Every camper needs a knife.
Er … check that. Every camper needs several knives. You’ll want an EDC that lives in your pocket whether you’re wearing your business casual, your favorite jeans, or your camping shorts. Then there are the knives in your camp kitchen kit. And if you like eating what you or the kids catch, then you have at least one fillet knife, too. Maybe you’ve got a specialty knife for whittling or your favorite camp crafts, too.
Whether you have one or ten or more than that, your knives must be kept sharp. They perform better, keep you safer, and last longer if that edge is properly maintained. You must know how to sharpen a camping knife and have the right equipment to do it.
There are many ways to sharpen a camping knife and touch up edges on all your knives and tools. They range from purely manual and requiring practiced skill to nearly “automatic” and so simple anyone can do them. Yet each has its advantages and disadvantages.
We picked out five specific products that represent different approaches to sharpen a camping knife and maintain an edge and offer this guide to the pros and cons of each.
The Smith’s Edge Stick is the epitome of simple, small, and intuitive. That’s its beauty and why it has continued on the market for so many years. Every outdoors person who uses knives (aka every outdoors person) needs to have a Smith’s Stick kicking around in their kit. It takes a bit of practice and attention to what you’re doing to produce a consistently good edge, but this sharpener will do the job if you do yours. It works on broadheads and other tools, too.
• Compact for field carry
• Offers two different sharpening options with course and fine grit
• Can be difficult to control angle – takes practice
• Small sharpening surfaces
• Difficult to sharpen large knives and other blades
This is the type of edge maintenance tool you see the TV chefs and butchers using frequently on their knives … and with good reason. A ceramic rod is the best way to keep a sharp edge between “serious” sharpening sessions. Have no doubt, a rod can bring back a dull knife, but it takes time and effort. It’s best used to extend the life of an edge to reduce the need for rebuilds. This tool feature superior diamond sharpening stones and requires no honing oil or water. It’s pretty much unbreakable.
• Relatively inexpensive
• Durable – kept clean, a sharpening stick can last nearly forever
• Easy care – just wipe off after use
• Only one grit option
• Meant for edge maintenance, rather than rebuilding
• No edge angle guide
The Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener is a complete knife sharpening system that’s about as long as your hand and fingers. In this compact package are included diamond plates, ceramic rods, a leather strop, and sharpening guides. Angle guides, positioned at each end of the tool, help you achieve the optimal edge angle to sharpen a camping knife and ti create scalpel-like edges. The inclusion of the leather strop offers the polish to a literal razor’s edge. Best of all, it’s made right here in the USA and has been for more than 40 years.
• Five progressive abrasives in one compact package
• Exceptionally high value for low price
• A unique leather strop for razor sharpening
• Small honing surfaces
• Small to grasp, can be difficult to control with large hands
• Difficult to sharpen large blades
This sharpener falls into the category of what’s known as a “whetstone.” It’s as simple as it gets. You place the flat stone on a flat surface and stroke the knife across it at the proper angle to cut the edge. The front and back of the stone have different grit abrasives. Coarse is for removing a good amount of steel to cut a new edge. Fine is for polishing that edge to finished sharpness. Because there is no angle guide, you need to practice to become proficient and consistent with this type of system. Mastering sharpening with a whetstone is a skill in which you can take pride.
• Simplicity – basic use is intuitive
• Non-slip grip surface to hold stone in place on bench
• Instant change of grit surfaces
• No edge angle guide
• Proficiency takes practice
• Requires stable work surface – not conducive to field use
Power sharpeners like this are fast. You can take care of a lot of dull knives really quickly. The 100 percent diamond abrasive surfaces will never detemper. The Chef’s Choice 120 features three stage cutting wheels that are right for serious edge replace or just touch-up work. Lays down a unique Trizor-Plus edge with greater sharpness and durability. Works for all kinds of knives.
• No set up – it’s ready to roll straight out of the box
• Works on all kinds of knives – chef’s, butcher, sporting, tactical, camping, etc.
• Simple to use and maintain
• No adjustability of edge angle for different knives
• Requires plug in power – not for field use
• Fewer honing and grit surfaces than other options