Saturday, June 26, 2010

Knives for Camping - What's Best

Imagine that you're dropped naked on a deserted island and you can only have one piece of equipment. What do you choose? Sleeping bag? Lighter? Compass? If you really had to fend for yourself, you probably would need a knife above all else. With a knife comes the possibility of food and shelter - and perhaps some makeshift clothes too!

We've all been told that a knife is one of those "essentials" we need to take on any hiking or camping trip. Most of the time they get used for slicing dinner ingredients, or maybe cutting off a length of cord for a laundry line - but when things go wrong you may need your knife to help you build a shelter, hunt, or fix your gear.

There are a ridiculous number of options out there when it comes to buying a knife. And today's post comes to you thanks to my partner G, who has spent a lot of time learning about knives and which ones are best for which tasks. He took me through the main types of knives you may take camping or hiking with you, and their pros and cons. If you have a favourite knife to bring along, leave a comment and let me know what it is and why it's the best!

Fixed blade

A fixed blade knife is not often the first choice for campers. The fact that it doesn't fold up means that you'll need a sheath or other carrying case - and that means extra weight. But a fixed blade is inherently stronger because there is one piece of metal that continues from the blade straight through the handle (inside the comfort grip) called the "tang". You may not always need that kind of strength - but if you found yourself actually depending on a knife for survival, you'd want one that wasn't likely to snap in half!

The knife pictured on top has a certain "Rambo" appeal with the serrated top and upturned "clipped point" blade. However, it is heavy and the thin tip is likely to break off under pressure. The bottom knife blade has a much stronger and more practical shape for general use, with a "dropped point".

Gimmicks like hollow blades to make the knife lighter also make it weaker, so if you don't want to carry anything heavy, you'll be sacrificing dependability in exchange for weight.

Single folding blade
A knife which folds is more convenient for hitting the trails since it will fit in a pocket and be lighter. The weak point of the folding knife is obviously the hinge. However, a single folding blade like the ones in the photo often come with a locking mechanism to prevent the blade from folding shut while in use. This is a handy feature that often isn't found on inexpensive camping knives.

The blades on the knives pictured are substantially bigger than you would find on a standard Swiss Army or Leatherman type of tool. This makes them more useful for big jobs like cutting branches, gutting fish, skinning an animal, etc. Again, these might not be tasks you need to do on an average camping trip, but if you were lost or hurt, it could be the difference between being able to put together a makeshift leg splint or not.

Multitool
The multitool (Leatherman is the best known brand) has many uses. Most models come with an array of blades, screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters etc. for fixing a wide variety of items. However, they are usually not designed with camping in mind. The knife blades tend to be small and narrow, which means that they are not suited to tough jobs. Many of the other tools (screwdrivers come to mind) are unlikely to be needed on a camping or hiking trip.

Where multitools are really handy is a trip with lots of equipment that may need repair. So if you are on a long cycling trek, mountaineering, or on any big expedition, I expect you will want one of these on hand to fix mechanical faults. For general camping, I don't see them being worth their weight, which is significant.

"Swiss Army" knife
For me, the Swiss Army style of knife has always been a part of camping. The array of models available these days is a bit overwhelming. You can get everything from a magnifying glass to a USB drive on your knife. But the more toys attached to a knife, the heavier it gets.

For my money, the best tools to have on a camping knife of this type are a good blade (all come with 1-2 small blades), a saw for cutting small branches (the knife blades are too small for this) and an awl for punching holes and making small repairs to packs or other gear.

Of course, the can opener can be useful if you cook from cans, and the corkscrew seems to be unavoidable for some reason! The tweezers can also come in handy, although they are not the most effective tweezers around. Usually they'll do in a pinch when a sliver of wood is making life miserable.

Swiss Army knives are probably not great survival tools with their small, easily dulled blades. But their small size, light weight and low price will probably keep them at the top of the popularity charts for most campers and hikers. And as long as nothing goes too badly wrong - they'll certainly do the trick.

Of course a knife is only as good as it is sharp, so in a future post I'll talk about how to sharpen a knife.

23 comments:

BG! said...

It's not often that I carry any knife for the wildcamping that we do over here in the UK - but I do carry some razor-sharp surgical scissors in the first-aid kit and these can be used for all sorts of stuff when the need arises.

When out on a back-to-basics survival trip, however, I carry one of these >>> http://www.tramontina.com.br/products/3788-hunting-knife

:-)

Mark said...

I also like the swiss army knives myself. They have a little bit of everything for a handful of uses (pun intended). Although I doubt I'll be needing it for my hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro, I'll probably carry it just incase. Check out my adventure travel blog at AdventureTravelBlog.org!

Mark said...

I also like the swiss army knives myself. They have a little bit of everything for a handful of uses (pun intended). Although I doubt I'll be needing it for my hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro, I'll probably carry it just incase. Check out my adventure travel blog at AdventureTravelBlog.org!

Julie said...

there is this Chinese shovel that is so amazing. Only one tool but with so many functions. it can used for digging, can opener, cutting woods, metal, wire and even used in food preparation. I was surprised it can also be used for climbing. Nice. It is indeed a complete tool and it is so handy and it might replace a lot of bulky tools during camping.

Ruben said...

I'm excited about the new Bear Grylls knife by Gerber. It's a fixed blade knife with a really cool sheath.

Dan said...

I got this Swiss Army Knife that I'd been using for years now and it’s been very helpful in all my camping adventure. I always keep it in my list.

Rich said...

Like this blog.I always find it handy to have a knife on hand while camping.Its seems like I always using mine for something.

TJRIDE said...

I love the multi-tool. You may not use all the parts all the time but all of the parts come in handy some of the time! I have even started using a small one as a key chain.

Chico Sports Ltd said...

Love this Blog. Great tips for camping and hiking enthusiasts. I Carry a swiss army knife whenever i'm out on my adventures. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Smith & Wesson also have good knives, e.g. the Smith & Wesson Bullseye Search and Rescue Fixed Blade Knife

More info at: http://best-gear.org/smith-wesson-cksur1-bullseye-search-and-rescue-fixed-blade-knife/

Anonymous said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

Tom Cole said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

Tom Cole said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

Tom Cole said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

Tom Cole said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

Tom Cole said...

I think the Swiss Army Knives are the most successful tool-box-in-your-pocket design yet.

My knife has a magnifying glass which, with the tweezers, is great for removing splinters. You can also start a campfire with a magnifying glass. I don't use the corkscrew for anything but a holder for my glasses screwdriver (available from SAK).

The only thing my Leatherman's has over a SAK is pliers. Otherwise I don't use it.

dave said...

I carry a Swiss Army Pocket Knife when I camp every time. I also have a few other folding knives that I take but those ones are just for fun. I've carried one ever since I got my first one on my 6th birthday and I actually got a Swiss Army Knife tattooed on my leg. ( so it is always with me! :) If you want any help choosing a pocket knife for camping, I have a guide to help you choose the best pocket knife. GREAT article and happy camping everyone!

Andre Raul said...

Thank you for sharing This nice post.... I thing, Single folding blade is comfortable for pocket...

Best Survival Knife

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Morila said...

Awesome article! I prefer folding knife to fixed blade knife. I'm always looking for best folding knife in the market. These days, I'm using kershaw 1990 model, and this is enough to make me satisfied.

Anonymous said...

I like to take a full tang knife when I go camping and hiking like a Esee 4 good for food prep and great for making fires and is lighter than a axe. I also like to take a leatherman multi tool for fixing the camp stove or using the pliers to lift pots or water bottles out of the fire from boiling water and the saws work very well also and the small blades are good for wittling wood and small tasks and the scissors would come in handy in a first aid situation. And it's always nice to be able to pop the cap off of a nice cold corona while in the bush.