The Best Hunting Knives

Gear We Use
The Best Hunting Knives

There are a lot of tools, gadgets, and accessories these days that, while they might increase your comfort or efficiency, aren’t absolutely necessary for a safe, successful trip in the woods.

A good knife is not one of them.

Ask any hunter, backcountry explorer, survivalist, wildlife researcher, anyone who spends extended time in the outdoors: a reliable blade is a necessity. Our earliest ancestors figured that out a long time ago, and it’s held true since then. Of course, wherever demand goes, supply follows, which means today’s market is flooded with oodles of brands, designs, and features.

We’re going to keep it simple. Benchmade is our go-to brand. This California-born, Oregon-based company has been slinging blades since 1980 when it started as a two-man show. Founder Les de Asis specialized in a type of butterfly knife from the Philippines, known as a Balisong. (Before Benchmade was Benchmade, the company was actually called Bali-Song, Inc.)

In 1987, the company rebranded to Benchmade, moved to Clackamas, Oregon, and became the first knife company to work with a high-power laser cutter, which meant they could create knives from stronger steels than anyone ever had before. They moved into their current manufacturing center in Oregon City in 1990 and developed into the company we know them as today.

What We Look For in a Hunting Knife

When it comes to hunting knives, you want to reach for something precise enough to make the first incision on a still-warm animal, but also up to varied tasks like quartering, cutting through tough tendons, and even trimming tenderloins or slicing up heart for the skillet back at camp. This one knife has to be the master of all trades, tough as hell, and when it comes to adding weight to your kit, lighter than a breath of air. With that in mind, we look for:

  1. Size Versatility
  2. Sturdiness
  3. Packability

The Hunting Knives We Use

What Makes a Good Hunting Knife

1. Size Versatility

Let’s be real…if we could carry around a whole block’s worth of knives with us on a backcountry slog, we probably would. What would a hunter’s knife set look like? Maybe one for small incisions, one for long cuts, one for working around complicated joints, and one for cleaning under our fingernails after the job is done. (If you say you’ve never done that in a rare moment of outdoor boredom, you’re lying.)

But to avoid looking like Atlas carrying the globe over blowdowns and across streams, keep a light pack and stick with one do-it-all blade. The Hidden Canyon and Steep Country both feature a drop-point blade, which is widely considered one of the best shapes for skinning game. Since the point slopes away from the back of the blade, you’re less likely to accidentally slice open organs while making long cuts through the hide.

The Meatcrafter’s trailing point is also great for making super-precise cuts. This is the top-to-bottom narrowest blade of the three, so it navigates nooks and crannies with ease.

2. Sturdiness

We’ll get to steel hardness ratings below, but for now, all you need to know is that the steel Benchmade uses for these three knives is the perfect combination of tough and flexible. They can stand up to any wear and tear we put them through, but they aren’t so hard that brittleness becomes an issue. Sharpening is a breeze, especially with a tool like the Work Sharp Field Sharpener.

3. Packability

Knives can get heavy and in the way quick. These Benchmade knives all feature a sleek, ultralight design that might cause you to forget you have them on you in the first place. Each one adds about 3 ounces to your kit, which means it pulls its weight and then some.

The blaze orange handles and sheaths are meant to stand out in your pack if you choose not to wear your knife on your belt. Even the Hidden Canyon’s wood grain handle features an eye-catching blaze outline. If you’re concerned about sticking your hand in your pack and catching the tip of a blade that’s been exposed by a loose sheath, no need to worry. These sheaths are fitted perfectly to the blade and handle and won’t slide off, no matter how hard you jostle your gear around.

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

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