Many people live, work, or play in the great outdoors, and if you ask them what the most important tool they have on them, most of them would reply with their knife!
As an outdoorsman and Wilderness Skills Educator, I rely on my knife to help me with a number of daily tasks including processing wood, starting fires, foraging wild edible plants, preparing food, and various skill demonstrations. My outdoor knives see a ton of use, and so they do require routine maintenance.
Sometimes that maintenance must be done on the spot to ensure my most used tool remains safe and reliable. Today we will be discussing some of the maintenance items I rely on to care for my knives in the great outdoors properly.
Maintaining a sharp edge is essential not just for making your work easier, but also for safety. Working with a dull edge greatly increases the likelihood of injury during use, as you will be exerting more force on your blade to compensate.
Many outdoor knives are made from high carbon tool steel, which allows for hard-use tasks thanks to the increased toughness. However, most of these steels fall lower on the edge retention scale and will require more frequent touch-ups.
To ensure I can do this maintenance on the trail I always keep a few essential items in my bag:
This is your first and possibly most used tool in edge maintenance! Leather strops consist of leather strips with a fine grit compound that doesn't sharpen your knife, but does help maintain your edge longer without removing blade steel like you do when sharpening.
Strops are typically lightweight and cost-effective tools that will serve you well both on and off the trail. My personal choice is the Knives by Nuge Pack Strop - it is light, easy to pack, and has both fine and coarse strips built in.
Whetstones are flat sharpening tools that work well for freehand sharpening, especially with scandi blade grinds. Unlike guided sharpening systems, using a whetstone requires a bit more practice to get right and I highly recommend that you learn how to use one with some lower-end “practice knives” before you take it out into the woods and use it on the knife you are relying on!
For more on sharpening check out this article. Personally, I use Fallkniven Whetstones as they have both diamond and ceramic sides that will help you get your knife back the hair shaving edge you are looking for.
Packable Guided Sharpener
Compact guided sharpeners are ideal for quick and easy maintenance of your folding knives and non-scandi grind fixed blades in the field.
I use the Worksharp Guided Field Sharpener and it has never let me down. Not only is it great for knives, it can also help you out with axes, hatchets, and even your fishing hooks. It features both fine and coarse diamond plates, a ceramic rod, and a compact leather strop. This compact system has built-in guides so you can quickly, easily, and safely sharpen your knives in a pinch!
Cleaning and Rust Prevention
Keeping your knives clean and rust-free is important to your knife's longevity and your health.
If you’re anything like me, the same knife you use for all your field work is also the knife you use to prep your camp food. You want to ensure that you are cleaning off any environmental contaminants as well as using food safe cleaners when working with your multi-purpose knives.
Rag, Cloth, or Hank
This is probably the simplest maintenance item you can have! A simple cloth can wipe away dirt, wood shavings, and water from your blade, reducing the risk of corrosion. Not to mention, who wants to eat wood chips!?
KPL Knife Shield
Do you want a food safe cleaner and rust inhibitor all in one? KPL has you covered with Knife Shield! This product cleans even the toughest pine resin off your blades and leaves behind a clear rust barrier that isn't waxy or sticky. Knife Shield is a newer product but it has quickly grown to be trusted by both outdoors people and knife makers alike.
Specifically for Folding Knives
Folding knives have moving parts, making them more susceptible to performance issues while in the wilderness. Having the right tools with you can ensure your folding knife is kept running at peak performance while in the field.
The wilderness is filled with dirt and grime that can easily negatively impact your folding knife’s pivot performance, but Knife Pivot Lube is designed to keep your folding knife pivots functioning smoothly by keeping dirt and grit in suspension. KPL original is easy to apply without having to disassemble your knife and will keep the moving parts in your folding knives running smoothly even in the harshest conditions.
Having the proper tools to disassemble and reassemble your folding knife is important in the wild. While KPL will do a fine job keeping your pivot running, sometimes taking it apart and cleaning it is unavoidable.
Each knife may have different hardware, so you should ensure you have the proper bit sizes to avoid damage to your knife. I usually carry a Woods Monkey Banana Peel, so the Nite Ize DoohicKey is an optimal tool for me.
If you have to disassemble your knife, having a tray to put those parts in is a very good idea because a missing screw or spacer can effectively disable your knife. For this I rely on my PNW Bushcraft EDC Tray. This compact tray is made of the high quality waxed canvas, and doubles as a great way to keep your pocket tools neat.
What knife maintenance tool don't you leave for the wilderness without? Drop a comment below with your favorite knife maintenance accessory while on the trail, and don't forget to pick up some KPL Knife Shield and Knife Pivot Lube with code "BLACKFLAG" for a 10% discount on your order!