Do You Really Need A Knife For Backpacking?

Do you need a knife for backpacking?

For backpacking, you don’t.

But it’s when things go sideways that a knife comes in handy.

There’s always the possibility that you’ll end up in a survival situation. Maybe you get lost. Maybe you get separated from your backpack. Or maybe your tent flies away.

In such emergency situations you may need fire, food and shelter, and a knife makes it a whole lot easier to obtain those things.

How Much Knife Do You Need?

How much knife I bring on a backpacking trip depends on these three variables:

  • Trip remoteness: There’s a BIG difference between getting lost in your local park or getting lost in Alaskan wilderness. In the former, it’s very hard to be truly lost, because you can just start hiking and come across the civilized world (a farm, road, town) in a matter of hours.
  • Environmental conditions: I’d be more inclined to carry a larger knife in a well forested area than in a desert without any trees. One of the top reasons why I bring a large knife is to more easily build shelters with branches or bushwack through dense vegetation in case things go wrong.
  • Weather conditions: A knife allows you to get to the dry inside of wet wood, which makes it a whole lot easier to make a fire in cold and wet situations.

If I’m doing a trip on the mild side of this spectrum, I bring my SAK Classic Alox. If I’m hiking remote trails in harsh weather conditions and dense vegetation, I bring my Gerber LST Ultralight knife.

What You’ll Probably Use Your Knife For

Personally, I’ve never had to use my knife on a backpacking trip before. Every little task like:

  • Opening plastic food packaging
  • Cutting cord
  • Cutting Leukotape and bandaids
  • Trimming fabric or thread during field repairs
  • Trimming finger- and toenails

Is done with my blunt end scissors because it’s easier and safer. I made that decision after nearly chopping off the tip of my finger while trying to open a stubborn pack of ramen noodles with a knife.

Many people use a knife to cut sausage, cheese or bread, and to spread peanut butter on their bread, but I’m someone who prefers to bite off chunks rather than cut it neatly into pieces. And I never take peanut butter or anything like it with me on a backpacking trip.

Bringing A Knife For Self-Defense

A knife can be a great help in defending yourself if you know how to use it in a fight. If you don’t, it’s a dangerous weapon to wield, especially in an adrenaline-inducing situation.

You’re also not going to fend off a bear or mountain lion with a knife. You might be able to stab it once, but it will certainly tear you to pieces before you can stab it a second time.

Sticks, stones, hiking poles, and bear spray are much better tools for scaring and fighting off wild animals.


In the end, how much knife you’ll need to bring to feel safe depends on the weather conditions, trip remoteness, environmental conditions, and your risk tolerance.

On a very remote trip with harsh weather conditions, the risk of ending up in a survival situation is greater than if you were doing a trip in your local park. I think it then becomes important to bring a sturdy knife and have some survival knowledge.

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