I'm planning on doing some back country canoe camping this summer. I would like to avoid bringing a hatchet if possible. I also find my folding knifes get full of gunk and I am a little bit afraid I am going to poison myself.

  • What should I look for when buying a fixed blade knife?

  • What materials are the best?

  • What is the ideal length?

  • What kind of sheath should I look for?

I am in Canada so if anyone has any specific recommendations on where to get a good knife that would be helpful too.

  • outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/1938/… Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 17:31
  • Hope those help, if you still have questions after that, let me know. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 17:31
  • Personal recommendation here: any CRKT M-16 style knife. I have a tanto point blade from them that feels as sturdy as a fixed blade knife (but is actually a folder).
    – pheidlauf
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 19:38
  • Keep an eye on what is legal in your state / country.
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 7:04

7 Answers 7


I'm a lurker on two knife-related forums (Bladeforums.com and Knifeforums.com). On both of them, "what knife should I buy" or "what is the best knife for X" are either closed quickly or become very hot topics because there is no right answer, only lots and lots and lots of opinions. See this thread for a recent discussion of the topic (including some nice pictures).

That said, there are some general guidelines.

First of all, make sure it is legal! Carrying an illegal knife on the Appalachian Trail will get you in the same trouble as carrying an illegal knife on the streets of New York. A LEO might cut you some slack in the wilderness, but they don't have to.

Fixed blade vs folding blade.

Fixed blades are tougher, which is great if you are going to be splitting firewood or cutting branches or digging holes.


Bigger blades (both length and thickness) are better at chopping wood but are far worse at small tasks like skinning small game and slicing food and cutting rope.


Serrated blades are better at cutting fibrous materials like rope but suck at cutting soft food like cheese and tomatoes. Typical bushcraft tasks are usually better with a straight edge (though a serrated edge makes pretty good feather sticks for firelighting).


Harder steels hold an edge longer but are harder to sharpen in the field. Softer steels might roll over the edge when chopping.

Some types of steel are better than others at making sparks from your fire rod.

There is no such thing as rustproof. Stainless steel is just steel that takes a bit longer to rust. :-) All knives need good care. Unless you are spending a lot of money on a titanium blade.


Straight edge blades (like the "american tanto" design) suck at cutting food. The curve, or "belly", of the edge is what helps cutting through the entire draw of the knife.

Saws on the back of the blade mean you can't use the blade for batonning very well and you will hurt your hand in some knife grips. A lot of military knives with saw backs are for ripping through aircraft skin. Leave the sawblades to Rambo.

What do I carry?

I carry a Victorinox Outrider Swiss Army lockable folding knife. The long blade is for food prep (it is long enough to cut through an apple in one go). The sawblade on it is long enough to deal with firewood and track maintenance. The scissors probably get used more than anything else on the blade. I've used the can opener a few times and the corkscrew only once (wine bottles and tins don't go hiking often as they are heavy).

If I am going somewhere camping I also carry a CRKT Stiff KISS MDP. It is small, light, strong enough for me to whack it through wood with a baton and cheap enouygh that if I break it I don't care. It is a bushcraft knife and does not go near food.

The Victorinox is legal carry in New Zealand. The CRKT is not, so I have to make sure it stays in my backpack when driving to and from the trip.

Final Thoughts

You are not Rambo. Don't carry a massive piece of movie-madness cutlery (termed "tacticLOL" on the forums above).

If you are Rambo, then disregard all of this. You can do whatever the heck you want - I'm certainly not going to argue.

Edit: Thanks Ben.

  • 1
    Yes, links are fine. The only thing that's frowned upon is answers that consist only of a link, so they don't stand on their own.
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 2:50
  • 1
    +1 if only for the line If you are Rambo, then disregard all of this
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 11:55

A lot of it depends on the purpose of the knife, whether it will be primarily used for hunting, survival, or self-defence.

What should you be looking for? Size, weight, but more importantly feel, how does it hold in your hand with an overhand grip (most common grip), and what about underhand grip (used mostly for picking at ice or stabbing).

Will you be doing any sawing with the knife? If so then you need some form of serration on at least part of the blade. If you do go for a serrated blade then you'll also want a knife with a groove for your forefinger in the handle. You may also consider a hand guard so as to avoid scuffing your knuckles while sawing.

Personally I like a blade that has a notch for cutting rope/wire.

For a sheath, I'd recommend one that closes over the handle (either a velcro or button flap, or a loop that wraps around the handle (not as good, I've lost blades with those). Oh, and don't get a blade that's tactical (black), it'll just make it that much harder to find it when you drop it.

  • 3
    +1 for non-tactical... you're camping, not joining the SEALs ;) Commented May 11, 2012 at 3:16

One of the most important aspects in a knife is choosing one that you'll actually carry with you. It's no use if you leave it at camp while hiking because the length is unwieldy for you to bring. In other words, it has to be one that you're comfortable with (weight, handle, size, length, etc). It's really more of a personal decision as the knife I prefer may differ from yours.

For me, I went w/ a AUS8 4.85in blade since it was easy for me to carry without needing a bag. I strongly suggest visiting your local store to handle the knives yourself in order to make a decision.


You state that you wish to avoid bringing a hatchet. This implies a use on wood.

If you want a small knife to use in this manner, look at these designs.

If you want a big knife that is a functional compromise between a knife and a hatchet look at a kukri.


I carry two knives when i'm backpacking: a small Swiss army knife (the "Classic" model) and a large hunting knife (I can't remember the brand, it is a good quality one, cost about $150). The Swiss army knife is lightweight and indispensable for its use as a can opener, for gutting fish, and general purpose tools. The authentic Swiss army knives are also extremely good quality and durable. The hunting knife I carry on my belt primarily as a weapon in case I need it for some reason (attacked by an animal, which has never happened in my 35 years of hiking), and also will sometimes use it to chop up smaller pieces of firewood.


This depends a lot on what you plan to do, and I don't think there's any such thing as an all-purpose knife. I mostly use mine when hiking and backpacking, when it would be silly to bring a big, heavy knife that I don't need. For what I do, what works great is a tiny swiss army knife, which I mainly use for slicing food (knife blade), cutting moleskin (scissors), and pulling out splinters (tweezers).


I recently broke stupidly my camping knife and had to purchase a new one. I am very satisfied with my purchase, so I'll list my priorities at the time of the purchase.

Functions(sorted by priority, 1 means most important):
1. Table knife, fork, spoon (yup, you can eat soup with a knife ;p)
2. Axe - heavy blade, that can cut down a branch the size of my arm in under 10 minutes
3. Utility knife - cut ropes, shrub, band-aids, carve with it ...
4. Hammer
5. Defense - dogs, people

From those, derive required qualities (also sorted):
1. Cheap - no more than $10 - I don't want to cry every time that I abuse it
2. Sharp steel - I do not dig steels, but on cheap knifes I have basically seen two types of steel - (a)soft shiny smooth not holding edge ever and (b) hard, sharp, fragile susceptible to rust with straight parallel notches(from the grinding wheel). Needless to say, I look for (b).
3. Full-tang
4. Sturdy pommel - for hammering
5. Sold with a sheath - so that it can be carried easily and safely on a belt or in the backpack (or, as my girlfriend discovered - very conveniently tied to the shoulder strap of the backpack).
6. Plain - if I am going to abuse it, I am going to resharpen it often. I hate sharpening serrations.
7. Heavy - for chopping. Furthermore, this makes the knife able to withstand abuse
8. Cool looking (yeah ;P)

Maybe add a picture when I get home.

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