Living or Dying on a Knife's Edge

In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decided to climb the Siula Grande — a harrowing, ice-covered 21,000-foot mountain in the Andes.

They successfully reached the top and began their descent feeling as though they’d accomplished their goal — until a horrible blizzard set in. To ensure they didn’t lose each other, Joe and Simon tied themselves together with a rope and began the treacherous trip down.

Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse…

The Hardest Choice

Joe fell and shattered his leg bone into several pieces. Not willing to leave his friend, Simon was determined to get both of them to safety.

He tried to lower Joe over the edge of a cliff since he was unable to rappel down himself. But because of the brutal snowstorm, things didn’t go as planned and Joe found himself hanging in midair as Simon anchored him from above.

After multiple attempts to lower his friend, Simon began to lose his strength. He knew that he would soon be dragged over the cliff to his own death. So Simon did the unthinkable and cut the rope that was holding his friend.

In what can only be called a miracle, Joe survived the fall and was able to hike several miles on his broken leg back to camp. When the friends united, Joe told Simon that he’d made the right decision and that he would have cut the rope too.

This is an incredible tale of survival. Beyond their sheer bravery and perseverance, if Simon hadn’t been prepared with a knife, they both could have ended up dying.

The Ultimate Survival Knife

Even though you probably won’t be scaling an ice-covered cliff anytime soon (I know I won’t), the fact is a quality survival knife can come in handy in a variety of circumstances. Today, I’d like to share with you a few key qualities to look for when choosing a knife on which you’d be willing to bet your life.

The ultimate survival knife should include the following:

  1. Fixed Blade — Every day, I carry a folding knife clipped to my pants pocket. I use this knife to open the mail and all the packages I get from Amazon. Other than that, I would never bet my life on a folding knife. A “folder” isn’t built for prying or for intense force, and it will snap off at the pivot point under significant pressure. A fixed-blade knife is much stronger and more reliable.
  1. High Quality — For certain things in life, I’m very cheap. But not when it comes to my survival gear. After all, I’d never want to find myself stranded in the woods with a $20 knife I purchased at Walmart. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. A quality fixed-blade knife is going to cost a few hundred dollars and it’s worth every penny if it gets you safely back to your family.
  1. Tang — You want the steel of the blade to run from the tip of the knife all the way through the bottom of the handle. This is called full tang. In cheap knives, the blade stops where it enters the handle, which is why certain knives have hollow handles. These knives have the same problem as folding knives: Under duress, the blade will snap off at the handle.

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  1. Size — Remember Paul Hogan’s famous line in Crocodile Dundee? “That’s not a knife… THAT’s a knife!” While big knives look cool in the movies, they are not ideal for a survival situation. First, a huge knife isn’t easy to conceal, so you’ll have a hard time carrying it without drawing attention to yourself. Also, big knives weigh a lot more, so if you have to carry it while hiking several miles, it won’t exactly be comfortable. The ideal size knife is eight–10 inches in overall length, which allows you to do a number of tasks without running into problems because the knife is too big or too small.
  1. Straight Edge — You want your knife to have a straight edge, not serrated. Believe me, I know serrated-edge knives look cool, but they have very few practical uses and are much tougher to sharpen.
  1. Steel — Knives can be made of different kinds of steel, which is why some knives cost $20 and others cost several hundred. The type of steel determines the strength of the blade, the knife’s ability to hold an edge and how easy it is to sharpen. Look for a quality steel such as S35VN, D2 and AEB-L.
  1. Torture-Tested — I want to make sure any knife I may have to bet my life on has passed a series of torture tests. A few such tests include slicing through a tire, hammering it into a cinder block, cutting through a piece of metal and seeing how far it can slice through a piece of beef. If a knife fails these tests, it’s better to find out now than when it really counts.
  1. Ease of Use — In a crisis, you don’t want to make things any more complicated than they already are. In other words, you don’t want a knife with a ton of bells and whistles (built-in flashlight, fishhooks, etc.) that could get in the way or slow you down. You want a knife you can easily deploy and quickly use if the need arises.
  1. Sheath — No knife is complete without a quality sheath. The fact is if you can’t draw your knife from the sheath or if the knife falls out because the sheath is flimsy, it doesn’t matter how good of a knife you have. I prefer plastic injection-molded sheaths that hold the knife snug but also allow for a quick draw. I also like a sheath that’s versatile and can be worn vertically, horizontally, inside the waistband or outside the waistband on my hip.

Of course, I certainly hope you never find yourself in a survival situation like Joe and Simon. But if you do, you’ll be much better off if you have a knife that meets the criteria above.

Chris Campbell

Written By Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson is a former CIA officer and security specialist. He’s appeared on numerous television shows, including ABC’s Shark Tank and NBC’s Today show. To get free survival tips from Jason, click here.