Having a good blade on hand is an essential part of camping. You’ll need a quality knife for everything from making s’more sticks to cutting rope and making repairs to miscellaneous items around camp.
So, what makes a good camping knife? A good camping knife will have quality blade material that will resist corrosion, retain a sharp edge, and sharpen easily. A harder steel holds a better edge but proves to be less resistant to rust and more difficult to sharpen. A softer steel has a high corrosion resistance and is easier to sharpen, but it will not hold an edge well. For these reasons we recommend a stainless steel blade.
See, most blades are stainless steel, which is a metal alloy made up of steel mixed with elements such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, silicon, aluminum, and carbon. It resists rust and corrosion.
High carbon steel is a non-stainless steel and known for its hardness and edge retention. However, it is more susceptible to corrosion than stainless-steel blades and will rust faster and require more maintenance.
What is a Camp Knife Used For?
Camping knives can be used for a variety of different tasks. It is a trusty tool for campsite activities like splitting kindling, assisting with food preparation, fire starting and maintenance, and whittling tent stakes, wooden figurines, or a marshmallow roasting stick.
For more advanced campers, it can be used to skin a fish, water rescue, or cutting cord and rope in survival situations. And, in more unlikely survival situations, it can be used to ward off bears and for felling trees.
If you are car camping or at established campsites close to front country resources, a standard camping knife will suit all your needs. If you are in remote wilderness truly testing your survival skills, you will be better equipped with a larger fixed-blade knife. The best camping knife will suit your personal needs best and will be your companion for a lifetime.
How to Choose a Camping Knife
Choosing the right knife for you is a personal decision. When making that decision, first, cater to what the most common purpose and use will be for your knife. Second, make sure you choose a durable and portable knife.
Features to Consider:
- Length: Keep the blade length 5 inches or under. The ideal blade length is around 4 inches. A bigger knife does not always mean better. Majority of the time, you will use for your knife for precision work, so you want a knife that is easy to maneuver and work with.
- Weight: Lightweight is not helpful when choosing a knife, as weight will add more stability. Ideal weight for a knife is 4 ounces (before including the handle weight).
- Material: Opt for either stainless-steel or high carbon steel.
- Style: This refers to blade style, handle style, and grip style.
- Choil: This describes tiny cutouts or indentations on the blade that are located near the handle of the knife. It is used for helping to sharpen other blades’ edges and light sparks with a ferro rod.
- Full Tang: This describes blades that run from the blade tip all the way to the bottom the knifes’ handle. It gives the knife more strength and stability.
The Different Types of Camping Knives:
- Fixed Blade: Typically, these knives are sturdier and overall safer than folding knives. These knives are stronger than folding knives, easy to clean, and easy to sharpen. However, they usually weigh a little more than a pocket knife, take up more space, and require a sheath for safe carrying.
- Pocket Knife: These knives fit easily and comfortably into your pocket. The sharp blade folds back into the handle, and sometimes locks into place. They do not take up a lot of space and are ideal for everyday hiking and backpacking tasks. The disadvantage is that it is not as stable as a fixed-blade knife. The moving parts also make it harder to clean, sharpen, and risk the possibility of mechanical failure. Some campers really like the feature of being able to open the knife with one hand.
- Locking Blade: A locking blade is a hybrid: the stability of the fixed-blade and the convenience of the folding pocket knife. It allows for one handed opening, smoothing folding mechanism, a notch or cut out on the blade providing for easy to grip, and a lock to keep the blade closed during storage and to prevent it from opening accidentally.
- Multi–Tool: These are like tiny toolboxes wrapped nicely into one compact and versatile device. It performs many tasks with many tools including screwdrivers, scissors, wire cutter, saw, bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew, blade, tweezers, and more (around 14 depending on the design). This is a helpful piece of equipment to have for front-country camping trips. It will not be the best device for more remote and wild adventures.
- Drop-Point: This blade shape is the best all-around blade for a wide variety of tasks and the most common design for a camping knife. It is a good compromise between strength and utility. It has a convex curve that slops back to the blades point.
- Clip-Point: This blade type is ideal for control with exacting and detailed work and for puncturing things. It has a thick blade with a sharp point. However, it lacks the strength of the drop-point.
- Tanto: This is a good blade tip for prying, scarping, and piercing through materials. It has an angular tip with a strong point.
- Needle-Point: This blade has a double edge with a symmetrical point. It is a good blade for survival situations, puncturing, and throwing.
- Sheepsfoot: This blade is often used for woodcutting work and food preparation. It has a strong solid shape that can withstand a huge amount of abuse. The spine of the knife rounds-off steeply to the point and the cutting edge is straight from handle to point, rather than curved, which makes cutting, chopping, and slicing easy.
- Serrations: This edge makes cutting rope, bone, or sawing wood easier. However, all these tasks can be done with a non-serrated fine-edged knife, which has more purpose camping than serrated knives. Companies do many knives with high serrated, high fine-edge blades as an option.
Most handles are textured for improved grip and shaped for control and comfort. Wood handles provide a good grip but are prone to water damage. Plastic handles are affordable, resist water damage, but if they get wet can be slippery, thereby decreasing the grip. Rubber handles offer a great grip, are water resistant, but lack the durability of a wood or stainless-steel handle.
Stainless Steel and aluminum handles are durable but can be uncomfortable to hold in cold weather as they are cold and slippery when wet.
How to Care for your Knife
Your knife will be useful for a variety of different reasons. It will last you a lifetime if you care for it properly. Make sure to put it away clean and dry, as it surely will get wet and dirty with use. Keep the blade sharp by honing the blade regularly. Use it for its intended purposes, but do not ask too much of your knife.
If you overwork your knife outside of its capabilities, you may injure yourself or your knife. When you can, lubricate the blade with an oil-based lubricant. If you have a folding knife or a pocket knife, be sure to keep all the moving parts clean and well-oiled too.
5 Popular Camping Knives
1. Gerber Strongarm: This fixed-blade knife has a 420 high-carbon steel blade with a drop-point. The blade is 4.75 inches and the total knife length is 9.9 inches. It weighs 10 ounces, which is lightweight for a heavy-duty knife.
It comes with a safety holder to protect hand and fingers from slipping down the blade unexpectedly. It is manufactured with both half-serrated and a fine-edged blade. (This knife is our top recommendation for a camping knife with a fixed blade)
2. Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Swiss: This pocket knife has 13 other components and features, making it handy in a variety of situations. Its stainless-steel blade is 3.5 inches. (This knife is our top recommendation for an ultralight backpacking knife)
3. StatGear Surviv-All Survival Knife: This fixed-blade knife is 440 stainless steel drop-point blade. The blade is 4.25 inches and the total knife length is 9.5 inches. It weighs 7.5 ounces. The ergonomic curves near the blade allow for a better grip. It has full tang. A nice feature is that it glows in the dark at night, making it easier to locate. This is a great beginner’s knife.
4. Buck Compadre Camp Knife: This fixed-blade knife is a spring steel blade with a drop-point. The blade is 4.5 inches and the entire knife is a total of 9.5 inches. It weighs 10.4 ounces. This is a well-balanced, mid-range weight knife with a slight serration on the blade which helps with finer tasks. It has full tang. There are no ergonomic features.
5. Leatherman Wingman: This is a multi-tool which acts like a mini toolbox. Great for short work and repairs at the campsite. This 14-tool stainless steel instrument is sub 200g.
Nadine enjoys writing about her love for wild places. As an environmental attorney and adventure writer, she is passionate about combining her legal and political expertise with her personal experiences to protect our constantly changing environment. Find her in the backcountry with her life partner and their dog running, mountain biking, skiing, and climbing.