To use one of the most over-quoted movie lines on the planet…
“That’s not a knife, THAT’S A KNIFE.” – Crocodile Dundee
Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or weekend warrior, there’s one piece of equipment that is universal to the wilderness – a dependable pocket knife.
Choosing a knife that fills your backpacking needs is a must in terms of safety and survival. A reliable backpacking knife is well made and is capable of handling a wide variety of outdoor tasks.
The best backpacking knife is going to be more than a sharp blade, it will be your lifeline during your next backpacking trip.
Do You Need a Backpacking Knife?
A backpacking knife serves a wide variety of tasks throughout the day.
In an emergency situation, a knife will cut bandages or gauze when bandaging a wound. A backpacking knife makes splitting kindling to start a fire much easier. The knife can also double as a kitchen utensil if you really want to get down and dirty.
Not to mention the inherent dangers that come along with being in the woods for prolonged periods of time. If you don’t have a backpacking knife than you are putting yourself at risk each time you head into the wild.
Types of Backpacking Knives
A backpacking knife is used for a wide range of activities and naturally, there are a few styles to choose from.
Fixed Blade Knives
Think Crocodile Dundee.
Fixed blade knives are the classic outdoorsmen knife and they remain relevant today.
A fixed blade knife is made out of a single piece of solid steel, giving it unrivaled strength when compared to other blades. They are reliable and versatile, you can literally beat them with a hammer and they should not break.
Often fixed blade knives are side carried. Meaning, they attach to your belt loop and slide into a sheath just like the movies.
By far the most common knife found on the trail. Folding knives are lightweight, sharp, fit into most pockets, and strap onto your belt.
Some come spring loaded so they flip open in an instant, similar to a switchblade. They have locking mechanisms that hold them open and keep them closed.
Multi-tools are more than simply a knife. They come with all the bells and whistles that are great when you need to make those unexpected gear repairs.
Do you really need 20 other tools when you’re in the middle of the woods with a backpack and a tent? Multi-tools have a blade, a screwdriver, pliers, bottle opener, can opener, a nail file, and the list goes on and on.
You get the point, they have it all. For backpacking the smaller the better when it comes to multi-tools.
The good thing about buying a survival knife is they include everything except the kitchen sink.
Most are affordable, and if you’re considering a survival knife just make sure you don’t buy a cheap novelty knife. They won’t withstand the normal wear and tear that daily trail use will throw at it.
A neck knife is attached to a cord that hangs around your neck. They come with a sheath and are extremely easy to access.
A neck knife isn’t really a replacement for a backpacking knife, it’s more of a supplementation. They should be carried with another larger knife. It’s always good to have a backup just in case things go off the rails, you never know what’s going to happen.
What is a backpacking knife going to be used for?
The best backpacking knives are versatile and durable. When you’re in the woods you’ll find a knife is used for…
- Gear repairs
At different times you’re going to need it for different tasks. Simple and durable blades that can handle meaningful tasks are a couple of the characteristics that make up a decent backpacking knife.
What size blade do I need?
A 12-inch blade looks cool, however, it’s way too big for any practical backpacking applications. A 3-4 inch blade is going to work for 99% of backpackers, anything bigger than that is cumbersome and a pain in the ass.
If you’re backpacking on an established trail there is no need to carry around a 6-inch survival knife with a firestarter and fishing line. Most likely it will be more of a utility tool, rather than something you use to keep warm and feed yourself.
If your going deep backcountry and blazing your own trail, a larger more durable survival knife is your best bet.
What type of steel should I choose?
Blade technology has come a long way since the days of a blacksmith hand-forging a piece of steel. Humans have been making blades for thousands of years and have gotten pretty good at it.
Before you purchase any knife take a good look at what material it is made of. It’s important to have a general understanding of blade materials when looking for a knife to take on your next backpacking trip.
Stainless steel is a popular blade option due to its ability to resist corrosion and rusting.
Stainless steel is an alloy of Iron with a minimum of 10.5% Chromium. Chromium produces a thin layer of oxide on the surface of the steel known as the ‘passive layer’ (source). The Chromium is what gives stainless steel its resistance to corrosion on the blade itself.
Prior to the rise of stainless steel blades, carbon steel was the go-to option for knife blades. Carbon steel knives have extremely sharp blades that are substantially easier to sharpen than stainless steel and they maintain a sharp edge.
The lack of Chromium in the steel does make the knives more prone to rust and corrosion. A carbon steel knife needs to be cleaned thoroughly after each use so moisture doesn’t deteriorate the quality of the blade.
Titanium is an extremely strong material, rust-resistant, and lightweight metal (source). It’s dark silver color makes it easy to differentiate from steel blades.
They are not as sharp, and titanium is a softer metal, making it easier to dull and chip. Often you will see titanium blades coated with another material to maintain its edge and give it more strength.
How do I carry my knife?
Tucked away in your pack is going to work if you don’t need to get to it throughout your average day.
If you plan on using it all the time, then fumbling around your pack is not a realistic option. In a survival situation, or a combat situation (not likely), then keeping it attached to your hip is best practice.
Packing a fixed blade knife all willy-nilly into your backpack without a sheath is not going to end well. A hole in your backpack, damaged clothes, or worst case scenario it punches through and cuts you or someone else by mistake.
If you have a fixed blade, always use the proper fitting leather sheath. With folding knives, make sure the lock is engaged before it goes into your pocket or pack.
The Best Backpacking Knives
These backpacking knives are our choice for the top backpacking knives available today.
Spyderco Delica 4
- WIDE SPECTRUM OF HANDLE COLORS - The Delica 4 now offers new vibrant tones including blue, green, brown, gray, orange, zome green, black and purple.
- SUPERIOR BLADE STEEL - The blades are full flat-ground VG-10 Steel with a thinner highly refined cutting edge and a larger 13mm opening hole.
- ULTRA-LIGHTWEIGHT - Inside the handle are dual skeletonized stainless steel liners which strengthen the knife without additional weight and double as an anchor for external and internal components to attach through generating more sturdiness.
- ERGONOMIC - Added to the blade's spine is slip resistant jimping. Phosphor bronze washers smooth out the open/close action and the clip is upgraded to a four-way tip-up, tip-down, left-or right-handed clip.
Spyderco is an American Company located in Colorado that was founded in 1981. The Delica line is one of their most popular and oldest product lines, making its first appearance in 1990.
The Spyderco Delica is a folding knife made of VG-10 steel, which is extremely rust-resistant and sharpens easily. The blade needs to be sharpened every couple of weeks.
The body and blade of the Spyderco Delica 4 are held together with screws. Making it easy to disassemble if you want to get down with some serious cleaning.
It only weighs 2.5 ounces making a great fit for the ultralight backpacker.
- Excellent EDC
- Good edge retention
- VG10 steel
- Rides high in the pocket
- Weak carrying clip
- Doesn’t scuff easily
Ka-Bar Becker BK2
- Full tang heavy duty field knife suited for camping chores.
- Made in Olean New York, U.S.A
- Designed by Ethan Becker
- Manufactured by KA-BAR Knives Inc.
The Ka-Bar is a US-based company that is based in New York and has been around since 1898. They are best known for the Marine Corps iconic fixed blade knife from World War 2.
The BK2 is a fixed blade knife made of 1095 high carbon steel. It has a classic drop-tip shape with a flat grip and a stout tip. The sheath is nylon and plastic while remaining lightweight and sturdy.
The knife comes powder coated which causes light resistance when cutting deeply into things at first. The knife without the sheath weighs in at 16 ounces, so it’s considered heavy. The blade is easy to sharpen and holds a decent edge, particularly when you’re chopping wood.
The handle is lightweight and tough with no sharp edges and the hardware is sunk deep so it will not affect your grip.
- 1095 steel
- Good edge retention
- Dull out of the box
- Thick black coating
- Bad sheath
Kershaw is a known and trusted brand in the knife world. The company is based in Oregon and was started by a Gerber Knives defector. While not every knife is made in the USA, the Skyline model still is.
Kershaw knives are known to come razor sharp out of the box and maintain their edge during daily use. Kershaw teamed up with Sandvik Steel for the manufacturing of the skyline blade. Made of 14C28N steel, the Kershaw Skyline provides hardness and corrosion resistance, along with being one of the strongest steels on the market.
It comes with a drop-tip design which provides a strong tip and is versatile for an everyday carry knife.
- 14C28N steel
- Ergonomic design
- Thin blade
- Plastic handle
- Right handed design
Benchmade – Mini Griptilian 556
- BUILT TO PERFORM: Simplicity meets unmatched function, no matter the application; Ideal for pretty much everything.
- AMERICAN MADE 154CM STAINLESS STEEL: For first-rate edge retention and corrosion resistance; Precision drop-point construction for strength and versatility.
- THE GRIVORY HANDLE: Is fully ambidextrous, has a textured grip, and is molded from glass-filled nylon for superior durability.
- AXIS LOCKING MECHANISM: Ensures safety and a smooth open and easy close; Reversible clip; Lanyard hole for versatile carry options.
Benchmade is another US company, it was founded in California and later moved its facilities to Oregon. They have been around for over 30 years and are known to make quality products.
The 556 blade is made of 154CM steel which is made in America and maintains its edge. It’s a rough steel so you can’t get it as sharp as VG-10 steel blades. It’s highly recommended to only use hand sharpeners with this blade, otherwise, the bevel will rub on the sharpening device.
The modified drop-point has a gradual curve that lowers the tip of the knife. The Mini Griptilian 556 makes for a great “daily driver” on any backpacking trip
- Excellent design
- Quality steel
- Durable material
- 2 piece handle
- Shallow pocket slip
- Scaled grip catches
Buck Knives 284 Bantam
- RAZOR SHARP & LIGHTWEIGHT - 2-3/4" drop point 420HC steel blade delivers excellent strength, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. A perfect folding knife. Closed length 3-3/4", weight 1. 5 oz
- CONVENIENT ONE HAND OPENING - A thumb stud on the blade facilitates a smooth one-handed opening action. The lockback mechanism locks the blade open for reliable strength and safety while you work
- SECURE GRIP - The finger swells in the grip make this knife easy to hold, and provide a sure grip in any condition. The Bantam series is available in a variety of sizes and colors
- CONVENIENT CARRY - The 284 Bantam fits into any carrying configuration - key rings, pockets, backpacks or lanyards. It's lightweight, stylish and compact
Buck is an American knife manufacturer which began in San Diego and has remained with the same family for 5 generations. It is now located in Post Falls, Idaho and they are credited with inventing the folding pocket knife.
Buck knives are synonymous with folding knives, and sometimes folding knives are simply referred to as “buck knives.”
The blade is built with 420HC stainless steel and is corrosion resistant, durable, and maintains its edge. It has a crescent shaped blade and comes razor sharp out of the box. The ergonomic grooved handle gives you a tight grip in dry and wet conditions, and it has a thumb stud for opening it with one hand.
- Updated design
- One hand open
- Weather protected blade
- Lock fails
- Blade dulls
- No pocket clip
Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife
- A CUT ABOVE THE REST: Compact, agile and ready to face any adventure head-on. Our range of Swiss Army Knives have been established since 1897 and continue to be an icon of utility and smart design.
- DURABLE CONSTRUCTION: Swiss made stainless steel construction encased in our popular scales offers a slimmer profile and is extremely resistant.
- FIT FOR ALL TASKS: At their heart, all our pocket knives are a survival tool; multitaskers that deliver in any situation. At their most evolved they have surpassed basic function to pioneer space travel and restart engines.
- TRUSTED QUALITY: Made in Switzerland; Victorinox provides a lifetime guarantee against defects in material and workmanship. Making a lifetime commitment has never been so easy. No assembly required, money back guarantee.
The quintessential backpacking, hiking, camping, and everything tool. Unless you have lived on Mars for your entire life, you have seen or used one of these knives.
Even for such a small size, the blade fairs pretty well. The steel is rust proof and relatively maintenance free. The blade steel is X55CrMo and had a full flat grind, this gives it excellent slicing ability and a non-wedged cut.
Swiss Army knives come in just about every color under the sun, and the patterned version come with a coating to make it last.
- Classic design
- Multiple sizes
- Scratches easily
- Steel could be harder
Opinel No. 8
- Handle: beechwood
- Blade: stainless steel
- Size open: 7 1/16" - blade: 3 1/16"
- Packaging: blister pack
The Opinel pocket knife remains relatively unchanged since 1890. Against his father’s wishes, John Opinel designed a folding knife for everyday use.
The Opinel is constructed of 5 parts: handle, blade, collar lock, pivot pin, and a clamping band. Simple, yet effective.
The No. 8 is one of the most popular knives in their collection with a 3.25-inch blade made with X90 carbon steel. The overall length is 7.6 inches open and only weighs 1.6 ounces. The wooden handle is what makes the Opinel stand out, you can tell one a mile away.
The knife blade is extremely easy to sharpen, however, if you leave it with any moisture it will spot overnight.
- Extremely sharp
- Rustic design
- Rusts easily
- Required oiling
- Doesn’t lock open
Packing a knife while backpacking is never a bad idea, the trick is finding out which one works best for your needs. Look for a knife that fits exactly what you plan on using it for, no need to go overboard.
Keep in mind the knife that you choose is going to experience some intense use and abuse, therefore, consider picking up a knife that is built of high-quality steel.
Keep calm and backpack on.