Serrated vs Plain Edge Survival Knife


Survival Gear Debate: Serrated vs Plain Edge Knife

When choosing a survival knife, there are quite a few options that you can choose from: carbon steel vs stainless steel, the design of the point, serrated blade vs plain edged, blade length and thickness, etc. The feature you choose should always be determined by the task or situation you are going to use the knife for. In this article I  am going to focus on the debate over serrated vs plain edge blades.

This debate of serrated vs straight edge has been going on for many years. The answers that have been given always depend on what the knife will be used for… which is determined by the survival situation the user finds themselves in.

Serrated vs Plain Edge: Plain Edged Knife

Plain edge knives are of course blades with a plain, clean edge. They are better suited for tasks that require a push cut such as whittling wood or skinning an animal. They are also better when the task requires precision and a high level of control. They can be sharpened fairly easily in the field and can get very sharp. A good example is the Ka-Bar Becker BK2

Plain edged knives are the choice of many survivalists.

This Ka-Bar Becker BK2 has a plain edge.


Pros of a plain edged blade.

  • Easy to sharpen.
  • Easy to control.
  • More precision when cutting.

Cons of a plain edged blade.

  • Plain edged survival knives have to be very sharp to cut through thick rope and straps.

Situations where a plain edged knife is best.

  • The plain edged blade will excel in all situations except cutting through tough materials such as thick rope and straps. If the plain-edged knife is extremely sharp then even these tasks won’t be a problem.

Serrated vs Plain Edge: Serrated Knife

Serrated blades have sharp little ‘teeth’ that help them cut easily through stuff. They are better suited for tasks that require a slicing or ‘sawing’ motion such as cutting through a rope. They work well on tough material because there is less contact area than on a straight edged blade – thereby giving a greater relative cutting force when pressure is applied. A drawback is the serrations cause the resulting cut material to have a rougher edge than cuts caused by straight edged blades.

Serrated knives cut through rope and straps easily.

This Spyderco Tasman is a good example of a serrated blade.

 Pros of using a serrated blade.

Great for cutting through tough, fibrous material. Ropes and straps can be easily cut with a serrated blade.

Cons of using a serrated blade.

  •  Serrated blades are difficult to sharpen.
  • The teeth on serrated knives can get caught in an assailants clothing when used for self-defense.
  • Serrated knives aren’t so good for bushcraft. Whittling and batoning wood with a serrated blade is frustrating at best.

Situations when a serrated blade is best:

  • Serrated blades are best for airman who may need to cut their way out of their aircraft if it crashes. Planes and helicopters often have thin skinned exteriors that can be cut through with a serrated survival knife.
  • Lifeboats should carry serrated survival knives to help them cut through rope. In fact, a serrated or partially serrated blade should be your choice in all marine situations.
  • Rock climbers and mountaineers should carry serrated knives because of all the ropes that are involved.
  • Rescue personnel should carry serrated blades to help them cut through seat belts and ropes quickly. A few seconds can mean the difference between life and death in a rescue operation.
  • Anyone who doesn’t know how to  maintain a plain edged knife with routine sharpening is probably better off with a serrated blade. A serrated blade will generally cut for a longer period of time than a plain edged blade, making it a good choice for the novice.

Partially-Serrated Knife:

These are knives that try to have the best of two worlds. Some partially serrated knives have part of one edge plain while the other half is serrated. Others put a plain edge on the bottom with a serrated edge on top. These can be useful for a general purpose survival knife because they can perform any task handed them. An excellent example is Gerbers LMF II Infantry knife.

Partially serrated knife

This Gerber LMF II is an example of a partially serrated knife.


I hope I was able to clarify the major points about this serrated vs straight edge knife debate. I feel that most people in a survival situation will do just fine with a good plain edged survival knife. If they have situations that require cutting through tough materials then a serrated or partially serrated knife will be welcomed. Remember that it all boils down to a personal choice.

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