Knives are misunderstood. Where I come from, it is normal to carry a pocketknife everyday. Often times, my larger, fixed-blade outdoor knife is nearby as well, either in my toolbox, truck console or on the bedroom bookcase. People are often shocked by this, most likely incredulous as to why I am always carrying a ‘weapon’.
Knives are not weapons, they are tools. In fact, a knife is one of the most versatile and easily accessible tools available. My two knives have never been used as weapons but they have frequently: cut bailing wire, removed and tightened screws, opened packaging, started fires, opened cans and bottles, cut food, removed splinters and completed various tasks.
You should definitely take a knife on every outdoor trip you partake in. You will be surprised at the number of seemingly simple tasks that become difficult with the absence of a cutting instrument.
Below is an ordered list that will help you find a great knife for hiking, safari, camping and general outdoor excursions.
A. Determine What Kind of Knife You Need
- Essentially, knives can be classified in two categories: fixed blade and folding. Fixed blade knives are often larger than folding blades and must be carried in a sheath. Folding knives can be small or long but typically do not exceed ten centimeters in length. Folding knives are great for everyday carry as they fit snugly in pockets, but are often less durable than fixed blades. Personally, I would encourage every outdoorsperson to have both a fixed blade and folding knife while engaging in outdoor excursions.However, if you are on a budget or care to only purchase one, find which of the categories you belong in.
- Guided Safaris, Campers in Populated Regions and Day Trip Hikers – Forgo the fixed blade. A simple, quality pocketknife will be more than enough to address the tasks present. Still, do not skimp on quality. Advance to point B to read about choosing a quality folding knife.
- Self Guided Safaris, Campers in Remote Regions and Extended Trip Hikers – Purchase both a fixed blade knife and a pocketknife. If you cannot purchase both, opt for a sturdy fixed blade knife. The fixed blade knife can cut down vegetation for fires, dig out holes, hammer in tent stakes, start fires, clean fish and other food and complete any difficult task. The small pocketknife can be used for menial and precision tasks: opening cans, cutting cords and other small issues.
B. Finding a Quality Folding Knife
- Size Matters – A bigger blade is often more efficient and dulls slower. You do not need to purchase the largest knife you can find, but be sure to avoid tiny blades as well. Try to find a knife with a length between 6-9 centimeters. However, be aware of any legal regulations regarding size. To be safe, opt for a blade that is under eight centimeters. Often times, a knife over a legal limitation is allowed as long as the blade is being used for outdoor purposes (hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, etc).
- What Style of Blade – Believe it or not, there are more than 12 different styles of pocketknife blade available. Many of these are impractical for use in every situation, but these four styles can be used for any operation: drop point, straight back, tanto point and clip back. Personally, straight backs and drop points earn my vote for versatility and practicality for their design maximizes the knife’s ability to complete all tasks: piercing, cutting, slicing and trimming.
- Blade Quality– Most blades are made from stainless steel. While stainless steel is durable and does not require much care, it is harder to sharpen than the carbon metal recommended for survival knives. Make sure the blade is thick. Do not purchase a knife with a thin blade as it is likely to bend when put under stress. Finally, check the blade’s ‘play’. To do this, open the knife and attempt to wiggle the blade back and forth. If it moves, the knife is poorly constructed. A good knife should have no play.
- Locking or Not Locking – Most knives now feature locking mechanisms. When the blade is opened, a small piece of metal will hold the blade in place so it does not close unexpectedly. Swiss Army and multitool style knives do not have these safety mechanisms. Choose a locking blade if possible.
- Opening – Be sure you can open and close your knife with only one hand. Being able to open and close your knife one-handed is a sign that the knife is a well-balanced fit for your hand.
- Handle Material – Be sure that the handle offers a good grip. Avoid smooth plastic, polished would or plain steel. Try to find a knife with a rubberized, paracord, or otherwise grip-oriented handle. Not only will the knife feel better in your hand, but a good grip will prevent slippage and accidental cuts.
C. Finding a Quality Fixed Blade Knife
- Size Matters – Once again, avoid knives that are too big or too small. A large knife sacrifices the ability to perform precision tasks and a small knife won’t survive heavy duty tasks such as chopping or batoning. Settle for a knife with an OVERALL length (handle and blade) of 23 – 30 centimeters and a blade length of 11-15 centimeters.
- Full Tang – A folding knife does not replace a fixed blade even if it matches the above qualities because the folding joint presents a weakness. A folding knife will not survive the stress put on it by heavy duty tasks. This is why you should purchase a full tang fixed blade knife. A ‘full tang’ knife is one that’s blade and handle is one continuous piece of metal. Knives that are partial tangs break easy and develop play in the blade. Buy a fixed blade knife with a full tang at all costs.
- Single Edge – Do not buy a double edged knife. Double edged knives are impractical for outdoor trips. Buy a full tang, single edged knife with a flat back. This flat back can be used to strike flint to create fires.
- Quality Sheath – Only get a knife with a good sheath. a good sheath will hold the knife in place whether you are walking, running or hanging upside down. This sheath security is crucial for your own safety as well as preventing the heartache of losing a good knife.
- Avoid Blade Serration – Partially serrated blades detract from the knife’s overall functionality. If you want serration, look for a knife with a complete blade and partial serration on the knife’s back. However, do not buy a knife with a completely serrated back as this will hinder the ability to strike fires.
D. Five Great Folding Knives
E. Five Great Fixed Blade Knives
- Ontario 7500 Blackbird SK-5
- Ka-Bar Marine Corps Knife
- Gerber Strongarm
- Cold Steel GI Tanto
- CRKT Ultima
Hopefully this list has helped you select a quality knife to carry on your outdoor adventures. A good knife is more important than any tent, backpack or camera when you are out in the wild.