Guide To Picking Knives and Multitools For Backpacking

When you’re preparing for a backpacking adventure into the great outdoors, a sturdy knife or a multitool is considered essential. Easily among the most useful items in your backpack, they can help you in a multitude of ways and even save your life during an emergency.

But with all the other stuff you need to bring along, it can be difficult to choose whether you should bring a knife or a multitool when backpacking. After all, every ounce and every item counts in the world of backpacking.

Would you be better off with a high-quality knife? Or, wouldn’t you find the saw blades and pliers more handy instead? To help out, we’ve listed all the important information you need about knives and multitools for backpacking, helping you pick the best gear suited for your journey ahead and make it pain-free.

Bringing A Knife on A Backpacking Trip

Knife on wooden stem

While there are a variety of reasons for bringing a knife when backpacking, one of the biggest advantages of knives is added safety. You’ll never know what may happen when you’re exploring outdoors, and a knife serves as a dependable, versatile tool to carry with you.

Added safety doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be fighting with bandits or wild animals (though they could happen), but knives are so useful in a pinch and in making your trip much easier.

Among the many potential uses that knives offer include:

  • Opening bags of food
  • Preparing, cutting, and slicing food
  • Spreading nut butter and other condiments
  • Cutting cords, rope, or tape
  • First aid and treating wounds
  • Cutting bark and branches for kindling
  • Making sparks to start a fire
  • Fixing or repairing gear
  • Carving or whittling

While there are an excellent array of tasks that knives can do, they also have a few drawbacks compared to multi-tool which include:

  • Lack of flexibility
  • Some models do not offer good grip, making tasks hazardous
  • Less effective as a bottle opener and mediocre on canned goods
  • Some foldable models do not have locking mechanisms, making them prone to cause injuries

What To Look For In A Backpacking Knife

A foldable knife

1. Fixed vs. Folding 

One of the primary considerations when choosing a backpacking knife is whether to pick a fixed or a foldable one. To give you more insight, see their difference below:

  • Fixed Knives: These knives are fixed in place and have blades that cannot be folded down. Their stationary blade is also always exposed, requiring a sheath to keep it safely placed in your backpack when not in use. Typically, fixed knives weigh more and are cumbersome to pack given their inability to fold down and their awkward size. 

Yet, these knives are considered the strongest and most durable knives as they don’t have any movable parts. They boast added strength, which can be pretty useful in times when you need more cutting force, something that can easily damage multitools or foldable knives.

  • Foldable Knives: With folding capability, pocket folding knives are a preferred choice by many backpackers as they are easier to pack, weigh less, and don’t take up much space compared to their fixed counterparts. Plus, they are also relatively safer as their sharp blade is protected inside the blade when not in use. A drawback is that they don’t provide the stability and the same cutting power as fixed blades. Not to mention that non-locking foldable blades may also accidentally fold down and hurt your fingers while in use.

With all that said, you won’t most likely need a fixed knife if you’re backpacking light and won’t be doing lots of bushcraft, large fire-making, or other arduous tasks. Carrying a foldable knife will suffice and help you perform nearly all the tasks you need when backpacking. If you expect to chop tough stuff and need more cutting power, your best resort is to go for a fixed knife. Just make sure to devote extra caution and consider the bulk and weight it comes with.

2. Blade Shape

There are many shapes of blades, with each having its own intended use. You must first assess your needs in order to choose which shape will work best for you.

  • Drop-point Blade: Characterized by a convex curve with a straight spine, a drop-point blade is the most common type used by backpackers. The blade is strong and thick, making it useful for a fantastic variety of general knife work and heavier tasks. Its utilitarian slope makes it cleaner than the sharper angles of other knives and is less likely to cause accidental puncturing.
  • Clip-point Blade: A clip-point blade is another common shape, featuring a sickle-shaped drop on the top of the blade that results in a thin, sharp point. This blade is excellent for puncturing and for tasks needing better control, but it lacks the strength provided by its drop-point counterpart.
  • Tanto Blade: Drawing inspiration from short swords used by Japanese samurai, a tanto blade is characterized by an angular tip and a stronger, prominent point that makes it perfect for piercing, scraping, and prying, but less adept for slicing. 
  • Needle-point Blade: It is a symmetrical blade with double edges, tapering sharply from the handle towards the points. This blade is best known for piercing and stabbing, making it ideal for survival situations. Due to their narrow shape, it is significantly more fragile than other blades, Moreover, needle-point knives are also often considered daggers and weapons. Thus, making them illegal to use in many places.
  • Sheepsfoot Blade: This blade is excellent for preparing food, thanks to its spine that rounds off sharply towards the point and its cutting edge that runs straight from the handle to points instead of being curved. Originally used for trimming hooves of sheep, they are now handy for cutting, chopping, and slicing tasks whilst reducing accidental piercing.

3. Blade Material

Determining what material makes up the knife of your choice is crucial how durable it will be and how to maintain it properly for its longevity. Knife blades are made out of different kinds of steel. Some are classified as stainless steel, while others are called carbon steel.

  • Stainless Steel: Most knives are made of stainless steel. They’re very popular as they are very resistant to corrosion and staining, easy to sharpen, and keep their sharp edge pretty well. Some examples of stainless steel used in making knife blades include 420HC, an affordable stainless steel with fair edge retention, 154CM, a higher-quality stainless steel incorporated with more carbon for better hardness and retention, and S30V, premium-grade stainless steel with high levels of vanadium for the optimum toughness, wear-resistance, and edge retention.
  • Carbon Steel: Other knives are made of non-stainless carbon steel. They are primarily used on larger fixed knives as they feature remarkable hardness and edge retention. The catch is that they’re susceptible to rust and require more care and maintenance, especially in wet climates. If left outside and exposed to different elements, they can rust quickly, so they must always be kept dry and lightly coated with oil to prevent corrosion.

4. Knife Handle Material and Ergonomics

Knives are often textured to provide a better grip and are shaped to offer better comfort. A variety of knife handle materials are also available with each of which also has its own pros and cons.

For instance, wood handles are classy and offer good grip, but they’re pretty vulnerable to water damage. While rubber handles are water-resistant and provide great grip, they lack durability. Plastic handles are very affordable and also resist water damage, but can be quite slippery. Aluminum and stainless steel handles are very sturdy, but can be slippery and can feel cold in your hand.

Take note that you always should be looking for a knife that you can handle safely and comfortably, especially when in use. If not, you increase your risk of injury by cutting yourself or make your trip harder by having to cut something repeatedly because your knife is too small, hurts your fingers when you use it, or has an odd handle shape. Make everything easier and happier by opting for the ergonomic knife with a suitable knife handle material.

5. Safety Features

Though manufacturers make knives with basic user safety in mind, it’s also vital to check what extra safety features a backpacking knife offers. For example, a locking blade is vital if you want to ensure the safety of your knife. Some foldable knives feature a safety lock that disengages the knife’s opening mechanism, preventing accidental opening, especially while stashed inside your backpack. Other foldable knives also lock firmly when not in use, giving it the strength of a fixed knife while still offering better packability than ones with stationary blades.

6. Size and Weight

Size and weight will always be a part of the consideration. Some knives are smaller, lightweight, and meant for lighter tasks. Others are larger and designed to handle tougher duties.

When it comes to backpacking, it’s quite easy to get swayed to choose small-sized, lighter knives. However, don’t rush quickly as their limited size can spell a lack of strength. Though they won’t add up considerable weight to your backpack and you can easily store them in the pockets, you may be compromising much on the functional side.

Meanwhile, mid-sized knives are generally the most ideal knives for backpacking. Their construction is still relatively light, and they can do a great range of common daily backpacking tasks. Plus, they can also fit into your backpack’s pocket nicely.

On the other hand, large-sized knives are for more serious backpackers who are staying out in the wild for much longer. These knives can handle a variety of more difficult tasks like cutting wider tree branches, clearing bushes, or making space for your tent. Of course, the trade-off is that they are heavier to carry around.

Be wary that weight can sometimes determine the quality of the knife. Thicker blades are usually stronger, but we cannot forget the new high-grade steels available today that are very durable and can withstand rugged use without being too hefty to carry. Still, the choice is yours. You must assess your condition to know the best knife that will work for you.

Bringing A Multitool on A Backpacking Trip

A multitool

A multitool is seemingly a miniature toolbox in the palm of your hand. It’s a compact, versatile alternative to a knife and can perform a myriad of tasks. Though it’s smaller in size which gives it less strength, it’s pretty capable of dealing with many duties you will face when going on a backpacking trip.

A multitool can include many implements and the common ones include pliers, Phillips or standard screwdrivers, wire cutters, a saw, scissors, one or more blades, a can opener, and a bottle opener. Some models also feature a toothpick, ruler, awl, and tweezers. Thus, making them truly functional despite their small size. Not to mention that the included blades can be used for nearly the same things a backpacking knife can.

Some of the tasks a multitool can perform include:

  • Preparing food
  • Opening bottles
  • Repairing gear
  • Cutting wires
  • Setting up a tent
  • First aid

A multitool’s versatility cannot be overstated. But like knives, it has its own downsides, which include:

  • Heavy and Bulky
  • Lower quality blade
  • Can be cumbersome to use for some tasks
  • You may bring “tools” that you don’t actually need

What To Look for in Multitool for Backpacking

A multitool

1. Size and Weight

You might be surprised but multitools also come in different sizes, ranging from minimalist and ultralight designs to bulkier, specialized models.

You can find small, keychain-friendly multitools that are downsized to stay unnoticed on a set of keys. They can be purchased virtually anywhere, but they lack the strength and versatility of their larger siblings as they often only include a basic set of implements.

Meanwhile, pocket multitools come in a manageable size and feature a decent number of tool bits. While they are less ergonomic than their even larger counterparts, they are compact, lightweight, and can fit nicely in your backpack or pants pockets. They are ideal for backpacking and other pursuits where size and weight are crucial.

Lastly, you can also find large multi-tools, which offer the best ergonomic comfort and torque. They are pretty heavy and eat up considerable space than keychain-friendly and pocket multitools, so better to think first before opting for them.

2. Design

There’s no doubt how versatile a multitool is, but it will go for naught if it’s poorly designed. Remember, each tool must be easy to access and won’t require considerable time just to set them for usage. Also, added features, such as a locking mechanism and replaceable parts if any tools break or wear out are big bonuses.

3. Function

Multitools aren’t meant to be used by backpackers alone. Truth to be told, there are multitools intended for cyclists, campers, homeowners, and a whole lot more, with each varying with the number and set of tools they feature. With that, you must particularly choose a multitool that includes the tools that you’ll actually need for your trip. 

4. Build Quality

The build quality of your multitool is another important consideration, as what good it is if it completely breaks during your backpacking adventure. Same with knives, the material used for the construction can affect the sturdiness of your multitool. There are three main materials used for a multitool, which include:

  • Stainless Steel: Durable, resistant to rust, but quite heavy
  • Titanium: Very sturdy, lightweight, corrosion proof, but costly
  • Aluminum: Lightweight, resistant to corrosion, but less durable

Final Words

If you want to get the best of both worlds rather than picking one between a knife and multitool, you can definitely as long as it makes sense for the type of journey you’re going on. In general, most backpacking trips never require both, but if you deem that carrying both can do wonders for you and make your trip a whole lot easier. Then, why not? At the end of the day, it’s you, your planned trip, and your personal preferences will be the best gauges in selecting the gear that’s best for you.