Budget Pocket Knifes And
multi tools

As a resourceful and independent budget traveler, trekker and backpacker, you’ll regularly have to repair your few precious possessions. And you will be snacking and cooking. Probably hiking and camping regularly too. 

Small multi tools or pocket knifes are another real travel essential. But what functions do you really need? And what can you still get for 50$ or less?

The Real Essential:
A Good Knife Blade

It’s tempting to carry a tool to cover every single possibility. But after many years on the road, most experienced travelers come to a similar conclusion. You can easily borrow what you need. Or improvise. Even better, people excel at fixing things in many countries. A small folding blade is more than enough in most situations.

hunting knife
That quality knife was on sale for 6$ at a Canadian Tire shop. Bargain!

Chop your dinner. Cut that cord. Fend off wild animals. Ok, hopefully not, but you get the picture. Fortunately, most branded blades are made of decent quality steel these days. No need to shell out hundreds for that fancy Japanese model.

knife maintenance
Cleaning and greasing the mechanism once in a while is important
For around 10-20$ there are already excellent options, like the Opinel. Just beware of some of the cheap nameless pocket knifes. The quality of the mechanism and steel may be subpar. The familiar Swiss Army knife and Leatherman multi-tools all have at least one decent blade too.

Useful Functions:
Scissors

This might not be your first guess. But the mini scissors on Swiss army knifes and multi-tools are one of the most used functions after the knife blade itself. They are ideal for precision jobs. Honestly, we wouldn’t travel without them anymore.

Cutting fabric patches for mending clothing. Preparing squares of gauze to cover wounds.  Trim passport pictures for visa applications. Improvising a nail clipper. We even used them several times for debriding larger wounds in the wilderness. Yep, they are that useful. Despite their humble size, they are sharp and durable.

Quick sharpening of the scissors

Bonus tip: you can perform basic sharpening of your pocket knife scissors using a piece of jeans fabric. Brush firmly each blade at an angle a dozen times away from the edge as shown above. Repeat a few times if necessary.

Useful Functions:
Wood And Metal Saws

While camping and in remote locations, it’s a different story. Self-reliance becomes more important, sometimes even essential. When you are three days away from the nearest village, you have to be able to improvise a wide range of repairs if something breaks. But after many climbing and trekking trips, experience tells us that you still don’t need much. Again, it comes down to cutting and chopping things.

The metal saw and file don’t see much action. But we hold them in high esteem ever since they helped fix broken tent poles in the wilderness of Patagonia. And a snapped backpack frame in the Himalayas. They work like a charm on plastic too. As a big bonus, they make an excellent nail file.

swiss army knife saw victorinox
Always handy in the forest, but never as efficient as a beaver!
The wood saw on multi tools and pocket knifes is efficient although too small for frequent use. Forget about cutting firewood. But it’s perfect for making all sorts of sticks, for walking, tarp tent pitching and even improvising a splint. Or simply getting rid of some pesky roots and branches before setting up your camp.

Bottle And Can Opener

The wine and beer bottle openers are definitely not essential. But even if like us you (usually) don’t drink alcohol they are highly popular functions on pocket knifes and multi tools. There always seems to be someone desperately looking for a bottle opener. Your friends will thank you!

With more and more cans of the pull open variety, can openers are slowly becoming obsolete. It’s still nice to have one instead of ruining your knife though. Traditional cans are still the norm in some countries.

Other (less) useful functions

A hole puncher is well suited for repair jobs involving thicker materials. Particularly leather on shoes or heavy tarp fabrics. Or making a hobo stove. The various screw drivers on multi tools are ok for basic jobs such as moving wood screws around in your wooden bungalow. But it’s unlikely that you won’t find more appropriate tools nearby when really needed. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have the option.

And then there are all the useless functions. Like the hook on Swiss Army knifes. How often do you go to the postal office to pick up a heavy parcel held together by… strings!?! Really? We wish manufacturers would resist the urge of “more is better” when it comes to functions.

Swiss Army Knife
Vs Leatherman

A classic rivalry that boils down to one simple question. Do you need pliers regularly? Only Leatherman and similar multi tool designs have practical, usable pliers. The small ones you see on some Swiss army knife models are good for pulling out big splinters and a few very limited tightening jobs. But not more. Having said that, the pliers on the Victorinox Handyman pictured above have fixed scooters in Thailand and China!
swiss army knife pocket leatherman multitool
The two classics

Some Leathermans like the classic Wave have an excellent array of functions. But they are bulky, and heavy at 256 g / 9 oz for the Wave. And expensive. 150$ is not budget territory anymore as far as we are concerned. And outside the US be prepared to pay even more. The lighter Leatherman Juice C2 pictured above still weighs 120 g / 4.2 oz, although it’s also much cheaper at 35$. But it’s somewhat short on useful functions, with no scissors, wood or metal saws.

The verdict? For 80%+ of travelers and backpackers a Swiss army knife is just fine. The day you really need pliers you’ll probably find them easily. So unless you regularly do an activity like fishing that justifies investing in a Leatherman, you can happily save yourself some money and weight.

The Best Budget Pocket Knife #1:
Opinel No 8

French-made Opinel makes a quality knife for 10 euros, or 15$ in the US. It’s light at 42g / 1.5 oz, compact, and the blade locks. The wooden handle offers a pleasant grip. And it’s totally plastic free, if you care about such things. For those who want to keep it simple, this is all you really need.

Of course there are many more similarly priced and perfectly adequate pocket knifes. Hunting knifes in the 10-20$ range can be real bargains, but the steel quality is less reliable.

opinel no 8 pocket knife
The classic Opinel No 8

For the Opinel, you have the choice between the regular stainless steel or the original carbon steel blade. Although softer, the stainless steel will be appropriate for most. Sooner or later you will encounter wet weather or humid climates, which can corrode stainless steel remarkably quickly.

Opinel also makes bigger and smaller versions of the no 8. The blade of the no 8 measures 8.5 cm / 3.3 in. It’s a nice size for cooking, while remaining small enough to disappear in a pocket.

The Best Budget Knife and Multi Tool #2:
Victorinox Climber

budget pocket knifes victorinox climber
Photo: Victorinox

Swiss quality for 30$. It should last you many years. The straight knife and scissors will cover you in most situations. At 82g / 2.9 oz, it’s light and compact. The knife blade is a little shorter than the Opinel at 6.6 cm /  2.6 in. The steel quality is great, and the blade is easily sharpened. The Climber can open your wine and beer bottles too. Now if only Victorinox could replace the silly legacy parcel hook with something more useful…

The Best Budget Pocket Knife And Multi Tool #3:
Victorinox Ranger

budget pocket knifes victorinox ranger
Photo: Victorinox

The extra key functions you want for 53$, still a very reasonable price for the excellent quality. And if you travel to Europe you can regularly find the Ranger for less. The weight too remains acceptable, at 115 g / 4.2 oz.

The combination of straight knife, metal saw/file and wood saw will cut through most things you encounter on your adventures. If you have to improvise repairs regularly, especially while camping and trekking, this is the best all-arounder. The Ranger is a nice size for a Swiss Army knife too. It doesn’t feel too heavy or large, unlike the beefier models.