I am planning to go hiking in Italy next Summer while visiting friends, and I was wondering if I could bring a knife. I lived in Italy for nearly two decades and often carried pocket knives on short hikes in the woods near our home in Tuscany, but I always wondered if I was breaking the law. I did some research to find out if you can carry a knife while hiking in Europe.
You can carry a knife while hiking in Europe. Each country in Europe has specific laws around carrying knives. In most countries, the authorities will require you to provide an adequate justification for carrying more than a folding pocket knife.
The engraved Swiss army knife is a quintessential European souvenir. But can you carry one around with you legally, whether on the street or in the woods? In this post, I will share information about bringing knives on flights to Europe and what to avoid to get arrested while hiking the Alps.
Knives On Planes.
The Transportation Security Authority allows knives in your checked luggage. The TSA provides a handy website appropriately titled: What Can I Bring? It has a search function and so you can search whether items are allowed and if they are limited to checked luggage or can also be brought with you through security in your carryon items.
Interestingly, you can store hatchets and axes in your checked luggage. Knives are also allowed in your checked baggage. You cannot bring knives with you on your flight in your carryon items regardless of the type or length of the blade. There is one exception, plastic knives and round-tip butter knives are allowed.
I wrote an extremely useful resource and table for packing hiking gear for airplane travel. It has a table of common hiking items and whether you can carry them on or have to pack them in your luggage.
So if you can bring your favorite twelve-inch Bowie knife in a sheath stored in your luggage, will they arrest you when you arrive in Paris and confiscate your knife?
Carrying Knives in Europe.
Like most things in Europe, the laws around carrying knives are flavored by regional and cultural inclinations. Some countries are stricter than others. In Italy for example it is illegal to carry a knife, any knife, regardless of its style or length, except if you have an appropriate knife for a valid reason. The interpretation of this law does have some history in the courts.
A woman was arrested for carrying a small blade in her purse. She claimed that she used it for peeling fruit for the elderly man that she took care of in the afternoons. The judge ruled that this was a valid reason and she was not charged.
An elderly fisherman had an 8-centimeter fixed blade and was charged for carrying a weapon. He argued that he used it for fixing his rod and reel. The judge did not reverse the charges. If you read Italian here is an informative article.
|Austria||Waffengesetz 1996 (Weapons Act)||Few restrictions for knives. Weapons disguised as other objects are banned, e.g. cane swords, pen knives.|
|Belgium||Article 3, §1 of the 2006 Weapons Act||Knives designed as weapons are banned. Discretion given to local authorities to interpret the law even for folding blades. Justifiable reason required to carry a knife.|
|France||Official Website of French Government||Category D weapons include knives of all kinds and can be purchased and possessed but only carried or transported with a justifiable reason.|
|Germany||German Weapons Act||Possession and ownership of many types of knives allowed but carrying and transporting them is restricted. Section 42a allows carrying a fixed blade over 4.7 inches for a justifiable reason such as hunting.|
|Netherlands||Netherlands Police Website||Knives designed as weapons are banned. A folding pocket knife with a single edge blade can be carried.|
In Italy, you may have a difficult time explaining why you are carrying your Bowie knife while hiking. Fixed blades and locking blades are illegal weapons and you must justify why are you are carrying them.
I guess I was breaking the law while carrying my pocket knife in Tuscany since the three-inch blade did lock in place and I had no real need to carry it on my local hikes. Italian law does not consider the length of the blade. What matters is the reason you are carrying the knife and whether the blade is appropriate.
Many European countries place restrictions on the types of knives and the blade length you can carry. The laws typically allow individuals to carry small folding blades without the necessity to provide a reason for carrying it.
In Denmark, for example, you can own a folding or fixed blade that is 4.7 inches or less, but you cannot carry it in public unless you have a valid reason. You can carry knives for outdoor activities such as hunting. Still, you must demonstrate to the authorities that you are heading to the location or are already participating in the outdoor activity.
In Bulgaria, there are no laws around carrying knives but they do have strict laws on self-defense and use of deadly force compared to the USA.
In general, across all European countries, any knife designed for fighting or self-defense will be difficult or impossible to justify to authorities while you are hiking.
In Italy, for example, the law categorizes knives as either illegal or banned. Any illegal knife, such as a fixed blade with two cutting edges or a balisong (butterfly knife) will trigger an arrest if they catch you with one, regardless of any justified reason you might invent to avoid handcuffs.
The banned knives are those that might be used for other purposes such as cooking, camping, working, etc. These are also illegal to carry unless you have a justifiable reason, as described above.
Hiking with a Knife in Europe.
You can bring a knife to Europe for your hiking trip. To be on the safe side, I suggest getting a folding pocket knife with a single-edged blade that is less than 4 inches in length. While you are walking the streets of Paris as a tourist, I suggest leaving your knife at your hotel. Every country is different, and so what is permissible in France might not be acceptable in Italy.
While you are on the trail, whether in the forests of Transylvania or the Swiss Alps, you should keep your knife in a safe place, pulling it out only when you need to prepare food or repair some equipment.
I have carried Swiss Army knives and other folding blades in Italy and Europe in my pocket for many years without encountering any problems.
I would avoid strapping a fixed blade, like your Bowie knife, to your belt and hiking along busy trails. The site of this might be entirely appropriate in New Mexico, but it will be out of place in most of Europe, especially on a hiking trail.
In general, the language in the weapons legislation in European countries varies in terms of how they categorize knives. Still, most of them restrict the transport of knives, requiring that the individual demonstrate a justifiable reason for carrying the blade.
Many of the countries also explicitly ban weapons from some regions of the country, such as city centers or schools, and also from certain types of events such as sporting events in stadiums. This indicates that carrying a knife in the woods will garner less scrutiny from authorities than if you were carrying one on the Champs-Élysées.
If you plan to bring a knife to Europe for a hike, be sure that the blade you get is appropriate for hiking. Do some research. I searched for the weapons laws of multiple countries. These laws are on websites and can be translated through your browser in most cases.
Europe has a rich culture around knives, with each region exhibiting unique styles for different purposes. For my upcoming trip to Italy, instead of bringing a knife, I might buy one. My friends always told me about the artisanal knives of Scarperia in Tuscany. Maybe this time I will buy one.
A knifemaker or a knife shop in any country will be able to provide you a local perspective and will know what type of blade you can carry while hiking. This will give you more confidence to provide an appropriately justifiable reason if you are stopped by local authorities.