Just how important is a Knife Handle anyway? Is the Material used in the construction of a Knife Handle REALLY that important? ... Yes it is! Knife Handles have been made using just about every type of Material imaginable. Today's Knives are generally Knife Handle specific. That is, they require a specific type of Handle Material to meet the "modern" definition of a Knife Handle. The modern Knife Handle should be tough, won't rot, check, or crack. In addition it should be virtually indestructible, comfortable, non-slippery (even when wet or bloody,) and should not be too hot, nor too cold when gripped with the naked hand. It should also "give" just a fraction when gripped. (Have a soft feel) You can throw in ergonomically adaptable to fit a variety of hand sizes too. That's a pretty tall order actually. Fortunately there are a few Materials that are used in the construction of a Knife Handle that meet all, or at least most, of those criteria. While some people will prefer Knife Handles made from black or while mother of pearl, stag, bone, wood, ivory or even old woodpecker bills, the vast majority of us will want our Knife Handle to be made from one of the following Materials:
KRATON: Kraton is made by Kraton Polymers and is a synthetic rubber which offers many of the properties of natural Rubber, such as flexibility, high traction, and sealing abilities, but with increased resistance to heat, weathering, and chemicals. Kraton is an EXCELLENT Knife Handle Material.
CARBON FIBER: A carbon fiber Knife Handle is composed of very thin strands of carbon fiber woven tightly together in a weave pattern and set in resin. Carbon fiber is probably the strongest synthetic Material currently used in Knife Handle manufacture. It is a very good Knife Handle Material but ... it's labor intensive and will increase the cost of the Knife dramatically.
G-10: G-10 is a fiberglass based laminate. Layers of fiberglass cloth are soaked in resin, compressed and then baked. The result is a very hard, lightweight and strong Knife Handle. Surface checkering or texture is then added. G-10 is an ideal Material for a folding Knife because it's durable and lightweight.
MICARTA: Similar in construction to G-10 except the Material is usually linen instead of fiberglass. Micarta Handles are lightweight and strong. A Micarta Knife Handle has no surface texture and is extremely smooth to the touch. The manufacture of a Micarta Knife Handle requires a lot of manual labor which translates into a higher priced knife. Never-the-less, Micarta is a popular Knife Handle Material. In addition to being tough and stable, Micarta is impervious to water, can be gripped well when wet, and is an excellent insulator.
TITANIUM: Titanium is harder, but lighter than steel, and provides the Knife Handle with the toughness and durability of a metal Handle without as much weight. Titanium also offers the most corrosion resistance of any steel. It has a good feel and is an excellent Knife Handle Material.
STAINLESS STEEL: Stainless steel offers the same durability and corrosion resistance as a stainless steel blade. The biggest drawback is the increased weight of the Knife. Stainless steel Handles usually have another material such as Kraton, Rubber, etc. as an inset in the Handle to facilitate the grip.
ALUMINUM: The Aluminum used in Knife Handle manufacture is actually very durable and provides a solid feel without the extra weight. In addition, Aluminum can be formed into shapes which allows a very comfortable grip. Most Aluminum Knife Handles are finished using anodization to add color and protection.
ZYTEL: Zytel is a thermoplastic nylon material developed by DuPont. Zytel is an excellent Material for an everyday Knife Handle since it it is virtually unbreakable and very abrasion resistant. To improve grip, the Knife Handle is usually given some sort of surface texture. Zytel is also one of the least expensive of the synthetic Handle Materials to produce, which means the cost of the Knife could well be less.
ABS PLASTIC: This Material is usually reserved for cheaper Knives. It's a decent Handle Material though, because it's extremely tough.
Other materials like leather, while nice to look at should be epoxy coated, since leather isn't nearly as durable as the other Handle Materials that are available.
There are also a ton of Knives made using stag, mother of pearl, bone, and even wood. A wood handled Knife, if impregnated with resin, becomes a durable, waterproof and very aesthetically pleasing Knife Handle.
In the end, a quality Knife, regardless of what the Handle is made from, serve your well in a survival situation.