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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. gerberlover // March 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    i have a gerber bolt action knife my dad gave to me, it’s 25+ years old and he only had to sharpen it once. it holds an edge well and is very durable i reccomend GERBER legendary blades as a knife choince

  2. if you do whitling alot get a knife with a lock. a regular one could slip a chop off your finger.

  3. unforunately, the gear guy doesnt mention that most troops forbid fixed blades. not all, but most.

  4. I love my leatherman charge al.

  5. i already have a Victorianox multi-tool, but this is the great for anyone who does not have knife yet

  6. Survivorman wanna be // March 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm // Reply

    I just got a Buck Multi-tool,and it is great.The blade is 3 inches and razor sharp.It is really comfortable to hold and I guess that it will serve me well.I payed 30 dollars for it and has a rugged sheath.Blade open it is 7inches long and 4inches closed,overall. I think that it,the unit was a good investment.What I really like about it is that it feels comfortable to wear it on the waist.The Buck Multi-tool is comprised of Screwdriver,Pliers,Sissors,and a 3inch razor sharp blade.It weighs about half a pound.Maybe,a little less,I do not know for sure.This is a good buy for sure,and I would recamend it for sure.

  7. ruko is the way to go i have used them at every camp i go to they have durible blades and long lasting sharpness.

  8. Super Randy // March 3, 2009 at 11:57 am // Reply

    I have a Leatherman Surge. It’s really cool because it can almost anything and all the attachments lock. I use it for everything. It weighs about as much as a brick though.

  9. I have Buck Prince and it is nice

  10. life long camper // March 1, 2009 at 8:08 pm // Reply

    You are able to open most (if not all) GERBER multi-tools to the pliers function with one hand. This Is a very useful feature when one hand is holding something else. I have not seen this is any other multi tool. My GERBER is 10+ years old and with me every day. I have needed replacement sheathes and a latch mechanism replaced which GERBER shipped to me with out cost. I was able to replace latch myself but they offered to do so with out cost for me. I would recomend this multi tool to anyone.
    As for pocket knives there is only one choice for a durable unit, a VICTIORINOX swiss army knife. Also owned and carried daily by me for too many years to count.

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