Out in the backcountry a good, reliable knife can be the difference between a good trip and a bad one.
Anyone who has seen 127 Hours or ever tried chopping firewood with a blunt, dollar-store blade will know exactly what I mean!
The world of camping knives, however, is one far more complex and intricate than many novices expect.
Before buying, there are several factors, features and specs to be taken into consideration in order to get the best camping knife our budget will allow us to get our hands on.
To help you navigate these various ins and outs and finer details, we’ve compiled an ultimate guide to the ten best camping knives you can buy right now.
Top 10 Camping Knives Compared
How to Choose a Camping Knife
Before we get down to our review, let’s take a look at some of the things you should take into consideration when buying your camping knife.
Dimensions and Weight
How much weight do you want to carry? How much bulk against your hip?
There are usually benefits and drawbacks to both bigger knives and smaller knives.
For general camping tasks, we suggest aiming for a happy medium between the two.
This means a 4 to 6- inch blade and 9 to 11-inch total length.
If your knife is too big, you’ll find more delicate tasks tricky.
If it’s too small, chopping, hammering and bushwhacking become virtually impossible.
Hardness refers to the steel’s ability to resist bending. This is measured on the Rockwell scale (HRC).
Most folding knife blades have a rating between 54-64 HRC. The higher the HRC, the harder the steel.
Hard steel is desirable because your knife will maintain a sharper edge for longer than softer steels and provide quicker, cleaner cuts.
There’s nothing worse than a knife rusting or corroding following a few outings in the field.
Different types of steel offer varying levels of corrosion resistance. In a nutshell, these are as follow:
Carbon Steel: These blades feature outstanding hardness and edge retention, but are prone to rust and corrosion.
Stainless Steel: These blades offer the best resistance to both rust and corrosion. The most common types of stainless steel used in camping knives are as follow:
- 420HC: A cheaper variety of steel with good corrosion resistance and decent edge retention. Softer and easier to sharpen, but also easier to ding or dent.
- 154CM: Uses a higher degree of carbon to maintain hardness and a sharp edge.
- S30V: Contains rust and corrosion-resistant vanadium. A high-quality stainless steel usually featured in more expensive camping knives and tactical knives.
Fixed or Folding?
Fixed blades tend to be more durable and longer.
Because they are only covered by a plastic leather or nylon sheath, however, they can also be dangerous in the event of a fall.
Foldable knives are more compact, lightweight and far safer than fixed blades - as long as the blade can be locked open securely.
Handle and Grip
A poor grip can cause blisters and slippage, which in turn can lead to cuts and/or missing fingers!
Be sure your handle boasts an ergonomic design and is either contoured or made of materials that reduce slippage.
A ‘bonus’ feature is a solid butt or pommel, which can come in very handy for bashing in tent poles or other hammering tasks.
Several features can add to a knife’s safety, convenience and overall performance. These include:
A locking blade offers the user peace of mind when working with the knife by locking the blade open.
This prevents the potentially nasty consequences of accidental closure.
Knives with one-handed opening feature a button, stud or opening on the handle that allows you to release the blade quickly and with one hand.
This mechanism engages when you start to open a knife and springs the blade out fully.
This feature, like one-handed opening, is particularly useful if you happen to be engaged in other tasks (fishing, cooking, pitching a tent etc.) and suddenly require your knife.
A full tang knife is one in which the blade material extends and is housed within the handle, reducing the risk of breakage.
This is an important factor in fixed blades, where the lack of a full tang could compromise your knife’s sturdiness and lead to serious injury.
The most common type of blade shapes include the following:
These blades are strong, versatile and ideal for general cutting, chopping and heavier knife work.
The spine of the blade is curved, reducing the risk of poking, puncturing or piercing inadvertently.
Boast a thinner and sharper point and more suitable for detailed, delicate knife work. Not as strong as drop-point blades.
Sheepsfoot and Santuko
Feature a rounded spine and a straight cutting blade. Great for food prep and less likely to pierce or puncture anything accidentally.Tanto Blade
Heavy-duty and feature a strong tip. Ideal for piercing or splitting but not the best for food prep.
For more on camping knife blade types, check out this article from Rei.com.
Because you don’t want to turn up at the campsite with something that looks like your grandma’s butter knife…!
That said, looks aren’t everything.
Be sure to check the specs of any knife before making a decision based on appearance alone.
Why You Should Carry a Camping Knife
A good camping knife carries many benefits and can be used in many different ways.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most important:
Food prep: slice and dice your grub before cooking, just like at home.
Cutting firewood: by placing your knife against a piece of deadwood and striking it with another piece of wood it can act as a ‘splitter’ to create adequately sized chunks for the fire.
Trimming firewood: if your kindling is too big for your fire-pit or barbecue, you can trim it down to size.
Skinning game: (if you’ve got the know-how, that is!)
Making roasting sticks: whittle off the bark and make a pointed prong for cooking sausages, burgers, marshmallows etc...
Trail clearing: use as a mini-machete in dense undergrowth.
Campsite repairs: cut cord, rope, laces, torn tent material etc...
Improvised hammer: for hammering in tent pegs, stakes or tarp poles.Protection: you might not want to take on a grizzly, but for some campers a knife can at least offer a degree of peace of mind.
Ranger Mike created a very thorough, detailed video called 17 Survival Knives and Knife Skills which offers a few great insights into the potential uses of a camping knife.
Now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s get down to business with our review of the best knives for camping.
Review of the Ten Best Camping Knives You Can Buy Right Now
This tough, carbon-bladed knife has a lot going for it.
It’s sturdy, 1/8-inch thick, has a very grippy handle and weighs in at only 4.8 ounces.
It’s not as classy-looking as some other items on our list but boasts a modern, no-nonsense kind of look that will appeal to many other buyers.
What will also appeal is the price. Given that this is the cheapest item on review and still boasts a quality build, it’s hard to go wrong…
The Big Rock is a well-made, budget-priced knife that can compete with many of its costlier competitors in the quality stakes.
It features a full tang, serrated steel blade, a very grippy ‘Softgrip’ rubber handle and offers great versatility owing to its 4.5” blade and 9.5” total length.
The downsides to this knife are a poorly made sheath and softer steel blade.
Neither of these are deal-breakers, however, but simply a reflection of the quality differentiation to be expected when buying a knife in this price range.
Another all-time classic that is incredibly well made, rugged, durable and is sure to earn you some serious campsite kudos.
The 1095 Cro-Van high carbon, corrosion-resistant steel is just about indestructible and adds sheen to the Becker’s classy, no-nonsense look.
Although originally sold as a combat knife, the Becker is just as at home in the backcountry.
It’s very large, granted, but the clip-point, saber grind design makes it a decent performer on more nimble, delicate tasks.
An all-time favorite with hikers, campers and outdoors people worldwide.
This incredibly simple, lightweight knife features a 3.25-inch, carbon steel blade that is ideal for whittling, food prep and light knife work about camp.
The blade is very thin and not as tough as other items in our review but all in all the Opinel No.8 offers great value for money and a classic, simple design.
A flip-open knife that packs a lot of punch in a very compact, lightweight package.
While a little on the short side for really heavy duty tasks, the Ken Onion Blur is ideal for the backcountry minimalist.
Spring-assisted opening and a Speedsafe lock make it easy and safe to use, and a reversible belt clip lets you access the knife as quickly as you can get your hand on it!
On the downside, the DLC coating on the blade can scratch after heavy usage.
A very classy-looking, tough, high-performing fixed blade knife that’s as fit for detailed knife work as it is for heavy-duty tasks.
Whether you’re skinning game, splitting wood, chopping kindling or cutting rope, the Vanguard can do it all with the minimum of fuss and maximum precision.
A mid-range knife that performs and lasts as well as most top end competitors.
There’s a lot to love about the Spyderco Endura 4.
It’s light, strong, razor sharp and features a corrosion-resistant blade that means it requires less cleaning than many other models in its price range.
Some users, however, will find the feel of the plastic handle just a little bit tacky and the blade a touch on the short side for more than basic food prep and trimming.
Another solid performer that ticks most boxes but doesn’t stand out quite as much as similarly priced competitors.
The Ka-Bar Becker BK2 is a great all-rounder and offers a variety of desirable features for those seeking a super-strong, fixed-blade camping knife.
It’s tough, durable, full tang, and is a nice size for both smaller tasks around the campsite and lighter chopping or cutting.
The greatest downsides to the BK2 Campanion are its weight and occasionally slippery handle.
You might need to rob a small bank to buy one, but the pricey 162 Bushcrafter will reward your efforts with something a little bit special.
From the outset, this knife reeks of superior craftsmanship and quality.
It features a S30V stainless steel, drop-point blade with a 58-60 hardness rating and a contoured handle for superior grip.
Its 7oz weight means you’re paying a lot of $ per ounce, but every one of those ounces is packed with a whole lot of goodness.
Measuring in at a huge 11 inches long (the blade is 6.3”) and weighing in at 11.3 ounces, the Fallkniven A1 is a bit of a beast!
As such, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
One look at the blade on this beauty, however, and you might just be tempted to skip the details in the specs and dive right into the purchase.
Featuring a laminate, VG-10 and 420J2 steel construction, Kraton handle and a protruding broad tang, this is a knife that’s as practical as it is pretty.
If you’re looking for a blade that really means business, this just might be your gal.
As with many camping and outdoor accessories, the camping knife you choose will ultimately depend on your needs and personal preferences.
Nevertheless, in terms of overall quality, value for money and performance, our review has found one standout winner.
Take a bow, the Ka-Bar Fighting/Utility Serrated Edge Knife!
Compared to its closest runner-up, the Benchmade 162, the Ka-Bar doesn’t quite match up quality-wise, but also comes in at less than half the price and thus offers far better value for money.
This is a no half-measures, no-nonsense kind of knife that offers high-quality steel and superb craftsmanship at an affordable price.
As a box-ticker, it equals or surpasses all of its competitors in everything except compactness and portability.
Despite its size, however, the Ka-Bar’s clip-point blade and saber grind allow it to perform as well on delicate tasks as far smaller knives.
It is big, sure, but we believe that if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it well.
And the Ka-Bar does things well. Very well!
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