8 Excellent Ultralight Backpacking Knives
I’ve merged my enthusiasm for knives and backpacking to bring you a list of backpacking blades that each weigh less than two ounces and are capable enough to handle trail life. Since every person is different, I put several options together so that you can find one that fits your needs and mode of carry (how and where you carry it on your person). These options are in no particular order since one knife won’t be the knife for everyone.
Not sure how to assess your needs and pick a knife? Check out my companion article How to Pick the Perfect Backpacking Knife
1. Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD
Folding Knife / Multi-Tool
Mini Review: The Classic SD is one of the most popular knives on the trail for good reason. It’s technically a multi-tool and is of the lightest options available. The seven functions include: blade, scissors, nail file, screwdriver (2.5 mm), key ring, toothpick, and tweezers. Drawbacks include a small blade and the small fit in the hand (ergonomics) making it harder to hold than some other options, especially since the handle is slick and offers no texturing to improve grip. This would be compounded when exhausted and fine motor skills are more difficult, as well as in the rain, snow, or high humidity. Still, it has better ergonomics than a razor blade and multiple functions, making it a safer, capable ultralight option.
|Blade Material (steel)||1.4110 or X55CrMo14|
|VERY Light weight||poor ergonomics|
|multi-function||blade length (small)|
|small / pack-able||edge retention|
|good track record|
2. Leatherman Micra
Mini Review: Some people will want the maximum amount of tools for the least weight, and the Leatherman Micra strikes that balance. It has the most robust pair of scissors you’ll get for the weight. 11 functions of this tool include: blade, scissors, flat/phillips screwdriver, ruler, nail cleaner, tweezers, bottle opener, nail file, medium screwdriver, extra-small screwdriver, and key ring. With a hardy construction and stainless steel, this should be low maintenance and will last on long hikes. One draw back is that this has more capacity to trap dirt among the tools, but it should be easy to clean it out. The blade on the Micra is almost the same length as the Classic SD, but if you planned to carry a separate bottle opener or want a more robust, easy-to-handle pair of scissors, this might be your best bet. Besides, none of these other knives will have a ruler! Is having the extra tools worth the extra .8 ounces over the Classic SD? That’s for you to answer.
|Blade Material (steel)||420HC Stainless Steel|
|large scissors||blade length (small)|
|small / pack-able||may trap/accumulate dirt|
3. Vargo Titanium Wharn-clip
Mini Review: Vargo has made a very lightweight fixed-blade knife by using a titanium alloy instead of stainless steel. The titanium alloy allows the metal to be precipitation hardened, so a normally soft metal can now be effectively used as a knife blade. The result is a large blade at a very low weight. Vargo also includes a lightweight sheath for the fixed blade, plus included a clip in the handle. This makes it easy to access and pack almost anywhere. One drawback is that any “hard” use may dull this blade faster than others, since its properties are still softer than other metals. Additionally, the handle is thin and without handle scales (keeping the weight down) making the knife bite into your hand during use, which may be uncomfortable and less ergonomic than other options. With a great blade shape for trail life and a stunningly low weight, you might enjoy this knife if you want a large blade at minimum weight.
|Blade Material||Titanium alloy|
|Handle Material||Titanium alloy|
|Weight||0.7oz (1oz with sheath)|
|VERY lightweight||thin (uncomfortable to hold)|
|blade length||edge retention|
4. Opinel No7 (Stainless Steel)
Mini Review: This time tested, vintage knife is still a workhorse despite its light weight. The beechwood handle is light in hand and very ergonomic, though it doesn’t feature any texturing to help with grip. The locking mechanism in the metal collar between the blade and handle is simple to use, though not as easy when wet. It’s very unique, so make sure you know how it operates before heading out on trail. Like any other lock on a folding knife, you may cut yourself if you fail to engage it properly. If you like vintage, time-proven classics that don’t break the bank (or scale), this might be your new knife.
|Blade Material (steel)||Sandvik 12C27 stainless-steel|
|time tested & proven||no clip/keyring to attach|
|blade length||locking mechanism|
|good for larger hands|
Note: There is a (X90) carbon steel version available as well.
5. CRKT Minimalist (Bowie)
Mini Review: For the money, this is one of the best knives on the market. The unique handle shape makes this knife one of the easiest to handle with or without gloves, regardless of wet conditions. This extremely ergonomic knife also offers multiple blade shapes (Bowie pictured) including wharncliffe, tanto, and drop point to give you style/use options. The lanyard helps with retrieval and grip. There is some texturing—known as jimping—on the spine, above the handle where your thumb rests. This helps control the knife and keeps your thumb from slipping during use. The knife sheath comes with options for neck carry, belt carry and pocket/pack carry, making it easy to stow wherever works best for you. The main drawback is that you should try to keep moisture from sitting on the blade as this is a carbon steel and will be more prone to rust than a stainless steel. Wiping the blade free of moisture or food before returning the knife to the sheath will help inhibit rust. This affordable, widely used, and easy-to-handle knife is great for weak hands, or those who want the most control of their blade.
|Blade Material (steel)||5Cr15MoV|
|Handle Material||Polished Resin Infused Fiber|
|ergonomic||possible rust management|
|packable; many options|
|good for weak hands|
6. Spyderco Dragonfly 2
Mini Review: The Spyderco Dragonfly 2 fills a niche between the other blades on this list. It’s bigger than the Classic SD, smaller than the other folding knives, more ergonomic than the other small knives, and light enough to carry daily on or off the trail. It’s very balanced. Like the CRKT Minimalist, you will see jimping to help control the knife but notice it also has jimping on an extra finger groove that extends onto the blade just before the sharpened edge. The handle scales also offer aggressive, multi-directional texturing which offer excellent traction for your hand regardless of gloves or wet conditions. Together, the texturing and finger groove make this small knife much easier to hold and handle than most knives this compact. Want a small, dedicated blade that will handle well in all conditions? Pick up the Dragonfly 2.
|Blade Material (steel)||VG-10 stainless steel|
|ergonomic||not ergonomic for large hands|
|low profile pocket clip|
7. Benchmade 535 Bugout
Mini Review: This Benchmade knife is a HUGE folding knife for the weight. It’s ergonomics are similar to the Dragonfly 2 with the spine jimping and textured handle, but the large, polymer handle on this would be more comfortable for large hands. It will also carry deep in any pocket with its low-profile pocket clip. The AXIS® lock offers an added level of confidence with ambidextrous features that lefties will enjoy. It’s worth mentioning that while the s30v stainless steel is part of the higher price tag, it offers some of the best edge (sharpness) retention and will take the abuse on trail. This knife is packed with features, large, and safe to handle, making it an attractive option for any hiker.
|Blade Material (steel)||CPM-s30v stainless steel|
|low profile pocket clip|
|great for large hands|
8. Spyderco ARK H1
Mini Review: The ARK “Always Ready Knife”is another ultralight fixed blade, but this one is sporting a secret: It’s impervious to rust. Go ahead and bathe it in salt water, or whatever your heart desires, the H1 steel can take it. The tradeoff is that H1 steel is a little softer than some other steels, so you may have to sharpen it sooner than others. Spyderco once again offers excellent grip with their multi-directional texturing on the handle. If you’ll be in a wet, humid environment or you’re thinking of pack-rafting along your hike(s), this would be an “always ready” option that weighs less than one ounce!
|Blade Material (steel)||H-1 stainless steel|
|VERY lightweight||edge retention|
|100% rust free|
If all of these sound great or you feel like you need more info to make a choice, check out my companion article “How to Pick the Perfect Backpacking Knife” to learn about knives, blade steel and how to choose a knife that’s right for you. Also, I wanted to mention that I didn’t list a razor-blade as an option because it’s this users opinion that they do not offer sufficient surface area to get a safe grip and still be able to handle the knife needs that come up out on the trail. I don’t think they are safe (enough) for that reason, especially given the weight of the knives on this list. Good luck and have fun with this important tool out on the trail!
Let me know what you end up carrying on the trail in the comments!
Just in case you wondering what a knife nerd like me carries on the trail, my answer might surprise you. I carry TWO knives. *gasp* I know… fitting, right? I’ve done my homework, though, so both blades still weigh less than 2oz combined. I carry the Victorinox Classic SD and a custom version of the Minimalist by knife maker Alan Folts. This custom Folts Minimalist is a Beta-Titanium version of the one listed in this review with Kirinite handle scales. Since I frequent the Florida Trail in my home state, the titanium alloy is perfect to prevent corrosion and the handles are blaze orange like the Florida Trail. If you like these options, but want to spend a little more money on something custom, there is a plethora of additional options out there in the custom knife world. Let me know what you’re carrying in the comments!
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