A quality knife or multitool is one of the handiest things you can carry in your pack. It’ll help you spread peanut butter, carve a tent stake, fillet a rainbow trout, maybe even save your life. But you have to pick the right tool for the job.
Outdoor survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt will show you how.
There are several types of knives. Kummerfeldt’s favorite, fixed blades, are no-nonsense knives with a beefy handle and stationary blade.
“You need a knife to accomplish the everyday tasks you come across in the outdoors, from whittling on things and cutting materials to spreading peanut butter on your sandwiches,” he says. “And a short, no more than four-inch-long, fixed-blade knife will accomplish all of that.” Avoid large sheath knives; they are heavy and awkward to carry.
Then there are all-purpose folding pocketknives. Most come with tools such as a can opener, screwdriver, tweezers and, of course, knife blades — all in one compact package. Though they can be extremely handy, Kummerfeldt says a downside is the knife blade doesn’t lock into place, so it may fold up on your hand while you’re using it.
Lockbacks are simple folding knives with a single blade that can be locked. So you get the benefits of a sturdy fixed blade-style knife but in a convenient pocket-size package that can be folded open with just one hand.
You’ll also find specialty knives such as river rescue knives with serrated blades for slicing rope, whittling knives designed for carving wood, and multitools, which are compact, handheld tool boxes. Most are built around a pair of folding pliers.
Most blades are made from strong and durable stainless steel. Blades are available in straight edge, serrated (jagged like a saw) or both. Bigger is not always better. A small, sharp four-inch-or-smaller blade can cut just as well as bigger knives but is much safer to handle and easier to maneuver in tight spots.
Price and quality
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a quality tool.
“My $15 knife does everything I want it to do,” Kummerfeldt says.
As prices go up, you’ll see small improvements in the quality and size of the blade.
Care and maintenance
“The only good knife is a sharp knife,” Kummerfeldt says. “A blunt knife requires you to put so much force on it that it could slip, and you could drive the blade into your leg.”
As needed, run the edge of your blade across a sharpening stone a few times. Wipe the tool clean after every use and lubricate any hinges with a light oil like WD-40.
Kummerfeldt says the smartest, safest place to stash your knife is in an easy-access spot in your backpack. You’re asking for trouble by wearing a fixed-blade knife on your belt. If you fall, the knife could rotate inward and you could land right on the blade.
What’s hot (updated November 2014)
You did it! You finally earned your Whittling Chip or Totin’ Chip, and your parents gave you the green light to get a new knife. Now’s the really tough part: figuring out which one you should get. There’s a dizzying number of options out there, but your Gear Guy did the shopping for you to bring you eight great and affordable knives and multitools.
The BSA Supply Four-Inch Multitool ($40; scoutstuff.org) includes a nifty LED flashlight and 11 different implements, including two knife blades, a couple of screwdrivers, a saw and pliers. This cool tool also features the BSA logo on its rubberized handle. Weight: 10 ounces.
While not exactly a knife or a multitool, at just five bucks and less than half an ounce, this tiny little tool packs a lot of punch. The stainless steel Nite Ize DoohicKey ($5; niteize.com) includes a screwdriver, wrench, box cutter and more, and is a great key chain. Weight: 0.4 ounces.
A simple, high-quality lockback folder, the SOG AutoClip ($30; sogknives.com) features a 3.5-inch-long straight-edge stainless steel blade with a grippy nylon handle. Weight: 3 ounces. For about $7 less, you can get the AutoClip Mini with a shorter 2.68-inch blade. Weight: 1.7 ounces.
The Gerber Bear Grylls Compact II ($21; gerbergear.com) has a 2.6-inch fine-edge locking blade with an extra grippy and durable rubberized handle that’s easy to hold on to even in wet conditions. And it’s so lightweight, you won’t even notice it in your pack. Weight: 1 ounce.
Many outdoorsmen swear by sturdy fixed-blade knives, but Mom and Dad might not always agree. That’s why the birchwood-handled Morakniv Classic Scout 39 Safe ($28; moraofsweden.se) is a good choice. It has a rounded tip and finger protection for safety and stays put inside its black leather sheath. Weight: 2.4 ounces.
The Spyderco Clipitool Serrated Blade ($40; spyderco.com) is a handy stainless steel folder with a pair of 2-inch-long blades: One is plain-edged, while the other is serrated for easy cutting of cords and strings. Weight: 1.8 ounces.
If you’re a bike lover, then you’ll love the BioLogic FixKit Multitool ($35; thinkbiologic.com). This lightweight tool includes 20 tools for fixing bicycles, including lots of wrenches and screwdrivers. Comes with a neoprene cover and fits in your saddlebag or pocket. Weight: 5.6 ounces.
This classic compact folder looks a lot like a knife that my grandfather always seemed to have in his pocket. The L.L.Bean Double L Pocket Knife, One Blade ($20; llbean.com) is equipped with a rosewood handle and a 2-inch stainless steel clip blade. Comes with a leather sheath. Weight: 3 ounces.
Come mealtime, you’ll be glad you carry the BSA Hobo from W.R. Case. In addition to a Tru-Sharp surgical steel knife, you also get a fork and spoon, all easily detachable for use and cleaning. The Navy Blue Bone model ($95; wrcase.com) is aimed at collectors, but you can find models that retail for around $55. Weight: 7.7 ounces.
Swiss army knives are time-tested favorites, and this new update on the classic is a good bet. The Victorinox Swiss Army EvoGrip 11 ($40; swissarmy.com) has grippy rubber inlaid handles and nine handy tools, including a 2.5-inch blade, three screwdrivers, a can opener, tweezers and more. Weight: 2.15 ounces.