Small Knife Or Large Knife?
The Great Small Knife or Large Knife Debate
Everywhere you go around the world the humble knife always plays a dominant role when it comes to real, gritty, on the ground living. From the jungles of South America to the frozen tundra of the Canadian north, different kinds, shapes and sizes of knives are part of daily life.
There is always debate amongst outdoors folk and knife enthusiasts of every kind about the ‘perfect’ knife to carry. One of the constant and recurring issues revolves around what is better to carry; a small knife or large knife. Advocates from either side often have strong personal preferences for one over the other, occasionally bordering on the dogmatic. That’s understandable when viewed from the perspective of knife owners for the simple reason that one’s choice of knife is a very personal thing. How a knife feels to use from one person to the next will vary greatly. And how a knife feels in your hand will determine, more than any other feature or variable, whether you enjoy carrying and using it. You’ve probably been handed a knife by someone who raved about it but it just didn’t feel all that great to you. You also probably own a particular knife or two that feel ‘right’ in your hand and are a pleasure to use.
Either small knives or large knives can become a personal favorite carry knife, but with few exceptions a small knife will almost always be easier to use and carry. Many people will assert that it is in camping/wilderness survival situations where a large knife comes into it’s own. But is a large knife really the best practical option when camping, hunting or in a wilderness survival situation?
In North America and Europe there is a strong historical tradition of carrying an axe in the woods to perform all of the heavier chores involving cutting. Everything from taking down trees, chopping firewood and building shelter can be done more efficiently with an axe (sometimes in conjunction with a saw). The knife was only used for smaller, more delicate uses such as skinning, preparing food or cutting meat. An excellent example is the story of Richard Proenneke who lived alone in the mountains of Alaska and built an entire homestead using only hand tools. The PBS documentary on his life and adventures is excellent and it’s worth nothing that the axe, not a knife, was his primary tool.
The exception to axes dominating the bushcraft environment is found in the people groups closer to the Equator. In jungle environments the large knife has a long, established track record as a useful daily carry tool. Every form of machete, Parang or Bolo has it’s origin in the more tropical regions of our planet. As any backpacker will tell you, hitching a lift in the tropics will often involve sitting in the back of a truck surrounded by machete carrying locals. The reason for that is simple: Unlike northern cultures who have to deal with solid or even frozen wood, in the tropics the landscape is decidedly different. Flexible, tough vine and resilient saplings are much more common. A light, long blade is ideal for such brush clearing while an axe is of very limited functionality. Long knives are ideal in such environments.
During the American experience in the South Pacific in WWII, long knives such as machetes were introduced to the general public consciousness in North America and quickly became popular. While large knives such as the legendary Bowie knife always have held a fascination in the American tradition they generally were not used to do the work that an axe was designed for.
It can be a lot of fun to use a large knife instead of a hatchet or an axe. A large Bowie knife can be an efficient brush clearer and is often easier to carry than a full sized axe. However, an axe is much quicker and easier to sharpen, and there are also safety issues to consider when swinging a razor sharp large knife around. Generally speaking when it comes to safety, a small knife or large knife can cut, but a larger knife can do a lot more accidental damage.
While you might hear people say that a large knife can do small camp chores just as well as a small knife this is simply not practically the case. Yes you can whittle marshmallow sticks, carve tent pegs or pothangers with a large knife but the results will never be as fine as doing those sorts of tasks with a small knife. With experience and a great deal of practice a person can become very proficient at fine cutting tasks with a large knife but a large knife simply isn’t the best tool for small knife tasks. The inverse is also true – a small knife isn’t going to be much use when cutting firewood, cracking open a coconut, whacking down a stand of willow or clearing a campsite of blackberry bushes.
It is plain nonsense that a small knife can’t perform useful tasks in the outdoors. Virtually any time precision and dexterity is required in a cutting task a small knife is superior to a large knife. Whether preparing an animal for the pot, whittling some tinder, or cutting up foraged food a small knife is often the preferable choice.
There is one environment where carrying a small knife is almost universally superior to carrying a large knife and that is in urban environments. There are very few places where carrying a machete or an axe in public is going to be acceptable! Besides, in urban environments there aren’t a lot of vines or trees to take down. Carrying a small knife is almost always legal (check your local laws) in urban settings and can come in extremely handy in countless situations. Carrying a neck knife or a small folder like a Swiss army knife is almost always legally and culturally acceptable with a few obvious exceptions (such as on airliners).
If you decide to carry a knife, use common sense. Make sure it is legal to carry, quick and easy to access and that it feels right in your hand. The ideal EDC knife would be one that was designed to fit your actual hand size, making it almost impossible to drop or dislodge once you are holding it. Talon knives are sized to your fingers and literally fit your hand like a glove.
There are a variety of knives that incorporate single finger holes designed to accommodate the index finger during use, but they are often difficult to access and draw quickly. Under stress when fine motor skills go out the window it can be virtually impossible to quickly access many knives that feature small holes in the handle.
Some knife designs feature deeply recessed finger indentations in the handle in order to enhance retention. Whether handle modifications of that sort work for you is entirely a matter of personal feel. It’s not really a good idea to buy an EDC knife off of the internet just because it looks good or has good online reviews. There is simply no way to know how a knife will feel to YOU until you hold it in your hand and ideally use it to cut with! Sock drawers around the world contain knives that didn’t live up to buyer expectations.
Both a small knife or large knife have their ideal time and place to be used for any of the myriad of tasks a knife is called upon to perform. There’s no need to limit yourself to owning one or the other, but when it comes time to slip a knife on your belt, hang around your neck or drop in your backpack just make sure that you choose one that will perform it’s required task. Don’t let anyone else tell you what the ideal knife is for you to use. It’s all about functionality and personal preference.
The Talon Knife – an ideal EDC knife that is easier to carry that most folders, is custom sized to your hand and offers quick accessibility and extreme retention. Click here to get your Talon now.