Whether or not you’re the kind of person that carries a knife with them every day, you’re going to want at least one with you when you’re camping. A knife is arguably the most important tool you can have when camping. It can prep food, make feather sticks, split logs, cut down branches or even small trees, and more. George W. Sears, the famous 19th century outdoorsman and writer, felt strongly enough about the usefulness of a knife in the wilderness to design one himself—called the Nessmuk, after the pen name of its creator.
The question when camping isn’t “should I carry a knife?” but “what knives should I carry?” And to answer that question, I’ve chosen what I feel to be the best camp knife in each of five broad use categories:
- The Bark River Knives Bushcrafter 3V (all-purpose/survival)
- The Ka-Bar BK9 (chopper)
- The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (secondary/back-up knife)
- The Bark River Adventurer (campsite knife)
- The Victorinox Alox Farmer (boy’s knife/learning knife)
Now, let’s start discussing each of these knives in depth. And to help do that, we’ve included an interactive table below that compares some of the knives we’re going to discuss today against one another for your convenience:
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
The Bark River Knives Bushcrafter 3V (all-purpose/survival)
Bushcrafting, in its purest form, is to regular camping what free climbing is to aid climbing. It is an intense way to camp in which most of the standard campsite equipment—tent, stove, etc.—is forbidden.
Bushcrafters are an excellent source for information on camp knives, because it is the tool they rely on the most. In fact, they really on a knife so much that there is a specific type of blade, called a bushcraft knife, designed to accommodate their stringent demands.
The idea of the bushcraft knife isn’t so much that it’s the best at any one thing; rather, it is capable of performing the widest variety of tasks, from making feather sticks to batoning through a tree stump. A bushcraft knife will typically have a grind that begins about halfway down the blade (so that the stock can aid with the splitting of wood), and the main edge will be convex ground. A convex grind is a rare type of grind that adds a lot of durability to the edge of your knife. For this reason it appeals to bushcrafters.
One of the best bushcraft knives available today is the Bark River Knives Bushcrafter. It is a very traditional-looking bushcraft knife, convex-ground as it should be, with excellent fit and finish. What really sets it apart, though, is the steel it is made out of: 3V.
3V, like ZDP-189, is a bit of a freak steel. It was designed with toughness in mind, and it is TOUGH: you can go online and see videos of people banging 3V knives against cinder blocks, stabbing them car doors, etc., and with nothing more than a little edge rolling afterwards. This toughness, combined with the do-it-all nature of the Bushcrafter’s blade, makes this the best all-purpose camp knife you can find. If you need to cut down some branches, it can do that; if you need to baton through a fallen tree, no problem; it can even cut up food fairly well. It is just an amazing all-around blade from one of the best fixed-blade makers in the country.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
The Ka-Bar BK9 (Chopper)
A chopper is more specialized than the all-purpose camp knife. It is excellent for making firewood, slicing away brush, prying up stones, pounding in stakes, etc. It needs to be larger than your standard camp knife, topping out (typically) at around 9”. It needs a thicker blade, a more reinforced tip, and a larger handle. It should be a little blade-heavy to facilitate chopping swings.
Finally, it needs to be ergonomic because you tend to use it for an extended period of time, and with activities like chopping a lot of shock is going to be transferred to your hand. I think that the BK9 is an excellent chopper.
The BK9 is designed by Ethan Becker, and the defining feature of any Becker blade is the handle: a simple, elegant, extremely ergonomic design that outclasses pretty much anything else in the category for sheer comfort and ease of use. There is also a glassbreaker/hammer pommel at the butt of the handle. I personally have never found much use for it, but it’s not obtrusive, and doesn’t throw off the balance of the knife, so I’m fine with it.
With the BK9 you are getting Cro-Van 1095 steel, a tried and true carbon steel that, because it is run a little softer than more modern super steels, takes abuse and shock very well—not as good, admittedly, as 3V, but the BK9 is much less expensive than the Bushcrafter. A 9” blade of 3V would be a pricey knife, it should be noted, and for the money ($100), you will be more than pleased with 1095, and with the BK9 in general.
The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (Secondary/Back-up Knife)
Even the strongest folding knives can’t compete with fixed blades when it comes to certain camping tasks. The stress that something like batoning puts on the pivot and lock area is too great. Working with wood chews through a small blade’s edge quickly. Additionally, certain tasks call for a larger blade, and a folding knife that is 4” long or more is just ungainly in your pocket.
That being said, a medium-sized folding knife is always recommended for a back-up knife, something to take care of the tasks that are less specific and necessary than what we ask our fixed blades to do when we’re camping. For the smaller, more delicate tasks like food preparation, or removing a splinter, or simply whittling to while away the time, a folding pocket knife is a great option, and although I would never recommend taking just a folding knife into the woods with you, I think that it is best practice to take one in addition to your other tools.
The Paramilitary 2 has a 3.4” blade made of S30V steel, a highly rust-resistant steel that maintains a useable edge for a long time. The fine tip is excellent for delicate tasks like marking or digging, and the belly and full flat grind makes it one of the best food slicing knives around.
Also, the Paramilitary 2 weighs under 4 oz. This means that you can keep it clipped to your pocket and not really notice that it’s there until you need it. When you’re camping, especially if you’re hiking in to your campsite, the less weighed down you are by gear, the better you’ll feel, and the PM2 offers a lot of performance with a comparatively small footprint. This all-time great EDC is an equally capable back-up blade in the outdoors.
The Bark River Knives Adventurer Neck Knife (Campsite Knife)
A campsite knife is a blade that attends to the same sort of things you’d use a back-up blade for. I want it to be a fixed blade, however, so that it can also be flexed into more demanding jobs like firewood prep. This would be my dedicated food prep knife at the campsite, and so I want something with great slicing ability, and I want it to be lightweight, so that I don’t feel burdened carrying it around.
The Bark River Knives Adventurer checks all of these boxes. It is a collaborative design with Murray Carter, a maker of semi-custom fixed blades. It is a 3.25” fixed blade, with the same excellent convex edge as the Bushcrafter, although with a higher grind to enhance the slicing abilities. It features a forward finger choil, similar to the Paramilitary 2, and is superbly balanced and comfortable in the hand to prevent fatigue from use.
It uses CPM 20CV steel, a very high-end blade steel that will hold an edge for a long time, and that is very rust- and stain-resistant. The Adventurer comes with a magnetic sheath that you can either wear around your neck, or, like I do, slip into your pocket, so it is out of the way until it is needed.
It is hard to say that a campsite knife is as necessary as something like a chopper, but, once you try one out, I think you’ll find it’s hard to go back afterwards; it fills a niche that the other blades on this list don’t. And the Adventurer is such a great knife that you should just own one anyway.
The Victorinox Alox Farmer (Boy’s knife/learner knife)
This last choice is a little bit different. Because camping is something that families often do together, and because parents often pass on their love of the outdoors, and of the tools they use in the outdoors, to their children, I thought that I would pick a knife that is great for an up-and-coming outdoorsman to use in the woods.
This knife would need to be small enough to be safely handled by a kid, but large enough that it is easy to manipulate, preventing injury during deployment. Although it wouldn’t be the main tool at the campsite, it would need to be able to perform, at least in an approximate way, the tasks that the main camping blades are called upon to do: food prep and fire prep, as well as whittling or carving. Finally, both because it is being used by a kid and because it is being used in the outdoors, the knife would need to be durable.
I chose the Victorinox Alox Farmer. This is a smaller Swiss Army knife that features a knife, an awl, a woodsaw, a bottle opener, and a can opener. The knife and the saw allow a young knife user to learn the fundamentals of performing cutting tasks and working with wood, both essential skills while camping. They are small enough tools that the risk of injury is minimal, too.
Bottle openers and can openers are also classic outdoor tools, and helpful to have no matter how old you are. And, as is often said about the Alox swiss army knife models, the Farmer is basically bullet- and rust-proof; even the most industriously destructive child would have a hard time putting meaningful wear and tear on this little beast. It is just rock solid.
My first knife was a SAK. I’m sure most people have the same experience, and for good reason: Swiss Army Knives are safe, durable, useful, and very cool.
It is hard to make general statements about camping, because everybody does it differently. What works for one person may not for another, and so, just as it is hard to give general camping advice, it is hard to pick out five knives that everyone will find useful in the woods.
However, I feel that the ones I’ve chosen above, because of the wide variety of purposes and uses they cover, are a solid place to start when you go looking for your next camping tool.
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