How to Choose a First Timer’s Best Knife for Backpacking
Backpacking is an amazing experience, but having the right tools is essential to your comfort, and maybe even your survival.
I have spent hundreds of nights in the Canadian wilderness with just me and my backpack, my dog, and my knife of course.
Choosing the wrong knife for backpacking can waste your money and you time. But more importantly, the wrong knife may fail when you need it most and leave you in a perilous situation.
This article will help you learn what you need to choose the right knife for your next backpacking trip.
It's always a tough call for first-timers when trying to find the best knife for backpacking. The knife you need for a backpacking trip is very different than carrying a knife while wearing dress pants. There are many options available in the market, and finding one that suits you can quickly turn into a nightmare.
You will find use for your backpacking knife in literally everything you do while in the wilderness. From lighting a fire to chopping your food, shelter building, cutting twine and rope, and in a pinch, even opening your cans of food. A backpacker's knife is a must-have.
In general, a great backpacking knife is made of high-quality material, has a convenient and ergonomic handle, is safe for use, easy to sharpen, and retains a nice sharp edge for long. It also needs to be able to stand up to harsh environments and be easy to maintain.
following are somes tips for considering when you choose your own knife for backpacking. If you are in a hurry, my two favorite, reasonably priced backpacking knives are listed next, but if you want to learn how to choose which specific knife will be right for you then read on below.
My Best Folding Knife For Backpacking
My Best Fixed Blade Knife For Backpacking
The Purpose of the Knife
For ages, man has depended on a knife to survive. Backpacking knives are dependable for everything. They are easy to carry around and come in handy when you want to split some kindlingor make feather sticks when making a fire. They'll also come in handy when setting up your tent, or when preparing a meal.
A great backpacking tool will easily handle all of these tasks for you, at the same time. By choosing the right knife, you can avoid carrying multiple tools that will do the same job.
Even when fishing, your backpacking knife will come in handy when either cutting the line, removing hooks from a fish's mouth, or preparing your catch for the fire.
Fixed or Folding
Two main considerations when determining if you need a fixed blade or a folding blade are the tasks you will use it for and the way you will carry it.
If you are backpacking light and don't intend to do a lot of bushcraft or large fire making, a foldable blade will work just fine. A decent folding pocket knife will usually perform all the tasks you need it for while backpacking. The convenience of it being foldable and kept in your pocket means that you will always have it with you.
That said, a fixed blade is often a better choice if you will need more power in cutting and chopping tough stuff. Fixed blades are usually stronger and easier to clean. The main drawbacks of a fixed blade knife is that it needs to be carried in a sheath which means that it can interfere with your waist belt of your backpack and need to be removed if it does.
Size and Weight
Different types of knives come in different sizes. Some are minimal and meant for light duties, and others come in large sizes.
When choosing the best knife for backpacking, small-sized knives are easy to carry around. However, they may lack strength, and their use is also limited due to their size. While you could have them in your pockets easily, you may end up compromising on the functionality.
Mid-sized backpacking knives are best for the common daily use and can fit in your pockets nicely. Their construction is light, and they are the most convenient backpacking tools for moderate backpackers.
For those backpackers who plan on staying out longer, large-sized backpacking knives come in handy for the various duties such as clearing bushes and cutting tree branches. Nonetheless, the large-sized backpacking knives are optimized for ergonomics and comfort, but they are heavier to carry around.
Weight is sometimes though to be a more determinant of the quality of a knife. A blade with extra thickness is usually stronger. However, many of the new high grade steels available cam make a very durable knife that will hold up to tough use without being overly heavy to carry.
With a heavier backpacking knife, it will be easy to prepare tinder for lighting fires and cut off some bushes or tree branches when clearing space for your tent. That said, it can also make your hands and arms get tired faster, especially if the handle is not comfortable to hold and use.
An interesting option for a good backpacking knife is the Spyderco Mule Team Knife. It comes in a wide variety of steel and is a full tang blade blank without a handle. This means it is very light for its size and you can always wrap a paracord handle on it to make it more useable and also have an extra length of paracord for backpacking emergencies.
Picking between a Knife and multitool
Unlike a knife, multitools resemble a tiny toolbox in your hands. A multitool is a backpacking knife with other secondary appliances such as pliers, corkscrews, etc. Multitools can either have a variety of random tools or could come in a specific set of implements.
While multitools are convenient, they are smaller in size than the real tool they replace, and their ergonomics are therefore reduced. This makes it hard to depend on multitools for specific actions such as cutting tree branches while making a fire.
Another factor to consider is that a multitool is usually much heavier than a quality knife and you will probably not use all the features they offer on your trip.
If you are backpacking, chances are you won't need all the tools that the multitools offer. However, it still depends on the purpose. If you are just aching for a backpacking trip and nothing more, a simple backpacking knife will be your best choice.
It's important also to consider user-safety when buying your backpacking knife. While most companies build their knives with user-safety in mind, the best knife for backpacking will often spot extra safety considerations for a user.
Features such as a locking blade are important if you want the assurance of safety when carrying your backpacking knife. Locking blades combine the convenience of a foldable knife with the strength of a fixed blade. The locking feature prevents the blade from folding back while in use.
If you are going for a foldable backpacking knife, considering ease of use is important. Knives that open fast with only one hand are convenient while using, and they often have a notch, stud, or cutout on the blade that makes it easy to draw the blade out easily with one hand.
An assisted opening mechanism is also a great plus for your backpacking knife. These knives have a safety lock that disengages the opening mechanism of the knife when it's closed. That way, you are assured against any accidental opening
One major benefit of a folding pocket knife for backpacking is that you will almost always have it with you. Keep it in your pocket and if you wander from your camp you can be assured you have your trusty knife with you at all times.
Ergonomics are crucial for a backpacker who will depend on their knife for as long as they will remain far away from the convenience of having the right tools at their disposal.
Most people overlook ergonomics when buying a knife. The best knife for backpacking should be comfortable for use, with a handle that allows for a safe and firm grip.
Good ergonomics are crucial to"
- Redure the risk of injury while using your backpacking knife
- Making life easier when using your backpacking knife
- Reduce fatigue during prolonged cutting
- generally make it easier to perform cutting tasks
The Blade Material
Knowing the blade material of your choice knife is important when determining the durability and price of your best backpacking knife. It could also help in making the maintenance of your knife easier.
Backpacking knife blades are made out of different types of steel. Some steels are considered stainless steel which helps prevent rust and staining in rough conditions. Other steels are called carbon steel, which can be susceptible to rust and need a little extra care in wet climates.
There are a wide variety of types of knife blade steel, some are more suitable to backpacking knives than others. Stainless steel blade material is very resistant to corrosion, usually easy to sharpen, and maintains a sharp edge fairly well.
Carbon steel is often used on large fixed blades, and while it is usually tougher than many stainless steels, it requires a bit more care and maintenance. It can rust very fast if left out in the elements and requires it to be kept dry and a light coat of oil to keep it from rusting.
Best Blade Shape For A Backpacking Knife
Another aspect to deciding on a good knife for backpacking is choosing the right blade shape. One of the most popular hunting knife blade shapes, the clip point blade, may not be the best choice for a backpacking knife.
While the long tapering point of a clip point blade may be good for hunting and skinning tasks, a more versatile shape such as a drop point blade may be a better option for a backpacking knife.
Check out our detailed post about the different types of blades on pocket knives to learn more about all the different blade shapes available and which one might be the best choice for your next backpacking knife,
Backpacking Knife Maintenance
Backpacking knives are essential for your camping experience and are a crucial tool for general survival. It's therefore important that you keep your knife in good condition, to ensure that it's always available for use whenever you need it
- Knives are meant for cutting. Ensure that you use your knife for the right purposes. A backpacking knife should not substitute your hammer or screwdriver. Non-cutting impact inflicted on the knife leads to the eventual destruction of the knife.
- Keep your knife clean. This includes every part of the knife, including the tip, handle and folding mechanism - if there is one. If oyu get your knife wet then be sure to dry it when possible.
- Ensure that your knife is safely stored to avoid causing any harm. Store your knife in a safe and dry place and put it out of reach of children. Ensure that you remove a knife from its sheath periodically for cleaning and drying. Many sheaths are made of leather and tend to absorb moisture and can cause your knife to rust.
- Rust is destructive to your blade and should, therefore, be prevented. While some blade materials are resistant to rust, if you do get a bit of rust on your blade you should remove it by abrasion and apply a light coat of oil. However, keeping your knife clean and dry will prevent oxidation and subsequently rusting.
Comparing Quality and Cost
You'd be surprised to find that the best knife for backpacking is not necessarily expensive. The blade material used in making the knife is often the most significant price determinant.
This is because different knife steels go through various processes of production. A more expensive knife will likely have a high-end bade material. Therefore, you should consider the material used for making the blade material to the reason you need a backpacking knife.
Choose The Best Backpacking Knife For You
Near the top of this article I listed my two favorite, low to mid priced backpacking knives. The Mora Bushcraft and the Spyderco Tenacious. These two knives will serve you very well on you next backpacking trip.
However, if you have something a little more budget concious in mind or want something that steps your backpacking game up to the next level then I have a few more great backpacking knives for you to check out.
Fixed Blade Backpacking Knives
Fixed blade knives are sturdy and very usefull when backpacking. All three of the knives listed next will serve you well on oyur next trip. I have listed the best budget choice, My personal choice, and a premium choice to cover whatever you may want to buy.
Mora Companion - Budget Choice
The Mora companion like the Mora Bushcraft I listed at the beginning of this article is a great backpacking knife. It is fairly light weight and has a stainless steel blade. The molded handle has a great sticky grip and it comes with a plastic sheath.
Ontario Knife Co. Rat 7 - My Personal Choice
The Ontario Rat 7 is a great fixed blade knife that is made with 1095 high carbon steel. This knife steel combines good edge holding abilities with great toughness and makes this a very versatil and durable knife. The Micarta handle provides good grip even when wet.
The main drawback of this knife for some people is that the blade is high carbon steel and requires a bit more care and maintenance than a stainless steel blade.
Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner - Premium Choice
Benchmade makes a lot of very solid knives and this one is no exception. The Saddle Mountain Skinner comes with a S30V Stainless Steel blade which provides a good mix of toughness, edge holding, and corrosion resistance. I have a lot of knives with S30V blades and it is a very capable steel.
Folding Backpacking Knives
Like the fixed blade section above, I am listing 3 different folding knives here that make great backpacking knives. I will list a budget choice, my personal choice, and a premium choice to cover anything you may want.
Kershaw Clash - Budget Choice
The Kershaw Clash is a solid little knife. The blade is made with 8Cr13MoV steel and the glass filled nylon handle fits well in my hand. This knife has a flipper tab for easy one handed opening and a liner lock to lock the blade securaly in place.
Spyderco Paramiliatary 2 - My Personal Choice
I have taken my paramilitary 2 with me on a lot of camping and backpacking trips. It has the same S30V steel as the Benchmade knife above and it has a great G-10 camo handle that combines with crisp jimping on the thumb ramp to provide a very solid grip. The blade has the typical "Spydie" hole which makes it easy to open one handed and has a solid compression lock mechanism
Benchmade Crooked River - Premium Choice
The Benchmade Crooked River is a beautiful knife that will hold up to anything you may need it for on your backpacking trip. Not only will it work great, it looks so good it will have everyone around asking you to check it out too.
The blade is amde with S30V steel and the stabilized wood handle feels great in my hand. The Axis lock provides a very secure lockup and the adjustable pocket clip makes it easy to carry it however you want.
Finding the best knife for backpacking is often a hard deal for new backpackers. There's so much to look for online that you could lose yourself with all the options that different companies offer you.
Nonetheless, these are the basic considerations that can help you easily settle on your first knife. The best knife for backpacking should be the one that fits your camping needs best. Ensure that you go for a knife that is easy to maintain, is convenient, and versatile.
Your backpacking tool is necessary for survival and should be a tool that satisfies your needs. If your pick has all these factors, then it's likely your best.