To start off, we should take a look at a basic breakdown of the two main types of knives: fixed and folding knives.
Fixed knives are the backbone of any kitchen, toolbox, camping trip, bug out bag, what have you. Generally speaking, they come in a variety of sizes and styles, some more useful than others. Given the wide variety of applications, what you should look for vary based on what you want to use it for. However, there are a couple universal characteristics of a good fixed blade.
Tang: The tang of a knife refers to how far the actual steel runs through the handle. Generally speaking, you never want less than a full tang. A half-tang or ¾ can be dangerous, as any sort of heavy use can cause the steel of the knife to crack or shatter the grip.
Grip: Something grippy but not sticky. You don’t want a knife that has too smooth of a grip, unless you enjoy unintended surgery. You also don’t want something sticky because sometimes you have to let go of a knife quickly, for safety or other reasons- a sticky grip makes this much harder. A few good choices for grip material: paracord, G10, stabilized wood, micarta, stacked leather. Bad: RUBBER, plain steel (sometimes), stingray skin (unless you’re a samurai that will be bathing in the blood of your enemies).
Blade: Again, this is contextual. There are dozens of blade shapes, all designed to excel at certain tasks. For pure utility, a drop point, clip point, or straight-back work best. Tantos, with squared-off straight points, are useful for puncturing, and that’s it. In a future post, I’ll dig in to why tantos are generally inferior.
Edge: Straight or serrated. Pick one, and stick with it. A recent trend among knifemakers has been to combine the two on a single edge- in most cases, this is not the best idea. Here’s why: most practical fixed knife blades range from 3-6 inches, with the vast majority hovering around 4 or 5. With such a limited length, you need every bit of the blade to take advantage of an edge style. An inch of serration is all but useless, unless you enjoy resetting your cutting motion 600 times to get through that piece of rope.