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Can You Carry A Knife While Camping? The Law Explained

Man cutting a piece of wood with a knife

Any seasoned camper knows that a knife is their best tool. It allows you to trim twigs for kindling, clean and filet fish and of course, in an emergency, it provides you protection. However, this is a weapon as much as it is a tool for survival. As such, there are laws on when and where you can have a knife while camping.

Can you carry a knife while camping? In the United States, the laws for carrying knives vary between states, between counties and even between cities. The federal laws cover carrying a blade over state lines. They also cover Washington D.C. and military bases, where you’re not likely to be camping.

Whether you’re camping in your home state or traveling over the border, the most important thing to do is research the laws where you’ll be. Knowing what is legal will help you to pack appropriately. And whatever you do, do not underestimate the severity of the consequences. Even misdemeanor charges carry serious weight.

The U.S. Federal Law On Knife-Carrying

There is one federal law regarding the carrying of knives in the United States. That makes it pretty easy to remember. So, what is the U.S. law you need to know?

What Is The Switchblade Knife Act Of 1958?

The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 (15 U.S.C. §1244) bans the shipment, sale, and/or possession of switchblades and ballistic blades over state lines. This law includes crossing into Native American territories. However, that’s not all it does.

An amendment made under President Obama in 2009 redefined what qualifies as a switchblade.

In its original form, all folding blades counted as switchblades. However, Amendment 1447, removes restrictions on spring-assist folding knives, or knives with springs that require physical effort to open. Your standard pocketknife is no longer unlawful, thanks to this amendment.

Why Does This Law Exist?

In 1950, Women’s Home Companion published an article on the threat presented by the open availability of switchblades. The rise of robberies and deaths related to gangs and switchblades became widely reported on, increasing public concern.

A case brought before Congress centered around the public’s fears and anxieties about the availability of weapons. The Act was put in place as a means to protect the commonwealth from gangs and potential criminals.

When put in place, the law blanketed across all switchblades. Since then, laws have been adapted to modern standards. With safeties put into place, folding blades have presented less of a threat.

How Does The Switchblade Knife Act Of 1958 Affect You?

For camping, most of the blades that you’ll use won’t be affected by this federal law. If you do have a switchblade, honestly, it’s probably not great for camping purposes anyway.

It is important to remember that a switchblade and a pocketknife are different. And the pocket-sized multitool you inherited from your grandfather is probably alright, too. For one of the best multi-tools check out this handy Leatherman Supertool with a 25-year limited warranty.

Therefore, to be on the safe side understand the local laws of where you are camping before you pack to make sure you’re on the right side of the law.

Other Posts of Interest

What About The 2nd Amendment?

As a nation, we argue about what the second amendment entails every other day. Most of the time, the discussion is about the right to bear arms. However, the founding fathers knew “arms” to be muskets, but also sabers and bladed weaponry.

So, for many years, knife carriers have fought for clarifying laws to protect their rights. While firearms get a lot of press and discussion about what the second amendment covers, the status of knives, on the other hand, has never been settled.

Places You Definitely Cannot Carry A Knife In The U.S.

While you probably are not camping in these places, just keep in mind that you’re not allowed to bring a knife into a school, courthouse, airplane, federal building, or military base (unless you are issued one as a service member).

The only one of these things that may be of concern to you is the airplane. If you are camping across the country and need to fly to get to the campsite, you may be able to check your camping knives. There are, of course, some specific steps to take:

  • Knives must be sheathed and securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.
  • You must contact the airline before you fly to make sure that you do everything right.

Keep in mind, too, that it remains in the power of the T.S.A. to decide if your knife is okay.

Terminology To Know With Knife Laws

There are a few terms that you’ll need to know to understand knife laws. Here are a few important ones.

Ownership – This means that you have the blade in your possession, even if it is at home. Laws against ownership are in place to prevent knives that have reputations as deadly or dangerous weapons. The most common knife ownership law is against the Bowie Knife.

Open Carry – This means carrying a knife in plain view of others in a public setting. From state to state, this may be in full view or just in partial view. If you have a pocket clip on your knife, this is open to interpretation. While the knife part technically is concealed, some may argue that the clip is part of the knife and is visible.

Concealed Carry – This means having the knife on your person in public hidden from view. It also involves specific stipulations like the blade length, the state of having a double-edged blade, and design. As with “open carry,” local laws and nuances between police officers could affect how your carry is treated.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Knife Charges

As you read through the local laws concerning which knives are fair play for camping, you’ll come across two more terms you’re likely familiar with but may not fully understand. These two terms are misdemeanor and felony. While what constitutes each varies from state to state, here is a simplification, though.

A Misdemeanor is generally punished through monetary means, as in a fine. In some states, a misdemeanor offense may also carry jail time of less than a year. It truly depends on the knife you have in your possession, how you were using it, as well as the police handling your case.

A Felony, on the other hand, is much more severe. It usually involves serious jail time and other additional punishments, including the death penalty. While the possession of an illegal knife will not likely earn you the death penalty, it’s still not worth it to test the judicial system.

In other words, the best thing you can do is check the laws and abide by them to the letter.

General Knife Laws By State

The laws in each state will vary by county and city. However, the general overarching state laws are a good place for you to start. Below is a general overview of state laws.

We have made every effort to provide the correct information below. However, it is not intended to be legal advice; it is your responsibility to verify the laws where you live or plan to camp.

For more information on knife laws, check the American Knife & Tool Institute website.

State Restrictions
Alabama Bowie knives may not be concealed carried. In Montgomery, you cannot have a blade longer than 3 inches. You must be 18 to own a Bowie knife.
Alaska No prohibited or forbidden knives as of 2013. You must be 18 to own a switchblade or gravity knife. You must inform an officer if you possess a concealed weapon. If you enter someone’s home, you must have their express permission to have your knife on you.
Arizona Except for pocketknives, no knife may be concealed carried. That said, no knives are technically illegal for ownership. You must be 21 to carry a knife other than a pocketknife.
Arkansas There are no forbidden knives or “edged arms.” The sale of a 3-inch blade to a minor is illegal without parental consent. Concealment is disregarded, but possession with unlawful intent is an offense (obviously). Be mindful that “intent” is subjective to the officers.
California Air gauge, ballistic, belt buckle, lipstick, writing pen, switchblade over 2 inches, and concealed dirk or dagger are prohibited for manufacture, possession, gift or sale. Sheath knives must be openly carried.
Colorado Concealed-carry of a blade over 3½ inches is illegal. Ballistic knives are still illegal, but automatic and gravity knives are legal as of August 9, 2017.
Connecticut Weirdly hitchhiking is illegal under the state’s knife laws. Otherwise, there are no prohibitions on knives or concealment. However, you cannot legally carry an automatic or switchblade of 1½ inches or 4 inches on other knife types.
Delaware Switchblades are forbidden for possession or sale. Blades over 3 inches in length are illegal. You must have a license to carry a blade other than a pocketknife.
Florida Concealed carry is prohibited without a license, with an exception for a pocketknife. Ballistic, automatic, and self-propelled knives are illegal. Minors must have parental consent to own a knife.
Georgia Dirks, Bowie knives, switchblades, razors, and blades of 2 inches or longer are prohibited within the safety zone of a school. Blades of 12 inches or longer are illegal. Carry of any kind outside of the home requires a license.
Hawaii It is illegal to own any switchblade knife with a blade that opens automatically or a butterfly knife.
Idaho Blades of 4 inches or less are legal. Concealed carry without a license is fine.
Illinois Switchblades and ballistic knives are illegal. Blades over 3 inches in length are illegal. Intent to use a sharp item (including a broken bottle) is illegal. Concealing your identity (wearing your hood up) while carrying a weapon is illegal.
Indiana No age limit for knife possession. However, concealed carry by anyone under 21 years of age is illegal, with exceptions for pocket and hunting knives. Concealed carry by those over 21 must have a license.
Iowa Items on the state’s dangerous weapons list may not be concealed carried. Doing so is an automatic aggravated misdemeanor. Any weapon with a blade over 5 inches is included on the list.
Kansas Bladed weapons intended for throwing and ballistic knives are illegal.
Kentucky As of June 27, 2019, most restrictions for bladed carry by those 21 and older have been lifted. Possession of deadly weapons by those under 21 may be barred, with exceptions for pocket knives and hunting knives. Open carry has no restriction. Concealed carry requires a license.
Louisiana Except for automatic knives, there is no issue of open or concealed carry in Louisiana. You cannot have a switchblade in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.
Maine Auto-open knives are illegal. Any weapon concealed carried with ill intent is illegal, and the intent and manner of the carrier are subject to the police officer present.
Maryland Concealed carry of folding knives, except switchblades or spring-activated blades, are permitted. Minors may not carry a blade unless they are hunting and accompanied by an adult.
Massachusetts There is a 1½ inch maximum blade length for automatic knives and switchblades. Dirks are prohibited.
Michigan You cannot concealed carry a fixed blade weapon in a vehicle. Any “stabbing instrument” concealed carry is illegal. Hunting knives used for their intended purpose are legal.
Minnesota Switchblades and automatic knives are prohibited.
Mississippi Large fixed blade weapons are illegal to conceal. You cannot carry any “deadly weapon” in your vehicle unless related to “legitimate weapon-related sports activity.”
Missouri You can concealed carry a knife anywhere that concealed firearms are allowed. Switchblades are illegal.
Montana As of October 2017, concealed carry is fairly unlimited. They used to limit concealing blades over 4 inches. Be aware that local laws may still reflect old state laws.
Nebraska Concealed carry of blades over 3½ inches is illegal. Ownership of a blade of any length is illegal if you have a criminal history.
Nevada You cannot concealed carry a machete (it’s dangerous to try anyways).
New Hampshire There are no notable restrictions on blade possession or carry.
New Jersey Gravity knives, switchblades, dirks, daggers, and stilettos are illegal to own. It’s illegal to sell a minor a blade longer than 5 inches.
New Mexico It is illegal to concealed carry a “deadly weapon.” Switchblades are illegal.
New York “Dangerous Knives” are illegal for those under 16. There is a 4-inch blade maximum in New York City. Switchblades, ballistic knives, and cane swords are illegal.
North Carolina Open carry is required for all blades except pocketknives. Knives for hunting and fishing, while on a state-owned reservation for that purpose, maybe concealed with a license.
North Dakota No blades in churches. Blades over 5 inches are considered “dangerous weapons.” Any knife may be openly carried.
Ohio Knives on the “deadly weapons” list may not be concealed carried. Ballistic knives are illegal.
Oklahoma There is no prohibition for knives carried for the purposes of hiking, hunting, fishing, or camping.
Oregon You cannot conceal an assisted-open knife, dagger, or ice pick.
Pennsylvania You cannot conceal a weapon if you intend to use it for harm. You cannot transfer a “deadly weapon” to a minor. Switchblades are restricted.
Rhode Island Blades of 3 inches or more cannot be concealed carried. You cannot sell or transfer a blade of 3 inches or more to a minor.
South Carolina Concealed carry is only illegal if you have the intent to cause harm.
South Dakota This state does not classify knives, and concealed carry is legal as long as you don’t intend to commit a felony.
Tennessee There may be a restriction on blades over 4 inches, but the most common local laws focus on criminal intent.
Texas Texas is a huge state with several well-populated cities that vary in their legislation. The overarching state law only prohibits a blade length of 5½ inches.
Utah There is no list of forbidden bladed weapons; however, the law prohibits concealing “dangerous weapons.”
Vermont Switchblades are illegal with blades of 3 or more inches. Concealed carry is not an issue.
Virginia It is illegal for minors to possess a Bowie knife or dirk. Open carry is required except for pocketknives. You can concealed carry a hunting knife for its intended purposes at state-run hunting or fishing reservations.
Washington “Furtively carrying a blade with intent to conceal” is illegal. Spring blades, switchblades, daggers, and dirks are illegal.
West Virginia You cannot concealed carry a dirk, Bowie knife, switchblade, ballistic blade, machete, or virtually anything scary. Pocket knife blades must be 3 inches or less.
Wisconsin Minors cannot possess any bladed weapon. There are no blade restrictions or concealed carry requirements.
Wyoming Concealed carry is only allowed if you are over 21 with a weapon permit. Otherwise, there are no limitations.

Pocket Knives And Camping

Pocket knives are a very versatile tool to have in your camping arsenal. They are also sometimes called a jackknife or pen knife. They have a foldable blade or blades that, when folded, enable the knife to be carried in your pocket.

The blades on a pocket knife are usually between 2 to 6 inches in length. If you are considering purchasing a new knife, here is an excellent USA manufactured knife by Case.

Pocket knives are convenient when you are camping and hiking. You can use them for cutting “roasting sticks” to cook your hot dogs over a campfire. They are handy for cutting fishing line, cleaning your catch and cutting small pieces of twigs for starting a campfire.

Pocket knives are also useful for cutting rope and when you need to do any makeshift repairs around your campsite.

However, pocket knives are only useful when kept in good working condition. Open the blade or blades and clean the track where the blade(s) sit with a cotton swab. Remove any water or dirt from the knife and lightly oil blades and folding mechanisms. Wipe off any excess oil. Perform these steps regularly to keep your knife in top condition.

Another essential aspect of having a knife that is ready when you need it is to sharpen it properly. This Smith’s Tri-hone sharpening kit will keep your knife in tip-top condition.

Don’t know how to sharpen a knife? Watch this helpful video.

As you can see, a pocket knife is an essential item to have on your camping list. Download our free camping checklist.

Check The Campground Rules

Whoever makes the rules for the campground you’re staying at may also dictate whether you can bring your knives along. Privately-owned campgrounds can make their own rules. Some KOA campgrounds don’t allow concealed carry of firearms, so your best bet is to call ahead to see what is and isn’t approved during your stay.

Wrapping It Up

With a basic understanding of U.S. federal and state laws, you are at a good starting point. However, you must look into the regulations of the specific area where you will be hiking. The laws for carrying a knife vary so widely that it’s better to be on the safe side.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.