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Choosing a knife for hiking and backpacking.

I'm a bit of a collector.  I'm not even sure how many knives I have, but certainly over two dozen.  Always looking for the next "ideal" knife for hiking and backpacking.  Here are my thoughts on choosing a knife.

Fixed or folder?  If I were dumb enough to drive a snowmobile 50 miles into the wilderness, by myself, and broke down, I'd want to have a fixed blade.  But the best knife is the one you have with you and carrying a folder is just more convenient.

Get a knife with a pocket clip.  Knife goes inside the pocket, clip goes over the top of the pocket.  Keeps the knife easy to access.

A number of states, including Colorado, have a legal concealed carry size limit of 3.5 inches.  I look for blades that are close to that but don't exceed it.  Check the law in your state or country.

I like flipper knives.  Especially ones that have ball bearing pivots.  Super easy to deploy.  Assisted flippers are great, but I'm just worried about durability.  With a ball bearing pivot there is not need for an assist.

Look for an edge that's fairly straight or has a straight section close to the handle.  I'm partial to Wharncliffe, reverse tanto, and sheepsfoot, but the best all around might be the drop point.

Most cheaper knives, and some really expensive knives, are hollow grind.  I think that either a flat grand or scandi grind are better.  I'm inclined to say the flat grind is the best all around and the scandi best for bushcraft.

You can buy a pretty nice knife for under $25, from the Knife Center, who I strongly recommend, but I would suggest spending a bit more, maybe in the $45 to $65 range. You will likely get a step up in blade steel and overall quality.  I have several knives in D2 steel.  It is pretty tough stuff without the high price tag.

Give me a plain old Opinel, convex ground, thin blade with a rounded wooden handle that is far more comfortable in real world use than flat slabs or any handle with a clip. These only cost around $14 or so and are made for and used by farmers, peasants and travelers. Many cooks use them as slice so and incredibly well. They are super light for the blade and handle length so perfect for walking around in pocket or pack. You can get them in stainless or carbon steel and many sizes from tiny to average or real honking big. I prefer the No. 7 which has a 3” blade. My beechwood/carbon steel model weighs 1.1 oz. the No. 8 is a great choice to. 

This is a great knife for actual practical use, easy to sharpen too.

There's a big difference between what is needed and what is wanted in knives. I am not a collector having only owned about four knives since the early 80s. Got no problem with knife collection, but general recommendations aren't that useful as it depends on the hiker. 

What you need depends on what you plan to use it for plus what you might need it for in a pinch. A $20.00 Gerber LST Light with a two inch blade has served me well for at least this century and I think part of last. No bushcraft for me or major cooking besides cutting things like some tomatoes, veg., or cheese (insert joke here). I've found no need for a better blade after thousands of miles and decades of hiking. Sharpening happens about once a year based on use. Some trips I barely use my knife. 

I have done just fine since cub scouts, for over 60 years, with pocket knives.  One comes on every trip.  Pocket knives have non-blade accessories, all of which I have used in the past.  I may occasionally augment the pocket knife, for example, on fishing trips I'll bring a filet knife of appropriate length for what we are catching, or a French knife for prepping fresh foods on my bougie style hiking trips.  But I don't worry about the finer aspects of knife porn, just not my thing.

The only time I hiked with a blade that you don't find around the typical household was on a Peruvian mountaineering trip, where we needed machetes to get through the jungle growth at lower elevations, on the approach to the climb.  


I too am a pocket knife guy, usually back pocket or in a sidewinder belt sheath, but I might carry a fixed blade or a multi tool when I feel one is more appropriate or I just feel like I guess I'm not real particular.

What I am particular about  is it has to be American or Canadian made and it has to be sharp...not razor sharp as I shave at home, but sharp enough to do anything I need to do readily.

Dull  knives are worthless unless you plan on throwing them at something.

Sweet. If you're looking for a recommendation, I find Ontario knives to be a great value. Mostly flat grinds though, full-height or otherwise, but with above-average quality control and build quality.

As Ed mentions, additional tools are welcome. I also use a lightweight pocket saw, and swap out a knife for a safety blade if I think it makes sense for a given trip.

I stopped carrying a knife years ago. I don't hunt, fish, bushcraft, or prep food on the trail and have found that a pair of super lightweight (7g) titanium sewing scissors work much better for my cutting needs. I also carry a straight-edge razor blade just in case. Since switching to this approach I've never once found myself in a situation where I wished I had a knife.

So the question of choosing a knife should include consideration of whether you need a knife at all.

Carried a SAK for many years - a quite useful tool, often for the accessories provided along with the blade.  Then I switched to the first Leatherman model, even better with the pliers.I now usually EDC a Skeletool and sometimes a Wave, with accessories if I am around machinery.  I also carry a SAK Classic, mostly for the scissors.

For a knife, it is hard to justify spending more than what is necessary to acquire a Mora - an excellent value.

Knives are basic tools and have been in our tool kits for thousands of years.  We made the big jump long ago, shifting from stone to metal

For cutting things, a simple and very inexpensive opinel #5 or #6 is fine. inexpensive, easy to sharpen, weighs next to nothing, has a locking ring that keeps the blade from accidentally folding. it has some meaningful shortcomings, though.

first, it's carbon steel, not stainless, so if you don't take care of the blade, it will accumulate corrosion. dry the blade and occasionally use a rag to wipe some mineral oil on it.

second, it's a non-textured wood handle. it gets very slippery when wet (I have a nice scar on my thumb to prove it), and when the wood gets wet, it can get fairly tough to fold and unfold the blade.

consequently, I prefer knives with handles (or scales) that have some texture and grippiness, and all things equal, stainless steel is lower maintenance.

fixed vs. folding, to me that's largely personal preference. if you need easy access, folding knife with a clip. if you don't care, a good fixed blade in a sheath in your backpack. 

favorite fixed blade knife is fallkniven's F1 with a stainless blade and a vinyl/rubber handle. favorite folding knife is a spyderco paramilitary 2 - I particularly like the liner lock along the spine rather than between the blade and my fingers, and it has grippy G10 scales and a big thumb hole to open and close it with gloves on. finally, if you are in/around the water, particularly if you raft, invest in a NRS knife. they're blunt-point so you won't accidentally poke a hole in anything, usually have a smooth sharp edge on one side and serrated on the other, and the sheaths easily attach to most flotation vests. bonus, the handle usually has a built in bottle opener.   

This is the first time out of countless users I have heard that someone finds an Opinel slippery. I use on every time I cook and get them soaking wet, thousands of times, no scars. Perhaps the tiny size you have chosen is to blame. I am not happy with a no. 6 so a 5 would be worse. A 7 isn’t bad but the 8 is the most popular size. I know a few who prefer 9 and 10. Also use tends to raise the grain some. That should help too. 

I like them because they carve wood better than most knives and think that is essential for a backpacking knife for various reasons even if one does not regularly use a fire.

The only think I've ever needed a knife for on the trail is for the (swiss army) secondary functions, mainly can-opener and wine-opener.

Carry whatever you want. Knives are cool but a pair of EMT-style scissors is probably better than a knife. Especially if you are a leave no trace (LNT) person. You will accidentally cut yourself several times in your life with a knife, probably never with scissors.

People don't die in the woods because they didn't have a knife.

Saying that, I still carry a teensy knife when I climb or hike because, you know...Joe Simpson.  LOL!

A knife is only needed to cut sausage or fish. I forgot it once and tried biting off chunks (Sausage, not fish :p ) to put in the tortilla with the cheese sticks. It works, but even solo it isn't the preferred method because it messes with portion control. If sharing a summit it won't win you any new friends. Sharing with a partner is right out.

Other than that cleaning fish would be about the only other thing I've ever used my knives for over the years. When I intend to fish I'll carry something bigger, but for sausage I don't need much. That is why I downsized to a small kitchen paring knife with a plastic sheathe.

A  knife sure can be used for things besides a kitchen aide.

Old Guide said:

A  knife sure can be used for things besides a kitchen aide.

Can? Of course!

Was I using for other things? No!

My point was that I found myself never needing or using the big knife I was carrying for anything other than sausage or fish. There is no reason for me to carry it because you will use it for other reasons just like there is  no reason for you not to carry it because I won't.

That's the nice thing about being individuals instead of a hive-mind. We can choose to do what makes sense even if others choose differently.

^^^  This

That  I agree with but you left it out in  your earlier post. Thanks.

Sorry OG, wasn't trying to crimp your style :)

Anything I say is based on not telling other folks what to do, just telling em what I do. I sure don't do what everyone else says you have to do and I'm pretty sure that most of what I do wouldn't work for most other folks anyway.

The whole idea, at least as I see it, is to figure out what makes you happy and do that. Even if I tried to tell you your choice of knife was wrong, heck even if everyone did, if it makes you happy, pack it. You are the one carrying it so your opinion is the only one that matters.

No Crimping here-lol-I do as I see fit and learn from others too, that's why I come to this and other forums. I wish I  knew just half of what I read...I might even be called smart, well maybe.

leadbelly2550 said:

favorite fixed blade knife is fallkniven's F1 with a stainless blade and a vinyl/rubber handle. 

Yep. This is one heck of a good knife. Not to heavy, well conceived, and extremely capable.

Yep I normally only a carry a keychain size victorinox but like others, I carry a pocket knife or sometimes filet knife when fishing:

or bringing watermelon:

though actually, I have processed small fish with the keychain knife now that I think about it

the model I use is the classic SD:


Oh I can't imagine how messy cleaning fish would be with that thing. The one in the pan looks nice though.

You guys are going to love my next gear review...a 2 gram knife...dont plan on gutting fish or whittling with it! 

2 grams? You have my attention...

Well, I suppose there is what you expect to strictly need and what you expect to be possible. Most of the gear I choose for a given trip falls in at least one of these catagories. I bring a lightweight saw on most trips even  though I do not expect to use it. Likewise, on most trips I tend to bring whatever ensures I can create a signal fire if I need to. I have to credit an OG member of Trailspace, Kutenay, for instilling this tendency in me.

In fact, I remember two things he especially championed when exploring the backcountry:

1.) Have two ways to easily make a signal fire, especially when your hands are numb and your mind is dumb.

2.) Ensure you can also shelter yourself from the elements, usually in the form of a formed bivy sack, in case similar afflictions befall you.

That is, a shelter that is stupid-simple to deploy, with nothing to adjust or fiddle with. One way to ensure #1 is met is to to bring along a knife which allows you to baton wood, which allows you to get to the dry heartwood of most downed timber so as to make a fire with relative ease. A couple ounces of alcohol over your fuzz-sticks and dry heart-wood shoud do it.

We all carry a few ounces of hand sanitizer always, tight?

I've always hated cutting cheese and spreading peanut butter with a folding knife because it just gets all gunked up. So even in a stripped-down mess kit I often include a plastic (11g) or wooden (6g) peanut better spreader, and in a more deluxe kit I have a plastic ostehøvel -- Norwegian cheese slicer (29g). I also have an MSR Alpine Kitchen knife (48g in sheath, not in photo below) that is great for cutting veggies on weekenders.

I'm not a fisherman, rarely build fires and when I do I don't use anything I can't break over my knee or with a foot stomp, so I have no need for much more. I have a small handcrafted knife and a giant Sami knife, both quite nice, that were given to me by Norwegian friends as gifts,  but I don't see much sense in actually carrying even the small one for the way I travel. But I do carry a Leatherman for repairs, and an emergency bivy sack. Not much for firewood in alpine Norway anyway.

I found the foldable EMT scissors ridiculously heavy and went for the replacement scissors for a Swiss Card. I don’t own a Swiss Card, just the scissors they sell separately for my small first-aid, fire, repair and nav kit. I cut bandages from the 4”x4” gauze sheet and then use some of the 33” of first-aid tape wrapped around the case. The scissors weigh 12 gm. The entire kit weighs 2.5 oz.

Once we had a stretch that lasted 150 bag nights over 3 years with no rain. I never even entertained leaving my rain gear behind to be stupid light. I would never, ever leave one of the most important tools of all time behind either. Pillowthread and a few others get it.


love that kit Ghostdog, your plastic case is superior to my ratty plastic bag

It is an old bicycle repair kit case Patman. The entire contents are;

Pocket Kit
Mini Bic
Cotton ball
Ferro rod
Dram of tea tree oil
Cotton swab
2x2” gauze pad
33” first aid tape
2 butterfly closures
Safety pin
Nylon upholstery thread
4 sewing needles
1000 grit sandpaper
Duct tape
Kenyon tape
Allen key for BD pole locks
Mini compass

I’ve used all those things at one time or another.

BTW, I love your watermelon idea. You have to be a fun guy to camp with!

My 2 gram knife review upcoming is an emergency backup for when I lose my regular knife...although that is a two inch blade it's seen me through a quarter century so far. The emergency cutter has become the one I clip on my pack and keep handy for daily use. My real knife is now the backup ironically. 

Ghostdog...watermelons aren't the only thing Patman hauls in... 

I know some who take a razor blade. Not enough for me but they like it. 

ghostdog said:

I know some who take a razor blade.

That's my "knife." But I also bring a small pair of sharp scissors that handle most of my cutting needs.

I made a mistake with the weight of my scissors. They are 7 gm, not 12. Not much difference but might be significant for some. 

Well that's more like it...the heavier weight must have been your hedge clippers. 

I love knives and have collected them since the 1950s.

The ultralight people now take a single razor blade. 

A note of caution.  Recently I bought a nice Benchmade knife, rubber handle., with a spring loaded blade so it is easy to open with one hand.  Useful around horses and canoes.   The blade actually opened in my pocket and locked in place.  Very dangerous.  I no longer carry it except in a sheath.  I got nowhere with the company. 

 The Swiss Army knife with  Knife blade, wine opener, can opener, bottle opener. its four blades actually do more but this is what I use most. 
 Its A bargain for utility in price. 

I've use a small Spyrco ladybug knife.  It's on the expensive side ($50) but has very high quality steel and only weighs 17 grams.

For hiking & backpacking? Victorinox SAK (Swiss Army Knife) with  clippers and file. Get utility in keeping nails, feet, etc., maintained in the field. A small sharp blade for the few times you might ever need it.

Bushcrafting, hunting, apocalypse survival... very different story.

This may be the 20th time I've posted on this subject over many years.

3 Season backpacking-> Gerber "Bear Grylis" folding lock blade (2 1/2" blade, 1.0 oz. with 6" braided Triptease lanyard)

Hunting knife-> HELLE GT (4 5/8" blade, 7.2 oz. with leather sheath)

The little Gerber "Bear" lock blade has been totally adequate for all my needs like slicing cheese, cutting tent pegs, etc. I put a braided Triptease cord lanyard on it to keep from losing it form my pocket. Works.

The HELLE GT is the best hunting knife I've ever seen - period. Yeah, it's expensive but is beautifully made and it was a gift from my wife and holds that extra sentiment as well. 

Sure, there are lighter knives in both categories but none as well suited to their tasks, IMHO, as these are for the weight.

Eric B.

Falkniven F1, a fixed blade knife (in the sheath, strap snaps around the handle) and Spyderco Paramilitary 2.  Note the liner lock for the  Spyderco is on the back of the spine.  I like having the liner lock in the back, no risk of the knife closing on your fingers when you move the liner lock.  
Knives open.  
I like these for hiking because they both have good, grippy/textured handles that help avoid slippage...the folder has texturing on the back of the blade near the pivot point too. Also, a fixed blade can’t accidentally close, and the folder has a great rear liner-lock. they’re easy to clean, you can see that the Spyderco is open between the handle scales. the steel is excellent - takes a while to sharpen, but they stay sharp for a long time.  Also, the big hole at the back of the folder blade makes it very easy to open.  These are not cheap knives, but with modest care, they’ll last for a very long time (and have for me).   
May 28, 2022
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