Under the vast cosmos of a mountaintop campsite, I was waiting for a friend to arrive. This was no knockdown, drag out backwoods camping trip. We were parking, pitching and preaching for a few days. We had great food and too many supplies. Still, we were a hundred miles from home respectively and the weekend would be a great one for sure.
The night was young but I had been expecting my friend Mike about an hour ago. I sat next to the fire pit that was blazing and spitting smaller flames off into the night. It had a small cast iron pan on the grate and inside there was a little magic. I had some cheese tortellini with artisanal soppressata, red chili flake, garlic and olive oil.
The campsite I was at was known for bears and as the night drew in all around me the sound of the night began to play on my senses. The snapping branches and the thumping increased the more tired I became. The reality that I was just a man on the side of a cliff and that the nature around me did not care about my wife or child at home began to chew at me. I wasn’t sure if it was the late night or the reality of my soft human body surrounded by the jagged rocks and sharp teeth.
Whatever the cause of these night chills when I looked at my fixed blade knife I felt very comfortable. After another delicious bite of tortellini, my mind began to clear. The gleaming blade on my knife wouldn’t stand a chance against an aggressive black bear but to me, it felt like Excalibur.
What type of camping knife do you carry and is it time for an upgrade?
The Benefits of a Powerful Camping Knife
If I am not carrying a camping axe or hatchet I want a camping knife that has some serious spine and a pretty thick blade. I am going to more than likely abuse this thing when it comes to processing wood for my fire. I have even punished the back of my thick spine camping knife with a large rock to split down wood.
Because of this abuse I don’t often spend lots of money on my camping knife. I have a knife that I carry for my EDC and that knife is rarely used and aesthetically pleasing. The camping knife is a pile driver. I don’t buy garbage but I am not spending $70 on a knife that will be beaten down and sharpened repeatedly.
Of course, my camping knife will not only be used for punishing feats. I may also gut some fish for the campfire or slice some meat that was brought on the trip. I am looking for a strong knife that can work as a dual-purpose tool. In my mind that’s what makes a great camping knife.
Fixed Blade VS Foldable Camping Knives
From a carrying standpoint, the foldable knife seems like a no brainer. This thing slips into itself and becomes half its size. These knives also come in all shapes and sizes. Most of them also have that great clip that affixes to belts or pants. There is something very comforting about having a razor sharp, foldable blade at your side.
These knives are great for various duties when camping. However, I would caution making a foldable blade camping knife your only option in the woods. No matter how durable they might be these knives are held together by screws. These screws are usually tiny. I have had foldable knives fail on me and you will not find those screws in a field or in the dirt.
When it comes to a reliable blade for camping you must look for a fixed blade, full tang knife that will stand the test of any task you need from it.
In the world of fixed blade knives, there are two options that designers and sellers have when creating a knife. One is to have a base/handle that you can insert, affix or otherwise anchor a blade into. With these types of knives, a long thin bit of metal may insert into the handle or it could be a simple notch off the main blade that is glued into the handle. Each will fail at various levels of pressure or stress.
These knives are not useless and I have some in my arsenal that have been at work for over 5 years. Still, they are not a full tang blade.
Full tang describes a knife where the blade and handle are all one piece. These knives are crafted from one piece of steel and have a handled attached to them. This one-piece steel design makes the knife much stronger. These knives break too but it takes a lot of punishment or an inferior product.
When it comes to camping I would recommend having a full tang blade at your side. This doesn’t mean you should leave your folding blade at home. The folding blade should be an accompaniment to your full tang, camping knife.
Serrated, Standard or Combo Blades
Once you enter the world of full tang camping blades you will quickly see all the options. There are many types of blades to choose from. A standard blade will have a flat or curved back and an edge that runs the length of one side. This type of blade is great and will offer you tons of options. These standard blades are by far the easiest to sharpen and that is a big consideration when you are talking about a blade that may be used to split wood and perform other tough tasks.
A serrated blade has notches cut into the length of the blade. They look like small saws. When I see a serrated blade, I understand how it may saw through small branches and things like that. Still, I believe a serrated knife belongs in the kitchen to cut things like tomatoes and bread.
There are quite a few blades out there that are a combo with the serration at the bottom of the blade, near the handle. Or they may even have a slight serration on the spine of the knife. These combo blades are not bad at all. I don’t mind a good combo blade. The problem comes when it’s time to sharpen. Combo knives are very complicated to sharpen.
Sharpening your Camping Blade
No matter what knife you are carrying if it’s not sharp there is really no point in having it on you. Sure, it will work better than sawing at something with a rock but it’s not doing its job. When it comes to sharpening I often run into two types of individuals. One group seems to love sharpening and it’s almost a religious experience or those who look at it as more of a chore.
For either group, it’s important to have the right sharpener. My choice for sharpening knives for culinary and survival use is a two stage whetstone. I like a whetstone that can be flipped from one grit to a finer grit. Like the types of stones used by samurai to sharpen their swords these are the best for the job. Sharpen your knife before each trip to assure its at its best for you.
A honing steel is another great tool to have around as well. The benefits of a honing steel are that you can often get a blade back to razor sharp without the drudgery of sharpening. I do three swipes to one side of the blade followed by three on the other descending until I get down to one on each side. You will be amazed at how effective a little honing can be.
Three Shining Examples of a Quality Camping Knife
KA BAR is one of America’s best brands. The knives are made right here in New York state and come offer a quality that is unmatched by most big-name knife makers. For an American made product they are affordable as well.
The BK2 has that great full tang, wide blade that we talked about. It’s got a great handle and has the blade width of a solid bushcraft knife. This is a sturdy camping knife that will hold up to the necessary duties of managing a campsite.
The one downside to the BK2 is its tactical black look. If you drop the knife in the dark it may be nearly impossible to find. Those black tactical knives look so great in the daylight but you don’t want to be feeling around in the bushes at night for a knife.
This is a very simple and inexpensive example of what makes a great camping blade. This knife is sturdy and made of one piece of steel. The handle is wrapped sections of paracord. And this blade comes with a Ferro rod as well. This is helpful to have as another option for starting a fire.
You will notice the thick blade and the width of the blade that makes for an effective knife in the wild. If you take some time to research a good blade for bushcraft you will come to find that it is all about width, spine, and durability.
This is a simple knife that costs very little but can prove to you how effective blade size and durability really are.
The Strongarm is an impressive looking knife. The blade has excellent width and offers a combo blade that ends with a slight serration at the bottom of the knife blade. Not only does this knife feature a great thick blade but also a nice big handle as well. The rubberized diamond textured grip makes it comfortable in your hand.
This full tang blade also features a striking pommel on the handle for things like breaking glass or even less than lethal self-defense. Not too common on your camping trips, hopefully. The Strongarm is another great blade to meet the needs of the camping enthusiast.
Other Camping Blades to Carry?
I am a huge fan of some sort of folding saw blade. I think those blades are great for making simple modifications to a campsite like trimming brush. Just be wary about where you are camping and the restrictions. Our national parks are to be left undisturbed. You can find these in many makes and models. Look for big teeth and a sturdy blade.
The camping hatchet is another great tool and blade to have with you when camping. I look for one that carries light and without much thought. For me the Siege by Kershaw comes with me to camp. This is a tactical tomahawk and its intimidating with its sharpened and pointed ends. I keep it sheathed but its razor sharp and makes quick work of saplings and other things that might be needed or need to be removed.
If you are in an area that allows for it and requires it a quality camping machete could be used to clear brush on your way to the perfect campsite. There are some areas that will require you to forge your own way through the brush to make any headway at all. In this instance, you will find a sharp machete your best tool in getting through such terrain.
Beyond that you may just be borderline obsessive when it comes to carrying more blades. You might even be borderline psychotic! There is only so much room in our bags and power in our legs and backs. Don’t let knives be the thing that weighs you down.
Carrying a knife every day is not a bad idea. Your EDC or everyday-carry-knife may not be the best option for you when it comes to camping. Find yourself a camping knife that balances your preference in design with a wide sturdy blade.
Remember that this blade may be called upon to do serious work. That said, it is my recommendation that you don’t break the bank on your purchase of a camping knife. Get something that is made of high-quality steel and will live up to your expectations.
Keeping that knife sharp is your responsibility. Sharpening is like any other project, without the right tools you will struggle and you may fail. Invest in a quality whet stone for all your blades and don’t forget about the honing steel and how effective it can be.
Not every camping trip is going to require a camping knife but you will want to ensure that when you need one you have it. Don’t depend on a folding pocket knife!