Do you really need a knife on the trail?
A knife is one of the 10 Essentials, but many day hikers ask, is this really essential? Many of the essentials we carry for day hikes are used for emergencies, and you may not even pull it out on your day hike. So you have some day hikers who don’t pack a knife at all and you have those who go overboard and think of a knife as protection. Like “fight off a bear” or “build a shelter to survive” kind of protection. They pick the biggest, Rambo-like knife and think that it will solve all of their problems. And all they really have is a heavier pack.
What you need a knife for:
A knife is meant to be used as a tool and not protection. When you pack a knife for a day hike, you should think about what you realistically are going to use it for. You will probably need a blade that will:
Open food packages
Cut cord to tie up a busted boot outsole
Cut mole skin from your first aid kit to prevent blisters
What you don’t need a knife for:
As a day hiker, you’re not likely to need a knife for cutting kindling, making a spark on flint, or shaving bark off recently wet sticks to build a fire in damp conditions. And it will be very rare that you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to make emergency shelter, kill small animals for food, or defend yourself.
This means that a small folding blade, or a multitool (like a Swiss Army pocket knife) will be enough for your day hike. Multitools allow you to lightly pack a “toolbox” that can even include bottle openers, corkscrews, screwdriver heads, tweezers, toothpicks and nail files. Some pre-packed first aid kits come with paramedic shears that can do most of the things you will need a knife for. Folding blades come in various sizes and you can easily find a lightweight blade that is both serrated and non-serrated to increase versatility without adding weight.
So yes, it is always a good idea to carry a knife with you on the trail – its handiness and utility is invaluable no matter how long the trip. But choose a knife that you know how to use and that will fit your needs in a small and light form.