From the eyes of wilderness expert, backcountry guide and founder of Wild Connection.
If there was ever the ultimate question about enjoying the outdoors, my vote would be on “What is the most important piece of gear?”. So here I am asking myself this very question. Out of all my many piles of gear, for all my outdoor activities, what is the the most important? It is almost impossible to pick just one. Is it my drysuit for cold water paddling? Is it my trusty tarp to keep me sheltered in any weather? Is it my Gore-Tex rain jacket that lets me explore the woods in safety? How could I possibly choose just one?
To make it easier to answer this question of all questions, I am going to ask myself another question. If I could only have one piece of gear with me in the wilderness, what would it be? To anyone who has ever spent time in the woods with me, my answer will come as no surprise. A knife.
Why a knife? On it's own, a knife won't keep me dry, it wont keep me warm, it wont keep my belly full, and won't guide me when lost. However, combine a knife with experience, skills, and knowledge and you have the means of creating and doing just about anything in the woods.
In the right hands a knife can make most things possible in the woods. Given enough time, a single person with a knife could very feasibly create a log cabin. More realistically it helps make the essential to wilderness survival much easier. From starting fires, to making tools, to creating shelter, a knife is the ultimate wilderness tool. The real kicker is that this ultimate tool is limited by the skills and knowledge of it's user. You can buy the worlds greatest wilderness knife, but if you don't know how to make and use friction fire kits, you won't be able to use it for starting a fire. Perhaps this is part of the reason I find myself so drawn to the tool. It becomes an extension to it's user with almost unlimited potential.
So don't go off buying an expensive knife and fooling yourself into thinking you are prepared for any eventuality. Get something modest and reliable and start building up your skills. Next time you are out camping, try improvising some of your gear with a knife. Start with carving tent pegs, eating utensils, or even a friction fire kit. Even if it does not work, you will have taken a major step forward in becoming more self reliant and less focused on buying more gear. Though I must warn you, it is far too easy to buy too many knives.
Kevin Fraser is a life long outdoor enthusiast, backcountry guide, outdoor educator, and owner of Wild Connection Outdoor Education. He is most often found enjoying the sunrise with a cup of joe.