“A man without a knife,” the old saw goes, “is a man without a life.” My buddy Hartwell Watkins once put it another way. Years ago, I was patting myself down for the telltale bulge of a folder in my pocket and came up empty. I asked Hartwell if he had a knife. He cocked his head and looked at me with a fifty-fifty blend of curiosity and disdain. “Am I wearing pants?” he replied.
Lesson learned. Unless I’m in the airport security line, you just about can’t catch me without some sort of blade on my person, be it a gentleman’s folder or a sheath knife on the belt that holds up my hunting pants. Down he-ah, there’s just about a million situations in which you need to cut something or carve something or whittle something down to size. These fine blades will cover just about any task.
Recently re-introduced through Case’s Vault Release program, the famed two-blade Copperhead pocketknife dates to the company’s pre–World War I era. It’s a beauty, with a slightly oversized top bolster that gives the knife its name, and a choice of handle scale materials that can keep it classic or dress it up. This is a perfectly sized box opener, @&*! plastic clamshell slicer, and board-meeting blade. $65-$296, depending on handle; caseknives.com
I’ll admit it: Using a really fine kitchen knife makes me feel all chef-y. I cook a lot—inside, outside, in the woods, on a river—and I’ve started carrying this exceedingly handsome and useful Camp-to-Kitchen knife from Burls & Steel wherever I plan to don a chef’s hat on the road. It’s an ever-so-slightly downsized and no-corners-cut kitchen tool that is simply a pleasure to use. The blade is 1095 high-carbon steel, hand-forged in Charleston, South Carolina, so it will take on a wonderful patina when you take care of it, and will mark you as unworthy if you don’t. $450; burlsandsteel.com
I get my hands on a bewildering number of knives, and the GiantMouse Ace Grand is my everyday, everywhere, every reason blade. GiantMouse was born in 2015 when a pair of Danish knife makers went into cahoots with an American entrepreneur, which helps explain the folding knife’s sinuous beauty. With an open length of just under eight inches, it’s no shrinking violet. But if I’m going to carry a knife, then I’m going to carry a knife. It’s perfect. $195; bladehq.com
There’s nothing nuanced about the Bubba line of fillet knives, with their candy-apple-red rubberized handles and deep finger grooves. But style points aren’t what you want to bring to the fish table when a redfish or mess of crappie await. Bubba’s coated blades come in both flexible and stiff layups, in varying lengths, but the 9-inch tapered flex is my all-around choice, suitable for fish sized from pond bream to “baby” king mackerel. $70; bubba.com
Lately the one-hundred-thirty-one-year-old French folding stalwart from Opinel has been getting some modern upgrades, but stay strong. You want the classic No. 8. with a beech handle and the nifty locking ring. No other bell or whistle needed. It’s a handy knife for the camp kitchen, and it excels as a duck and goose cleaning blade. Get it in good old carbon steel. And at this price, buy two, and give one away. $17; opinel-usa.com
Belt knives aren’t as common as they used to be, but this one strikes just the right balance. The Summit from DiamondBlade has a drop-point blade that measures just shy of four inches, so it’s more than adequate for a deer hunter’s needs without being overly large when the only thing you have to field dress is a block of hoop cheese. Built with a proprietary “friction forging” methodology, DiamondBlade knives are famously sharp and tough. The ironwood model (shown) with mosaic pins is at the pricey end of the range, but it’s one of the most handsome knives anywhere. $225-$429, depending on handle material; diamondbladeknives.com
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