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
Onion Skinner by CRKT 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
Laguiole Folder Knife Laguiole
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
The Original Wyoming Knife Wyoming
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
Gerber Air Ranger Gerber
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
Bahco Laplander Bahco
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 Controller
Gerber’s Controller is built around a rubber grip that gets stickier when wet, with a deep, articulated finger choil and top-of-handle thumbprint for stability. An integrated sharpener in the vented sheath keeps it wicked sharp. It comes in 6″, 8″, and 10″ options, in a freshwater version and a more highly corrosion-resistant saltwater makeup.
The Saltwater Knife: Spyderco Salt I
Spyderco Salt I Spyderco
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
Condor Kukri Machete Condor
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.
Four Tips for Choosing Your Perfect Field Knife
It doesn’t matter how many knives you have at home. The one you reach for when you’re in the woods—to gut a deer, cut brush, carve a fuzz stick—that’s your field knife, your everyday companion. There’s no one perfect model, but here’s how to pick the ideal features for you.
1. Fixed or Folder?
The traditional choice, a fixed-blade knife is stronger than most folders. With no moving parts, it’s virtually fail-safe, and cleaning is as easy as wiping off grime and wiping on oil. If you need a deep belly for skinning big game, fixed is the primary choice due to the challenge of storing a wide folding blade inside its handle. A folder, on the other hand, makes everyday carry simple: Just pop it in your pocket. The increasing popularity of pocket-clip folders has spawned huge innovation in materials and designs, so the options are breathtaking. Bottom line: Fixed or folder, you can’t lose. But you have to choose.
3. The Strength of Steel
Basic steel is just iron and carbon. But there are hundreds of alloys. The least you need to know is that the more carbon, the harder the blade and the better it holds an edge—but too much can make a blade brittle. Also, adding chromium prevents rust (stainless steel usually has at least 12 percent), but it can soften the steel. It’s a balancing act. Here’s a breakdown:
Non-Stainless Steel: It rusts easily but makes a great blade if you take care. High-carbon examples (1095, D2) really hold an edge. A few are both hard and tough (A2, CPM 3V, 8670M).
Stainless Steel: If you want low maintenance, this is the way to go. But low-carbon versions (18/8, 420, 440, 440A, AUS-6) can be too soft to get or keep a fine edge. More carbon or a harder alloy is better (440B and C, AUS-8 and 10, 8Cr14MoV, 154CM).
Powdered Steels: The newest stainless alloys (S30V, Elmax, M390) are made of powderlike granules that are heated to form very hard steels that take a wicked edge. They pretty much have it all—corrosion resistance, hardness, and strength. Naturally, you pay for it.
3. Choose Your Point Shape
Most field knives have a drop point or clip point, either of which may be combined with a deeper belly for skinning. The drop point is ideal for field dressing game without slicing innards. Its thicker tip also helps with separating joints and with heavy camp chores. If your hunting knife will double as a fish cleaner and camp-kitchen slicer, the finer clip point is the better choice, and it’s fine for gutting game as long as you’re careful with the tip.
4. Find the Right Grind
Likewise, most field knives hew to one of two grinds: hollow or flat. A hollow-ground blade has a concave shape, as if material has been scooped out of the blade’s thickness. It’s easy to resharpen and best for shallow cuts, such as field dressing, cutting hide, and simple camp chores. A flat-ground blade is the more common choice; it is tougher, holds its edge better, and excels at deeper cuts, working around sinew and bone, and chopping food at camp.
Now that you know what to look for, check out our field knife gear test to see which brands of fixed and folder blades are worth their metal.