We all carry a knife when we go afield, most of us probably every day and we’re certainly spoiled when it comes to the dizzying array of choices that are currently on the market. Folders or fixed blades? Anodized aluminum or molded polymer handles? Maybe even G10 or titanium scales? But what if you had to carry a knife every day to do your work outdoors? Would it be the same choice as your everyday carry (EDC) knife? Would the cost or wear and tear on a tool used for hard, maybe even abusive, work be a factor? We asked a few outdoor professionals what their EDC knife of choice is while on the job. Some of the answers may surprise you.
Julie Lininger, Wildlife Conservation Officer: Benchmade Barrage 580
“I usually carry 2 or 3 knives when I’m in uniform,” says senior conservation officer, Julie Lininger. “I also have other knives that I carry with me in my vehicle, ATV, and boat.” Part cop, part game manager, Lininger’s job sees her constantly reaching for a knife. Her overall favorites are a Benchmade Barrage 580 assist and an older Benchmade, which is her “the catch-all tool for opening packages, cutting rope, pulling teeth for aging mountain lions, bears, wolves, etc.” Of course, she needs knives for gutting, skinning, and quartering animals, too. She cuts up a lot of animals.
“I teach several outdoor clinics and commonly bring out the Buck Knives, Outdoor Edges, and older Benchmades for attendees to use while teaching them how to gut, skin, and quarter big game animals. Despite the volume of animals she processes, or maybe because of it, she prefers a smaller knife than one might think. “I have field processed a lot of animals (bear, deer, elk, moose, etc.) with my knives and prefer blades that are 3 inches or less. I find them easier to manipulate and hold onto.”
Christian Tucker, Wildland Firefighter: SOG PowerLock+ multi-tool
One of the toughest and perhaps least desirable jobs for us mere mortals is that of a wildland firefighter. The work is hard, the conditions are brutal, and the safety status is often fluid. You’d think that the knives they would carry would be top of the line, cut-through-a-car-door capable, and made form the lightest, toughest materials available. You’d also be wrong—at least as it pertains to Christian Tucker. He carries inexpensive knives that typically cost less than 20 bucks.
“When you’re going through thick brush and other obstacles, knives typically get snagged—you lose them all the time,” says Tucker. “So you’d be nothing but upset.”
What he does find indispensable, however, is his SOG PowerLock+ multi-tool, which he uses for repairing portable water pumps and chainsaws, cinching down bladder bags, tightening screws on all manner of equipment, and replacing fuses. Tucker’s list is almost endless and seems more like a multi-tool advertisement.
Carter Capute, Fishing Guide: Leatherman and Havalon
Carter Capute of Montana Angler Fly Fishing doesn’t really use a knife. The catch-and-release nature of fly fishing doesn’t require a lot of cutlery work, and he finds that his needs are better served with a multi-tool.
“I always have a Leatherman with me when I’m fishing or hunting,” he says. “The blade is big enough for most of my cutting chores and the extra tools are handy to have—with the pliers, of course, being front and center. It’s like having an extra pair of hemostats.” His only exception to the need for a dedicated knife is when he ties a knot in his anchor rope.
“If you get your anchor wedged in the rocks in fast water, you risk swamping the ass end of the boat so a knife close by can be a lifesaver,” he says. He’s also an elk hunting guide and without hesitation says his main knife is his Havalon. “It’s hands down the best for skinning and quartering an elk.”
Joe Watkins, Commercial Fisherman: Dexter Russel Sani-Safe + boning and fillet knives
Commercial fishing off the northern coast of Oregon is not a pleasure cruise. Between the rough water and slimy, spiny fish hauled up and unceremoniously dumped onto the deck, it’s hard work that is often performed in cold, wet conditions. Welcome to the office of Joe Watkins, commercial fisherman and river fishing guide. His knives of choice are not uncommon among commercial fisherman—utilitarian Dexter Russel Sani-Safe + boning and fillet knives.
This industrial brand is ubiquitous among meat processors, commercial fisherman, and even chefs and food prep professionals. With durable plastic handles molded over a full-tang blade, there are no crevices or spaces to fill up with biohazard breeding-ground goo. They’re also sharp and inexpensive enough that if they snap, which they do, it doesn’t break the bank or the heart. He uses the Sani-Safe S131-6 and S131-8 models. Watkins also has Dexter Russell 94820 Basic 5-inch Stiff Narrow Boning Knives “all over the boat” so one is within reach at any time. They’re used for trimming line while rigging up for the day, cutting rope as needed, and slicing gills before the fish are thrown in commercial totes for storage and processing.
David Nuzum, Wildlife Biologist: Barlow 2-blade
It’s interesting to note that more than a few people we talked with who cut up a lot of animals seem to use smaller knives. David Nuzum, assistant wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, not only uses a smaller knife day-in and day-out, but an old school one at that. What knife does he carry on the job? His trusty Barlow 2-blade.
“I’ve had it since junior high (40 plus years),” he says. “Two blades for various uses—and hella sharp. I use it for pretty much everything from gutting, skinning, and cutting rope to cleaning my fingernails and slicing apples for lunch. It gets wiped off in-between.”
He keeps it simple. It’s the same knife he has with him in the office and pretty much every day. Really, the only thing he wished the knife had but doesn’t is a lock. He does note he also has and uses an ever-so-handy Dexter-Russell fillet knife which is his back-up for big jobs like meat cutting, boning, necropsy, and so on. “It takes a good edge, made of sturdy materials, and for my money, the most secure, ergonomic grip ever invented.”
Geoffrey Wayland, African PH: Southern Grind Bad Monkey
Geoffrey Wayland is the owner and operator of Fort Richmond Safaris in South Africa. As you might imagine, an African PH requires some stout cutlery.
“When I’m hunting plains game, I carry a Southern Grind Bad Monkey,” he says. “It’s used mainly for skinning and odd jobs that occur on a day-to-day basis—you always need a good sturdy knife.” While many hunters in the U.S. carry the same knife for all their big game needs, Wayland switches to a fixed blade when it comes to dangerous game hunts.
“I carry a Southern Grind Jackal,” he says. “I love this fixed-blade knife. It’s extremely tough, holds an edge well, and I’m not scared to use it for more heavy-duty work such as chopping down small trees and branches when building a leopard blind.”
Brian Lewis, Hunting Guide: Outdoor Edge Razorlite 3.5
When you personally cut up 50-plus big game animals a year, you either become an expert at knife sharpening, carry a lot of knives, or use a replaceable blade system. Brian Lewis of Twisted Horn Outfitters prefers the latter. His choice of replaceable blade system is the Outdoor Edge Razorlite 3.5.
“You just can’t beat the convenience,” he says. “I carry a pack of extra blades and just change them out when they go dull.” It served him well on a recent industry hunt in which his clients took 10 bears. Taking the time to repeatedly sharpen a standard knife would have slowed down the butchering process dramatically. With his experience guiding hunts in WA, ID, and WY, he’s tried just about everything and finds the Razorlite the strongest of the replaceable blade systems. He uses it for everything from quartering to skinning. “The knife and extra blades are lightweight, easy to carry, and you can have a sharp knife whenever you want.”
Blake Miller, Timber Faller: Outdoor Edge Razor Lite
As an everyday carry knife, Miller pockets “the same knife that I carry when I’m hunting.” He, too, is a fan of the Razor Lite. Whether trimming up gear or cutting a fresh chain saw starter rope to length, he likes always having a razor-like edge available. “When it gets dull you just swap in a good fresh sharp blade,” he says. “I find it to be a bit more substantial than some replaceable-blade knives that utilize scalpel blades. The Outdoor Edge really isn’t that expensive either, so it’s not the end of the world if it does get lost or damaged.”
Mark Warnke, Hunting Guide and Goat Packer: Kershaw Lone Rock
“It’s light, fits well in the hand and keeps a good edge—yet it’s easy to sharpen,” he says. “Once I began using this one I have never found another I like more that makes it into my backpack.” Because goats don’t carry as much as mules or horses—game has to be broken down into smaller pieces—his knife gets even more of a workout.
“The Lone Rock’s simplicity and smaller size are its strengths. In an era in which ‘gadgets’ are the marketing tool of the day, this knife gets the job done—over and over and over.”