Camping Knife Quick Guide
If you click and purchase with one of our links, we earn a commission. Thanks.
I was recently asked what was the best knife for camping. And here is how I responded based on my experience and research.
If you are only car-camping or staying in prepared campgrounds, the only knife they will need is a multi-tool like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army Knife. They contain other tools in them that are often needed more than a blade. If you are going into the backcountry then you should also have a full-tang fixed-blade knife.
There are a variety of knives for different situations. How do you know which knife to choose?
The Best General Camping Knife
For the novice camper, when they think of a camping knife, they envision Rambo’s famous blade. This knife is so famous, that in the last Rambo movie (which might be the last Rambo movie), the final scene features it spectacularly (Rambo: Last Blood is one of my top 3 favorite movies. And the only Rambo movie on that list).
However, it’s a movie knife.
Before Rambo, the most famous “survival” knife would have been the Bowie knife. This is a knife made famous by Texas hero Jim Bowie. Unlike the Rambo knife, the Bowie knife was a real knife.
And it’s even larger than the Rambo knife. But it was created for a different era and for a different purpose. The Bowie knife was used for hunting, processing wood, processing game and protection.
I tend to think of the Bowie knife as a type of frontier machete.
And you can still buy Bowie knives. We have an article on how to choose a hand-forged Bowie knife. But I wouldn’t use this as my camping knife.
For most people, you are going to be going on car-camping trips to a prepared campground.
Thus you are not going to need to process a tree to create a shelter or fight off a bear.
In fact, you could go on an entire camping trip and never even need a blade.
This is why we would recommend that you go with a pocket-knife with a locking folding blade such as a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife.
Everyone has their preference.
The benefit of the Leatherman is that it is a true multi-tool including items such as a pair of pliers.
A Swiss Army Knife won’t have the pliers but will come with a toothpick and tweezers. The tweezers are handy for picking out splinters, stingers, and ticks.
Both will have bottle openers. And that tool will be used more than your blade on the average adult weekend camping trip.
But it’s good to have a reliable knife for various camping tasks. Such as opening up food packages, shaving any kindling, cutting cordage or just whittling for fun.
Best Camping Knife For Food Prep
We’re in a modern era. And most people will car camp with a tent. And most of the remaining campers will be bringing their RV.
We’re not going to have to trap our food and process it.
The closest you will get to that is if you’re fishing and need to filet your catch.
If you are a hunter and want to eat your kill, that’s awesome, but we’re not going to cover how to process that in this article.
If you are car-camping, you have the luxury of carrying more gear. Even if you are traveling in a small vehicle. This includes the ability to bring a camping kitchen setup.
Because the most common reason for you to need any type of cutting tool while camping is going to be for cooking.
Camp cooking can be as simple or as complicated at home. While many people, in particular first-time campers, like to stick to hot dogs, canned tuna and s’mores you are not limited to this type of simple menu.
You can pretty much make anything while camping just as you would at home, just as long as you have the right tools and ingredients.
But a common meal is a form of our Cowboy/Cowgirl Supper. Which will involve cubing vegetables and cutting up some meat.
Thus what I would recommend for this is to bring along a traditional chef knife like you use at home. This will make chopping up the food easier and safer for you than trying to repurpose your Swiss Army Knife or your full-tang camping knife.
Instead, you will keep your Swiss Army Knife around for paring an apple for a snack while watching the sunset over the lake.
Why Would You Need A Fixed Blade?
As we have said, earlier, most of y’all will be going car camping. In particular, as beginners. This is because camping is a form of a relaxing holiday.
Not trying to prove you can survive against Mother Nature like Daniel Boone.
However, if you are going to be venturing into the backcountry then you will want to make sure you have reliable cutting tools.
Your multitool or pocket knife should be part of that kit. It’s easy to carry and while you might not use the blade, the other tools (such as the bottle opener :) ) will provide value.
In seriousness, if you get stung by a bee and need to pull the stinger out, you will be happy that you have those tweezers in your Swiss Army Knife.
Plus if you bring along a pocket knife as well as your fixed blade, you can use the fixed blade for general cutting tasks. While only using your pocket knife for when you need a super-sharp and precise blade.
When we’re in the backcountry, you will end up using your knife for all sorts of tasks such as batoning wood. Batoning wood is where we use our knife to split wood by pushing the knife into the wood and then clubbing it with another tree limb. Or a rock.
Thus you want a knife that can take abuse that a pocket-knife can’t.
Which is why you want a full-tang fixed blade knife. A full-tang knife means that it’s a single piece of steel. The handle is wrapped around that piece of steel. This makes for a very strong knife.
Leave The Axe Bring A Saw
Survival expert Dave Canterbury talks about in his basic course that you should avoid bringing an axe. At least when first starting out.
Axes are heavy and have a great deal of forward momentum. Which increases the chance for an accident.
I had a friend in high school cut his foot with an axe. He nearly lost his toe.
This is why instead if you believe you will need to process wood, then bring a folding saw.
While a pocket knife is handy, you might find scissors even handier.
This is because if you are car camping or even backpacking on a popular trail, you are unlikely to need a knife very often.
If we think about this it makes sense. On most camping trips you are going to bring everything with you. You are not going to have to create a shelter out of found materials.
And unless you’re trying to show off for a friend or just for practice, you’re not going to need to start a fire with a Ferro rod. You’re going to use a lighter or matches.
Even if you want to get started with learning survival skills, we’re going to start with a kit. And you are unlikely to still need a knife. After all, most “survival” situations are not life and death situations
Rather a night of “inconvenient camping”.
Meanwhile, look at what we will most likely need to use a cutting tool for on a camping trip outside of chopping up vegetables.
It’s most likely opening up plastic packages. Even on a backpacking trip, you’re most likely only opening up packages.
Thus don’t forget to bring along scissors too. They’re easier and safer to use for opening up packages than a knife.
Best Wood Carving Knife
If you are going to go camping at some point you might want to take up wood carving.
In Boy Scouts, did simple carving. Such as making our small arrow for Order of the Arrow. And our neckerchief holder.
But there’s lots of simple and fun things you can create.
There’s several books and YouTube videos on this.
One of the smaller Swiss Army Knives would be great for wood carving.
Make Sure To Take Care Of Your Knives
According to the 2020 Housewares Census, 29% of Americans do not sharpen their knives.
Taking proper care of your knife will extend the life of the knife and a sharp knife is a safer knife.