Survival Knives 101: Match Your Knife to the Task

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.
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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.