Suwannee River State Park (Withlacoochee River)

Choosing the right Knife for Backpacking

The American Backpacker 

Going into a wilderness area without a knife is like backpacking barefoot.  It can be done with undue hardships and risks.  Some backpackers are weight conscious about their gear and they down size what they bring into a wilderness area.  A knife should not be that piece of gear.  A knife provides you the ability to cut and process various items and it will also provide you protection from dangers in a wilderness area.

There are many knife manufacturers who produce quality knives. Choosing one can be overwhelming if you are not sure what to look for.  This article will focus on what type of knife you should bring with you and not so much the manufacturer.

I will discuss the following types of knives and which one I recommend for your next adventure.

  • Folding Knife 
  • Fixed Blade Knife 
  • Serrated Blade
  • Straight Blade
  • The Metal Composition of the Knife

Folding Knife:

Folding knives are excellent EDC (Every Day Carry) knives.  They are compact lightweight and can be easily carried in or attached to your pocket, (with clip).  Folding knives have their place but not in a wilderness area.  What makes them portable also makes them weak.  The hinge/pin that allows them to open and close can fail.  This limits their use and durability in the field.  An example would be if you use them to baton or chop wood.  The impact on the hinge will eventually cause them to weaken and break over time.

Fixed Blade Knife:

A fixed blade knife is a solid one piece knife that has no moving parts.  These knives are heavier than a folding knife but they are more versatile and resilient.  Fixed blade knives come in a full tang or partial tang configuration.

A full tang knife is where the knife is one solid piece that extends through the handle.  A partial tang knife is where the metal portion of the knife is partially pushed into a handle.  The metal portion does not extend through the entire handle like the full tang knife.  A full tang knife is much stronger and better to have in the wilderness.

Serrated Blade

A serrated knife is a blade that has the same type of characteristics you see on a saw.  A serrated knife is also called a sawtooth knife.  Most field knives that have a serrated blade on them also have a portion of the knife that has a smooth blade, (the knife is half serrated and half smooth).  This type of blade is good for sawing but they are difficult to sharpen.  They are also not designed for work that requires precision cuts.  Even though they are difficult to sharpen they do stay sharper then a smooth blade knife.  I have used these knives and they have their uses in the wilderness.

Gerber LMF II Fixed Blade Serrated Knife
Gerber LMF II Fixed Blade Serrated Knife (Full Tang)

Straight Blade

A straight blade knife is a blade that has a smooth edge like that of a razor used for shaving.  These knives can be easily sharpened and they have more surface contact with the objects you are cutting.  Having a small Sharpener with you in the wilderness is a good idea if you carry a straight blade knife.  In an emergency, depending on the wilderness area,  you may be able to sharpen a straight blade knife with rocks or stones you find especially those in creeks or streams.

Knife Sharpener
Worksharp (Knife Sharpener)

A straight edge knife unlike a serrated can be sharpened to either a polished or coarse edge depending on the sharpening stone you use.  This type of sharpening allows you to acclimate the blade to a specific use. An example would be if you are cutting thick rope.  You can sharpen the knife with a more coarse sharpening stone causing the blade to have micro serrations.  This edge will cut through rope better than one with a polished blade.  

US Army M7 Bayonet Knife
Vietnam M7 Knife with M8A1 Scabbard

The Metal Composition of the Knife

So what type of metal composition should a wilderness knife have?  There is much debate on this.  I prefer a carbon steel knife, (1095 carbon), over a stainless steel knife.  Carbon steel knives hold a better edge, easier to sharpen, and stronger.  The down side is that a carbon steel knife will rust if you do not take care of it.

Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest (Esee 6 Knife)

Conclusion

I prefer using a fixed blade full tang knife with a smooth blade.  I like using the Esee series of knives made by Randall’s Adventure and Training.  I like the cutting edge of the blade to be 4 to 6 inches in length.  I may use a larger blade knife if I am clearing vegetation, (jungle terrain), with it.  In this situation I use the Esee Junglas or machete with a 10 inch or longer blade.  My preference in the knifes metal composition is carbon steel, (1095 carbon steel).  I find it easier to sharpen and they hold a good edge in the field.

There are many manufacturers out there who produce high quality knives.  Do your research and select one who will stand by their knives no matter what.  I have never had a problem with the quality of my Esee knives and they have a life time warranty on their knives if they break, no questions asked.

Esee Knives
My (3) choices of knives that I use on my wilderness adventures

Wilderness Tip:  click on this link for a tip on how to carry your knife more. easily in a wilderness area.