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As an outdoor beginner, I was interested in some possible tool combinations for shorter outdoor hiking trips, say, 2-5 days.

From what little experience I have, I reckon that the most common tasks will be

  • the preparation of food
  • minor woodworking (firewood, skewers, replacement tent pegs/pole)
  • occasional minor digging

According to what I've read, it is common to use a heavier field knife in combination with a smaller swiss army knife or multitool, omitting any additional tools like a pocket saw or a small axe.

In your experience, are the features in those types of tool combinations reasonable for what I'd like to do? Is there other criteria I should consider when making a choice, and why?

  • Hi Martin! This was in the vote to close queue because brand recommendations are off-topic here. The official SO Post says, "When it comes to shopping questions, don’t ask us what you should buy-ask us what you need to learn to tell what you should buy." Most of your excellent question follows that rule. I've edited and re-written parts to try to focus on what criteria you need for what you want to do, not what brands to choose. I hope what I've done is correct and helpful. If not, I apologize, and hope you'll roll back! Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Dec 22 '17 at 23:16
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I used to carry a solid 6" knife when hiking.... What I have learnt for longer trips, you have to carry it. A single quality 3"-4" swiss army knife will do everything that you need to do well (A 2" folding knife will do 95% of what you need well, and the other 5% it can do), ideally with a locking blade. Five days is a long time to carry something that makes doing something once or twice a fraction easier.

Common beginner mistake is to take stuff that "I might need" (make wooden tent pegs to replace lost ones - don't loose them, make do if you do) or "Would be better for" (cutting fire wood - if the wood small enough to cut with any knife and dry enough to burn, stand on it to break it). For 5 days, the weight of a knife that makes gathering firewood for cooking fires significantly easier could be easily saved by carrying cooker fuel.

Why are you digging - if its toilet, you don't want to be taking your food prep knife anywhere near toileting locations, and should carry a proper small shovel which is better for the task.

In a larger group (say 4 or more) we might have one larger (4-6") knife in the group equipment.

  • never really thought about group equipment, silly me. i can see myself making the mistake over-equipping! next trip will be in January, there'll be plenty of weight from clothes, sleeping bag and thermal mat alone. as for the digging: a water ditch around my tent did seemed kinda reasonable in heavy rain, but luckily I was never forced to dig one. – Martin Dreher Dec 21 '17 at 11:54
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    I should point out that carrying big 'weapons of destruction' almost always at odds with Leave NoTtrace. It is a lot easier to think LNT if you don't have the tools to dig trenches and cut down forests. – user5330 Dec 21 '17 at 22:11
  • Martin, if that's a concern, then so long as you're in an area with trees, definitely look into hammock hiking - hammock and tarp, underquilt for insulation, zero ground contact in case of rain (also applies to mud, rocks, tree roots, uneven ground, or hill slopes). Plus it's totally modular, so you can only take the items you'll need (warm summer, no underquilt, etc). – flith Dec 23 '17 at 9:42
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It's pretty usual to carry both a multi-tool and a regular fixed/folding knife. The knives on a multi-tool are okay for small tasks but once you want to do some serious cutting such as whittling or skinning or cutting food, a dedicated knife is much better than one that is included on a multi-tool.

If you were trying to save weight, then I would suggest taking only a multi-tool but get one where the blade locks open. Its harder to use a knife if the blade doesn't lock.

  • I agree, knife + multitool. You seldom need heavy hardware, you need the small things. The zipper on the tent got stuck, you need pliers. The stove valve is clogged with soot, where is something needle-like. You have a fishing hook through your cheek, where is the cutting plier and the bandage scissor... I'd recommend a fixed knife though, there is less mechanics to fail you and less chance of hurting yourself by being an idiot, a crime we all are guilty of from time to time. – Stian Yttervik Jan 22 '18 at 13:03
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Honestly, there isn't much you can't do with a decent mid-sized fixed blade (your basic 3-4" Mora type) with a Scandi (flat) grind, and a small axe for processing firewood. With practice, you can also use the axe head for planing and shaving wood (tinder, feather sticks, etc). A 6" knife is completely overkill unless you're also hunting and gutting your own food.

In my experience, a multi-tool has more design compromises than advantages for bushcraft, and I no longer carry one. Folding blades in general are also riskier, in the event you need to do something that stresses the blade, as the hinge is a potential point of failure. A lot of discussions online seem to focus on batoning with a knife, which I would strongly recommend against, in favour of either an axe, or bludgeoning wooden wedges with another piece of wood.

I also used to (and still occasionally) carry a lightweight folding saw, where the blade stows inside the handle, but I also find rare use for it that can't be done with an axe. Those little chain saws that are a piece of serrated wire are little better than gimmicks. I wouldn't carry a sharpening stone for just a few days' trip, but a small stone or lapstone is handy for longer trips. This can be shared in a group.

Beyond those, you could take a hardened plastic trowel for a lightweight digging tool (outdoor shops often sell these), but with your axe and knife, it's also easy enough to shape a pointy piece of wood to accomplish the same job. It mostly comes down to skill with the blades (practice) and creativity in improvising tools and solutions out in the field, rather than bringing everything and the kitchen sink with you.

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I think a lot of it depends on what type of terrain, and how primitive you plan on being. I personally would take a sharp medium sized pocket knife (3-4" blade) to be used for food prep and other small tasks. Ideally this would be of decent hard steel that can take some abuse without chipping or dulling very quickly.

The secondary blade depends somewhat on what you want to carry, if you will need to be chopping wood for fires every night a small lightweight hatchet is quite useful, i may opt for this over a secondary large knife as they can also be used for light digging if the soil is not saturated with rocks. However, if you know the area you will be hiking in has plenty of downed wood you can simply gather this may not be necessary.

If you are hiking through rough terrain without trails and really getting out there into dense vegetation or woods you may find a machete is more useful than a hatchet.

I also always take a small knife sharpener in my pack, they don't weigh a whole lot but do make life easier if you will be using your blade quite often. Not necessary but a personal luxury i enjoy, especially if you are going to be using something for digging or other utilitarian purposes.

The wire saws can also be handy for small branches for fire wood but are somewhat tiring to use at times, although they weigh significantly less than a hatchet.

A mess kit or multi-purpose cooking dish/pot/mug is also a necessity in regards to food prep in my humble opinion, you can do without one but it makes life much more enjoyable for me if i have something i can throw on the fire to cook just about anything in.

  • Some nice thoughts - I reckon there is a small line between over-equipping like mattnz mantioned and having the right tools for the job. Is there a hatchet that you can recommend from experience, possibly with international availability like a Fiskars? Any thoughts on cleavers, as opposed to hatchets? e.g. the Silky Ono (youtube.com/watch?v=CVJSPDlrlYY – Martin Dreher Dec 21 '17 at 12:43

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