Camper’s Guide for Buying a Pocket Knife

Before we even begin to discuss the features of today’s top pocket knives for camping, let’s take a quick moment to define exactly what a pocket knife is. Conflict seems to surround this topic like a blanket of fog, which only serves to confuse consumers. People appear to be at odds when it comes to defining pocket knives and multi-tools. I have seen many people refer to a multi-tool as a pocket knife and vice versa. So, what’s the difference?

A pocket knife is, primarily, a knife. Its main purpose is to cut things. Like all things made to fit in your pocket, it is compact and the blade usually flips inside the handle for safety. A multi-tool is also compact, but usually has many more functions. In fact, a multi-tool isn’t primarily a knife at all; its primary tool is usually pliers or scissors. Not all multi-tools feature knives, but when they do, the knife is usually short and thin. Some pocket knives feature secondary tools, such as tweezers or nail files, but the largest and most well-designed part of a pocket knife is its blade. Hopefully this quick differentiation will put the “pocket knife versus multi-tool” debate to rest for now. Let’s move forward and take a look at what defines a great pocket knife and which variables you should consider when making your purchase.

What Should a Pocket Knife be Made Of?

High carbon steel is a favorite among knife aficionados, because it holds its edge for much longer than many other types of steel. However, high carbon steel is prone to rusting quite easily. Since you will be carrying and using your pocket knife in a variety of weather conditions, it is best to steer clear of high carbon steel. Stainless steel or a high carbon version of stainless steel will be your best choices.

Some companies are using an oxidization process which blackens the steel and makes it even more durable and rust resistant. Interestingly, the jury still seems to be out on this topic. Some people prefer the black oxidized steel to regular stainless steel, whereas others do not. Clear reasoning between the two camps of opinions has yet to be established, so it is really up to you which you prefer to try.

Consider Local Laws

Depending on where you live, there may be laws which govern the type of knife you are allowed to carry. For example, in many parts of Canada a knife with an automatic sliding blade, also known as a switchblade, is illegal. Some places even have laws against flip blades, or have laws which state that flip blades must have locking mechanisms to hold them closed. Blades of certain lengths are also illegal in certain places.

It is important to find out what your local laws are prior to purchasing your pocket knife. Be sure to follow those laws. You may also want to consider laws in places you frequently visit. For example, if you live in one state but typically camp in a neighboring state you should find out the specifics of weapons laws in the neighboring state as well.

Get a Grip

Regardless of how you intend to use your pocket knife, you will want to ensure that you find one which allows for a solid grip. Since pocket knives are designed slim enough to slip into your pocket with minimal interference, they are often so tiny that they are difficult to hold onto. Typically speaking, a knife which offers a solid grip is one which features a D-shaped handle with finger grooves. A thick handle is important, because it fits better in the basic shape of your closed hand. A D-shape is preferable to a round shape, because its flat side will anchor it in place so that it will not spin around in your hand. A D-shaped handle is also preferable to a flat handle, because it won’t flip around in your hand.

No Grip

Finger Grip

Pocket knives rarely feature the thick, D-shaped handles with finger groove I described above, however. Aside from actually cutting things, a pocket knife’s main purpose is to fit comfortably inside your pocket, something that a large, thick, D-shaped handle would inhibit the knife’s ability to do. Since you will not be able to look for the perfect grip handle described above, I will suggest looking for one which is tall. The handle will, undoubtedly, need to be slim to fit comfortably in your pocket. To make up for that, however, you can find one with a relatively tall handle. A handle which is about 1.5 inches in height will allow you to grab it in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of it flipping around in your hand. Finger grooves also help you maintain a good grip on a knife’s handle.

While kitchen knives sometimes feature soft, rubbery, silicone handles to enhance your ability to grip and reduce the likelihood of your hands slipping when they are wet, pocket knives are usually made completely of steel, and sometimes plastic, to maintain their ability to withstand outdoor elements. Since a sticky, rubbery gripping surface is out of the question, I recommend finding a pocket knife with a textured handle. Texturing, although not as effective as silicone, helps to stop your hands from sliding around.

Automatic or Manual?

Some pocket knives feature buttons or switches which allow you to quickly and easily expose the blade using only one hand. This is most convenient when you often find yourself trying to hold something with one hand and needing to open your knife with the other. For example, if you are trying to pull a rope into a specific position with your left hand and need to hold it there as you cut it with your right hand, an automatic opener will be very helpful for you.

As I discussed earlier in this article, you should always check local laws to be sure that automatic knives are legal where you live and where you plan to camp. You may also want to consider that, sometimes, these types of knives can open themselves in your pocket, creating a potentially dangerous situation. If you are planning to purchase one, you may want to look for one with a locking mechanism. For example, some require you to push a switch in a very specific manner to flip the blade open – a difficult task to accomplish accidentally in your pocket. Others feature full locks which require two hands to disengage prior to use.

Your Overall Needs

There is much to consider when purchasing a pocket knife. We have barely begun to scratch the surface in this article, but have covered what I believe to be some of the most important topics and some of the most overlooked topics on other pocket knife websites.

Of course, you will also want to consider how comfortably you will be able to carry your knife in your pocket. For example, you may want to ask yourself: Are its edges rounded, pointed or square? What is its length when it is closed?

You may also want to consider the weight of your knife. Would you like something which is slightly heavy and feels secure in your hand or something very lightweight which does not weigh down your backpack?

For which purposes will you be using your knife the most? Will a serrated blade be necessary for any of your tasks or will a full straight edge blade serve you better? Would it benefit you to look into purchasing one with a gut hook attached for all your fishing needs?

In short, there are some very important things everyone should consider, such as laws, safety, and comfort when selecting a pocket knife. Secondary issues of importance include things such as length, weight, and special features.

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