Here are some tips on selecting a good camping knife and using it safely.
IS A camping knife an essential outdoor tool? And how do you choose a good knife for specific tasks and needs? What about the different kinds of blades and steel used in knives? How do you avoid cutting yourself and others? Should you get a so-called Rambo knife? Our gear expert clues you in.
I have been using a multi-tool like the Leatherman Wave for camping for ages. Do I really need a knife? Which is better – carbon steel or stainless steel? – Camping buff, Kota Kinabalu.
A multi-purpose tool is a great all-round tool for different purposes. (A Leatherman Wave multi-tool, for example, comes with pliers, wire-cutters, serrated knife, saw, screwdriver, scissors, wood or metal files.) However, a multi-tool has its limitations: a locking mechanism that may fail or not-so-great ergonomics.
Besides, if you need a knife for heavy-duty tasks like splitting wood, a blade knife will provide the strength you need and is unlikely to fail, compared to a folding knife (from a multi-tool).
Whether you’re trekking, camping, mountaineering or rock climbing, a good, reliable knife is essential, especially in survival situations. You can cut ropes, build shelter, chop firewood, process food and make hunting tools with a knife.
But there are two main considerations when choosing a knife. What is the knife for? And are you skilled at handling a knife? A knife is only as useful as the person who handles it. You may even hurt yourself if you fumble with the knife.
If you have zero experience with knives, stay away from pointy tips and long blades (less control). Best to attend a knife-use workshop to sharpen your knife-handling skills.
Knives come in many shapes and sizes. Like any other tool, some knives have specific uses like skinning and filleting (think sushi knife!) but more often than not, they are used as a utility tool and for general chores.
Knives come in many variants of steel (440c, 154CM, S30V, VG10, SK5, Sandvik etc) and each has its own unique composition. Each variation has its unique characteristics that determine its corrosion resistance, strength and edge retention.
Which steel variant fares better is an ongoing debate and it boils down to personal preferences and applications. For the sake of discussion, let’s just categorise them into two types: carbon steel and stainless steel.
High carbon steel knives are generally easier to sharpen and hold an edge (stays sharp) longer than stainless steel knives. The downside is that they rust easily, though that doesn’t affect their (cutting) performance.
You can oil the knives to minimise the rust but if you plan to use the blade for cutting foodstuff, make sure the oil is food safe. Local parangs are usually made of high carbon steel, hence they are prone to rust.
Stainless steel knives are less prone to rust; hence they are more suited for camping needs where food preparation is involved. You can easily rinse it with fresh water, wipe it dry and keep it away without worrying about rust. Blades made of stainless steel with cutting lengths of less than four inches (10cm) are considered ideal as camp knives.
But in our tropical jungle environment, it is advisable to bring along two knives (if weight isn’t an issue). One knife comes with a longer fixed blade, at least a 10-inch (25cm) blade like a parang to execute tasks like clearing trails, processing wood and even building a jungle shelter. This type of knife will give better reach and leverage and at the same time doesn’t drain your energy.
The companion knife would be a camp knife, ideally a fixed blade, though some people prefer a folding knife as they are more compact to lug around.
A sharp knife is actually safer as you don’t need to exert as much force and it makes cutting much easier. Even if you do slash yourself, the cut is cleaner, hence easier to treat and heal.
For wilderness survival situations, you may want to consider a fixed, non-folding knife with a full tang construction. A full tang knife has the steel of the blade extended to the entire length of the knife. The two-handle pieces are pinned on to the blade, one on each side. The solid one-piece construction minimises breakage.
However, having the right set of skills and knowledge plays an important role in turning a knife into a survival tool. Keep your knife simple. A full tang fixed blade with a secure sheath will suffice.
What about knives like those seen in the Rambo movies? Features like folding knives, hollow handles to keep matches, or knife spines with saws are fine but unnecessary. These extra features increase the chances of knife breakage and failure.
Camping knives can range from RM35 to RM950. Entry-level, good-value-for-money knives include Mora and Hultafors (both Swedish brands) priced from RM60 to RM200. – Keong L.C., bushcraft instructor cum gear improvisation guru
In Malaysia, you can find a huge range of knives and brands like Benchmade, Buck, Mora, Gerber, Spyderco, Aitor, ESEE and Fallknivens from local retailers.
Food for thought: it’s best to ask about the warranty and after-sales service from retailers when you buy your knife. Take note that some retailers bring these knives in as parallel-imports (which are usually sold cheaper) but they may not come with manufacturers’ warranties.
Camping knives are found at: Corezone, tel: (03)7873 5560 (www.mycorezone.com); Outdoor Gear Malaysia, tel: (03) 5613 3690 (www.ogm-shop.com); UFL Outdoors Bangsar, tel: (03)2282 5721; Lafuma Bangsar, tel: (03) 2287 1118; Outdoor Dynamics, Penang, tel: (04) 656 3345 (outdoordynamics.com.my).
Knife safety tips
·What happens when your knife slips from your hand whilst you’re cutting something? Where will it likely fall? Will it hit, cut or pierce you or anyone around you? Think about this when you use your knife.
·Does your knife come with a sturdy sheath? Will the edge of the blade cut through the sheath? If you stumble, will the knife slip out and stab you?
·Do you have a way to service your knife in the field? If it gets blunt, is it relatively easy to sharpen? Have you sharpened a knife before? A sharp knife is a safe knife.
·Don’t forget your First Aid kit!
Some knives like double-edged daggers are prohibited by Malaysian law and impractical for a camping environment. If you have kids running around the campsite, keep them away from pointy knives. An alternative would be a knife with sheepsfoot blade (the blade has a rounded tip and flat edge)