Gear Overview: Knives for Paddling

Knives for Paddling:  A good Idea

I distinctly remember the first pocket knife my blade-obsessed father gave me.  It was a small pen knife, with a faux bone handle and a very small blade.  Much to my mother’s horror, he showed me how to open and close it, taught me how to alway cut away from myself when using it, and he impressed upon me, again much to the objection of my mother, that a dull blade is a dangerous blade. From that moment on, I too had a thing about knives. And multi-tools as well.  Of the few things I kept of my father’s when he passed away two years ago, I have most of his pocket knives.

Knives and multi-tools are extremely handy to have around, but unless you are a hardcore whitewater kayaker or sailor, or expedition paddler, you might not always think about carrying one when you paddle. Yet, a knife can be a great piece of safety kit to have either on your PFD, in your drybag, or in your hydration backpack, just in case you have to:

  • Cut fishing line away from an injured animal or from a fin or rudder;
  • Cut a tangled leash or leash cuff;
  • Remove leash cords/strings;
  • Cut bungee cords;
  • Divide a sandwich in half;
  • Open a bottle.

There are knives made for just about any sport, and some can serve pretty specific functions as well.  There are basically two types of knives, however: fixed blade and folding. Fixed blade knives might be larger – both in length and width – while folding knives are more compact but require an extra step to deploy. Some folding knives can be opened and closed with one hand, but it might require a little bit of practice.

General Features

Some features that are nice to have for paddling  – on either a fixed or folding knife – include:

  • Marine grade stainless steel or titanium blade;
  • Loop, carabiner or some other way to attach a lanyard or floaty to the knife;
  • Serrated edge to help cut through different types of materials;
  • Rescue loop to easily cut through straps, webbing and the like;
  • Blade tip or other feature that can act as a screwdriver;
  • Bright handle colors like orange, yellow or neon green for visibility;
  • Bottle opener.

Fixed Blade Knives for Paddling

NRS Pilot and Co-Pilot

NRS probably set the standard for paddling knives with the Pilot series. Popular with whitewater paddlers, these knives mount directly on to a PFD lash tab via a hard, fiberglass-reinforced nylon holder or sheath. The minimalist blade clips in to the sheath and is held firmly in place.  To access the knife, the paddler simply squeezes the side of the sheath and the knife is removed.  Short and stubby, these knives feature a blunt end that can be used as a screwdriver in a pinch, as welll as a serrated edge.  Bottle opener is integrated into the handle, which is covered with a non-stick rubber material.  They are meant to be readily available in the event a paddler is in an emergency and needs the knife quickly.   Gerber and other manufacturers make something similar. If you paddle in salt water, you want the titanium version to minimize rust and attentiveness of care.

One disadvantage to the way the knife is mounted – the sheath is always going to stay on the PFD.  Those lash tabs can be difficult to work with and once that sheath is there, it’s not something that can be removed easily with any frequency. So, the knife isn’t going to be something you can carry with you elsewhere, as there is no way to protect it or you, for that matter.

Benchmade H20

This knife is really a small dive knife, with a blade length of 3.5 inches.  It is great for paddling though because of the bright handle, and the integrated “rescue hook” that can be used to quickly cut through fishing line or webbing.  Sadly, it appears that Benchmade has discontinued this line of fixed blade knives.  However, they can still be found on line with some hunting. They have replaced it with a folding option, which I will discuss below.

Folding Knives for Paddling

Most of these knives come from other sports – the Gill and the Myerchin are sailing tools, while the  CRKT knife is designed for climbing. But there’s no reason why they can’t be part of a paddler’s kit. I’ll explain why.

Sailing tools – kind of a no-brainer. Meant for the saltwater environment, usually designed to cut though different kinds of materials.  Climbing knives are lightweight. Usually easy to open with one hand, and always have a loop where you can attach it to something else for safe keeping (like on a climbing harness.)

Gill Marine Tool and Myerchin Gen 2 Captain Pro Knife

The thing that sets the Gill and Myerchin blades apart is the marlin spike tool. It looks exactly like its name – a spike.  Sailors need to work with lines (ropes to the non-sailing world) that often have knots in them.  Knots that are dang hard to loosen.  That’s one of the functions of the marlin spike.  You can work it into the knot and more easily loosen it.  Having that tool at your disposal in any water environment is extremely handy. The Gill tool also has a webbing “rescue hook” while the Myerchin option is as elegant in appearance as it is useful. It is, however, a bit on the heavy side.

Benchmade Griptillian 551 H20


This stainless steel folding knife from Benchmade is a salt water ready version of its popular Griptilian series.  It features a rescue orange nylon handle and lanyard attachment. Is it quite as useful, from a paddling standpoint as  its discontinued fixed blade predecessor? Hard to say. Maybe, since it is more compact and could easily be used for other applications, like hiking or everyday carry.

Columbia River Knife and Tool Niad

Good things come in small packages.  This elegantly designed climbing knife has a titanium handle and weighs only .06 ounces. It features a serrated locking blade that stays in place and can easily be affixed with a lanyard to PFD straps, the outside of a dry bag or really anywhere.  And at $49.95 it doesn’t break the bank.


Even knives that are meant to be in salt water need some attention.  Always rinse  the knife with fresh water thoroughly and dry. Add a bit of lube, especially after use in salt water.  See CRKT’s knife care page for more.

Got a good recommendation? Let us know in the comments.


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