Looking For The Perfect Lightweight Backpacking Knife?
Now that we answered the question of why you need a knife for backpacking and hiking, let’s look at some great options for backpacking knives on the lighter end of things. The following list is picked from my own, personal, real-world experience. Every knife on this list I have either previously owned or currently own and have used it in the wilderness. This list is focused on lighter weight knives that are perfect for backpacking. All of the knives are under four inches and only weigh a few ounces.
I picked the knives on this list based on a few factors: first, ruggedness and feel in your hand, second, performance in the field and reliability, and, third, value. Value is something that I looked at often in all my reviews and it’s a huge deciding factor. Would I spend my money on this knife? Considering that I have owned all of them, the answer is yes.
Best Overall Lightweight Folder
If you are still worried about weight, or just want a little assurance when you’re on the trail on a thru-hike, I don’t think you can do much better than the Bugout. Coming in at under two ounces, you’ll barely know you’re carrying the knife. It’s 3.25” blade is made from premium S30V and will keep a sharp edge for a very long time.
Don’t let the weight fool you, this is a tough knife. In fact, it’s become one of my most carried pocket knives both on trail and off. In the real world, you just don’t even know it’s there. Plus, with its deep-carry clip it disappears in your pocket. If you’re looking for something even smaller, you can check out the Benchmade Bugout Mini, with an under 3” blade and a weight coming in below 1.5 ounces.
Spyderco PM3 Lightweight
Best All Around Lightweight Knife
I’ve reviewed the Spyderco PM3 in-depth here, so I won’t bore you too much. This is another amazing, lightweight folder that has the chops to handle the hard stuff. Premium steel along with the proven Spyderco compression lock ensures a smooth, one-handed operation while knowing the blade will never accidentally close on you….or your digits! It, too, has a deep-carry clip and, of course, that famous Spydie Hole. You have a few blade options available, including a fully serrated, and there are some super-steel models around also. I am a huge Spyderco fan and this guy is another winner in my book.
Ka-Bar Dozier Folding Hunter Knife
Best Budget Option
It’s hard to believe that these mighty folders hover around the $20 mark for the plain steel version. The Ka-Bar Dozier is a no-nonsense, ultra-reliable, and inexpensive folding knife. But, low price doesn’t mean low performance. The AUS-8 blade steel is a known quantity, easy to sharpen, rust-resistant, and forgiving.
It won’t hold an edge as long as some premium steels, but honestly, I doubt 99% of folks would use it hard enough on a hiking trip to ever see the blade dull. A few quick strokes on a sharpening stone or an all-in-one diamond wheel and you’ll be slicing paper like a ninja again. A nice thumb stud makes one-handed opening a breeze and the lock back is secure and easy to close.
The Dozier comes in several color options. Another great highlight of the Dozier is, considering the price, if you lose it on an adventure you’re not going to lose any sleep over it.
Ontario Knife OKC Rat II
The Rat II has been around for a few years, and with good reason. It’s inexpensive, high quality, and very reliable. If you want something on the smaller side that has a little more heft in the hand, the Rat II is a good choice for you. This one also uses AUS-8 blade steel and its 3” length means it’s legal to carry almost anywhere.
The solid thumb studs allow one-handed opening, even with gloves on, and the liner lock is easy to disengage to close the knife. The handle has a nice ergonomic cut to it that gives you good purchase in stabbing and cutting motions. It also has a 4-way, adjustable, pocket clip making it a good option if you are left handed.
Cold Steel Finn Wolf
One of two Cold Steel knives on this list, the Finn Wolf offers something a little bit unique here. It’s a little bit bigger of a blade with a Scandi grind that allows you to do more fine and intricate carving and detail work. So if you like bushcraft and wilderness skills, this will be a great knife for you. The polymer handle is lightweight so it keeps the overall weight of the knife down.
This knife also has the super-strong Triad lock (just like the Air Lite) so you don’t ever have to worry about it accidentally closing. However, one downside to the Triad lock is that it’s very firm until the knife is broken-in, and if you don’t hit it just right it can be a little finicky to close. I think that it’s easy to overlook, though, considering all the other qualities of the knife, especially the price and the quality of construction.
Again, this is a super-solid, sturdy, and rugged knife and I’ve never really had big complaints about it.
Spyderco Delica 4
Another knife that probably makes every single list there is, is the Spyderco Delica….and with good reason! It’s probably as close to perfect a knife as you can get while not breaking the bank. If you want a rugged folding knife, that can take a ton of abuse, is easy to sharpen, and feels great in your hand, then the Delica is the knife for you.
I have several versions of this exact knife, and anytime someone says to me, “what pocket knife should I buy?” it’s always the first knife on the list. The lock back is super reliable, the vg10 knife steel is rust resistant, it takes an edge very quickly, and will last (what seems like) forever. The handle is made from Spyderco Zome FRN (which stands for fiberglass reinforced nylon) and has ambidextrous traction on it to ensure a good grip.
I have yet to meet someone disappointed in this knife. It’s not the fanciest thing out there, but it’s reliable and will always get the job done.
Spyderco Native 5
When you’re talking about lightweight folding knives, we could make an entire list that is just Spyderco Knives. That’s because so much of what they build is with polymer handles or fiberglass reinforced nylon. The Native 5 is a little bit smaller than some other knives on the list, but packs a meaty punch. The Native 5 is the perfect, heavy-duty, small knife that won’t let you down and can definitely handle some rough stuff.
What I love about the Native 5 is that it has great ergonomics. Just behind the blade, as it meets the handle, is a finger choil. This is something I love on all knives, as it allows you to really grip high up on the knife. It offers you a lot of control and traction when you’re using the knife for carving or intricate work. It also helps feel very “grippy” in hand if you’re stabbing or digging with the knife.
The Native 5 is more of a premium Spyderco, and there are several models, but you can usually pick this up for around $100 depending on the blade steel. It also comes in a few blade configurations: fully serrated, partially serrated, or a straight edge.
Esee Zancudo Framelock
I, personally, am not a huge fan of liner locks. I find that they’re a pain in the neck to disengage sometimes, and depending on the brand, they don’t always feel super sturdy on the lock up. That’s basically why I’m such a fan of frame lock knives with the compression lock. The Zancudo has a ton going for it, with only one drawback.
Yes, it’s a frame lock, which I love, but until you break it in, the knife is very difficult to close. However, I feel like it‘s something that we can overlook, considering all the other features. The Zancudo comes in several different color combinations as well as two options for blade steel. The price ranges from $25 to $40 and they are all available on Amazon.
One of the really cool things about this knife is that one side has G10 scales and the other side (where the clip is) is solid stainless steel. This gives it a little more weight and “heft” to the knife, but also the G10 offers good grip and traction in wet and nasty weather.
Picture From Nagorny’s Knives
Cold Steel Air Lite
It seems Cold Steel produced the Air Lite as a direct competitor to the Benchmade Bug-out, and you can definitely tell if you watch the video on YouTube where Cold Steel tests the locking strengths of both knives. You can check out the video right here. Cold Steel is a knife company that really gives you a lot for your money, and their catalog is huge.
They have a ton of knives. Air Lite is just what it says, it’s a super-strong, sturdy, folding knife with their patented Triad lock and a lightweight package. This is a wicked little knife that keeps a sharp edge and feels great in your hand. The thumb studs allow it to be opened easily and you can really flick it out pretty quickly.
The slightly upgraded steel of the AUS-10A will hold an edge a tad longer and offer a little more rust resistance. If you like really lightweight knives, but still want something rugged, this is a really good option.
Kershaw Shuffle II
The Kershaw Shuffle II was made for backpacking. It’s lightweight. It has a built-in bottle opener and a hook to quickly mount it to a carabiner or a clip. If you’re looking for a knife with a little bit bigger blade but something that’s still small and lightweight, then this can be a really good option, especially considering that you can grab these for $15 to $20.
Because of its lower price, you do get a little bit cheaper steel with 8Cr13MoV, but, honestly, I actually love the steel. Even with higher priced knives that have premium steel…there’s just something that’s nice and simple and reliable about 8Cr13MoV. It keeps the price down and it’s super easy to sharpen.
If you want to get into knife sharpening, it’s a great steel to practice with and you don’t have to worry about messing up your blade. The Kershaw Shuffle II also feels great in your hand. It has a liner lock and sometimes it’s hard to close, but you can easily overlook that for the total package that it offers.
Opinel Stainless Steel Folding Knife No. 8
Another folding pocket knife that makes every single list is the Opinel Folding Knife. Famous for its beechwood handles and unique-twist locking mechanism, this knife makes every list from perfect knives for cheese cutting, to classic knives to give to your dad, to the best first pocket knife for kids.
It is universally loved and has been produced for over 65 years with minimal design changes. Just holding the knife in your hand makes you feel like you’re in The Sound of Music or hiking through the Swiss Alps. It’s that classic. Besides being such a classic, it’s also a reliable, solid performer.
The unique locking mechanism ensures that the knife is durable and can be relied upon when you’re out in the wilderness. Again, this is another fairly inexpensive knife, so if you break it or lose it you’re not going to cry in your soup. However, it’s also a knife that is so simple it can last forever.
Giant Mouse Clyde
Of all the knives on this list the Giant Mouse is by far the most expensive and premium of the bunch. It was a gift to me from a good friend and I really enjoy using this knife. It’s one of those knives that is so exceptional in construction and build that you might not actually want to take it out in the wilderness….but it’s those same reasons that make it so awesome and reliable that you can count on it when you go out in the backcountry.
The real highlight of this knife is the blade steel; it uses elmax, and if you’ve never had a knife with elmax you are in for a treat! Wicked-sharp does not even begin to describe the cutting capabilities of this knife. It definitely crosses the line of a gentleman’s folder, but its rugged construction allows you to take it out for some serious backpacking.
The Micarta scales are a very nice touch and are surprisingly grippy in wet weather. It has a deep-carry pocket clip and really cool anodized orange highlights. So if you do take it outdoors, and happen to drop it in the woods, it’s easy to find. After you have purchased several budget knives, and you’re looking to upgrade to something very serious, consider buying a giant mouse.
Knives are funny things. There are so many available on the market. Some are good, some are bad. You can easily find one that will become your favorite forever. The tough thing is to actually be able to handle one before making a purchase. This can help you to feel how you like it in your hand, how easy it is to open, if it’s sharp enough….mainly, if it’s something you would be interested in purchasing.
Today, since almost all purchases for a pocket knife are done online (because the majority of the knives on this list are only available online), I hope I have shed some light on them so you can have an easier decision. To follow-up from my opening statement, I have owned and used all of these knives and stand behind my choices 100%.