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UK Knife Law — A Guide for Campers and Hikers

UK Knife Law — A Guide for Campers and Hikers

A frequent question we hear is ‘are camping knives legal?’ However, the answer isn’t so simple. It depends on these two factors: 

  1. What is the ‘camping knife’?
  2. How are you planning to use it?

The answers are extraordinarily varied, and yes, sometimes we find ourselves slightly bemused (you want to take a what for a one-night stay in a bothy?) However, we appreciate that UK knife laws can seem absurdly prohibitive and generally confusing for campers.

We’ve put together this guide to cover the essential parts of the law and discuss what you can and can’t take on a camping trip. We’ll explain the ‘good reason’ exception and what it covers and offer advice on preparing yourself if challenged. Finally, we’ll address some of the more niche points of carrying a knife while camping in the UK.

Carrying a Knife: What the Law Says

A person found in possession of a bladed or pointed article in a public place is committing an offence in the UK under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. 

It seems strict, but there are some exemptions to this law:

  • Subsection 2: This law doesn’t apply to non-locking folding blades measuring under 3 inches. It means that the Victorinox Swiss Army knife your grandpa bought you when you were 12 is probably fine. However, any knife where the blade can’t simply fold away is not That covers most good knives, as locking is usually an important safety feature.
  • Subsection 4: If you have a good reason or lawful authority to be carrying the blade, you can contest your innocence. However, the burden of proof is on you, and the prosecution may try to pick holes in your arguments. We’ll cover this in detail later.
  • Subsection 5: It’s legal to carry an otherwise prohibited article if it’s for work purposes. It’s also legal if it’s part of your religious dress or a national costume. Again, you must prove that any of these circumstances apply.

Are Camping Knives Legal? Determining 'Good Reason'

The most applicable exemption for campers and hikers is that they have a good reason for carrying a blade, like if they’re using it for:

  • Food preparation
  • Bushcraft
  • General utility

For general utility, such as removing splinters, a small penknife is probably adequate, so bear that in mind in your justification. You don’t need a 6″ switchblade to cut a roll of bandages, for example.

Below are some cases in which you can easily and adequately prove you have a good reason for carrying a knife:

You Just Bought It

It seems obvious, but UK laws are so strict that it’s worth mentioning. If the knife is in shop packaging, and you have a receipt (get a receipt!), you can easily prove that you’re transporting the knife home.

You Need It for Food Preparation while Camping

The most common reason campers wonder, ‘are camping knives legal?’ is because they know a blade is an essential tool in the wilderness. 

In most situations, an average kitchen knife should suffice for food preparation, and so long as you have a tent, you can demonstrate that it’s for camping and food prep. The knife should be in safekeeping and not in your pocket, of course. If you’re planning to forage for food or don’t have a tent, be ready to explain your plans.

You Need It for Historical Re-Enactments or Demonstrations

If you’re carrying a blade to participate in a licensed historical re-enactment or provide a licensed demonstration of use, you can claim an exemption under subsection 4. 

This exemption doesn’t apply to LARP (live-action role-play) events, for which actors usually use foam imitations. Worth remembering anyway, as we understand that members of these communities are often also camping enthusiasts.

Are Camping Knives Legal for Bushcraft?

If you’re planning to make a shelter out of natural materials, things become slightly more complex. You’ll typically need a larger tool, such as a camping axe, to gather materials.

As a general rule, the authorities are less sympathetic to these cases than they are to campers carrying a knife for food preparation. For this reason, we can’t recommend carrying axes or blades like a Kukri.

The issue comes down to the increased risk of injury with large bladed articles. The strict regulation here just means the authorities are showing justifiable caution. 

That said, if you do need to justify carrying blades used for bushcraft, a few rules of thumb that may help you:

  • Keep the article safely out of hand’s reach, tucked away in your bag.
  • Try to ensure it’s only on your person when you’re outside urban areas.
  • If questioned by authorities, be friendly and polite. Explain what you plan to craft and why, and be willing to surrender the article if asked.
  • If you’re using a vehicle, don’t leave it on the back seat.

It’s a shame that we have to face so much hassle when engaging in valuable and harmless pursuits. It’s just that the phrase ‘axe murderer in X area’ has a particular tabloid ring to it that gets police high-ups sweating.

Are Camping Knives Legal in Vehicles?

If you leave any pointed or bladed article in your vehicle, you’re technically in possession of it in a public place. It often seems absurd that the police maintain a strong presence in areas where you might go camping (although watch out if you’re in Derbyshire — they’re on it). However, you can always find yourself in difficulty if you get stopped by police while motoring.

Remember to remove all knives, camping axes, etc., from your vehicle unless you’re travelling to a place where you have good reason to use them. If you’re headed to the supermarket with a random kitchen knife in your boot, it seems absurd, but you could be in real trouble.

What Should You Not Carry?

Many people who search ‘are camping knives legal’ find that the information is vague around the specific blades you cannot carry in the UK. Here’s what you need to know:

Combat Knives

As you well know, there are no bears or wolves in the UK (not that a combat knife would likely do you much good if there were). Nor are you likely to face hordes of brigands in the Cairngorms. Nonetheless, some of us like to take the idea of being ready for anything a little too far.

There is no reasonable justification for carrying a combat knife while camping in the UK. The law does not permit carrying any offensive weapon, even for self-defence. It means that you won’t be able to defend yourself in a court of law if caught with a combat knife on your person. So the lesson here is simply don’t take this outside your home.

Machetes

It’s not a jungle out there. There aren’t many parts of the UK with undergrowth appropriate for carrying a machete unless you have a  hatred of wild blackberry bushes and stinging nettles. In which case, you probably shouldn’t be wild camping.

You don’t need it. The law won’t like it. Leave it at home.

Unnecessarily Large Knives

As we’ve established, you can likely provide a reasonable defence for carrying a kitchen knife for cooking while camping. As long as you can explain where you’re going and what you may be planning to cook, and you appear to be camping (whatever that means), you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

However, that’s no reason to get carried away. Are you planning to gather some wild garlic and mushrooms? Sounds delicious, but you don’t need a cleaver! Just because you’re out in the wild doesn’t mean you may need to butcher a deer at some point. Bring the smallest, safest, most functional knife available to you.

Gravity Knives

Under no circumstances should you carry a gravity knife. This item releases the blade when you tilt the knife downwards. 

Stealth knives, where the point or blade isn’t metal, are also unpopular with the police. Likewise, it’s a no-go on zombie knives, which have decorations or adornments promoting violence.

We know you wouldn’t. Still, people occasionally take strange ideas into their heads.

Kukris

So are camping knives legal? Broadly speaking, yes, if you can justify their usefulness. Kukris are one of the most controversial cases in this debate.

Traditionally used by Nepalese Gurkha warriors for practical and combat purposes, these knives are treasured souvenirs of those who have served with these elite fighters. They’re also increasingly popular among blade enthusiasts with a bit of money to spare.

The simple fact is that Kukris are far from their original home and use, and arguments about what the Gurkhas do with them probably won’t wash in a UK court… unless perhaps you’re a Gurkha.

The main question will be why you need such a fearsome device for a camping trip. After all, you could probably accomplish the same ends with smaller, safer tools. We don’t recommend bringing a Kukri if you’re camping or hiking.

Conclusion: Are Camping Knives Legal?

The real question is, ‘do I have a reasonable use for the knives I’m carrying while camping?’ If the answer is yes, you’ll likely be fine. That said, it’s not a bad idea to rehearse how you’ll justify the contents of your rucksack in advance of a camping or hiking trip.

Don’t carry anything you don’t need: that’s the cardinal rule. Also, don’t let anxiety stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Know what you can do legally and back yourself up confidently and politely if challenged. 

Ready to get the best camping knives for your trip? Visit this page to get knives that you’ll have no problem camping with!

Like all responsible retailers if you place an order with a knife there are additional checks we must take.

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Amy

Amy

Hi, I am Amy I have two loves in my life camping and writing. When I am not writing for The Expert Camper, I am usually camping. Lake District is my favourite spot, but really anywhere in the UK under canvas I am happy.

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