Best Knife For Backpacking
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40 million Americans camp every year. 10 million of these campers will go on at least one backpacking trip. A backpacking trip is where you hike at least a quarter-mile from your vehicle to your campsite. You must carry every with you to your campsite. One essential item to carry with you on a backpacking trip is a knife. For the average, backpacker who is going to be within 10 miles of their vehicle on a well-marked trail, the only knife they need to carry is a quality pocket knife such as the Swiss-Army One-Handed Trekker. However, the best knife for you to carry on a backpacking trip will depend upon the type of camping you plan to do and your skill.
The backpacking knife that you want to bring with you on a camping trip must be based on a personal assessment of what you expect to encounter on your adventure. And you should evaluate the tools you wish to bring along based on the type of cutting you think you will be doing.
Because that is the purpose of a knife, as a cutting tool. But a knife is not the only possible cutting tool you might want to use. For example, when opening up packages of freeze-dried food, it is often simpler and safer to use a pair of scissors instead of a knife. Meanwhile, processing a long-limb into firewood, a saw is a better option than a knife.
On the other-hand, dicing up vegetables it’s better to use a knife.
Thus when considering what cutting tools to bring on a backpacking trip, I want to consider the types of cutting I could do. And more importantly, the likelihood I will actually need to do this type of cutting.
The Types of Cutting
- Food preparation including opening packages
- Cutting cordage or cloth
- Making Fire
- Building Shelter
- Creating bowls and other camp-tools
Now, let’s look more in-depth on each type of cutting and when we would use it.
This is the most common use of a knife on a camping trip, including while backpacking. However, when we are car camping, you are more willing to do dicing and chopping of your meats and vegetables.
Backpacking meals are more likely to be prepared before we hit the trail. Thus, while technically we could chop up our vegetables for a backpacking meal, it is very rare. Instead, pre-packaged foods such as ramen or free-dried meals from companies like Mountain House are more popular.
These foods only require hot water and don’t require additional preparation.
However, you might want to bring along a summer sausage or cheese to eat instead of packaged foods. If so, then a knife would be handy to cut off a hunk for your meals.
Cutting Cordage Or Cloth
When setting up camp, you might need to create a ridgeline for your hammock or adjust the guidelines for your rainfly.
Or perhaps, you wish to hang a tarp to provide shade while on a summer camping trip. If so, you might need to cut cordage such as a paracord.
In a First-Aid or survival situation, you might need to cut strips off a t-shirt to fashion a bandage or tinder to get a fire started.
You don’t always make a campfire while on a backpacking trip. There are many reasons for this.
First, after a long day of hiking, you will probably find yourself too tired to want to find wood, light the fire and keep it going through the night. And there is no technical reason to have a campfire.
You will bring along a backpacking stove such as a Jetboil to cook your food and heat water.
Everyone should have at least 1 quality headlamp for lighting.
And your clothing plus sleep system will keep you warm.
Thus we only make a campfire if we wish to setup a “party” fire to hang out with fellow backpackers. And even if we want to have a bonfire to hang around at night, we might not be able to have a campfire due to burn bans.
But if you do want a campfire, a knife can be useful in helping get a fire lit.
The most common use for a fire with a backpacking knife will be making your tender bundle. For example, creating a pile of wood shavings or manufacturing a feather stick that will be used to catch the initial spark.
You might also baton wood to make it smaller so that that it’s easier to light and so that the fire will last longer. However, if you think you will need to process firewood, I would bring along a folding saw or hatchet instead of having to depend upon batoning wood.
Just because you can baton wood with your knife, doesn’t mean you should baton wood with your knife.
Finally, you a knife plus a Ferro rod is a reliable emergency fire starter. I always carry a Ferro rod with me for this reason. However, I carry at least 3 different Bic liters plus a large package of waterproof matches. These are simpler to use for when you need to get a fire started.
If you are on a backpacking trip, you should bring along some type of shelter to sleep in. Most backpackers will use a tent. This could be a standard tent with tent-poles, a trekking-pole tent that uses your trekking poles instead of traditional tent poles or even a simple tarp that’s tied to a tree.
Other backpackers prefer to use a hammock system for sleeping. And if the weather is nice, some people even prefer to sleep directly under the stars which is called “cowboy camping”.
However, in an emergency situation, you might need to construct an emergency shelter from tree limbs and leaves.
A well-made fixed-blade knife is useful in this situation. Though it should be only be constructed because you need to sleep in place at night because of weather as opposed to abandoning your trip and head back home.
Creating Camp Tools
The final use for a knife while backpacking is another bushcraft skill. And that is to create bowls, spoons, and other camp tools from found wood.
This is not something you would plan to require on your average backpacking trip. It’s better to bring along your spoon, bowls, and other necessary utensils with you on your camping adventures.
Though it can be a fun diversion to learn how to fashion your own bowls out of wood that you have found on the trail. Though make sure to abide by all local regulations regarding found wood.
Types of Knives
There are many types of knives that you could choose to bring with you on a backpacking trip. Most backpackers will only bring along a single knife because as we’ve discussed earlier, there’s not much of a need for a knife on a camping trip.
Let’s now take a look at the types of knives.
These knives have 1 or more blades that are designed to fold into its handle so that you can carry it in your pocket.
The benefit of a pocket-knife is its portability. With the blade closed, it will not take up much room. And they’re useful for common tasks such as chopping vegetables, cutting cordage, processing tender or even striking a Ferro rod.
You can find pocket knives with only a single blade or multiple-blades. Multiple-blades are useful if you need to do detailed work such as whittling by the campfire.
The multi-tool is a pocket knife that includes one or more additional tools with it. Two popular examples of multi-tools are Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman.
The Swiss Army knives typically come with screw-drivers, bottle-openers, awls, small saws plus tweezers, and toothpicks.
The most distinctive Leatherman tool beyond the blade is their pliers and wire-cutters.
I am partial to the Swiss Army because of the tweezers. They are useful in removing ticks and splinters.
I also find Leatherman too heavy to carry in my pocket and if I bring one along, it will stay in my pack. Meanwhile, my Swiss Army Knife is a trusted pocket companion.
Fixed Blade Knife
A fixed blade knife means the knife does not fold. Instead, you keep the blade in a sheath typically on your belt.
Fixed blade knives are best used for extensive processing of wood and game. You want to make sure that your fixed-blade knife is forged from a single piece of steel which is referred to as full-tang.
The handle is then wrapped around the metal. This results in a strong blade that is unlikely to break under heavy use. If you use a fixed blade knife that is not full-tang, it is possible to break the blade at the handle risking injury or death. Neck Knife
A neck knife is a type of fixed-blade knife that is carried in a sheath that is attached to a necklace so that you can carry it around your neck.
The blades are smaller. Backpackers like them because they’re easier to carry with a pack than a fixed-blade on your hip.
A survival knife is a slang term for a fixed-blade knife that is intended to be used for bushcraft and other survival skills such as batoning wood.
Backpack Knife Buying Guide
Which knife to carry is a personal decision. Each person will have their own personal preference based on a combination of skill and experience.
But there are four primary ways you can evaluate when buying a knife for your next backpacking trip.
How Do You Expect To Use Your Knife?
The most important question to know the answer to is how you plan to use your knife. Most people who are going on a backpacking trip are not planning for a bushcraft wilderness survival adventure.
Rather, they plan to hike a couple of miles and setup camp. They often won’t even light a campfire. Thus they have very simple needs for a knife. Most men will feel confident with nothing more than a multi-tool.
However, I know women who feel better carrying a neck-knife. While crime in the backcountry is rare, having a sharp blade that can be easily drawn will add further deterrence to any would-be stranger they encounter on the trail.
However, if you do wish to be ready for any type of wilderness survival (and you have the proper training) then it would make sense to invest in a full-tang fixed-blade knife.
Once you know how you expect to use your knife, then the next step is to determine the type of blade you want. This would start with a fixed-blade vs a folding blade such as a pocket knife.
Because we have to carry everything with us on a backpacking trip, you have to keep track of the weight that you carry. I do not want you to become obsessed with weight.
This is my biggest pet peeve because backpackers who become obsessed with grams I believe have a tendency to sacrifice comfort and sometimes safety as if backpacking is a video game.
I recommend you carry a quality multi-tool. Whether this is a Swiss-Army or a Leatherman is up to you. They are both quality products and will serve you well.
Our Favorite Knives
Best Folding Blade Pocket Knife
Best Fixed Blade
Best Neck Knife
Do You Need A Multi-tool For Backpacking?
Yes. It is important to have a multi-tool with you on a backpacking trip as an insurance tool. You might need to open up a package of ramen, cut some rope to fix a tent guideline, or use the tweezers to remove a tick.
What Is The Best Knife For Outdoor Survival?
The specific make and model is a personal choice. I prefer the Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife. It has a nice weight and because the blade is forged from a single piece of steel, it can take a beating.
However, it is important to remember, most backpacking trips are not bushcraft adventures. They’re weekend vacation getaways and at the first sign of serious trouble, you should plan to bug-out and go home.
The survival knife is in case of an emergency such as you get separated from your group and you split carrying your tent. Thus you need to make an improvised shelter to keep dry during the night.
What Is The Best Lightweight Survival Knife For Use In The Backcountry?
The Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife is my personal favorite. The full-tang means that it is constructed from a single piece of steel with the handle attached. The sheath is lightweight and will attach to any tactical gear that complies with the MOLLE system.
What Is The Best General Purpose Knife To Carry When Hiking/Backpacking?
I prefer the Victorinox Swiss Army One-Hand Trekker. This is a classic Swiss Army knife with a locking blade that you can open up with one-hand. While you are unlikely to need a screwdriver on a backpacking trip, the tweezers are good to have for First Aid applications.