As a backpacker hiking outdoors, you will undoubtedly begin to realize that the knife you’ve been using is getting dull quickly due to its wide range of use and great importance. Since the edge of the blade is extremely thin and that there is not much metal to support it, it can easily get warped.
You should always have a sharpener in your backpack to be able to continue performing the important camping tasks fairly and quickly. I’ve gathered some recommendations to consider when selecting the best pocket knife sharpener.
If you don't want to read the full study and just want to know about the best one in the market now, it's Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic | $10.05.
Anaylsis & Test Results
This product is a Crunch Top Pick!
Multiple sharpening techniques are available, sharpeners for serrations, very useful for both beginner and advanced users
Very small, durable, enclosed surface, best choice for serious packers
Very small, multiple sharpening techniques, enclosed system, durable, easiest to carry in your pocket
Sharpeners for serrations, very light while offering sharpening for straight and serrated portion
Compass and firestarter work well, sharpeners for serrations
Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic
Victorinox Pocket Knife Sharpener
Smith's PP1 Pocket Pal Multi-function Sharpener
Smith's Pocket Pal X2 Sharpener & Outdoors Tool
Relatively larger and heavier, carbide sharpener is useless, not suitable for hard steel blades, not enclosed sharpeners can damage anything in contact
Requires technique since there isn’t V notch, unable to sharpen the serrations
Not able to sharpen the serrations, unable to achieve a very sharp edge without very good technique
Unability to achieve a very sharp edge, less durable, not suitable for hard steel blades, not perfect for large – xlarge hands, not enclosed sharpeners can damage anything in contact
Very large, whistle and LED light are useless, unable to achieve a very sharp edge, less durable, not suitable for hard steel blades, not enclosed sharpeners can damage anything in contact
Why Do You Need to Sharpen Your Knife
The most common use of knife when camping or hiking is with your food. Whether it’s opening food packages (or any kind of packages, of course), gathering food from plants or slicing an apple or a potato, you’re going to need your knife.
If you’re an essentialist like me, you’re not even going to carry a kitchen fork or knife with you, instead you’re just going to eat using your knife.
The second most common use is working with cords for general camping tasks. You’re going to use your knife to cut the cord when you have enough length for whatever it’s that you’re planning to do or when a line or knot becomes stuck.
Other than these if you choose to cut feather woods or sparkle your ferracerium rod to start a fire, cut moleskin or gauze pads for first aid, clean inside your nails, or even shave your beard or cut your hair as some people do, you’re going to need your knife. Heck, I even use my knife at night peeling branches across the campfire occasionally just because I like to.
And any blade will eventually dull no matter what. And a dull blade causes lots of frustration and wasted time and energy due to its broad usage. I don’t recommend using a flint or stone either because of the challange of finding a convenient one, executing the sharpening properly and other obvious reasons.
Additionally, in most cases using a dull blade again and again will decrease the lifespan of your knife significantly.
For these reasons I highly recommend investing in a pocket knife sharpener.
What to Look for in a Pocket Knife Sharpener
You want to make sure you understand the function of each part and figure if you need them before you choose which product to buy. It’s crucial since you can’t have all the features and benefits in one product, so you have to select the one that meets your needs.
Pocket knife sharpeners vary greatly in terms of the sharpener material, sharpener type, grit, weight, size, durability, usability etc. You would better determine your priority between these and choose the sharpener which is marketed specifically for your needs.
Don’t worry if the sharpener is suitable for camping or backpacking. This is an outdoors website and we write the articles accordingly. All the items I recommended are perfect for backpacking.
Although sharpeners are either carbide, diamond or ceramic; it’s worth to mention grit size since mostly it’s not the material that determines the fineness of the blade but the grit size.
HowStuffWorks.com Contributors stated that when you see a grit size value on a sharpener, it simply shows the number of abrasive particles per square inch  that sharpener has. The larger the grit size, the finer the surface will be.
I would recommend most backpackers to sharpen on a surface with a grit size of 400 to 2000. If your knife is very dull and damaged you can start with 400 grit size before you move to 1000 although jumping to a 1000 grit size would do just fine. If you want your knife to be sharper than that you can polish it with 2000 grit size or higher if available.
You can go below 400 for reprofiling edges or above 2000 for ultrapolishing.
Carbide sharpeners are extremely aggressive at around 200-300 grit size. They are notorious for tearing the blade instead of grinding it and not leaving a smooth surface. They remove way too much of material and very unevenly, so I’d never recommend you to use them.
In my opinion, with the right technique even a flint or a stone would be a better option compared to carbide. The only acceptable use I can think of is when you desperately need a lightning fast sharpening or need your blade sharp but don’t have any other options etc.
It can be used on a very blunt knife prior to other finer sharpeners, but I’d doubt your knife would ever get that dull. I’d just stay away from them. In 2004, Verhoeven, J. D.  indicated the a close up of an edge after using 200 grit carbide sharpener:
Diamond is much better to sharpen on than carbide. Unlike carbide, it doesn’t remove excessive metal. Usually they are 400-600 grit. As Verhoeven, J. D. illustrated in 2004 , notice how better the microstructure of the edge looks after using a 600 grit diamond sharpener compared to carbide:
You can have your blade quite sharp using a ceramic sharpener. They usually vary from 1000 to 4000 grit. The high end, however, is a bit too much in my opinion, and I would only recommend it to someone who sharpens their knives everyday or every other day, or using a coarser sharpener prior to it.
According to the study of Verhoeven, J. D. in 2004 , you see the the edge looks much better after using 1000 grit ceramic sharpener:
I toyed with this criteria a while. All pocket knife sharpeners are quite light. However if you’re an ultralight hiker and want to consider even 2-3 ounces you might want to take this into consideration.
This is important for two reasons. The first one is obviously the ability to fit into your pocket – which isn’t quite feasible for some of the best products out there. Sure you “can” fit it into your pocket, but I don’t think it would feel very comfortable performing regular camping tasks with it.
I also don’t think that it’s a problem for most people since you’re going to have a backpack that you can carry them inside it easily and you’re not going to need them very often.
The second reason is that if you have large – xlarge hands, the smallest V notch pocket knife sharpener might not feel comfortable for you while using it until you get the hang of it.
How to Sharpen a Knife
This is probably the most important section of this article since I watched so many sloppy grinds that you can actually hear the blade crying.
The most important thing is being really careful about not putting too much pressure on the knife while pressing it against the sharpener. Keep it as smooth as possible.
Sharpening Straight Blades Using V Notches
- Insert the knife into the slot
- Tilt the tip down slightly. Make sure that the blade is straight (not tilted to right or left)
- Pull the knife blade through from the heel (the very beginning) of the knife to the tip of the blade
- Repeat until the desired sharpness is achieved (probably 3-4 strokes)
Tip: For maximum sharpener lifespan flipping the bits every 3-6 months (depending on how often you use them) is recommended.
Sharpening Straight Blades Using Whetstones or Honing Rods (Traditional Sharpening Method)
- As Airhart, T. explained in 2012 , the recommended angle between blade and the sharpener is 22.5 degrees. You can basically adjust a 90 degree angle first, and then cut it to half of it to 45 degrees, and cut it to half once more to 22.5 degrees – which is roughly where we would like to be.
- Pull the knife blade through from the heel (the very beginning) of the knife to the tip of the blade and move the blade throughout the sharpener simultaneously. I know it’s difficult to understand, so in the below video you can navigate to 01:10 for honing rods and to 02:57 for whetstones to see it visually for better understanding (soaking the whetstone is NOT suggested for Fallkniven DC4 reviewed later in this article). Even though the video is intended for kitchen knives it's one of the most accurate I could find.
- Apply the technique in step 2 to both sides of the bevel. Make sure you apply constant pressure to both sides.
Sharpening Serrations Using Tapers
- Insert the rod into the serration.
- Hold the rod at the angle of the serration.
- Push and rotate the rod keeping the same angle as you hold the knife still.
Top 5 Best Pocket Knife Sharpeners
Lansky BladeMedic | $10.05 is a perfect product for someone who is new to sharpening, wants something very simple and doesn’t want to jerk around with large rods and stones.
Angles are adjusted at 22.5º to achieve a 45º inclusive angle. Durable magnets are used to lock the diamond rod into its place, so they don’t wear out.
It comes with multiple options for both straight and serrated portion of the blade – diamond tapered rod with 600 grit for serrations, ceramic V notch with 1000 grit for straight blade and ceramic rod with 1000 grit for both of them.
It also provides a carbide V notch but I don’t recommend using them with a few exceptions I mentioned before in this article since it literally tears the blade instead of grinding it.
Once you get more familiar with traditional sharpening method instead of pull-through you can switch to ceramic rod, which is a great option to have. It treats your knife much better, allows you to achieve a better finish and improve your sharpening technique.
It‘s perfect for backpacking and camping even though it wouldn’t feel 100% comfortable in your pockets due to its size of 4 x 1.25 x 0.45 inches and weight of 3.3 ounces, so you can just carry it in your backpack. The housing on it is a stainless steel construction which makes it very durable.
On the other hand, without a good practice it’s not possible to make your knife very sharp using Lansky BladeMedic. Also I would never recommend sharpening hard steel blades such as VG10 or S30V with any pull-through V notch sharpeners.
If you’re just starting out, want something simple that gets the job done quickly and you prefer toughness and usefulness over a few extra ounces, this is probably the best option for you.
Fallkniven DC4 | $20.99 is a very small rectangle whetstone with 800 grit diamond on one side. The other side is ceramic, and it’s thought to be 5000 grit by Fallkniven itself. Its dimensions are 0.27 x 1.26 x 3.93 inches and it weighs 2.3 ounces.
Along with the honing rods, whetstones probably have the best reputation about proper sharpening. I personally recommend using the diamond side for general sharpening. It treats your knife much better than V notches.
You can use ceramic side if you are more experienced with sharpening since it requires a better technique sharpening at this much grits.
When preparing, never soak this product. The manufacturer’s sheet suggests using it dry – a usual statement with fine stones. Otherwise stone might crack or delaminate – that’s not something you would want to have happen in the field.
DC4 doesn’t provide any extra feature like V notches or serration sharpeners, so it’s quite small and simple, but not for someone who needs sharp serrations.
The leather case you receive with the product ensures it won’t damage anything in contact.
If you don’t need any sharpening tools for serrations, would not prefer using a V notch and the small size is important to you, this product is a really good option.
Victorinox Pocket Knife Sharpener | $13.60 made a great job designing a pocket sharpener that is perfect for pocket size. Unfortunately even though I pinged Victorinox online quite a few times, they didn’t provide me the grit sizes of sharpeners.
It comes with the shape and size of a pen with ceramic V notch behind and ceramic rod in front. Its dimensions are 5 x 0.7 x 0.7 and it weighs 1.41 ounces.
100% enclosed structure ensures not to damage anything in contact.
Even though there is (probably) no 1000+ grit sharpener, it’s possible to achieve a quite sharp edge with a very good traditional sharpening technique – which Victorinox provides.
The drawback of this product is that it isn’t designed to be able to sharpen the serrations.
Victorinox is a very good option if you plan to carry your sharpener in your pocket all the time and don’t need to have serration sharpeners.
Smith’s Pocket Pal | $5.97 is a very simple product that comes with a ceramic V notch with 800 grit, a diamond tapered rod with 400 grit and a coarse carbide V notch. It’s also perfect for who is just starting out and looking for something to use mainly for camping and backpacking.
It doesn’t come with a ceramic rod so it’s smaller than Lansky BladeMedic with a size of 3.5 x 1.1 x 0.45 inches.
Absence of a sharpener that allows you to use traditional sharpening method makes this product unable to leave a razor sharp edge. Also carbide notch is useless in my opinion.
Plastic polimer-ish frame makes this product very light at only one ounce but also more fragile. Also plastic dots used to lock the diamond rod into its place can get worn out and cause the diamond rod to hang out of its place even when you’re not using it.
Not using the carbide sharpener and not sharpening any hard steel blades such as VG10 or S30V with pull-through V notch sharpeners applies to this product as well.
This can be a good option if you’re looking for something ultralight, very simple, don’t need to sharpen crazy serrations and don’t mind using pull through V notches.
The sharpeners of this product are identical with Smith's Pocket Pal, so I’m not going to talk about them twice. You can simply read it there.
In addition to Smith's Pocket Pal, Smiths Pocket Pal X2 Sharpener & Outdoors Tool | $11.87 product provides survival tools – a compass, a whistle, an LED light and a firestarter.
Firestarter and compass work fine. LED light is fairly dim and not enough for anything more than lighting inside your backpack, so don’t expect it to be enough for lighting your way or something. Whistle is quite dull and not audible for more than 10-15 feet of distance.
In short, in terms of sharpening this product is good for someone who is just starting. It’s average for using firestarter and compass, and poor for lighting and using whistle.
Out of the products reviewed, I’ve concluded that Lansky BladeMedic is the best pocket knife sharpener overall. It provides everything you need sufficiently – serration sharpeners, pull-through V notch sharpeners and thick rod to use traditional sharpening method.
Hope this study was helpful for you to find out which sharpener is the best for your needs. Feel free to ask any questions below in the comments section.
- HowStuffWorks.com Contributors. 21 July 2011. "What is the difference between the different grits of sandpaper?"
- Verhoeven, J. D. 2004, September. “Experiments on Knife Sharpening”, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Iowa State University, p. 9
- Airhart, T. 2012. “Elk Hunting Guide: Skills, Gear, and Insight”, Stackpole Books, p. 202