Whether on land or water, you need a couple of essentials with sharp edges. Here are a few of the most versatile cutting tools I’ve tried, tested on everything from hacking firewood to spreading cream cheese on a bagel.
NRS Co-Pilot Knife
Blunt-tipped, double-edged knives are specially made for boaters to provide a lot of versatility in one blade, and NRS makes two of the most popular on the water. The Pilot and Co-Pilot both feature a smooth edge on one side and a serrated one on the other and come in stainless steel (fresh water) and titanium (salt water) models.
The smaller of the two, the Co-Pilot is a little bit lighter and fit my hand better than its big brother. The knife has a blunt tip to prevent puncture of skin or gear, which also comes in handy as a flat-head screwdriver to tighten oar frames or sleeves. The serrated edge cuts through webbing or static line easily, which is important if you end up underwater and tangled in your rigging. The smooth edge doubles as a utility kitchen knife for cutting steak, chopping onions or slicing cantaloupe, and the small point on the corner of the blade works equally well for cutting open vacuum-sealed food bags and putting an extra vent hole in your beer.
The handle of the knife is easy to grip, even when wet, but the best thing about the Co-Pilot is its sheath. Made to attach to the lash tabs on your PFD, the sheath locks the knife into place with guards over the blades so you can have it handy on your chest or over your shoulder to access quickly in an emergency.
Retail: $44.95 for stainless steel or $119.95 for titanium
Gerber Gator Combo Axe II
Gerber makes two versions of the Gator Combo Axe, one with a smooth-bladed knife in the handle (I) and a longer one with an integrated course-blade handsaw (II). Both the knife and the saw slide neatly into the handle of the axe, held in place with magnets and a small loop of plastic. Though Gerber slaps the moniker of single-handed “axe” on both of these, they are actually hatchets, and with a retail difference of only $5, I’d recommend the longer of the two for more power and leverage when cutting wood.
The sheathed Combo Axe II is just more than 15 inches in length and fits perfectly in a 20-millimeter ammo can for camping or boating. The Gator texture grip on the handle of both the hatchet and the saw keeps both tools in your hand in wet or muddy conditions. Use the hatchet to chop up beetle kill and the saw to drive through those old 2x4s that aren’t good for anything anymore except firewood. Though I’ve not experienced this firsthand, be sure to holster the saw in the axe to reinforce the handle while chopping, otherwise other reviewers have said they had trouble with the axe handle snapping due to its hollow core.
This axe is a great utility tool for car camping or other excursions where you don’t have to carry all of your gear. For backpacking, you might want something smaller, more compact and lighter weight.
Retail: Combo Axe I: $45, Combo Axe II: $50
Spyderco Dragonfly2 Salt
I take my Spyderco Dragonfly on the river as my backup knife, but its versatility makes it a good blade to have around for pretty much everything from backpacking to backcountry skiing to cross-country road trips.
This particular little blade is part of the Spyderco Salt series, a group of knives made with H-1 steel that is guaranteed not to rust. I chose the Dragonfly for its small size, ergonomic shape and bomber blade edge. The knife has a closed length of just less than 3.5 inches, which is the perfect size for throwing in your pocket, pack or purse, and an overall length of about 5.5 inches.
The uses for this little bug are endless, as with most pocket knives, but what sets it apart is the ability to open it with one hand, the easy to grip fiberglass-reinforced handle and the quality of the blade. I chose the SpyderEdge serrated blade, as I do more sawing than slicing, but the Dragonfly is also available with a plain edge. Spyderco is based in Golden and provides complimentary sharpening on most of its knives, including the Dragonfly, which means your edge is guaranteed for the life of the knife.