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When the Right Knife can be a Lifesaver

Susanna Sisson's picture
Boot Knife

Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or an occasional camper, the right tools can mean the difference between comfort and a miserable outing and even life and death. When packing for a hike, sailing, or canoe trip, I make sure I have the right equipment. One of the most important and yet often forgotten items on a trip is a good knife.


I grew up in a family of fishermen, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. My dad gave each of us our own pocket knives when we were about 8 years old. When we were 10 or so we graduated to Swiss Army knives. I used mine for everything from whittling and building a Wankel engine to skinning squirrels and once skinning a rattlesnake.

There are a lot of reasons you may need a knife out in the wild. I was on a trip with my kids and a group of international exchange students from Brazil and China (on which we met the then sitting President of the United States, Bill Clinton). We had set up camp in the dark and had an early morning on the Mulberry River. After cooking dinner, we left the can opener out. The next day it was gone. Seems a raccoon decided to make off with the can opener in the middle of the night so the next evening after canoeing when I started to make dinner and began looking for the can opener I was bewildered and at a loss as to how to open the cans of food I’d planned on using that night. Luckily, I had packed a sturdy knife so dinner was saved. You’re probably wondering how we met the President. He and his entourage of about 37 cars and Secret Service agents were taking the scenic route called the Pig Trail to Fayetteville, Arkansas and just happened to stop where we were camped at Turner Bend. He went in to use the landline and scored a Turner Bend tee shirt. What a great marketing opportunity!

Multi-tool knives are a great addition to your camping and outdoor equipment. Personally I prefer a knife with both a straight and serrated blade because I feel they are more versatile. Many knives also have a seatbelt cutter in case of a motor vehicle accident. I actually keep a knife in the side compartment of my vehicle door. About 6 years ago, I was living in Houston and happened to get caught in rapidly rising water. Having grown up where flash flooding was common, I knew better than to keep driving and went to high ground, then got out to direct traffic away from an area I knew was deceptively deep. I directed traffic all afternoon standing in knee deep water on the edge of the flooded street. For some reason an elderly woman drove right past, not realizing how dangerous the situation had gotten and found herself in water deeper than her car. Once her engine died there was no way to operate her power windows. The car floated for a few minutes then went underwater. Because I had a knife handy that had a window escape tool and a seatbelt cutter, I was able to swim to her, break the car window, cut her seatbelt off and get her to safety. Had I not had that particular knife she might have drowned.

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On another occasion I was diving with a group of people in a lake in Northwest Arkansas with very low visibility. Of course we were all using the buddy system but you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. One of the inexperienced divers got hung up in some underwater foliage and her oxygen tank was running out. Luckily she was wearing a knife, didn’t panic and was able to cut herself free.

Several years ago I was on a combination sailing and fishing trip off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. We anchored in a little lagoon and weren’t getting a lot of action when my friend got a hard hit on his line. He was using a sturdy braided line rather than a monofilament or there wouldn’t have been much of a fight. Instead he and the fish wrangled for about 45 minutes until he reeled in a 5 foot bull shark. Once we realized what he had on his line and since it was just the two of us, we knew we were going to have to cut bait and run, so to speak, rather than take a chance on one of us getting hurt or losing a very expensive rod and reel. I pulled out a microserrated knife from his tackle box that worked great on a taut line. There are other products like The Snip that will work but we didn’t have one on board.

Even if you’re not an outdoorsman and don’t know the first thing about fishing, by now you can probably understand the benefit of having a good knife, if nothing else in case of an emergency. I recommend reading about different knives to get a feel for what other people like and recommend. For a great reference site check out The Camping Trips for Boot Knife reviews. https://thecampingtrips.com/best-boot-knife.html

Also, for those of you, who like outdoors, here are 5 recreational activities that boost your mental health.