When you’re out camping you need a knife you can depend on, right? You don’t want to worry about the blade coming loose, the handle falling off, the tip chipping, or the blade dulling.
Your knife should perform when you need it to without a hitch.
Choosing a camping knife is a serious task. It’s an important tool that you will use daily to slice rope, cut wood, skin game, or fashion tools and weapons.
The most important pack item on any outdoor adventure is the knife. Bear Grylls might wave his knives around extolling the virtues of a blade in survival situations—of which there are many—but the primary reason is that it’s just plain useful for cutting up camp food & paracord & whatever else you might need it for on the trail. Knives, however, can be very expensive. If you’re not concerned, you can wind up blowing cash on a knife with a whole lot of features that a backpacker doesn’t need. Or worse, succumb to Crocodile Dundee fever & walk away from a seller with a real short sword that makes you look a fool. Here are some tips from the experts to help you avoid this fate.
Know What You Need
Survival or camp knife is varied than a multi-tool one. Multi-tool knives, as the name states, have multiple tools & uses. Camp knives can also be used in different situations, but typically come with one principal function & a durable, often smooth (not serrated) blade that’s crafted to last.
Decision #1:What do you need this knife to do? Do you need something that trims threads & opens packages, or do you need a knife that can cut & process wood?
Fixed or Folding
Hard-use tasks like wood processing & hunting are more easily done with a fixed blade. Lighter duty jobs, the package above opening & food prep, can be h&led with a folder. But the old divide of stimulating use=fixed blade & light duty=folder is not as sacrosanct as it once was.
First, there is a new generation of folders that have astonishingly strong locks. Knives like Cold Steel’s Recon 1 or Spyderco’s Paramilitary For walking on the trail or hanging at the campsite, a folding blade will do the job just fine, but there are a couple of reasons for getting a knife with a fixed blade: safety, cleanliness, & strength. Fixed blades, for example, do not run the risk of closing on your fingers. Even folding knives with a locking blade—& you should use one with a locking blade—can sometimes fail. “If it slips, it can cut you pretty good,” warned Murray.
Second, there is a new generation of fixed blades, knives like the Bark River Pocket Bravo, that are designed to be used as a daily carry, light duty blades. Despite these modifications, the old rule of thumb is still useful.A fixed blade is also superior If you’re doing any hard work at a campsite like cutting up wood for kindling or slicing food. (The folding ones get a lot of crud on them.) “Fixed blades have no moving parts, & are made from a single piece of steel, so they’ll always be stronger than even the best folding knives,” said Siler.
Decision #2: What are you cutting?
Serrated vs Non-Serrated
Cutting packages, slicing food, preparing game, & chopping wood are all radically different tasks that knives do, & each of these tasks places different demands on a blade. There are three determinants that determine how well knife cuts–the shape of the blade, the heat treat, & the steel. Heat-treating steel is a complicated process, but any new knife of minimal quality will have a good heat treat. Steel is complicated enough it’s worth addressing all on its own, but the most important aspect of a knife is the shape of the blade. This means two things–the blade seen in profile & the grind of the blade.
For a camping knife, I think you can be pretty flexible with this. My camping knife is partially serrated and that works nicely for me. For survival knives, I always recommend non-serrated blades simply for the ease of maintenance. You don’t have to worry about any of the teeth chipping and sharpening a non-serrated blade is simple.
Decision #3: What is Your Camping Plan?
If you’re not planning to do a lot of hunting and skinning of game, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to worry about the blade style. For most uses, having a drop point or a tanto point will have little actual affect. My pocket knife is a tanto and my survival knife is a drop point. You will come across many other styles such as clip point, trailing point, spear point, needle point, etc. You’ll be better served by a knife made of quality steel and solid construction.
Knife vs. Multi-tool
There are a lot of knives out there. & there are a lot that is not just knives, but multi-tools—folding contraptions fixed with all kinds of doo-dads like bottle openers & leather punches in addition to a blade. There’s no right or wrong answer on whether you should get a plain old knife or a magic do-everything tool, but there are a few things to consider.
If you’re just backpacking, you aren’t going to use 85 percent of the gadgets on a multi-tool (a cough, leather punch). Knife expert & Product Developer for L.L. Bean, Kevin Murray, explained it to Popular Science like this: “If you’re a minimalist, you would have a knife. If you’re a car camper or go camping with your family for a week at a campground, it’s nice to have something like a multitool, because you can do so many things with it.”
If you need a knife though, get a knife. Not a multi-tool. Adventure writer Wes Siler described added gadgets to Popular Science as “complication over quality.”
Decision #5: What is Your Budget?
Finally, consider the cost you may experience with an served opening knife. Assisted possibility knives, as the descriptive label recommends, are equipped with springs that help pull the blade to full extension.
Pricing is rated on a dollar sign ($) scale.
$ – Under $50
$$ – From $50-100
$$$ – From $101-200
$$$$ – Over $200
Representing the requirement for a wide range of tasks, selecting up a good knife for camping is about getting balance. You can find a pocket knife if you plan on backpacking & need to keep weight & size to a minimum. For standard tours where you load up your tent, the family, & a cooler full of imported lager, you can go with a straight edge, full tang blade that’s bigger. For both ends of the spectrum, & all the lovely shades of sharp in between, we’ve whittled it down to the five best camping knives for 2017.