This was a comment left on Backpacker site regarding a survival knife article there. Turns out some other readers liked my comment so I edited for grammar & decided to post it here. I have to say how awesome it was to hear positive feedback!
Horace Kephart, a famous woodsman and conservationist, recommended a small, light fixed blade for those venturing into the woods. Today, the Kephart style of knife has been thriving — usually with a blade of about 4 inches & no more than 1/8″ thick. Of course, he often carried a small axe as well.
George Sears, also known as “Nessmuk,” another famous woodsman, recommended carrying a folder, a fixed blade (again, fairly thin, for meat & fish processing, more akin to an old modified butcher knife), & an axe with a double bit (one bit thicker for splitting, the other thinner for felling & processing wood).
Les Stroud (“Survivorman”) recommends carrying a multi-tool (he often uses a Leatherman Wave). He pulls off quite a lot with this kind of tool, though I recall at least one episode in which he used an axe. Les has helped design an entire survival knife line through Camillus, just like Bear Grylls did with Gerber, the former having the theory that you should be able to find something easily that’s both affordable & effective. Les Stroud has also designed a knife for Helle & an axe for Wetterlings, both of which sell for over $100, but they’re both known to be quality tools.
Cody Lundin, formerly of “Dual Survival,” only carried a Mora for a long time, & his particular model can be found easily for $20 or less.
Creek Stewart, of “Fat Guys in the Woods” (2nd season premiering in June on the Weather Channel) always outfits his students with a Mora that costs under $15, though he once gave them a saw I believe, & he usually has some better kit (Ontario Blackbird SK-5 with a custom built sheath that costs somewhere in the vicinity of $350 — it’s also the prize for the student that performs the best each show). Creek Stewart usually carries a Wetterlings axe of some type as well, though not often in the show.
Meanwhile, there’s a credo often attributed to Special Forces that says “two is one & one is none”. In other words, always have a back-up.
There are many opinions among those with far more experience in the outdoors than I. Having less experience, I’ll go with more gear. A multi-tool, & at least one folder on day hikes. For longer stays away, & even for longer day hikes, I’ll add at least one fixed blade, as well as a folding saw (they’re light & take up little space), & potentially a small axe or hatchet (I don’t usually go as far into the wild as Nessmuk).
A survival knife will be the knife or knives you have with you in a survival situation. Survival situations are usually unplanned, unless you’re one of those people starring in a survival TV show. I’m no Boy Scout, but this is something where it’s better to be prepared than not. You might never need a stout fixed blade to build a shelter. But if you have one, you’re more likely to use it for other things too, such as batoning wood while processing kindling, or even performing meal prep.
Regardless of what knife (or knives) you get, learn how to use it & learn its limitations, just as you would with any other gear. Then sit back at camp & wonder how you ever did without that new knife, & why you bothered waiting so long to buy it in the first place.