Most survival kits include a knife or two. With good reason, since a good knife is one of the better tools to help in many survival situations. My research has been into what are the best knives. I forgot to consider the legal aspect.
Now in a survival situation, having the right knife is the most important thing, and frankly, if I am lost or stranded somewhere, being arrested does not seem like the worst possible happenstance. But it would be obnoxious to have legal difficulties just because you happened to have the “wrong” knife in your kit.
It is critical that you investigate the laws on what you can own and carry in your home state/county/city. And keep up with the law, which tends to change over time. And when you travel, check out the laws in the areas you will be passing through and particularly heading for. You can be perfectly legal one instant, and a moment later be in violation of the law. There are three things to look for:
1) What is legal to own?
2) What is legal to carry?
3) Most confusing and important, what is the definition of “carry”?
Some states prohibit ownership of certain knives. “Ballistic knives” (ones which shoot the blade) seem to be most commonly outlawed. Other common types include switchblades, balisong (butterfly) knives, gravity blades, throwing stars and “camouflaged” knives (those which don’t look like knives, such as sword canes or belt buckle knives). These typically are not good choices for survival, so that is generally not a problem. Most states do not outlaw ownership of knives suitable for survival; although several states do have prohibitions about “bowie” knives and/or lock blade pocket knives, which could be a problem. Some states are specific about what is allowed and what is prohibited; others are generic and leave it up to the courts, which can be quite variable in interpretation and very difficult to predict your legality.
Owning is one thing, but carrying it is another. In many states, having a knife in your vehicle is not a problem, but in others, your car is considered “part of your person” and subject to any carrying limitations. Almost always the limitations for carrying a knife not concealed are rather more lenient than when it is concealed. Thus, if your knife is strapped to the survival kit or on your belt, it will be legal more places than if it is in your pocket or even pack. Of course, a visible knife could cause other (non-legal) problems due to the general silliness of the majority of people nowadays. Oh, and WHERE you are when you are carrying a knife varies. For instance, in many states, no or very limited knives may be carried or even possessed on school property.
Basically, obey the law whenever practical, and if not practical, do everything you can to not be caught… I don’t plan to change any of my kits even if they are technically illegal in some places, since each contains the “perfect” knife for that kit and the hope is that being packed away rather than “readily available” might minimize any problems. My EDC choices need to be revisited, as I found one of my choices to be illegal to carry some of the places I go, and illegal to even possess one place I spend a lot of time. The other is illegal to carry in a few states and close enough to the generic description in some others that it might be a problem to be caught carrying it. Very annoying, but not having a decent knife could be even more disastrous.
Here is a summary of the knife laws of all 50 states: http://www.knifeup.com/knife-laws/
Of course, this site should not be relied on for legal advice; check with local authorities or a lawyer for the most accurate and up to date interpretation for any particular location.