Knife advice

I’ve been married so long my wife and I don’t even bother dropping hints anymore about what we want for Christmas - we simply give each other a list and/or print-outs of web pages.

I wanted a good “rescue” knife for sea kayaking and was torn between a folding knife (Spyderco Atlantic) and a sheathed knife (CRKT Bear Claw) so I printed out pages for both of them and suggested she call a local paddling shop to see what they would recommend. She forgot what I suggested and got me BOTH of them. I don’t really want both and since I’m a relative novice I thought I’d run it by you experts for your opinions!

On the one hand I like the compact size of the Spyderco and the supposed ease with which it can be opened with one hand. On the other hand, I’ve tried opening it with one hand and it doesn’t seem as easy as claimed and am concerned that in an urgent situation I’d end up having to use both hands (when one of those hands might be needed for something else). It’s also a lock-back knife and I’d probably have to use both hands to close the blade. It could also be easy to drop and doesn’t have an apparent spot to tie a tether.

The Bear Claw seems straightforward in that all I’d have to do is yank it out of its sheath. It comes with a tether so it wouldn’t be easy to lose but if I were to “drop” it I’d end up with a sharp, exposed blade swinging around on the end of that tether. It also would have to be fastened to the outside of my PFD, presenting a potential place to snag something.

Decisions, decisions …

What say you?

I think this is one of those questions
that everyone must answer for themselves. Personally, I went with a fixed blade knife, in a sheath that I can release with one hand. But, no question, the size and position on the outside of my pfd is an issue, so a different choice would be equally valid. Among my paddling buddies, I think we’re pretty well split between the two philosophies.

comments on both

– Last Updated: Dec-30-07 8:40 PM EST –

I wear one of the CRKTs on a lash tab on my pfd. I like a fixed blade because all you have to do is yank it out and it's easy to use.

However, I know other folks who swear by folding knives, and the Spyderco that you have seems to be really popular.

One option that I'd strongly recommend checking into is contacting Mike Sastre at River City Sheaths to see if he can do something up for your Spyderco
Mike is a professional sheathmaker who used to be a river guide. He prefers folding knives and, if I remember correctly, can make you up a sheath that will open the knife as it is removed from the sheath.

I wouldn't worry about the locking blade on the Spyderco. You can close the blade with one hand.

Lock back
knives need to be worked a while to loosen up and function easily. Tell ya what, put in a nice long movie (Casino, Heat, Gone With The Wind, The Sound of Music, whatever) and settle in with your Spyderco. Put it in your dominant hand and practice opening and closing it. Singlehandedly. Over, and over, and over, and over again. Watch a tear jerker, that way if you cut yourself and cry your wife will think you’re a kind, sensitive soul and not a clutz. Halfway through the movie switch hands. By the time the movie is over the knife will open smoothly and easily with either hand.

Fixed blade for me.
I use to be a believer in folding knives. One night I cleaned and sharpened my knife then had it in my pocket in my bathing suit when I took a dip in the Suwannee River to cool off. When I tried to use it at lunch later that day it would barely open about half way due to the sand from the river. After that I carry a fixed blade knife on my PFD and a folding knife in my pocket just in case.

I do not have one (bought a Spyderco years ago) but if I was starting from scratch I would go with the Bearclaw. Compact, big enough to do the job, and secure.

And teh Spyderco is not the best PB spreader or salami slicer. Yopu will need a suitable “kitchen” knife for that.


salt water?
if you sea kayak on the ocean much, you will appreciate the Spyderco salt series, such as the atlantic knife. i have the Spyderco pacific, and sea kayak on the ocean weekly, and the knife doesn’t rust at all, the CRKT will guaranteed.

Never used those knives
but this is what my family uses and it works pretty well for our needs

The best knife is not a knife…
…but a rescue hook. There are several on the market, but I’m partial to the Benchmade Model 6 H20. It’s easy to handle, slices through fishing line/cord/rope in a heartbeat and you can’t hurt yourself with it. That’s about all you need for sea kayaking. Well, other than spreading peanut butter at lunch, but I can do that with a knife that I keep in a dry bag in my day hatch.

The problems with knives are:


  • Ever try opening one when you’re upside down in rough water and wearing gloves? 'Nuff said.

    Sheath knives:
  • I’ve tried several and they all had one thing in common, they would come out of their sheaths at inopportune moments, such as when crawling back into my boat or helping someone else do the same. A sheath that’s secure enough to prevent that is likely too secure to operate under duress.

  • If you don’t tether them, you WILL lose them.

  • If you do tether them, you risk getting sliced up by your own knife as it dangles. I came close to having that happen on two occasions and that was enough to convince me that carrying a knife on my PFD isn’t worth the risks.

    Some folks swear by EMT’s shears, but I haven’t tried them. It seems to me that they could be too fiddly to work with, just like a folding knife, unless you spend a fair amount of time practicing with them.

    One thing that all these devices have in common is that you will RARELY, IF EVER need to use them in an emergency role. Ask a hundred paddlers if they’ve ever needed a knife in a rescue and I’ll bet you won’t find more than one or two who have. If they’re all sea kayakers, I’ll bet none of them will say yes.

Folding knives have some advantages, but single-hand use isn’t one of them (in my experience). If I haven’t used mine for awhile, I need to pull it out occasionally and practice using it. If my paddling was of the sort where a rescue situation might be likely, I’d buy a sheath knife in a heartbeat.

Not in my experience…

– Last Updated: Jan-01-08 1:26 PM EST –

Yes, certain brands of sheath knifes, when mounted unside down,or sideways, on a pfd
can be accidentally snagged & pulled from the sheath. A good friend lost his that way when we were practicing reentry into whitewater solo canoes.

However, I am still using the same sheath knife I bought over 10 years ago, and it is mounted upside down on a lash tab on my pfd. It's been there during several thousand miles of paddling, several hundred miles of whitewater, roll classes, and quite a few reentry practice sessions.

A "simple solution" involves a 10 inch piece of small diameter bungee cord. I have posted this solution on pnet, on several previous occasions.

Use whatever knife you choose, or don't carry any knife at all. Telling people you "will" lose a sheath knife if you carry one is just "not" true.

Do you really need a knife?
I don't know whether you do or not.
I would rather carry a knife & not need it, than to need it & not have one.
If I never need it for anything except spreading cream cheese; in the words of a good friend, "that would be a good thing".


I always clip my 3"/60% serrated, Spyderco on sweat pants (winter trainning) shorts or walking around in all seasons. However, I have found it can be difficult to open in a tippy race kayak. (During the past year I’ve collected tons of bobbers for for friend while trainning & any fixed blade would be much better). In addition, I have a Gerber River Shorty in my small dry bag that can go on my pfd, when a spray skirt is needed.

A larger fixed blade is almost always best for trips, but is often left in the car. I’m thinking of adding a nice multi-tool to the dry bag.

after much thought
and having read this thread I’m beginning to think that a fixed blade knife might be best on the back of the pfd, that way you can reach around to deploy and it wont get scraped off when climbing back on board.

There are several out there who make kydex sheaths for horizontal knife carry and others who make them in leather.

If you going to carry a knife why fart around and carry a wee thing like the spydercos and bear claws? If i’m going to carry a knife on the pfd I want it to be capable of many duties-

The corrolary to…

– Last Updated: Jan-02-08 8:21 AM EST –

..."I would rather carry a knife & not need it, than to need it & not have one." is " "I would rather not carry something that's more likely to injure me than to help me." That's been my experience with sheath knives on PFDs.

Accessibilty is KEY!
Putting it behind your back will make it harder to reach and impossible to tell if it falls out. Your safety equipment needs to be easily accessible and visible at all times, otherwise it’s useless.

Definately, the fixed blade
When you need it, by the time you realize you need it, and in the situation where you need it, you don’t want to be fooling around trying to get that knife open. Assume you will be upside down with your foot caught by something. First, you won’t know you are stuck and will try some normal things to get loose. Then you figure out your shoe lace is stuck on a footpeg, or some similar circumstance. Your brain flashes to “knife”. If it is a fixed blade, you reach for it and bam, you are ready to cut. If it is the folding knife, you need to extract it from where it is secured, unfold it (don’t drop it now, this is important), and you have used up another five seconds of air supply.

And where are you during this mishap? Are you getting dragged over rocks, through weeds, or maybe some tree branches. If so, that is going to add to the difficulty factor of knife unfolding.

You may be out of your boat before you need the knife. Maybe your spray skirt snags on something. So keep the knife on the front of your pfd, and in a place you can grab with either hand.


Need to test knives
On small Florida rivers I often have to paddle through treetops that have fallen down across the streams and find that I have to cut my way through vines growing in them. These vines are 3/8" to 1/2" thick and are a real pain to cut through with a pocket knife or one of the small fixed blades with a thin handle. The diving knife that I carry makes short work of the vines which is a good thing especially when there is a pretty good current flowing the strainer.


ahhh…the “knife” thing

– Last Updated: Jan-02-08 2:40 PM EST –

i like emt shears. the ONLY time i've ever needed a cutting instrument on the water, i had to use a knife and it stunk for the application. emt shears woulda been better.

1. shears cut without resistance/tension (which is how a knife cuts, right? what your cutting has to have some resistance or tension or you're just pushing/pulling it)

2. CAN easilly be used one handed.

3. cheap

as long as we're now apparently discussing the merits of knives vs rescue hooks vs whatever.

and for knives..when i had one on the vest, it was a fixed blade gerber RR with the blunt tip...didn't hold a great edge but it served well enough for what it was.

Over 20 years…
Have over 22 years of carrying sheath knives on pfds. Still have the first one I used; a Gerber, designed by Blackie Collins (a first production run model/1985).

Have never cut myself with one in 22 years of use, and have never known any paddler who cut themselves with a pfd mounted sheath knife.

Loss of & damage by pfd mounted sheath knives is exaggerated at best; especially when you consider the number of paddlers who have used them & the number of years they have been used.

Do know of quite a few paddlers who have drowned due to entanglement who were carrying no knife. Most recent one I heard of was a guy who got tangled in a trout line. He wasn’t wearing a pfd either.

Wear a pfd or not; your option.

Carry a knife or not; your option.

Does everyone who paddles need a knife? Maybe/maybe not.


for Christmas
my wife got me a Gerber LMF knife from Cabelas. It is a bad assed knife. I am going to figure out a way to mount it to my yak. It came with two leg straps too so I can wear it around my calf.