There’s a ton of information about backpacking knives out there. From cold, hard facts to flimsy rumors, we’ve heard it all.
Unfortunately, some things backpackers say about knives are just plain wrong — or, more often, outdated. It’s time to set the record straight and debunk the most common backpacking knife myths.
Myth 1: Backpacking Knives Aren’t Essential
While I may be a little biased as a knife maker, I’m stumped that some of my backpacking friends don’t consider knives essential to their kit. A buddy of mine once went on an entire trip without his.
Whether you use your backpacking knife for self-defense or as a multi-use tool, always keep it on your person, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. What happens if you fall or otherwise injure yourself and can’t reach inside your pack? For your safety and the safety of your fellow backpackers, keep your knife handy.
Besides just being on your person, your knife should be accessible at all times when you’re out backpacking. Ideally, it should be on your hip or strapped to an easy-to-reach place on your pack. Your emergency communication gear, bear spray (if needed), and first aid kit should be easy to grab as well.
Myth 2: One Knife Fits All
We sell many types of knives here at MKC. Different knives accomplish different goals. The shapes, sizes, and materials all matter.
Ergo, there’s no need to rely on a single backpacking knife for all your adventures. If you have a favorite knife, bring it, but having more can only help. What if you lose or break one?
Several of my backpacker friends like to carry a small, easy-to-access blade in their pocket (like a pocket knife or a Mini-Speedgoat) and keep their full-sized knife on or in their pack. This is a brilliant solution if you don’t want to carry a full-sized blade on your hip.
Myth 3: Sharper Is Superior
A knife’s sharpness doesn’t have any bearing on its long-term quality and durability. For instance, a razor-sharp blade from your local supermarket will probably dull after a single use.
Each blade’s geometry — and, to an extent, its purpose — is more important than its initial sharpness. After all, you can sharpen a backpacking knife as often as you want to retain a crisp, killer edge. But a flimsy, thin knife will never be up for heavy-use tasks, and a big, thick knife doesn’t suit delicate tasks like cutting rope.
When purchasing a knife, consider purpose above all else.
Myth 4: Material Doesn’t Matter
Your knife’s material is as important as its geometry. At MKC, we manufacture both stainless and carbon steel knives. Each material excels in different areas.
Stainless steel is less maintenance-intensive than carbon steel. It resists corrosion, so it’s great for salty hikes in states like Washington or Alaska.
Carbon steel is more susceptible to corrosion with improper care. However, it excels in dry climates, and it’s easier to sharpen out in the field.
In either case, you may not use your backpacking knife much while on the trail, but there’s no reason not to plan around your environment. Your knife is the one piece of your kit that can last a lifetime with proper maintenance.
Myth 5: More Expensive Means Higher Quality
While this one isn’t a myth per se, it’s also not a hard-and-fast rule. On the one hand, you shouldn’t trust a $40 knife from your local supermarket’s hunting aisle with your life. On the other hand, even a $1,000 bespoke knife from a custom bladesmith won’t last if it isn’t manufactured well.
Basically, you get what you pay for with cheap knives, but a high price tag doesn’t guarantee good quality, either. It’s important to vet any knife maker and be willing to spend the money on something that’ll last. I encourage backpackers to read online reviews to better understand a knife maker’s reputation and quality.
Myth 6: Knives Are for Cutting
A good backpacking knife may be great for cutting rope, vines, and other fiber, but a knife is a multi-use tool. Our Speedgoat knife, in particular, is a great all-purpose blade, and its paracord handle comes in handy in all sorts of situations.
Knives can process food, dig holes, pull a splinter out of your hand, cut bandages, and chop twigs, among countless other tasks. Most importantly, you can use a knife to defend yourself in a dangerous situation — it could save your life.
Myth 7: Folding Knives Are Better for Backpacking
At first glance, a folding backpacking knife might seem more portable than a fixed-blade knife. However, folding knives have more moving parts susceptible to breakage than fixed blades, and they’re heavier.
That’s not to say folding knives are bad or that a fixed-blade knife is the solution for everyone. Rather, consider both options when you shop for a portable backpacking knife. People love our Mini-Speedgoat for its small, convenient size and light weight.
Final Backpacking Knife Tips
The knives we have access to today differ from what we’ve had at most points throughout history.
The “myths” we hear came about for genuine reasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re still relevant. The myth about folding knives, for example, may have started when big, bulky Bowie knives were the only real fixed-blade option. Folding knives were a better, more compact choice back then. But backpacking knife options have come a long way since then.
Gone are the days when any old knife would do. Having a specialized blade appropriate to the task at hand is not only convenient but also safer. In the end, safety is the most important factor, whether you’re backpacking, hunting with buddies, or just enjoying the outdoors.