Camping Thoughts

May 26, 1999
I went camping last weekend and here are a few thoughts on blades that are useful and blades that are not. Useful - 1) Large axe: No one brought an axe on the trip, although a chainsaw was present. An axe is lighter, more portable, and more dependable. I'll take one next time. 2) CS tanto: I brought a 4" Cold Steel tanto point Voyager and used it all the time. It is tough and inexpensive. 3) Fully serrated knife: I did not bring a serrated knife. It's amazing how often it would have come in handy. I was cutting rope constantly; for tents, mountain climbing, tarps, lanyards, etc. I'll bring a Delica next time.
Not Useful - 1) Hatchet: Someone brought a small hatchet along and it was never used. 2) Fixed blade: Many people seem to think that a large fixed blade "camp knife" is an essential camping tool. I saw no need for one. Like the hatchet, it may be useful for delicate chopping tasks like making a spear or tent stakes, but you could just choke up on an axe if needed. In a "survival" situation, where all your stuff is contained in a small backpack, the large fixed blade might be useful, but I don't think it's necessary for normal camping.
I think the choice of knives really depends on one's definition of camping. If one is remaining within sight of one's car, then I would say most people can get by with nothing more severe than my SAK Hunter or Champ and a Frosts of Sweden filet or utility knife. If I am camping away from designated sites or far from the trailhead or off-trail altogether, my big fixed blade goes along as well as a smaller one and two folding knives and a multitool. All are carried in a manner so that if I lose some part or most of my gear I am not tool crippled. As of today, my large knife is a Strider MT and the small one, which sees the most use of all of the backwoods set BTW, is a Fallkniven F1. I always carry a pocket chainsaw for the tasks normally handled by the axe or hachet. With practice the chainsaw will do just about every wood cutting job imaginable usually at a tenth of the weight. If it breaks, chances are you can fix it with a multitool or a SAK, and if you can't you're out less than $30.00. If I am camping or hunting in late fall or winter I take a collapsable shovel because you never know. . .I wouldn't care to have to dig a snow cave with a Busse BM. I'd rather burn the calories on the weight of a good field shovel than a huge "deathraider special ops tac warfare you can do a pull up on it" fighting knife.

I know of people who carry a machete or something similar to the 10-14 inch combat geewhizzer. Generally speaking such knives are deadweight camping in Oregon. I guess there is always those "What if you are attacked by a __________?" threads to play in. I seriously don't know what a lot of that heavy metal is doing out there on a three day weekend.
First, I agree strongly that it depends on what kind of camping you're doing. I can speak for myself. I typically divide my camp needs into big-knife and small-knife needs.

The small knife needs to excel at food prep, whittling walking and hot dog sticks, cutting miscellaneous cordage, cutting moleskin and bandages, etc. Excellent edge geometry and good ergonomics are a must, as is a good carry system that can be moved from the belt to the backpack without removing your belt. My favorite here has always been the A.G. Russell Deerhunter. I've since designed my own knife for specifically this application, the TTKK. Check for it on Trace Rinaldi's site,

For a big knife jobs, limbing, light chopping, brush and trail clearing. Some people have needs to split or chop big logs -- I don't. Even the jobs that I describe above I try to keep to a bare minimum, I stick to low-impact camping principles whenever possible. Anyway, for me, my best big-job knife has been a machete, which has worked out better for me than those camper's axes (hatchets really) or any other big knives. I have no use at all for the ~8" military-style blades. I am thinking about moving to a purpose-designed big bowie, Livesay's RTAK, and seeing how I like it compared to a machete.

Camped for 4 days/3 nights at the Deleware Water Gap on the Appallachian Trail. I used my Wave every day and night, mostly for the saw and scissors. The Gerber Gator was used mostly for eating, but also for trimming branches off of walking sticks. I'll probably take my new CRK Mountaineer I next time, but in all honesty I can't think of anything it'll be asked to do that the Gerber couldn't, unless I get lost and truly have to "survive", in which case the fishing hooks/line/ waterproof matches stored in the handle will save me! The saw on the Wave is a meat-eater. Very quick and efficient.
On axes xs hatchets vs saws vs big knives .... as has been mentioned it depends upon the type of camping that one will do and how one camps. I'll guess that most people who do low impact backpacking carry a SAK, maybe a lock blade folder or Sierra saw or such, and just don't hack up the countryside or the critters in it. People who like to do minimal load but high impact camping, using traditional 'woodcraft' and/or survival skills, will probably take bigger blades along, including some sort of fixed blade. Sometimes one needs to make straight paths thru or into vegetation so machetes make sense in those cases, maybe a hatchet/ax/saw depending on one's needs. For car camping I like to have a heavy hatchet or light ax along for splitting wood, at least a 2lb head, and I also like having a bow saw or large pruning saw. I haven't tried but have heard good things about some of the pocket chain saws. For car camping I also like to have at least one larger knife for food prep.

Some general items to consider are that ax heads rarely break, wood handles do sometimes, and saws do break sometimes. A decent single bit ax also doubles as a hammer or sledge and one can do some rough scraping and slicing with one. Saws are quick, light, and offer better control and are safer to use. Some people don't burn anything that needs to be split so their wood cutting tool set consists of a $8 bow saw, and they smile at people like me who end up with a full size ax and four wedges stuck in a large oak round :^)

As others have stated, the type of camping is important. There is also "pop-up camping" which I do not consider camping, so throw that out. Location, duration, and activities of the trip must be considered. You said you had a chainsaw, but could have used an axe, so I'm going to assume there was no hiking. I have very rarely need an axe while camping. Luckily we have been within walking distance of the car(s) every time. It also depends on the person's style. Theoretically, one could live in the woods with nothing but a blanket, a stick, some nylon cord, and a knife. I've never done this, and I don't think it would be extremely pleasant. Some people take the anything-an-everything approach. These people bring anything and everything, and will be prepared for anything and everything.
An aside: People, please don't bring alcohol while camping. In addition to the danger, my pronblem is that people leave the cans behind, which is just plain inconsiderate.

A light 3/4 size ax such as a Collins, Hudson's Bay model, Iltis, etc., would serve for just about any cutting purposes you'll ever run into except maybe extracting splinters. A SAK would be handy to do the rest. Big knives are neat but an ax is tough to beat. You can open cans, clean and skin fish and game, split bones, wood, build a cabin, pound stakes, and even shave with an ax if you've got a steady hand (I prefer a BiC myself). It would be the one tool I would want if I could have only one. A pack of matches and some fire starter (say, a single malt) would also be handy.

[This message has been edited by Alberta Ed (edited 05 September 1999).]
That's why I always haul my peach schnapps in a flask...not much of a drinker, but I love
the schnapps when I'm outdoors.

For me its Irish Mist. Hardly drink the stuff at home, but love it outdoors in the dark by a fire.... Don't need a knife to open my flask either... Knives? I have so many different kinds to choose from I almost always take more knife than I need just to play.

On a typical minimal-impact backpacking trip, I take a fixed blade in the 5" range, and a backup SAK. When I'm not going so far and can afford the weight (day hikes), I might take something bigger not because I need it, but just to play... If I'm going fishing, a camping trip with a primary sub-mission, I like a narrower but longer blade, maybe 6" as I often end up being the cook.
On my camping trips I am usually overknifed!
I prepare for too many what ifs I guess!

When I camp my main tool is a small axe of two pounds and a Sears handy bush a machete or whatever...especially for devils club..
Depends on the kind of camping you're doing.
For most public parks you can leave the axe at home. You can forget about building a log cabin, even campfires are often prohibited and the only wood you are usually allowed to harvest is dead fall (just snap the branches with your foot).

If backpacking a good locking folding knife would probably be best (don't forget to add a nice SAK in the backpack - it usually comes in handy - if nothing else you can entertain yourself while playing with its many gagets); the cool large fixed bladed monster slayer gets very very (very) heavy after a day long hike.
Although it may not be effective for splitting logs, my favorite chopper is Cold Steel's LTC Kukri. Lynn Thompson gave me one a number of years back and it has been the most heavily used light chopping tool I own. I have reground the edge more times than I can remember it it keeps going and going. Aside from camp use I use it around the house to split kindling and trim tree branches.