Coghlan's Camp Knife
In the 1980s, Opinel folding knives were a camping…
Price Paid: $12
In the 1980s, Opinel folding knives were a camping store fad in North America, and I fell for them hook line and sinker. Since then, I've always had at least one. While Opinel's US distribution has been spotty through the years, Coghlans, the Canadian supplier of small camping gear has offered them, blister packed on their familiar green cardboard.
Opinels, whether sold by Opinel or Coghlans, are inexpensive workhorses and because they don't cost a mint, if your knife gets lost or beat up, it's not the end of the world. But the main reason I like them are: 1) they're made from uncommonly good steel and take a great edge, and 2) they're pretty -- not menacing like the "tactical" knives you see in stores now.
The basic single blade knife is available in many sizes from key-ring version to large enough to carve a turkey. They're made differently than standard folding knives in that there is no spring to snap the blade open and closed. The blade flops around, but has a rotating lock that holds the blade firmly open for use, or closed for storage.
Not having a spring takes a little getting used to, but you won't miss it for long, as the blade's lock ring is really slick. The handle is made from a single piece of hardwood with a groove cut down the center to store the blade.
Most Opinel handles are varnished beechwood, but more decorative variations are painted, or made using exotic wood, such as olive, walnut or bubinga. Some Opinels have a loop of cord or leather lace to hang off a belt loop or lanyard, but most do not. Sorry, no thumb stud. It generally takes two hands to open this knife, so it would be a poor choice for a one-armed camper. All other users should be able to open this knife with little difficulty.
The number 8 is sized about right for an adult, my kids have the smaller number 7s. Models are available with blades made of stainless steel (marked INOX), or carbon steel. The carbon steel blades hold an edge better than stainless blades and are easier to sharpen. The carbon blades, however, will rust if not dried immediately after getting wet.
Either blade holds an edge much better than a Swiss Army knife. Some tactical knives may use fancier alloys that hold an edge better than an Opinel, but I bet you can't buy them for $12 (the cost of a typical Opinel).
Knife collectors love to hate Opinels and make a lot of noise on the internet about their many perceived faults. This snobbery is nothing unique: if you ride a $4,000 bicycle, you're probably too cool for someone who rides a $1,200 bicycle. If you have a gold trimmed Mont Blanc pen in your shirt pocket, you probably hate Bic ballpoints.
It's the same with knife collectors. Opinels are cheap and utilitarian, so the guys who treat their knives like jewelry don't see much to like. This is not your problem. Used sensibly, an Opinel will serve you well for a long time.
In the United States, you can find Opinels in some camping stores packaged and sold by Coghlans. Otherwise, go to Amazon or www.opiknife.com. I have no connection to Opinel, Coghlans or their dealers. I just like the knives.