Sunday, January 5, 2014

BLOG 61. How To Pick a Good Camping Knife

By Cliff Jacobson
Clockwise from the top: Grohman #1 flat-ground carbon "Camper"; Gerber Shorty/carbon steel (no longer made);
Victorinox "Forester"; Forschner (Victorinox) #40614; Mora carbon; Old Hickory carbon paring knife; Idaho Knife Works "Cliff Knife" (carbon).  
What do you think is the most important tool to have along on a canoe camping trip? If you said a good sharp knife, you’re in agreement with the experts. But few of today’s knives are sharp, let alone ideal for camping. The best-sellers have thick blades that are better for cutting through car doors than slicing salami and pine!  

A camp knife should be thin-bladed, lightweight and compact. Edge retention is a factor only if you seldom sharpen your knife.  A folding knife is fine, but a fixed blade is more rugged. You can flex the blade or hammer it with a wooden mallet to split kindling and you won’t damage a thing.  And, there’s no folding mechanism that can be gummed up by jam or peanut butter.  But sheath knives can be dangerous, not because their blades don’t close, but because the sheath’s that generally come with them are too thin and flimsy.  If you choose a fixed-blade knife, make your own heavy-duty riveted sheath (my book, “Camping’s Top Secrets”/25th Anniversary Edition, shows how).
Make your own knife sheath.  This project took about an hour. Cost of materials, about $15

  1.       Four to four and-one-half inches is an ideal blade length.  Shorter won’t reach to the bottom of the peanut butter jar; longer is necessary only for filleting fish.
  2.       Maximum blade thickness is one-eighth inch, and thinner is better, much better! Try cutting paper-thin slices from a tomato with a thick-bladed knife and you’ll see why! 
  3.       Knives with serrated edges are good only for cutting seat belts and rope.  And you need a special hone to sharpen them. 
  4.       Carbon steel is easier to sharpen than stainless steel and it tends to take a keener edge.  High-end (expensive!) stainless alloys are excellent. Cheap stainless is awful!
  5.       A narrow, straight blade with a central point is best for peeling spuds, slicing vegetables and general camp work.
  6.       A flat-ground blade provides truer slicing and is best for all-round use.  A Scandinavian (Scandi) grind, like those found on Mora knives works well for whittling and splitting. Hollow-ground blades are easier to sharpen to a razor's edge than flat-ground or Scandi blades but they aren't as strong. 
  7.       Avoid knives that have a long unsharpened area near the handle; a dull spot here shortens the cutting edge and reduces cutting leverage near your hand.
  8.       A beefy, hand-filling handle provides more control and better leverage than a short, thin handle.
  9.       If you want a rugged fixed-blade knife, one that will withstand frequent flexing, choose a model whose blade runs the full length of the handle.
You can buy a good knife for under 25 dollars. American made pocket knives (with one or two blades), genuine Swiss Army knives (Victorinox and Wenger), and the Official Boy Scout pocket knife are best buys. If you want an inexpensive sheath knife, Canadian survival expert, Mors Kochanski recommends the carbon steel Swedish Mora knife (shown above).  It comes with a rugged Scandinavian style sheath and costs under 15 dollars.  It's not pretty, but it is efficient and it comes from the factory sharper than many custom knives.

Next time: How to sharpen your knife to a razor’s edge.

Cliff Jacobson



Anonymous said...

To pick the best camping or hunter knife you should always choose some good fixed blade knife

Jennifer Martin said...

The folding knife is the most easy to carry tool for everyday outdoors. I always carry some sought of folding knife for my EDC.