The Best Kayak Knife in 2021? Top River Knives for Your PFD

(This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.)

Whether it is kayaking, river rafting, or canoeing, water sports are thrilling and fun-filled. However, this is only true with proper planning and preparation. Having the right gear is indispensable for water trips.

Most aquatic adventurers know the importance of wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and even keeping an emergency whistle. However, a PFD knife is often an ignored tool. On a stream of water, having such as can rescue or save your or even someone else’s life.

As a fact, mishaps during aquatic adventures are common during which it is necessary to free yourself or someone else from the probable hurdles and hazards. You may need to release someone from a stuck boat or repair a boat. This is where the best kayak knife can be your reliable companion; it can be a lifesaver.

Now that the importance of having a kayaking knife is understood, you may think that any sharp knife will do. Well, a kitchen knife is likely to look a bit weird or long while paddling. A camping knife can be your choice but it is not going to last long after being exposed to the corrosive saltwater.

Thus, you need a kayaking knife that is made to withstand the eroding saltwater or freshwater flows. Yes, you can do many things using it apart from cutting shock cords. It can help you with a myriad of tasks, ranging right from making a basic shelter to constructing spare clothing or bandages.

2021’s 5 Best Kayaking Knives

NRS Pilot Knife

This NRS knife has been the preferable kayak knife for many kayakers and rescuers. This little tool is a mid-range option with good features. While both the handle and blade are short, the performance is robust. The compact design makes packing it a breeze.

The dual-edge build makes this knife versatile. The knife features both a serrated and a smooth edge due to which you can cut almost anything. Interestingly, the tip is flat that is useful for two purposes. First, it defends from accidentally stabbing your inflatable watercraft or PFD. Second, it acts as a flat-head screwdriver to perform some repairs.

The distinct construction gives you a small bottle opener such that using it does not ruin the blade. This means you can use it for more than just critical situations.

The 3-inch long blade is made using 400-series stainless steel and has a blunt tip. This means it is rust-resistant and quite sharp. The texturized handle is made using glass-reinforced polypropylene wrapped in a rubber coat, which gives you a lightweight, anti-slippery, and durable knife. You can easily hold this handle in water.

The sheath can be affixed easily almost anywhere on your PFD. Other features include a valve wrench for oxygen and a rope-cutting hook.

Pros

  • Light and compact
  • Flat, blunt tip
  • Secure grip
  • The plastic clip attachment point
  • Smooth edge

Cons

  • It May be unsuitable for big hands

Morakniv Companion Serrated Knife

Mora knives have countless fans who are hikers, campers, divers, and bushcrafters, as they are razor-sharp, hold their edge for long, have a blade of tough Swedish steel, and are easy to sharpen. This Companion knife just increases this fan list through its most-loved features.

It features a 4.1-inch long serrated fixed blade that can cut a variety of materials such as fibers, ropes, nets, cords, and lines. This means any rescue professional including coast guards can use it to save lives. The blade is made using high-quality Sandvik steel, which is ideal for marine and construction applications where water and dirt are indispensable.

The present chromium content in the steel makes the blade less vulnerable to corrosion and oxidation due to which their sharp lifespan is longer than carbon-steel blades. The ultra-fine carbides promote great edge sharpness for highly optimal cutting performance.

The patterned handle is known for its high-friction grip while holding it safely even in water. It seems to be a rubbery non-slip grip. The fluorescent additions to the handle make the knife more visible. Even the easy-release sheath is fluorescent and is made using hard plastic. The clips allow you to attach the sheath to a belt.

Pros

  • Light
  • Sharp
  • Ergonomic handle
  • High visibility underwater due to colored handle
  • Good edge retention
  • Affordable

Cons

  • May rust if exposed to saltwater too frequently

Promate Point Tip Scuba Dive BC Knife

Consider this saltwater-friendly knife if you are on a budget, will be using a knife for only kayaking not diving for hours, and want a safety tool to clip on your belt or PFD. This little knife with its additional layer of anti-corrosion protection is worth using while kayaking and see its rust-free edge even after use for a few weeks.

The 3-inch long blade has a smooth edge on one side and a serrated one on the other. It is made using 304 stainless steel, which is rust-resistant and ensures edge retention for a long time. There is also a line cutter on the smooth edge side to help you in almost any rescue situation.

The point is not that dull due to which it can be somewhat tricky to use if you get stuck in raging waters. On the happy side, the point helps you defend yourself while facing a marine crawler. The fiberglass-nylon handle is strong and grippy without any texturing.

The easy-release, molded sheath seems to be of plastic and is available in four colors. However, the knife is black regardless of which color of sheath you choose. The best aspect of it is its single-button lock mechanism. There are pre-installed clips for simple mounting. You can use it via the nylon-tight or Velcro closure straps.

Pros

  • Light and compact
  • Smooth and serrated edge
  • Easy and quick locking system in the sheath
  • High visibility due to colorful sheath
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Not for 10 hours use daily in water

NRS Captain Kayak Rescue Knife

This is another folding kayak knife on this list. At first glance, it seems to be a powerful kayaking knife and it is so even in performance! That hook at the blunt tip for cutting ropes is likely to grab your attention, which works. Designed for guides and water rescuers, the knife has a quick-slicing jagged edge.

The serrated edge cuts the rope and webbing more quickly than the hook though. You can yet use it as a line cutter. Still, a trained hand can easily slip the hook under a rope. The flat, blunt tip of the 3-inch long means easy working with screws when needed and without damaging the blade. The bottle opener is a good addition to the handle.

The blade opens using one hand and locks tightly. A spring clip of metal holds the knife where you desire it to be. The handle is made using glass-reinforced polypropylene and is ergonomic. It does not slip even in wet conditions.

Pros

  • Light and compact
  • Flat, blunt tip
  • Super sharp
  • Secure grip

Cons

  • Visually less impressive hook

Spyderco Salt 2

This Spyderco Salt knife is costly but you get a tool that lasts for years despite use in saltwater and stays sharp for a month when in your pocket. It is a folding knife featuring a back lock and a 3-inch long blade made using H-1 stainless steel of Japan. H1 is one of the super stainless steel and uses nitrogen instead of carbon. It is virtually impermeable to rust and is non-magnetic.

Most stainless steel will rust over time regardless of its grade or any level of nickel. However, this knife does not rust or discolor despite using it in all types of water. The grind is hollow, which means bevel grinding is done with a concave radius. The blade also features the trademark round hole.

The blade has a plain edge without serrations. Accompanying the blade is a textured handle made using robust fiberglass-reinforced nylon that ensures high strength and secure grip. All other hardware is made using non-rusting alloys.

Although this knife may not easily fit in your PFD, it will nicely sit in your pocket at a length of 4.25 inches.

Pros

  • Light
  • Completely rust-resistant
  • Sharp edge retention
  • Superior thumb role and lock
  • Superior ergonomics

Cons

  • Pricey

The Importance of having a Kayak Knife in your PFD Kit

NRS Neko Kayak Knife

The white water and sea kayakers use a PFD knife. In the case of white water kayaking, it is common to come across rescue situations wherein the use of ropes is indispensable in most situations. A rope is used for pulling a trapped paddler to a safe area but there is always a risk of entrapping the paddler and/or even the rescuer.

Further, there is a high probability of you getting trapped in something beneath the water and need something to separate yourself. This is where a PFD knife also called a rescue knife is handy.

Even sea kayakers agree that having such a knife is beneficial for the aforementioned reasons. Moreover, the sea kayaks possess more lines on deck with attached equipment. Now, it is essential to ensure that nothing comes their way during wet exits or rolling. If something hinders, a kayak knife will easily cut them free.

A few sea kayakers use sails while paddling for fun. However, amidst high winds, it is tough to control the sail. In this situation, it is ideal to cut it free than to invite danger.

Types of River Knives

Generally, there are two reasons for having a knife while on the water namely, rescue and utility. These two purposes result in two different kayaking knives, each having a distinct form and function.

  • Rescue-based River Knives: Are beasts when it is the matter of cutting efficiency and holding while working. Designed with safety to help effectively when in need, these knives are capable of performing only a couple of tasks but in an extremely efficient way. They have great blade control and grip. These knives have fewer features than utility knives. Rescue knives can cut any rope quickly. However, they are not for cutting melons! Professional rescuers usually expect more critical and aggressive uses from knives. Keeping this in mind, rescue knives usually come with an aggressive blade shape, solid retention system, hard cutting edge for quick ripping, contoured or textured surface for grip even in wet or icy conditions, and a finger hole or loop for a good hold.
  • Utility-based River Knives: Are used primarily before a backup multitool is put to work. Due to more features, utility knives are used in different applications such as opening a bottle at a campsite, cutting ropes, acting as a screwdriver, and spreading dip on a sandwich. Thus, full-tang utility-based river knives are ideal. They are reliable for diverse support in the wild. A folding model is less recommended, as you will end up facing a tough time on the field to get things done if the handle fails. Utility-based river knives have a wide flat surface for spreading, a good retention system, partial serration for food preparation, and a retention loop for attaching a secondary retention system.

Private rafters and guides of class III/IV on longer or overnight trips use utility knives. On the other hand, professionals such as SAR teams, expedition boaters, and river guides of class V use rescue knives. These users have a time-sensitive mission to complete when a rescue knife is put to use. Survival of all those who around depend on this kind of knife in events like snagged people due to PFD webbing and person pinned under a raft.

Salient Features of an Ideal PFD Knife

Gear Aid Akua Blunt Tip Resuce Knife with Serrated Blade and Sheath, Nav Green, 3" blade

While looking for the best kayaking knife as your PFD gear, it is common to come across both folding- and fixed-blade models. They should have the following salient features:

  • Marine-grade Steel Blade: A genuine PFD knife is made up of marine-grade steel or titanium blade. In the case of steel, there are two varieties commonly used namely, stainless and high carbon. The latter is known for its extraordinary strength, retains the edge for a longer time, and sharpens more easily than the stainless counterpart. However, steel having high carbon is likely to be brittle if exposed to huge pressure and is more susceptible to rusting if good care is not taken. The latter is not a problem with stainless steel, which means it is safe for saltwater kayaking. On the flip side, stainless steel is harder to sharpen and becomes dull faster. A carbon-steel knife is ideal for camping or bushcrafting, while a stainless-steel one is ideal for use on the water where you do not want to remove rust constantly off the blade. The stainless-steel blade is resistant to corrosion induced by saltwater, which otherwise results in inefficient performance and consequent safety issues.
  • Blunt Tip: A true PFD knife has a blade whose tip is blunt. You seriously do not need a blunt tip although a sharp edge is required. Such a tip ensures safety once the knife is worn on your body. It means while piercing anything, the blade remains guarded in its sheath. This is a handy feature while being on an inflatable raft, as such a tip will not puncture your vessel.
  • Plain and/or Serrated Edge: This is not a compulsory feature. However, if the edge is serrated, it helps to cut different materials, especially the hard ones. Usually, the edge of these knives will be serrated or plain. A serrated one will retain its sharpness for longer and will rip through more easily although it is hard to sharpen due to individual groove sharpening. On the other hand, a plain edge knife may not cut ropes as easily as a serrated one but is easier to sharpen due to which it has many uses. To get the best of both types, a few kayakers carry a small knife with a serrated edge on their PFD and a plain-edged one in their pack. Many kayakers prefer using a single knife that comes with both edges.
  • PFD Attachment Point: This is one of the main PFD knife features. Through this point, you can attach the knife firmly to the lash tab of PFD. This facilitates easy knife access when needed while wearing a PFD, as you can attach it to the life jacket’s front. Typically, the sheath stays firm to the jacket while releasing the knife.
  • Easy Release Sheath: Water sports lovers prefer a knife that comes with a sheath from which the knife is easy to release. Several PFD knives get locked into their sheaths due to which they stay firm when not in use. Nevertheless, you need to release the knife instantly when faced with an emergency. This is why a quick-release sheath is handy. Many sheaths are made such that you can take the knife out with one hand.
  • Synthetic Handle: Some portals dedicated to kayaking recommend knife handles made using wood or leather. Well, both these natural materials are ineffective in water. While leather softens and rots when exposed to saltwater frequently, wood tends to swell. Thus, the best kayak knife has a handle made up of synthetic material. Some of the widely used synthetic materials for river knives are Zytel, rubber, micarta, nylon, plastic, and G10. They do not rot, swell, soften, or become smoother to allow slipping when wet.
  • Rescue Loop: Most river knives come with a rescue loop to easily cut through webbing and straps.
  • Other Features: While some kayak knives are made as rescue tools, others are made to be more versatile. The latter ones, thus, have extra features such as a bottle opener, glass breaker, screwdriver, oxygen valve wrench, bright-colored handle for visibility, and a loop or carabiner.

Safety Features in River Kayak Knives

Gear Aid Akua Blunt Tip Resuce Knife with Serrated Blade and Sheath, Nav Green, 3" blade

A knife while kayaking or river rafting can cause harm or prove to be dangerous if not kept or used securely. Several PFD knives are usually made to fit tightly to the PFD’s lash tab, a square holder on the shoulder or chest area of many life jackets.

Another security measure taken by many manufacturers is to make sheaths remaining affixed to the tab. Now, when you pull the knife, the sheath stays firm to your life jacket. Before doing so, do go through the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to take it from the sheath.

You also need to check that your knife stays securely in the sheath when not at work. This is because a good sheath not only guards you but also the blade from any damage.

You should also check your knife’s position on the PFD. A few PFD knives may affix vertically, while some may attach horizontally. The safe position for you will depend on your action, PFD, and knife. It should be such that your chin is not harmed if pushed in waves or rapids.

FAQs

Should I invest in a fixed or folding blade?

Well, this chiefly depends on how and where you will use your kayak knife while enjoying the water sport. Fixed blades are typically tougher than the folding ones due to which they are preferable for wood cutting and survival. Folding blades, on the other hand, are lighter and more compact than the fixed ones to fit in your pocket. They are better for some precision work. Eventually, it all comes down to your preference.

Is it true that kayaking knives rust within some days?

The complaint of catching rust within days has come from some kayakers. To understand why it is essential to distinguish between diving knives having an anti-corrosive coating and water-resistant kayaking knives. It is unwise to expect that a kayaking knife will not rust when fastened underneath the boat throughout the ride. The solution is to rinse it after every use, particularly in saltwater.

Conclusion

A good rescue knife should be part of a kayaking kit. It should be versatile enough to cut all the things to protect you. We recommend the NRS piot knife to all as our favorite kayak knife.