What’s the Best Waterproof Survival Knife?
It has been said time and time again, but it bears repeating: a knife is the most important tool you can carry in a survival situation. It does so many different things that you are severely hobbled without one. Just as an example, with a survival knife you can:
- Baton wood
- Prepare game
- Make feather sticks/kindling
- Do rudimentary hammering
- Perform prying tasks
And, because it is so important, it’s vital to have a well-maintained knife in your survival tool kit; a rusted, busted, or otherwise unusable knife is little more helpful than no knife at all. As anybody at all interested in good tools will tell you, you have to maintain your gear.
That being said, there are some survival knives that are easier to maintain than others. One of the biggest issues with anything made out of steel—knives included—is rust. Particularly with a knife that you carry and use outdoors, moisture is a real problem. And while no knife is 100% waterproof, some knives are much closer to that ideal than others.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best survival blades available on today’s market:
|Ka-Bar Fighting Knife||$$|
|Benchmade Mini Griptilian||$$$|
|Mossy Oak Survival Knife||$$|
|Spyderco Para 3||$$$|
Without further ado, let’s begin with a discussion of the Fallkniven A1 knife.
Fallkniven is a smaller knife company out of Sweden, well-known within their own country (they manufacture military grade knives for the Swedish army), and increasingly popular in the US and elsewhere. In the hyper-crowded fixed-blade market, any time a company’s name comes up again and again, it’s usually an indication of something special, and that’s what we have here with the Fallkniven A1 Survival knife.
There are two reasons why this is an ideal waterproof survival knife. The first is the choice of steel: a 6.3” laminated VG-10 blade – that is to say, a VG-10 blade between two layers of soft, but very stain resistant, steel.
And VG-10, although not quite as universally-loved as it was a few years ago, does do one thing very, very well—and that’s resist rust. It can be a bit of a pain to sharpen, and it doesn’t hold a keen edge for all that long, but in a survival knife you tend to expect a functional, rather than an exceptionally sharp edge most of the time anyway. VG-10 sets the standard for stainless steels in a survival knife.
A version with a black DLC (diamond-like coating) applied to the steel helps even further with rust resistance, making the A1 a knife that will persevere through harsh conditions. Thunderstorms, a dunk in saltwater, cutting through wet wood and foliage; all things I think the A1 can do with ease. It is a very good knife. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that the price, at $250, is fairly steep.
Cold Steel prides itself on tough, reliable knives, and one of their very best is the SRK. This is a classic survival knife from Cold Steel, and with very good reason: it easily performs all the tasks we associate with the word survival.
Its 6” blade is a little shorter than the A1’s, which I actually prefer: honestly, a 4.5” blade is more than enough for 99% of your survival-related tasks, and the handles are actually made of the same material (Kraton, a plastic polymer).
The steel is probably half a step down from the A1. Whereas that knife used a laminated blade with VG-10 as the core, the SRK uses what Cold Steel calls their “San Mai III” steel. This is a typically-overblown Cold Steel trade name for a core of AUS-8 with laminate layers of VG-1 (a relative of VG-10). Not quite as good, like I said, but the difference, particularly in terms of survival scenarios, is marginal at best. You’ll be quite satisfied with both the overall performance, and the waterproof nature of the SRK.
The reason I like it a little more than the A1 is the price. At $110, less than half the cost of the A1, the SRK can be yours. The A1 is a charming knife, but the SRK is a solid performer, working comparably well in the waterproof survival knife category and coming in for a whole lot less.
Comparing Waterproof Survival Knives
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling knives currently on sale on Amazon:
|1) Cold Steel Survivalist|
|2) Ka-Bar USMC|
|3) Kershaw Cryo II|
|4) Mossy Oak|
|5) Kershaw Knockout|
Spyderco Temperance 2
The two previous knives on this list were quite large. While I don’t mind a 6” survival knife, you don’t really get that much more performance from the additional length; and when it comes to reducing the possibility of rusting or pitting, a smaller knife is smaller and easier to maintain. With that in mind, I’ve chosen the Spyderco Temperance 2, with its 4.875” blade and .156” thick blade (about .031” thinner than the A1 and the SRK), as the next recommendation.
Like the A1, it runs VG-10, albeit unlaminated, which is fine; VG-10 is plenty rustproof on its own. It is also full flat ground like the A1, with a fairly wide blade (wider than the SRK); although grind style is largely an issue of personal preference, I do find full flat grinds to be better performers in the survival knife role. Like the Kraton handles of the A1 and SRK, the canvas micarta handle of the Temperance 2 is more or less impervious to the elements, and feels better than the polymers of the previous two blades.
The Temperance 2 cost just about $200. Like most large blades made of modern stainless steels, it isn’t cheap. Then again, it’s less expensive than the A1 and, depending on your preferences with regards to size, it could be a better choice.
However, for every person that prefers a smaller survival knife, there’s another who likes a big, chopper-style blade. For those folks I’ve chosen the Spyderco Rock.
This is a big, unconventional knife. It’s an Ed Schempp design, and like all of Schempp’s knives it is an ergonomics-first design; that means that, while it may not be a looker, it certainly feels good in hand, which is more important anyway.
It is the largest knife we’ve looked at so far, with a blade length of 6.75”, although, given its odd Kukri shape, it doesn’t appear to be the longest. It also has the thinnest blade stock at .125”, although it is by no means a dainty knife, as you’ll see the minute you pick it up. This is a knife optimized for gross motor skill-type tasks, like chopping – although it can do delicate work as well.
The steel is, you won’t be surprised to hear, VG-10. There’s a reason we’re seeing this steel over and over again on these waterproof survival knives: its best traits – toughness and rust resistance – are really noticeable on a knife you use for survival tasks, and its two weakest traits – edge retention and ease of sharpening – are less noticeable than they are on folding knives. I like it here just as much as I liked it on the A1 and the Temperance.
The Rock will cost you about $150 – a good price. There is, it should be said, a variant in H1 steel, but that has been discontinued and will probably be more expensive on the secondary market. As it stands though, the Rock is a really excellent choice for someone who favors chopper characteristics in their survival blades.
Although it’s true that there really isn’t any such thing as a totally waterproof knife, the closest we’re ever likely to see would be this knife, the Aqua Salt Lightweight. It’s a sadly neglected knife (albeit with some fans out there) and, although technically designed to be used as a dive knife, the Aqua Salt is an incredible survival tool.
Like the Temperance, this is a shorter blade, at 4.78”. It has the thinnest blade stock at .12”. Again, bigger doesn’t always mean better when we’re talking about survival knives, and I think that the Aqua Salt’s modified sheepsfoot blade (which can be had with either a plain or a serrated edge) is a super effective blade shape for most tasks. I like the Rock for its chopping ability, but there’s no denying that it’s a little less capable when it comes to delicate tasks; the Aqua Salt’s simple design is one of its biggest strengths.
However, the real selling point for the Aqua Salt is the blade steel. I’ve alluded to it before, but H1 is the closest modern commercial metallurgy is likely to get to a truly rustproof steel. Essentially the trick is to use nitrogen instead of carbon as the hardening agent. It really is almost totally immune to rust. It’s still possible to see corrosion occur, but very unlikely, meaning this is a knife that is, for all intents and purposes, totally waterproof.
The downside is that H1 doesn’t hold an edge quite as well as VG-10 – a steel not exactly known for edge retention to begin with; Cliff Stamp, infamous steel tester/part-time knife abuser, did a comparison between H1 and 8Cr13MoV, a lower-end stainless steel, on his website, and found them to perform similarly. That being said, it’s easier to sharpen than VG-10, so for me, in the role of waterproof survival knife, the Aqua Salt is a real winner – and it is the cheapest knife on the list to boot, at only $100.
While rust resistance and “waterproofness” aren’t the only considerations to make when choosing a survival knife, they are very important ones. Survival knives are not only worked harder than your average pocket knife, they are also relied on in a different way. A survival knife could, as the name implies, save your life someday.
That being the case, you want to ensure that you have as reliable of a knife as possible in your outdoor survival kits. The five blades I’ve talked about above, both for their inherent excellence as survival knives, as well as their waterproof qualities, are worth considering for that toolset.
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