The Venerable Skinning Knife
The skinning knife is indispensable hunting tool. Whether your quarry is big game, like deer or elk, or small game such as squirrel or rabbit, a razor-sharp skinning knife simplifies the processing of your harvest. There are distinct features that distinguish the best skinning knife from other types of hunting knives.
In general, all skinning knives feature a pronounced curve along their edge. This sweeping curve offers two distinct advantages while processing an animal. First, it prevents the edge from poking holes or otherwise damaging the hide. It also keeps the meat safe from similar damage. Secondarily, the gentle curve aids in the slicing motion used to separate hide from carcass.
The blades in skinning knives are also typically short (under 5 inches) and wide. These dimensions the knife maneuver in tight spaces, and give the blade high tensile strength to prevent damage from encounters with hard bone. They also generally use either very strong or thick (or both) steel blades to keep the knife from flexing during use. Flex in a skinning knife would cause a loss of control when removing tough hides from larger game, again possible causing damage to the carcass or injury to the user.
For the most part, skinning knives tend to be fixed blade, with handles that provide traction to prevent the hand from slipping. There are folding options available, but the fixed blade dominates this market segment. The replaceable-blade skinning knife is another style that has gained popularity in recent years. In this skinning knife review, we take a closer look at the different styles, and briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type.
Fixed Blade Skinners
Buck Paklite Skinner
When traveling on foot through the wilderness, every added ounce you carry quickly adds up. Ounces become pounds, after all, and that is where the Buck Paklite Skinner comes into play. This skeleton-framed skinning knife weighs just 2.5 ounces, making it one of the lightest skinning knives available.
The blade is 2.875 inches long, and is made from Buck’s standard 420HC steel. It is heat treated to help it keep its edge, which comes extremely sharp from the factory. Not only does this steel keep an edge, but it takes one very easily. With a few swipes on a simple sharpening stone, you can be ready to cope with the largest of game. The Paklite is available in an all-steel version and a coated one. The coated version is high-visibility orange and provides added traction to prevent slipping when the handle gets wet.
The Paklite is made in the U.S.A. and comes with a functional nylon sheath, which is lined with a hard plastic material to protect the blade and aid in retention. It is one of the more affordable knives on this, or any, list of the best skinning knives.
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) Ken Onion Skinner
Ken Onion, the famed knife maker from Hawaii, took his time designing the Onion Skinner. When his lengthy, trial-and-error process was over, Onion had produced one of the most original skinning knife designs on the market.
The high hollow ground blade uses 110D2 tool steel. This steel is extremely hard, but will take an impressive edge. What’s more, it will hold that edge through hard use. The blade is a ¾-tang design, and CRKT uses a satin finish on the blade to reduce glare.
The handle on the Onion Skinner is double-injection molded, with a glass infused core and a soft, thermoplastic rubber (TPR) surface. The TPR provides excellent traction when cutting, and the knife remains firmly in place even when wet.
The CRKT Ken Onion Skinner comes with an included leather sheath, which is molded to accept the molded handle. It does an excellent job of retaining and protecting the blade, and is unobtrusive and attractive to boot.
Benchmade Hidden Canyon Hunter
The Hidden Canyon Hunter is a fixed-blade, full-tang skinning knife from the venerable knife maker Benchmade. The 2.67-inch blade is made from CPM-S30V stainless steel. This alloy is extremely tough and easily sharpened, but it is also quite expensive to manufacture. So, you’re not just paying for a label when you buy this superior-quality skinner.
An ergonomic choil keeps your index finger safe and secure while slicing tough hide. It includes jimping at the heel and tip of the spine to prevent slipping. The Hidden Canyon Hunter has an overall length of 6.32 inches, making it shorter than some other skinners. While this length may seem short to some users, it provides added maneuverability that is useful in some situations.
The wooden-handle option comes with an attractive leather sheath. It is a tad lighter (3.19 ounces) than the synthetic-handled type (3.53 ounces). The G10 handle is glass-reinforced and provides better traction than does the wooden handle. It also comes with a kydex sheath that provides excellent protection and retention.
Benchmade knives come extremely sharp right out of the box. The S30V steel holds an edge quite well, and when used for utility purposes the Hidden Canyon Hunter will stay plenty sharp enough for most uses. As a skinner, though, the edge will lose its razor-like sharpness eventually. Though a skilled sharpener can put a great edge back on the blade, Benchmade offers a service wherein they will renew the factory edge on the blade for a nominal fee.
Buck Folding Omni
The second Buck knife on the list is one that takes the purposeful, classic skinning blade and places it in a functional folding package. The best of the lineup is likely the 10-point Buck Omni, which features a 3-inch blade. However, Buck also offers a 12-point Omni, with a larger, 4-inch blade.
Buck’s usual 420HC steel is the blade material of choice. Like in the Paklite, this steel has properties that approximate high-carbon steels in their ability to keep an edge. Sharp as a razor at purchase, this steel will take an edge as well as any knife on the market.
The 10-point Omni’s handle is engineered thermoplastic (ETP). It has small ridges in it to reduce the chance of slipping, and is designed, in conjunction with the blade’s raised studs, to enable one-handed opening. The handle is also curved to provide an ergonomic and comfortable grip.
The littler folding Omni is a light, 2.8 ounces in weight and is 4.625 inches long when closed. Like all folding skinners, it suffers from a difficulty in cleaning after use in skinning, but this is no fault of its own. If you’re in the market for a functional folding knife that can effectively field dress game and still provide utility, look no further.
Outdoor Edge SwingBlade
While not a folder in the traditional sense, the Outdoor Edge SwingBlade is a truly innovative hunting knife that any serious outdoorsman should give careful consideration. It is a multiple-use skinning knife/gutting knife combination that provides 2-in-1 utility in an attractive and affordable package.
In skinning knife form, the SwingBlade is a 3.6-inch Aichi AUS-8 stainless steel drop point. This steel utilizes Vanadium in the alloy, making it easier to sharpen while still holding that edge impressively. The sweep of the edge is less subtle than in some skinning knives, giving it an almost tanto-like appearance.
Push the button on the TPR handle and swing the blade around, however, and you now have an impressive 3.2-inch gutting blade at your disposal. The two blades are one-piece, and they are equally sharp and useful. The SwingBlade has an 8.3-inch overall length, and the TPR handle is soft and textured to prevent slipping. It comes with a serviceable nylon sheath that keeps your investment clean and secure.
Replaceable Blade Skinning Knives
To be effective and safe to use, a skinning knife must remain particularly sharp. A dull blade, or one that has nicks in the edge, will damage the meat and hide of your harvest, and it may also cause injury. For that reason, the replaceable-blade skinning knife deserves consideration.
Havalon’s Piranta-Edge is one of the best-selling replaceable-blade knives on the current market. It comes with 12 #60A stainless steel blades. When you wear one down, there is no need to sharpen it. Simply replace it with a brand new one, and you are good to go. There are as many replacement blade options as an X-ACTO knife, but the #22-style would likely be the best for skinning. A box of 100 blades is available for less than the cost of a new Piranta-Edge, and should last for years with all but the most demanding use.
The blades are 2.75 inches long, making them an ideal length for skinning a variety of game animals. The Handle is made from ABS thermoplastic, and is textured. The open-back design allows for simple cleaning of the smoothly operating mechanism, and there is an included nylon holster and removable holster clip.
The blades are insanely sharp, and they last longer than one might assume. The removable clip makes carrying the knife a snap, and it can be used as an EDC knife for those with a need for a ridiculously sharp edge. The only downfall to the design is the need for new blades. In the event of a zombie outbreak, they may be hard to come by, but until then these knives are smart buy.
For roughly the same cost of entry as the Piranta-Edge, you can find yourself the owner of Gerber’s Vital pocket folder. Rather than the #60A blade, though, Gerber’s Vital accepts the more-standard #60 blade. The Gerber’s blade length is 2.8 inches, and it has an overall length of 6.9 inches.
Gerber uses molded-over rubber for the handle material, which is quite soft and tacky, producing respectable grip when wet. It also has a large, ergonomic choil to prevent your index finger from accidentally slipping onto the surgical-steel blade.
And that last part is really the key. These replaceable-blade knives cut like a scalpel when the blades are fresh. The Vital lacks the open-back feature that makes the Piranta-Edge so cleanable, but it is still a fine alternative.
If you are commonly in need of a knife for slicing, it makes sense to carry this knife with you every day. The blades will not survive the abuse of industrial use, but then, that’s not really what they’re for. As a skinner, it is hard to find fault with these pocket razors.
Final Thoughts on finding the Best Skinning Knife
There was a time when the skinning knife was considered indispensable. When hunting for your dinner was a necessity, and an unbroken animal hide was invaluable, a clean-cutting skinner was the tool that kept people fed and clothed.
Nowadays though, the skinning knife is less used. Tactical folders and big fixed-blade hunting knives dominate the market, and little blades like the ones in this skinning knife review don’t sell like they once did. That’s a sad fact, though. Ultimately, there is no reason not to own any of the great knives above.
If you hunt big game, the traditional fixed-blade skinner is likely your best option. You never have to worry about breaking anything other than the tip, and cleaning the knife is as easy as it gets. For those who only hunt mainly small game, the replaceable blade option is the one for you. The razor-sharp edge of the surgical blades will slice easily through hide and sinew, and your light-weight quarry will not be rolling around, risking a nasty cut for the user.
The folding skinner is still a rarity on the market, but it is one that surely has its place. While the mechanism that keeps it open or closed can easily become fouled during skinning, careful use can prevent most of those issues. And there is no law that says the swept blade can only be used for skinning game.
Any of the knives on this list can be used effectively as an everyday-carry knife. Most of them have short blades that fall below the maximum carry length in most jurisdictions. And the curved edge that makes them effective in skinning is useful anytime a slicing action is required. If you are not a collector, and want just one knife with multiple uses, it would be wise not to overlook the humble skinner.