Just about everyone knows that a survival knife is an absolute necessity for a bug-out bag.
Unless you’re planning to check into a luxury hotel when the SHTF, this is an item you might not be able to live without following a disaster that forces you out of your home. It could literally save your life…over and over again.
But if a survival knife is the only cutting tool in your bug-out bag, you’re going to encounter a number of problems you could have avoided by adding more.
Other cutting tools can go a long way toward making your outdoor experience more manageable until you’re able to return to a normal lifestyle. This is especially true if an emergency situation lasts longer than expected.
Survival Knife Types
First let’s take a look at the types of survival knives that are best for bugging out, then we’ll go over the reasons for including other cutting tools with multiple uses.
You don’t need every one I’ll mention, but this variety will give you a few choices. As you read along, you can determine which ones you’re most likely to require.
As mentioned, a quality survival knife is essential for everybody. Some people call it the most important item in a bug-out bag that you can’t eat. Expect to pay at least $40 to $100, and don’t skimp.
Your survival knife should be a single-edge, fixed blade, six to eight inches long and made of quality steel. The heel of the knife should be flat.
Make sure the handle is comfortable in your hand. Comfort and ease of use are much more important than fancy designs, creative ridges and other ornamentation. This knife is for survival, not for show.
The hilt – the protruding guard between the blade and the grip – needs to be solid because it’s what will prevent your hand from sliding down the blade when you’re applying pressure while cutting. Finally, you should keep your knife in a leather, web or composite sheath so that you can wear it on a belt for easy access.
The types of survival knives you don’t need are overly large knives that look impressive but are difficult to maneuver, and ones with double-edged blades that have no heel that you might need for splitting wood.
Whichever knife you have, don’t use it as a pry bar. Once the blade breaks, it will be useless.
Other Cutting Tools
Now for some other cutting tools that will come in very handy when you’re in a bug-out situation.
Make sure you have a medium-size lock blade folding knife with a blade of 2½ to four inches with a leather holster, web belt pouch or external belt clip. This knife will be more convenient for smaller jobs, and you might be able to get a good one for $20 or so.
Another item that should be in your bug-out bag is a multi-tool. You’re better off spending $40 to $80 for this tool than $20 because the quality of steel will be better. A model with all of its blades and tools locked will prevent them from folding back on your knuckles while you’re using it.
Some of the features to look for with this item are a folding set of needle-nose pliers with wire cutters, screwdriver blades, a can opener, course-tooth file, a small saw or fish-scaling blade, ruler markings, a boring awl and a fold-out lithium LED flashlight.
All models should have at least one pocket knife-sized blade, some of which are straight and others serrated or partially serrated. Multi-tools are great devices, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they can replace your main survival knife.
If you have both a quality survival knife and a multi-tool, a pocket knife or pen knife is not essential, but it doesn’t hurt to include one. For about $10 to $15 you can get a small or medium Swiss Army knife to handle finer tasks, including removing splinters.
A couple of sterile-packed disposal scalpels should be part of your first-aid kit in case you need to perform minor surgery on yourself or someone else.
Not everyone is going to choose to include an ax or hatchet in their bug-out bag, but if you think there is any chance you might have to construct a wilderness shelter and/or cut firewood for more than a couple of days, it could come in handy and will be worth the extra weight. This one-piece item with a steel blade should be at least 12 inches long, and you can probably acquire a good one for $25 to $30.
There are a couple of other options for axes, but they have their drawbacks. A lightweight, compact camp ax with a synthetic material handle and titanium blade that won’t break or corrode is easy to handle, but requires considerably more effort to get the job done properly.
A modern tactical ax looks like a tomahawk with a pickax on the rear of the cutting head. This item tends to be expensive and can’t be used as a hammer.
Regardless of your ax choice, make sure it comes with a complete head scabbard or reliable blade guard. Otherwise, it will shift around in your bag and could cut other gear or the bag itself.
An option if you prefer not to carry an ax is a folding camp saw. Some of them look like giant lock blade knifes (12-18 inches when closed). They run about $20.
Finally, keeping your cutting tools sharp is imperative both for their usefulness and your safety, as dull blades will require you to work harder and increase your injury risk. A pocket sharpening stone or sharpening steel device can be found at sporting goods or cutlery stores.
Nobody knows how long a bug-out experience might last, so it’s best to error on the side of caution and include a nice variety of cutting devices in your bag. You’ll be glad you did.