What’s the best backcountry blade? (Ew, I hate the term “blade,” screams neckbeard, but I’m also a sucker for alliteration). Some of the most common and popular types are pictured below. From left to right we have a fixed blade, a traditional lock back, a Swiss army knife, a multi-tool and a liner lock. Let’s start off with some quick descriptions and pros and cons.
The fixed blade is the oldest type and lends itself to hard use with it’s single piece and thickness. They can also be had in large sizes. This one even has a built in fire starter. That size can also be a detriment, more weight and bulk to carry. Also you need to use a sheath to carry them, you can’t just throw it in your pocket. They can really only be belt or pack mounted. And no you will not be sticking them in boots or tying them to yourself in some fashion. We’re keeping it realistic here.
The traditional locking folder or lock back style was a mainstay for decades. The spring bar on the back locks the blade open very securely. In my opinion these are second only to a fixed blade in durability. These often come with a leather sheath to allow belt wear but by being a folder they can just as easily and more conveniently be carried in a pocket. The catch to the strong locking mechanism is that it takes two hands to open and close. Also in line with the more traditional styling the lock backs often have a polished almost rounded spine, which does not lend itself to fire striking. As well the nice finish on most of this type makes one feel a bit guilty about the thought of beating on it.
The good old Swiss Army Knife. An outdoors classic that almost everyone has owned at some point. These have a lot of versatility with all different tools. The screwdrivers come in really handy for maintenance or repairs on gear. The small size makes it at home in a pocket or around the neck on a lanyard. You can always get a pouch of some kind too. The downside is the blades are limited in size and durability. As well there is no locking mechanism besides spring tension and friction so fire striking is out as well as hard use. These are also two handed affairs.
The old Swiss Armys have been replaced by the multi-tool in recent decades. Conceptually the same as the Swiss the multi-tool centers around a pair of pliers. Probably even more useful than its predecessor. Carry methods are the same. The multi-tool does suffer from the same weaknesses as the Swiss army knife though but not as much. The way the handles close together acts as a sort of lock. The blade or tools will move if pushed on but will not be able to close all the way. My biggest complaint with knives/tools like these is that you usually have to have a string thumb nail to get some of the dang things out which can be a bit frustrating.
The last is probably the most commonly found knife these days. The liner lock or often billed as “tactical” folder. These lock by means of a flat spring in the handle. Not as sturdy as the traditional folder but plenty strong for most tasks. The big draw on these is the one handed operation. Carry is either in a pocket or clipped somewhere with the attached clip. One downside to many but the cheapest of these is the smooth finish on the blades, especially the spine. While it is appreciated it doesn’t lend itself to a striker.
So what’s the best? Well, none. Ha you were hoping for an answer I bet? Well that’s the truth of it. You can get along with whatever you prefer. Just make sure it aligns with your objective or expected use. Let’s brainstorm.
In the past when I would go camping/backpacking/shitbirding in the hills I would often end up taking two knives. I would take the Swiss Army for all the little tools and then the buck knife for more serious cutting or for use with a striker. The Swiss Army typically stayed in a bag with other gear and the folder in a pocket. Later on these would be replaced with the multi-tool and the liner lock. But carrying two is a bit redundant, and when you’re already carrying a ton of stuff you want to trim down anything extra you can. Or even if you’re just going for a hike two seems a bit excessive. The fire starting need seems a bit obsessive too as most of the time you should have a lighter or matches on you anyway and if those aren’t working a striker won’t either. So while it’s always good to have, it is a redundancy that could be trimmed or you could work around. Say use one of the screwdriver tools on the multi-tool instead of the back of the blade for striking.
Everyone loves a nice fixed blade, but don’t be that guy walking around with some huge Bowie knife pretending to be Rambo. I guarantee you will almost never use it and everyone else is going to laugh at you. If your concern is predators (and you can’t have a pistol for some reason) You’re probably better off with a walking stick/trekking pole with the spiky end that you can use like a spear/lance. Just something simple and durable is the way to go. I picked up this little 4 inch or so Morakniv, it’s stainless with a plastic handle and even has a built-in striker. It’s fairly light and I have no reservations about rust or breakage. Just make sure to tailor your knife to what you plan to do with it. Fishing? hunting? whittling? Pick a size and shape that best fits your main activity.
I suppose an answer to what’s the best is what will you have on you at all times? If it’s inconvenient to keep on your person then you are likely to leave it behind and then it’s no good. Personally my go to has been the little “tactical”/liner lock folder. It’s light, and is clipped inside my pocket essentially 24/7. And when I have a task I can whip it out one handed do it then close it up and put it away one handed. (granted the same goes for a fixed blade). I am intrigued by something like this Kershaw “Select Fire” where it has the screw drivers in the handle, as it combines the liner lock blade with some tools. Or whatever that second one would be called. I only ever see it in chinesium though so maybe not.
So make sure your knife fits your planned main use, not survival or action movie use, and it’s something that you will be able to easily keep on you at all times.
So what’s your favorite?