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What makes a good SERE knife?

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More' started by Rotte, Oct 25, 2009.

  1. Rotte


    Aug 30, 2008
    Firstly, let me say I'm not looking for a recommendation for a SERE knife. Not yet anyway. I just wanted to start a fight about what makes a good SERE knife.

    Bryan Breeden and I traded a couple of ideas on this, and I thought it would make for a good thread. A while back there was a similar thread in the RAT forum, but I thought it would be useful to have a debate here.

    I'd like to differentiate between a SERE knife and a survival knife. The knife we carry with us on a daily basis, our EDC, is a survival knife because that's the knife we have when we end up in a survival situation. It could be a SAK or a hunting knife or a Karambit; it's what you've got.

    A SERE knife is purpose built as a knife to be carried when going into harm's way. A classic is the USAF Pilot's survival knife:


    This knife was designed as a survival tool for aircrews. I've carried one for quite a while and have never needed it. In training and exercises, it has done quite nicely. But it could probably be improved upon, and several have tried.

    What features in your opinion should a SERE knife have?
  2. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008
    I have used it pretty extensively.

    It has not broken, nor has it ever failed to cut what I intended.

    That being said, it was not used in a SERE scenario.

    I think it might be best if you outlined a few key requirements a SERE knife would need to perform that are not survival knife requirements. That way we can differentiate between those characteristics and the wave of recommendations that are going to come suggesting survival or woodscraft knives.

  3. Rotte


    Aug 30, 2008


    I think this is one of the challenges in designing a "SERE knife" vs. other bushcrafting or survival knives. Really your comment gets right to the heart of the question: just what does a SERE knife need to do? And might it not depend on the anticipated environment? After all, form should follow function.
  4. SpookyPistolero


    Dec 13, 2005
    My brother in law has been through sere training. He adores the Ontario pilots survival knife.

    I have way, way more woods knives than any one person should ever own. I showed all of them to him and he used several, but he wouldn't be swayed from that Ontario. Guess that says something!

    To my mind, something like the fallkniven S1 would be perfect though.
  5. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008

    I'm going to say the knife should be able to:

    Do the normal tasks needed for small camp/bivouac such as cutting rope, making fuzz sticks, cutting meat, etc.

    Be used as a prying tool

    Be used as a tool to make other tools such as figure 4's, bow drills, spears, etc.

    Be able to dress game

    Be able to take a human life hand to hand if neccessary

    Have a quiet sheath system (no velcro)

    Have a dull finish. Including sheath hardware. No bright color or shiny handles/rivets. Parkerized or bead blasted blade.

    Be able to do all this with a limited amount of maintenance for a specified period of time (say one month) without breakage

    Almost forgot, should be FIXED blade.

    So the USAF pilots knife does fit this well

    Things that are NOT needed:

    Batoning (If you are trying to escape, I don't think you need to broadcast your position by beating on a knife with a log)

    Stainless steel (Rust is not a big deal short term)

    Fancy grinds/high maintenance grinds

    Blade length over 5"-6" (Longer is not necessarily better and can be a hindrance)

  6. dipbait


    Feb 9, 2008
    How about a compass mounted on a hollow handle , then you could carry matches and stuff in the handle.:D

    Seriously, what good is that sort of sawback that wont saw wood?
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2009
  7. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008
    Notches in figure four traps for one thing.

    The Pilots knife saw is great for making notches.
  8. ROCK6

    ROCK6 Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 8, 2004
    I was going to say I don’t differentiate the two, but I do have a couple blades I’ve carried on deployments that I typically don’t carry as EDC. For a few years it was my Randall #15 which is still a great blade, just too much sentimental value to carry now days. My Pygmy ATAK is another I’ve had for the past 10 years and it’s been to South/Central America, Iraq, Egypt and now Afghanistan…it’s more of a “survival” blade, but would excel in a SERE scenario. Another thing to consider is an IOTV mounted blade. I really like the RC4 as it seems like the optimum knife and I’ve recently acquired a RAT Cutlery HEST knife, which is another very good SERE styled knife. For most uses, your EDC/Survival knife isn’t much different than a dedicated SERE knife…once you identify common tasks; there are not too many differences. Since SERE scenarios are typically measured in hours or just a few days, you definitely needs something that can take a lot of abuse, either have a very good edge or be sharpened easily with a small hone. Of course size is an issue…you need something that will easily fit on your gear/IOTV or uniform so as not to be bothersome until needed. I would recommend a jump-certified sheath as whatever puts you in a SERE situation won’t be gentle. I don’t convoy much but I’ve done a lot of traveling via fixed and rotary wing; my worst scenario is an accidental or forced landing in hostile terrain…landing would be a nice term for going down, but I would expect it to be rough. I’ve done enough parachute jumps to know that equipment can and will break on impact (to include bones if not done right). A stout sheath system with excellent retention is a must. I’m torn on a saw-backed knife. I’ve used them in the past, but typically favor a SAK in the pocket for a much better wood saw. I know the Aviator-style knives have saw-backs specifically for cutting their way out of the thin-metal fuselage; it’s still not something I consider essential for me. I like the idea of a pommel that can serve as a glass-breaker for Plexiglas, ice or other barrier needing an improvised impact device. My tip preference is a spear or beefy clip point.

    Just some of my thoughts as I sit here in Afghanistan and ponder my idea of a SERE knife…

  9. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008
    Sounds like Savvy advice from someone who knows.

  10. ROCK6

    ROCK6 Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 8, 2004
    PrimitiveMan gives a very good description on characteristics and requirements!

  11. wildmike


    Nov 17, 2007
    The saw back on the pilots survival knife was not originaly intenbded for wood. It was designed to cut on the pull stroke and its purpose was to aid in escape from and canabilisation of a downed aircraft.

    5" blade length is more compact and comfortable on the hip than a 7" blade for sitting crew members and pilots in cramped cockpits. While still being adequate for most survival uses.

    I carried a camillus made pilots knife as my main usin blade for years. I had improved its funtion by thinning the edge to a scandi edge with the use of a diamond hone. That knife has been used for everything from making trap and snare sets, to use as a wood chisel when building a log cabin. Now it has been passed on to a friend who needed it more than I.

    batoning is a practice advocated in and taught in the SERE courses. You are just taught to be careful when and where you do so.

    A SERE design has to be tough for it will be exposed to exremes of service for it will be called upon to pry apart, cut apart and even pound on parts of downed aircraft and salvaged material in order to improvise needed items of equipment.

    It needs to easily take and hold a very sharp edge under field conditions, even with natural materials (fancy steels which require diamonds to sharpen need not apply). 1095 was chosen for the pilots knife and is still one of the best for the job.

    It needs a very sharp point, while still maintaining strength in the point. This is due to its need to pierce and skin, as well as in the making of many tools such as firebuilding apparatus. It is also needed in its combat applications. Combat hand to hand seems to be the rage in movies, however in real life the most succesful survivor/evader is the one who is never seen. Dead sentries attract attention!!!! Combat is used only as a last resort, Intelligence gathering is a high priority. This is done with ones eyes, ears,a pencil and a notebook.

    Fadddish design elements are out, they generaly are of little real value and weaken the knife for its primary role. Sorry no hollow handles or hollow handle slabs. A WORKING saw back is of some use but not a neccesity (one with a double row of teeth as on SAK's would be nice).

    RAT cutlery's RC5 is a good example. Though many other designs could be made to meet the same criteria.

    One last point: The sheath system MUST reatain the knife under extreme force conditions (i.e. Bailout situations) If it cvan also carry a sharpening stone and a few other goodies thats ok too. It MUST also protect the user from the blade (that is why pilots knife sheaths are steel reinforced.
  12. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008
    How about the hammer pommel?

    The RAT does not have it.

    Deal breaker or no?

  13. harpoon41


    Dec 24, 2006
    I think you have to focus on what Military SERE is in relationship as to what knife to have in the situation. If you are in a E&E mode the more mobile the better.
    Most tasks can be and were done with the old Demo. folders. If you go back to the first Al Mar blade it was a big over sized folder, most guys I knew had them for cool factors but on the belt went a Buck 110, Puma Game Warden or Gerber sportsman.
    If you manage escape after capture, you will by most accounts be left with nothing.
    Now if your current AO involves no hostile forces and it's a matter of only survival then the blade that best construct shelter, and does all the basic bush craft is the one needed.
    To be honest if you check out what most SERE Specs. carry you'd be disappointed. Basic hard working blades. I used to see a lot of SRK's in the field. That said the old Demo. carved up fuzz sticks cut cord, built hides and did about everything that a blade can do. Interesting discussion.
  14. Rotte


    Aug 30, 2008
    OK, so here's a foot in mouth moment: I think a SERE knife needs a good guard. Probably a double guard like Randall's Astronaut's knife. It's a foot in mouth moment, because most of the knives I have carried, do not have guards. The exception would be my pilot's knife.

    The first consideration has to be that you won't end up injuring yourself any more than you already are. Guards just make sense.

    (Harpoon beat me to it with this question.) But does a SERE knife even really need to be a fixed blade?

    A knife will only be used in the Survival and Evasion elements of SERE. Maybe the Escape phase if you are lucky, and then it'll be what ever sharp thing you can get a hold of.

    In the evasion phase, a knife will not be used much at all. To avoid detection, one will minimize any sign like cut branches, fire/smoke, noise like batonning, or dead enemy. The knife will a psychological comfort, but otherwise be of limited value. It's likely a SAK with a good pair of tweezers will be as useful as anything.

    So do you really need a fixed blade?
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2009
  15. Shotgun


    Feb 3, 2006
    If I was going into combat this is the knife I would take hands down. About the size of the air force survival knife but better steel, ergos, and balance. When I opened it up all I could think of is this is a combat knife. Which is why I sold it to my friend who's an army medic. The ratmandu on the right.

  16. PrimitiveMan


    Dec 16, 2008
    You need a fixed blade because you may need to pry with it.

    A stick tang is weak enough already.

    I am not a SERE guy, but knowing what I know, if someone set a "Sere" Folder and a "SERE" fixed blade side by side and said, "In 30 seconds your SERE mission starts" I am going to grabed the fixed.

    But again, I have never been on such a mission.

  17. dipbait


    Feb 9, 2008
    This would make an excellent reality show.
  18. wildmike


    Nov 17, 2007
    On the hammer pommell.

    The hammer pommel on the pilots knife did indeed come in handy. especialy when I was using the knife as a chisel (pounding on the pommel with a baton). I never used it as a hammer though it could have been used as one. though not a very good one.

    The RC5 can be pounded on as well but it will eat up the baton over time.

    While not a deal breaker I dont find as much use for the glass breaker pommel so far.

    I don't think folders make good SERE knives. I have a Lone Wolf Harsey T3 which is one large stout folder. While I don't think it would easily fail under most circumstances. I do think it would eventualy fail under the harsh use of military survival scenarios. There may be folders out there which would'nt, but their cost and weight would be prohibitive.

    It is true that in a post capture escape scenario that your knife and most other equipment will be gone. Another reason to be really good at the evasion part.
  19. Rotte


    Aug 30, 2008
    I've got a Harsey T3 Ranger too--love it. Have it in a MOLLE compatible sheath. I'm sorry they stopped making this model. It is a pretty tough knife and I think it would serve well in a SERE capacity. Like y'all I'd grab the fixed blade first, but the truth is that you probably don't need more than a good folder. Buck 110 or Sebenza. The tasks are going to be basic survival tasks, if a knife gets used at all. The exception would be prying one's way out of a confined structure. For batonning you don't need a 1/4" chuck of steel.

    I actually don't like the RC-5. I think it's too heavy and too chunky. Same with the SRK. I think it's overkill. The edge geometry suffers for some theoretical strength. I guess it's a matter of priorities: I'd prefer a good cutting edge vs. prying ability.

    Hammer pommel has come in handy a few times, but would be optional for me too. Spear point or short clip seems like a good idea.

    The chisel grind was popular on some military and tactical knives for a while, any one prefer a chisel grind?
  20. sicily02


    Nov 23, 2005
    Hi all,

    Alot of fine comments have been said so far. The knife has to so all that has been said. HIDING and not being found is going to do more for you than a knife. Will that knife help you ? It sure could. If you are abel to evade and say you have to live a more primitive life style for a while and then a knife is going to be a great help.

    I think GUARDS are very inportant.
    If you are cold and numb you will not be able to control that knife as well and if you have to stab ( what ever it may be and you hit bone or gear on some body or again what ever as you are stabbing , you can just bet that your hand is going to slip up on the BLADE:eek:. That is bad in any survival situation. Any injuries are NOT GOOD.

    I also think a slanted guard is better than the straight up and down guard styles I see. Ever put your thumb on a a straight up and down guard vrs a slanted guard? With doing the cut what Ray Mears calls the Reinforced grip # 2 it really makes a difference. The slanted guard is Way more comfy on on your thumb and over all hand.

    HIDING and --staying injury free--seem to me like a Good idea, Well it does to me anyways lol.

    I think also a thicker knife steel is a better than the the thin is in stuff.

    If you had to use it for hand to hand and lets say that you stick that knife of yours into sombody and had to yank it out and get to running again or even face another attcker the PUSH and PULL and SIDEWAYS Motion you will be putting on the blade is going to be a lot of power and pressure. Thicker will outshine the thinner I feel. That is my opinion though.

    Maybe you might have to pry with it . Who knows? Only by testing your knife will you get a idea on what it will do. The old saying the more you TRAIN in peace the less you BLEED in war, really is true. Test your gear.

    Remember the Airforce knife has and is a pretty darn good over all design for what it is intended to do. I think whoever came up with that desing had there head on straight when the average pilot is stuffed into a small area he or she really needs a smaller compact knife not a 7" kabar. Size does matter in some situations.

    Again a knife:D is better than no knife :eek:and a knife that is dedicated to a certain task:thumbup:( ie guards on your knife when your hands are cold) is better than one that is not. Having any and all advantages, deffenetly is better and makes sense.

    Now it is up to each SERE operator to figure out what that knife design is for them.

    Take care all,


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