Sure, you can eat with your hands. But who wants to do that all the time? Whether camping, surviving, or just taking a snack break on the trail, having handy, easily carried portable utensils can enhance your dining experience.
A quick story: During a multi-day rifle marksmanship course, the Tier 1 instructor took one morning to explain how to maintain the AR-platform rifle. During his demonstration, he field stripped the bolt carrier group on a sample rifle that had seen several thousand rounds since its last cleaning. For all to see, he held up the tail of the bolt, which had collected caked-on carbon and other fouling. He pulled a knife from his pocket, flicked it open, and showed the class how you could use it to scrape the bolt tail. He stashed the knife back in his pants pocket. Later, we broke for lunch. The seasoned, snake-eating instructor ambled over to a table and produced a loaf of bread, mayonnaise, and lunch meat from a grocery bag. He dipped into the mayonnaise and started spreading it on a slice of bread — with the very same pocketknife.
If this sounds like something you might do, then perhaps you can happily use some rusty nails as skewers and your dirty knife to cut your meat. But even those whose five-second rule is more like five minutes must admit that it's often easier to eat with utensils than your hands, especially when food is scalding hot. While they aren't strictly necessary, we suspect many of our readers would appreciate the luxury of purpose-built utensils. Plus, during tense and difficult situations, being able to feel a little more civilized with some comforts of home can provide much needed psychological benefit and boost morale.
So we collected a wide selection of portable utensils with varying design philosophies for your reading enjoyment. We tested them with different types of foods and took them on the road.
In particular, we assessed the following:
The usability of a utensil as a spoon, fork, or knife involves not just the pointy (or spoony) end, but also how you grasp it. Products designed first and foremost for compact size typically hinder their effectiveness by compromising in two areas: a small handle and a “spork” design, combining a spoon and fork in one. Sporks are invariably better spoons than they are forks. In fact, they're usually pretty poor forks. Additionally, ultra-compact tools often lack a knife, which probably isn't the end of the world since we suspect nearly all of our readers have a pocketknife (if not an entire collection of them). Select one of these types of tools if you value portability over all else.
Some products use a folding design, like a pocket or Swiss Army knife. This results in a convenient, compact package, but has some disadvantages as well. Some designs also make the forks or spoons awfully small. While the handles are typically generously sized, the necks of the spoons and forks extending from the pivot are usually rather short, making them less useful for dipping deeply into your food or soup. And all suffer from being harder to clean — you need to be diligent to avoid rust. These types of tools make a tidy, compact package, but they aren't our favorites to use and maintain.
As you'll see, our favorite utensils for the actual dining experience feature separate spoons, forks, and knives, and stack together for storage. Simple and efficient.
In a web-exclusive supplement linked at the end of this article, we also looked at a couple of portable chopsticks. These are the ultimate minimalist utensils, as they offer the exact same functionality as regular chopsticks. Chopsticks are simply… sticks. Like a portable pool cue, two-piece chopsticks simply thread together for use, becoming identical to a one-piece chopstick. Not to mention that they're very compact and lightweight. As long as you're mostly eating solid foods, chopsticks can be a viable alternative to a utensil set.
So read on and see what'll make your next meal a more civilized experience.
If chopsticks are your preferred utensils, we've got that covered too. Check out OFFGRIDweb.com/gear/chopsticks to see our reviews of two chopstick sets and find out if they have a place in your meal loadout.