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How to Buy a Good Pocketknife or Multitool

A good blade is essential to Scouting. Whether you’re camping, backpacking, fishing or simply preparing for your next outing, a good knife or multitool will give you an edge in the outdoors.

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 five knives that are best of class.

VICTORINOX SWISS ARMY knives come in many models, but for functionality, simplicity, weight and price, it’s hard to beat the HIKER ($26, swissarmy.com). It gives you 13 functions, including large and small blades, a Phillips screwdriver, bottle and can openers, a reamer, a wire stripper, tweezers and a wood saw. There’s a reason this small folding knife has been a classic for more than a century.

KNIFE BASICS

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.

The title “king of multitools” might belong to the LEATHERMAN WAVE+ ($100, leatherman.com). Just 4 inches long when closed and barely more than a half-pound, the Wave boasts 18 tools that all lock quickly into position. The lengthy list includes many that Scouts need often: two knives (straight and serrated), a saw, spring-action scissors, can and bottle openers, a medium screwdriver, regular and needle-nose pliers, and wire cutters. While pricier than other options, this stainless-steel tool, built with top craftsmanship, will likely last a lifetime.

FOLDING OR FIXED KNIFE? KNOW THE POLICY

Knife policies vary among packs, troops, councils and camps when it comes to what blade types and lengths are allowed. Learn your unit’s policy before buying a blade of any kind. When it comes to types of knives, the Guide to Safe Scouting recommends “choosing the right equipment for the job at hand.”

BLADES

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.

Not all folding knives demonstrate the quality of construction of the GERBER FASTBALL ($100, gerbergear.com), which becomes clear the first time you deploy it — and every time after that. Opening with a flip of the finger and locking securely whether open or closed, the 3-inch blade made of S30V steel has a consistently smooth opening and closing.

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 SOG POWERPINT ($45, sogknives.com) offers rare versatility for a such a lightweight package. Just 5 inches long and weighing barely more than 4 ounces — small enough to be unnoticeable in your pocket — it sports 18 tools, including a stainless-steel blade, a file, a hard-wire cutter, bottle and can openers, scissors, two screwdrivers and needle-nose pliers. Every tool has a locking mechanism, and most open without having to open the pliers.

CARRY IT SAFELY

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.

TREAT YOUR KNIFE WITH RESPECT

Treating pocket knives with respect not only ensures your safety, but also keeps others safe. Here are a few major no-no’s:

  • Throwing a knife
  • Using a dull or dirty blade
  • Handing a knife to someone blade first
  • Cutting while others are within your “safety circle” (arm’s length)
  • Carving into something that doesn’t belong to you
  • Cutting toward your body

Using a knife requires responsibility. Bear Scouts can start carrying a pocketknife after completing the Whittling Chip requirements. Members of Scouts BSA must earn their Totin’ Chip, which also gives them the right to carry and use axes and saws.

When the job is bigger than a conventional pocketknife can manage, step up to the BSA KICKSTART BROWN CANVAS
LAMINATE MID-FOLDING HUNTER KNIFE
($152, caseknives.com) from Case Knives. Made with a high-carbon stainless steel that holds an edge longer than conventional steel, this knife will cut, slice, carve, chop and pare — no task is too great. It also sports Case’s Kickstart technology, which lets you open the knife with one hand by simply pressing on the thumb stud. At 4 inches closed, it’ll still tuck inside most pockets.

10 Comments on How to Buy a Good Pocketknife or Multitool

  1. Benchmade knives are great. They get a little pricey, but htey do have models of $30 or less. I have a Benchmade Benchmite II knife which costs around $35.

  2. When buying a knife, choose a Swiss Army knife with the scissor tool. It can come in a lot of handy. First of all, you can use it to clip hangnails you might get when collecting wood. Also, you can use it to cut fishing line on fishing trips and twine while camping so you do not dull the actual blade. On the topic of dulling blade, DO NOT I repeat DO NOT whittle with this knife because it will dull the blade so fast you won’t know it hit you, especially if the knife is some cheap genaric brand. Thanks for listening.

  3. Don Quixote de la Mancha // December 19, 2008 at 6:14 pm // Reply

    I have two knives that I use a lot. One is an Old-style scout knife and one is a good quality swiss army knife that I bought at a day camp.

  4. I think a good survival knife should be between 4 inches and 7 inches

  5. Multitool Guru 1 // December 11, 2008 at 10:13 am // Reply

    This article is obviously somewhat outdated-especially the part where it says that multitool blades don’t lock. Maybe the wimpy Swiss Army knife blades don’t, but all the multitools I’ve ever bought have lockback blades, pliers, and screwdrivers.

  6. I have one Leatherman multi, two Gerber multis, and an El Cheapo lockblade that I picked up in Columbia. I broke the Leatherman, but you can’t beat that 25 year warranty. El Cheapo is actually my favorite, but I use multitools more often, so I carry my Gerber. The Gerber is pobably the sharpeest knife in the house- still.

  7. buck knives are they way to go

  8. I have a G 96 that my cousin gave me when we were hunting

  9. i keep a swiss camper, but prefer lockbacks. saving up for a leatherman skeletool.

  10. leatherman is the way to go wave has a 50 year warenty

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