall received feedback from a Combat Surgeon in the US Army's 94th Medical Detachment named Captain George Ingraham. Ingraham's request was for serrations on the spine to cut through the fuselage of downed aircraft to rescue trapped personnel and a hollow handle to allow storage of survival gear. Randall made the changes and the result was the first of the modern survival knives.
Survival Knives as a Bayonet
Some militaries (including the People's Republic of China, Great Britain, Germany, Soviet Union and United States) have redesigned the bayonet used with their issued rifle to include survival knife features. Historically, bayonets had functioned poorly as field knives, due to being designed primarily to turn a rifle into a thrusting weapon and only secondarily (if at all) to work as a field knife. The newer models function more acceptably and remain capable of being attached to the muzzle of a rifle.