The best knife for backwoods camping is really not just one knife. It’s a collection of 2 or 3 knives like a fillet knife and a carving knife and perhaps a few more.
However, for the purpose of this article, the best single knife that a backwoods camper can have for most camp and camping chores is a knife that resembles a kitchen knife but is shorter and more stout and sturdy for additional camp tasks like batoning or splitting wood.
Let’s take a deeper look into what knives are actually the best for outdoor tasks and why! Let’s also look at why the types of knives you’ve been led to believe are the best, are actually nowhere near “the best” and why you should steer clear of them.
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Do You Need a Knife While Wilderness Camping?
In a word, YES, you need a knife. There is no implement that offers so much versatility for such a low cost and small footprint. Your knife will be needed for countless tasks like cutting cord, cleaning fish, carving stakes for your tent, or for campfire hot dogs.
It may be used for helping remove a hook from your clothing or skin or helping re-organized a tangled bird’s nest of fishing line. It will remove fishing lures from your line when necessary and it will spread peanut butter.
A knife will be used to open your soup or meal pouches and slice tomatoes, while also being used for clearing brush, splitting kindling, shaving tinder or digging for roots in case of extreme survival conditions. Of course, I haven’t even talked about opening food cans or even self-defense from a rabid coyote!
Need I continue?
…you’ll conclude that you need two knives for camping: a thin-ground, kitchen-style model for preparing foods and a substantial multipurpose folder of some sort.Cliff Jacobson – Author and Outdoor Camping and Canoeing Legend
What Knife Should You Take Camping?
For reasons unknown, knives have a special air and mystical aura about them, and they draw much controversy and discussion amongst knife enthusiasts. For the inexperienced camper, it’s easy to give in to the visual allure of a RAMBO-style military slasher knife and assume if it’s good for military assault purposes, it’s good for everything.
In fact, the best knife to take into the woods is typically a fixed blade, tame-looking knife with a thin 3 to 5-inch blade and a flat grind profile (and a thin blade top to bottom which makes food slicing easier). This is perhaps the most versatile and reliable outdoor knife for backwoods campers.
A great example of this would be a Morakniv Outdoor 2000 fixed blade knife. It’s sturdy, and has a fixed blade that’s nearly perfect in length for most camp uses.
Morakniv Outdoor 2000 Fixed Blade Knife with Sandvik Stainless Steel 4.3-inch Blade. It’s a great combination of all-around utility and a camp kitchen knife
What I Think a Good Camp Knife Should Look Like
This Rambo-style slasher is what many inexperienced campers think is the best knife for outdoors camping. It’s tough and aggressive-looking, so what’s not to like?
What a Truly Good Camp Knife Actually Looks Like
This great-quality knife is built well, light has a sharp, hard blade, and is narrow top to bottom for ease of slicing foods. It’s far better suited to all camp tasks aside from wrestling a bear (in which case pepper spray is a far more effective weapon!)
An aggressive, military-style knife may look cool, but it’s not practical for slicing an apple or spreading jam. It’s also dangerous and unwieldy for opening a dehydrated noodle soup pouch. It also will not move through any food product with the ease of a narrow, less aggressive-looking blade (try slicing a peach with Rambo’s knife)!
In addition to being easy to carry, a narrow blade is good for filleting fish, slicing any food with ease, scraping inside a jar or spreading anything, and then being very easy to clean.
What About Bringing More Than One Knife on a Wilderness Camping Trip?
Now we’re talking! Most campers have the ability to bring, and have the inventory to choose from, more than just one knife, and that’s the best option. You SHOULD bring at least 2 knives and 3 would be better.
Here is my personal ultimate knife kit that I bring for most week-long wilderness canoe trips.
On most trips, I bring all 3 of these knives. The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 folding knife, an old Normark fillet knife (because I don’t need to buy a newer, shinier model yet) and a modified kitchen knife called the Hunt Plus by Ontario Knife Company.
If my trip won’t involve a lot of fishing, or I won’t be needing fish for food, I leave my fillet knife at home (though it’s the best for cutting packages and food).
My Spyderco is the one I use for 90% of my tasks, while the Hunt Plus is a perfect knife for batoning to make kindling for fires, or slicing food.
As a rule, I generally like knives with a full flat grind. That just means that the taper from the spine to the cutting edge is a straight, flat taper that does not have a concave or convex curve of any kind.
They work well, are easy to clean and in my experience, hold their shape and edge better than other grind styles.
What Type of Steel Should Camping Knives Have?
As a general rule of thumb, the harder the steel, the better! Though hard steel will maintain its edge longer, it’s also more difficult and time-consuming to sharpen.
While just about any steel will do the trick, a Rockwell Hardness rating (HRC) of 60 or higher is best. That ensures a hard steel that will hold its edge (assuming it’s sharp to start) through any wilderness trip.
The Hunt Plus has a rating of closer to 57 HRC and the Spyderco is rated at 58-61 HRC.
Fixed Blade vs. Folding Blade. Which Should I Get?
While a fixed blade with a full tang is the most durable blade, it’s not always the lightest, most convenient, and easiest to carry. Folding blades offer versatility, great quality, and very compact storage and weight advantages.
A full tang refers to the actual blade steel extending through to the back of the handle in one piece so there is no mechanism attaching the blade to the handle – it’s the same, uncut piece of steel.
You can see why this is a strong and very durable construction technique. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, you can’t have a folding blade knife with a full tang. Those qualities are mutually exclusive.
However, a good-quality folder is what I like to carry most often and I’ve never been disappointed.
Fixed Blade Advantages
- Construction makes it virtually problem-free (no mechanisms)
- Blade never gets loose or twists or plays side-to-side
- Usually has a handle that is much more suited to grabbing firmly
- Easier to maintain
- Usually have a longer blade (if that’s important in your circumstances)
- Can be used where folders cannot (ie. batoning, prying, digging, splitting, etc.)
- Much longer lifespan assuming heavy usage on both types of knives
Folding Blade Advantages
- Lighter to carry than a fixed blade
- Smaller and more discreet to carry than a fixed blade
- Can be used for all but the roughest tasks
- Unless the fixed blade knife is very small, folders usually are better for more precise and intricate tasks.
How Much Should I Spend on a Good Camping Knife?
While it’s possible to use even the cheapest knife for $10 to accomplish basic tasks like opening a soup package, it’s best to consider a high-quality knife that will last many lifetimes and never let you down. Such knives will cost anywhere from $30 to over $300.
I also love the SOG Bladelight Fillet knife which is available on Amazon currently.
For a good brand that will not disappoint, look for names like Spyderco, Benchmade, Pro-tech, Kershaw, Zero Tolerance, Boker, SOG, and Ontario Knife Company.
There are hundreds of very good brands and some are needlessly expensive unless you’re an avid collector. But for most outdoor enthusiasts, the brands I just mentioned are all trustworthy.
Serrated or Non-Serrated Blades? Which is Better?
Serrated blades are meant for one thing – sawing! This may be helpful in some conditions like quickly cutting a rope, but overall, it’s best to avoid knives with serrated blades.
They make a mess of most things they cut like bread, sausage, and fruit. Cleaning them is often a tedious and unnecessarily difficult task compared to a regular blade with a flat grind.
If you think about an average day on your wilderness excursion, you’ll be splitting wood, shaving fire tinder, slicing meat, cheese, or fruits/vegetables, filleting a fish, prying a fish hook, spreading jam, cutting fishing line, trimming fingernails and more!
How is one knife supposed to accomplish all those tasks well? The answer is – IT CAN’T. Every expert I’ve researched and every book I’ve read in preparation for this article leads me to the one bit of advice I’ll leave you with:
BRING MORE THAN ONE KNIFE!