First, I’d like to say that any knife has the potential to be a good rescue tool. Any knife. If you have a blade on you, you’re already 90% ahead of anyone else who might stop to see if they can help–Unless you live in one of those areas where going out without a knife is as non-negotiable as going around without pants. In that case, you’re in good company.–But don’t hesitate to use any skills you have to assist someone in trouble, just because you’re not sure if you have the best gear for an emergency.
Some EDC knives have elements of a rescue or survival knife, and those are a solid choice for carrying with you when you want to be prepared. However, a knife that’s made specifically as a rescue tool to serve in emergency situations will have some benefits that others don’t. If you’re a first responder or just want to have the best available for this kind of situation, there are some common details to keep in mind.
But what makes a great survival or rescue knife? Well, that probably depends on the emergency. Car accidents, boat problems, getting lost in the woods, a house on fire–all have their needs, with some overlap. But let’s hit some basics.
What to Look for in an Emergency or Rescue Knife
A blunt tip:
… for a safe rescue. We sell knives from a lot of companies that do have sharp tips on their rescue blades. Instead of a rescue knife, they are your basic EDC that can pierce and puncture, but they still have some elements that can be used in case of an emergency. However, if your job involves rescue on a regular basis, you should consider a blade that doesn’t have a point. The reason–if you’re trying to slice a seatbelt or cut away clothing so you can get to a wounded area, you don’t want to accidentally stab the person you’re trying to save. When that adrenaline hits, it’s difficult to be precise. However, while researching this article, I found that some rescue personnel who have a separate line or seatbelt cutter on their handle will hook this onto the clothes as well as the seatbelt, and then slide it down for easy removal. They don’t need to get the sharp bit anywhere near the person. Although, if you do have a blunt end, you’ll find it’s often designed to perform as an impromptu pry bar for light tasks, which can be useful in an emergency. Prying can often destroy even a blunted tip, however, so avoid using it as one unless you really are in a life-or-death situation.
A fully or partially serrated edge:
… for cutting rope or other fibrous materials, such as seatbelts. It eats through that material fast. Great for outdoor situations and boats, too. A serrated edge can cut through this kind of substance much longer and more effectively than a plain edge.
… especially the steel of the blade. If you’re around water a lot, this is a must. Proper care will keep your blade in top form, but life can get chaotic. The more corrosion-resistant your steel, the less you’ll worry and the more dependable the knife. Saltwater is tremendously hard on knives, especially when it’s not made for that environment.
… for easy deployment when two-handed isn’t feasible. If you’re hanging on to something or someone with one hand, you’ll need to be able to open that blade without letting go. Also, the knife should be easy to operate whether you’re wearing gloves or you’re bare-handed. This is a big reason many people prefer a fixed blade for rescue or wilderness work.
… because you don’t want broken glass and other debris getting caught up in the mechanism and gumming up the works during dire circumstances. Look for an open handle on the sides that you can easily clean out.
A glass breaker:
… to remove glass that prevents you from getting to a trapped person needing rescue. Wear gloves if possible. If the person is conscious, tell them to cover themselves with a cloth or anything if they can. Don’t aim for the middle of the glass pane, go more towards a corner and then reach in with something to pull the broken glass out. A safely gloved hand works. Also, turn your face and cover your head with your other arm before striking.
A belt cutter:
… so you can free a trapped person from their seat belt without putting a knife tip in their face. A slide cutter can also be used to remove clothes and slide through laces for shoe removal.
… on or around the handle can help keep you safe from electrical currents.
One last thought:
If you plan to keep a rescue knife in your emergency kit whether in your car or at work, keep a pair of gloves tucked in there, too, for hand protection.
Top-Rated Rescue/Emergency Knives
- Benchmade Triage
- Spyderco Assist
- Gerber Hinderer CLS
- CRKT M16-14ZLEK
- Byrd Cara Cara Rescue
- Kershaw Drivetrain
- Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Knife
- Leatherman Raptor Shears (Though not really a knife)
If you’re a first responder, you’re likely familiar with the Benchmade Triage. This one ticks a lot of boxes for me. It has a blunt-tipped blade, but you still get a considerable cutting/slicing space with a plain edge and a serrated area. I’m a big fan of the AXIS Lock for safety, and the carbide glass breaker means the striking area isn’t just for show–hint: you want the glass breaker to actually be able to break glass, AKA being harder than tempered glass.–The Bohler N690 has high corrosion resistance, so it can stand up to working around water. The seatbelt cutter folds into the handle, so it’s not in the way when you’re not using it. The G-10 handle will help keep electricity at bay. The thumb studs could be bigger for use with gloves, but it will still open fairly easily. You could also release the lock and flip out the blade, too, with some flippy wrist action. The tactical Triage does have a sharp point if you want the best of both worlds. Just consider keeping the point locked up and use the seat belt cutter when you can.
Most models of the Benchmade Bailout have a carbide glass breaker if you’re looking for a light tactical knife that has elements of a rescue knife, too.
Next, we’ve got to talk about the Spyderco Assist. The Assist had input in its creation from a firefighter in Sweden for the wavy spine. That, and the retractable glass breaker and whistle in the handle make this snazzy blade an obvious candidate for a top rescue knife. VG-10 is also great for corrosion, but if you’re looking for a rescue blade that’s made for the ocean, the Assist Salt is the way to go. The Salt is made for exposure to water, including super-corrosive salt water. The serrated blade is perfect for hacking yourself free if your boat gets tangled up in a tree root or an inconvenient line. Also, I would never want to go deep underwater without a diving knife. Fishing lines and trash in the ocean can trap you and sea life.
But getting away from ocean life, the Gerber Hinderer CLS Combat Life Saver Rescue Knife has the distinction of being designed by a firefighter. The oversized thumb stud means you can open up this beefy blade with ease, even when you’re wearing gloves. The handle is super grippy, you have a serious glass breaker on the pommel, there’s a partially serrated blade, and the knife even sports an oxygen tank wrench. This one was designed for the pros out there.
If you like the idea of a rescue knife, but can’t part with a tactical design, then the CRKT Carson M16-14ZLEK is the one for you. The M16 is well known and loved in the knife world, and it’s carried by soldiers who depend on their blades for self-defense. An interesting design element is the belt cutter which is incorporated into the flipper opener. You’ve got a serrated area for slicing through fibrous materials like a champ, and there’s also a carbide glass breaker. This knife has a nice flow-through construction for cleaning out your knife after the excitement is over. Also, you get a lot of bang for your buck with this one.
Speaking of a budget blade, the Cara Cara Rescue knife has a blunt-tipped nose and sharp serrated edge, which is ideal for rescue work. The design makes it easy to open with either hand, and the super grippy FRN handle helps you hold onto it in any weather condition.
And, of course, no list would be complete without the Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Tool. What I particularly like about this choice is the disc saw for shatterproof glass removal. That just shows you they’re thinking of everything. Also, this one was made in collaboration with fire and rescue workers, and the design shows this beautifully. Of course, you have a glass breaker and a seatbelt cutter, but there are also a couple of screwdrivers and a pair of tweezers in the mix.
When it comes to Kershaw rescue knives, the Drivetrain has a killer seatbelt cutter that folds away neatly until you need it. The carbide glass breaker is unobtrusive but gets the job done, and an assisted opening design makes one-handed deployment a breeze. This one has all the basics you need in a rescue situation.
Finally, let’s take a look at a Leatherman specifically designed for rescue. The Leatherman Raptor Shears are built for first responders. First, you have folding medical shears as well as the usual carbide glass breaker and strap cutter. However, you also have a ring cutter, oxygen tank wrench, and a ruler. This is an exceptional choice when you want to carry a separate EDC knife from your preparedness tool. You might keep this one with you in your car when you’re not taking it on a hike or on other adventures.
As we said, if you always have a knife on you, you’re much more prepared than the average Joe. (If your name is Joe and you always have a knife on you, you’re an above-average Joe. Or even a superior Joe. But I digress.)
Some of these knives and tools have varying degrees of preparedness besides the basic blade, and it’s up to you to decide what to have on your person in case you need to help yourself or another person out of a dire situation. Bump up your game a bit, and always be prepared. I hope you never have to use the rescue functions, but you’ll be glad to have a little something extra on you if there’s ever a time when you need it.
If you’re a first responder, you probably already have one of these well-designed pieces or something similar, and the rest of us are grateful. Seriously, for all your training, hard work, and bravery—thank you. Be safe out there, people. Be prepared and safe.
And stay sharp, knife friends!