Spring is in the air and, when you’re preparing to enjoy good weather again, it’s natural to think of the gear that might come in handy for enjoying the outdoors to the fullest. Since ancient times, outdoor pursuits have been made more enjoyable with the trustiest and most important of tools—the knife.
Thankfully, nowadays the knife-making industry has generated tools that suit every niche of outdoor activity, and craftsmen and manufacturers have spent their time researching what a knife needs to do for even the most detailed tasks.
You may be surprised at some of the types of activity that benefit from the help of a good knife. We’ve compiled a list of what to look for in a knife to suit your pastime; to make your hunt go smoothly or to get the best fish fillets on your plate, there is a knife for every purpose and budget.
Unfortunately, most states limit big-game hunting to fall and winter, but there are many exceptions in many states. In Oregon, for example, elk hunting can continue until mid-spring, usually only as part of “controlled hunts,” not open season. Many states have similar arrangements for the typical big-game animals like moose and deer.
There are more options available in terms of non-conventional animals to hunt. For example, bear, cougar, and mountain lion can be hunted until summer or year-round in many states. Animals classed as invasive species or pests, like wild hogs, can be hunted year-round in most states.
So, if you’re lucky enough to have a rare elk-tag for spring or are thinking of going hog hunting in Texas sometime soon, you’ll need a sturdy and durable high-quality knife for field dressing and processing the animal. In most cases. you’d be best off going for a drop-point blade since it allows for safer processing of the animal and less chance of rupturing the wrong part. Furthermore, the point will be sturdier than a clip-point—the last thing you want is for the point to break during an important job.
For the same reasons, a fixed-blade is the preferred option since there are very low chances of the handle breaking. An easily-gripped material (like Micarta) is also a priority since field-dressing can get tricky, and you don’t want the knife slipping from your hand. A blade of around 4 inches is more than enough for most types of game
There are a few options for small-game in the spring. The most notable small-game animal to hunt in spring is, in fact, not at all considered small-game in many states. Wild turkeys are classified as big game in many states, but a knife needed to dress a turkey will be more appropriate for other kinds of small game, so we’ll include it in this section.
For small game, a shorter blade is more suitable and, if you’re hunting an animal like a squirrel, even a 2-inch blade is plenty. For these smaller animals, there is often more intricate work involved in dressing, so, in many cases, a clip-point blade will do a better job for detail work. There is also less chance of the point breaking, so, again, a clip-point can be used with confidence.
Fixed blades are generally better for hunting, but a folding knife can be used safely since dressing is less arduous on the knife. If you intend to use a folder for hunting, be prepared to clean the knife thoroughly after each use, and try to get a folder with a sturdy locking mechanism.
BBQ might seem like it’s more of a summer thing, but grilling in the outdoors (especially in a park or forest) can be a great way to get back into the swing of enjoying nature after the winter. In fact, the largest BBQ competition in Canada takes place at the start of May! If they can grill then, in Canada, you should be fine in the lower 48. Hauling a grill out after the winter is a real source of exercise, too.
If you’re out camping or grilling in the backwoods or a park, it can be a hassle to bring a set of cooking knives for the meat and vegetables. Thankfully, many kinds of survival knives can do the job well and be safer to transport than kitchen knives. Any good knife over 4 inches or so will do the job well if it’s very sharp. For this reason, a stainless-steel knife is best, preferably with some serration on the blade. Unlike hunting knives, where it’s better to err on the side of a shorter blade, for cooking you can safely and easily use one around 6 inches or longer.
Straight-back knives have the benefits of both drop-points and clip-points and are ideal for cooking. A sharp, straight-back folder would be the ideal outdoor cooking knife, in terms of convenience, safety, and effectiveness.
If you’re going for real wilderness cooking, there are some great resources out there on how to cook and eat efficiently and healthfully on the trail.
When spring is in the air, there is no better outdoor pursuit than a weekend camping trip if weather permits. For camping, many of the same traits that are good in a survival knife are also useful in a camping knife. You could usually employ one knife for both, but, in general, if it’s a more easy-going camping trip, then a more compact and handy knife would be needed for heavy-duty survival bushcraft.
A knife like the DPx Hest II Woodsman would be the ideal tool for all small camp chores like trimming tent lines, driving tent pegs, preparing a campfire, and the light processing of food. A knife for this purpose should be durable, but also lightweight and compact, which is why the bulkier survival knives are not as good an option. Furthermore, a more compact knife is safer on an easy-going camping trip—a general rule with knives is that there is no point in bringing a knife larger than is needed.
As mentioned above, survival knives are generally better suited to heavier outdoor chores like chopping wood, cutting branches, hammering, general bushcraft, and first-aid if needed. Most survival knives have a fixed blade, full tang, with a sturdy point. Clip-points are generally not preferred over drop and tanto points for this reason.
Survival knives are, therefore, required to be heavy-duty tools, filling the role of machete, spear, axe, and knife in one, as well as many other uses. A sturdy and usable handle is also important. For survival, a longer blade is better—6 inches long is not uncommon.
A knife that meets all these requirements would be the Spyderco Bushcraft G10. It has a high-quality handle that can be gripped easily and is resistant to wear, a strong 4.1-inch drop-point blade, and a full-tang.
A good test of a heavy-duty bushcraft knife is to ask yourself: Would you be comfortable and confident using the handle of the knife to hammer a large wooden stake into the ground? If the knife you have in mind would not stand up to this level of wear and tear, it probably wouldn’t serve well as a bushcraft tool.
With the weather getting better, now is the best time to shake off the winter cobwebs and get some exercise. Depending on the forecast, hiking can be a great way to catch the springtime scenery. A good knife can be a necessity on a hike, from mundane purposes like cutting small branches to more serious tasks like cutting through clothing in a first aid situation.
A shorter blade will be more useful and easier to carry. In terms of folding vs. fixed blade, if you don’t foresee any serious survival chores, then a folder can be more convenient and safer. However, as mentioned above, a fixed blade will always be more reliable. The same can be said for a full-tang blade, in terms of reliability.
But pursuits in nature are not the only sports that may require a knife. Cycling, equestrian sports, and even football, golf, and soccer can all present situations where a knife is handy—from changing a tire to cutting a badly knotted bootlace. For these activities, a very lightweight and compact folding knife with a drop-point is ideal, and a synthetic handle is better in the case of adverse conditions.
Of course, fishing is a sport, but it warrants a separate mention. Knives for fishing generally have a very specific set of characteristics. The most important blade for this purpose is the fillet knife. These knives have a long, thin trailing-style point, as well as a narrow handle to make them easy to use. Filleting fish requires precision, and an unwieldy knife will turn a nice fillet into a mushy, bony mess.
It should also be noted that the process of gutting and filleting a fish can be very messy, so, if you opt for a folding knife, make sure it’s adequately cleaned when you’re finished using it. The handle material is not as important, but it is generally better to have one that won’t easily slip from your hand.
Another consideration is making sure your knife will hold up well to water damage, in the unlikely event that you fall in!
There are some kinds of fishing chores that the slenderer filleting knife will not be suitable for—such as gutting and removing the head of a trout or another small fish that cannot be filleted. A smaller knife that still has a good point is necessary, here. Along with a filleting or smaller knife (depending on the fish), it’s always good to have a knife or tool with a saw edge.
While this is not a sport, it’s important when you are out enjoying the great outdoors that you always stay safe. Whether it’s defending yourself from possible animal attacks or guarding your safety for camping in the woods, a knife that can be swiftly deployed can be a useful means of self-defence or a deterrent to threats. It is also safer and less hassle than carrying a firearm.
An OTF or assisted opener will be the best for quick deployment. A drop-point or tanto blade is, again, ideal in this context, since they are safer and more durable. A locking blade is possibly the most important component since there is no chance of the blade closing in an emergency. A Hogue Knives offering would be a safe, reliable option.
Special Mentions: Gardening, Picnics, Driving
This is just to remind you that there are various activities for which you may not realize how useful a knife can be. A good pruning knife is an asset to any gardener and is light enough to keep in a pocket when doing other gardening tasks, where a clipper or secateurs (one-handed clippers) may not be convenient to keep on hand.
A simple foldable pocket knife is very useful when going on picnics. One with a few different blades can solve any small task that may arise, such as opening cans, peeling fruit, and spreading butter. It’s usually not convenient to bring a full cutlery set to the outdoors, but a multi-purpose pocket knife will solve most issues.
Cars and trucks are complex machines, and there is no telling when something will go wrong with the engine or the rest of the car. If you’re a fan of springtime drives, consider taking a useful knife with you, and you might find a situation that calls for using it.
The most important thing to bear in mind when choosing a knife for an outdoor activity is that it is better to have a knife that handles all the tasks at hand. Choose a knife suitable for many purposes or, better yet, have a couple of specialized knives that would cover all bases.
For example, it’s probably best if you don’t take a large knife if you are hunting small game, or go fishing with only a filleting knife, in case you catch a trout. Think through the activities where you might need a knife, and err on the side of caution to make sure you’re prepared.