A common tool used to sharpen a knife’s edge is a whetstone. With it, you’ll need to apply a few drops of honing oil or water to the surface of the stone and spread it evenly with your finger. Then, place the knife flat against the surface of the stone, using two or three fingers of your other hand for leverage. Move the blade forward against the stone, using your fingers to apply some pressure with your fingers. Take care to maintain an angle during each stroke as you move the blade in a semi-circular motion so that the entire edge contacts the stone with each stroke. After a few turns with one side of the knife’s blade, switch to the other side. Once you’re done, wipe the blade clean with a cloth and test the edge using a piece of paper.
Another option is an electric knife sharpener, which typically uses small, round grinding wheels attached to a motor. There’s usually some type of channel to guide the knife blade against the grinding wheels at the appropriate angle. Some models even offer multiple grooves that sharpen at different angles. Also, resist the urge to use an electronic knife sharpener from a department or grocery store. These models are designed for kitchen cutlery and shouldn’t be used for camping knives.
For knives with a serrated edge, you’ll need a tapered sharpening rod to get and around those serrations and keep them honed. To use a sharpening rod, place it inside each individual serration and use a few steady strokes to reform the curved edge.
Keeping your knives sharp ensures they’ll perform for you when you need them to. Dull knives are not only ineffective, but they’re unsafe, so taking a few minutes to hone a waning edge will pay off in dividends in the backcountry.