You could use a single, smartly chosen knife that might adequately perform every outdoor task imaginable. But then you could not be my friend. I have a knife fetish, and am happy to admit it. And I look with pity (and some scorn) on those who take a one-blade-fits-all approach to the vast and enchanting world of cutlery. Therefore I propose my list of the 10 Best Knives For Practically Everything. Feel free to disagree. If you have strong opinions about knives, we're half-way to BFF status already.
The Quick Field Skinner: Onion Skinner by CRKT
Ken Onion is one of the best-known knife designers in the business, and he says it took him 5 years to perfect this blade. It was time well spent. There's nothing else quite like it out there, and nothing else that opens up a big game animal as cleanly. The sharp spear point slices into hide quickly for minimal cut hair. The blade spine sports a slight hump--odd to the eye, yes, but once the knife tip is under an animal's belly hide, you rock your hand back to pull the knife tip away from the paunch and let 'er rip.
The Fancy At-Home Skinner: DiamondBlade Pinnacle I Skinner
With a deer hanging under the back deck, this is my favorite tool to rid the carcass of its hide. Possibly the sharpest knife I own, the sweeping belly gets into every nook and back-of-the-knee cranny, and every now and then I just take a break and look at the thing, marveling that such a utilitarian object can be so dang beautiful.
The Duck & Goose Breasting Knife: Laguiole Folder
Its spear point and flexible blade will separate breast meat from breastbone like nobody's business. The fact that the Laguiole knife is a centuries-old and centuries-celebrated French shepherd's knife is just a bonus. There may be no finer gift for the waterfowler, but proceed with caution. Laguiole is not a brand, but a style of knife and a knife-making region. Knockoffs abound. If heritage and authenticity matter, go for the Laguiole en Aubrac blades.
The Gut Hook: Original Wyoming Knife
Gut hooks are a dime a dozen now, but there's not a one out there that bests the stand-by, the Original Wyoming Knife. You can grip this thing with the bloodiest, slimiest fingers imaginable. The blades are razor sharp and replaceable. Yes, you have to be careful not to nick yourself, but this is a knife, for crying out loud. If it scares you that much, wear a bicycle helmet.
The Never-Leave-Home-Without-It Knife: Gerber Air Ranger
For 10 years I've tried to fall in love with another everyday-carry knife, only because I like to switch things up. But scores (literally) of other folders have come and gone, while this super-duty Gerber still stays in my pocket. It is crazy-tough and super-light, weighing just 2.6 ounces with a blade over 3 inches long. Purists might howl, but I love the half-serrated blade that chews through cordage, cattails, and half-inch branches that need trimming from a treestand. The open CDC aluminum scales make for a perfect beer bottle opener. From opening up the rib cage of a deer to slicing wedding cake, my Air Ranger has done it all.
The Folding Saw: Bahco Laplander
If what needs cutting involves bone, branches, or small limbs, the Bahco Laplander folding saw is hands down the tool for the job. I have cursed many a folding saw that blew up while I dangled from half-erected treestands. Never the Laplander. Unlike many folders, the specially designed teeth cut both ways. Unlike many folders, the blade is coated to keep friction at a minimum. Unlike many folders, the pivoting mechanism is stout enough so it will not blow up while you dangle from half-erected tree stands.
The Camp Kitchen Knife: Opinel
Inexpensive, sharp, with a trick little safety ring to lock the blades open, Opinel knives are perfect for slicing and dicing, and they'll fillet and field dress in a pinch, too. The blades come in both carbon and stainless steel, but show up in my camp with anything but a carbon Opinel knife and you shall be exposed as a poser.
The Fillet Knife: Gerber Gator
A fillet knife needs to be flexible and thin and grippy, but most of all, it needs to be sharp. With an integrated ceramic sharpener in the sheath, the Gerber Gator fillet is all that, and stays all that, fish after fish.
The Saltwater Knife: Spyderco Salt I
Miracle of alloy miracles: A steel that will cut shrimp for surf fishing and never rust no matter how long it bangs around, forgotten, in your tacklebox. Spyderco uses H-1 steel in a number of knives in the Salt series, but this is my favorite. The semi-blunt tip protects waders from gashes, there's an oversized thumbhole so you can open the knife with gloves, and the metal fittings are treated for rust prevention. And the trim folding design fits in wader pockets.
The Zombie-Invasion Knife: Condor Kukri Machete
A mashup between a hatchet and a jungle machete, the Kukri-style chopping blade is stout enough to shear hardwood branches and brambly vines out of your bullet's flight path, as well as clear the way through most any apocalyptic scenario that involves the flesh-eating undead. And it makes quite the impression on young bucks dropping by to pick up your 16-year-old daughter for a date. Trust me.