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In a hurry? If you are looking for a camping knife and just want to know what our top pick is, we recommend the Gerber Gator Premium Fixed Blade Knife.
Whether you are a first-time camper or a seasoned adventurer, the search for the best camping knife always seems to come up. Can one knife work for all situations? Should it be fixed blade or foldable? Which blade shape is most practical? And just what is the difference between a camping knife and a bushcraft knife?
We have a tradition that on weekends we are not camping we eat dinner in front of the television on Friday nights. We call it Picnic Night and we enjoy watching shows that are typically classified as documentary series or reality shows. Some favorites over the years have been Doomsday Preppers, Tiny House Nation, and Southern Survival. It was during the episode Cutting Edges on Southern Survival that our child started to ask about the camping knives we keep in our kit. He was absolutely fascinated by how many knives (eleven) Brandon Currin had on his person. While we don’t feel a need to have quite that many, we do keep more than one knife on hand while camping.
- Top – Gerber Gator
- Upgrade – Ka-Bar BK22 Becker Campanion
- Budget – Morakniv Companion
- Others –
- Luxury – James Brand Hell Gap Knife
The Gerber Gator is a classic model which has been around since the early 90s. We love using this knife while out camping. The handle is made from glass-filled nylon, then has Santoprene rubber bonded to create a comfortable to hold and extremely strong grip. The blade is a 4.5-inch drop point and made from 440HC stainless steel. The sheath is made of ballistic nylon and molded plastic. All of these make for a knife to use in all-weather situations.
- Length – 8.5 inches
- Weight – 5.4 ounces
- Made in the USA
- Ergonomic grip
- Full tang
- The sheath uses some tension to engage and release which takes practice getting used to
This knife was designed by Ethan Becker. Who is he and why should we care? Becker is an avid outdoorsman who designs the knives he wants to use in the field. He is also the son of Marion Rombauer Becker (the illustrator and updater of The Joy of Cooking) and the grandson of Irma S. Rombauer (the author of The Joy of Cooking). As avid cooks ourselves, we really appreciate the care and crafting Becker puts into his knives.
- Length – 10.5 inches
- Weight – 1 pound
- Made in the USA
- Flat grind
- Full tang
- Poorly made sheath
Spend any amount of time in knife forums and the brand of Morakniv is bound to come up. Most everyone knows about the Swiss Army Knife, but the Mora knife is the real army knife for many of the Scandinavian countries. The Morakniv Companion packs a lot of pros into a budget price tag! It has a solid handle that fits nicely into a variety of hand sizes. The stainless-steel blade stays sharp and is easy to clean and maintain. We love that it comes in a variety of colors. While many Moraknivs could do double duty as both camping knives and survival knives we like this one the most for camping duties.
- Length – 8.6 inches
- Weight – 4.1 ounces
- High friction grip
- Plastic color coordinated sheath
- Belt clip and drain hole
- Requires regular re-sharpening
- Three-quarter tang
Buck knives have been among the best available knives for a really long time. If you inherit one or can find one in a thrift store you are in luck. Unfortunately, they have started manufacturing outside of the USA and the quality is suffering. We can only hope they choose to bring it back to the states and come back up to their previous quality. Having said that, we do like the 863 Selkirk but recommend it with reservations at this time.
- Length – 9.5 in
- Weight – 7.6 oz
- Includes a fire starter and whistle tool
- Composite (Micarta) handle
- Not currently made in USA
The StrongArm is another fine camping knife from the Gerber factory in Portland, Oregon. It is more expensive than the Gator with fair reason. They both have a blade made from 420 high-carbon steel. However, the StrongArm comes with a ceramic blade coating. Additionally, it comes in a half-serrated version. This one is also longer and heavier which some campers will prefer.
- Length – 9.8 in
- Weight – 7.2 oz
- Full tang
- Striking pommel
- Versatile sheath positions
- Nylon straps on sheath are flimsy
Hell Gap is the first fixed blade knife coming from the James Brand factory in Portland, Oregon. The blade is made of s35vn stainless steel and has a modified drop point. This little lovely is able to perform all sorts of tasks ranging from digging up stuff to slicing and dicing veggies for dinner. And it looks good doing it as well.
- Length – 7.8 in
- Weight – 3.1 oz
- Made in USA
- Composite (Micarta) handle
- Sheath is flimsy
What we looked at while researching camping knives:
- Fixed blade versus Foldable
- Blade materials
- Size, length, and weight
Fixed blade versus Foldable:
A fixed blade knife can be stronger and can handle tasks that a foldable knife can’t. This would be due to the full tang that is available in a quality fixed blade knife. However, for everyday carry (EDC), a folding knife is more practical. They tend to be lighter-weight and safer to leave lying around if not everyone knows proper knife safety.
If your knife can’t cut, you have wasted valuable space in your kitchen kit. This is why it is so important to pay attention to both the materials of the blade and how to take care of it. Carbon steel and stainless-steel blades are great for camping knives. Carbon steel will rust if not properly cleaned while stainless-steel is difficult to sharpen so if you choose either of these materials please take care of them properly.
Size, length, and weight:
You will want to have a handle that fits comfortably in your hand. Too small and blisters tend to form. Too large and precision work becomes difficult. Unfortunately, the only way to know what really works for you is to test them out. It is nice if your handle can substitute for a hammer if necessary.
We like to recommend keeping a blade length around four inches as it will be long enough for most tasks and short enough for precision work. Four inches tends to be easy to work with for most people. Additionally, don’t go for something too heavy or too light. We want enough weight to provide stability.
Other factors to consider when researching camping knives:
Handles are made from a variety of materials such as wood, plastic, rubber, and metal. Each of these have pros and cons. Wood handles can be textured for good grip but can be damaged if left wet. Plastic handles cope with water better but can become slippery. Rubber handles aren’t as durable even though they handle the wet the best. And metal handles are durable but can get cold and slippery. Because there is no perfect handle, we don’t let the handle be a deal breaker as we select the best camping knives.
Next up is the edge of the blade. This sounds simple, but there are multiple facets to consider. First up is the edge grind. There are different grinds geared to a variety of actions. Some terms that get thrown around are hollow, flat, sabre, chisel, etc. We aren’t going to discuss all of these terms as they are out of scope for this article. We are going to state that we prefer a flat or compound flat grind for our camping knife. What this means is that we will have a flat angle on both sides of our blade.
Second, does it have any extra features such as a choil or a ferrocium striker? What is a choil you might ask? These are tiny indentations on the blade near the handle of the knife. They can be used to help sharpen other blades. And the ferrocium striker? These help you to start a fire by providing a way to strike sparks.
Here we are discussing the shape of the blade, not the overall shape of the knife. We feel that the drop-point blade is the best for all-around work. It achieves a great compromise between strength and utility with a convex curve that slopes back to the point. Other blade shapes include the clip-point, the needle-point, the tanto, the reverse tanto, and so many more. We aren’t going to get into the distinctions between each of these shapes. That is beyond the scope of this article. We are just going to reiterate that we prefer the drop-point blade for our camping knives.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What are the different types of camping knives?
There are three main styles of knives. These are fixed blade, pocketknife, and locking blade. The fixed blade is typically the sturdiest knife and is actually safer than a folding knife. However, they tend to weigh more and require a sheath for safe carrying. A pocketknife, sometimes known as a folding knife, is frequently used as an everyday carry. These knives typically are smaller and can be thrown into your backpack or back pocket safely. However, they are not as stable as the fixed blade and if used incorrectly can close on your fingers. The locking blade is a hybrid knife with the stability of the fixed blade and the handiness of the pocketknife. If you have young kids around, having a blade that can be locked closed for storage can be a great thing.
What is a camping knife used for?
What is a camping knife not used for? A good quality camping knife can be used for a variety of tasks. We have used ours to cut paracord, slice & dice veggies, sharpen sticks, pry stuff out of the ground, and even dig out a splinter. I promise we do clean it between uses. We don’t go straight from prying stuff out of the ground to slicing and dicing veggies!
What is the difference between a bushcraft and a camping knife?
Technically there is no difference between a bushcraft knife and a camping knife. However, we have decided to use the commonly used difference of a camping knife is for those who are camping in an established site with amenities while a bushcraft knife is for those who require something that will enable them to establish their own shelter, look for their own food, basically allow them to survive.
Can I just get a multi-tool?
Short answer, you can if you are okay with the limitations. Long answer, a multi-tool knife has multiple tools and can be used in numerous ways but will not be as sturdy when using the knife function. Longest answer, we highly recommend having both in your camping kit.
Wait, what is a multi-tool?
A multi-tool is just what it sounds like. It is a toolbox that fits into a small package and typically contains pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, bottle openers, can openers, corkscrews, tweezers, and more. While we love our multi-tool, we do not consider it a replacement for our knife and always carry both.
How do I care for my camping knife?
You will want to take care of your camping knife just as you would any other quality knife. When it is dirty, make sure to clean it. Never put it away wet. Keep the blade sharp by honing regularly. Lubricate the blade with an oil-based lubricant. And, if it is a folding knife, make sure to clean and oil any moving parts as well.
We hope you enjoyed this look into the research we did on best camping knives. As a reminder, our favorite camping knife is the Gerber Gator Premium Fixed Blade Knife. It meets our needs for setting up camp, teaching our son knife safety, and provides the best value for the price.