Knifemakers are dialing up the utility in this year’s new crop of outdoor blades, with upgrades to better steels for better bang-for-the-buck performance, and designs aimed at growing markets such as backcountry users (think crazy-lightweight knives) and game and fish gourmands (think field-to-table blades). Unlike some years in the bladesmithing world, there’s not a lot of crazy out there. But there’s plenty of utility for people getting back to the basics. Like cutting stuff.
Here are the best knives of 2021 for for folks like you and me.
1. CRKT Bona Fide
Intriguing design has long been a CRKT strong suit, and it shows in the brand’s innovative Field Strip technology, which lets you break down a folding knife like you’d disassemble a 1911. With the new Bona Fide, CRKT takes the Field Strip tech to a simpler, better level. The knife steel is dialed up to D2, with an IKBS ball-bearing pivot for a satiny smooth flipper opening. And the sleek knife profile, suggesting the shape of a traditional Hawaiian canoe, pays homage to the home of knifemaking guru—and Bona Fide designer—Ken Onion.
2. SOG Terminus XR LTE
Shaving sharp is a given with SOG knives, but shaving off ounces while retaining the company’s signature edgy design characteristics is a trick worth noting. Nearly a third lighter than the original Terminus XR, the new XR LTE sheds the weight with carbon-fiber and G10 components, including the handle liners and scales. To match the blackout look, the S35VN blade steel is coated with corrosion-resistant Titanium Nitride, built with a do-it-all clip-point profile, and it all locks up with the hard-tested XRE lock that can withstand 1,500 pounds of pressure. And when we say light, we mean crazy-light. With a 2.95-inch blade and an overall length of 7.17 inches, the XR Lite is a wispy 2.2 ounces. Everyday-carry slam dunk.
3. Toadfish Stowaway Fillet Knife
Lots of folks think that the best fillet knife is the cheapest one they can get away with, but the new Toadfish Stowaway is built tough enough, and with enough useful features, that you won’t mind paying a few dollars more. To start with, it’s a folder, so it will fit into tackle bags and kitchen drawers without taking up too much room. The 7-inch high-carbon stainless-steel blade is titanium-coated for extra corrosion resistance in the salt, and the knife has a built-in carabiner clip so it’ll hang within easy reach. And Toadfish is known for its support of marine conservation, so you’ll feel even better about that cooler of fish waiting for you and your knife.
4. Morakniv Eldris LightDuty
The handy Eldris LightDuty sells for as little as $24 online. Morakniv
Honesty is refreshing, but don’t read too much into the moniker for Morakniv’s new Eldris LightDuty knife. The venerable Swedish knifemaker is known for building extremely tough knives for extremely low prices, and the Eldris will cut way above its weight class. Or, with a stubby 2.2-inch blade, above its length. The 12C27 stainless-steel blade is built with a Scandi grind, so it excels at slicing. The handle has a textured grip and is more than twice the length of the blade, you can bear down safely with serious pressure.
5. Gerber Terracraft
Gerber goes all-American with its latest entry into the bushcraft arena, with this handsome and striking full-size survival knife. The full-tang Terracraft carries a beefy 0.166-inch-thick S30V blade with a strong tip, Scandi grind, and a baton-worthy pommel you can beat on till the cows come home. It’s made with some serious survival-knife chops, from the through-holes in the handle for lashing to a wood staff as a makeshift spear, and a 90-degree blade spine for ease in striking sparks from a ferro rod. Where it differs from many survival and bushcraft blades is in the ergonomically designed G10 handle scales made to minimize hot spots, chafing, and blisters during long sessions of hard hand work. A leather sheath lends it an interesting Daniel-Boone-meets-modern-bushcrafting vibe.
6. Outdoor Life Camping Chef Knife
One of five new knives from Outdoor Life, the Camping Chef Knife retails for just under $70. Outdoor Life
Hunting and fishing’s culinary traditions make a serious mark on 2021′s new crop of knives, with some models built to seamlessly transition from the field to the kitchen—whether the kitchen is indoors or out in the middle of nowhere. Outdoor Life releases five new knives and a handy camping hatchet this year, and this Camping Chef Knife wears that field-to-table mantle well. A 6-inch 7Cr17MoV satin-finished blade sports a high flat grind for excellent fine cutting ability, whether you’re slicing deer steaks from a ham or working over a pile of onions for the Dutch oven. Full-tang construction gives the blade balance and strength, and a dual injected-nylon fiber handle keeps the knife sticky in your palm while wet.
7. Argali Serac
The Idaho-based filmmakers-turned-gear-designers Jason Kaufmann and Brad Brooks have created a loyal fan base among backcountry hunters. Their new Serac fixed-blade knife will deepen it. Similar to Argali’s first knife, the sub-2-ounce Carbon, the Serac retains the skeletonized handle design and top shelf S35VN steel, but it carries a deeper belly to the drop-point knife tip for better skinning tasks. The 3-inch blade is couple to a 4.25-inch handle, a ratio that ensures plenty of control for work in tight spaces as well as hand-filling bulk when you need to put significant cutting pressure on the blade for field dressing and opening up large animals for gutting. It’s a knife that punches far above its weight class, at a backcountry-friendly 2.1 ounces, not counting the included Kydex sheath.
8. Benchmade 4001 Table Set
Hunting, fishing, and the culinary arts are increasingly intertwined, so it’s no surprise that a knifemaker like Benchmade would find a way to bridge the gap. Its 4001 Table Set is a field-to-table solution featuring four knives that are sturdy enough for food prep tasks and light butchering, but packed with enough table manners to feel at home beside a dinner plate. The knives sport a clipped point to give them a useful piercing tip and very solid control, and a short serrated section for ease of cutting meat in front of company. The full-tang CPM 154 stainless-steel blades are 5.13 inches long, and sharpened through Benchmade’s proprietary SelectEdge process. They come in a sleek red-birch box for storage, but given their cross-boundary utility, they might not stay in there for long. And bonus points for Benchmade’s free lifetime knife-sharpening program.
9. Bubba Multi-flex Interchangeable Blade Knife Set
The set comes with two blades and hard-sided carrying case. Bubba Blades
When it comes to cleaning fish, we’ve all brought a knife to a gun fight—meaning we’ve tried to gut, scale, and fillet a large fish with a small fillet knife, or vice versa. It works, but not terribly well. With Bubba’s new interchangeable fillet knife sets, you can switch blade lengths and flex characteristics to match the edge to the fish, so you’ll leave less meat on the bone. The saltwater duo comes with a 7-inch tapered-flex blade for working around ribs and backbones, and a 9-inch stiff blade for when you need to get down to business on tough-boned species. The freshwater package sports a 7-inch tapered-flex blade and an 8-inch ultra-flex blade for detailed precision cuts. Each comes in a hard-sided case. Bubba made a splash a few years back with its eye-catching, hyper-ergonomically designed fillet knives. Doubling up with interchangeable blades is like pulling off a poolside cannonball. The knife sets will be available later this spring.