Getting your first knife is one of those cool life events that makes you feel grown up. But knives are more than self-affirming pieces of personal property. You’ll use one in the backcountry for everything from slicing cheese to cleaning fish (and so much more).
The size and design of your knife — whether its blade is fixed or folding — should be determined by how you’ll use it. Here is some advice, along with seven knives that are best of class.
There are several types of knives.
All-purpose folding pocketknives are common in Scouting. 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, 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.
Fixed blades, are no-nonsense knives with a beefy handle and stationary blade. If 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, 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.
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.
FOLDING OR FIXED? KNOW THE POLICY
Before you buy a new knife, you should be familiar with state and local laws related to knives, as well as any restrictions imposed by your Scouting unit or council. When it comes to types of knives, the Guide to Safe Scouting recommends “choosing the right equipment for the job at hand.”
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. Often, an inexpensive knife will do everything you want it to do. 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. 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.
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.
JUST FOR FUN
Here are two multitools that totally break all the rules, but still, they’re really awesome.