Whether you're camping, climbing, hiking, or paddling, it's always a wise choice to carry the appropriate outdoor knife with you. Even if you never need one for safety purposes, a knife is always useful for a multitude of mundane tasks. But for the novice paddler or backpacker, selecting the right knife out of the dozens available can be a daunting task—unless you know what you're looking for.
Because there are no moving parts, fixed knives are stronger and more durable than folding knives. Fixed blades are recommended for paddlers who need to keep a knife handy in case they need to cut through cord or webbing in a hurry. Survival knives also often use fixed blades. The biggest drawback to the fixed blade is that it requires a sheath, which adds to the overall bulk of the item.
Many (though not all) folding knives have multiple blades of different lengths and types. This gives you greater versatility. However, folding knives are not as durable as fixed blades. If multiple blades and functions (scissors, saw, etc.) appeal to you, consider a Swiss Army knife or even a Leatherman multitool.
There are three common blade types: straight blades, serrated blades, and combination straight/serrated.
Perfect for use around the camp kitchen, straight blades are great all-purpose cutting tools. They are also relatively easy to sharpen and maintain their edge longer than serrated blades.
Serrated edges are distinguished by the teeth that are built into the blade. Though not as pronounced as the teeth on a saw, serrated teeth are much more effective than a straight blade at cutting through thick rope or webbing. However, serrated blades dull more quickly and are a major hassle to sharpen. Sharpening requires round files, usually of multiple sizes, and a whole lot of patience.
Straight near the pointed end and serrated near the base, these combination blades offer the best of both worlds. Let your intended activity determine the blade type, or if you really need the versatility, opt for a knife or multitool with multiple blade options.
The most popular blade materials are carbon/steel alloys and stainless steel. Carbon steel blades are easy to sharpen and retain their edge longer than steel, but rust if not treated with a silicon wax or used regularly. Stainless steel blades don’t rust, but require more work to maintain their edge.
Knives for Paddling
When paddling, take along a fixed blade (one that doesn't fold) that fits inside a hard plastic sheath that can be clipped to your PFD. The blade needs to be serrated so you can cut free of any entangling straps or cord if necessary. While you may use such a knife on only few occasions, if ever, it’s an essential piece of kayaking gear.
Knives for Climbing
Knives made to be a part of your climbing gear should always be small and lightweight, and include a serrated blade. If you go with a folding knife, make sure you can open and close it with one hand. A climbing knife should always have safety features that never allow the knife to open while you're climbing, protecting you, your rope, and your harness from accidents and cuts.
Knives for Hiking/Camping
Anytime you're hiking or backpacking, you'll want to keep weight to a minimum. A good hiking knife needs to be small and lightweight, but rugged in order to take the beatings the trail can give. A blade with both a razor edge and a serrated edge may be most beneficial here, and it may be a good idea to find a knife with a stainless steel clip to attach to either your pocket or your belt. This will keep your pockets free while you're moving around.
Once you purchase the correct knife, you'll be amazed at all the uses you'll find for it. Whether you're slicing through vegetation or a stick of pepperoni, the right knife should be an integral part of outdoor gear supplies.
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