The Best Camping Knife For Today’s Camper
The camping knife is one of the most-used tools you will ever own as an outdoors person. You will use it to make your fire. You will use it to cut rope. You will use it to clean fish and cut vegetables. You’ll even use it for eating! The camping knife is a versatile tool, and if you’re in the market for one, then read on because I’m here to give you my 2017 picks for the best camping knife you’ll ever own.
I’ve had my own camping knife for over a decade now, a gift from my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband!). Each small imperfection, each slight ding, is a testament to how much camping I’ve done throughout my life. More than a tool, it is a companion. And when you choose your companion, you should keep my tips and advice in mind, because it will likely be a companion for life!
Most of my suggestions below come from personal preference and experience, so your mileage may vary. Still, this should serve as a good take-off point for you if you’re in the market for a camping knife. Why settle for a good camping knife, when you can get yourself the best camping knife available?
**Below, you'll find our more detailed reviews, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
What Is A Camping Knife? A Brief Primer
But before we begin, let’s get things straight on what a camping knife is:
1. It’s not a survival knife
Unless you plan to strand yourself at least a hundred miles away from known civilization, chances are you’ll be within a managed campsite or at least within the vicinity of a nearby town, with plenty of food sources and at least one medical facility. What’s more, your car – and with it all the storage space in the trunk - will be reasonably within reach.
So while it may be tempting to acquire a survival knife with all the bells and whistles, most of them is unnecessary for what you’ll need a camping knife for. Every functionality you will find in a survival-type knife or tool, you can bring the actual equivalent tool with you for emergencies. In the end, a sturdy, sharp, and reliable blade can be the best camping knife you’ll have.
2. It’s not a weapon
You won’t be trekking through a virgin rainforest, in danger of being attacked by wild animals at every turn. Nor will you be trailblazing through unexplored terrain. Most certainly, you won’t be running around killing zombies.
What you *will* be doing is cutting tinder for making fires, cleaning fish or game, cutting rope, and so on. And for this, a blade of moderate length, about 3.5-4.5 inches, is ideal. Any larger, and knife activities requiring finer movements will be difficult or impossible. Any smaller, and you risk ruining the blade edge or breaking your blade outright while performing heavier tasks.
Another thing: Don’t get knives that have camouflage designs on the blade, handle, or sheath. This makes them much easier to lose outdoors. If you really have to do this, just remember to add a bright-colored tape to make it easier to find – personally I use Neon Pink reflective tape.
3. It’s a knife that is lightweight and easy to carry
Although most camping knives fall within a particular weight range, roughly 4-10 ounces, the reality is that “lightweight” is a relative term. We all have our own strength levels, and a lightweight knife for some may be moderately weighty for others. Check the knife weight that works best for you.
Nearly all camping knives today are sold with sheaths. Leather sheaths are nice and durable, just make sure to periodically clean and care for them to prevent mold or mildew from forming. I’ve found that polyester sheaths are fairly durable and can take a lot of abuse, including being submerged in water, without many ill effects.
4. It’s a knife that feels good to use in your hands
The size and shape of the handle matter almost as much as the blade itself; if you have a difficult time gripping the blade, you’ll have a difficult time using the blade effectively.
It is for this reason that my countdown list for the best camping knife excludes Swiss Army-type multitool knives and folding knives. Don’t get me wrong; I own these myself and bring them with me to camping as well. But these are not my primary camping knives, as they aren’t comfortable in my hands for the various activities I would use them for.
5. It’s a knife made of sturdy materials
Your camping knife will take a lot of abuse, and will be exposed to every element imaginable. So, the more durable the metal of the blade, the better. Stainless steel and high carbon steel are the ideal blade materials. They are very durable, and can keep an edge throughout most camping tasks.
Don’t leave out the handle. That part of your knife will be just as exposed to all sorts of elements as the blade itself, so it will need to be just as durable. Materials such as G-10, Kirinite, Dymondwood or Micarta are highly recommended for the scale. Other materials such as aluminium can also be used.
Those said: avoid cheap, unbranded knives. There are many reputable knife makers here and abroad, and all of them have known names that are associated with quality. It will be a rare thing to find an unknown knife manufacturer that will produce a high-quality camping knife. It is even rarer to find a quality camping knife that is unbranded.
I’m not saying it’s impossible – you could get very lucky and stumble upon the next big name in camping knives – but consider the risks: do you really want your camping knife bending or snapping in the middle of you making tinder for your campfire? Worse, what if the metal shatters and injures you or a family member?
That isn’t to say that inexpensive, high-quality blades don’t exist. There are certainly some on my list that are quite affordable but highly recommended. But as the old saying goes: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Don’t be afraid to spend a little more for the best camping knife you can get!
A Quick Word On Fixed Blade Knives Versus Foldable Blade Knives
I mentioned earlier that I excluded folding knives from my list because they do not feel comfortable in my hands. There is a second, perhaps more important reason: folding knives are generally less sturdy than fixed-blade knives.
The reason should be obvious: a folding knife has a joint that joins the blade and the handle. Therefore, the strength of the blade is largely dependent on the strength of the joint that keeps it together.
The same is not true for fixed-blade knives. These knives are made of a single tang, from blade to handle. The durability of the metal extends to the entire knife, so you’ll never have to worry about joint failure.
To be fair, there are a number of folding knives in the market today that are extremely durable, and you can easily consider those for your camping knife needs. But as my experience has been largely with fixed blades, that’s where my advice will go.
The 5 Best Camping Knife Selections
The ESEE 4P comes in both stainless steel and carbon steel variants. The scale also comes in a variety of durable variants such as G-10 or Micarta.
The knife is a bit pricey, but comes with an unconditional lifetime warranty – so even if you get it second-hand, or you are the first person to own it, the warranty sticks. The sheath, which is made of a polymer, is very well-made and durable, and has holes for any kind of strap you may want to put in aside from the strap it comes with.
It weighs at a reasonable 8 ounces, and is easy to handle and grip. When I tried it, it fit my hands perfectly – but do consider that I have smaller hands than the average. If you have big hands or prefer larger handles, you may want to reconsider.
The ESEE 4P is very sharp, and the blade can hold an edge for some time before it needs resharpening. I handled variants of the knife with and without coating, and found that aesthetically I prefer the one without.
Given that there are so many ways to customize this knife and there are so many variants to choose from, I’d recommend buying this in a physical store where you can examine the blade for yourself, rather than online.
The Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife is easily one of the lightest camping knives I’ve ever held. At 2.8 ounces, this blade is extremely light.
Don’t let the weight fool you: this knife is as durable as they come. The Sandvik stainless steel blade holds up very well to all camping tasks imaginable, and retains its edge very well. It also comes in a carbon steel variant that has a slightly thinner blade than its stainless steel counterpart. This camping knife comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The handle is made of durable plastic, and the middle portion has a rubberized coating. I don’t doubt that this handle will last, but I’m a bit partial to high-quality resin scales. Still, for the materials the handle is made of, it feels very good in the hand, owing possibly in part to its very light weight.
If there is one complaint I have about this knife, it is that it might be too light. I tried wearing it in its sheath once during a short hike and because of its light weight I completely forgot that I was wearing it. I’m used to camping knives having some substantial weight, so this is probably just a matter of personal preference or some getting used to.
The Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife is actually a copy of the Grohman Canadian Belt Knife that costs six times as much. I’m listing this particular knife here as an example of how an inexpensive copy of a known brand can be just as good as the original.
The knife is lightweight and really designed from the ground up with the outdoors in mind. It is made of stainless steel and holds an edge very well. I have used this to slice up a sizable trout, and I was able to fillet the trout with no problems at all. It was like working inside my kitchen while outdoors! The notches at the back of the blade help push the blade when extra force is needed.
The handle is made of polypropylene, a hard plastic, and there is a hole for a lanyard. Again, as I’m a sucker for the tough resin scales, this detail is a downer for me. Still, the knife as a whole feels good in the hand.
One thing about the Cold Steel knife is that the handle design makes it awkward to do heavier tasks such as cutting through wood. The blade can get the job done, but the handle just makes you do the job from an odd angle.
From a price perspective though, few camping knives even come close. At just over $10 USD, this is one of the best value-for-money knives you can ever get. And should you ever need a replacement, you can just get the exact same Cold Steel knife for the same low cost.
The Benchmade 162 Bushcrafter is the priciest camping knife in this list. It is a full tang stainless steel blade with a G-10 scale. There are three titanium tubular inserts in the handle. This knife with Benchmade’s lifetime warranty.
This knife was an absolute joy to hold. The shape of the handle just lends itself to all sort of holding positions that remain stable. The depression at the top portion of the handle adds to the ease in handling this knife.
The one glaring complaint I have about this knife is its sheath. It doesn’t feel like it was made for campers like us. I like sheaths that allow me to place the knife back into it without having to really look at the sheath.
The sheath this comes with just doesn’t allow it; I have to practically put the sheath in front of me and look at it directly just to get the knife back into it, and I’ve never needed to do this with any other camping knife I use. It is unfortunate, because the poor design of the sheath really takes away from the joy of using the thing of beauty that is this Bushcrafter.
The Buck is 10 ½ inches of camping knife glory. Its 4” stainless steel blade is durable and keeps its edge very well. At 7.5 ounces, it is reasonably weighted.
The shape of the blade allows it to perform every camping task perfectly. It can slice and fillet without a hitch, cut through wood with ease, and has the added benefit of being able to pierce through material more effectively because of the sharper profile of the blade tip.
The Dymondwood handle is perfectly squared off to keep the knife from spinning inside my grip. The tang also ensures that I never accidentally cut myself! The tang design is such that it won’t interfere with your fingers if you need to place your thumb behind the blade for added power or cutting force.
If there is any downside to this camping knife, it is that the Dymondwood scale does get slippery at times. While the tang and handle shape help with the grip, I sometimes find myself using a strip of rubber to keep the knife from slipping – a common fix I use with other knives with this same problem. Still, for me this is a minor problem that is easily fixed.
Buck is known for its lifetime warranty and its excellent customer service. You will love it too!
This is easily my personal favourite among all the knives I’ve listed here, and gets my vote as the best camping knife!
My vote for best camping knife goes to the Buck 0119!
Camping knives are all about versatility and durability, and the Buck 0119 has this in spades. It can handle both delicate and heavy tasks easily and comfortably. The blade design that tapers toward the tip is just such a subtle but useful feature. The tang is all about safety and lets you handle the 0119 with peace of mind.
Remember my story about my own camping knife? It is a Buck, similar to the 0119, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It has kept quite well, and has needed only light cleaning and sharpening every so often to keep in top condition.
Do you agree with my choice? What camping knife gets your vote for best camping knife? Let me know in the comments and share this article if you found it helpful!