Knives and the Wilderness

Best knife for outdoor trips

As a part-time cowboy working cattle drives on the slope of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, I would feel naked without a Buck knife tucked in its holster at my waist. To a man, all of us cowhands carried some kind of knife then.

The practice made a lot of sense because we never knew when a critter was going to hang itself on a post and one of us had to cut the rope quickly before air is cut off and the animal dies of strangulation. Packing a knife during cattle drives made sense then; as it does now when someone decides to venture into the great outdoors for a trek.

The most common question I am asked by budding outdoorsmen is which type of knife is most suitable for camping. I reply to their question with a question of my own: “How long do you plan to stay outdoors?” When they reply with “oh, a couple of days”; I know then and there that they don’t need much more than a Swiss knife or multitool knife.

Hikers who embark on overnight forays usually pack everything that they need from a cook stove to canned goods. There wouldn’t be much “survival” scenarios during those short outdoor forays.

The only advice I add (at the expense of being blamed of marketing a particular brand) is that they stay away from clones and go for the dependable brands like Victorinox.

For trekkers who intend to go on extended outdoor trips, carrying a heavy knife is mandatory. The longer the trip into the woods, the less provision one must, or can, carry. It will be foolhardy to pack your multi-fuel cook stove and carry several week’s worth of fuel.

Neither will you pack enough canned goods to see you through for several weeks. Now you get the point. Extended treks mandate that you pack the minimum weight possible; and guess which one on the “to pack” list gets scratched off first? Yes, the cook stove, the fuel canisters and the heavy canned food rations.

I advice novices not go on extended treks unless he, or she, is trained in survival techniques. You just read the word “survival” and the only way to “survive” in the bush is to carry a “survival” knife. I am not only old-school but stricken with nostalgia as well so I prefer the traditional Bowie knife.

Of course this is not to say that you should opt for a Bowie knife for yourself as well for there are a variety of excellent full tang survival knives out there to choose from. Some durable and well-made survival knives are those made by Case, Gerber or Schrade. Again, this article is supposed to be informative so I cannot get away from mentioning established brands.

best knife for your outdoor trips

In the rural and mountainous areas around the world, it is not uncommon to see a peasant carrying a heavy knife. For those people, the heavy knife is not an accessory but rather a necessity. 

They are so common within their immediate geographical areas of use that their name for their disparate knives evokes images of distinct geographical locations around the world. The rural residents of Central America, for example, always carry their Colima into the foothills. It is second nature for the Indonesians to pack their Parang when they venture outdoors.

The name Kukri may sound exotic to you but those knives are part and parcel of everyday life in Central Asia. The Panga is synonymous with Africa as is the Bolo with the Philippines. Among the  knives mentioned,  the Philippine Bolo just may be the most familiar to the rest of the world.

Do you get the point now? A tiny pocket knife is of no use to you should you decide to venture into the woods extensively. With a heavy knife however, you can cut firewood for when the temperature outdoors drops.

You can dig a hole with it should you be inclined to do so; or even start a fire by using your blade as a striker. Should you happen to be roaming the jungles of Southeast Asia, you can cut vines with your heavy knife and quench your thirst.

If you must eat something to survive, you can hack and pry at dead tree limbs and eat grub. With its long blade, a survival knife makes for a good weapon as well. The act of hacking at a threatening, hissing snake is less intimidating than trying to do it with a tiny pocket knife and should you manage to cut its head off, you can go ahead and eat it too – this is about survival, remember?

Have you tried to cut saplings with a pocket knife to construct an animal snare with? That can be not only frustrating but quite a chore. Do you need a makeshift spear to catch that fish with? Or even spear that wild animal with? The list for the uses of a survival knife goes on and on.

The survival knife will literally be worth its weight in gold when you are out alone in the wilderness and have to rely on your wits to survive. Your innate survival instinct alone may not be enough to allow you to survive a week out in the wilderness.

Some form of survival training must be had prior to an extended outdoor foray. Here, we are talking about something you learn, so we are dealing with an entity all of us possess - our intellect. That is half of the requirement for survival; the other half deals with a tangible object – your survival knife.

What features should you look for in a survival knife? Size matters so any knife less than a foot in length might not be able to meet your survival requirements. Also, a survival knife is expected to go through abuse so purchasing a knife with a full tang is mandatory.

Blade thickness equates with strength and durability so choose a survival knife with a beefy spine. Remember too, that you are going to use your survival knife extensively when outdoors so choosing one with a comfortable grip makes a lot of sense.

​A final word of advice:  treat your blade like you would a good friend – you never know when it’s going to save your life!

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