Best Kayaking Knife: Never Go Without A PFD Knife

Should You Carry A PFD Knife When Kayaking?

Short answer: YES! – You should absolutely carry a knife when kayaking. Like in any outdoor activity, sometimes a knife can be an invaluable tool.

They can be depended on in the case of a serious emergency, or just if you need to open your snacks. Frankly there really isn’t a good reason NOT to carry a knife and we will discuss why and what sort of knife you should carry.

Check out the Best PFD Knives:

NRS Pilot



  • 420 HC stainless steel blade
  • Rope cutting hook

Spyderco Aqua Salt

spyderco aqua salt


  • Nitrogen-based blade steel
  • Length: 9.33in

Spyderco DragonFly

dragonfly kayak knife


  • VG-10 stainless steel
  • Open length: 5.63in

MoraKniv Companion

mora budget knife for kayaking


  • BEST Budget option - Length: 4.1in
  • Hardened Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel

Why Are PFD Knives Essential For Kayaking?

There are many reasons why carrying a knife with you is a good choice. Here are some specific reasons depending on where you usually go kayaking.

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayakers are probably the most obvious users of a PFD knife when kayaking.

In white water kayaking, rescue situations are more common and when they do occur, it is likely they will require the use of ropes. These ropes can be thrown to drag a trapped paddler away from danger, but can also entangle the same paddler or even the rescuer, making the rescue effort even more dangerous.

In addition, there is always the chance that you become entangled in something below the surface of the water and really need to cut yourself free.

It is a basic and essential part of white water gear, much like the throw rope.

A knife is essential to get out of several dangerous situations that can happen when kayaking in rivers

Sea Kayaking

Sea kayakers also stand to benefit from carrying a knife.

We also carry ropes in case of rescue and these can also become potentially hazardous to ourselves and the person we are rescuing. Depending on where you paddle, fishing nets could also be an additional worry and while it is unfortunate to ruin someone’s net, it is worse to become stuck in a potentially dangerous situation that could be avoided by a quick cut with a knife.

In addition, sea kayaks tend to have more lines running on deck with gear fastened to them, while you should ensure that nothing is hindering your wet exit or roll, accidents do happen and something could prevent you from escaping unless you can cut yourself free, this is very true if you plan on surfing and rolling in the waves.

Some sea kayakers also like to use sails when they paddle, these can be really fun and add a whole new dynamic to the sport. However, in a high wind the sail could become difficult to control and it may be a safer option to cut it free than risk being dragged into danger.

Personally, most of my kayaking is sea kayaking and when I worked as a guide. A Knife was something that we were not allowed to leave the shore without.

I never go kayaking in the sea without my pfd knife.

Kayak Fishing

Every good fisherman brings a knife with them when they fish, a kayak fisherman should be no different.

Aside from all the previously mentioned uses of a knife, you are also most likely going to need a knife for cutting fishing line, freeing up lures and cleaning fish.

If you go kayak fishing, a knife is essential to prepare fish. And why not, cook it in the wild 🙂

4 Factors To Consider To Pick The Best Kayaking Knife

Now that we have established the basic criteria of why you should absolutely carry a knife when you go kayaking…

what sort of knife should you buy for kayaking?

Now, I am a knife guy of sorts. I hunt, fish, camp, bushcraft, canoe and kayak. As such I have wound up with a decent collection of different kinds of knives for different activities.

Like anything else, there is a right tool and a wrong tool for the job and we will discuss those.

1. Steel Selection: What Steel Should You Choose?

The first thing you would probably want to do, is settle on the kind of steel used in a knife.

Knife steels are essentially divided into “stainless” or “carbon” steels.

For the sake of this article, the primary pros and cons of both are that in stainless steels, a knife will require less maintenance and will rust less.

A carbon steel knife, is typically harder, easier to sharpen and can be brought to a razor edge with little effort.

If I head into the forest on a camping or bushcrafting trip, I will always bring a carbon steel knife because they tend to be tougher and easier to keep sharp. However, if I am on the water, then a stainless steel knife is really the only option if you do not want to constantly be scrubbing rust off the blade.

You can’t deal with rusted blades while you’re out kayaking. Go for good stainless steel knives.

There are a range of different steels to pick from but generally, if a knife is cheap… then it most likely is not made with quality steel. So buy the best and cry once.

2. Fixed vs Folding PFD Knife Blade

Next you would probably want to decide if you would prefer to carry a fixed blade or a folding blade.

Some kayakers will say that the only kind of PFD knife you should carry is a fixed blade and others will say that a folding knife is enough.

A folding knife is sleek and out of the way, but a fixed blade tends to be stronger and is always ready. You can simply draw it from its sheath and begin to cut, whereas in the case of a folding knife, you must locate it, unclip it, open it and then cut.

3. PFD Blade Design

You should also decide on what kind of blade design you are interested in.

Typically, knives will be either serrated (saw blade) or plain edged. A serrated knife will be sharper longer and will rip through rope with much less effort, but will be a pain to sharpen as you will need to sharpen each individual groove on the blade. A plain edge knife may not cut rope as easy as a serrated knife, but will be easier to sharpen and in general, will be more versatile.

Serrated knife blades can easily cut ropes – but they’re more difficult to sharpen

You can simply do more with a plain edged knife and as such, some kayak campers may have a small serrated edge knife on their PFD and then a more versatile plain edged knife in their pack. You also need to decide if you want a blunt tip knife or a sharpened tip on your knife.

A sharpened tip is more useful and has the ability to stab if you need it for something like fishing; however it is more dangerous, especially when it comes to rescues. A blunt tip knife may not be as useful, but it is definitely safer.

As a result, if you research search and rescue tools and knives, they will most likely have a blunt tip. There have been cases in which a kayaker was cut free and unfortunately was cut in the process. A blunt tip knife reduces that risk of accidental cuts and is something that should absolutely be considered.

4. PFD Knife Handle Selection

Lastly, you should decide what kind of a handle you want.

I have read on a few kayaking pages that leather or wood handles are even being recommended. This is absolutely ridiculous and should not even be considered.

Leather will rot and soften if constantly exposed to salt water and wood will swell

DO NOT I repeat; DO NOT choose a knife with a leather or wood handle!

AVOID wooden handles for kayaking use!

The only option here is a synthetic handle, but there are different kinds of synthetic handles.

These handle materials are all widely available and are all perfect for the job:

  • Micarta
  • Zytel
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Nylon
  • G10
  • Synthetic cork

None of them will soften, rot, or become more slippery when wet. Any designated dive, boating or kayak knife will and should have a handle made from one of these materials.

Choosing The Best PFD Knives

Now that we finally have established a baseline for why you should carry a knife when you kayak and what sort of knife it should be…

Which PFD knife should you choose?

There are dozens of options out there and most will fulfill the basic function of cutting rope if you need to in an emergency situation. However there are a few that immediately come to mind at different price points and I believe it will be best to start with these as viable options. Here are my best PFD kayaking knife picks!

Best Budget Option: The Morakniv Floating Serrated Knife

Check The Mora on Amazon

This was a knife made by Morakniv in Sweden with close support from the offshore industries. It is made of Morakniv’s very capable stainless steel with a serrated edge, so it will resist rust after exposure to water and rip through ropes quickly.

In addition, the tip of the knife is rounded so you reduce the risk of injury to yourself and others. The sheath and core of the knife is made from a Hi-Visibility polymer which makes it easy to attach to your PFD and easy to locate if you happen to drop it and if you do drop it, the handle is made from cork so it will simply bob on the surface until you retrieve it. This knife costs only around $20 in some places.

At This price, it is easy to see why it is such a perfect tool for kayaking.

Mid-Range Option: NRS Pilot Knife

Check The NRS on Amazon

For a mid-range option, we have the NRS Pilot Knife. This has been the go-to kayaking and rescue knife for many professionals over the years. It costs around $50 and has a myriad of features that makes it pretty much perfect. The blade is 3” long and made from a 420 HC stainless steel with a blunt tip and a partially serrated edge.

This makes the knife long enough for just about anything you would need it for, is corrosion resistant, rips through rope easily and is safe for use in rescues. The handle is made from glass-reinforced polypropylene that has been covered in rubber, which makes for a very lightweight knife, that won’t slip from your hands and is very durable.

The sheath can be attached pretty much anywhere on your PFD and it comes in a myriad of colors so that you can match it to your gear. It even has a bottle opener, glass breaker, rope cutting hook and valve wrench for an oxygen tank. For many people out there, this is the perfect marine and rescue knife.

The downside is that these are now made in China.

Premium Models: The Salt Series by Spyderco

The salt series refers to knives made by Spyderco in either H1 or LC200N steel, which makes them completely immune to rust. There are a myriad of designs and options in this series of knives and it is pretty difficult to pick just one because they are all awesome.

Spyderco Dragonfly

Check The Dragonfly on Amazon

H1 or LC200N are amazing steels and the handles come in either a glass-reinforced nylon (FRN) or G10, you can get them in either folding or fixed blades, plain edged or serrated edge, or different tips like; blunt, sheepsfoot, clip point or drop point. They are all either made in Japan, Taiwan or the USA and are all of the quality that people have come to expect from Spyderco.

spyderco Aqua Salt – A great kayaking knife.

Check The Aqua Salt on Amazon

The cost for these beauties can range from $50 to easily upwards of $300 so it really depends on what you want:

  • If you would prefer a sleek folding knife that is used just in case of a rescue, then perhaps the Dragonfly or Atlantic Salt is the right knife for you.
  • If you would prefer something larger, more versatile and to use for fishing, then maybe the Fishhunter, Aqua Salt or Waterway is the better option for you.

Spyderco makes amazing knives and you know that whatever you pick will be of excellent quality.

Of course, you will pay for that premium.

PFD Knives Are Essential For Kayaking – But Can Be Dangerous

When carrying a knife it is important to remember that at the end of the day it is a tool that can be dangerous.

Always exercise safe use and be careful when you take them out. Take care of them and they will take care of you. Many people believe that you do not need to carry a knife when kayaking or boating; however I feel strongly that it is better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it.

As I mentioned before, as a professional sea kayak guide, we never leave the beach without one.

2 thoughts on “Best Kayaking Knife: Never Go Without A PFD Knife”

  1. Just purchased an NRS Co Pilot kayaking knife in 420 stainless steel, made in China. Rust spots after first outing. My Lomo kayaking knife at 1/4 of the price is still good after 6 years. The sheath is its only slightly weak point.

  2. Totally sad that NRS is now made in China. Why in the world the US can’t make a high quality kayak/canoe knife is beyond me.


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