It doesn’t matter how many knives you have at home. The one you reach for when you’re in the woods—to gut a deer, cut brush, carve a fuzz stick—that’s your field knife, your everyday companion. There’s no one perfect model, but here’s how to pick the ideal features for you.
1) Fixed or Folder?
The traditional choice, a fixed-blade knife is stronger than most folders. With no moving parts, it’s virtually fail-safe, and cleaning is as easy as wiping off grime and wiping on oil. If you need a deep belly for skinning big game, fixed is the primary choice due to the challenge of storing a wide folding blade inside its handle. A folder, on the other hand, makes everyday carry simple: Just pop it in your pocket. The increasing popularity of pocket-clip folders has spawned huge innovation in materials and designs, so the options are breathtaking. Bottom line: Fixed or folder, you can’t lose. But you have to choose.
2) Steel Yourself
Basic steel is just iron and carbon. But there are hundreds of alloys. The least you need to know is that the more carbon, the harder the blade and the better it holds an edge—but too much can make a blade brittle. Also, adding chromium prevents rust (stainless steel usually has at least 12 percent), but it can soften the steel. It’s a balancing act. Here’s a breakdown:
Non-Stainless Steel: It rusts easily but makes a great blade if you take care. High-carbon examples (1095, D2) really hold an edge. A few are both hard and tough (A2, CPM 3V, 8670M).
Stainless Steel: If you want low maintenance, this is the way to go. But low-carbon versions (18/8, 420, 440, 440A, AUS-6) can be too soft to get or keep a fine edge. More carbon or a harder alloy is better (440B and C, AUS-8 and 10, 8Cr14MoV, 154CM).
Powdered Steels: The newest stainless alloys (S30V, Elmax, M390) are made of powderlike granules that are heated to form very hard steels that take a wicked edge. They pretty much have it all—corrosion resistance, hardness, and strength. Naturally, you pay for it.
3) Get the Point
Most field knives have a drop point or clip point, either of which may be combined with a deeper belly for skinning. The drop point is ideal for field dressing game without slicing innards. Its thicker tip also helps with separating joints and with heavy camp chores. If your hunting knife will double as a fish cleaner and camp-kitchen slicer, the finer clip point is the better choice, and it’s fine for gutting game as long as you’re careful with the tip.
4) Find the Grind
Likewise, most field knives hew to one of two grinds: hollow or flat. A hollow-ground blade has a concave shape, as if material has been scooped out of the blade’s thickness. It’s easy to resharpen and best for shallow cuts, such as field dressing, cutting hide, and simple camp chores. A flat-ground blade is the more common choice; it is tougher, holds its edge better, and excels at deeper cuts, working around sinew and bone, and chopping food at camp.
Now that you know what to look for, check out our field knife gear test to see which brands of fixed and folder blades are worth their metal.
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