Thanks to my varied career and personal choices over the years, I’ve put a lot of knives through their paces. Whether it’s for a field op or camping, a daily use pocket knife or a defensive weapon, a multi-purpose survival knife or a fancy decorative piece. I’ve probably got a knife or two that’ll fit the bill and some strong opinions to suit. To be honest, that’s not all that out of the ordinary here on the internet, where strong opinions are basically the social currency of the day, but where I differ from so many of the “knife experts” you’ll find offering up long form, capital letter-laden opinions on survival forums and the like is that I have a powerful aversion to the two most common facets of the “gear culture:” I don’t believe cost is always a strong indicator of value, and I’m really not into playing the brand loyalty game.

I get asked for help finding a “good knife” fairly often, and I get a feeling that my responses are usually a little more in depth and complex than people are hoping. When a friend or acquaintance drops a note in my inbox asking for “a good recommendation” on what knife to buy their significant other, for instance, I immediately respond with a series of questions because knives, like guns, cars, and people, tend to be better suited for some tasks to the detriment of others.

What purpose do you want the knife to fill?

I have different preferences for a defensive knife than I do for a utilitarian one, and both of those have different requirements than a survival knife. Knowing what you intend to use a knife for is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself when beginning the hunt for a new blade. The purpose of the knife will help you determine between a fixed blade and a folding knife, as well as overall size you’re looking for. Out here in the woods of Georgia, I could get away with wearing a fixed blade knife on my belt and calling that an EDC piece, but if you live in the suburbs of Connecticut, a visible blade strapped to your waist may raise a few eyebrows.

Survival knives tend to be larger fixed blades ranging from 6-12 inches (with some other adornments), whereas a utility knife you may use for common office activities like cutting open boxes might be a folding knife with a two or three-inch blade. I know we’re all familiar with the scene in Crocodile Dundee where he scares off a mugger by saying, “that’s not a knife, this is a knife,” before presenting a massive survival knife — it’s a great scene, but unless you’re expecting all your problems to turn tail and run at the sight of your blade, you may want to get particular about what exactly you’re shopping for. Bigger isn’t always better.

How often and how do you expect to carry it?

Like the question about purpose, the frequency and way you expect to carry your knife will need to inform your hunt for a new one. I often carry two knives — a utility knife and a defensive one. The utility knife sees some abuse — hacking away at cardboard for the recycling, shaving kindling from firewood, hell, sometimes it’s a flat head screwdriver or pry bar depending on how desperate I get. My utility knife is, by its very nature, not the best blade for a life and death sort of struggle because I kick the living shit out of it. My defensive knives tend to have a longer blade, but I still try to keep them foldable and fairly compact. With two knifes, a firearm, the bigger iPhone you can get, a wallet full of business cards and light on money, a flashlight and my car keys — I’m lucky my pants are staying up as it is.

This Kershaw is genuinely one of my favorite knives ever (defensive). This Gerber is the poor bastard I throw at problems I can’t find solutions to. Only one of them will likely survive the summer.

However, you may be on the market for a good hunting knife that’ll come with you only when you’re on the trail. A knife that’s going to sit on your mantle until it’s time to use it can be bigger and bulkier than one you expect to keep on you at all times. Likewise, with a survival knife that may remain in your hiking kit, rather than your pants pocket.