Whether you’re hiking, camping, backpacking or have a cabin in the woods, a knife is an important tool to have for any outdoor excursion. Knives have more uses than just cutting or slicing, they’re also good for digging, splitting, self defense, first aid, food prep, shelter building, fire making, hunting, prying, signaling, hammering, and as a make-shift screwdriver.
They’re both practical and essential for outdoor survival. In the market for camping/outdoor survival knives, there are an overwhelming number of models to choose from.
This article is intended to help you choose the best camping knife suited to your outdoor needs. It will highlight important knife features and give an overview of some of the most popular outdoor knives on the market today.
Important Features to Consider
Smaller blades are generally good for dressing small game or carving, while longer blades are generally good for batoning, splitting wood, cutting through large tree limbs.
For a camping knife in particular it’s important to find the right in between size so your knife can be used for intricate camp work and heavier tasks such as splitting small logs. A blade size between 4-6 inches is generally a good size for camping knives to ensure packability and durability for outdoor survival.
Fixes Blade VS. Folding
Fixed blades are generally more durable and reliable than folding knives. They will perform better when used for hunting, pounding, chopping, thrusting, prying and rigorous cutting. They also provide more strength and ergonomic comfort and are also easier to clean than folding knives. However, they take up more space than folding knives and a sheath is required to carry it around safely.
Folding knives are more compact since they fold into their casing. However, they lack the ergonomic stability that fixed-blade knives have. The joint is a weakness in outdoor survival situations.
In general fixed blades are used more light duty tasks, while folding knives are useful for light duty tasks.
Good quality knives are built full tang, meaning the blade and handle are constructed from one continuous piece of metal. Chances of a full tang blade breaking is minimal. Full tang knives are more durable than half tangs, push tangs, or rat-tail tangs.
Partial tangs can loosen and compromise the handle over time if used for batoning, prying and chopping. Full tang knives are typically dressed with scales or grips to make handling more comfortable. If the blade is full tang, the handle component can be easily replaced or wrapped in cordage for more grip.
This determines the overall functionality of the knife blade.
The best knives generally have a sturdy, pointy tip with a nice curve and straight portion near the handle. Here are some of the most common blade shapes on the market:
- Drop-points are strong and versatile because of its thick point that is ideal for general knife work and other heavy duty tasks. The spine of the blade drops towards the tip which reduces the risk of accidental puncturing.
- Clip-points have a thin, sharp point created by the crescent drop on the top of the blade. They have less strength than drop-point blades but they offer more control for detail work and exacting. They’re also more ideal for puncturing.
- Tanto points have an angular tip and a strong point. This makes it a strong blade for prying, scraping, and piercing tough materials.
- Needle and spear-points have symmetrical points and double edges. Their primary purpose is for puncturing and throwing, making it ideal for survival and self defense situations.
- Sheepsfoot and Santuko blades have a spine that rounds off steeply to the point, with a straight cutting edge from the handle to the point. This knife is ideal for food preparation because it minimizes the risk of accidental piercing.
Generally, clip-point and drop-point blades are your best choice for outdoor survival situation.
The grind of a knife is what it cross-section looks like. The process of grinding is the removal of portion of the metal in order to create the knife’s shape. Different grinds are chosen depending on what the purpose of the blade is for. Here are just a few of the various grinds that exist for camping knives:
- Hollow: sides of the triangle curve in. They’re good for slicing and an all-around decent grind.
- Flat: sides of the triangles are straight lines. Good for general purpose cutting.
- Convex: sides of the triangle curve out. They are harder to make but they’re a more robust blade and edge. They’re great for chopping tasks.
- Serrations: are useful for cutting fibrous material such as rope or netting. They are, however, much more difficult to sharpen.
- Scandi: are popular for outdoor knives. It’s a flat grind that starts halfway down the blade but without a secondary or cutting bevel. The final half of the grind is what does the cutting because it makes a very sharp edge. However, like serrated knives, the Scandi grind can be difficult to sharpen.
Sturdiness of Steel
There are three main variables to think about when choosing the type of steel you want in a knife:
- Corrosion resistance: This is how well the steel can fare against rust and discoloration. Water, and even acidic foods can cause a blade to stain. Some of the best corrosion resistant steels are Krupp 1.4116, VG10 and N690. However, with a more corrosion resistant blade you’ll compromise your blade’s toughness and/or hardness.
- Toughness: This is the capacity of steel to bend without breaking. This is an important factor to consider with high impact tasks such as chopping wood. Some of the toughest steels include 1095, 5160, 3V and INFI.
- Hardness: This is the capacity of steel to resist bending. The knife’s edge and holding ability also factor in to the steel’s hardness. It’s measured on the Rockwell scale. Folding knives typically have a hardness factor of HRC 57-62. Very hard steels such as M4 and ZDP-189 have hardness factors of HRC 64-66. Harder steels can take a more acute edge, slice better, have cleaner cuts, and require less maintenance
Most blades are made of stainless steel alloy that are rust and corrosion resistant. However, they’re more brittle and more difficult to sharpen than most carbon steel.
Some knives are made of high-carbon steel which excel in hardness and edge retention but are more vulnerable to corrosion than stainless steel if not well maintained. They can be made very sharp and are easier to sharpen than stainless steel.
Some recommended stainless steels include: S60V, BG-42, S90V, CPM S30V, CPM 154
Some recommended carbon steels include: D2, A2, O1, Carbon V, CPM 154
When looking at handle materials it’s important to assess your intended use for the knife, the intended environment, aesthetics, and preference for gripping. Another feature to look out for is the pommel/butt (bottom) of the knife handle. The addition of a good pommel allows you to also use your knife for light duty pounding and hammering.
Here are some of the handle materials you might find while looking at knives:
- Wood: tends to be more aesthetically pleasing and provide a sturdy grip. However, they are susceptible to water damage.
- Plastic: generally inexpensive and resistant to water damage, but they can slippery.
- Rubber: water-resistant and offer a sturdy grip, but sometimes that can lack durability.
- Stainless steel and aluminum: offer durability but they tend to be slippery and can feel cold in your hand.
Now that you’ve become versed in some of the important features to look for when buying a knife, it’s time to take a look at the most popular knives in the market used for outdoor survival.
Columbia River Knife and Tool’s M21-04G Knife
Blade Style: folding; deep-bellied spear point; hollow grind; plain edge
Blade Length: 3.875”
Overall Length: 9.25”
Blade Thickness: 0.14”
Blade Material: 8Cr14MoV stainless steel, non-reflective Titanium Nitride Finish; HRC 58-59
Handle: G10 scales with 420J2 Liner
Weigh: 5.9 oz
Description: Columbia River Knife and Tool’s M21-04G Black Folding Work Knife has an InterFrame with a stainless steel liner and G10 scales. Its G10 textures scales provide a sturdy grip. This handle material is very strong, lightweight, and also an insulator.
Because of its low specific heat it’s cooler to grip in hot weather and warmer to grip in subfreezing temperatures. The knife has an automated liner safety which automatically puts a pin between the locking liner and the frame so that it’s less likely to disengage when the knife is being used.
One of its best features is its Auto LAWKS system which essentially converts the folding knife into a durable fixed blade when opened and locked. The Carson Flipper also allows you to deploy the blade quickly. Its dual checkered thumb studs give you more grip, and its carrying system offers a 4-position clip.
SOG SLPro Folding Knife ToolLogic SLP2
Blade Style: folding; flat grind; 50/50 serrated; drop point
Blade Length: 3”
Overall Length: 6.75”
Blade Thickness: 0.09”
Blade Material: 420 J2 stainless steel; satin blade bead blast finish
Handle: Zytel material; thumb hole opener
Weight: 4.2 oz
Description: SOG SLPro Folding Knife ToolLogic SLP2 was made to help any user in an emergency situation. It has a magnesium alloy fire starter rod rated for 1000 strikes, and a detachable white LED flashlight that’s waterproof for shallow immersion.
It’s powered by 1.5 Volt button cell batteries and works well in low light situations. Not only that, but it also has a loud built-in emergency signal whistle. It has a manual easy open thumb notch and a frame lock. The blade is half serrated making it a great tool for cutting any rope or cordage.
Included with the knife is a wrap around Zytel sleeve and a pocket/belt clip. Although this knife may not excel in heavy duty tasks, such as batoning, it’s a handy tool to have when hiking and for small camping tasks. You can also carry it around as a handy multifunctional tool.
Victorinox Swiss Army Adventurer Pocket Knife
Blade Style: folding; locking blade; 3.15” length
Blade Length: 3.15”
Overall Length: 7.55”
Blade Thickness: N/A
Blade Material: stainless steel
Handle: high impact polymer red
Weight: 2.8 oz
Description: The Adventurer model has a number of features which includes: a knife, Phillips screwdriver, tweezers, can opener with small screwdriver, bottle opener with large screwdriver, wire stripper, toothpick, reamer with sewing eye, and a key ring for transport. It’s a multi-tool ideal for campers, hikers, gardening and for various household tasks.
The knife would fare well with light camping tasks such as cutting rope and food preparation, but it’s not the most rugged of blades to cut branches off of trees or split firewood.
The Adventurer is a lightweight and compact pocket tool which is good for everyday use and small camping or hiking tasks, but for more rugged outdoor adventures, a more durable blade is worth investing in.
Ka-Bar 2-3050-9 Mule Field Folder Knife
Blade Style: folding; clip point; edge angle 15 degrees; hollow grind
Blade Length: 3.875”
Overall Length: 9.125”
Blade Thickness: 0.125”
Blade Material: AUS 8A Stainless Steel; Teflon coating; HRC 57-59
Handle: Zytel material; lined with hard rubber; double thumb stud
Weight: 7.2 oz
Description: The Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder has been tested for quality and durability and is used by military and service members and outdoor enthusiast alike. It has a sturdy construction and is hearty like a fixed blade but more compact. The handle is quite heavy compared to other folding knives, but it offers a solid feel in your hands.
The handle narrows as it gets closer to the blade which makes the grip more comfortable for precision tasks such as carving wood.
The thin lines of hard rubber on the handle also offer more grip. Because it’s a double thumb stud, it has reverse grip options which make it comfortable in either hand.
Its lockback style locking mechanism is strong, efficient, and ensures that the blade won’t disengage while the knife is in use. It includes a Cordura nylon sheath with Velcro and snap closures. It can be put both vertically and horizontally on a belt.
Cold Steel Recon 1 Spear Point Plain Edge Knife
Blade Style: folding; hollow grind; plain edge; spear point
Blade Length: 4”
Overall Length: 9.375”
Blade Thickness: 0.138”
Blade Material: Carpenter CTS XHP alloy stainless steel; DLC coating
Handle: G-10 material
Weight: 5.3 oz
Description: Cold Steel’s Recon 1 is a popular knife among military and law enforcement personnel, fire and rescue crews, and people who need a dependable knife. It’s a great tactical knife for its durability and strength, also making it a great outdoor survival knife.
The Recon 1 is thin, lightweight, razor sharp and has a solid design which makes it feel like a fixed blade. It has a manual thumb stud opener with a tri-ad lock that helps with shock absorption and keeping fingers safe. It has an aluminum heat-treated back spacer and can be used comfortably in either your right or left hand. The knife also includes a reversible tip-up pocket clip.
Columbia River Knife and Tool’s 2125KV Knife
Blade Style: fixed blade; modified tanto point; razor edge; hollow grind; combo edge: partially Veff serrated edge
Blade Length: 4.95”
Overall Length: 10.0039”
Blade Thickness: 0.18”
Blade Material: 1.4116-stainless steel; black titanium nitride finish; HRC 55-57
Handle: injection molded glass filled nylon; 70-triangle grip segments
Weight: 8.4 oz
Description: CRKT’s Ultima resembles some of the Bronze Age daggers from 4000 years ago, but nonetheless, it has been designed as a tactical and practical knife. Serrations are wide and angled at 60 degrees to the edge, ensuring that slicing is smooth and effortless.
The serrations make the knife good for cutting rope, webbing, strapping, hoses and leather. The triangular handle segments are separated by sipes/ooze grooves to channel away water, mud and oil, while the horizontal grooves under the fingertips give you a better feel on the hands.
It has a butt pry tip extension and removable security handle straps and snaps which give you quick access and security to the knife. A black tactical Cordura Zytel sheath is also included. The sheath has an injected molded liner and dual belt loops which a Velcro adjustable.
There are grommets and 550 paracord included, along with an adjustable leg strap and a slotted back which is MOLLE compatible. The Ultima was made for the outdoor elements and for various light and heavy duty tasks.
KA-BAR #1213 Black Straight Edge Knife
Blade Style: fixed blade; clip point; flat grind; straight/plain edge; 20 degree edge angle; 7” length; 0.165” thickness
Blade Length: 7”
Overall Length: 11.75”
Blade Thickness: 0.165”
Blade Material: high carbon 1095 spring steel; powder coated; flat black finish; HRC 56-58
Handle: Kraton (rubber-like composite) material
Weight: 16 oz
Description: The Ka-Bar 1213 is one of the best survival knives on the market, for outdoor use and also self defense. It has a sharp clip point blade which makes it ideal for delicate jobs such as skinning. But with its fixed blade, full tang design, the knife can be used for heavy-duty utility work such as chopping and batoning. Its flat ground makes it easy to sharpen and allows it to hold edges well.
The 1095 spring steel flexes well, making the blade less prone to chips and breaks, and also helps it resist bending.
The blade, carbon steel guards and metal butt caps are all powdered coated for protection against possible corrosion. The integrated finger guards were made long enough to prevent cuts or injuries to your fingers.
Its Kraton handle is resistant to water, heat and the cold, so it doesn’t cause blisters and can grip well even when wet. It also includes a durable locking Kydex sheath with a belt loop. The Kydex is waterproof, heat and cold resistant, and difficult to scratch. The sheath’s internal clip also helps keep the knife secure.
Buck Knives Hood Hoodlum Survival Fixed Blade Knife
Blade Style: fixed blade; clip point; straight edge; blade groove; 10” length
Blade Length: 10”
Overall Length: 15.5”
Blade Thickness: N/A
Blade Material: 5160 spring steel; powder coat finish; HRC 57-58
Handle: black linen Micarta; removable
Weight: 22 oz
Description: Buck Knives 060 Hood Hoodlum Survival Fixed Blade Knife with Sheath was designed to be a heavy duty knife for survival in extreme conditions. It can be used for various purposes, anything from food prep, hunting or self defense. The 5160 alloy is very durable and resilient to shattering because of its shock absorbing properties.
Its clip point tip makes it good for detailing, puncturing, and cutting in tight places, however, it does not have the strength that thicker points provide. One of the features that sets it apart from other knives is the groove on the blade spine, used for scoring bone, bending wire, removing pots from a fire and other tasks. Its large forward finger choil gives you better control for fine detailing tasks such as whittling.
The knife’s Shock Mitigation System (SMS) helps alleviate shock and energy conservation for tasks such as chopping. It has a lanyard hole and an integrated hammer on the butt of the handle. The handle is also removable, so you can also make your blade into a spear by attaching a branch to the tang. Included is a heavy duty nylon, MOLLE compatible sheath with leg strap cord and front storage carry pouch.
Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
Blade Style: fixed blade; drop point; partially serrated; 4.84” length
Blade Length: 4.84”
Overall Length: 10.59”
Blade Thickness: N/A
Blade Material: 420HC stainless steel
Handle: glass-filled nylon; TPV overmold; lashing holes
Weight: 11.67 oz
Description: Gerber LMF II Survival Knife was designed by former military man Jeff Freeman, and tested rigorously in the field. It can be used in many situations such as the military, hunting, survival, tactical, industrial and outdoor bushcraft.
When brought on outdoor adventures the LMF II excels in cutting firewood and building shelters. It has a rugged and reliable design, capable of plexiglass punch. The buttcap of the handle is physically separated from the tang to provide shock absorption when it’s used as a hammer.
The overmolded handle provides a better grip and helps prevent blisters. The lashing holes also allow the blade to be converted into a spear. The knife includes a sheath made out of ballistic nylon with fire retardant coating. The sheath is MOLLE compatible and has an integrated carbide sharpener, to ensure that your blade stays sharp no matter where you might be.
SOG SEAL Pup Elite Fixed Blade E37SN-CP
Blade Style: fixed blade; straight edge; clip point
Blade Length: 4.85”
Overall Length: 9.5”
Blade Thickness: 0.185”
Blade Material: AUS-8 stainless steel; hard-cased black titanium nitrate finish; HRC 57-58
Handle: injected molded glass reinforced nylon; finger grooves; grip lines
Weight: 5.4 oz
Description: The SEAL knives are put under rigorous evaluation with tests such as: tip breaking stress, blade breaking limit, sharpness, edge retention, handle twist off force, two week salt water immersion tests, gasoline and acetylene torch resistance, chopping, hammering, prying, penetration tests, cutting six different types of rope and line and hands-on competition in the field.
They’re a good, durable multi-purpose knife for various activities such as hiking and backpacking.
They put under cryogenic heat treatment for toughness and wear resistance. The SEAL Pup Elite features a blade spine rasp which is ideal for notching, filing, and thumb placement. It has an ergonomically designed handle with deeper finger grooves and scored grip lines that offer a better grip.
It also includes a MOLLE compatible nylon sheath with belt loop attachment. To ensure the longevity of your knife, SOG recommends that you keep your knife clean, dry, oiled, sharp and stored properly. This will help defend against corrosion, wear and potential injury.
After reading about the important features of a knife and some reviews of the most popular knives on the market, hopefully you feel more ready than ever to invest in one yourself. Knives are one of the most essential tools for any outdoor adventure, so it’s important to invest in a good quality knife.
Be sure to do extensive research on specific products before purchasing anything, and remember to assess your intended uses for the knife, outdoor lifestyle and budget. This will help you decide which knife will be the best fit as your next outdoor companion.