Years ago, when you needed a knife to go camping the decision was pretty simple. "Fixed or folding?" and "How big?" There is now so much variety in the design and construction of knives that purchasing a "general purpose knife" can be problematic. Each knife is designed with a specific use in mind -- even "general purpose" ones. The knife buying tips below offer criteria to consider when staring at a wall of sharp objects and someone says, "What kind of knife are you looking for?"
Why are you buying a knife? What will you use it for? The answer to those questions will determine what size blade you need. Would you want to chop kindling with a pen knife or trim fishing line with a machete? You get the point.
The fixed blade is considered the strongest design of a knife, and the "full tang" fixed blade is the most robust. It's a solid piece of sharpened steel with a grip. Your blade should be at least 1/8-inch thick for strength.
Check out the new larger folders with wide blades and hefty locking mechanisms. These designs can handle just about any camp chore all but the biggest fixed blades can. The blade of any folder should be solid in the frame with no wiggle.
Try a small or medium-size drop-point folder. You can always bring anything else you want to for any use you might encounter. After all, your four-wheel-drive backpack has 20 cubic feet of storage space and is parked nearby.
You have to be self-sufficient, and you have to carry it all. Consider a thick and sturdy fixed blade, as you'll be doing heavy work with it. Pay attention to weight.
Bob's Steel Rule
BUY QUALITY STEEL. Ask about it. How well does it hold an edge? Does it sharpen easily? Ask about the comparative RC rating (hardness). Whatever size or shape of knife you choose it should be made of good steel.
Consider textured handles of hard rubber, micarta, kraton, or other weatherproof composites rather than wood. The handle should be shaped to give good purchase when used aggressively. It should feel naturally secure and under control in all conditions.
Do you need a serrated blade for cutting rope at camp? Or a saw tooth edge on the spine? How about a toothpick, can opener, carabineer, compass, LED light, wood saw, or ballpoint pen? You are buying a knife, not a four-pound tool box. Partial serration, saw tooth edge-cool.
Have a multi-tool; I wouldn't be without one. You should get one, too. However, it is not a knife. Get a good knife first.
Your new knife comes sharp. Keep it that way. Get a small stone or diamond sharpener. Take the sharpener with you to camp and learn how to maintain that razor edge. Want a good tip? Keep your blade sharp.