ESSENTIAL PEDAL INN GEAR: CAMP KNIVES
A good camp knife is as essential to a bike camping adventure as a well equipped tool kit (don’t forget your chain breaker!). Plus, it’s just a cool item to have, so why not pick up a good one that will be a trusted partner on all your future getaways?
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For us there are two knives that fit in our pockets, don’t cost much, are the highest quality, and are good for most any task outside defending against a zombie apocalypse: the Higonokami and the Opinel.
The two kinds of knives here are steeped in tradition, their designs remaining essentially unchanged for over 125 years. They represent some of the best and most iconic designs from East (Japan) and West (France), reflecting each culture’s take on the perfect pocket knife. You can’t got wrong with either and having one for your next camping trip should be top priority if you don’t own one already!
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WHY WE LOVE IT
It’s a mini samurai sword that folds and fits in your pocket. The Higo is the essential Japanese knife, made by one man, by hand in a factory whose process hasn’t changed in a century. It’s a model of design: simple, graceful, durable, with the cleanest lines and most compact folding profile of any knife you’ll find.
- Hand Forged Carbon Steel Blade
- No safety elements – blade doesn’t lock meaning it’s really easy to open and close (it has a tab on the blade where you rest your thumb, preventing accidental cuts when in use)
- Black annodized or brass cases
- Ultimate utility and simplicity
- Super slim design that’s functional and elegant.
The Higo comes in different sizes, the largest with a blade length of just under 4 inches. We find the largest Higo to be the most versatile and our top recommendation.
The phrase “Higo no Kami” translates into “The Lord of Higo,” and it’s here that the rich history of this knife begins. Higo is the former name of what’s now known as the Kyushu province of Japan. Despite its grand name, the Higo no Kami is known for being a tool for the common folk.
In the 1870s, a war between samurais and the “modern army of the emperor” resulted in samurais’ loss of power and status and, subsequently, their swords. Swordmakers turned instead to knifemaking to help recover lost profits from their flailing sword business. This took place in Miki, Japan, which is now known as the “historical birthplace of the higonokami,” according to the report. It wasn’t until 1907, when a knifemaker’s guild was established, that the name was trademarked.
After that, the popularity of the Higo no Kami soared. It became a must-have tool for many people of all ages, and the popularity continued throughout WWII. But a decline eventually began in the 1960s as the result of new knife laws.
Pro – Ultimate simplicity, just works. Cool case designs. The most useful sizes. Mini samuri sword style and history. Made in Japan.
Needs Work – No safety features. Can rust easily. Might require a quick touch up to be razor sharp out of the box.
Bottom Line – A mini Samuri sword that fits in your pocket– a must own knife that will never let you down.
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WHY WE LOVE IT
It’s a super sharp, affordable folding knife that comes in a variety of sizes and finishes. The Opinel is the essential French pocket knife, with it’s beautiful trademark wooden handle and gently curving blade, is essential unchanged since 1890. It’s still made in France to the highest standards and is our top choice for a versatile camp cooking knife.
- Carbon Steel or Stainless blades
- Thin yet tough, razor sharp blades perfect for outdoor cooking
- Locks open and closed
Opinels come with folding blades in 11 sizes, from cute key chain models to giant zombie-slaying ones. A variety of beautiful wood handles, from beechwood (standard) to the exotic like olive, rose, or ebony on some models. There is also a slim blade and handle version that is a bit more elegant (and expensive). The No. 8 is probably the most versatile size, though the No. 10 and No. 12 make awesome, if large camp and cooking/chef-like knives.
Joseph Opinel began making knives in 1890 in Savoie, France as a simple working man’s or peasant’s knife. It proved popular with the local farmers, herdsmen, and paysans-vignerons (peasant winemakers) of the area.In 1897, a series of twelve sizes, numbered 1 to 12, was developed.From 1901–1903, Joseph Opinel built his first factory in Pont de Gévoudaz and produced a machine for mass production of the knife’s wooden handles.
The company hired peddlers to sell the knives and opened a small shop near the Chambéry railway junction, where the knives became popular with railroad workers, who in turn spread word of the brand throughout France. By 1909, Opinel had registered his first trademark for the Opinel knife, choosing the main couronnée (‘crowned hand”) as his emblem. A few years later Opinel annual sales were in the hundreds of thousands, and by the start of World War II as many as 20 million knives had been sold.
The Opinel Virobloc or safety twistlock mechanism was invented by Marcel Opinel in 1955, increasing the safety and versatility of the knife by allowing the blade to be locked in the open position. In 2000, the Virobloc locking mechanism was improved to allow locking the blade in either the open or closed position.
In 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London selected the Opinel as part of an exhibit celebrating the “100 most beautiful products in the world”. The Opinel was also selected as one of the 999 classic designs in Phaidon Design Classics, and has been exhibited by the New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a design masterpiece.
Pro – Super sharp blades out of the box, affordable, stainless option. Handsome wood handles. Made in France.
Needs Work – Can jam closed, wood is tempermental in different weather and can require oiling and cleaning.
Bottom Line – An iconic, essential knife for the outdoors and an indispensable companion for camp cooking. Pick up your first Opinel and get cookin’!