Story and Photos by Dana Benner
There are hundreds of articles written every year about knives, by some of the very best writers in the business. While the knives they write about are the best of the best, much of the information being put forth is too much for some beginners to comprehend.
As writers we often talk about high carbon steel, serrated blades, folders and fixed blades. We also talk about bush knives, machetes and more. But what does all of that mean? It can all be a bit overwhelming to a person new to the outdoors.
This article is designed for those out there who are just getting started in hiking, camping, trapping, fishing and hunting. All of these pursuits require you to get back to the basics—to include knives.
It can be argued that a good knife is the most valuable tool that an outdoorsperson can carry. A knife will allow you to process food, build shelter and start a fire. The list could go on and on. For that reason, I believe that a good quality knife should be the first investment you make.
Gear for the outdoors can be expensive, but don’t cheap out when it comes to your knife. When other gear breaks and wears out, a good knife will last you a lifetime. I have both fixed-blade and folding knives and each one has specific jobs.
I’m a big fan of the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) method. Fancy doesn’t cut it in the outdoors. I want a knife that is a no frills work tool. It doesn’t matter to me the brand, as long as it does the job—and then some—and can take, and keep, an edge. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. I want a knife that I can depend on to possibly save my life. So should you.
The next question is “Do you need a fixed-blade or a folder?” The simple answer is “yes.” I recommend both, as each has their place in your gear.
When I was growing up, some 60 odd years ago, every kid carried a pocketknife (folder), and I still do. Folders in general are easy to carry and are there when you need them.
The problem with traditional pocketknives is that when the blade was open, it never was truly locked into place. This meant it could be easily closed using the heal of your hand, which was never an issue unless your fingers were in the way. Take it from someone who has been there and done that, a blade closing on your fingers is never fun.
One of my favorite folding knives is the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. I have had this knife for over 20 years, and it is one of the older styles of folding knives—the ones without the blade lock. Like many Swiss Army Knives, this particular knife has a ton of other tools.
The good news is that most modern folders have locking blades, which means they are designed not to close unless you press the lock release. When you purchase a folder for the first time make sure it has a locking blade. By far most of my folding knives have locking mechanisms.
My three favorites all happen to be American made by Gerber (I mention this because not all Gerber knives are made in America). Those knives are the Gator Drop Point, Fastball and Sharkbelly. The Fastball and Sharkbelly, while small enough to fit into your pocket, come with pocket clips. The Gator Drop Point is a bit larger and is carried in a nylon belt sheath.
While folders can do many things, there are some chores that they are not designed to do; one of which is batoning wood for a fire. The blades—and locking mechanism—of many folders are not “beefy” enough to take the beating.
This is where a good, fixed blade comes into play.
As with folders, there are a multitude of fixed-blade knives on the market. Many are specialty knives such as fillet knives, skinning knives, combat related knives, etc. Your first fixed-blade knife should be a knife capable of doing many jobs well; not just one job perfectly.
Many first timers get caught up in the “bigger is better” way of thinking and end up purchasing more knife than they really need. If you mainly hike established trails, there really is no need to carry a heavy bush knife. On that same type of trail, a smaller knife—that is easier to handle—will normally fit the bill. A good one can easily help you gather the supplies to make a hasty splint, gather material for an emergency shelter or be batoned to split small pieces of wood for a fire.
When picking a “first time” fixed-blade knife don’t focus on brands. I recommend looking for two things; the thickness of the blade’s spine and the knife’s ability to take, and hold, an edge. I also tend to shy away from stainless steel as I have found that stainless is hard to keep sharp.
Of the fixed-blade knives that I have there is one that I would highly recommend to the first timer. That knife is the Next Gen, made by LT Wright. This is a great all-purpose fixed-blade knife, that is light and easy to use and fully capable of most chores found along the trail. It also has its place in the camp kitchen, processing small game and fish, and is capable of cutting cordage and batoning small pieces of wood for the fire.
While the style of the knife is not as important to me as its functionality, it is important to get the right one for the job. All knives will clean a fish, but if you want to fillet it, then you need a knife that is made for that job. The same goes for hunting and work around camp.
Remember the K.I.S.S. method. Your first knife should be one that can accomplish most of the jobs you are likely to face. Will it do all things equally well? Of course not, but it will do all things well enough to get you out of trouble.
It is impossible to provide you with all the information you will need in one small article. Often getting the right outdoor gear—including knives—is a trial-and-error process. My goal here was to give you some pointers that will help you find the right knife for you. Over the years I have gone through many knives, before I settled on the ones I use today.
Remember to get the very best knife that fits your needs and your budget. Money spent now will pay off in the long run. No matter what you do in the outdoors, your knife is the one constant, so make sure you get a good one. K&G
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Dana Benner has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors, survival, history and culture for over 30 years. His work appears in regional and national publications.
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