If you’re a seasoned backpacker you know the value of a trustworthy blade. If you are just beginning to gather information about backpacking, hopefully you will heed the advice of those who are experienced and equip yourself with the best backpacking knife possible. In order to do so it is very important to understand what you expect from a knife and what various knives have to offer in return.
General purpose knives typically meet most of the basic needs backpackers may experience, but there are specialized knives that perform more specific tasks with added strength and stability.
For instance, you may want to baton (split) firewood while in the outdoors, but if you are only equipped with a blade that is too thin or made from inferior materials, chances are high that not only will you be without firewood, but you will lose the functionality of your knife altogether.
Other knives are designed with hunting and butchering in mind and because of this they may not be quite as suitable as a bushcraft blade. Of course the reverse is true as well and your typical bushcraft knife may not perform well at butchering tasks. Matching your needs and requirements to a knife’s ability is a crucial step in the decision-making process.
In years past some specialty knives were difficult to find outside of specialty stores or gun and knife shows. Recent advances in the availability of quality tools and materials as well as the growth in shared knowledge on the internet have encouraged rapid growth in artisans focused on creating the “perfect” knife.
If the information you have found so far has not been sufficient enough to help you to narrow down a knife best suited to your particular requirements, consider one of these top rated backpack knives.
Things to look for in a backpacking knife
Choosing backpacking knives can prove to be a much more difficult process than simply buying a knife for the backyard or short camping trips. You need to know both basic standards as well as specialized and sometimes unique characteristics made available on the specialty knife market.
Here are a few helpful tips to assist you in choosing the knife or combination of knives that fits your needs:
- Backpacking knives tend to be exposed to harsher conditions for longer periods. Look for stainless steel blades that resist rust and corrosion or be prepared to keep your blades dried and maintained for a longer life.
- Sturdy construction. The last thing you want in a knife is one that can’t handle the hardships of the outdoors. Equipment failure on the trail is unacceptable so choose the knife with material suitable to the abuse you may be expected to expose it to.
- Multiple uses. Most backpackers typically carry more than one knife, but the more uses you can squeeze out of each knife, the fewer you need to carry and that means more space and weight that can be utilized by other necessities.
- When buying a knife that you need to depend on it is important to rely upon names that have survived the test of time. Even if a knife looks like it means business, unless the maker has a track record of providing quality knives, steer away to a better model.
Top Recommended Backpack Knives
Now we will see some of the best choices on the market and their most important features and uses.
Benchmade Knife 585 Mini-Barrage
Blade Length: 3.6 inches
Overall Length: 8.35 inches (Open); 4.75 inches (Closed)
Blade Thickness: 0.121 inches
Blade Material/Hardness: 154CM stainless steel; 58-61HRC
Features: Drop-point blade, convenient one hand spring assist opening, reversible pocket clip, ambidextrous thumb studs
Best use: General purpose camp knife
Benchmade knives have made a name for themselves and for good reason. Their entire lines of knives are crafted from the finest materials and are known for enduring blades that can keep an edge even in the hardest environments.
The reversible pocket clip allows convenient carrying options and the easy opening mechanism is valuable to backpackers who need to access the blade while on the trail. Although Benchmade Knife 585 is somewhat small, the thumb studs provide for added stability.
Chances are high that choosing any Benchmade model will serve you well for years so this is a smart choice. At over 8 inches long when open this is a pretty large knife in its class. This makes it a versatile choice and for some may even eliminate the need to add a fixed blade to your equipment list.
Related: Benchmade Barrage 580 is the bigger version of Benchmade 585 Barrage Knife. If you want something bigger, better to go with this knife.
SOG Specialty Knives TF101-BX Trident Elite Knife
Blade Length: 3.7 inches
Overall Length: 8.7 inches (Open); 4.8 inches (Closed)
Blade Thickness: 0.12 inches
Blade Material/Hardness: AUS-8 stainless steel; 56-58HRC
Features: Sag’s flat spring assisted technology, reversible pocket clip, glass breaker, integrated line cutter, glass-reinforced nylon handle
Best use: General purpose camp knife
TF101-BX Trident Elite Knife is a good quality companion knife that opens easily and locks securely for safety. One potential drawback is the safety “switch” that typically requires two hands in order to close. Such a thing can actually cause a hazard if using while hiking, but in camp it can be an added level of security when performing more difficult tasks.
The stainless steel blade keeps an edge well and protects against rust which is a valuable benefit for longer treks in the outdoors. The handle may take some getting used to for some people, but it is part of the knife’s durability. The reversible pocket clip adds versatility for multiple carrying options.
It isn’t often that we find ourselves in an emergency situation that requires us to cut seat belts or smash glass, but should the need ever arise, the incorporated line cutter and glass breaker is an effective emergency extraction addition. If you use this knife as an EDC, you may even be able to save the life of someone else with these enhancements.
Related: SOG also offers an attractive, high quality fixed blade knife, the SOG Fixation Bowie. The fixed 7-inch steel blade should be able to handle anything that you throw at it.
Gerber STL 2.0 Knife
Blade Length: 2.1-inches
Overall Length: 5.1-inches (Open), 3-inches (Closed)
Blade Thickness: Not Specified
Blade Material/Hardness: 440a Stainless Steel
Features: Stainless steel handle with titanium PVD coating, drop-point blade, lanyard hole,
Best use: General purpose camp knife
Most of Gerber’s line of knives are made in China and for American enthusiasts this can be seen as a drawback. Those who have taken a chance on Gerber often find the lesser quality claims to be simply untrue.
If Gerber STL 2.0 Knife is used for what it’s made for, simple and low impact camp use, it will last a long time. Abuse it and, like most knives, it may well fail, but treat it fairly and the STL will keep true to its company’s commitment to you.
For its size this knife is stable enough for most camp uses, but one shortcoming may be the design of the thumb slot opening. It is cut into the handle, but there is no real way to grab the blade with one hand, especially for those with large fingers. Once the knife is broken in it usually opens with one hand rather easily, but until then it can be a challenge.
Related: For those who may prefer thumb studs for easier opening, the Gerber Swagger Knife may be more suitable.
KA-BAR Serrated Edge Knife
Blade Length: 7 inches
Overall Length: 11.875 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.165 inches
Blade Material/Hardness: 1095 Cro-Van steel
Features: Fixed blade, Kraton G polymer handle, blade serrations
Best use: Hunting/Defense, Utility
When it comes to a reputation for strength and durability, no knife company can surpass that of Ka-Bar. The Ka-Bar knife has been used by United States Marines for over 70 years and for very good reason.
KA-BAR Serrated Edge Knife is one of the strongest and most durable knives available. It can withstand almost any abuse given it, within reason. The handle fits tightly in the hand for one of the most trusted and stable grips available so you can trust it in even the most dire situations.
The blade is not made with stainless steel so it is important to maintain it and keep it dry, but if you do so this knife will be one to hand down for generations. Aside from pure practicality, people will know you are dedicated to exceptional quality and craftsmanship when you strap the KA-Bar to your gear.
Related: For the authentic US Marine KA-Bar experience, the Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife is available to the general public.
Morakniv Companion Fixed Blade Outdoor Knife
Blade Length: 4.1 inches
Overall Length: 8.6 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.1 inch
Blade Material/Hardness: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel
Features: Fixed drop-point blade, high friction rubber grip, multiple color options
Best use: Utility/bushcraft
The Morakniv line has become a favorite among bushcrafters. The blade keeps an edge even under heavy use and it is shaped for optimal cutting, slicing and carving. The grip feels comfortable and natural in the hand which adds to its versatility in camp crafting and chores. The metal is strong enough even for batoning wood, but due to its shorter length its usefulness in this task is limited.
The higher carbon content has led some to claim that it is not as endurable as other knives, but if it is maintained well and kept dry, the Morakniv Companion Knife will serve out a long and useful life. In fact, the steel used in this blade is actually easier to sharpen to razor sharp than most stainless steel varieties.
For added value, many people have discovered that the Morakniv is as at home in the workplace as much as it is in the backwoods. It will cut through cardboard like a dream on Friday and through tough animal hides on Saturday.
Related: For the ultimate bushcrafting knife, consider another of Morakniv’s products, the Bushcraft Carbon Steel with Fire Starter and Sheath. It comes with a beautiful sheath and a firestarter.
Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Serrated Knife
Blade Length: 4.8 inches
Overall Length: 10 inches
Blade Thickness: Not specified
Blade Material/Hardness: High carbon stainless steel
Features: Fixed blade, molded rubber grip, knurled striking surface butt cap, integrated fire starter with integrated diamond sharpener, emergency micro lanyard whistle
Best use: Utility
When one of the world’s leading survivalists team up with a world class knife company, how can they go wrong? For proof that Gerber is still a leading competitor in the knife market, they’ve made this serious entry in the survival category.
Gerber Bear Grylls Serrated Knife illustrates what happens when quality workmanship is teamed together with years of practical experience. The blade in itself is strong enough to withstand harsh abuse provided it is properly maintained, which is made easy with the incorporated knife sharpener.
Convenient accessories such as an emergency whistle and fire starter are built into this knife which makes it unnecessary to take up valuable space in the backpack. Even the handle has been specially designed to be used as a hammer which saves even more room and weight.
Like most any other tool, don’t trust this model right out of the package. Initial versions of this knife had some shortcomings, but Gerber listened and over the years they made several improvements to make it a reliable solution.
Even so, a survival knife must be tested long before it is needed to serve it’s prescribed function. The knife itself may fulfill the need, but without practical knowledge of how and when to use the added features, this kind of knife could be as useful as a stick in the woods.
Related: Bear Grylls partnership with Gerber extends to a large line of options. If you are looking for a folding companion knife to the Ultimate, consider the Gerber Bear Grylls Folding Sheath Knife.
BlizeTec Survival Fixed Blade Knife
Blade Length: 4.17 inches
Overall Length: 8.46 inches
Blade Thickness: Not specified
Blade Material/Hardness: 420 stainless steel
Features: Fixed blade,Pakka Wood handle, fire starter, LED flashlight
Best use: Hunting/Utility
BlizeTec Survival Fixed Blade Knife is mated to a quality crafted Pakka wood handle for a knife that is not only highly functional, but can be the center of attention among your backpacking friends. In fact, this knife is so attractive that its main disadvantage may be that you won’t want to get it dirty.
That would be a shame though as this knife can take a lot of punishment. The stainless steel blade doesn’t require the same amount of care needed by most carbon fixed blades. With the added versatility of the included flashlight and fire starter, this knife is a backpacker’s delight.
Related: For a complete backpacking set, add the striking BlizeTec Titanium Folding Knife to your outdoor survival kit.
Kershaw Leek Knife
Blade Length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 7 inches (Open); 4 inches (Closed)
Blade Material/Hardness: Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel
Features: SpeedSafe assisted opening, reversible pocket clip,
Best use: General purpose camp knife
Kershaw Leek Knife is a must-have companion knife for those who live or trek in wetter climates. The sleek stainless steel blade is bead-blasted and mated to a stainless steel handle. The Leek knife would be an attractive addition to any knife collection, but it isn’t just nice to look at.
This made in the USA knife is a strong, durable and versatile solution for those every day, mundane camp chores. If you’ve ever carried a knife in your pockets when backpacking, chances are you’ve had to shift it around and perhaps even remove it to a remote pocket on your pack.
This knife with its rounded edges and reversible pocket clip makes it nearly unnoticeable in the pocket where it is most accessible. The experienced folks at Kershaw know how important a useable knife is and because of this they added the versatility of thumb tabs on the blade for ease of opening.
Related: For a knife with the same versatility and quality, but a more subdued appearance, try the Kershaw Leek with Composite Blade.
A Cut Above
As you can see, when it comes to choosing the best knife for backpacking, there is no shortage of choices on the market today. If you’re a well-seasoned backpacker, chances are that most of the knife makers on this list are very familiar to you. For the new beginner, you can’t go wrong by choosing among this assortment of knives.
In either case, it is usually best to not limit yourself to a single knife because pocket knives and fixed blades really do serve two different purposes. The fixed blade can be extremely useful for cutting limbs to be used as poles or firewood, while the folding knife is useful for shaping, carving, and slicing.
Make sure to choose wisely, especially if you’re about to embark on an extended adventure. In fact, it is highly recommended that you put any knife to the test long before expecting it to be useful on the trail. It is must better to discover the advantages and disadvantages of your tools before you need to depend on them.