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Ask ten people what makes a “perfect survival knife”, and you'll get ten very different answers. Of course, there's a general consensus that a survival knife should be sharp, versatile, and above all, strong enough to endure years of hard use.
Beyond these basic qualities, however, you'll find many varying personal preferences. Some guys like huge, heavy knives that can break down firewood with the power of an axe. Other guys prefer long, thin blades like machetes or parangs for slashing through undergrowth. Then you've got the smaller and more traditional fixed blades, ranging from full-tang combat knives to compact and lightweight blades.
As with any survival tool, the middle ground is usually a good place to be. Our general recommended qualities for a good all-around survival knife would be as follows:
If you find a knife that fits these 5 key requirements, you've probably got a pretty good survival blade.
Cold Steel recently released an all-new knife, known as the Survival Edge. It appears to meet every one of our general goals—better yet, it only costs $35. The Survival Edge even includes a ferro rod fire steel, ambidextrous Secure-Ex sheath, and has a hollow handle for storing survival gear.
As much as we love testing $200-$300 knives, we also recognize not everyone can afford them, or needs to spend that much. Then again, we often say “you get what you pay for”. We wanted to find out if this Cold Steel Survival Edge really provides great bang for the buck, or if it's worth spending a little extra for a different model, so we picked one up to test and review. Read on to hear our thoughts.
At the business end of this knife, you'll find a clip point blade that's 5 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 0.1 inch (2.5 mm) thick. Due to the hollow handle, the blade has a partial tang, meaning it extends only about 1.25 inches into the handle.
The Survival Edge's blade is constructed of Krupp 4116 stainless steel, a material often found in high-end German chef's knives. This material takes a razor edge, is easy to maintain, and offers very good corrosion resistance. It also features a strong double bevel, black “Survival Edge” logo, and a polished finish so shiny you can easily use it as a signal mirror.
As for the 4.25-inch handle, it's molded from strong polypropylene plastic. A textured finish, double quillion guard, thumb ridges, and 5 rubber O-rings ensure your hand doesn't slip. The ridged cap at the end of the handle unscrews to reveal a waterproof 3-inch by 1-inch round storage cavity.
The inside of each Survival Edge's handle cavity includes a tightly-rolled package with the following supplies:
Surprisingly, all of these items fit into the handle with room to spare. Alternatively, a mini Bic lighter, small flashlight, can opener, spare batteries, matches, or a number of other devices can fit into the handle.
The hard Secure-Ex sheath is fully ambidextrous, accepting the knife with its blade facing either direction. This sheath also offers a slot for the included ferro rod fire steel, and a clip that can accommodate up to a 2-inch belt. It also includes a lanyard hole, should you want to wear the knife on some paracord around your neck.
With the sheath, fire steel, and all the supplies in the handle, this knife only weighs 5.7 ounces. That's practically featherweight for a knife of this size, meaning that this blade won't weigh down your pack and tire you out on long hikes.
Before we say anything else, we'll let you watch this video from Cold Steel. They really put this blade through the wringer:
While that video was impressive, it was also created by the marketing team at Cold Steel. So, to determine if the knife can actually stand up to real-world use, we decided to try it out ourselves. Although we didn't attempt to bend it in a vise, we did use it as we would any of our other survival knives.
First, some thoughts on the sheath. We liked the ambidextrous design, and the fact that the blade and fire steel both lock securely in place with excellent retention. We had no concerns about either item falling out of the sheath, especially since the knife's guard prevents removal of the fire steel unless the knife is drawn.
Upon pulling out the blade for the first time, we were surprised by how light it really is. On one hand, this makes the knife feel agile and easy to manipulate. On the other hand, some may find it off-putting or almost toy-like. Personally, we don't mind that it's light, as long as it's also strong.
Speaking of strength, one of our biggest initial concerns was the fact that this knife is not full-tang. In other words, as we mentioned earlier, the blade only continues about 1.25 inches into the handle. However, this is not too uncommon for survival knives. Even the popular Swedish brand Mora has used a partial tang design successfully for over a decade.
At the end of the day, a partial tang design is a trade-off. It sacrifices the strength of a full-tang handle for reduced weight—and, in this case, a large storage cavity for supplies. The cavity also allows the knife to slide onto the end of a pole, and be used as a spear (as seen in Cold Steel's video above).
To test the actual strength of the Survival Edge, we used it to baton some fire wood for our campfire. Pounding the knife blade-first into a large chunk of hard wood, chips and splinters flew, but the Cold Steel knife handled the task with ease. Even after splitting several large chunks, the blade remained sharp, and its edge showed no signs of damage or deformation.
Despite our initial concerns about its light weight and partial tang blade, the Survival Edge won us over with impressive durability. Even the handle is quite strong, alleviating our fears about the plastic construction. The only wear we noticed was some light scratching on the blade's mirror finish, which is to be expected—it's a survival knife, not a display piece.
The handle cavity is marketed as “waterproof”, but we found that to be inaccurate. After submerging the handle in a few inches of water for 30 seconds, water seeped into the cavity, dampening some paper we placed inside. While we would consider the handle water-resistant and splash-proof, it doesn't appear to be truly waterproof.
The contents included in the handle are all useful, although we'd probably swap the whistle and sewing kit for some tinder material and water purification tablets. The Survival Edge's ferro rod also worked well for starting our campfire, scattering white-hot sparks as we dragged it along the knife's spine.
Overall, we were pleased with the performance of the Cold Steel Survival Edge. It's light, strong, and includes the features you'd need to survive in the outdoors. And, since we're always being asked to review more affordable gear, it's a real bargain at the $35 MSRP. Better yet, we've seen it listed on Amazon.com for as little as $21.
However, there are a handful of small items we'd like to see added or improved. We wish the cap included an internal seal of some kind to remain truly waterproof, since soaking wet tinder won't do you any good. Also, while the O-rings on the handle provide adequate grip, a full rubberized coating might help the ergonomics.
So, does the Cold Steel Survival Edge pass our survival knife test? Yes, we'd say it does. It's not made of exotic steel or wrapped in rich Corinthian leather, but for a fraction of the price of one fancy $300 knife, you can own this simple and durable tool. Heck, with that kind of money, you could supply your whole family with these knives, and you'd probably even have cash left over.
The Survival Edge is a good knife on its own merits, but when you factor in the price, it becomes truly hard to beat.
For more information on this knife, visit ColdSteel.com.