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Survival Lab Knife Test–The Final Cut

Can your keychain knife hack through rope? Wood? Bone? Didn’t think so. We tested 14 packable blades to find the toughest, most versatile survival tool for hikers.

Knife Skills: Sharpen up
Blade too dull to skin a squirrel? Need to start a fire? Use these techniques to keep an edge and make tinder.

Skill: Sharpening in the field
Worth it? Yes. A dull knife blade is both ineffective and dangerous.
Difficulty: You’ll master it in two tries.
Do it: No whetstone? Find a flat, smooth, palm-size rock (river stones are ideal) and lubricate it with spit. Set your blade at a 15-degree angle and apply gentle pressure while passing the sharp part along the stone, blade first, in a smooth arc (about 20 times per side). Focus on the middle third of the blade.
Perfect it: Remove burs by pulling the knife (flat, spine first) across your pant leg.

Skill: Carve a feather stick
Worth it? Yes, for light-up-anywhere tinder
Difficulty: Awkward at first, but the learning curve rewards quickly.
Do it: Kneel and brace an arm-length stick of juniper or pine between your chest and the ground. Grab your knife with both hands and push the blade along the stick in long strokes, peeling curls of wood. Rotate the stick so tendrils collect on all sides and whittle progressively finer slivers. Ideal spark-catchers are paper-thin.
Perfect it: Keep a shallow angle and tilt the point up or down to spiral curls precisely.

Take a Seat Standing while carving is a recipe for a bloody cut. Safer: Sit, rest your arm on your knee, and aim the blade away from your body.

Drop Dead Ted Videos DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME Learn about our test rationale and watch Ted go ninja on logs, slice up a backcountry meal, and show serious lapses in judgment Click Here.

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