A bushcraft, or survival, knife is used for various outdoor tasks such as cutting rope and other materials, chopping tree branches, whittling wood or skinning game. The wide range of tasks it can accomplish is necessary since most outdoorsmen can’t afford to be weighed down by multiple tools.
The term bushcraft knife and survival knife are used interchangeably. Some say a bushcraft knife is designed for a situation where the owner has intentionally set out to accomplish wilderness tasks, whereas a survival knife is designed for more of an unintentional, emergency situation. In practice, however, this distinction is minimal at best and most manufacturers do not distinguish between them.
Further complicating matters is that these knives are also sometimes referred to as “wilderness” knives or “camping” knives.
One task that does seem to be suited for a survival knife but not for a bushcraft knife is “batoning”. Batoning is using the knife as an implement for chopping larger branches. The knife is placed on the wood to be cut and the owner hammers on the spine of the knife to drive it into the wood.
Survival knife blades should typically be about four inches long. Those with a larger palm may desire a longer blade, though a blade longer than five inches is not generally recommended.
Better quality knives are typically have a full tang or hidden tang. A full-tang knife has a blade that runs the entire width and length of the knife and is often visible on the edges of the handle. A hidden-tang knife runs the full-length of the knife but narrows as it enters the handle and is completely covered by the handle.
Steel can be stainless or carbon-steel. Stainless steel will not rust, a big advantage in wet conditions. Carbon steel blades are easier to re-sharpen and will hold a keener edge.
Edges can be serrated or straight. Full-serrated edges are typically not recommended since they are difficult to resharpen, but many knives will have a small part of the blade that is serrated while the majority of the edge is straight.
A2 and VG-10 are popular, high-end carbon steels, while 440C and AUS8 are popular high-end stainless steels.
A survival knife handle should be rugged, comfortable and easy to grip in any weather condition. Micarta and stag bone are popular choices. Stacked leather grips are popular as well, though may not be the best choice in a consistently-rainy climate.
Knives of this type typically do not have any sort of finger guard, since they are not intended for the forward-and-back motion of sawing, but rather for the up-and-down motion of cutting and slicing.
Hollow handles with screw-off butt caps can double as storage compartments but are typically less durable than solid handles so are not recommended.
While versatile, these blades are not designed to be “utility tools”. Tasks that require twisting, wrenching or screwing, for example, are inappropriate for this type of knife. A multi-tool is a better choice for those tasks and makes a perfect complement to a survival knife.
For tasks that require a longer blade, a machete or ax would be a more appropriate tool.
Readers often ask us what the favorite survival knife is. Of course, the ideal knife in one situation may not be appropriate in another. In addition, if you truly find yourself in a “survival” situation, the best knife is going to be the one you’ve got with you.
Despite that, it’s helpful to point out a few knives that have been recognized over and over again as some of the premier blades in this category. In particular, the Frosts Mora is an excellent “value” knife that performs well beyond its modest price point.
And the Fallkniven F1 is recognized again and again as a top-notch, versatile and rugged knife that is well made and perfect for backcountry applications.
Finally, the Fox River Hunter by Bark River Knives is a top performer that gets tons of recognition from those in the know.
We’ve written about a number of great bushcraft knives below â€” you might want to check those out before shopping. But if you want a quick list of links, here are links to two of our favorite manufacturers: