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How Big is your Backpacking Knife?

Leatherman Tools and Swiss Army Knife

This article is in response to Jason’s Klass’ post In defense of the knife. Jason believes that a knife is important to carry in the backcountry. His preference is a 2.6 oz. Spyderco Delica 4. A perfectly logical choice, except maybe the part about defending yourself from mountain lions.

But in addition, I would argue that you also want to bring along a pair of scissors. I use these far more often than I use a knife. They’re good for cutting moleskin, trimming toenails and blisters, opening freeze-dried meals, trimming tarp guylines and clothing tags, emergency sewing repairs, trimming my mustache, and so on.

My favorite knife and scissor combo is the Swiss Army Classic, weighing just 0.7 oz, which includes a scissor, tweezers, a sharp but short knife, and a nail file that has a screwdriver head. I carry it clipped to a Mountain Laurel Designs mini-biner that’s attached to an exterior compression strap on my pack, so it’s always handy and I never lose it.

Before I switched to the Swiss Army Classic, I used a 1.7 oz. Leatherman Squirt S4, but it was more tool than I needed. It has an excellent pair of scissors, knife, screwdriver, bottle opener, and a set of tweezers. One could argue that the bottle opener is more important than a pair of scissors.

Before I got the Leatherman Squirt S4, I had a 7.8 oz. Leatherman Wave. It’s huge but much sturdier than the Squirt. The Wave has a built-in pair of regular and needle nose pliers, wire cutters, a serrated knife, and a smooth knife, a saw, a not-so-functional pair of scissors, several screwdriver heads, and a stout file. It’s a good mountaineering knife, come to think of it, for repairing protection, sharpening and straightening crampons, and other heavier-duty applications. I could also see carrying it again if and when I switch to a wood stove, particularly for cutting up kindling, although I met a guy recently who carries a hatchet with him instead of a knife, for just this purpose.

So, to conclude: it’s not the size of your knife that counts, but whether you have a scissor.

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  1. Hello – really enjoy your site. To elaborate on a comment I made on Jason's site, I always bring a Mora – whether it is a 510 or not, always carbon steel in case I need to make a fire with the steel and a piece of quartz etc… I was asked by someone once last year why I don't bring a multi-tool (they swore by them) but I just have never been convinced that it would help me. I can't remember a time where I needed pliers etc…

    What is your thought on bringing a multi-tool camping and hiking?



  2. I couldn't agree more about the utility of scissors on your knife! I had a really hard time letting go of my much bigger (and heavier) Leatherman Juice knife for a Swiss Army Classic when I was looking to lighten up my load. I mean, how could such a tiny and simple knife do everything I would need it for in the backcountry?? Now I've been using it for nearly a year and haven't missed my bigger knife (or it's many tools) once. The scissors are easily the most used tool-despite their small size on the Classic, they work great! (By the way, my friend carries the Squirt, and yeah, the bottle opener does come in handy from time to time….)

  3. Great article on knives. This is a much debated topic and one that I tend to go back on forth on. I've taken to carrying a Leatherman Squirt P4 that has pliers instead of the scissors as I found that I really didn't use the scissors all that much. Funny really when you point out how often you do use them, I guess I'm a blade person for the most part. I've just been given a SOG SEAL Pup Elite<img src="; width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

    knife that is very rugged and lightweight. It's a little more knife than I probably need but it's up to almost any task and comes with the SOG no questions asked lifetime guarantee.

    For the most part I never need anything more that my Squirt, but I'm betting that at some point I'll have a need for something more substantial and that's where the SOG comes in. Side note – I've also taken to carrying a homemade saw that I created from a reciprocating saw blade with 550 cord wrapped around one end. Makes for a very lightweight saw with excellent cutting capabilities – it's also cheap ($2 at Home Depot) so if I loose it it's no big deal.

  4. Mungo: If you're not going to use all the tools in a multi-tool, you should leave it at home and carry something lighter. That's what happened to me, and why I just use my little swiss army knife.

    I like the point you make about the carbon knife/quartz as a sparker. I never thought of that.

  5. I pared down to a Squirt on my last trip, and while it was awesome, I think next trip I'll carry my Benchmade (locking blade similar to the Spyderco blade) I found myself annoyed at the shortness of the blade, and was worried about snapping it a couple times when I needed something just a bit more substantial.

    One thing that you didn't mention besides the scissors is the usefulness of tweezers, if only for getting splinters out.. I don't know why, but even here in the soggy NorthWest I'm spectacularly prone to splinters.

  6. I have the SOG seal pup that Jason has on his site. It is an awesome knife and I don't go anywhere without it. I agree with the need for a good multitool but I think a good fixed blade is a must.

    I don't trust folding knifes, there is to much of a chance of it breaking when you really need it.

  7. My Classic is .7 oz. I'm assuming you don't have the standard Classic since yours is a bit heavier.

  8. My bad – I reweighed this morning and it's 0.7 oz. I'll fix the post. Thanks for catching that.

  9. I'd be in trouble without my Leatherman PST II – not sure what I'd replace it with, if I ever break it. Even around the house, I use the screwdriver, pliers, bottle opener (heh) and scissors all the time.

  10. Not exactly lightweight, but I swear by my Opinel #12. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age :-)

  11. Traditional Swiss Army knife. It's not too big or too small.

    Good article


  12. Nice article and especially the comments.

    I always carry a normal Swiss knife, it has everything I need.

  13. Regarding that 7.8 oz Leatherman Wave: every time I consider bringing along an 8 oz gadget, I try to think of it as weighing a half-pound instead. Then I leave it at home.

    My knife is a Gerber LST.

  14. FYI – Home Depot has a sub-1oz multi-tool (with scissors and mini-pliers, and a 2" knife) for $2 right now.

  15. It has no markings at all – truly a cheapo Chinese knockoff.

    Oh, and lest I forget: there's the wonderful M40 Survival Knife, which doubles as a nice place to store that extra, just-in-case bit of parachute cord you can't talk yourself into leaving behind. As a bonus, it's also a saw and notch cord cutter.

  16. Joe – I like that spear configuration. No need to bring a fishing pole now!

  17. I just got back from a 3-day trip where, for the first time, I left my 6 oz buck knife at home, replacing it with a single razor blade weighing less than a half ounce. I didn't miss the knife at all.

  18. I concur that scissors are a must have on the trail. I still believe that in a survival situation, a good fixed blade knife is a valuable tool. I carry on my belt a Gerber profile fixed blade knife, and in my ditty bag a swiss army classic SD. The tweezers are a must for pulling ticks, the scissors for toenails and moleskin cutting and so on. The fixed blade knife can also be used to dig your cat hole so no need to carry a trowel.

    Just my $.02…

  19. I carry a Victorinox Cadet, weighs around 1.6oz, and very handy. I have a short diamond rod for sharpening it on the biner with the knife. I also carry a Mora clipper, a fixed blade knife is a necessity. I would just take the pocketknife if thru hiking again though. I carry the Mora for all my regular hikes, weighs like 4 oz and is incredibly tough. For the firestarting, you can carry a firesteel and magnesium rod.

  20. I carry a Baladéo, 34grams and huge blade (3.75") for the weight. As for scissors, I am usually carrying a pair of trauma shears so no worries about that one. I have a huge museum of multi tools but the one I carry everyday for work is the Leatherman Skeletool CX, I'm sold on the way it clips into my pocket. I did loose it once but I have engraved my address into the thing so I got an email to tell me some one had found it and gave them $10 finders fee, Good Karma!

  21. I start out with a SAK Money Clip – basically a flattened Classic with a clip. I leave my wallet at home and carry my Drivers License and a twenty dollar bill clipped in the knife and clip it inside a shirt pocket. Blade, scissors, and file – enough knife to prepare meals and trim cracked nails (happens to me a lot) and cut moleskin.

    If I want some more knife I add a SAK Bantam – A larger blade and a can/bottle opener screwdriver. And like a lot of commenters on Jasons article – a LM Micra gives me warm fuzzies.

    If I expect to be burning wood, I bring a Gerber Gator (original). A locking folder with a very thick blade – I find it perfect for "batoning" sticks of wood down to burnable thickness.

  22. Great website. My criterion for a knife is that the blade locks. My Victorinox knives have the potential for the blade to close on your fingers if you do something silly. Leatherman and many single blade knives “click” lock and thus have less potential for this. You’d have to be pretty silly to cut yourself in this way, but the threat doing so in the wilderness is a bit scary.
    Single purpose scissors and particularly tweezers are often much more functional than knife associated items, and possibly worth the weight (especially tweezers).

  23. Full Disclaimer: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool “Knife Guy,” so I own a collection of some several dozen knives, from SAK Classic to 18” Barong machetes, so choosing a knife for hiking is a difficult choice due to the abundance of available options. Most often, however, I find myself choosing the Morakniv Robust. It’s not an ultralight choice at 4.8 ounces, but it weighs less than a full tang knife of similar dimensions (8 1/4 inches overall) and yet has proven rugged and reliable at performing all manner of survival/fire craft/repair/food prep tasks. The Robust never quite fit its cheapo sheath tightly enough for my comfort, so I wrapped some red silicone rubber tape around the handle at the friction point where the knife slips into the sheath, and now it carries well, without fear of loss or injury. I prefer carbon steel for its ease of sharpening, but occasionally I forego the Mora in favor of a folding Spyderco Endura (3.6 oz) and don’t feel particularly “under-knifed.” A Delica would doubtless serve me just as well, but I feel a bit better having blade length of 3.5 – 4 inches in the highly unlikely event I am forced to use it for defense purposes. In my part of the country I am more concerned about aggressive (or rabid) coyotes than two-legged threats, but as a solo hiker having a useful tool that doubles as form of personal protection feels like a wise precaution. In their roles as trail tools, my knives perform enough tasks that I gladly pay the weight penalty for heavier-duty cutting tools.

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