The best hunting knives for big and small game

These days there are many tools, gadgets and accessories that, while they may increase your comfort or efficiency, are not absolutely necessary for a safe and successful trip through the woods.

A good knife is not one of them.

Ask any hunter, backcountry explorer, survivalist, wildlife researcher, anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors: a reliable blade is a necessity. Our earliest ancestors understood this long ago, and it has been true ever since. Of course, wherever demand goes, supply follows, which means today’s market is awash with a plethora of brands, designs and features.

We’ll keep it simple. Benchmade is our go-to brand. This California-born, Oregon-based company has been throwing 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 the Balisong. (Before Benchmade was Benchmade, the company was actually called Bali-Song, Inc.)

In 1987 the company was renamed Benchmade, moved to Clackamas, Oregon, and became the first knife company to work with a high-powered laser cutter, which meant it could create knives from steels stronger than anyone before. They moved to their current manufacturing center in Oregon City in 1990 and became the company we know today.

What we look for in a hunting knife

When it comes to hunting knives, you want to achieve 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 cutting fillets or carving hearts for the pan at camp. This knife should 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 this in mind, we are looking for:

  1. Size Versatility
  2. Solidity
  3. Compressibility

The hunting knives we use

What makes a good hunting knife

1. Size Versatility

Let’s face it…if we could carry an entire knife block with us on a backcountry job, we probably would. What would a set of hunter’s knives 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 this in a rare moment of boredom outdoors, you’re lying.)

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

The Meatcrafter’s Vanishing Point is also ideal for making ultra-precise cuts. This is the narrowest top-to-bottom blade of the three, so it easily navigates nooks and crannies.

2. Robustness

We’ll cover 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 toughness and flexibility. . They can withstand any wear and tear we throw at them, but they aren’t so tough that brittleness becomes an issue. Sharpening is child’s play, especially with a tool like the Work Sharp field sharpener.

3. Compressibility

Knives can get heavy and fast. These Benchmade knives all feature a sleek, ultra-lightweight design that might make you forget you have them on you in the first place. Each adds about 3 ounces to your kit, which means it pulls its weight and more.

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

MeatEater Team Field Notes


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Raymond I. Langston