Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maine Prepper Talks Combat and Survival Knives, I talk Knife Fighting and My Preferences

I heard a great quote once on soldier knives "Soldiers buy these $300 super SERE SPECOPS Tier 1 fighting survival knives then they use them to whittle stakes to make a poncho hooch, open MRE's and boxes." This does not mean that we do not need, in rare occasions significant capabilities, but just that we should be a little more realistic about what is a genuine need and what is a want. By all means use quality tools but the difference between a $50 Ka Bar or $80 Ontario RAT and a $300+ Busse, Randall, etc is not likely to be an issue in your survival over any number of ridiculously unlikely situations.

Don't get me wrong I like nice knives. Have always loved them and as I go on in life and finances allow I indulge in them. I own 3 Benchmade's, an Al Mar and a beautiful custom Camp Knife. Have a serious knife crush on the Busse TGLB. Want to get another Benchmade folder and for no real reason an Emerson. However at some point we do have to  look at if we are paying for a functional tool or a cool name (Busse) to make us happy and brag to our buddies or folks on the net about.

Personally I view knives as tools for well cutting things. Specifically I use them for everyday camp and life tasks such as preparing food, cutting small pieces of wood for whatever, 550 cord or rope and the like. Stretch these tasks a bit and you've pretty much hit the 'survival knife' arena. 

As a soldier I carry a rifle that holds 30 rounds and reloads rapidly plus sometimes a pistol with spare mags handy. As a civilian in normal circumstances I carry a handgun of some sort, in abnormal times I would carry a rifle that holds 30 rounds and a pistol that holds 17. In my opinion the whole 'shoot once then let em have it with your tomahawk' mentality stopped being meaningful when relatively large capacity rifles that reload rapidly came into play. Based on these weapons relatively large capacity and speedy reloading it is a lot more likely I will just shoot somebody who is close to me. If that doesn't work and they also fail at shooting me I'd try to bring a handgun into play, then a knife before going to hands. There have been anecdotal cases of people using bayonets or in some cases going hand to hand after that date but the ratio of those circumstances is honestly not very high.

I look at knives to suit my given purpose first with some consideration for defensive capabilities as a distant second. Why do I say this? Well people have been killing each other with pointy objects for a really long time. If we looked at ratios in terms of relatively modern life (say post 1900) I suspect far more people have been killed with their time and place's equivalent of Pakistani gas station folders and Chinese steak knives than super CQB folders and SWAT Survival fixed blade knives.Yes, that speaks more to the readiness of these knives in homes and pockets than their effectiveness vs quality knives (sort of like how more people are killed with .22lr Saturday night specials than say HK or SIG.45's.) but the point is that basically all pointy knives can cut and thus kill people.

Put it like this, if I am holding a shovel nobody is going to kick my ass cuz well I would smack them with the shovel. It doesn't mean a shovel is the best weapon, just that it is a tool that can function as a weapon if needed. Knives are the same way. I carry a folding knife all the time to cut all manner of stuff in everyday life and be there in case of a survival situation. If need be I will repeatedly stab someone in the lower part of the torso or neck with it.

Generally I carry a single blade knife which clips to my pocket and opens with a convenient thumb stud. I do this not because I'll really need to stab somebody with it but because invariably when I need to cut something I'll be holding it with the other hand. This, aside from it weighting a pound or something, is why I do not carry a Buck 110 everyday.  For everyday tasks and of course self defense I need to be able to get to a knife one handed.

Awhile back John Mosby and American Mercenary discussed knife fighting. I am too lazy to go find their posts and link to them but both guys are in my blog roll. I sort of meant to address knife fighting then but never got to it. Anyway to make it as simple as possible do not read or watch cheese 80's videos about dudes fighting with knives in some south east Asian opium den. If you want to spend 5, 10 or 20 years learning Asian knife fighting (Kali, Escrima type stuff) that is totally cool. If you do not want to do that just go all singer sewing machine on the bad guy. Knives you would reasonably carry regularly are not big and heavy enough to slash very effectively. They will cut into skin but will not go through bone or get deep enough to incapacitate somebody quickly. With very rare exceptions you need to get deep into the body to get to the places where a normal sized knife will do sufficient damage to kill someone. Slash somebody and they'll almost surely live. Stab em once and their odds of living are good. Stab them a dozen times then shove your knife in their carotted (sp) artery and twist then it's all she wrote.

The difference between lethality and incapacitation is important here. It is worth touching on the 86 Miami Shoot Out here. Let's say you "defang the snake" slashing the heck out of somebodies limbs as they expose them to attack and it is going well up to the point that they will likely die but that guy with the cut up hands bashes your head on the concrete till you die you well, lose. He might bleed out or die of an infection later but it doesn't help you much.

 This is an interesting point. In a lethal fight it is best to kill the other guy(s) as rapidly as possible. If you screw around hoping to out skill somebody thus avoiding any injuries instead of just killing them and being done with it you risk their friends showing up, slipping on a rock doing something cool you saw in a Van Dam movie or them getting lucky. Honestly this whole strategy reminds me of a guy who took 2 months of boxing classes that wants to hang back and throw jabs to avoid potentially taking a shot while KOing the other guy.

The point of where I am going, pun intended, is that 1) All knives are inherently lethal. Presuming they are sharp and pointy they can stab and kill people. 2) Look to a knife's primary purpose first and self  defense second.

My personal preference for knives is as follows:
1) The point should be roughly in a line with the hilt. In a combat perspective this is for stabbing. For me it is more that when I aim a knife at something to cut it I want the darn point to go where my wrist aims it. Exceptions are for special use knives like butcher knives.
2) Knives should have a grip that you can hold onto, particularly if they are for field or 'fighting' use.Wood and leather are good, G10 is good, textured plastic is good. Smooth materials like ivory or non textured aluminum are probably less good.
3) Folding knives will have a lock of some sort. The exception is for tools like multi tools that have a knife blade almost as an ancillary feature to the pliers, screwdrivers, etc.
4) Fixed blade knives will be have a tang that runs through the handle to the hilt. At a minimum a thin 'rat tail' tang but the ideal situation is a tang that is the width of the handle all the way to the hilt.

The Mora is worth discussing here because they are a useful tool that does not meet my preference. They are a fixed blade with a half to 3/4 handle rat tail type tang. Honestly I consider them a very affordable beefier version of an everyday carry folding knife. They are a great light to medium duty belt knife at a price that allows them to be almost disposable. Presuming normal knife use you will probably never destroy a Mora.

5) For a general use knife 3/8th's to 1/4 is a good width. I think proportion is significant here. My big ole camp knife is 1/4 inch thick but it is over a 9.5 inch blade with a total length of 15 inches. I probably wouldn't want a quarter inch thick knife with a 3 inch blade.

6) For a general use knife I favor lengths between 5 and 7 inches with a half inch or so error on either side for good tools like the Mora or  Ka Bar.

7) For outdoor or tactical use I favor stainless steel or coated carbon steel blades. The ease of cutting and ability to resharpen of  non coated carbon steel knives is great but they are hell to maintain in wet environments.

 Not so long ago I took a Mora to the field for a month. It was great till I had to work for half a day setting up tents in the rain. To the point my carbon steel mora companion got wet and rusted. In general I think folks who do not get to choose when they go to the woods need to be prepared to get wet. I'm looking at getting the same military companion knife in stainless steel.

8) Do not bring a knife to the field you are not willing to use. Going full in with a ka bar will get you a lot more than worrying if a Busse will get scratched. I'm not saying you shouldn't bring an expensive knife to the field just to do so if you will actually use it. If you are so worried about it getting scratched then be honest, call it a safe queen and get another knife to use.

So those are my thoughts on that. What do you think?


Aesop said...

I was handed my first KaBar in 1983.
Since then, the only thing I tend to carry nearly as much is a Becker Companion.
And there's usually a Swiss Army Huntsman in a pocket.

All three, combined, set me back less than $150, a pro-rated cost of about $3.75/yr.

When I see anything that comes close to that much utility for that price, I will be amazed. And both the KaBar and the Becker will serve perfectly well for killing people in a pinch.

LL said...

When I served with the US Navy we used the MK3 Mod 0 Navy knife for field use. I think that you can pick them up on-line for about $20. The blade is cheap, the tip will break off, but as a combo dive and camp knife, they're not bad.

We'd spray the blade with motorcycle chain lube and then rub it off with a light mist of WD-40 to keep them from rusting in salt water.

Divers mostly use knives for prying and this knife wasn't suitable for combat use because it wasn't non-magnetic. For that we used an MPK and before that the Buck knife made for UDT (both titanium)

The MK3 Navy knife blade is good for a few cuts before it dulls out on you, but it's a $20 knife - a camp knife and utility tool.

I've owned and used a few good fighting knives that were clearly NOT the MK3 Navy knife, but I didn't use them as work tools. More often they were used as you suggest above, to cut 550 cord or webbing straps that needed cutting. Occasionally I used them to cut uniforms away from wounds or to probe and remove shrapnel. Never on an enemy combatant.

My .02 cents

LL said...

One more brief point.

If you are looking for a combat knife, please consider the following:

(1) In cold weather, your opponent is likely wearing heavy clothing. How well does your blade penetrate it (not counting ballistic armor protection)?

(2) The distance from the arm pits to the heart and the base of the sternum to the heart or down from above into the heart is roughly the same. The knife should be slightly longer than that if you want to go for a kill that does not involve a shot to the head. Unfortunately it's not as easy to cut through bone and gristle when they are fighting back. I personally favor a tomahawk and have used an RMJ weapon (expensive but worth it) to great effect both as a tool, cutting through (cheap third world) masonry, and as a weapon. They have many uses including most camp applications you'd use a knife for, but they are not as limited as a knife. However they're useless underwater.

sorry for the second rant, but I wanted to share.

Anonymous said...

I think we are needing a pair of different designs here.

For field food prep, a thickness of 1/8" MAX. (i.e. boning knife)makes a perfectly acceptable practical knife. Folding knives get food stuffs in their nooks and crannies and are a pain to keep clean.

Try slicing meat with a 1/4" thick blade or fillet a fish with same and see what I mean - just too much of a good thing.

For camp crafting / people killing tooleage, the above "Kabar type" sounds good to me. I have no intention of using a knife to kill someone, a firearm sounds like a much better proposition.

Aesop said...

Kitchen knives aren't 1/4" thick for a couple of reasons.

Not least of which because they aren't going to be used to whittle some tree limbs into anything and everything.

A filet knife is a fine thing. It was never intended to be interchangeable with a KaBar, nor vice versa, but if you can only have one, the one that won't break under use is usually the better choice.

Jennifer Martin said...

The Kabar knives are the best for outdoors survival trips like camping, trekking.

James Kateron said...

Thank you for taking some time to write this post. Tactical knives have become part of an outdoorsman or survivalists arsenal and although it is often mistaken to be a fighting knife because of its rugged design its main purpose is really oriented towards being a utility knife. See more

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