Do You Need a Knife for Backpacking?

How Small Can You Go?

Not carrying a knife or some form of small blade is incomprehensible to me and a lot of other backpackers and hikers, but to others it’s a piece of gear they don’t feel is necessary to carry at all. As some of my more frequent readers may recall, I have been slowly reducing the size and weight of the knife that I carry with my on my backpacking trips and day hikes.

Above is an example of the progression of knife devolution that I have taken over time, starting on the right with my Koster Bushcraft knife and stepping down to my Spyderco Delica4, then to my Leatherman Squirt PS4 – which is my current favorite for backpacking. On the far left is a single-edged razor blade, considered by some to be the ultimate in ultralight backpacking knives.

In Mike Clelland’s most recent book, Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, he suggests that, based on his experience, you may not need to carry a knife at all when backpacking:

“Here’s an insight from all my years in the mountains: With just a little bit of planning, I don’t have much use for a knife and rarely use one.” – Mike Clelland

If you absolutely need to have some form of a sharp edge with you, Mike recommends a simple single-edged razor blade in a home-made sheath like the one I have created below. I made mine out of a used FedEx Tyvek envelope and some sticky tape. The sheath protects you from getting cut accidentally and offers some protection to the very delicate edge of the blade.

Single-Edged Razor Blade "Knife"

So my question to all of you is, do you agree or disagree that with a little planning there is probably no real need to carry a knife with you when backpacking? Is it necessary and smart to plan for the “what if” scenario and have a blade available just in case, or can you really make do without?

I’ll stick my neck out and say that I am willing go minimal and lightweight with my knife and do the best I can to carry as small of a knife with me as feasible so that I can still take care of the basic cutting tasks I usually encounter like cutting cord, opening food packets, or trimming tape. I personally can’t imagine not having any type of blade or sharp edge at all – I’d feel unprepared.

Is Less More?

What are your thoughts?

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  • Zed

    In 1974, on his All The Munros hike, Hamish Brown used a spoon “edged sharp enough to cut”, for 112 days.  At one point he found onions and made soup.  I think he also cooked potatoes he came across, although it’s a while since I read the book.  Quite how he managed to sharpen the spoon and then use it without cutting his hand or mouth, I don’t know.

    By contrast, I spotted an opportunity to cut some fat wood matches and failed dismally with my Leatherman Wave.  (It was on private property and I was trying to leave no trace, with the rain pouring down, just to help things along.)  However, I did use all of the blades and the scissors and the little screw driver for my glasses at other times.

    The single sided razor blade sounds a great, ultralight idea until I get to thinking, when would I use such a thing.  If the razor appears to be all that’s needed, then possibly no blade is needed.  Medical emergencies an exception?

    That Leatherman Squirt looks great, but can you slice crusty bread with it?  The Wave has a great bread blade.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      There’s no way you could cut a good loaf of crusty bread with it, but then I could just as easily tear it up with my hands. Oh how I miss a good thick slice of crusty bread with butter…

  • Joe Newton

    Something between the Squirt and the razor blade? I use a 22g Swiss Army Knife Classic. I’ve never needed more and use at least one of it’s wee tools on every trip. I know there are many here in Scandinavia that love their puukkos and mora knives and if they’re one of your little luxuries then I don’t begrudge anyone carrying one.

    Ski touring in winter requires a few more tools and a mini-tool based on small pliers is usually a good idea when trying to repair bindings, etc.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’m a big fan of the SAK Classic myself. I recently snagged a bunch of them that were on clearance for $3 a piece! Great for the kids or for Xmas sticking stuffers.

  • Ultra_Magnus

    As long as everything goes as planned, you might not need a knife.  But if you find yourself in a “holy crap how’d I get in this mess” kind of situation, a decent knife could save your life.

    I personally carry a 4″ tactical folder every day (that weighs almost 5oz), and I couldn’t imagine going out into the wilderness with something less than my edc knife.  It just doesn’t make logical sense.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Curious (cuz I’m a knife geek), what folder do you carry as your EDC?

  • Stephen McGuire

    Been grappling with this myself tough call though I think Ultra_Magnus is right a good knife in an end of the world situation maybe what makes the differenece.

    I carry a leatherman (forget which small model).

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad “Stick” Poindexter

    Brian,

    I too have come along in knives, starting out with a Mora fixed blade and now using a Ka-Bar Mini Dozier.
    Funny thing, when I posted a review of the Ka-Bar over on my blog I received some comments that said a knife was not needed. To be honest, this floored me. I cannot imagine a backpacker going out in the backcountry without some form of blade. So, I immediately followed up that post with one that is a poll on whether or not you carry a knife when backpacking. To date, 153 people responded yes, 3 no and 11 sometimes. I also posted some polls on a few forums but cannot remember exact numbers, but I do know that they were very similar to those I just posted.
    As for me, I am going to stick with my 1 oz Ka-Bar…

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Stick, how is the quality of the Ka-Bar Dozier? The lock up, pivot, wobble, edge retention? It seems too good to be true for the price?

  • http://www.trailsherpa.com Trail Sherpa

    I agree with Ultra_Magnus and Stephen.  It’s less about the everyday utility and more of a “be ready for anything” choice for me.  That said, I am in serious need of a pack intervention.  I take way too much with me.  But I would take my blade with me every trip.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      We need to get you to fill out a gear list spreadsheet and come face to face with exactly what you are carrying. That’s the first step..

  • Joe Stevensen

    My needs in a knife:

    * Cut things like rope, tape, fishing line. Occasional whittling.
    * Cleaning fish.
    * Cutting food

    My needs in a multitool:

    * Scissors for cutting, especially for first aid
    * Pliers for fishing, picking up hot stuff, fixing things, etc.
    * Phillips and regular screw driver heads (trekking poles clamps, stove parts)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      So what do you carry that meets those requirements?

    • schwyzi

      Hi,
      I think the solution is VICTORINOX COMPACT!!7 cm Blade, scissors,combitool for cans and bottles opener,wirebender, wirestripper, screwdriver, corkscrew, hook, tweezers, toothpick, biro,needle and a ring for a lanyard – all together 67 grams!
      a real edc…love it!

  • http://twitter.com/DavidECreech Wilderness Dave

    Knife is a must…And I agree with @trailsherpa:disqus up there…better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it…

    • Barry Spencer

      By that logic you should carry a defibrillator.

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        You have to know where to draw the line between gear, skills, experience and common sense. Learning CPR may save a life and that knowledge weighs nothing.

        I carry what I think I need within reason, plan for the best and prepare for the worst. I do not carry gear for every eventuality just like I don’t leave to go shopping at the mall with a full zombie apocalypse kit. Common sense people…

  • http://hikingthetrail.com Adam Nutting

    I always carry one even if its small. I agree with @trailsherpa:disqus and @twitter-88458231:disqus  always better to have one and not need it. As a Eagle Scout I am always prepared

  • http://www.HikeLighter.Com/ John Abela

    Hey Brian,

    I will admit that I probably push the limits – all I carry is the “Victorinox Swiss Army Classic Pocket Knife” – at 22 grams.

    It is far from being enough of a blade to start cutting up my shoes if my feet swell, but it is large enough to cut cordage that I carry and anything else along those lines.

    But, as you know, I tend to have a different approach to hiking – lighter pack and higher risks.

    I think a lot of it has to do with trail experience. Right off the start people realize they do not need that big Ka-Bar or Tom Brown Tracker, and scale down to a pocket folder. After a whole lot of miles a hiker begins to realize just how much they do not need a full on knife and they just start to carry little things such as the Victorinox.

    At one point I had considered using a razor blade, but in the end I realized that for a matter of just a few grams, the Victorinox provided a few more features/options – I use the scissors probably 90% more than I do the knife blades.

    Great blog!
    John B. Abela
    RedwoodOutdoors.Com

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    I’m with you guys. I like to be prepared and having a knife, even my small Squirt PS4, makes me feel like I am better equipped for a ‘WSHTF’ situation.

    My EDC is a Spyderco Delica4 with a plain edge. I have that with me at all times unless I’m flying (damn the terrorists) or in a Federal/Govt building. It’s come in handy more times than I can count and saved my bacon more than once – and once is all it takes!

    I like the multi-use capabilities of the smaller Leatherman tools like the Squirt or Juice, but their blades are usually lacking for anything more than an occasional use or light cutting.

    I have several high quality bushcraft knives that I love, but for the typical multi-night ultralight trip they are overkill. For more natural camping and scouting activities they are superb and among my favorites.

    I always carry a sterile, sealed scalpel blade as part of my standard first aid kit. It weighs almost nothing and I like knowing that I have it for medical uses and in the case of an emergency I have something small and sharp.

  • Beth Wagenius

    My husband carries his DeWalt fold up razor knife. Would be somewhere in the middle between large knife and small. It always has extra blades with it. He would never go anywhere, especially hiking or camping without it. It’s the only knife he’s carried for years.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I used to have one of those extendable little pocket craft knifes that you can snap the blade off of to expose the new sharp edge. Similar concept just smaller – worked well for all sorts of uses.

  • http://www.outsideways.com/ Damien @ Outsideways

    I usually find that little are scissors more useful than a knife. I use them to cut bandages, trim nails, or cut packages and tape. As long as I don’t plan on cutting fruit/veggies, they I can easily get by on my newest tool: the Leatherman Style. At about 23g, it has pretty much everything I need.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Damien, I agree about the scissors being extremely useful. That was why I liked both the Leatherman Juice and it’s smaller brother the Squirt. The Leatherman Style looks like a modified Victorinox Classic on steroids!

      • butnoidea

        Agreed on scissors. I carry a Gerber shortcut multitools which has great Fiskars scissors in place of pliers.  Used them to trim toenails on one trip – that’s not something I’d fancy doing with a razor blade.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujQPo19XcDo

  • Aawwff

    I think you definitely need a knife and something better than a razor blade by itself (that’s a good backup).

    If you’re looking on cutting ounces then here are some great light weight options that are still actually functional:

    http://countycomm.com/ladybug.htmlhttp://countycomm.com/straightrazor.html
    http://countycomm.com/pocketknife.html

  • Charles

    I always bring my LL Bean 2″, 3 bladed folding knife. I’ve never needed anything more, it’s small, light, and  aesthetically pleasing.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Charles, I’m not familiar with that specific knife, but it sounds perfect for lightweight backpacking. Do you have a link to it or photo you could share?

      • Ckwelch8

        Turns out it’s 3″, but seems smaller in my hand. Here’s the link.

        http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/48104?feat=506870-GN2

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Ah that’s made for L.L.Bean by Buck Knives. How do you like the quality and durability?

          • Ckwelch8

            So far I love it. I’ve had it for about 3 years. I’m not building survival shelters with it, but it does the trick if I need to cut rope, take out a splinter, trim nails, etc… I prefer it over my CRKT M18-14 on multi-day hikes every time.

            The quality is good, seems to be well-made. It feels like it has a strong platform with no danger of a blade breaking (within reason). I would trade the 2 extra blades for a lock mechanism, though.

          • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

            That’s great to hear. I’ve always been a big fan of the sheepsfoot (Flat) blade design, so I was wondering which of the three blades you use the most? You could probably find another similar version with a locking blade if you had to, but then that costs more money to buy a new knife :-) I appreciate the feedback on the knife though – thanks!

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com badvoodoodaddy

    Anyone ever had to build an emergency shelter with a little swiss army knife?  It would probably take you 3 days just to get enough wood with a puny little pocket knife and by that time you would probably be dead.  As a retired Army soldier you are taught that besides your wits the only thing you really need to bring with you is a knife to survive.  I guess if you are only going to cut bread and brie to have with your wine then go ahead and take your little pocket knife.  I thought we were talking about going backpacking not out on a picnic.  Oh well to each his own but if you really got in trouble you could always use the razor blade to slit your wrists with.

    • http://www.HikeLighter.Com/ John Abela

      If a person needs a knife to help them start a fire in a three day time-frame, they probably deserve to get what’s coming to them. I live in a rain forest and can start a fire without a knife. If the requirement for being backpackers/hikers is having a knife big enough to chop wood, than the thousands of people around the world that successfully thru-hike 2000+ mile hikes every year must not be called hikers anymore.

      • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com badvoodoodaddy

        Like the saying goes”Better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it”  I am not talking about a machete I am talking about having a good working knife that can cut limbs if needed.

    • Zed

      Sounds like you carry a knife so you can do stuff to a wooded environment.  NOLS might not like that.  Over here in the UK, the best night stops are way above the tree line and miles from decent timber.  No wooded environment to do stuff to.  A peat cutter’s spade could be useful.  Does anyone make an ultralight version?

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        NOLS & LNT vs. Bushcraft and woodland skills – there’s an interesting conflict of outdoor principles.

    • Scottevines

      I know this post is five months old, but damn it, I like you.

    • odie11

      This is EXACTLY the attitude that we are talking about. We have two different realities of the definition of “backpacking.” He perceives the woods as something to be conquered, metrosexuals see it as something to be wooed with kisses and caresses. Is there no happy middle ground?

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        Of course there’s a middle ground. It’s called taking a knife that suits your needs and/or comfort level – there done! Pretty easy really. The intent of this post was to make you think about what you really use a knife for when outdoors. If you chop trees and split logs then take a huge knife with you (I don’t care), but if you find that throughout the year and over the course of multiple hikes you never need a knife for more than opening a bag of chips, then your 6-inch bowie might be overkill.

        There’s no right or wrong answer or formula I can give you to figure this out. You have to look at your uses, needs, and desire and pick a knife that works. For some people that’s a single edge razor blade, for others a MORA or machette. Either way, analyze what you use a knife for and take one that is appropriate.

        Do me one small favor though – regardless of the size of blade that you carry, please invest in one that is of sufficient quality to retain an edge and function for more than one trip without breaking. You may just need to use it in a pinch and cheap crap could fail.

        • James Kenney

          I do not think that there are many knives out that that I would call a bowie that are only 6 inches long… :-)
          Depending on how you read it, it also sounded like you were equating a MORA and a machete… Around here a MORA would be considered a small or at most medium sized fixed blade knife.
          A 8 to 10 inch a large knife, and a 12 inch or larger(like a bowie) a huge knife.
          As for me, I think that you must pick a knife based on the environment you are in… Look what the natives carry. If you are in a tropical area, the machete is a viable choice, In a lot of cases it is the only knife a family will have, and it will be used for everything from cooking to clearing trails, to harvesting materials, and, yes, even for defense.
          In Scandinavian forests, you carry a puukko and either a small forest axe or a leuku for bigger cutting.
          In North America a 6 inch bushcraft knife or a Mora knife works well for most conditions(like NOT Alaska, not Arizona desert, etc.)
          The question you must ask yourself is, am I willing to risk DYING if I am wrong about not needing a real knife.

          • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

            DYING? That’s taking it to the extremes? people have saved their lives using nothing more than a razor blade or shard of glass. I’m all for using common sense and being prepared, but let’s not get overly melodramatic. I’ve completely forgotten a knife before and I never died. A knife is extremely useful but it’s not the only piece of gear that can be a life saver.

          • hotnblak

            I just popped in on this thread and had to leave my 2 cents worth. I have literally piles of knives, was raised in the woods and carried some sort of knife almost every day since I was 5 . My current carry knives are Griptilian and Mini Griptilian for everyday, excellent edge capability and retention.When wearing nice clothes , I have a William Henry, beautiful blade. I used to carry spyderco, tough, but the steel quality is just not there. I have actually turned around in my driveway and gone back to the house to get my pocket knife, however that usually isn’t a problem because there are extras in every vehicle. Going to the woods without a knife is scandalous at best and foolish at worst. Weight? HaHa if weight was an issue I would stop drinking craft beers, shave 5 pounds off my ass and carry my old Cold Steel carbon V Hunter, now that’s a knife.

  • David

    There are knife people and there are those who are not. It’s like liberals and conservatives. I always carry some kind of knife. It depends on the trip.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I carry at least one with me everywhere. Sometimes I’ll have two or even three on my person. Oddly I only carry one when backpacking – go figure!

  • Klauszz

    I´m a knife buff and it´s   a tradition here in Brazil to carry one.
    Without a knife I feel buttnaked.

  • http://www.TakeaLongHike.com Ray Anderson

    I’ve been using that blue Leatherman Squirt for years now and love it. It’s all I need.

  • Bryce

    8g Stanley Mitey-Knife carrier here: 
    http://www.stanleytools.com/default.asp?TYPE=PRODUCT&PARTNUMBER=10-039

    It actually has a spare blade in it as well.

  • Jgodsey

    Like all other tool geeks I love reading about other people’s knives and even buying and trying…but after 30 years of carrying pocket knives, camping, traveling, cycling and every day…i keep coming back to the cheap little Stanley 10-049 Pocket Knife.  I keep my Swiss army in the bottom of my bag, but the Stanley is the go to knife.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I wasn’t aware of this little knife, so thanks for mentioning it here. If that had a pocket clip on one side it would be awesome. Looks like a really handy little knife.

  • Dave Cutherell

    I go to the store and buy the lightest $10 knife I can find.  Usually a 2″ blade with a serrated section.  They are like sunglasses to me, I lose them so often that I don’t want to invest too much money.  Last trip I used it to cut cheese and apples, no wine.  :) I agree though if you are in a situation that demands survival, a knife is right next to a saw.  You will substantially increase your chance of living if you have one. 

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      You don’t strike me as the sort of person to by cheap “disposable” knives. I can see where you’re coming from though.

  • http://www.HikeLighter.Com/ John Abela

    I suppose Brian that this is one of those issues where using the term “backpacker” is just too broad of a term.

    There are the survivalists out there that feel a need for a 10 piece kit for this, and a 6 piece kit for this, and so forth – including a knife big enough to build a shelter – is absolutely essential. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are weekend hikers – people who might spend under 10 nights a year in the outdoors – who probably feel that having a knife is a necessity, or perhaps just a nice convenience. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are active hikers – people who might spend 10-30 nights a year in the outdoors – who probably feel that some sort of light weight knife is a very helpful tool for them. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are thru hikers or very active hikers – people who spend 80+ nights a year in the outdoors – who have probably come to realize that with how the rest of their gear and food and such is, that they simply do not need a knife at all, or a very small one at best. (I am one now)

    Pretty much what everybody here has said is right – in their own aspects of what a “backpacker” is.

    John B. Abela
    RedwoodOutdoors.Com

  • TimothyLeeAR

    Like the Tyvek envelope for the razor blade. I’ll have to make some of those. I too have devolved into carrying just a razor blade in the first aid kit. After two 100 mile hikes along the Appalachian Trail, I’ve found little use for a knife at all, just trimming moleskin. This year I took pre-cut moleskin and never touched my knife.

    The knife I previously took was a cheap $1 swiss-style knife that I could toss in the trash at the end of the hike. I prefer no legal entanglements with local police regarding possession of a hidden weapons, as most constables don’t discriminate between bakpacker and drifter.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Tim, the little Tyvek envelopes are incredibly strong. I’m seriously thinking of other applications for them.

  • Ross

    This Eagle Scout will keep my knife. Between 1.5 to 4 oz is worth every oz when you have a need and don’t have one. The difference between survival in the evolutionary process was having and knowing how to use tools. So those of you that think you don’t need a knife… Well I will let you hike your own hike… but when you need a knife don’t ask to use mine. 

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      As a general rule I do not lend out my knives either – it’s the easiest way to ruin a god friendship when it comes back all dulled up.

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    I always have my gerber on me with the 2 in blade, and usually one of my small generic multitools.. but can tell you that if things turn south and I get lost or stuck out some where you can survive using a knife. yeah I know pretty extreme.. I miss my swiss army camper though..

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  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I keep a single edge razor blade in my first aid kit but I carry a
    Gerber paraframe because I need to have something to make a pointed
    stick for my marshmallows. :) But it’s one of those things that I feel
    is worth its weight (75 grams), I’d rather have it and not use it rather
    than need it and not be carrying it.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I guess that’s the underlying theme here. It’s better to have a knife an not need it than to need it and not have it.

  • outandbackagain.blogspot.com

    I think a blade should always be carried.  I carry a pocket knife in my, well um pocket, everyday.  Why wouldn’t I carry one backpacking.  More than any other tool a knife would be needed in a survival situation.  A knife can help you build a fire if you don’t have matches for other forms needed for fire starting.  there are thousands of uses on the trail, in camp, and in survival mode.  I feel it is a must have.

  • rcMike

    While one could argue that you don’t need to take a knife backpacking, I could also argue that you don’t need bandages in your first aid kit or a rain jacket.  You could use clothing to wrap up a wound or your tarp to keep you dry and out of the rain.

    Ultra_Magnus said it best.  “As long as everything goes as planned, you might not need a knife.”  …or a rain jacket, first aid kit, compass, map, matches or a lighter.  But these items become invaluable in certain situations.

    Preparing for the expected is not hard.  Being prepared for the unexpected could save your life.

    I like to carry a fixed- or locking- blade knife and a small multitool like the Leatherman Juice or Squirt (with scissors and a screwdriver).  People’s needs will vary based on everything else they have in their kit.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Great response Mike. For the record I’m not advocating that everyone has to carry a knife/blade or that a knife isn’t necessary – I’m asking the question. I happen to carry a small knife with me both on and off the trail, always have and always will.

      It’s a very interesting topic of conversation and I appreciate everyone leaving their comments and point of view here.

  • Tom

    I have been carrying a knife since I was 10 years old, I would feel strange not carrying one.  I have also down sized the one I carry hiking.  I now carry a Leatherman Style CS. Being left handed I could never get the scissors on Swiss Army knifes to work well, I have no problem with the CS’s scissors.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Tom, I’ve had my eye on the Style CS for a while now too because of the bigger more capable scissors. Like you I feel strange if I don’t have at least a small pocket knife with me.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    NOLS & LNT vs. Bushcraft and woodland skills – there’s an interesting conflict of outdoor principles.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    You don’t strike me as the sort of person to by cheap “disposable” knives. I can see where you’re coming from though.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    As a general rule I do not lend out my knives either – it’s the easiest way to ruin a god friendship when it comes back all dulled up.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I guess that’s the underlying theme here. It’s better to have a knife an not need it than to need it and not have it.

  • Tom

    I have been carrying a knife since I was 10 years old, I would feel strange not carrying one.  I have also down sized the one I carry hiking.  I now carry a Leatherman Style CS. Being left handed I could never get the scissors on Swiss Army knifes to work well, I have no problem with the CS’s scissors.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Great response Mike. For the record I’m not advocating that everyone has to carry a knife/blade or that a knife isn’t necessary – I’m asking the question. I happen to carry a small knife with me both on and off the trail, always have and always will.

    It’s a very interesting topic of conversation and I appreciate everyone leaving their comments and point of view here.

  • rcMike

    While one could argue that you don’t need to take a knife backpacking, I could also argue that you don’t need bandages in your first aid kit or a rain jacket.  You could use clothing to wrap up a wound or your tarp to keep you dry and out of the rain.

    Ultra_Magnus said it best.  “As long as everything goes as planned, you might not need a knife.”  …or a rain jacket, first aid kit, compass, map, matches or a lighter.  But these items become invaluable in certain situations.

    Preparing for the expected is not hard.  Being prepared for the unexpected could save your life.

    I like to carry a fixed- or locking- blade knife and a small multitool like the Leatherman Juice or Squirt (with scissors and a screwdriver).  People’s needs will vary based on everything else they have in their kit.

  • Bryce

    8g Stanley Mitey-Knife carrier here: 
    http://www.stanleytools.com/default.asp?TYPE=PRODUCT&PARTNUMBER=10-039

    It actually has a spare blade in it as well.

  • outandbackagain.blogspot.com

    I think a blade should always be carried.  I carry a pocket knife in my, well um pocket, everyday.  Why wouldn’t I carry one backpacking.  More than any other tool a knife would be needed in a survival situation.  A knife can help you build a fire if you don’t have matches for other forms needed for fire starting.  there are thousands of uses on the trail, in camp, and in survival mode.  I feel it is a must have.

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I keep a single edge razor blade in my first aid kit but I carry a
    Gerber paraframe because I need to have something to make a pointed
    stick for my marshmallows. :) But it’s one of those things that I feel
    is worth its weight (75 grams), I’d rather have it and not use it rather
    than need it and not be carrying it.

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  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    I always have my gerber on me with the 2 in blade, and usually one of my small generic multitools.. but can tell you that if things turn south and I get lost or stuck out some where you can survive using a knife. yeah I know pretty extreme.. I miss my swiss army camper though..

  • Ckwelch8

    Turns out it’s 3″, but seems smaller in my hand. Here’s the link.

    http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/48104?feat=506870-GN2

  • Ross

    This Eagle Scout will keep my knife. Between 1.5 to 4 oz is worth every oz when you have a need and don’t have one. The difference between survival in the evolutionary process was having and knowing how to use tools. So those of you that think you don’t need a knife… Well I will let you hike your own hike… but when you need a knife don’t ask to use mine. 

  • TimothyLeeAR

    Like the Tyvek envelope for the razor blade. I’ll have to make some of those. I too have devolved into carrying just a razor blade in the first aid kit. After two 100 mile hikes along the Appalachian Trail, I’ve found little use for a knife at all, just trimming moleskin. This year I took pre-cut moleskin and never touched my knife.

    The knife I previously took was a cheap $1 swiss-style knife that I could toss in the trash at the end of the hike. I prefer no legal entanglements with local police regarding possession of a hidden weapons, as most constables don’t discriminate between bakpacker and drifter.

  • http://www.johnabela.com/ John Abela

    I suppose Brian that this is one of those issues where using the term “backpacker” is just too broad of a term.

    There are the survivalists out there that feel a need for a 10 piece kit for this, and a 6 piece kit for this, and so forth – including a knife big enough to build a shelter – is absolutely essential. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are weekend hikers – people who might spend under 10 nights a year in the outdoors – who probably feel that having a knife is a necessity, or perhaps just a nice convenience. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are active hikers – people who might spend 10-30 nights a year in the outdoors – who probably feel that some sort of light weight knife is a very helpful tool for them. (I use to be one)

    There are those who are thru hikers or very active hikers – people who spend 80+ nights a year in the outdoors – who have probably come to realize that with how the rest of their gear and food and such is, that they simply do not need a knife at all, or a very small one at best. (I am one now)

    Pretty much what everybody here has said is right – in their own aspects of what a “backpacker” is.

    John B. Abela
    RedwoodOutdoors.Com

  • Jgodsey

    Like all other tool geeks I love reading about other people’s knives and even buying and trying…but after 30 years of carrying pocket knives, camping, traveling, cycling and every day…i keep coming back to the cheap little Stanley 10-049 Pocket Knife.  I keep my Swiss army in the bottom of my bag, but the Stanley is the go to knife.

  • Dave Cutherell

    I go to the store and buy the lightest $10 knife I can find.  Usually a 2″ blade with a serrated section.  They are like sunglasses to me, I lose them so often that I don’t want to invest too much money.  Last trip I used it to cut cheese and apples, no wine.  :) I agree though if you are in a situation that demands survival, a knife is right next to a saw.  You will substantially increase your chance of living if you have one. 

  • http://www.takealonghike.com/ Ray Anderson

    I’ve been using that blue Leatherman Squirt for years now and love it. It’s all I need.

  • Klauszz

    I´m a knife buff and it´s   a tradition here in Brazil to carry one.
    Without a knife I feel buttnaked.

  • David

    There are knife people and there are those who are not. It’s like liberals and conservatives. I always carry some kind of knife. It depends on the trip.

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com/ badvoodoodaddy

    Like the saying goes”Better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it”  I am not talking about a machete I am talking about having a good working knife that can cut limbs if needed.

  • Zed

    Sounds like you carry a knife so you can do stuff to a wooded environment.  NOLS might not like that.  Over here in the UK, the best night stops are way above the tree line and miles from decent timber.  No wooded environment to do stuff to.  A peat cutter’s spade could be useful.  Does anyone make an ultralight version?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Damien, I agree about the scissors being extremely useful. That was why I liked both the Leatherman Juice and it’s smaller brother the Squirt. The Leatherman Style looks like a modified Victorinox Classic on steroids!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Charles, I’m not familiar with that specific knife, but it sounds perfect for lightweight backpacking. Do you have a link to it or photo you could share?

  • Aawwff

    I think you definitely need a knife and something better than a razor blade by itself (that’s a good backup).

    If you’re looking on cutting ounces then here are some great light weight options that are still actually functional:

    http://countycomm.com/ladybug.htmlhttp://countycomm.com/straightrazor.html
    http://countycomm.com/pocketknife.html

  • http://www.johnabela.com/ John Abela

    If a person needs a knife to help them start a fire in a three day time-frame, they probably deserve to get what’s coming to them. I live in a rain forest and can start a fire without a knife. If the requirement for being backpackers/hikers is having a knife big enough to chop wood, than the thousands of people around the world that successfully thru-hike 2000+ mile hikes every year must not be called hikers anymore.

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com/ badvoodoodaddy

    Anyone ever had to build an emergency shelter with a little swiss army knife?  It would probably take you 3 days just to get enough wood with a puny little pocket knife and by that time you would probably be dead.  As a retired Army soldier you are taught that besides your wits the only thing you really need to bring with you is a knife to survive.  I guess if you are only going to cut bread and brie to have with your wine then go ahead and take your little pocket knife.  I thought we were talking about going backpacking not out on a picnic.  Oh well to each his own but if you really got in trouble you could always use the razor blade to slit your wrists with.

  • Charles

    I always bring my LL Bean 2″, 3 bladed folding knife. I’ve never needed anything more, it’s small, light, and  aesthetically pleasing.

  • http://www.adventureinprogress.com/ Damien @ ADVENTUREinPROGRESS

    I usually find that little are scissors more useful than a knife. I use them to cut bandages, trim nails, or cut packages and tape. As long as I don’t plan on cutting fruit/veggies, they I can easily get by on my newest tool: the Leatherman Style. At about 23g, it has pretty much everything I need.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    There’s no way you could cut a good loaf of crusty bread with it, but then I could just as easily tear it up with my hands. Oh how I miss a good thick slice of crusty bread with butter…

  • Beth Wagenius

    My husband carries his DeWalt fold up razor knife. Would be somewhere in the middle between large knife and small. It always has extra blades with it. He would never go anywhere, especially hiking or camping without it. It’s the only knife he’s carried for years.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’m with you guys. I like to be prepared and having a knife, even my small Squirt PS4, makes me feel like I am better equipped for a ‘WSHTF’ situation.

    My EDC is a Spyderco Delica4 with a plain edge. I have that with me at all times unless I’m flying (damn the terrorists) or in a Federal/Govt building. It’s come in handy more times than I can count and saved my bacon more than once – and once is all it takes!

    I like the multi-use capabilities of the smaller Leatherman tools like the Squirt or Juice, but their blades are usually lacking for anything more than an occasional use or light cutting.

    I have several high quality bushcraft knives that I love, but for the typical multi-night ultralight trip they are overkill. For more natural camping and scouting activities they are superb and among my favorites.

    I always carry a sterile, sealed scalpel blade as part of my standard first aid kit. It weighs almost nothing and I like knowing that I have it for medical uses and in the case of an emergency I have something small and sharp.

  • http://www.johnabela.com/ John Abela

    Hey Brian,

    I will admit that I probably push the limits – all I carry is the “Victorinox Swiss Army Classic Pocket Knife” – at 22 grams.

    It is far from being enough of a blade to start cutting up my shoes if my feet swell, but it is large enough to cut cordage that I carry and anything else along those lines.

    But, as you know, I tend to have a different approach to hiking – lighter pack and higher risks.

    I think a lot of it has to do with trail experience. Right off the start people realize they do not need that big Ka-Bar or Tom Brown Tracker, and scale down to a pocket folder. After a whole lot of miles a hiker begins to realize just how much they do not need a full on knife and they just start to carry little things such as the Victorinox.

    At one point I had considered using a razor blade, but in the end I realized that for a matter of just a few grams, the Victorinox provided a few more features/options – I use the scissors probably 90% more than I do the knife blades.

    Great blog!
    John B. Abela
    RedwoodOutdoors.Com

  • http://hikingthetrail.com/ Adam Nutting

    I always carry one even if its small. I agree with Trail Sherpa and David Creech  always better to have one and not need it. As a Eagle Scout I am always prepared

  • http://www.trailsherpa.com/ Trail Sherpa

    I agree with Ultra_Magnus and Stephen.  It’s less about the everyday utility and more of a “be ready for anything” choice for me.  That said, I am in serious need of a pack intervention.  I take way too much with me.  But I would take my blade with me every trip.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidECreech David Creech

    Knife is a must…And I agree with Trail Sherpa up there…better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it…

  • Joe Stevensen

    My needs in a knife:

    * Cut things like rope, tape, fishing line. Occasional whittling.
    * Cleaning fish.
    * Cutting food

    My needs in a multitool:

    * Scissors for cutting, especially for first aid
    * Pliers for fishing, picking up hot stuff, fixing things, etc.
    * Phillips and regular screw driver heads (trekking poles clamps, stove parts)

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad "Stick" Poindexter

    Brian,

    I too have come along in knives, starting out with a Mora fixed blade and now using a Ka-Bar Mini Dozier.
    Funny thing, when I posted a review of the Ka-Bar over on my blog I received some comments that said a knife was not needed. To be honest, this floored me. I cannot imagine a backpacker going out in the backcountry without some form of blade. So, I immediately followed up that post with one that is a poll on whether or not you carry a knife when backpacking. To date, 153 people responded yes, 3 no and 11 sometimes. I also posted some polls on a few forums but cannot remember exact numbers, but I do know that they were very similar to those I just posted.
    As for me, I am going to stick with my 1 oz Ka-Bar…

  • Stephen McGuire

    Been grappling with this myself tough call though I think Ultra_Magnus is right a good knife in an end of the world situation maybe what makes the differenece.

    I carry a leatherman (forget which small model).

  • Ultra_Magnus

    As long as everything goes as planned, you might not need a knife.  But if you find yourself in a “holy crap how’d I get in this mess” kind of situation, a decent knife could save your life.

    I personally carry a 4″ tactical folder every day (that weighs almost 5oz), and I couldn’t imagine going out into the wilderness with something less than my edc knife.  It just doesn’t make logical sense.

  • joenewton

    Something between the Squirt and the razor blade? I use a 22g Swiss Army Knife Classic. I’ve never needed more and use at least one of it’s wee tools on every trip. I know there are many here in Scandinavia that love their puukkos and mora knives and if they’re one of your little luxuries then I don’t begrudge anyone carrying one.

    Ski touring in winter requires a few more tools and a mini-tool based on small pliers is usually a good idea when trying to repair bindings, etc.

  • Zed

    In 1974, on his All The Munros hike, Hamish Brown used a spoon “edged sharp enough to cut”, for 112 days.  At one point he found onions and made soup.  I think he also cooked potatoes he came across, although it’s a while since I read the book.  Quite how he managed to sharpen the spoon and then use it without cutting his hand or mouth, I don’t know.

    By contrast, I spotted an opportunity to cut some fat wood matches and failed dismally with my Leatherman Wave.  (It was on private property and I was trying to leave no trace, with the rain pouring down, just to help things along.)  However, I did use all of the blades and the scissors and the little screw driver for my glasses at other times.

    The single sided razor blade sounds a great, ultralight idea until I get to thinking, when would I use such a thing.  If the razor appears to be all that’s needed, then possibly no blade is needed.  Medical emergencies an exception?

    That Leatherman Squirt looks great, but can you slice crusty bread with it?  The Wave has a great bread blade.

  • Ckwelch8

    So far I love it. I’ve had it for about 3 years. I’m not building survival shelters with it, but it does the trick if I need to cut rope, take out a splinter, trim nails, etc… I prefer it over my CRKT M18-14 on multi-day hikes every time.

    The quality is good, seems to be well-made. It feels like it has a strong platform with no danger of a blade breaking (within reason). I would trade the 2 extra blades for a lock mechanism, though.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s great to hear. I’ve always been a big fan of the sheepsfoot (Flat) blade design, so I was wondering which of the three blades you use the most? You could probably find another similar version with a locking blade if you had to, but then that costs more money to buy a new knife :-) I appreciate the feedback on the knife though – thanks!

  • http://www.tenpoundbackpack.com Stu

    I have to say I always carry one, for help with food more than anything. I got used to carrying a big knife right on my belt when I was working in the bush right up close to the bears and wolves, but I got a few looks when I tried that backpacking, so it went in to the backpack.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Stu, you got some odd looks from other backpackers?

  • soapboxpreacher

    Ok I think this depends very much on what you are doing.  If I am lightweight hiking/packing…everything I pack does not require a knife to us.  My dried food can be torn open easily (Mountain House), I am not building a shelter so I dont need a big blade, my stove is a jetboil so no need for wood or what not to burn to cook with.   I carry a small tent and other light weight gear, water/nalgene, etc.  But I still take a knife for protection or “what if” situation.  My F1 is ideal, small light, good handle, tough, stainless, and can handle a ton of tasks!  Sheath is so minimalist friendly you dont know you have it on.  It is light and the perfect size to cover a ton of “what if” situations.    

    Now if I am camping where I want to shelter build, make a fire, fish, then I bring a few blade, one for baton/splitting wood (but nothing over a 6″ blade 4-5″ is quite good) a folding saw and a folding knife.  My usual picks are a S1, Sven Saw or Sawivor (SP) and a Spyderco Military…great for food and fish prep!  This covers it.  I like to camp like this more than a long hike/pack trip.  I dont mind hiking but only if it is to get a nice site next to a lake!  I like to settle in.  I like to carve by a fire with some whiskey…this is my most relaxed place!  So for me a blade is essential.  I do usually bring a tent and a sleeping pad.  So this is typically why I dont go as far,,,everything weights more!  Cook via my canteen cup and mil-spec stainless mess kit…good for fish!  I do make soup in my canteen cup as well  a cube and some dried pasta and veggies make a great fall lunch!  I’m a settler not as much of a roam arounder.  

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I don’t disagree with you at all. I love my F1 also, superb yet simple knife. The plastic sheath is a piece of crap IMHO, but the knife is excellent.

      Like you I have two modes of outdooriness (?). I like to travel far and light with as minimal pack weight as possible, but I also like to camp out with my kids and scouts that usually means taking some additional home comforts and not traveling quite as far. For the latter I will often take my Bahco folding saw, my Koster bushcraft knife, and sometimes even my small forest axe.

      There’s no right or wrong answer here, I wanted to see what others thought and how people make a decision on what knife (if any) to take with them when they go outdoors. Thanks for your excellent and detailed response :-)

  • soapboxpreacher

    Ok I think this depends very much on what you are doing.  If I am lightweight hiking/packing…everything I pack does not require a knife to us.  My dried food can be torn open easily (Mountain House), I am not building a shelter so I dont need a big blade, my stove is a jetboil so no need for wood or what not to burn to cook with.   I carry a small tent and other light weight gear, water/nalgene, etc.  But I still take a knife for protection or “what if” situation.  My F1 is ideal, small light, good handle, tough, stainless, and can handle a ton of tasks!  Sheath is so minimalist friendly you dont know you have it on.  It is light and the perfect size to cover a ton of “what if” situations.    

    Now if I am camping where I want to shelter build, make a fire, fish, then I bring a few blade, one for baton/splitting wood (but nothing over a 6″ blade 4-5″ is quite good) a folding saw and a folding knife.  My usual picks are a S1, Sven Saw or Sawivor (SP) and a Spyderco Military…great for food and fish prep!  This covers it.  I like to camp like this more than a long hike/pack trip.  I dont mind hiking but only if it is to get a nice site next to a lake!  I like to settle in.  I like to carve by a fire with some whiskey…this is my most relaxed place!  So for me a blade is essential.  I do usually bring a tent and a sleeping pad.  So this is typically why I dont go as far,,,everything weights more!  Cook via my canteen cup and mil-spec stainless mess kit…good for fish!  I do make soup in my canteen cup as well  a cube and some dried pasta and veggies make a great fall lunch!  I’m a settler not as much of a roam arounder.  

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I don’t disagree with you at all. I love my F1 also, superb yet simple knife. The plastic sheath is a piece of crap IMHO, but the knife is excellent.

    Like you I have two modes of outdooriness (?). I like to travel far and light with as minimal pack weight as possible, but I also like to camp out with my kids and scouts that usually means taking some additional home comforts and not traveling quite as far. For the latter I will often take my Bahco folding saw, my Koster bushcraft knife, and sometimes even my small forest axe.

    There’s no right or wrong answer here, I wanted to see what others thought and how people make a decision on what knife (if any) to take with them when they go outdoors. Thanks for your excellent and detailed response :-)

  • Guest

    I use an opinel No7 knife. cheap, sharp, light weight. I have cut down saplings with it.

  • Jeffrey Tarman

    I prefer the SL Pro 2 from Tool Logic.  Small 3″ knife with a 50/50 blade, removable LED light/Magnesium striker built in to handle and emergency whistle.  Never know when you’ll need any of those tools and it’s nice to be prepared.

  • Jeffrey Tarman

    I prefer the SL Pro 2 from Tool Logic.  Small 3″ knife with a 50/50 blade, removable LED light/Magnesium striker built in to handle and emergency whistle.  Never know when you’ll need any of those tools and it’s nice to be prepared.

  • Guest

    As long as you have your pack and your gear, a knife is really just a convenience.  The real question is what happens when you lose your pack, shelter, insulation layers/sleeping bag.  Whether you need a knife or not is so dependent on the area you’re hiking in and the time of year…

    In many places during the summer you could easily survive without a blade of any kind.  In some places during the shoulder seasons you’d be insane to not carry a fixed blade capable of batoning wood. 

    Sometimes I don’t bring a knife, sometimes I carry a tiny victorinox, sometimes I carry a multitool, sometimes I carry a fixed blade AND a multi tool.  Depends on remoteness/how hard it will be to get help, and the time of year.

  • Guest

    As long as you have your pack and your gear, a knife is really just a convenience.  The real question is what happens when you lose your pack, shelter, insulation layers/sleeping bag.  Whether you need a knife or not is so dependent on the area you’re hiking in and the time of year…

    In many places during the summer you could easily survive without a blade of any kind.  In some places during the shoulder seasons you’d be insane to not carry a fixed blade capable of batoning wood. 

    Sometimes I don’t bring a knife, sometimes I carry a tiny victorinox, sometimes I carry a multitool, sometimes I carry a fixed blade AND a multi tool.  Depends on remoteness/how hard it will be to get help, and the time of year.

  • Perkunas

    Knife is about the first thing i carry at any day, no matter where i am going and its the last thing i´d give away. Firemaking, gear repairs, fish prepping, making fishing pole, making shelter poles,spreading butter on bread, cutting meat, gutting grouse, skinning a rabbit, i need knife every day.

    The most ridiculous knife i see is the one thats not used. And i see a lot of them, by same guys in various forums and threads like ” your favourite bushcraft knife”….and the knife hasnt worn in any way, they seem to look new and un used year after year….that sort of knife is worth throwing in the pond :), its excess weight to carry any BS that you dont use and only pose with.

  • http://twitter.com/butnoidea Roddy Pratt

    Agreed on scissors. I carry a Gerber shortcut multitools which has great Fiskars scissors in place of pliers.  Used them to trim toenails on one trip – that’s not something I’d fancy doing with a razor blade.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujQPo19XcDo

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’m a big fan of the SAK Classic myself. I recently snagged a bunch of them that were on clearance for $3 a piece! Great for the kids or for Xmas sticking stuffers.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Curious (cuz I’m a knife geek), what folder do you carry as your EDC?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Stick, how is the quality of the Ka-Bar Dozier? The lock up, pivot, wobble, edge retention? It seems too good to be true for the price?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    We need to get you to fill out a gear list spreadsheet and come face to face with exactly what you are carrying. That’s the first step..

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    So what do you carry that meets those requirements?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I used to have one of those extendable little pocket craft knifes that you can snap the blade off of to expose the new sharp edge. Similar concept just smaller – worked well for all sorts of uses.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I carry at least one with me everywhere. Sometimes I’ll have two or even three on my person. Oddly I only carry one when backpacking – go figure!

  • sologal

    Love my Buck Smidgen 1.3 oz. wear it in it’s sheath around my neck. Used it daily on my last hike in Maine. Mostly to beat up on uncooperative plastic packaging, carve a tough piece of summer sausage, cut paracord, moleskin,etc but occasionally hold in my hand when approached by hinky person. Just made me feel better, but might nick them and cause a bit of pain while I ran. The ability to completely conceal and use easily with pack still on was paramount. Just bought 31/4 ” hunting blade buck for next hike in northern VT. Used it day I bought it to sharpen a straight “tent pole” in lieu of trekking pole. Took no time at all! Nice to have real knife! will take both smidgen and Hunter next time.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s funny, I’ve had my eye on the Smidgen for a long time but was never sure about Buck knives. Did you get the stainless or all black version? Have you had it long enough to determine if it holds an edge well?

      The uses you list are very similar to mine :)

      • sologal

        Brian, I like your page! Don’t know much  about buck vs. others, but this knife is lowcost. I got stainless, I like the idea of the holes in teh top in case you wanted to put a makeshift handle- Frog hunting? Haven’t checked the edge, but you really aren’t going to use it to cut down trees, so it seems to hold up fine. I prefer to small razor type blade knife cause it has stiffness. I also like the way it hangs around your neck in the locking plastic sheath. Wore this way for a week, even in bed, fell a couple of times, never stuck myself. i even grab for day hikes, traveling.

        Have any women out there had reactions positive/negative to wearing hunting knife on belt?

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          I haven’t heard of any women having issues with wearing knives on their belts – if anyone has please let us know. It sounds as though you prefer to wear it around your next not only for convenience, but to be discrete too.

  • sologal

    Love my Buck Smidgen 1.3 oz. wear it in it’s sheath around my neck. Used it daily on my last hike in Maine. Mostly to beat up on uncooperative plastic packaging, carve a tough piece of summer sausage, cut paracord, moleskin,etc but occasionally hold in my hand when approached by hinky person. Just made me feel better, but might nick them and cause a bit of pain while I ran. The ability to completely conceal and use easily with pack still on was paramount. Just bought 31/4 ” hunting blade buck for next hike in northern VT. Used it day I bought it to sharpen a straight “tent pole” in lieu of trekking pole. Took no time at all! Nice to have real knife! will take both smidgen and Hunter next time.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s funny, I’ve had my eye on the Smidgen for a long time but was never sure about Buck knives. Did you get the stainless or all black version? Have you had it long enough to determine if it holds an edge well?

    The uses you list are very similar to mine :)

  • Shadowcompany

    Backpacking without a usable knife (my preference is fixed blades) makes absolutely no sense to me? I don’t know what kind of backpacking trips everyone has been on, but the ones I have experienced have almost without fail required the use of a knife and not just a small knife on a number of occasions. I have been on outings and have been caught in bad weather and also have been on a trip when an unexpected mechanical breakdown extended our stay! I usually have a large folder on me at all times and when going out into the woods I add a medium to large fixed blade, depending upon the planned activities (camping, hunting, fishing etc)? I would rather have a knife and not need it, than need one and not have it!

    • http://www.HikeLighter.Com/ John Abela

      While I agree that having one is better than not having one – I hiked well over 500 miles and spent about 45% of the year (2010) out hiking and under the stars and only used a knife twice – and each time was to open a container that was stuck.

      Not everybody backpacks the same way. Please do not generalize your style of hiking/backpacking/survivalism with the ways of everybody else (as has been stressed a great deal in this article already). If you backpack in such a style that is a knife is vital, great enjoy yourself out there! But the question of this article is “is it necessary” and myself and a lot of others have shown that depending upon your backpacking style, no, it is not. The article exists to get people thinking about their gear. HYOH.

      • Oldmanmikero

        This is like saying “shoes and clothes are not necessary in the wilderness”. Just because you could survive without something does not make it unnecessary. I too hike well over 500 miles a year, and have for the last 20 years. All that experience has taught me going into the wilderness without a knife is a gamble. Food, shelter, splints, firewood, building a travois to haul an injured fellow hiker out of the Big Horn mtns., all possible because of a medium sized knife.  Necessary, I suppose if you don’t use it, it wasn’t necessary.  But then wearing seatbelts isn’t necessary, just smart.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Mr. Shadow,

      I hear you completely. I’m not saying that you don’t need one and I’m not saying that you do. For me the knife has been the single hardest piece of gear to rationalize cutting back on, I’ve just about managed to get to the point where I cary a really small folding blade – for just in case situations. I know full well that if SHTF I would be screwed, but I plan as best I can to avoid these types of situations.

      It really depends on the trip and situation. For the record, if the trip even slightly looks like I will need a more robust or sensible knife, I pack accordingly.

      Even so, some people are quite happy to not have anything more than a small disposable blade, several of the people here have said they’ve hiking numerous times without any type of knife.

      It’s fascinating for sure, that’s why I asked the question.

  • Shadowcompany

    Backpacking without a usable knife (my preference is fixed blades) makes absolutely no sense to me? I don’t know what kind of backpacking trips everyone has been on, but the ones I have experienced have almost without fail required the use of a knife and not just a small knife on a number of occasions. I have been on outings and have been caught in bad weather and also have been on a trip when an unexpected mechanical breakdown extended our stay! I usually have a large folder on me at all times and when going out into the woods I add a medium to large fixed blade, depending upon the planned activities (camping, hunting, fishing etc)? I would rather have a knife and not need it, than need one and not have it!

  • http://www.redwoodoutdoors.com/ John Abela

    While I agree that having one is better than not having one – I hiked well over 500 miles and spent about 45% of the year (2010) out hiking and under the stars and only used a knife twice – and each time was to open a container that was stuck.

    Not everybody backpacks the same way. Please do not generalize your style of hiking/backpacking/survivalism with the ways of everybody else (as has been stressed a great deal in this article already). If you backpack in such a style that is a knife is vital, great enjoy yourself out there! But the question of this article is “is it necessary” and myself and a lot of others have shown that depending upon your backpacking style, no, it is not. The article exists to get people thinking about their gear. HYOH.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Mr. Shadow,

    I hear you completely. I’m not saying that you don’t need one and I’m not saying that you do. For me the knife has been the single hardest piece of gear to rationalize cutting back on, I’ve just about managed to get to the point where I cary a really small folding blade – for just in case situations. I know full well that if SHTF I would be screwed, but I plan as best I can to avoid these types of situations.

    It really depends on the trip and situation. For the record, if the trip even slightly looks like I will need a more robust or sensible knife, I pack accordingly.

    Even so, some people are quite happy to not have anything more than a small disposable blade, several of the people here have said they’ve hiking numerous times without any type of knife.

    It’s fascinating for sure, that’s why I asked the question.

  • sologal

    Brian, I like your page! Don’t know much  about buck vs. others, but this knife is lowcost. I got stainless, I like the idea of the holes in teh top in case you wanted to put a makeshift handle- Frog hunting? Haven’t checked the edge, but you really aren’t going to use it to cut down trees, so it seems to hold up fine. I prefer to small razor type blade knife cause it has stiffness. I also like the way it hangs around your neck in the locking plastic sheath. Wore this way for a week, even in bed, fell a couple of times, never stuck myself. i even grab for day hikes, traveling.

    Have any women out there had reactions positive/negative to wearing hunting knife on belt?

  • Oldmanmikero

    This is like saying “shoes and clothes are not necessary in the wilderness”. Just because you could survive without something does not make it unnecessary. I too hike well over 500 miles a year, and have for the last 20 years. All that experience has taught me going into the wilderness without a knife is a gamble. Food, shelter, splints, firewood, building a travois to haul an injured fellow hiker out of the Big Horn mtns., all possible because of a medium sized knife.  Necessary, I suppose if you don’t use it, it wasn’t necessary.  But then wearing seatbelts isn’t necessary, just smart.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I haven’t heard of any women having issues with wearing knives on their belts – if anyone has please let us know. It sounds as though you prefer to wear it around your next not only for convenience, but to be discrete too.

  • Mark

    I think a small fixed blade knife is very important in the event that things go wrong. The most important wilderness skill is starting a fire in wet and cold conditions, and for that, a knife is indispensable. Being able to split wood to get at the dry wood inside a branch to make shavings, kindling with it is important. Using a fixed blade knife and batoning techniques you can do this quickly.

    In the summer I carry a Bark River Bravo Necker with paracord on the handle. I don’t use the kydex sheath but instead protect the blade with a lighter cut down plastic insert used for kitchen knives. The whole thing weighs about two ounces but it will cut down a 3 inch thick branch.
    http://www.knivesshipfree.com/index.php?cPath=465_712 
    In the winter I carry a larger, stronger knife – a Fallkniven F1 pilot survival knife weighing 6 oz. I think the extra security is worth the weight.

  • Mark

    I think a small fixed blade knife is very important in the event that things go wrong. The most important wilderness skill is starting a fire in wet and cold conditions, and for that, a knife is indispensable. Being able to split wood to get at the dry wood inside a branch to make shavings, kindling with it is important. Using a fixed blade knife and batoning techniques you can do this quickly.

    In the summer I carry a Bark River Bravo Necker with paracord on the handle. I don’t use the kydex sheath but instead protect the blade with a lighter cut down plastic insert used for kitchen knives. The whole thing weighs about two ounces but it will cut down a 3 inch thick branch.
    http://www.knivesshipfree.com/index.php?cPath=465_712 
    In the winter I carry a larger, stronger knife – a Fallkniven F1 pilot survival knife weighing 6 oz. I think the extra security is worth the weight.

  • Pat

    I decide what size ‘knife/sharp edged tool’ to pack based on the length and remoteness of the specific trip. On one trip I may require a regular fixed blade knife AND a hatchet (canoe or extended multi-week long trip in remote area); while on another the simple single edged razor blade in tyvek envelope could suffice (day hike). I often find myself carrying my Leatherman type tool with scissors, as I find Scissors more useful all around than a knife when backpacking. Most anything I need done with a sharp edge cutting -wise can be done with a pair of scissors. It’s only when one begins to utilize objects they did not bring along, ie, wood, fish, etc., that one ‘feels’ the need for a single edge blade. In that case Fiskars makes a very good pair of lightweight scissors that come apart and one of the edges can be used as a knife if need be. I’ve cut up panfish with them, cut up veggies for the pot, even split smaller pieces of wood for mini campfire! Scissors are very versatile in one’s backpack IME.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Pat. I like your common sense approach to determining what you need on a trip by trip basis. I’m sure that will help others to make a better informed decision too. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your feedback :)

  • Pat

    I decide what size ‘knife/sharp edged tool’ to pack based on the length and remoteness of the specific trip. On one trip I may require a regular fixed blade knife AND a hatchet (canoe or extended multi-week long trip in remote area); while on another the simple single edged razor blade in tyvek envelope could suffice (day hike). I often find myself carrying my Leatherman type tool with scissors, as I find Scissors more useful all around than a knife when backpacking. Most anything I need done with a sharp edge cutting -wise can be done with a pair of scissors. It’s only when one begins to utilize objects they did not bring along, ie, wood, fish, etc., that one ‘feels’ the need for a single edge blade. In that case Fiskars makes a very good pair of lightweight scissors that come apart and one of the edges can be used as a knife if need be. I’ve cut up panfish with them, cut up veggies for the pot, even split smaller pieces of wood for mini campfire! Scissors are very versatile in one’s backpack IME.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Pat. I like your common sense approach to determining what you need on a trip by trip basis. I’m sure that will help others to make a better informed decision too. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your feedback :)

  • chopmonkey

    I have to say as a knife nut I almost always carry something, but that as my lightweight camping grows I use/need a knife less and less. So the 4 inch bushknife stays home, as does the mora, but sak classic for the scissors and opinel Nº 8 — because it would just be wrong to have nothing… though lately have been thinking of carrying instead a nice folder, a brass and rosewood lambsfoot maybe… its not all about function, then

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      It’s never all about function – it it were things would be easy. As a visual person, esthetics play a large role in my decision process, but it can’t look good and NOT function :)

      It’s funny, the classic SAK keeps coming out on top for a simple, trusted, small blade tool for EDC. It won’t split logs but it will serve you well on many other tasks. Thanks for sharing, let me know how the evolution goes..

  • chopmonkey

    I have to say as a knife nut I almost always carry something, but that as my lightweight camping grows I use/need a knife less and less. So the 4 inch bushknife stays home, as does the mora, but sak classic for the scissors and opinel Nº 8 — because it would just be wrong to have nothing… though lately have been thinking of carrying instead a nice folder, a brass and rosewood lambsfoot maybe… its not all about function, then

  • Scottevines

    I know this post is five months old, but damn it, I like you.

  • Ben

    in my experience as an eagle scout and life long backpacker, it all depends on what you like to do in the woods.  For myself, buying and packing all kinds of lightweight gear isn’t really what i enjoy doing.  I’d rather go out with less, build shelters, collect and prepare game, make traps, camp furniture etc.  Every trip is different, and doesn’t feel like you are living out of a bag.  i got by for a long time with my spyderco endura, and recently switched to a benchmade cskII.  I go into the woods feeling like the possibilities are endless, and at 6.5oz the knife is more than worth its weight in gold.   

  • Ben

    in my experience as an eagle scout and life long backpacker, it all depends on what you like to do in the woods.  For myself, buying and packing all kinds of lightweight gear isn’t really what i enjoy doing.  I’d rather go out with less, build shelters, collect and prepare game, make traps, camp furniture etc.  Every trip is different, and doesn’t feel like you are living out of a bag.  i got by for a long time with my spyderco endura, and recently switched to a benchmade cskII.  I go into the woods feeling like the possibilities are endless, and at 6.5oz the knife is more than worth its weight in gold.   

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    It’s never all about function – it it were things would be easy. As a visual person, esthetics play a large role in my decision process, but it can’t look good and NOT function :)

    It’s funny, the classic SAK keeps coming out on top for a simple, trusted, small blade tool for EDC. It won’t split logs but it will serve you well on many other tasks. Thanks for sharing, let me know how the evolution goes..

  • sologal

    I hang my Buck Smidgen around my neck-1.3 oz including plastic locking sheath- Use for cutting open packages, tape, fishing line. Really sharp,easy to use and I don’t even know it is there. Am headed to Maine for a week and considering weather to bring my fixed Blade 3 ” blade Buck, But as a woman traveling alone, I don’t think I want/ need to wear it on my belt. Could send the wrong message and I will be going through towns, etc. Any ideas

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Sologal, I’ve heard a few people give praise of the Buck Smidgen so you’re not alone. With regards to how you wear it, I think that the around the neck option is most definitely the more discreet way to go, you never know who will take offense to seeing a knife on your hip and why attract that type of attention?

      Out of curiosity, how often would you say you have had to sharpen the Smidgen? Thanks for leaving your comment ^BG.

  • sologal

    I hang my Buck Smidgen around my neck-1.3 oz including plastic locking sheath- Use for cutting open packages, tape, fishing line. Really sharp,easy to use and I don’t even know it is there. Am headed to Maine for a week and considering weather to bring my fixed Blade 3 ” blade Buck, But as a woman traveling alone, I don’t think I want/ need to wear it on my belt. Could send the wrong message and I will be going through towns, etc. Any ideas

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Sologal, I’ve heard a few people give praise of the Buck Smidgen so you’re not alone. With regards to how you wear it, I think that the around the neck option is most definitely the more discreet way to go, you never know who will take offense to seeing a knife on your hip and why attract that type of attention?

    Out of curiosity, how often would you say you have had to sharpen the Smidgen? Thanks for leaving your comment ^BG.

  • odie11

    This is a great and perennial question. It really all depends. It depends on where you are going, who you are with, the resources available on the hike, how self sufficient you are, ect. There is bushwacking and there is backpacking. If you are going into the backcountry, you are going to want more support gear than if you are camping in a national park in which you have potential access to rangers or DNR personnel if things go bad. My friends are usually military types and they are the worst. (I’m an ex Marine and of course we just have to do it like we did in the old days–LOL!!). I carry a saw and big blade because I was once caught on a multi day hike in wet 35F temperatures and we could not find dry wood. having a saw to cut dead limbs and a blade large enough to split the wood gave me (and my friend) an opportunity to have a great hike along with a much appreciated fire to cook. I would never be without at least a seven inch blade–and only for that reason. But, I literally obsess about everyhing else, and in reality I’m like a wandering ghost haunting the netherworld of “too-much-gear” and seeking to rid myself of its intrusive shackles. Today, we have what I call “metrosexual backpacking” in which one carries ultralight gear, cell phones, GPS and and one does not “defile” the environment. It is the “gentrification of the outdoors experience.” I hope this does not come across as derisive because this new style of backpacking has really given me a different mindset and has caused me to completely change my (and numerous macho friends’) way of experiencing the outdoors. I think it a good thing and I am grateful. However, it can also be dangerous at times. As a wandering ghost, I am looking for some viable middle ground.

  • odie11

    This is a great and perennial question. It really all depends. It depends on where you are going, who you are with, the resources available on the hike, how self sufficient you are, ect. There is bushwacking and there is backpacking. If you are going into the backcountry, you are going to want more support gear than if you are camping in a national park in which you have potential access to rangers or DNR personnel if things go bad. My friends are usually military types and they are the worst. (I’m an ex Marine and of course we just have to do it like we did in the old days–LOL!!). I carry a saw and big blade because I was once caught on a multi day hike in wet 35F temperatures and we could not find dry wood. having a saw to cut dead limbs and a blade large enough to split the wood gave me (and my friend) an opportunity to have a great hike along with a much appreciated fire to cook. I would never be without at least a seven inch blade–and only for that reason. But, I literally obsess about everyhing else, and in reality I’m like a wandering ghost haunting the netherworld of “too-much-gear” and seeking to rid myself of its intrusive shackles. Today, we have what I call “metrosexual backpacking” in which one carries ultralight gear, cell phones, GPS and and one does not “defile” the environment. It is the “gentrification of the outdoors experience.” I hope this does not come across as derisive because this new style of backpacking has really given me a different mindset and has caused me to completely change my (and numerous macho friends’) way of experiencing the outdoors. I think it a good thing and I am grateful. However, it can also be dangerous at times. As a wandering ghost, I am looking for some viable middle ground.

  • odie11

    This is EXACTLY the attitude that we are talking about. We have two different realities of the definition of “backpacking.” He perceives the woods as something to be conquered, metrosexuals see it as something to be wooed with kisses and caresses. Is there no happy middle ground?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Of course there’s a middle ground. It’s called taking a knife that suits your needs and/or comfort level – there done! Pretty easy really. The intent of this post was to make you think about what you really use a knife for when outdoors. If you chop trees and split logs then take a huge knife with you (I don’t care), but if you find that throughout the year and over the course of multiple hikes you never need a knife for more than opening a bag of chips, then your 6-inch bowie might be overkill.

    There’s no right or wrong answer or formula I can give you to figure this out. You have to look at your uses, needs, and desire and pick a knife that works. For some people that’s a single edge razor blade, for others a MORA or machette. Either way, analyze what you use a knife for and take one that is appropriate.

    Do me one small favor though – regardless of the size of blade that you carry, please invest in one that is of sufficient quality to retain an edge and function for more than one trip without breaking. You may just need to use it in a pinch and cheap crap could fail.

  • www.howcanigetafree.com

    I think that if you are going hiking for a few hours and don’t plan or anticipate having to camp out, you don’t need a knife.

  • www.howcanigetafree.com

    I think that if you are going hiking for a few hours and don’t plan or anticipate having to camp out, you don’t need a knife.

  • DavoColo

    I use a Spyderco Dragonfly — not the smallest knife they make, and far from the biggest (maybe about 1/2 or 2/3 the size of that Delica). I couldn’t chop down a tree with it, but in my neck of the woods that kind of big iron isn’t needed. It’s certainly sufficient for whittling firestarter or cutting paracord. If the Dragonfly is too big, the Trango Piranha is sharp and convenient — it clips onto any spare ‘biner you may be using.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’m not familiar with the Trango Piranha, I’ll have to look it up. Thanks for sharing your solution and knife preference.

  • DavoColo

    I use a Spyderco Dragonfly — not the smallest knife they make, and far from the biggest (maybe about 1/2 or 2/3 the size of that Delica). I couldn’t chop down a tree with it, but in my neck of the woods that kind of big iron isn’t needed. It’s certainly sufficient for whittling firestarter or cutting paracord. If the Dragonfly is too big, the Trango Piranha is sharp and convenient — it clips onto any spare ‘biner you may be using.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’m not familiar with the Trango Piranha, I’ll have to look it up. Thanks for sharing your solution and knife preference.

  • http://www.facebook.com/seankrajacic Sean Krajacic

    I’ve gone into the backcountry with many different knives. From a state-of-the-art multi-tool to an Opinel. They all performed the same tasks – slicing plastic or foil bags.

    The most fun: a short trip with a Mora Clipper. We arrived at camp earlier than anticipated just about every night. I spent hours batoning, fashioning fuzz sticks and striking the ferro rod. The knife was worth its weight in gold that trip.

    Today, it’s more about appreciation. I appreciate my Opinel – heck, they put one in a museum for being so beautiful. I also get a kick out of my Mora(s) – for the price tag they can’t be beat. This year, I’m going with a Wood Jewel carving knife. It’s also so so beautiful. We’re allowed to indulge with at least one item in the bag. I’m leaving the chocolate at home and packing a “fun” knife.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Do you have a photo of the wood jewel carving knife that you could share?

  • peter mossberg

    a knife is to bakpacking as seatbelt is to car. it only takes once crash without your safety belt to realized you should have had it on you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.brawner David Brawner

    I believe that wilderness trips require a knife of some sort if for no other reason than insurance. That razor may be fine for fabric repairs or opening foil packs, but I’d never trust my life to one.

    For most day and short 2-3 night trips, I carry a Fallkniven H1 or a Mora, especially on established trails and small state parks. They are small enough to carry around my neck but tough enough to split most kindling or manage most cutting jobs around camp.

    For serious “wilderness” areas you’ll find a KaBar BK2 and a Folding saw in my pack as well.

    I have two old kershaw 2 or 3 inch single blade folders, one of which is always on my person. Love the blades from KAI.

    I should say that I almost always have a small leatherman in my pack as well for backup and chores requiring a grip.

  • http://www.vicfryzel.com/ Vic Fryzel

    I recommend the Spyderco Dragonfly2 ZDP-189 PlainEdge. At 1.2oz, it can do a lot more than a Classic Swiss Army Knife. This is because the locking mechanism is way stronger, the grip that you can get on the blade is a lot better, and the knife steel is stronger.

    Even when SUL or XUL backpacking, I think a lot of people would find this a valuable spend of 1.2oz.

  • MrMeowgi

    For a dayhike through a trail I really can’t imagine ever needing to use one, but the big question is, what if? What if I get lost out there in the wilderness? What if I have to fend for myself for more than a day? What if I encounter predatory animals? What if I need to fashion a spear together so I can catch fish? What if I need to create firewood? I will probably not ever need my knife, but just having it there as a backup puts my mind at ease. It’s better to be overprepared than under.

  • Andrew Meyer

    I just saw this post while going through the archive. I believe that Mike Clelland suggested making the sheath for the razor blade out of cardboard from a cereal box. I’m not sure I would trust Tyvek has a sheath for a sharp razor blade.

  • Ilya Razali

    Let me pose a question. What would your ancestors for the past 10,000 years say to “yes or no” on bringing a blade to the woods?

  • dano

    I do a lot of day hiking and over night treks in the hills, bluffs and forests of Western NE and I always have at least one fixed blade and a folder on me as well as a small neck knife. If I were to go on a thru-hike I would at least have my Mora Bushcraft on my belt, my CRKT Minimalist on my neck and either my Spyderco PM2 or a Benchmade folder with me (unless I had the Victorinox One Handed Trekker). My load-out is usually in the 25+ pound arena because a lot of the places I go there isn’t much water, so that’s a big part of my weight. I probably wouldn’t be taking my ESEE-5 (a 1 pound blade) or my Spyderco Bushcraft UK, because they are a lot heavier than my Mora’s. It’s my opinion too that I should be prepared and when I don’t have a knife on me, I feel naked, but not afraid (because I know how to improvise a cutting tool). Great Blog BTW!