When going hiking with your children you should ALWAYS carry a knife with you. It’s not simply a matter of comfort, but more importantly, it’s a matter of safety. Moreover, consider it your responsibility as a parent to teach your children about using knives safely. If you don’t, who will? But no worries, TheHikingChild is here, and in the article How To Use A Knife Safely we discuss the basics of how to teach your children to be safe and competent with knives. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something as well. But in order to teach your kids how to use a knife, you first need to get one. So let’s take a look at the knives out there and see which is the best for hiking with children.
Oh, The Horror, The Horror… Of Choice
Go ahead and do a search on Google for knives.
Try: ‘Good knives for hiking’; ‘knives for camping, ‘best travel knife’, ‘best knife for… whatever”. Give it 10 minutes and best of luck to you!
There are literally hundreds of knives on the market. There are also dozens and dozens of knife review sites. But finding the one knife that does it all is pretty much impossible. Here is what we mean:
All sites relating to knives pretty much say the same thing: the type of knife you need depends on what you want to use it for. That’s easy! At TheHikingChild, we need a knife for… well, hiking with children. This includes day hikes, when we often make sandwiches right on the trail. It includes hikes during which we build a fire and roast sausages and marshmallows, using sticks that we cut and sharpened ourselves. It also includes overnight trips during which we cook full meals on an open fire, using a tripod that we construct on the spot. Sometimes, we need to cut rope or webbing. Other times we need to make dry tinder out of wet wood. Others still, as discussed in our article How To Treat Bee And Wasp Stings, we need to extract a wasp stinger from our child’s arm. And once in a while we like to teach our children how to carve a hiking stick, because it’s fun to carve hiking sticks! So what kind of knife do we need?
Even among this short list of activities that we use our knives for, the type of knife that we actually need varies from activity to activity. But that’s ridiculous, because we’re not going to take every type of knife on every trip.
Most people will decide to carry only one knife, and we’ll talk about that in a second. But the ideal situation, in our opinion, is to have two knives. So here we go.
The Swiss Got It Right With The Swiss Army Knife
For 80% of your travels, especially if you plan to carry only one knife, carry a © Victorinox Swiss Army knife (VSA). It is the most versatile, easy to use, simple to store pocket knife available on the market. It will come in handy if you need to slice (fruits & vegetables), cut (rope, for example), if you need to fix something small on the trail, if you need a can opener, a wine or bottle opener (which you will surely need), untie a tight knot, and about a million other uses. So go get one, if you haven’t already. But wait, have you ever been to the Victorinox website? There are about 7 million different knives to choose from. Which one should you get?
The answer, of course, depends on – are you ready for this one – what you need the knife for!! But unlike the other sites out there, we’ll help you think this one through. As we just mentioned the VSA has a plethora of functions to choose from, but first and foremost, it’s a knife! And here is the first question: what size do you get? If the VSA is the only knife you are going to be using, we recommend you get a version with the longest 4 3/8” (111 mm) LOCKING blade. There are two reasons for that: first, a long blade is simply more comfortable to use. Try cutting bread with a short blade; it’s next to impossible. On the other hand, a long blade does a very good job of slicing through a bulky loaf, and it’s more comfortable for carving, drilling, notching, and whatever else you’re going to do with your knife. Second, a locking blade is much safer than an open or spring-loaded blade. Once you apply more pressure on the knife (when carving wood, for example) there is a high risk of an unlocked blade closing on your finger, and that would be… well, a chance to use your first aid kit.
Ok, so the longest locking blade, what next?
Let’s make a point here. VSAs have every imaginable feature available – you can even get one with a USB drive, just perfect for the forest! But with every added feature the knife becomes thicker, and it doesn’t take much for it to become uncomfortably thick, to the point where the knife is cumbersome to use. As such, we recommend that you think it through and choose a maximum of 7 – 8 options that are really important to you on your hikes. Here is our ideal set up:
- 4 3/8” (111mm) locking blade
- Can opener – with screwdriver (small)
- Cap lifter – with screwdriver (large) and wire stripper
- Wood saw
- Phillips (star) screwdriver
- Toothpick and Tweezers
- Corkscrew, of course
The © Victorinox Outrider has this exact setup, and it’s perfect for hiking and camping. The blade is as discussed above, long and locking, and you most likely know the can opener and cap lifter features, as they are the bread and butter of any VSA (what you may not know is that the cap lifter also functions as a wire stripper, and is a decent pry bar as well). If you’re preparing firewood, the wood saw is a much smarter alternative to using your knee, or placing a branch against a tree and ‘stomping’ on it. It will also make nice work of cutting a 2”x 4” plank, or plywood if the need arises. The scissors are indispensible for trimming and we highly recommend you choose them as an option if you select a different knife than the Outrider. They can trim anything: hair, a broken nail, string, clothing, a medical bandage and lots more. The Phillips screwdriver works well on most star head screws, which can be found everywhere. The awl can be used to punch through leather, to sow (notice, that it has a thread loop), to untie a very tight knot, drill a hole, and more. The toothpick and tweezers are excellent for multiple uses, including piercing very small holes, pulling out splinters, or removing wasp stingers if you ever get stung on the trail. And the corkscrew? Well, we won’t question your habits and you don’t question ours. Combine this knife with a good carrying pouch, such as the Victorinox Lockblade Belt Pouch, and you’re in great shape for the trail.
We consciously did not recommend getting a VSA knife with the pliers feature. It’s not that the pliers are bad – in fact, they can be rather useful – but we would not choose pliers over scissors. The Victorinox Hercules carries both, but in our opinion it’s too thick for comfortable everyday use. The Victorinox Atlas is like the Outrider but replaces scissors with pliers. Take a look if you wish, and decide for yourselves.
Finally, in our opinion, the VSA is a better tool than a multi tool such as a Leatherman Wave or Gerber Evo, just to give two examples. While the multi tools are excellent products, in our opinion they are less comfortable to use than the VSAs are, especially as a knife. There are plenty of people that love them so by all means take a look, but it’s just not our preferred thing.
Ok, so if the VSA is so good, why are we advocating carrying two knives?
Are Swiss Army Knives Tough Enough?
The Swiss Army knives are awesome for many tasks and we recommend that you should get one, especially if it is to be your only knife. But they do have their limitations. They are folding and their blades are very thin at the spine, and narrow across the cheek. These characteristics make them weak and their function is limited in heavier applications. If you ever need to use your knife for prying, puncturing, or drilling, a VSA will likely not be up to the task. A stronger knife will also be better suited to basic bushcraft tasks, such as feathering, notching, and even batoning wood. Perhaps most important, however, is that a fixed blade knife is simply more comfortable to use. Because of its many features the VSA has a lot of slots at the bottom of the handle. These slots make it uncomfortable to grip tightly and outright painful if used for a long time. Furthermore, because of its off-center blade alignment a VSA is not ideal for certain common tasks, such as preparing meals at the campsite. It works well, it’s just not nearly as comfortable as a proper fixed blade knife.
For these reasons it is worth giving the second knife a thought. Fortunately, a lot of people already have, and the 7 million options on the Victorinox website are nothing when compared to the number of fixed blade knives available on the market! Seriously, there are literally hundreds of models out there, and a lot of them are excellent. So what should you be looking for in a fixed blade knife?
Unless you’re Arnold fighting Predator, you don’t need a knife to fix your chaingun if it ever seizes in the jungle (even then, a VSA will probably be more useful, ed.). What you do want is a knife that has a strong blade, a very comfortable grip, is well balanced, holds a great edge, and will perform well doing basic bushcraft tasks (in our case mostly associated with preparing fires, meals, hiking sticks and shelters that are great fun to do with the kids). You also probably want it to be somewhat affordable. So here are the fundamentals that we think are the most important on your ‘second’ hiking/camping knife:
- Fixed blade, not folding: Folding is good on a knife that you carry around with you everywhere (known as an every day carry – “EDC”), but a fixed blade is much more durable, reliable, and useful in the forest.
- Length: It is a personal preference, but an overall length of 9-10” (229-254mm) with a blade length of 4-5” (102-127mm) is the standard size to begin with. This size is a great compromise of function, ergonomics, strength and weight.
- Full tang: Means that the knife blade continues throughout the length of the knife (inside the handle). Full tang is the best, but there are some excellent ¾ tang knives out there for people that do not get dropped out of a helicopter in the middle of Alaska during bear mating season – for fun.
- Smooth edge better than serrated: Serrated edges are great for cutting through cartilage and tough materials, stay sharp longer, and look mean, but they are more difficult to sharpen once they get dull and are not as precise.
These are our fundamentals. But you should think for yourself about how you plan on spending time outdoors, and make a decision based on your needs. For example, if hiking is all that you plan on doing, and the core use of your knife will be for making sandwiches, then all you need is a really light and inexpensive fixed blade, or even consider sticking to the VSA (it’s a little cumbersome, but probably less so than carrying two knives). If, on the other hand, you intend to work a little with wood, teach your kids (and maybe yourself) some basic bushcraft skills – which we highly recommend – or simply wish to own a more comfortable tool for preparing meals, than a slightly better knife might be in order. Finally, if you’re a knife nut and ‘survival’ madman, than there’s a chance that you already own one or more of the knives that we are presenting below and just move along to our first aid department (that’s a joke, just in case it needs to be said – ed.).
Our list is arranged in the order of price, which typically translates into ‘toughness’, though all of our recommendations (even the least expensive ones) are truly excellent and will surely surpass your expectations. In other words, we are confident that you will be a ‘happy hiker’ no matter which of these knives you choose.
Morakniv of Sweden is known to make wicked knives for outstanding value, and looking to them for your first knife is an excellent idea. The Mora Bushcraft Black has a blade of 4.35” (109mm), total length of 9.35” (232mm), is ¾ tang, and has an excellent rubber handle. It’s made of great steel, is very strong for its size, yet remains affordable. This knife will easily handle most tasks that you can throw at it around a campground, and with its light weight and comfortable ergonomics it will also be great for cooking. It’s no surprise that many owners say: “this is the Mora that they’ve been waiting for”.
Another similar knife to consider is the Condor Tool & Knife Bushlore. It’s slightly more expensive than the Mora, a little tougher (it is full tang), but in our opinion the Mora is an ergonomically more comfortable knife to use, though some will disagree.
Ka-Bar as a knife manufacturer is an American icon, and this collaboration with designer Ethan Becker gave fruit to another outstanding knife for a great price. It has a 4.5” (114mm) blade, is 9.25” (235mm) in length overall, and is full tang. It has a thick spine and a strong drop point tip. This knife is tough; it will work hard in the forest handling any task you can throw at it, and chances are that this knife will outlast you. However, while much stronger than the Mora, it will be less comfortable to use for more detail oriented assignments such as food preparation or making tinder for a fire.
Another knife to consider in the same length is the ESEE 4, which is generally regarded to be equal to the BK-16 but quite a bit more expensive, which is why we’re not giving it an outright recommendation. But it’s a much loved knife, so check it out as well.
Similar to the others knives in our comparison the Norwegian Helle Temagami has a 4.3” (110mm) blade and 9.06” (230mm) length overall. But size is the only similarity because this knife is a whole other animal. First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful with its curly birch handle and polished stainless steel blade – a work of art in its own right. The drop point blade is triple laminated: a sandwich comprised of tough high carbon steel in the middle, and softer stainless on the two outer sides for outstanding edge retention. This is the way samurai swords were made. But while beauty is to the eye of the beholder, the knife’s raw cutting power is not – this knife obliterates wood. We’re not talking about carving sticks; it will pulverize anything that you can throw at it. With it’s full tang it can even baton logs if need be. And when it gets dull a proper sharpening is all it takes to bring it back to Gillette Sensor territory – just don’t forget the shaving cream.
Another knife in this price range, which not surprisingly is right up there with the best of them, is the Bark River Bravo 1. The two knives are virtually on par. Most users state a preference for the Helle’s handle ergonomics, but we may receive some flack for saying that, and you can’t really go wrong either way.
So that’s it. 6 knives. From inexpensive to expensive, from great to ‘holy-$%^& awesome’. There are many other knives out there but these, in our opinion, are ideal for the tasks that we perform most commonly at TheHikingChild. If you’re only going to be hiking and camp cooking, go with the Mora, it’s all you need. The Ka-Bar is better for ‘tougher’ applications like chopping wood, but it’s less handy in the kitchen. Finally, if you want a Bentley, than the Helle will not leave you stranded. It will chop some onions, then some wood, and then some onions again, all while thinking it’s chopping butter. Whichever knife you choose you will be happy as long as you keep it sharp, and to put it bluntly (Ha!), that is a whole other story that we will talk about in an upcoming article.
Finished, right? We’ve covered all that you need to know about knives? Not quite… All of these knives are a great recommendation for you, but what would TheHikingChild be without a proper knife recommendation for your children? And if you think we’re crazy, fortunately many knife manufacturers do not. Subscribe below to our email list and stay current; Best Knives For Children will be posted soon. We’ll help you find the right forest tool for your little outdoors enthusiast. Thanks everyone.