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Survival Knives 101: Match Your Knife to the Task

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March 18, 2012
Survival Knives 101: Match Your Knife to the Task - 5

I’m a big believer that you need the right tool for the right job, whatever that job may be – even survival.

With so many survival knives on the market today, and more added every year, I am constantly asked, “what kind of knife is best for survival?” Well, it depends on the tasks you need to perform, I always reply.

This is my breakdown on a handful of different blades and edges and what survival applications they're useful for. Also, I've listed a few of my favorite brands and models.

General Survival and EDC

I like a blade with a smooth edge versus a serrated edge for every day carry and for general survival skills. An unserrated knife is a classic with no frills, and it’s all business. Whether it’s a folder or a fixed blade, this edge is the easiest to sharpen and it can accomplish a wide range of tasks from camp craft to household chores. My favorite example of a folding knife with a smooth edge is the CRKT M-21. This is a great EDC.

Disaster Prep, Urban Survival and Tactical Use
A partially serrated blade can give you the best of both worlds with a smooth edge toward the tip and serrated edge at the base of the blade. Add a tanto-style point for penetrating power, and you have something for disasters, urban survival scenarios, and self-defense applications. If you need a crow bar more than you need a camp hatchet in your situation, then a partially serrated, thick blade can be the way to go. The downside is that these knives are serrated in the wrong place if you need to perform carving tasks and other delicate work. They can also be very difficult to sharpen, especially in the field. The SOG Escape is a good example, and it even has an integrated cord and webbing cutter in the handle. 

Climbing, Vehicle Extractions and Marine Uses
Few blade types rip through rope, webbing, seat belts and packages like a fully serrated blade. You have to go a bit out of your way to find these knives, as they are tailored to very specialized needs. They show up in places where cutting through a rope quickly can mean life or death, like in marine applications and in the hands of a jumpmaster when skydiving. The biggest downsides are the fact that they do not carve wood very well, and they can be extremely difficult to sharpen, even at home in your workshop. For a good example, see the Spyderco Atlantic Salt Black FRN ~ C89BK.

Chopping and Fighting
Larger, heavier knives with a smooth or partially serrated blade can be your work horse for heavy chores like chopping through saplings for shelter, splitting kindling for fire, and of course, self-preservation through self defense. These should always be fixed blades, not folders, preferably with a full-tang blade due to the stress and strain of the task at hand. Chopping with a folder or a knife without a full tang can lead to a separation of blade and handle very easily. I’ve got to go with SOG on this one--for big chores, I use the SOG Force. This was my favorite new knife last year, and it’s still in heavy rotation with my other favorites. 

What’s your preference? Smooth edge or partially serrated? Folders or big fixed blades? Or all the above? Let us know in the comments.

Comments (5)

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from gmarkum 3/21/2012 at 06:50am

I have been an avid knife collector and user since I was just a young Buck (pun intended). My EDC is a Buck 110 folder and a SwissChamp Swiss army knife. Both have provided faithful service for decades. When I am in the boondocks, I add my Leatherman Wave, my Benchmade 158 CSK-II (recently acquired but so far awesome), and a small hatchet. Everything has a plain edge. I have had just about every style of knife over the years, had the opportunity to handle and try out a great many more over the years with the fellas at work. I keep coming back to my same set up, it just works for me.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Louzianajones 3/20/2012 at 08:29pm

Good ole Buck! That is the knife I carry. I have several different ones. They are inexpensive, easy to sharpen, and reliable. I carry a knife everywhere except on airplanes. I sure feel naked without one in my pocket. Remember the saying, "A man without a knife is a man without a life."

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast 3/19/2012 at 02:25pm

I'm not much into knives, but I do enjoy good craftsmenship, usefulness and durability. I know very little about knives but the one that really amazed me recently which would fall into more of a utility knife (camping & survival)area was the KaBar Becker Combat Bowie. This thing was sharp as your going to get a knife. It had a nice thick blade that could take a beating while giving one. It would be no problem to cut down some larger than normal saplings among many other possible survival and utility needs. I know very little about knives but in a survival situation I definately want to have one of those.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Ox 3/19/2012 at 10:05am

If you keep your blades sharp, you don't need serrations.
My EDC is the Spyderco Manix2 XL- with a plain edge. It's light, fits good in my huge paws & holds a nice egde. Spyderco is also the only foriegn-made knife I'll use.
For the woods, my KaBar is always at my side. Hunting, fishing, bushcraft- that knife will do it all, & has never failed me.
If I feel I need to cut down a tree, Ontario's Marine Raider comes with me. Good solid grip, & the weight doesn't bother me in the least- aids in chopping action. This knife will mow down anything in it's path.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from twags 3/16/2012 at 03:10pm

A fine-edged blade will do what a serrated blade will do - and the time difference should be minimal with a sharp straight blade. On the other hand, serrated blades will not handle some of the tasks that a straight-edge blade will, period. (Fillet a fish?) So, I see no reason to limit my abilities by having any serration at all.

In the same vein, I think all of the specific knives linked to above have another limitation - they're all stainless. While that makes them easier to maintain, it precludes their use as fire starting implements - they won't spark from striking flint. I'd rather take a modicum of extra time to maintain a high-carbon, straight-edge blade on a knife than to use an easier to maintain blade with limited usefulness.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report

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from Blue Ox 3/19/2012 at 10:05am

If you keep your blades sharp, you don't need serrations.
My EDC is the Spyderco Manix2 XL- with a plain edge. It's light, fits good in my huge paws & holds a nice egde. Spyderco is also the only foriegn-made knife I'll use.
For the woods, my KaBar is always at my side. Hunting, fishing, bushcraft- that knife will do it all, & has never failed me.
If I feel I need to cut down a tree, Ontario's Marine Raider comes with me. Good solid grip, & the weight doesn't bother me in the least- aids in chopping action. This knife will mow down anything in it's path.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from twags 3/16/2012 at 03:10pm

A fine-edged blade will do what a serrated blade will do - and the time difference should be minimal with a sharp straight blade. On the other hand, serrated blades will not handle some of the tasks that a straight-edge blade will, period. (Fillet a fish?) So, I see no reason to limit my abilities by having any serration at all.

In the same vein, I think all of the specific knives linked to above have another limitation - they're all stainless. While that makes them easier to maintain, it precludes their use as fire starting implements - they won't spark from striking flint. I'd rather take a modicum of extra time to maintain a high-carbon, straight-edge blade on a knife than to use an easier to maintain blade with limited usefulness.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Louzianajones 3/20/2012 at 08:29pm

Good ole Buck! That is the knife I carry. I have several different ones. They are inexpensive, easy to sharpen, and reliable. I carry a knife everywhere except on airplanes. I sure feel naked without one in my pocket. Remember the saying, "A man without a knife is a man without a life."

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from gmarkum 3/21/2012 at 06:50am

I have been an avid knife collector and user since I was just a young Buck (pun intended). My EDC is a Buck 110 folder and a SwissChamp Swiss army knife. Both have provided faithful service for decades. When I am in the boondocks, I add my Leatherman Wave, my Benchmade 158 CSK-II (recently acquired but so far awesome), and a small hatchet. Everything has a plain edge. I have had just about every style of knife over the years, had the opportunity to handle and try out a great many more over the years with the fellas at work. I keep coming back to my same set up, it just works for me.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast 3/19/2012 at 02:25pm

I'm not much into knives, but I do enjoy good craftsmenship, usefulness and durability. I know very little about knives but the one that really amazed me recently which would fall into more of a utility knife (camping & survival)area was the KaBar Becker Combat Bowie. This thing was sharp as your going to get a knife. It had a nice thick blade that could take a beating while giving one. It would be no problem to cut down some larger than normal saplings among many other possible survival and utility needs. I know very little about knives but in a survival situation I definately want to have one of those.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

Write a Comment Your comment (200 characters or less):

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