The Cutting Edge: Finding the Best Camping Knife
If I was to go camping and could only bring ONE tool, the choice is easy. Without any second thoughts, I would definitely bring a knife. One simple tool can cut twigs and kindling for campfires; trim rope for tent pitching and other things you have to do for setting up camp; it can cut and peel vegetables, fruits, meat, cheese, bread; open packages; simple hunting or sniping fishing line; and, in dire cases, for self-defense. camping.
A Cut Above the Rest
There are various features to consider when selecting the perfect camping knife. Get as much information as you can and read reviews and interact with fellow campers in forums or in person. Keep in mind that each individual will have a different preference. It’s best to really try out the knife, hold it in your hands, to determine whether it is the right one for you.
Also keep in mind the following characteristics:
Size & Weight
Size does indeed matter when it comes to choosing knives – and bigger is not always better. Backpackers are obsessive when it comes to the weight that they put in their bags, so each gram counts.
Knives that are too big will make it harder to do more delicate tasks, like dressing small game. However, if the blade is too small, you will have a very difficult time doing more rugged tasks, such as chopping wood. A good size is between 9 to 11 inches, including the handle. A good blade length is around 5 inches (source).
The usual rule of thumb is that fixed blades will be able to stand up to heavier tasks, while folding blades, while convenient, will not hold up as well. Here’s a rundown on the pros and cons on both:
- Fixed Blade
Most avid campers swear by a fixed blade. A fixed blade means that the whole knife is integrated with the handle (source). They are usually more durable and reliable than the folding kind, making you ready for any survival situation that you might encounter.
While offering more strength, the fixed blades are also more ergonomic as compared to folding blades. This helps you get the job done that much more efficiently because it is much easier to wield (source).
- There aren’t many disadvantages to using a fixed blade. However, as I mentioned earlier, weight is a big issue for backpackers, so you must note that fixed blades are usually heavier than folding blades.
You will also need a sheath to carry around a fixed blade safely. You can try a belt sheath for that legit action hero look.
- Folding blade
You are probably convinced by now that you should get a fixed blade knife, but here’s the lowdown on folding blades. While it is less ideal when it comes to sturdiness and strength, folding blades are quite convenient. They are much safer to store in the pocket or throw in your bag, without having to worry about cutting yourself when you are rooting through your backpack later on.
Also under the folding blade category are multi-tools – the ever-popular pocket knife that lets you carry a whole toolbox in the palm of your hand. The positive thing about multi-tools is that you will literally be prepared for everything, from cutting with a knife, snipping with mini scissors, a screwdriver, compass, bottle opener – sometimes even a toothpick, spoon and fork.
Some multi-tools are also made specifically for different activities or purposes. For example, if you are a cyclist, multi-tools that are geared towards bike tools will come in handy for making quick repairs on the road. Otherwise, the miniature size of multi-tools give it an ergonomic disadvantage (source).
Think of it this way: would you rather have some tiny tools that might be useful in various situations that might randomly arise, or do you want a knife with just one blade, but is reliable and of great quality?
- Locking blade
Here is a marriage of sorts between the stability of fixed blades and the convenience of folding knives. The locking blade folds down so that it has the compact, safe carrying feature of a folding knife – pretty much its only big advantage over fixed blades.
The locking blade gets its name because it locks into place when opened fully, so that it has the stability of a fixed blade (source).
Purists would, of course, shun even the locking blade, and really accept only the fixed blade as a suitable camping knife, but if you want to keep your options open, check out this kind of knife and give it a try. It may suit your needs, especially if you will just be doing simple, light tasks around the campsite.
No, it is not that delicious powdered orange drink. Tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle and is one of the most important attributes for choosing a good camping knife (source). A knife can have a full tang, meaning the blade extends fully into the whole length of the handle; a half tang, which is pretty much self-explanatory; and a rat tail, where the tang is very thin and tapers of into the handle.
Just like with the argument for a fixed blade, stability is key when considering tang. With the full tang, the knife becomes much more robust and can stand up to wear and tear of rigorous tasks that you may have to do around the campsite. Because of the way the blade is integrated into the handle, the chances of breakage are very minimal (source).
Less than ideal, the half tang blades run the risk of coming loose when subjected to heavy tasks like prying or chopping.
Rat tails, which are fine for kitchen knives perhaps, will be the flimsiest and will easily come loose when used in the wilderness (source).
Loose blades that might slip or fall out are not only difficult to work with. They are also very dangerous. So, save yourself the trouble and make sure that your knife is a full tang.
Speaking of safety, the handle material will definitely be a factor in keeping yourself safe, as well as improving your grip and giving more ergonomic comfort (source).
- Wood handles are classic, aesthetically pleasing, and provide a decent grip. However, if you are camping near bodies of water or if you will be going fishing, keep in mind that wood handles are susceptible to water damage.
- Plastic handles can do the trick in resisting water damage and the material makes the knife much more affordable, but they do not make for a great grip.
- Rubber handles offer a comfortable grip and water resistance. However, they will not last the longest and might begin to peel, especially if you really wear them out.
- Winning the durability contest are stainless-steel and aluminum handles. However, they might not be the best to take on cold weather hikes, as the metal will be very cold to touch and might become slippery (source).
It seems like each of these handles have their own pros and cons, so it is best to see which fits best in your palm and feels the most comfortable. Also consider what you will be using the knife for and where – will there be a lot of water? Cold weather? Humidity? All these will help you choose the best handle for your ideal knife.
Steel the Show
Most knives are made of either carbon steel or stainless steel, again with their own advantages and disadvantages in the following categories:
An ideal knife should not rust easily nor discolor, with minimal care. You may not often realize it, but it is not just water that can stain a blade, but also various acids that the blade might encounter from cutting food like tomatoes and lemons, and other substances that will come in contact with the steel when you use your knife (source).
Generally, stainless steel – as the name suggests, is more rust resistant than carbon steel. If not maintained properly, carbon steel can rust quickly. However, the more rust and corrosion resistant the knife is, the less hardness the material is as well.
As such, stainless steel can be difficult to sharpen and is a lot more brittle than carbon steel (source).
Knives on the other end of the spectrum can be made with non-stainless, high-carbon steel. They can score high in hardness, as well as edge retention, but are substantially more vulnerable to corrosion (source).
The toughness refers to the steel’s capacity to bend without breaking. This flexibility is important for high impact tasks such as chopping wood. As mentioned above, carbon steel tends to be a lot tougher than the brittle stainless steel (source).
The hardness, on the other hand, is the steel ability to resist bending. It is measured on what is called a Rockwell scale. A folding knife has an HRc of 57 to 62, while very heavy duty steel knives range in hardness from 64 to 66. High quality chef’s knives often exceed 60 on the Rockwell scale. The harder the steel is, the longer it is able to hold its edge. The can also be sharpened to a much finer edge, which enables it to make much cleaner cuts and accurate slices.
You can learn more about types of steel with this handy steel guide.
No matter what knife you choose, be sure that it is appropriate for the purpose that you will be using it for. Treat the blade with respect – always exercise safety precautions and do not play with knives. Though the sharpness is dangerous, a reliable knife is a loyal friend that you will need in almost every aspect and activity of camping. It may even save your life!