Components of a camping knife

By Ian Carroll
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There’s a lot that goes into a good blade, whether it’s fixed or flipping. Being aware of the basic components of knifemaking is the best way to make an educated purchase when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is. So now we’ll go over everything that goes into the best camping knife. From the blade steel and edge to the handle materials and mechanisms, here we’ll go over all the basics so that you know what you’re doing when it comes time to buy your own blade.

Steel

camping knife chef cooking
Different steels are preferred by knifemakers for different blades because each has its own unique properties.

A lot of people who are new to knives don’t realize how many types of steel are used in modern knives. It’s not just for fun either; the steel you use is one of the most important factors in quality. The most basic principle of blade steel is that a blade with more carbon will hold an edge better, sharpen more easily, but also be more prone to corrosion. The carbon content of a blade is the first number you should look for. Fortunately, the composition of the steel is often contained in its name if you know how to read it.

For example, 1095 carbon steel is composed of 95% carbon. That makes it prone to rust, but also easy to sharpen and hold a quality edge. 8CR13MOV is another very common type of steel who’s name says it all. It’s composed of 80% carbon, and 13% chrome. This steel is easy to sharpen, holds an edge well, and is resistant to corrosion. Best of all, it’s affordable. That’s why it’s one of the most common types of steel on the market.

However, there are a ton of steels to choose from, each with their own properties. If you’re interested in learning more, there are a lot of resources online to help you learn. If you’re looking for the highest quality steel around, pick up a knife made with VG-10, CPM-S30V, or CPM-S35VN steel. These are used in only the highest quality of knives made by brands like Zero Tolerance, Cold Steel, and Boker Plus.

Edge

Knife Being Sharpened by Hand – Author:Didriks – CC BY 2.0

Your blade’s edge is more complicated than you think. It’s not just about grinding down steel until it’s sharp. The shape of the tip, blade and grind pattern all affect how well your blade slices, dices, and pierces whatever you’re working on. It will also make a world of difference when you’re sharpening your blade. Because of the ways different edge grinds affect your cuts, each is preferred by different people for different trades.

There are different edge grinds for chef knives, woodworking tools, and axes, to name a few. For the best camping knife though, you’re going to look for a knife with some sort of flat grind or compound flat grind. What that means is that the steel is ground evenly into a flat angle on both sides to form the blade.

Some grinds start high on the blade, and some are much narrower. The narrower the grind, the faster to sharpen and the faster to dull. A wide grind will form a sharper edge but be harder to sharpen yourself. There are several names for these grinds. If yours is a flat, high flat, V-grind, Scandi (or Scandinavian), or compound flat grind, then you’re holding a great blade for camping. Other grinds that are interesting, but less than ideal for camping are hollow, convex, chisel, and asymmetric grinds. These are great for other tasks such as skinning, woodworking, and chopping, but less useful in the woods.

Shape

 

camping knife
The Ripple 2 is one of the most beautiful blades you can buy, featuring a slight drop point.

There are nearly as many blade shapes out there as there are blades. You don’t need to know about all of them. A lot of what’s out there is either preference or gimmick or both. For the most part, knife blades come in three common shapes. Those are the drop point, clip point, and tanto point. The drop point is the standard and most versatile type of tip for the average pocket knife. I’m sure you’ve used one before.

The clip point does an exceptional job at skinning. That’s why many hunting knives feature a clip point on their blades. The tanto point comes from the tactical influence in the EDC community. It can be useful for careful cutting tasks and small repairs or projects. When it comes to camping, blade shape is mostly preference. Other features like the type of steel, the grind, and the thickness of the blade will have a far greater impact on how your knife performs.

Handle

camping knife
Wood makes some of the most beautiful knife handles.

Fortunately, the handle is a much simpler and more intuitive part of the knife. You might not have known all the types of grinds that can form your edge, but you’re sure to be familiar with the feel of a good knife handle. The best camping knife, whether fixed or folding blade, will have a quality handle made from a comfortable and lightweight material. Over the years different materials have come and gone. These days, although high-quality wood is still popular on many knives, synthetic materials are the new norm in knife handles. That’s because synthetics are lightweight, water-resistant, and easy to customize and mass-produce. Some knives forgo handle scales altogether and make their knives entirely out of steel.

For the most part, this all comes down to preference. If a knife feels good in your hand, it’s a score. If the knife feels awkward, uncomfortable, or flimsy in your grip, chances are it’s because of a poorly made handle. My favorite synthetic material is G-10. However, you’re going to have to make your own call when it comes to the look and feel of your knife. Going to the store and holding some different handles is the best way to make the call.

Lock and opening mechanisms

camping knife diagram
There are a number of components involved in even a simpler EDC knife.

If you’re looking for the best EDC camping knife, you’ll need to consider the opening and locking mechanisms. Each company has its own proprietary technologies and patented mechanisms. For the most part, they all work well and are reliable. However, some technology is clearly superior to others. The most common type of blade lock these days is certainly some sort of frame lock. This means that a part of the handle snaps into place below the blade when it’s open. This blocks the blade from closing until you push it aside. These locks are generally strong, but no longer the gold standard. The AXIS locking mechanism from Benchmade, and the Triad lock from Cold Steel are two great examples of modern innovations pushing the bar. These locks are both at the top of the line in knifemaking and more reliable than nearly all other blade locks.

Clips and accessories

camping knife
This CRKT M16 features a standard, reversible clip.

Some knives are simple and don’t try to be anything more than a blade and a handle. However, the best camping knife needs a few more features than just these. A good pocket clip will fit tightly to your pocket without being bulky or sagging in strange ways. Most pocket clips can reverse to left or right-sided carry. Some can even flip for tip-up and tip-down carry. This is mostly a feature for the everyday carry community. It allows for the fastest draw in a self-defense situation. However, it has less bearing on finding the best camping knife. As for other accessories, well you could always get a multi-tool. These days you can find a lot of special features in a blade. From firestarter kits to nail clippers and toothpicks, you can find just about anything. However, my advice is to keep it simple. All these extra features distract from the primary function of the best camping knife and are rarely if ever, used.

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