A decent knife for camping and backpacking is an absolutely essential item. Endlessly useful for mundane, everyday tasks, but also a potential survival tool. In some cases, even the best backpacking knife doesn’t get much use when out in the backcountry. But it should always be there, at the ready to step up to the task in hand, when needed.
Conversely, some campers and backpackers use their knife for everything, all of the time. From food preparation and cooking to wood cutting, whittling and first aid. The best camping knives offer versatility as well as peace of mind.
But with a gazillion superbly sharp and versatile camping knives available, it’s virtually impossible to figure out which is best suited to your needs. To help make things easier, we asked a bunch of outdoor enthusiasts and camping nuts to tell us about their favourite camping knives.
- The best camping and backpacking knives in 2020
- Things to consider when choosing a knife for backpacking and camping
- Weight and size
- Folding or fixed blade
- Features of the best camping and backpacking knives
Summary of the best camping and backpacking knives in 2020
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|Buck Compadre Camp Knife||201.3g / 7.1oz||Fixed||$$$$|
|Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife||94g / 3.4oz||Fixed||$$|
|Cold Steel Survival Edge Knife||80g / 2.8oz||Fixed||$$|
|Gerber Compact Clearpath Machete||530g / 18.7oz||Fixed||$|
|Esse 4||227g / 8oz||Fixed||$$$$|
|Victorinox Adventurer||107g / 3.8oz||Folding (lockable)||$$|
|Opinel Number 8||43g / 1.5oz||Folding (lockable)||$|
|Leatherman Wingman||198g / 7oz||Folding||$$$|
|Ka-Bar BK2 Becker Campanion||453g / 16oz||Fixed||$$$|
The best camping and backpacking knives in 2020
|Weight:||201.3g / 7.1oz|
|Features:||Comes with a leather locking sheath|
Though I always favour my Swiss Army Knife when hiking and backpacking, when camping it’s the Buck Compadre that wins every time. I use it most for camp cooking: it makes me actually look like I have some skills when it comes to fish gutting and filleting! It’s also superb at tackling less delicate jobs like stripping branches for firewood, cutting ropes and sharpening wooden stakes etc. The full tang design of the knife gives it a ton of stability that is reliable when it really matters. And the mega tough high carbon blade retains sharpness for an age.
Carrying it on my belt in its leather sheath makes be feel kind of badass, but it’s also a highly convenient way to keep it with you. I even use it in the garden! Sensibly, the sheath has a locking strap to keep it in place.
The Compadre is the kind of knife that I will have forever. And although it certainly isn’t a cheap knife, its quality and reliability certainly makes it worth the extra spend.
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Whitby and Co
|Weight:||94g / 3.4oz|
|Features:||Includes fire starter that twist-locks into handle|
When you’re putting in big miles on the trail, pack weight becomes a real issue. Like they say – “ounces becomes pounds.” And while a knife is my least-used piece of gear there have been times it’s come in very handy. Like a first-aid kit, you have to consider “What If?” So my choice is the Light My Fire Swedish Knife by Mora Knives. It’s a 3.75” fixed blade and includes a lightweight sheath and, wisely, a magnesium alloy ferro rod that shoots a very effective spark in case of lighter failure. All-in it’s about 3.5 ounces, which I can justify, especially given the crazy sharp blade which really holds its edge as well as the weight savings from needing a backup lighter. I wouldn’t choose it to baton thick wood but it’s great for tinder and even food prep. A well-made, popular piece of gear that will last.
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|Weight:||80g / 2.8oz|
|Features:||Handle holds survival items|
I love this knife because it’s sturdy, affordable and has a multitude of functions. The best feature of this knife is that the handle has a removable cap on the end allowing for storage of survival items inside of that cavity. Also, if empty, the knife can be converted to a hunting or fishing spear by inserting a wooden pole into the handle and fastening that with some kind of rope. I use it mostly for fire starting with the flint that’s in the small side compartment of the sheath.
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|Weight:||530g / 18.7oz|
|Features:||Dual-sided blade includes crosscut saw edge|
Many of us like to get off the beaten path and explore. Once we get off there we may face a variety of challenges. Finding our way through the trails and finding our way back is just one example. Of the many tools needed when camping or hiking, a quality knife is essential. For everyday use around the house and the office, it is hard to beat a multi-tool knife like the Leatherman, but for camping, hiking and general outdoor activities, I grab a different knife. The Gerber Compact Clearpath Machete!
Common activities on the trail or at the campsite that require a knife include brush and limb clearing, stake cutting, firewood chopping or sawing, bark stripping, etc. These activities require a sharp blade that keeps an edge, a strong blade that allows swinging and striking, and an aggressive saw blade for cutting thicker branches. I have always found Gerber knives to have sharp blades that maintain their edge after multiple uses. The Clearpath Machete is incredibly strong for aggressive chopping and includes an equally important comfort grip and retaining strap to keep the knife from leaving your hand. The sawtooth backside of the machete is incredibly sharp and strong for cutting through relatively large branches. The knife comes with a very lightweight and comfortable carrying case and is very reasonably priced. Next time you head into the woods, give it a try!
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|Weight:||227g / 8oz|
If I had to pick just one knife out of (my huge collection) my all-time favourite knife would have to be the Esee 4. I’ve had the knife for 5 years now and I love it to death! I have done terrible things to it, and it has taken everything I’ve thrown at it with no degradation in performance. It is one of the most versatile knives I own and there is literally nothing it cannot do. It is not too small or too big. It is tough, made from high quality steel, the perfect heat treatment, and easy to sharpen (feels like a razor’s edge when sharpened correctly).
It’s the only knife I leave the house with. I use it for batoning wood, filleting fish, as can opener, food prep, game cleaning, as a razor and sometimes even as a mirror! There is literally nothing it can’t do.
My favourite feature is perhaps the least obvious one, it gives me peace of mind! It is small enough, when carried correctly, that you don’t feel you’re carrying it at all. But subconsciously you’re assured that it will handle any task you throw at it.
I also love that the company stands behind its product with a lifetime warranty (not that you’ll need it) with no questions asked.
|Weight:||107g / 3.8oz|
|Blade type:||Folding (lockable)|
A little bigger than the classic Swiss Army knives, this is the knife I carry when I can only have one. I find the tools useful in the most unexpected ways, and the medium sized blade is perfect for most camping and outdoor cooking needs. Its best feature is its versatility, and the quality of its construction. When it gets messy cutting an avocado, just rinse it off and you’re set with no worries about rust or corrosion.
I am the director of a summer camp, and this knife accompanies me on a couple of dozen camping trips with kids every year. I use it mostly for meal prep for the groups. Just this summer I used it to cut watermelon, slice tomatoes and apples, and chop peppers, for example. It’s ideal for this kind of use.
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|Weight:||43g / 1.5oz|
|Blade type:||Folding (lockable)|
|Features:||Virobloc ring locks blade open and folded|
Though the blade is reliably sharp and vicious when it needs to be, there is nothing aggressive about my Opinel knife. The wooden handle feels solid and comfortable to hold, but it also adds some rustic charm to the knife. Granted, its small blade is the ideal size for camp cooking and food prep. But its aesthetics also make it totally appropriate to eat with, take on picnics or add to a camping cheese board. I also really love that the blade locks (both open and closed). This means I don’t need to worry about it when it’s packed in my bag or in my pocket, and I can also whittle with it without worrying about it closing mid-carve!
It is surprisingly versatile, despite its simple design, and I’ve never wanted for anything bigger or more full-featured on both backpacking and car camping trips.
|Weight:||198g / 7oz|
I basically don’t leave home without my Leatherman Wingman. I received it as a Christmas present about seven years ago from my manager at the South Carolina State Park where I worked for many years. It’s been in my bag or pocket ever since!
Although my husband and I love kayaking and rock climbing, we have a toddler so our outdoor activities are currently a bit more limited than they used to be. Our main outdoor activity right now is several trips a year to a remote rural property in West Virginia. There’s no running water or electricity, so it’s basically a camp out with lots of tree felling, mowing, and other property maintenance!
My Wingman is so important to me on these trips. I’ve used it for everything from a makeshift hammer to a cheese knife! I love how durable and versatile the Wingman is. I’ve used the base of the plier jaws to cut wire, and the serrations on the blade to cut through ropes and straps. I haven’t managed to dent, bend, or break it in several years of hard use.
|Weight:||453g / 16oz|
|Features:||Comes with locking sheath|
I mostly use this knife when I go camping. I traditionally wouldn’t use it for a hike or at home since it does not fold up. For camping trips, however, it’s extremely versatile and I typically end up using it to help with the cooking. I can cut meat, veggies and sometimes will even use it to stir my Jetboil. Sharpness has been great and it has been extremely sturdy. I also leave this in my bag a lot which gets hit with bad weather and rain etc. and it’s still in great shape!
Things to consider when choosing a knife for backpacking and camping
Weight and size
If you’re looking for a knife for backpacking and hiking then size and weight is one of the most important features to consider. A knife is one of those items you should always have with you, but, like a first aid kit, often doesn’t get used. Therefore, the smaller and lighter it is, whilst still being functional, the better. There’s no denying that smaller knives have limitations, however, unless you’re relying on cutting wood for fuel in the backcountry, then a small knife or multi-tool will be sufficient in most scenarios.
Car campers, on the other hand, have the luxury of not worrying about size and weight. This means that larger, stronger, fixed blade knives can be thrown in the mix. Providing the knife is constructed well, longer blades allow campers to tackle bigger jobs like dealing with fish and game, or cutting small branches etc.
Most camping and backpacking knives are made from steel. The type of steel can vary a little with some knives being made from high carbon steel which is generally thought to be higher quality and lighter weight. That said, steel is a low cost and super strong metal, regardless of how much carbon is in it, making it ideal for use when camping and backpacking.
Folding or fixed blade
The best backpacking knife should be folding to save space, and to carry easily and safely. Ideally, folding knives should also have a locking mechanism to provide stability when cutting, to prevent them from opening up when closed, and to ensure users keep all of their fingers! Many folding pocket knives, especially multitools, don’t have locking blades, making the lockable Victorinox Adventurer a highly appealing option for backpackers.
The best camping knives are often fixed blade knives that provide greater strength and versatility for a variety of different jobs. Most fixed blade knives should come with a sheath, and many also have
Features of the best camping and backpacking knives
There’s certainly something very appealing about a super simple knife like the Opinel. It does what it needs to do, and does it well. However, I’m also a big fan of multi-tools, especially for backpacking and hiking when it’s unlikely you’ll have another, better tool for the job.
Regular camping knives (not multitools), tend not to have many extra features. But a few things to look for are:
Every fixed blade knife should come with a sheath. These are usually made from plastic and are designed to protect the user when the knife is being transported or carried. Some sheaths have a secure button to fix the knife in position whilst others are designed to simply house the knife. Most sheaths can be attached to a belt.
The cross guard is found on the handle of a knife where the handle finishes and the blade starts. It is designed to prevent your hand from slipping off the handle and onto the blade. Not all knives have a cross guard.
Most fixed blade knives feature a hole in the end of their handles to attach a cord or loop. This is useful to store your knife — hang it up or clip it to your backpack — but also to put around your wrist when using in scenarios where it would be a real inconvenience if you dropped it — like in a boat, or over the fire.
Storage in handle
Some camping and backpacking knives have hollow handles where small items (survival kit, firestarters etc) can be stored. This feature adds a bit more versatility to a fixed blade knife making it more suited to hiking and backpacking.
Whichever of this selection of awesome camping and backpacking knives you choose, be sure to use with care and thought.
Happy chopping, happy campers!