Thursday, December 4, 2008

In Defense of the Knife

I've been reading a lot of posts in the forums decrying the necessity of carrying a knife while backpacking. In order to shed the most weight possible, some people have resorted to carrying tiny pocket knives like the dimuitive Victorinox Classic, simple razor blades, or even forgoing a knife altogether, claiming that they're useless anyway because they never use them. Today, I want to make a simple, rational argument in favor of carrying a real knife into the backcountry.

OK, so I'll concede that maybe you don't really need something like this 5.7 oz., 5" SOG Seal Pup Elite:

But, what about something more modest, yet fully functional like my 2.6 oz. Spyderco Delica 4:

I use my knife a lot on the trail--more than enough to justify it's weight. I use it for opening food bags, food prep, cutting guylines, shaving branches to make dry tinder, digging cat holes, etc. It's undoubtedly the most versatile piece of gear I carry. Aside from sheer convenience, I just feel more secure having a real 3 7/8" blade in the unlikely event that I get lost and have to spend a few unanticipated nights out and go into "survival mode". I think it's also important to consider self defense from both animals and humans. A paper-thin razor blade isn't going to do much to fend off a mountain lion or hostile hiker. While rare, attacks do happen and in my mind it's better to have something that could be used as a weapon than being totally defenseless.

For those that say they've carried a knife for a long time and never used it so they ditched it, I ask if they would apply the same logic to a first-aid kit. I carried a first-aid kit for a long time (probably over a year) and never used it. The first time I actually had to, I was glad I had it with me--I would have been out of luck otherwise. I've carried one ever since. I'll bet most of us don't pull out our first-aid kits very often, yet still carry them becasue we realize that their weight is justified by necessity. I think the same holds true for knives. Even if you don't use a knife as much as I do for simple camp chores, etc., when you really need it, you'll be glad you have a real blade and not a miniscule razor.

In short, I feel it is unwise to head into the wild without a decent knife and the Delica 4 has served me well for little weight. Of course it's not going to protect me from every situation, but it's certaily better than having no knife at all. On a more practical level, I simply can't see sacrificing its convenience to save a mere two and a half ounces.

So what about the rest of you? Do you carry a knife? Why or why not? What's in your pocket?
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30 comments:

Mungo Says Bah! said...

I always carry a carbon-steel Mora #510. Perfect.

Cheers,

Mungo

Sarah Kirkconnell said...

Jason I haven't a clue what brand my knife is (I bought it years and years ago!). It was made in Ireland though.
Lightweight plastic handle, 3" blade that does everything I need. I am not without it - it has done so much for me over the years!

If for some reason I don't have it along I would have my tiny Leatherman that has a a knife and scissors. The scissors are the best thing on that knife.....I can even do manicures on the trail. Heh!

David Ray said...

I take my Swiss Army Knife that I found in the road years ago. And I agree with Sarah about the scissors. Very handy.

But I haven't done any manicures.

Philip Werner said...

I carry a Victorinox Classic. It has scissors. There was a time in my teens when I used to carry a machete!

Hoz said...

When it comes to knives, I'm a freak. On long distance fishing/canoeing/camping trips I carry three. A 6" filet, my Swiss Army Classic, and a multi tool.

For hiking I just carry a swiss.

I can see those ultralight hikers trying to knapp a blade out of stone.

Jason Klass said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I'm glad to see some knife-toting backpackers out there!

jw said...

I actually carry two knives (and yes, I do strive for ultralightness). But I love my Leatherman Micra for it's scissors and actually useful, impossible-to-lose tweezers, but I want a slightly larger, beefier blade. So I have an old Buck knife that I carry. It's too heavy to justify on weight, but it wins for having a reasonably-sized blade and on nostalgic value, because that particular blade is like an old friend. It is one of those things that makes me feel happy to just hold.

Jason Klass said...

JW-
Since I carry my knife by cliping it to my pocket, I don't count it towards pack weight--just skin out weight. Maybe that's cheating but I say if you have a knife you're happy with, carry it and don't worry about the weight. ;)

Chris Greene said...

Jason,

I'm 100% with you, those who don't carry some sort of reasonably functional knife in the wild are just plain foolish.

I too have carried a spyderco or similar clip knife for years, and I almost always carry a more substantial blade as well.

It's funny to me that so many people in the lightweight backpacking community will spend enormous amounts of time comparing and discussing first aid kits or survival kits and their contents, yet they either carry no knife or something woefully inadequate.

Survival 101 -- a knife is like the American Express card, don't leave home without one.

Jason Klass said...

Chris, couldn't have said it better myself!

AktoMan said...

When I'm out I have my Leatherman Squirt S4 (scissors) in my pocket-clip. Useless for whittling firewood, fending off bears or wolves (not here yet in Scotland), skinning rabbits, cutting climbing rope, or tying to a branch to make into a spear.

It is ideal for removing dead blister skin, plucking nose-hair (you never know when you might meet that special lady on the trail), opening food packets, slicing salami or cutting pricetags off the last-minute sale in the gearshop at the trailhead.

Of course, when I took out my new wood-burning stove, I had to look out a whittling-knife. The mini-tanto Gerber Revolt is too easy to open accidentally, but did for the overnighter until I get something better. Yup, I'll be looking at some of the blades listed.

Mac E said...

Hi Jason, I carry a Frosts Mora Carbon sheath knife and a Bundeswher pocket knife made by Victorinox. I use them to much (the Mora especially) to even consider ditching them.

Some old guy said...

Yeah, I carry a knife. Let's say my sleeping bag gets wet. I can build a fire and shelter while some guy with a heavy synthetic bag and no knife tries to sleep in his wet bag. :)

mnblade said...

A good lightweight option is the Gerber LST model 6009. It's 3 1/2" closed and is light as a feather. Very durable too.

Troop#333 said...

Hello my name is Brian and I am a knife addict. I love knives. They are not heavy their my brothers. Ever since my dad let me get my first one at about 10 years of age I have had them and wanted more. So yes I carry knives on the trail. My favorite ,most used, is a small Buck sheath knife which they seem to have discontinued. It has a nice rubber handle and the blade at around 3.5 inches is very useful in cooking and other camp chores.

Off Grid Survival said...

I carry the Seal Pup Elite, it is one of the best knifes that I have ever found. Super sharp and very reliable.

The Sheath that comes with it is pretty nice as well and has a little pocket for a lighter multitool, or a fire stick

Philip Werner said...

I have to agree with Sarah. Scissors are vital. I just posted an article on companion article to this post on my blog.

Jason Klass said...

Offgridsurvival,
What kind of sheath did you get with your Elite? My is a hard nylon and there isn't a pocket.

Off Grid Survival said...

Mine is the Nylon one as well, it has a small pocket on the front that fits a lighter or a multitool....

Here is is on the SOG site
http://www.sogknives.com/store/nylon.html

Jason Klass said...

Great, thanks! I'll check it out.

William said...

I carry a Modern Mora Knife with a 3 1/2 inch blade that weighs in a just a hair over 3oz with sheath.

This is the best place to pick one up and the dealer is good people.

http://www.ragweedforge.com/SwedishKnifeCatalog.html

Anonymous said...

I like a more substantial knife than a SAK. I agree with the first aid kit comparison. I have done backpacking in the past with only a leatherman Micra with no ill affect but I feel I just was lucky not to have needed more. I recently got a Spyderco Salt 1. It has a 3 inch folding blade and is very light (2 ounces) but also strong (the FRN handle has proven itself). The nice thing about this buggers the steel is a H1. Not just a stainless but totally rustproof. It holds a decent edge but is totally maintenance free. I have not had the opportunity to use it yet but only expect goo things. I have the bright yellow handle so it is easier to find if/when I drop it. here is a link.http://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=174
I dont wnat to sound to much like an ad but I am really excited about this one.

Keewaydin said...

I carry an Al Mar Hawk ultralight. Less than an ounce for a 2 3/4 inch blade.

Four Jacks and a Pup said...

Would not dream of going on a camping trip without one. SO useful in almost every situation.

Anonymous said...

I'd definitely have to agree with those who carry a functional knife into the woods and down the trail. I too have tried all sorts of knives and multitools, and I am at the point where by itself, a SAK classic or a LM micra is just not enough to make me feel comfortable out in the woods...I also think that being without a utility blade is foolish especially if, and I must spend a few un anticipated nights in 'survival mode' ...I think that most full size multitools are to heavy at 6-10oz., and I rarely use any of the tools. I don't carry cans or bottles so I don't need a can or bottle opener... I don't drive any screws so screw drivers are out...as anthing that breaks and needs a fixen' on the trail I just leave at home... Same with metal files and cork screws... I framed houses for years so I'm well versed at removing splinters with a knife blade..I generally groom my digits prior to my trips and usually only hike for 3-4 days at most so sissors are out too...but one tool I find fery useful is a pai of pliers...vise-grips are the best especially for taking pots off the fire... Since I am not doing any tune- ups on the trail, the smallest pair I could find is about 3" long and weighs in at 3.3 oz... Most jobs call for a small pocketknife so I have the Gerber STL 2.0 at 1.1oz and for my backup real knife I carry a Frosts Mora H2 with 4.5" blade at 3oz w/case. I am looking for practical and functional and at 7oz total these 3 items plus my brain and some way to make fire will keep me alive longer than most of the other "ultralight" items in my pack....JJK

Anonymous said...

I carry a KA-BAR BK-2 Second Generation Becker Campanion Knife
the weight 14.6 oz is quite much, but I dont need any other knife, axe etc. Plus I rather find other gear that weighs less or dont add stuff to my pack that aint rely needed.

20below said...

Another vote for the the SOG Seal Pup Elite. It's a serious knife. Yes, it's heavier than other knives mentioned here but I'm not a big fan of half measures when in backcountry, especially in the winter. Get the nylon sheath instead of the kydex, the kydex is too tight. The ridges along the top of the blade will knotch wood and some metal. I went with the straight edge because serrations make the blade hard to sharpen. The outside pocket of the sheath fits my leatherman perfectly.

Btw, I carried a smaller SOG (Mini Pentagon) for 1000 mi on the AT and although I was mocked by Victorinox wielding ultralighters, I found all manner of uses for it. Bottom line, if you feel more comfortable with a fixed blade, survival grade knife, treat the extra weight as a Linus blanket. And don't worry, you'll find a use for it.

Anonymous said...

For over 25 years on every single hiking and backpacking trip, I carried a Victorinox Tinker in my pack and my usual daily carry Buck 503 in my pocket. If I had left the Buck at home, I would have spent the entire trip feeling like I had lost something out of my pocket.

Then I realized whenever I needed to do a little knife chore, the Buck came out and the SAK stayed in my pack. I never needed the SAK for the screwdrivers etc. and Bucks have much better steel.

Now I'm trying to reduce the weight of my pack. My new favorite backpacking knife? Buck 503. I don't think I'm going to carry that lazy SAK up and down mountains any more.

If I ever decide to go truly UL, there's no way I would carry a razor blade when I have a beautiful little Kershaw Silver Spur that weighs 0.6 oz. Also much better steel than a SAK.

For those who need scissors on a very lightweight knife, have you checked out the Buck Duet? I would much rather have that than a Swiss Army Classic.

George Schneider said...

Whenever I go on a camping or backpacking trip, I always have a survival knife with me. It can be a buck knife, a cold steel or a bear grylls survival knife. I love knives that are compact, handy and sharp. Those kinds of knives are a perfect companion for any kind of adventure.

Walter Fennigan said...

Backpacking and camping are 2 of the outdoor activities I enjoy the most. These are actually my ways to unwind and forget the stresses at work. As a camper, I always have my survival kit with me. It contains medicines and other stuffs. Cold steel throwing knives are also present since I enjoy this kind of activity. I am planning to go on camping this weekend. It must be a very good adventure for sure.