Having a dull blade in the field is like having a flat tire and, when you’re miles away from camp, the problem becomes that much worse. Any self-respecting outdoorsman must remember to equip themselves with the right sharpening kit.
There are a variety of reliable, inexpensive options for you to choose from, each of which is a valuable addition to your wilderness arsenal. If you aren’t sure where to get started, we’ve compiled a short list of the best hunting knife sharpeners available on the market.
First, let’s cover a couple of important, differentiating characteristics that will impact the selection you make. While there are absolutely additional variations of sharpening kit materials and styles, our focus will remain on those most useful in the great outdoors.
Types of Sharpening Material
Not all hunting knife sharpeners are created equal. Here are a few of the best materials you should look out for:
A stainless-steel core coated in finely-powdered diamond, diamond sharpeners are incredibly robust and durable tools. The diamond surface is much coarser than ceramic or whetstone alternatives, making it a suitable choice for tackling even the dullest of blades.
However, inexperienced users must exercise caution with diamond steel as it is easy to become too aggressive and erode too much of the blade. Be careful!
So long as its potential to overwork the blade is respected, a diamond sharpener is highly effective and will keep your knives in pristine condition.
Perhaps the largest advantage of a ceramic sharpener comes from the fineness of its surface. It is significantly finer than a diamond sharpener, which makes it ideal for touch-ups of blades in average or better condition; you are also far less likely to do any accidental damage if overly aggressive.
Ceramic sharpeners fall somewhat short in their durability; highly susceptible to shock, dropping ceramic on a hard surface may very well be its demise. It’s also unlikely that ceramic sharpeners will survive crammed into the bottom of your rucksack or backpack. Treat them gently!
Another consequence of being so brittle is the limitations of ceramic’s sharpening capability; while it is highly effective at sharpening an already somewhat sharp blade, it is not a good choice for making a blade sharp (putting an edge on it).
Still, if you don’t plan on smacking it around, a ceramic sharpener is an easy-to-use option for “fine tuning” the edge of almost any knife.
Important Note: After initially sharpening the blade, a strop (usually a strip of leather) can be used to really add an extra layer of sharpness and polish. This is entirely optional, but can really take the slicing power of your hunting knife to the next level.
- Highest Quality Vegetable Tanned leather
- Surfaced Prepared for Easy Application of Compound
- 3 Inch Wide, 8 Inch Long, 1/8 Thick
Knife sharpeners come in all shapes and sizes. Here are the two most common style of sharpeners for use in the field:
A free-handed approach to sharpening a blade, rod kits are more versatile compared to a V-sharpener in that they allow the user to employ a greater variety of angels.
It is also common to come across a rod kit that features a fixed-position base. These types of kits still have a greater degree of flexibility than a V-sharpener, even if some maneuverability is lost.
Rod kits also produce a finer, sharper edge than the V-sharpener alternative, but can be quite large depending on the product and may not always be the best choice for field work. Even so, rod kits are user-friendly at any experience level and preferred by many.
Sometimes referred to as a Pull-Through sharpener, a V-sharpener is incredibly straightforward and ideal for use in the field.
V-sharpeners are often compact, making them easy to carry in any size backpack or rucksack. V-sharpeners can quickly and effectively produce a more serrated edge desirable for a survival knife.
As convenient as these tools may be, it is important that you’re aware of any nicks in your blade’s cutting edge. Smaller nicks are usually not an issue, but larger nicks can easily become caught in the V as the knife is pulled through, causing further damage.
V-sharpeners can also suffer from inconsistencies, sometimes taking off too much or too little of the blade with each stroke.
Despite their shortcomings, V-sharpeners are excellent pieces of equipment and offer unparalleled mobile efficiency.
Best Hunting Knife Sharpeners – Our Picks
Here are out top picks for the best hunting knife sharpeners on the market:
Campsite Favorite – Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
In our section outlining the basics of rod sharpening kits, we addressed the issue of angle limitation in kits that employ a fixed-position base. This is a perfectly functional system, but for some users it may not provide enough flexibility for sharpening hunting knives with unusual blade angles.
Spyderco offers a welcome alternative with the aptly-named Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. The base of the kit fixes the rods at 30 and 40-degree angles, making it suitable for sharpening virtually any style of knife. Available with the kit are easily-interchangeable ceramic and diamond rods, allowing the user to seamlessly adjust functionality as needed.
While the technique used to sharpen blades against fixed position rods is certainly easy to grasp, it is unlikely you will master the art on your first attempt.
The adjustment period can indeed be frustrating; anyone who is new to using this style of kit must remember that practice is involved. Initially it may seem as if the kit “isn’t working properly,” but perseverance will soon be rewarded with a perfectly sharp blade.
If the learning curve isn’t a deal-breaker, I strongly recommend giving the Sharpmaker a chance. There is something undeniably elegant about sharpening a blade with a near-perfect angle.
What Budget? – Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition
Before I say anything else, a few disclaimers are needed.
First, this is an electric-powered sharpening tool; for that reason alone, the WSKTS-KO is of zero use to you as a hunting knife sharpener out in the field, unless you commonly carry a portable power source with your equipment.
Second, this is a belt grinder: obviously this was not included among the kit styles we deemed “relevant” to an outdoorsman and it may seem odd for it to be on this list.
Third, using a tool like this requires extreme care; otherwise, you risk hurting yourself and your knife. Disclaimers aside, I implore you to hear me out.
Take a few seconds to picture whatever you have around the house/out back/in the garage with a metal edge on it. I don’t care what it is that came to mind, this thing can sharpen it. Got a rusty shovel that you’d like to carve a steak with? No problem. Is that hatchet just not splitting wood like it used to? No problem. Want paper-cutting sharpness from virtually every knife you own? No problem.
Work Sharp is a subsidiary of a proudly American-owned-and-operated company, and their craftmanship reflects the passion they have for their product. The Ken Onion edition is a symphony of blade-sharpening efficiency.
The Norton NORaX belts used by the grinder span a wide spectrum of grits and materials, from ultra-fine ceramic to ultra-coarse carbon steel. You’ll be shocked at how quickly any edged tools look new, and by how little energy it required.
Again, this tool is strictly limited to garage or workshop use (unless you insist on lugging it and a power source around the wilderness). Also, as the title implies, it is 100% not the right option for those on a tight budget.
If none of these warnings have put you off the idea of owning this monster of a machine, you would be doing yourself an egregious disservice by not inviting it into your home. You’ll soon be looking for any excuse imaginable to sneak away and add a perfect cutting edge to items that may or may not need it.
A Double-Edged Sword (Sharpener) – DMT Diafold
Larger rod kits can be somewhat cumbersome to pack, and with ceramic rods there’s the issue of fragility. If you want a quick, simple and effective rod sharpening system that is both flexible and durable, DMT’s Diafold ticks all those boxes.
The Diafold is a dual-sided, handheld, diamond-coated stainless-steel sharpening kit that comes in a variety of combinations of coarse and fine grits. The kit will stand up to multiple years of use with virtually no maintenance.
Being a handheld sharpener, using the Diafold may not be as naturally precise as some users would like. While it is incredibly simple to use, you should definitely realize that it will be more difficult to achieve a precision edge on a hunting knife compared to using a fixed-position kit or V-sharpener.
Make no mistake, if durability is one of your absolute top priorities the Diafold is an excellent choice. You won’t have to worry about it taking a bit of punishment when traveling, even if it’s tucked deep in the bottom of your rucksack.
Portable Work Bench – Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener
Portability is crucial when you’re working in the field. Still, wouldn’t it be a luxury if you could take your workshop with you? Work Sharp understands your pain and wants nothing more than to ease it for you.
The Guided Field Sharpener is truly an all-in-one bench-style sharpening solution with a twist: it goes wherever you go! This handy gadget from Work Sharp is equipped with a ceramic rod, diamond-coated steel plates, leather strop, 20 and 25-degree sharpening and honing guides (respectively), serration sharpener… the list goes on!
You’ll never find yourself having to make the difficult choice of what to bring with you when you venture away from home. The only thing the Guided Field Sharpener won’t do is pitch your tent for you (though maybe with some modifications…)
Like other multi-function kits, certain sharpening methods may not function as effectively as they would with a single-function kit. The Guided Field Sharpener is not nearly as limited as similar offerings, but you should still be aware of the potential shortcomings.
There’s several other solid multi-function options for portable kits that provide exceptional versatility in the field. Obviously, you must ultimately decide which of them best suits your purpose, but it’s fair to say that you can’t go wrong with Work Sharp. After all, the brand has been featured twice on this list for a reason!
Travel Friendly – BlizeTec 3-in-1 Pocket Size Knife Sharpener Kit
For some rod sharpening kits, carrying them around with you is simply impractical. For BlizeTec’s ultra-portable sharpener, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This diamond-coated option weighs in at just 1.46oz and is virtually identical in size to an ordinary pen! Despite it’s slim form factor, BlizeTec has cut no corners when it comes to functionality and build quality.
The rod itself is housed in a sleek aluminum casing and, for the sake of convenience, has a clip that can be fastened to a pant or shirt pocket.
BlizeTec has included three different sharpening surfaces so you can effortlessly switch between tasks. There is a serrated texture for serrated blades, a flat surface for more traditional hunting blades, and a grooved surface for hooks.
Do take note, as portable as the BlizeTec sharpener is, you may find the speed with which your sharpener handles hunting knives is somewhat limited. Regardless, this offering from BlizeTec is more than adequate in the vast majority of situations (so long as you aren’t using it to touch-up your longsword or Viking battle axe).
Impressively Feature-Rich – Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic
I still can’t decide what amazes me more about this gem from Lansky; is it the depth of its functionality, or the shocking affordability? I may never settle that internal debate, but one thing remains certain: the BladeMedic will absolutely blow you away.
If you’re torn between using a rod sharpener or a V-sharpener, Lansky has the solution to your indecision.
The BladeMedic packs two (yes, two) V-sharpeners, one ceramic and the other tungsten-carbide (we didn’t cover tungsten-carbide in the materials above, but you can think of it as ultra-hard sandpaper made by fusing tungsten and carbon); a serrated ceramic sharpener for all your toothy-blade needs; and a diamond-coated sharpening rod, because why not cover all your bases?
I cannot overstate how ridiculously affordable Lansky’s BladeMedic is, especially after reading and re-reading it’s laundry list of features. While not as lightweight as the “Pen” sharpener from BlizeTec, the BladeMedic still (fails to) tip the scales at only 4oz. It might not fight in your pocket, but it will certainly fit in your backpack.
Alas, while it is nice to have so many options in a single sharpening kit, none of the individual functions are as “pure” or effective as a standalone sharpener of the same kind. Those looking for a V-sharpener or rod sharpener specifically may want to steer toward a more traditional kit.
That being said, if you’re more of “a jack of all trades,” Lansky is here to fulfill your wildest blade-sharpening fantasies.
Knife Care Tips
Sharpening your hunting knife is only part of the necessary regemin. Here are a few tips we recommend for those looking to keep their knives in pristine condition:
Avoid Moisture At All Costs
Despite how many times manufacturers throws out the phrase “stainless steel”, we all know that rust is still a possibility. If you live by the ocean or frequently travel to salty environments, this statement is especially true.
Avoiding rust is actually quite simple – keep your hunting knife dry. After every outing make it a point to thoroughly dry your entire knife, not just the blade. If you throw a wet knife into your bag and forget about it until your next hunting trip, be prepared for the rust that awaits.
Lubrication is an often-forgotten step in knife care. Not only does it help your knife function better, but it is also the best possible way to avoid rust – even for those in marine environments.
When oiling your knife, remember to focus on the blade and pivoting points (where rust is most common). Apply a small amount to a cloth and thoroughly wipe your knife. With oil, a small amount goes a long way so try not to use too much. We recommend 3-in-1 All Purpose Oil.
- Multi-purpose lubricant reduces friction and silences squeaky components such as hinges and wheels
- Oil penetrates into crevices to release parts that have been rusted together
- Lubricant cleans tools by removing dirt and grime
Clean Your Knife After Each Trip
This should go without saying, but you would be surprised by how many hunters forget to clean their knives after each trip.
For the most part, a short bath in hot water followed by a simple wipe down is usually enough. Make sure to get in all the nooks and crannies, especially for folding knives – dirt and moisture tend to get trapped in the hard-to-reach spots.
If you really want to take your knife-cleaning game to the next level, we highly recommend the Rusty Rags Knife Cleaning Kit. It comes with a hand-cut sheepskin pad and a bottle of Rusty’s Knife Oil – everything you need to keep your blade in pristine condition!
- It's what the Professionals use to take care of their knives!
- Prevents Rust and leaves a lasting 'Showroom' Shine!
- Only 'Knife Kit' on the market that can get in the many 'Nooks & Crannies' on your knife!
Keep Your Knife Sharp
Common sense would probably tell you a sharp knife is more dangerous than a dull knife. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dull knives often force the user to exert way more force than normally necessary. This not only leads to more slips and mistakes, but actually increases the risk of deep cuts.
There is nothing more important out on the field than safety. Don’t use a dull knife – it is a reckless and dangerous decision, especially while hunting.
Assuming you’re going to need a field-friendly sharpener for your survival or hunting knife, our recommendation would be the Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener. You may have reservations about it if you’re a purist, but anyone who is primarily concerned with portability and utility will fall in love with the Guided Field Sharpener immediately.
If you aren’t willing to part ways with purism (but still desire portability for field use), the DMT Diafold is right up your alley. No tricks, no gimmicks, just a good, reliable sharpening tool that can stand up to some rough-and-tumble action out on a trek.
Now, I should be perfectly clear… Assuming you have the budget and you don’t mind sharpening your blades before you leave home, the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition is an absolute no-brainer. Few tools will make you feel so powerful, and few tools will achieve such other-worldly efficiency. Only the Ken Onion will do both simultaneously.
Whether or not you choose a kit from this list, the selection should come down to what specifically fits your purpose. Thanks for reading, and stay sharp!
Last update on 2019-10-23 at 12:45 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API