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Knife Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

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Stainless steel pocket knife

When you are shopping online for knives, it is important to know what makes some knives better than others. With fixed-blade knives, folding knives and other types to choose from, you'll realize that each knife has its benefits. This buying guide will help you find knives for hunting, outdoor sports and accessories to your camping and hiking gear.

Fixed-blade Knives

  1. Hunting knives: These knives include boning knives, flexible fillet knives for fishing, skinning knives, slicing knives, cleavers and camping knives. Having the appropriate hunting knives will depend on the game you're hunting. For more information on buying hunting knives, read our Hunting Knife Buying Guide.

  2. Tactical knives: Tactical knives can be fixed or folding knives. Most tactical knives, if they fold, will have a locking feature. Tactical knives, including Bowie knives and variations, are included in many survival kits. Note that tactical knives and fighting/combat knives are not the same thing. Tactical knives are designed for more uses than a bayonet or fighting knife; they can be used for emergency egress from downed aircraft and used for survival-escape-resistance-evasion (S.E.R.E.) tasks. One feature you may want to consider is a partially serrated blade. The serrated edge will make cutting rope and other tough materials easier while the rest of the blade can be used for other tasks, such as preparing food while camping or on a long trek.

  3. Bowie knives: Bowie knives are heavy workhorse knives. The name "Bowie knife" can refer to any large sheath knife with a clip point. For hunting, a Bowie knife will be the best when you begin field dressing your game. Avoid hollow-handled survival knives; they tend to collapse or break where the handle and blade meet when a lot of torque is applied. Always look for full-tang construction when purchasing fixed-blade knives. Full-tang construction means that the knife blade extends all of the way down into the handle of the knife. This will increase strength and decrease the chances of your knife breaking.

Folding Knives:

  1. Pocket knives: Pocket knives are the most widely used outdoor gear. Remember that pocket knives, like Swiss Army knives and similar folding knives, are intended to fit inside of your pocket. It is a smart idea to always have a pocket knife around in case of emergencies or even in ordinary situations. You never know when you'll need to open a tough package; when your kids are in the back seat of your car, you don't want to struggle trying to open a box of snacks or the extra batteries for their entertainment systems.

  2. Multi-tool knives: Multi-tool knives come with a variety of tools to choose from. When you are shopping online for multi-tool knives, consider the size and extras packed into the knife. The basics include a screwdriver, scissors, blades, can opener, bottle opener, tweezers and corkscrew. Other knives include pliers, wire cutters, saw blades and maybe even a flashlight, calculator, stapler or nail clippers. There are also multi-tool knives designed more for women that include a needle and thread, safety pin, tweezers, mirror and scissors.

  3. Tactical folding knives: Folding knives that lock open are called lockback knives. These tactical knives are designed to be opened and closed with one hand. Lockback knives, which lock the blade open, keep the blade from closing on your fingers while the knife is in use. Folding knives often have clips for carrying the knife on your belt.

Blades:

  1. Blade materials: Most blades are made of stainless steel; this prevents rust and provides the temper needed to complete a job. High-carbon steel is also used because it makes sharpening the knife blade easier; however, high-carbon steel blades require more care. For added hardness, manufacturers often give the steel a titanium nitride coating. This coating also makes sharpening easier.

  2. Blade ratings. Fixed-blade knives are generally stronger the farther the blade extends into the handle. Many knife manufacturers list a rating on their steel; this is known as the Rockwell C scale. A low C-scale rating means that the blade could be too soft and will lose its edge quickly. A high C-scale rating might mean that the steel is too hard and, as a result, the blade cannot withstand pressure, impact or torque. The best for most blades is a C-scale rating in the mid to upper 50s.

  3. Serrated blades. Serrated blades on your knives will provide more cutting power and are especially useful for cutting rope, cords and other materials. You can find knives that are fully or partially serrated. With a partially serrated knife blade, you have the option of two cutting edges on one blade. Both fixed and folding knives can have partially serrated blades.

Handles:

  1. Wood: This is the traditional material for knife handles. Wood provides grip and aesthetics. Remember that wet wood can split, weakening the knife's strength.

  2. Rubber: Textured rubber handles give a better grip than wood while increasing comfort and absorbing shock.

  3. Molded plastic: Folding knives have molded, textured plastic. This increases grip and durability.

  4. Micarta: Micarta is a popular handle material that is water-resistant and increases grip when wet. It is an extremely tough material.

  5. Leather: Many knives may still have leather handles. Leather handles are made by stacking leather washers. Sometimes the leather is wrapped around another handle material.

  6. Stainless steel: Stainless steel handles, although durable and sanitary, tend to become slippery. You will see stainless steel handles with textures: bumps, ridges or indentations. You won't often find stainless steel handles on hunting knives, unless it is a skeleton handle.

  7. Skeleton: A skeleton handle is the tang of the knife. Some tactical knives have this type of handle. Sections of the tang are removed to reduce weight. Skeletal tangs are wrapped with parachute cord or another wrapping material, such as leather, to increase their grip. Folding knives can also have skeleton handles. Instead of sections of the tang, sections of the folding handle are removed, allowing you to see the blade in its folded position.

Collectible Knives:

  1. Buying collectible knives. Collectible knives aren't meant to be used in any practical sense. The decorative dagger and collectible sword are never intended to be wielded. Often, collectible knives are meant to hang on a wall or sit in a display case. Although they are made just like other knives, they are usually more for decoration. There are several collector knives, considered specialty knives, which are as tough as other knives. Deciding on which collector knife to buy will depend on what will go with your collection best and not on the strength of construction of the tang and bolster.

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