Plan on surviving should the worst happen? Buy a top-notch survival knife and you're halfway there.

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Your compass is trained on north; north is where you know a highway stretches across the horizon; the highway is where you know you'll finally have the chance to be saved. It's been days since the accident that sent you sliding into the rapids and tumbling over a waterfall. Body bruised, arm broken, head concussed, it was hours before you woke up dazed and vomiting on the bank of the river.

You lost your pack in the fall. Phone, tent, sleeping bag, spare clothes, hiking boots, food -- gone. All you have left is your wilderness survival kit, and thank goodness for that. Without it, you'd be dead. And over the past several days, one item in particular has endeared itself to you time and time again: the survival knife.

You figure you're still a day or two away from civilization, and as evening approaches, the temperature is falling fast. You start making camp, using your survival knife to cut the large amount of wood you'll need to fuel your fire throughout the frigid night. But suddenly, the blade snaps off at the handle and flies back over your shoulder. Shaking over the thought that you could have just lost an eye, you think back to when you stood in the camping supplies store to stock up on equipment and surveyed the vast array of knife choices. Did you buy a dud?

It's entirely possible. Choosing a knife you might have to rely on to keep you alive in the face of blizzards, blinding heat or bear attacks can be pretty daunting. Will a machete serve best? How about a hollow-handled knife offering waterproof storage? Is a folding or a fixed knife more useful? Do you want a blade that's serrated or smooth, thick or thin, long or short, stainless steel or carbon steel?

More to the point, should you have bought more than one survival knife? Then you'd have a backup. As it is, you have a serious problem: how to keep yourself warm, sheltered and fed long enough to reach the highway and salvation. On the next page, we'll take a more in-depth look at what uses a survival knife has when you're lost in the wild, and why the type of blade you buy matters so much.