There’s nothing better to stimulate a good bit of campfire chat than asking the question, “which is the best camping knife?”. Chances are, you’ll get half a dozen answers.
That’s partly because there are a lot of camping knives out there, and partly because choosing a knife is a very personal thing.
In this article, I’ll be looking at some of the best knives for different uses, from backpacking to food prep.
What Do You Need a Camping Knife For?
Some manufacturers would make you believe that you can use their knife to skin a grizzly bear, chop a giant redwood into firewood or fend off a zombie invasion.
While some knives look like they’re designed more for military combat than gutting a fish, most of us just need something to prepare wood for a campfire or food for dinner.
For this article, we’ll be putting the Rambo knives to one side and focusing on the best camping knives for the following tasks:
- 1Preparing wood and kindling for a campfire
- 2Cutting rope, cord and trimming brush
- 3Cooking and preparing food
- 4Fishing and hunting (but not grizzly bears)
- 5All those little miscellaneous jobs you forget you need a sharp knife for.
Ready to get started?
Fixed Blade or Folder?
The first decision you’re going to have to make when choosing a camping knife is whether to go for a fixed blade or a folder. Here’s the lowdown on each.
Fixed Blade Camping Knives
Fixed blade camping knives come in lots of different shapes and sizes. For food prep, shaving wood for kindling and general camp activities, a short 3” to 4” blade is likely to be more than adequate.
The exception to this is if you don’t have an axe and you want a knife you can use for splitting wood (batoning) as demonstrated in the handy video below. You can use a four-inch blade for this, but a longer knife will make it much easier.
A full-tang knife (meaning the metal blade runs inside the full length of the handle) is likely to be more reliable and less likely to break than a folding knife or partial tang knife, particularly if you’re using it for heavy-duty tasks. This is why most knives advertised as survival knives have fixed blades.
Some knives have a second sharp edge or saw blade on the top part of the knife. While at first glance this may look handy, it’s also likely to make pressing down on the knife when chopping vegetables pretty painful.
Folding Camping Knives
The main advantage of folding camping knives is that you can carry them around in your pocket or on your belt without worrying about accidentally stabbing yourself or someone else. They’re great for general purpose activities such as cutting cord, whittling tent pegs from wood and chopping vegetables, but for batoning firewood and clearing brush, you’ll want a sturdier blade.
I have to admit, I have a little bit of a phobia of folding knives, mainly because it seems just a bit too easy to accidentally snap it shut when your finger is in the way.
(Did you wince?)
If you’re accident-prone like me, some kind of easy-to-use locking mechanism is pretty much essential.
Many folding knives are designed to be opened with one hand, but not all knives are ambidextrous, so if you’re left-handed you may want to take that consideration when shopping.
7 Things To Consider When Buying a Camping Knife
So down to brass tacks. You need a knife. How do you choose it? Here's the main features you need to consider.
Or, to put it simply, what you want to do with your knife. There’s no point spending two hundred bucks on a 7” zombie knife when all you’re going to use it for is cutting cheese. Equally, if you enjoy a good bit of bushwhacking, the tiny blade on a Swiss army knife isn’t going to get you very far.
Opting for good quality materials may cost you more in both weight and dollars but they’ll be much more durable than cheaper models. This goes for the knife blade, the handle material and the sheath (for fixed blade knives).
Most knife blades are made from either stainless steel or high carbon steel. There’s a helpful article here which details the pros and cons of each, but here’s the quick and simple version:
Stainless steel – resists rust and corrosion, tougher but softer than carbon steel, so it may be easier to sharpen but it’ll lose its edge quicker.
High carbon steel – stronger and harder than stainless steel, but you’ll need to look after it to make sure your blade doesn’t rust.
When it comes to the handle, there’s an even wider range of metal, synthetic and natural materials available. The difference between them largely comes down to personal preference and how the knife feels in your hand, but if you’re a details person then Knife Informer has put together a handy guide to 11 different materials for knife handles.
If you’re car camping then this is unlikely to be a consideration, but if you’re backpacking, every ounce matters!
There’s a huge range of camping knives on the market at different price points. Generally speaking, you’ll pay more for better quality steel and workmanship but as you’ll see below, there are some excellent knives available for very reasonable prices.
What you want to avoid is buying a knife just because it’s cheap. And then finding that it’s one of the rubbish ones and have it break the first time you use it for anything more than cutting cucumbers.
Far be it for me to be a killjoy, but different countries have different laws relating to carrying knives. For example, in the UK, it's illegal to carry a fixed blade or lock knife or a folding knife with a blade longer than 3" in public without good reason.
No one wants to end up in jail, so you need to be aware of what the law says in your country or state as it could affect what type of camping knife you choose to buy, and what precautions you take to use it legally and safely.
7. How it Feels to Use
Obviously, this isn’t something that can be easily conveyed in a written article (bring on virtual reality!) but it’s worth mentioning. As our hands and fingers are all different shapes and sizes, a knife that feels comfortable in one person’s hand may be too big/small/awkward in another person’s.
You can sometimes get an idea about whether a knife is right for you by reading lots of different reviews by other users, but the only way you’ll know for sure is to try it out for real.
How to Look After Your Camping Knife
Like any camping kit, knives need a little TLC to keep them sharp and ready for work. Clean and dry the blade after every use and hone it regularly to keep it sharp.
Folding knives will need lubricating to stop the mechanism stiffening up and if your knife has a carbon steel blade it may also benefit from a bit of mineral oil, particularly if it’s going to be put away for a while.
Other than that, you can’t really go wrong. Unless you start trying to practice your throwing skills, in which case, quite frankly, you don’t deserve any of the beautiful camping knives we’ve reviewed below.
The 5 Best Camping Knives of 2019
Fixed / Folder
Best All-Around Fixed Blade Camping Knife: Benchmade Bushcrafter 162
This camping knife looks almost too pretty to use, and its performance is even better than its looks. It’s a sturdy knife designed for heavy use – you don’t have to worry about breaking it.
The main thing that sets the Bushcrafter 162 apart (and justifies its price tag) is the S30V steel used for the blade. If you’re not an expert on the different types of stainless steel (and let’s face it, why would you be), let me translate: it’s more durable than many cheaper steels, it will stay sharper for longer and requires less looking after.
Great for people who just want a knife to get jobs done day after day.
In fact, it’s so robust, that Benchmade offers a lifetime repair and sharpening service. That’s manufacturer confidence for you.
It’s small enough for whittling and food prep but the 4.4” blade and full-tang design mean you can also baton wood for the fire without worrying about damaging the knife.
As you might expect, this kind of quality comes at a price. The Benchmade Bushcrafter 162 is not a cheap knife. But if you’re looking for a knife that will last you a lifetime of camping and bushcraft adventures, it’s a worthy investment.
Best Folding Camping Knife: Spyderco Tenacious Plain Edge Folding Knife
Spyderco is a well-respected knife manufacturer with a full range of knives at different price points. The Tenacious Folding Knife is at the bottom of the range in terms of price but retains the quality Spyderco is renowned for.
The blade is made from 8CR13MoV stainless steel (translation – a Chinese steel that’s good value but not quite as hard or resistant to corrosion as more expensive steels). That description may not quite do it justice though, as this knife outperforms ones costing significantly more.
The Tenacious is larger knife designed for big hands and it’s pretty bulky in your pocket. It’s also worth noting that while the hole in the blade allows you to open the knife with either hand, it’s not so easy for left-handed users to disengage the lock to close the blade one-handed.
It’s not the kind of knife you going to pass down to your son or daughter, but if you want a knife for basic camping tasks or everyday use, this is a great value folding knife.
Best Backpacking Knife: Morakniv Companion
Made in Sweden, the Morakniv Companion is one of the most highly rated backpacking and camping knives on the market. Unlike many knives which sacrifice performance in one area for another, the Morakniv has the ability to chop small tree limbs, carve delicate tools and finely fillet a fish.
It’s a light knife, weighing in at just over 4 oz, but the big advantage for backpacking is that you won’t have to carry multiple knives for different purposes. This is one knife which can do it all.
The blade is made from hardened Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel. If you want to shave a tiny bit off your backpack weight, the carbon steel blade version is 0.2 oz lighter (and even sharper) but you’ll need to be more careful when looking after your blade to stop it from rusting.
The knife comes with a plastic sheath, colored to match the trim on the knife handle. There’s a range of brightly colored options, which will make it easy to find the knife if you happen to drop it while out in the woods.
As well as being one of the best knives on the market, they’re also the best value, so it’s not going to break your heart or your wallet if you happen to lose one in the wilderness.
Best Camping Knife for Food Prep: KnifeStyle 440A Stainless Steel Folding Knife
Although described as a pocket knife, you’ll need pretty deep pockets to fit this 5.5” folding knife. But this isn’t the type of knife you’ll be carrying around for odd jobs – its home is firmly in the camp kitchen.
Talk to any professional chef and they’ll tell you that the secret to quick and easy food prep is a super sharp knife. But if you do have a high-quality set of cooking knives at home, you probably don’t want to risk bringing them camping.
That’s why the KnifeStyle 440A knife is such as great option. The blade is as sharp as any chef’s knife and it’s long enough to cut through meat, fish, and vegetables. The folding mechanism protects the blade when not in use, so you can chuck the knife into your camping box or backpack without worrying about damaging it or the things around it.
If like me, you’re used to chopping your veg with blunt knives, you’ll need to take extra care with this one to avoid drawing blood.
Best Camping Pocket Knife: Opinel Carbon Steel No8 Pocket Knife
Apart from the sharp carbon steel blade and its longevity credentials (Opinel knives have been around forever), the best thing about the Opinel No. 8 folding knife is the locking mechanism. The Virobloc safety ring has two sections – a fixed section and a sliding section – which mean you can lock the blade open and lock it closed.
Good news if you’re accident-prone and want to keep your fingers intact.
Although the No8 knife is one of the most popular for general purpose use, the range varies from the 2.7” No 6 blade to the long 4.7” No12 blade. The beechwood handle is comfortable and the wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests.
Some might call the design old-fashioned, others would say that it’s stood the test of time. I’d say that if you’re looking for a simple pocket knife, you won’t find much better value for money than the Opinel No8 camping knife.
As I said at the beginning, choosing a camping knife is a very personal choice, particularly if you’re looking to invest in a knife that will last you for years. You can research what knives are best suited to different purposes, but no article can explain how a particular knife feels in your hand.
Is that helpful? Possibly not, but at least it’s honest.
To find the best camping knife for you, it’s worth feeling some out – literally. Whether that’s visiting your local store, borrowing your mate’s knife or ordering online with a close eye on the returns policy, find the knife that you think you want, then try it out to make sure it’s the knife you really want.
Alison spends her days writing and dreaming of adventures, and her weekends living them. Both are helped by copious amounts of Yorkshire Tea. She owns a campervan called Sadie and far too many tents.