The Difference between a Survival Knife and a Fighting Knife

If you’ve been around preppers for any length of time, you already know that they will go to great lengths arguing the merits of an individual piece of gear. No advantages to insignificant, no perk is worth ignoring when the business of survival is at hand.

Take knives for instance: Every prepper has their own preference, some like their trusty pocket knife for their survival work, and others prefer a large, hefty blade designed as a survival tool.

One of the most common arguments between preppers is the merits of a survival knife against a fighting knife. What is the difference anyway? Is a survival knife one that you use for survival tasks? Or is it some kind of specially designed knife intended for survival? You can ask the same questions about a fighting knife. Should you care? Someone has to know!

A survival knife is a knife that is designed for a variety of typically outdoor tasks, usually the processing of wood, and chores that one would engage in around camp, or during a survival situation. Survival knives may come with additional survival gear either tucked safely away in their sheets, or even within their handles. Fighting knives are designed as dedicated offensive or defensive weapons, usually with an aggressively textured handle for a no-slip grip, a half or full guard, and a blade designed for maximum sharpness and penetration.

What Should a Prepper Choose?

There is no one-size-fits-all choice for a knife, at least if you’re choosing a knife for survival situation. A knife completely optimized for one task may be woefully inadequate for another. For self-defense against other humans, I would definitely prefer a fighting knife.

For general bushcrafting and other survival tasks, I would want a survival knife. If I was in a situation where I needed a knife, and had no knife, I would take any knife at all. In a pinch, you can use one for tasks design for the other. Any knife is, after all, simply a sharpened edge.

That being said, the design of a knife does greatly impact its performance for a given task. We will examine the design features of each type of knife just below, and discuss how that might affect its use.

Keep in mind going forward that the best thing you can do to ensure you get the knife you need is a carefully evaluate what your needs are based on your location, your plan, and the situation you’re expecting to find yourself in.

Survival Knives for Bushcrafting 

If you require a heavy-duty, sturdy blade with some additional survival essentials, a survival knife is what you want.  Survival knives, as a rule, have thick, heavily-built blades and edges that are conservatively ground, meaning they opt more for longevity than keenness.

A survival knife can take a beating, dish one out, and go on with no damage or ill effects. If you need to process limbs or small trees or baton a bunch of firewood, a survival knife is ideal. In fact, you can count on survival knives to cope with more abuse than virtually any other kind of knife.

Survival knives as a class are a varied breed. Edges and points come in many styles and configurations, but a wind blade is the most common design feature both to make splitting easier, and to get you more standoff from the piece you’re working.

Their heavy construction also make survival knives great for prying, shaving and piercing. Their multi-purpose nature means points and drop points are popular and common.

A common feature is a partially or even fully serrated spine. These “sawbacks” make battoning more challenging, but give you a little additional capability by allowing you to easily cut through limbs and smaller trees.

Survival knives definitely trend towards a large size, with the biggest examples of the breed being huge similar to a short machete. This tremendous size is not necessarily a good thing. They’re heavy, bulky, and difficult to conceal if that matters to you.

The good news about having a large knife is it will generate more power for chopping, and they’re larger sheathes and handles provide more storage room for survival equipment. The largest survival knives easily hold fishing line, snare wire, matches, iodine tablets, a small compass, a rolled up map and more.

Keep in mind that hollow handles are usually a bad idea survival knife. Unless made to an extremely high standard, they are a structural weak point that will not survive pounding particularly well.

A survival kit goes with a survival knife like peanut butter and jelly, but make sure you choose one that carries its survival supplies on its sheath.

Fighting Knives for Belly Slashing

Tongue in cheek heading aside, you should choose a fighting knife if you want a knife you can depend on for self-defense.

Most fighting knives are designed to be light, thin, sharp and nimble. Tapering blades, needle sharp points and razor edges allow them to get through heavy clothing, and flesh with equal ease.

Discounting chunky historical fighting knives like the legendary Bowie knife, most fighting knives today are a little on the small side compared to survival knives. A blade of four to five inches long is more than adequate for a fighting knife.

Though modern high-quality steels afford knives durability that would have been unthinkable just several decades ago, using a fighting knife “destructively” by prying, digging and battoning with it will prove a more severe test of a fighting knife.

This is not to say that any given design will not hold up to such use, only that you should not expect out of this world endurance from a fighting knife used for such things.

Also consider that pure fighting knives are designed for only a singular purpose: fighting. Certain designs will make knives in this category completely unusable for other utility tasks.

Consider the double-edged commando knives of World War II, and the Vietnam War. Those profoundly tapering double-edged daggers were good for one thing, and that is the killing of another human being.

Using it for utility tasks more demanding than slicing cord would be futile. Don’t even attempt to notch or baton wood with one! All you’ll get is a broken knife and a potential injury.


While there will always be overlap between knives in most categories, survival knives and fighting knives are one example of divergent design philosophies. If you have to have a sharp edge, any blade can do for a while, but this is one time where it pays to choose a knife optimized for your intended tasks, barring you want a hybrid design, which do exist.

Careful assessment ahead of time should show which is best for your needs. If you are an urban survivor worried about the threat of your fellow man, a fighting knife is probably best. If you want a general-purpose survival tool, it’s all in the name:  get a survival knife.

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