A Good Knife Can Be a Lifesaver On & Off the Trail
A sharp knife can be one of the most useful tools in your pack or pocket. Along with always wearing our CloudLine hiking socks, we always carry a knife when we are hiking and backpacking. A good blade comes in handy for everything from food prep to survival and is an important item on the 10 Essentials list. Whether you are looking for a pocket knife for everyday carry or just for the trail we've rounded up our favorite options for everyone from ultra-light backpackers to day hikers.
How to Choose a Pocket Knife
When selecting a pocket knife, it is important to consider how you plan on using it. Are you looking for something you can carry every day or specific to an activity? If weight is important a single blade will be the lightest option and if the functionality is more important look for a knife with multiple blades, saws, and tools. There are also many knives designed for specific activities, so you may consider looking for a knife specific to your favorite hobby. For this guide, we've divided our recommendations into two categories: single blade and multi-tool pocket knives.
Pocket Knife Blade Materials
Blade materials vary by price and use. As a hiker and backpacker, you need your blade to hold a sharp edge and resist rust in wet and humid trail conditions. Often there are trade-offs, and selecting the correct blade material for your needs will ensure your knife holds up when you put it to work in the wild.
- High Carbon Steel – creates an extremely durable sharp edge, but is susceptible to corrosion. Regularly oiling the blade and working in dry conditions are best for this material.
- S30V – Vanadium is added to stainless steel for excellent blade retention that resists corrosion.
- 154CM – This stainless steel and carbon blend creates a stronger knife with good blade retention.
- 420HC – An affordable blend of stainless steel and carbon that is easily sharpened but offers only fair blade retention.
- Proprietary Blends – Many companies use proprietary blends that are a variation of the types above.
Choosing a Pocket Knife Blade Shape
There are endless variations of blade shapes, but the most common blades fall within these categories. And these shapes are the most often chosen for hiking, backpacking, and camping.
- Drop-Point -One of the most popular blade shapes offers all-around performance and strength.
- Tanto -Ablunt tip makes these blades stronger for scraping and prying making it a popular shape for survival knives.
- Needle-Point – A symmetrical point with double edges makes this shape useful in wilderness survival situations when used for spearing and throwing.
- Clip-Point – The top of this blade curves to a point for puncturing and detailed work like adding a new hole to a leather belt.
- Sheepsfoot -This shape is perfect for backcountry chefs. The curved tip avoids accidental stabbings and the flat blade is ideal for slicing and chopping during food prep.
Choosing a Blade Edge
After the shape of the blade, you must also consider the blades cutting edge. The most common options for a cutting edge are flat, serrated, or combo.
- Flat Edge – A flat edge is easier to maintain and sharpen and stands up to heavy use well.
- Serrated Edge – A serrated edge excels at cutting rope and softer materials, but is not suited for cutting harder wood. The edge is also harder to sharpen.
- Combo Edge – Many blades feature a combination of flat and serrated edges with a section of serration near the grip and the rest of the blade edge flat.
Choosing a Grip Material for your Pocket Knife
A knifes grip or handle is almost as important as the blade. It needs to feel comfortable in your hand, stand up to years of use and provide a secure grip as you work.
- Metal – Most often made from aluminum, titanium, or stainless steel. These grips are lightweight, durable, and strong; if not as comfortable as others.
- Wood – Natural and beautiful, wood handles are a classic look but should be protected from exposure to moisture.
- Antler – These durable natural grips are popular with hunters.
- Plastic – This affordable material allows knife designers to easily create endless grip shapes and textures.
- Rubber – Not as durable as plastic, but provides a comfortable grip.
Recommended Single Blade Pocket Knives
The Leatherman Skeletool KBX offers a decent sized blade in a slim and ultra light package that is perfect for the weight conscious. Throw this knife in your pack or slip it in your pocket and you will hardly notice it's there. And the integrated bottle opener is a nice touch for opening post-hike beers.
Weight: 1.3 oz
Blade Length: 2.6"
The award-winning CRKT Homefront knife features "field strip" technology, allowing you to disassemble the knife for cleaning without any tools. Popular with backcountry fisherman for the ability to easily clean up after cleaning their catch. This feature is also super handy for backcountry chefs who want a knife that can be easily cleaned after meal prep.
Weight: 4.8 oz
Blade Length: 3.502"
Buck Knives have always reminded me of my grandfather who always kept one in his pocket and in my young mind seemed to be able to fix anything with it. This knife's large blade classic design and quality materials make it a great option for everyday carry. The handle comes in a large variety of materials including wood, antler, and synthetic for a custom feel that matches your style.
Weight: 5.6 oz
Blade Length: 3"
Assisted open features on knives like the SOG Aegis while not completely needed, are super cool. There is something oddly satisfying about the crisp action of the blade springing open. And you never know when you might need to quickly open your knife one handed. We also really like the red locked indicator that lets you know the blade is locked in place.
Weight: 3.1 oz
Blade Length: 3.5"
The Gerber Ripstop II combines a futuristic looking design with a partially serrated 3" blade into a lightweight knife for everyday carry. Dual thumb studs and the large cutout in the blade make for easy opening with either hand.
Weight: 3 oz
Blade Length: 3"
The iconic Opinel knife design was invented by Joseph Opinel in 1890. The simple and sturdy design has remained largely unchanged over the years and has remained a favorite because of its reliable blade that can stand up to years of heavy use. The N°8's classic styling and simple design have seen a surge in popularity with the hipster crowd, but its minimal weight and large 3.35" blade making it a great option for day hikers and ultralight backpackers as well.
Weight: 1.7 oz
Blade Length: 3.35"
At only half an ounce the SOG Micron is the smallest and lightest knife on our list. While the locking 1.5" blade is small, the tanto tip adds strength for tasks on the trail. The Micron is a great option if you are an ultralight hiker or backpacker counting every ounce. It also makes a great addition to an Altoids tin survival kit or as a backup blade.
Weight: 0.5 oz
Blade Length: 1.5"
Recommended Multi-Tool Pocket Knives
Show your support and love for your favorite national park with one of these special edition Swiss Army Camper knives. By purchasing you will help Victorinox donate $25,000 to the National Park Foundation and get a classic Swiss Army knife featuring 13 tools that will come in handy on your next camping trip. Tools include 2 blades, wine opener, can opener, saw, screwdrivers, and more.
Weight: 3.2 oz
Blade Length: 2.5"
Sometimes you don't need a heavy classic Leatherman and all you want is a good blade. The Leatherman Juice B2 gives you 2 good blade options, straight and serrated, for getting any cutting job done right. Best of all it is one of the lightest options on our list.
Weight: 1.3 oz
Blade Length: 2.2"
The Gerber Obsidian knife is a great every day carry multi-tool pocket knife. The large blade has a plunge lock that ensures the knife stays open in use and closed while stored, and the comfortable grip provides leverage for tough jobs. Tools include flat and phillips screwdrivers, a file, and a bottle opener.
Weight: 4.6 oz
Blade Length: 3.0"
This modern update to the classic Opinel design is a solid survival knife. The comfortable grip is fiberglass reinforced for strength and includes an integrated 110-decibel emergency whistle, fire starter, and cutting hook. In short, this knife is adventure ready and makes a trusty knife for hikers and backpackers venturing into the backcountry.
Weight: 5.6 oz
Blade Length: 3.94"
Leatherman is known for bigger multi-tools with pliers and dozens of features, but the classic pliers multi-tool can be unnecessarily heavy for day hikers and backpackers. Enter the Crater series of multi-tool pocket knives. They pack in the tools you use most including phillips and flat screwdrivers, a combo blade, and a carabiner that doubles as a bottle opener in a lightweight package that is perfect for hikers.
Weight: 2.36 oz
Blade Length: 2.6"