A hiking knife is a crucial piece of equipment for any hiker. It is a handy tool that could make your life easier on long trips, but it may save your life in a pinch as well. Today we will go through the basics on how to choose a hiking knife.
Buying hiking equipment is definitely one of the things many hikers look forward to, me included. I remember gawking at the knives on display in camping and bush craft shops as a child wondering when I would be able to pick one out for myself.
When it comes to hiking knives there are thousands of options and designs available, there are also a lot of people with different opinions about the matter. However, we must remember one thing; our individual needs and circumstances are different, while people may give opinions about what they think is best, we must consider what is the best for us.
When I chose my first hiking knife it was definitely a struggle, but over the years I familiarized myself with the different types and designs. I created this guide in hopes that it will help you to choose a hiking knife. I will cover 4 main points down below and they are the things you must consider when choosing your first hiking knife.
- Size and Weight
Function – What would your knife be used for?
I decided to cover function at the very beginning, this will be the most CRUCIAL step in your decision process. All the following steps will also reflect back to the function of the knife.
Function refers to the following questions: What will the knife be used for? Where will you take the knife? and finally what do you expect the knife to do?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you purchase your first hiking knife.
1. What will the knife be used for?
Are you looking for a knife that will cut food and butter? Perhaps a knife to whittle down sticks or cut through logs? Or are you simply looking for a knife that will only be used for survival purposes? What if you want your knife to do many things? (I will cover multi-tools and survival knives in another guide)
2. Where will you take the knife?
Think about the environment you will be taking your knives into, is it cold, wet, salty and corrosive? Or is the environment likely to be dry, hot and very humid? These will affect the longevity of your knife; how long your trusty blade will be able to be used before wearing out.
3. What do you expect the knife to do?
To avoid disappointment, you must be realistic about your knife.
Knives are designed with different purposes, you can’t simply buy a hiking knife and expect to be able to use it like a throwing knife with pinpoint accuracy. Similarly, you can’t expect a filleting knife to perform as well as a specially designed hiking knife.
Design – Beautiful, stylish, but does it fold?
When it comes to choosing a hiking knife design there are two points for you to consider. It is a fixed knife or a folding knife? and do you like the knife?
1. Fixed or folding?
It is just as the name sounds, can the knife be folded into something smaller? Generally folding knives will have a fordable blade that can be folded and stored in the handle, fixed knives on the other hand generally comes with a sheath that you can place the knife into.
Fixed knives are the traditional knives, no mechanical issues for you to worry about. These knives generally require lower maintenance and less cleaning. Folding knives on the other hand can fold up into something smaller, the design allows it to fit into a much smaller area and appeals to many people.
Thinking about function, a fixed knife is much better suited for cooking and cutting food. There are fewer crevices for the food particles and oil to be stuck in and much less cleaning. If you are taking your knife to areas that are wet and corrosive, the mechanical parts of the folding knife may rust. So a fixed knife may be a better choice in those situation.
However, we cannot simply skip past the major advantage of folding knives, IT CAN FOLD!! Being able to fold means these knives can be carried much easier, they’ll fit into smaller spaces. When your backpack is getting full and you’re having trouble deciding between underwear or knife, you’ll thank yourself for choosing a folding knife (these weight and space-saving techniques really add up).
2. Do you like the knife?
One of the most important aspects of design but often overlooked, you should find a knife that you enjoy looking at, a knife that you like.
We can talk all day about how this knife is recommended or that knife has been known to be good or how this is the most expensive, but if at the end of the day you don’t like the look of the knife that you’ve bought, this will all mean nothing; you will always find a reason to not like the knife and will look for other knives to buy.
Size and weight, comfortable in your hands but won’t weigh you down.
This one is straight forward and simple. FUNCTION!! Is the knife big enough or small enough for what you need it for. A knife too big may hinder your ability to use it. Imagine using a machete to cut your slice of cheese. Choose a knife that is fit for your purpose. But also consider will it fit into my backpack comfortably.
Weight is another big thing to look out for. A knife too heavy may not suit you hike, if you’re planning a 60 mile hike over many days, a knife that is a bit lighter could mean you have a more enjoyable time.
Material, think about the whole knife
Materials, the literalfundamentals of the knife. Choosing the hiking knife with the right materials is absolutely critical.
First let’s talk about the blade. The blade is often made of steel, and when it comes to steel there are 3 common types used in hiking knives.
1. Carbon steel – The traditional material, it is tough, it holds an edge well. However, it can be brittle, so SOME carbon steels may not be suitable for folding knives. These steel are more suited for fixed knives with a full tang (the knife extends into the handle). Carbon steel is also more prone to rust.
2. Tool steel – These are often used in industrial equipment, it is more resistant to rusting than carbon steel, it is also tough and holds and edge well. The one major drawback is when it comes to maintenance and sharpening, these steel often require specialist equipment.
3. Stainless steel – These steel are the most resistant to rusting, they are also used very commonly. The major drawback with stainless steel is that they are the least tough out of the 3 common types, it may not hold up an edge as well as the others.
I only covered the major classifications of steel here today, you can go a lot more in depth but I feel like that is a bit beyond the scope of this guide. For example, you can talk about 420HC steel for CPM S110V steel (but that’s just very confusing). If even steel is getting too annoying for you to think about, just go back to basics, which one sound the best to you? Which one do you like? Which one would suit you? (FUNCTION)
I will only cover 4 main types of handle materials that are commonly used in hiking knives.
1. Plastic handles
These are hardy, they do not absorb moisture or water (good for those wet environment and beach hikes). These are often very well practical.
2. Rubber handles
Like plastic handles, the effect of water won’t affect them. Rubber also adds the benefit of extra grip. However unlike plastic rubber can be damaged and may not be as durable, a rough journey in the hot sun may also cause some rubber handles to slightly melt and become sticky.
3. Metal handles
These are the most durable of all handles, they can look quite sleek as well. BUT THE DESIGN IS QUITE IMPORTANT!! If the metal handles are not designed well, they may not be comfortable to hold and may dig into you. These handles can also be quite slippery (especially if badly designed).
4. Wooden handles
The traditional handle, the handle that everyone thinks of when it comes to knives. They are beautiful, they come in various colors and shapes and the grain of the wood can be captivating (I may be slightly biased when it comes to these handles). These handles can also be quite comfortable in your hand, and has some grip (not as much as rubber handles). There is however, a major drawback. The wooden handles will absorb moisture and water, meaning they can be damaged by wet conditions (especially salty), when used for cutting food, oils and food particles may also stain and damage them which is an issue.
At the end of the day, how do I choose a hiking knife?
I hope this guide was able to teach you about how to choose a hiking knife. Always remember function, everything links back to function, but the look of the knife is also very important. This is a very broad guide aimed at getting your started on your decision and letting you know what you should be thinking about. I hope by the end of this guide you’ll have a rough idea about what you will use your knife for, what kind of design you think will suit you and what kinds you will like, the size and weight that you think will suit you and perhaps what material you will be looking at. In the future I plan to write an article about what are the current knives out there that I think will make a very good hiking knife. Hope you stick around and have a look!
I wish you all the best and hope you had fun reading this guide and found it helpful. May you have many happy adventures and hikes in the future. Please let me know if you have any tips when it comes to choosing your hiking knives below!
If you need help understanding the basics of knives, feel free to click here. This is a whole section of the website that is dedicated to bringing you up to date with the basics of knives.