Bushcraft generally refers to wilderness survival skills and was initially used to describe the survival skills needed in the Australian bush country or outback. The isolated outback territory meant whatever you took with you when choosing to go on “walkabout” was pretty much all you had. You lived off what you had until you returned home or reached your destination.
Buschcraft has now become pretty much synonymous with wilderness survival regardless of your location. And whether by choice or circumstance, if you rely on only your supplies and skills to live off the land for an extended amount of time, a good bushcraft knife becomes an essential tool.
You can’t just bring along any old knife and expect it to hold up to the repetitive, rugged tasks you need to perform to survive in the wild. A bushcraft knife also called a wilderness knife, is a popular style knife because it can repeatedly perform multiple tasks like dressing game, cutting tree limbs, rope, and fishing line or even some carving.
Knife blades should be 3 ½ to 6 inches in length, longer blades are not recommended. The blade is one piece, solid, straight and does not fold up like a pocket knife. An ideal bushcraft knife will be durable and flexible enough to handle take on a variety of tasks , such as cutting limbs, drilling a hole in a fireboard, or dressing game, and still maintain its sharp edge when used day after day.
Selecting a bushcraft knife can be overwhelming with the knife choices on the market today. It functions as an extension of yourself while you are in the wilderness and needs to be able to function for any kind of hunting, food prep or even self-defense task that is needed. Invest the time in making an informed choice to select the knife to meet your needs.
Basic Parts of a Bushcraft Knife
While most people are aware a knife is comprised of a blade and a handle there is a bit more to understand if you are going to buy yourself a quality bushcraft knife. Knowing the basic parts of the knife will help to understand the differences between knives and help you select the right knife for you.
The Blade of a knife is typically steel and includes the Bevel which is the cutting edge and the section you sharpen. The Spine or the part of the blade opposite the cutting edge. Where the spine drops down to meet the bevel is called the Drop Point. The Tang of a knife generally refers to how and to what extent the blade extends into the handle.
The handle can be made of different materials and is the part of the knife that you hold in your hand, the Choil is the small flat piece of the blade where it meets the handle, and its Butt or Pomell is at the end.
Best Bushcraft Knife Materials
Your first consideration in selecting a bushcraft knife is the type of steel, or iron and carbon alloy, used in the blade. While there are numerous combinations of steel available, the most popular bushcraft knives are made of stainless steel, laminate steel, or carbon steel.
- Early manufactured metal quality was poor as it was too soft and quick to dull
- Higher chromium means increased resistance to stains but softer steel
- Be wary of poor quality knives still around like the softer 420 series
- Look for higher quality Sandvik steel like 12C27 (Swedish made) and 154CM
- High-end steels are Aus8 or the 440C series
- CPM 3v, CPM S30V, and CPM S35VN by Crucible Industries will suit most uses
- Low likelihood of corrosion, high rust resistance if properly cared for
- Better for wetter climates like rainforests or areas where humidity is high
- Great for scaling saltwater fish, ocean swimming, and salty air of coastal regions
- Most Mora brand knives are stainless steel
- Good for use in dry climates and wooded areas
- Harder steel that is stronger than stainless steel
- Maintains a sharper edge with repeated use and typically easier to sharpen (dependent on heat treatment used in production)
- High-end carbon choices are A2 and VG-10 (manufactured in Japan)
- Little to no chromium added means harder steel but more prone to staining
- Low resistance to corrosion so is more likely to pit and rust unless continually oiled
- Custom knives most often made of carbon steel
- 5160, 1080 and 1095 are common carbon steel types
- Can double as flint striker when making fire
- Corrosion can occur quickly in wet weather, weaken the steel, and making breakage more likely
- Is available with a protective black coating through manufacturers like Cold Steel
Laminate Steel knives are usually created by layering carbon steel between stainless steel layers. You get the benefits from both steels with this collaboration of layers. Pricing will reflect this as the laminate steel knives are typically in the higher price range.
There are also some super steels new on the market and more advanced that will claim harder steel, better use and corrosion resistance but they aren’t necessarily tougher. These can be a pain to sharpen on the trail without the use of diamond stones. The hardness of the steel also tends to make for brittle blades with tips and edge that break or chip frequently.
Rockwell Hardness Scale
One thing to be aware of is the Rockwell Hardness Scale, invented by Stanley P. Rockwell. Hardness is rated using a special device which is designed to measure the indentations that can be made in the material. The Rockwell Hardness Scale rating is typically included by manufacturers in the technical specs of the knife.
Look for RC or HRC which is followed by a number from 56 to 64. The lower the number, the softer the metal. Harder metals are higher rated. Lower rated blades mean harder metal but more frequent sharpening and maybe even trouble honing to a sharp edge. A higher RC or HRC rating means it will keep a sharp edge longer but may chip more easily due to it being less flexible and more brittle.
Every steel has its flaws. To strike a balance between toughness and ability to hold a sharp edge look for a knife rated between HRC 57 to HRC 60. It’s important to do your research and comparison shop and then test different blades until you find the one that suits your specific needs.
Features and Uses of a Bushcraft Knife
Remember that it is difficult for one knife to be the end all be all of tools. In most cases, you will use your bushcraft knife in conjunction with other knives and tools. A multi-tool is better for tasks that involve screwing, drilling, or twisting. A machete or ax is more appropriate for chopping wood and limbs. The right bushcraft knife though can get you through in a pinch.
- Reliable grip in any weather condition is important
- Popular grip choices include Micarta (a type of resin layered fabric or paper), stacked leather (not for rainy climates), and stag bone
- Solid handles have better durability than hollowed out handles with storage compartments
- A handle with a wider butt is useful if you are missing your hammer or need to drill holes because the impact is distributed in a balanced way.
- Finger guards are generally unnecessary for bushcraft knives as they are not designed for a sawing motion.
- Length of the handle should be about 4 to 5 inches in length which makes it easily held for most people and balances well for a 4 to 6-inch blade length.
- Typically made of rubber, G10 (fiberglass), Micarta, plastic, Kraton, plastic, and nylon.
- Most durable are G10, Kraton, and Micarta but you sacrifice in grip comfort and slippage in wet conditions.
- Waterprooft and good in prolonged wet weather as they will not warp or rot.
- Except Micarta, most are more prone to melt when exposed to high heat
- Micarta handles commonly have a concave bow drill handhold built-in.
- Paracord wrapped handles can be more comfortable but this is negatively offset because it makes it hard to clean off accumulated food particles, dirt, blood, and sweat.
- Moose antler, wood, bone, leather, and ivory are most common
- Wood was most common during 20th century, still preferred for comfort and durability.
- Leather handles, especially in older knives, are typically leather sections slid onto a stick tang and glued and capped with a pommel.
- Sammi knives are similar to stacked leather handles but using stacked bone, wood, ivory or antler instead.
- Wood handled knives typically have narrowing or stick tangs, bolted on the knife butt.
- Antler, wood, and ivory can be bolted in place and used as scales on full tang knives.
- Wood and leather handles need oiling or beeswax to protect and preserve from dampness.
- Horn, antler, and bone are prone to cracking easily
Blade Style, Edge, and Shape
Your bushcraft knife will be called upon to drill holes in your fireboard when making fire, for carving, for planning or splitting smaller wood pieces for firewood, and possibly even for stabbing either pieces of meat or in self-defense. For these purposes, you want a centered drop or spear point though straight back, clip or trailing point knives will work well also.
Spear point, straight back, drop point, trailing point or clip point are better for drilling holes and stabbing when needed. Splitting or planning of wood is easier using the straight area close to the handle. The curving edge at the tip allows more precision and control for carving.
The method of design for a blade’s bevel or cutting edge influences the knife’s effectiveness for cutting. As with other features, one grind may lend itself to certain tasks better than others. Sharpening is less difficult with some grinds than others. The four best styles for bushcraft knives are Scandi, convex, chisel grind, and flat grind.
- Scandi – gets its name due to popularity in Scandinavian countries due to influence of the Sami people indigenous to that area. Scandi is used in many bushcraft knives and in a good percentage of Mora knives. With just one bevel, the Scandi grind is easy to sharpen.
- Convex – this continually rounded blade ends in a sharp tip. Very good for splitting and chopping wood and most commonly used for kukris, axes, and tomahawks, it is used for bush crafting knives like the Fallkniven. The stronger bevel is a result of more metal behind the edge. Sharpening a convex grind is more difficult and more closely resembles the method used for sharpening an axe.
- Flat – needs more attention to angle for correct sharpening.
- Chisel – easier to sharpen in field situations, edge may be stronger but a bit duller than knives with a secondary bevel.
Things to Avoid
Serration is not generally useful for a bushcraft knife; uneven cuts make the smooth finish desired for carving difficult. Avoid double edge knives or daggers with no resting place for your thumb when carving. Saw teeth on the knife spine are okay but restrict use for batoning as well as carving and are better suited for cutting aluminum than wood.
Stay away from blades longer than 6-inches for bush crafting. If you must do heavy wood chopping, look for a separate ax or machete to supplement your bushcraft knife. Avoid the eye catching but heavy and impractical fantasy-style knives with deep curving blades.
Although there is some debate about exact definition, there are five primary tang categories for knives: Full, Partial, Skeletonized, Rat tail or stick, and Tapering or Narrow tang. For a bushcraft knife, look for full, partial, tapering, or stick tangs.
Full Tang is a must for any respectable prepper, especially if he’ll be doing repetitive batoning, cutting small trees, branches, and wood splitting. They are strong because the tang extends fully from the blade through the entire handle. Full tang blades can break, typically if used for prying or twisting.
Skeletonized Tang-this is the next best thing to having a full tang blade. The tang runs the complete length of the handle but sections are cut out primarily to reduce knife weight. Several knives on the market use these cutouts in the skeletonized tang for dual purpose by wrapping the handle with emergency paracord.
Stick or rat-tail tangs, also called a hidden tang were first used by soldiers in WW2 and were very common to 1970’s utility knives. It is essentially a full tang blade but the section that runs through the handle is thinner steel and is bolted or pinned into the handle. I rate it 3rd best for bushcraft use. You will find stick tangs still today in kukris made in Nepal, in the line of utility/fighting knives made by Ka-bar, and some knives by Mora that sport birch handles.
Partial tang blades, like those made by Mora, have a tang that narrows as it goes down the length of the handle. These are relatively inexpensive yet sturdy enough for most bushcraft skills, even light batoning of wood pieces. Pair the lighter Mora knife with a heavier tomahawk or axe for wood chopping for best results.
Narrowing tang-the blade gets increasingly slimmer as it extends toward the end of the handle. It’s still wider along the entire length than a rat tail or stick tang. Narrowing tang is often seen in Leuko knives popular with Sami and those in North Scandinavia.
Our Top Picks
1. The Condor Warlock Machete Knife
Although it’s a combination between a knife and a machete, you cannot go wrong with this beast in the wilderness. made to help you in even the most difficult situations, this high carbon steel knife costs almost $90 on Amazon but is worth every penny.
Not suitable for urban preppers but an excellent tool for people who will be bugging out to the wilderness.
2. Spyderco Bushcraft G-10
Designed in collaboration with Chris Claycombe, the Spyderco Bushcraft G-10 is the new kid on the block for the Sypderco line. Its reliable drop point and 4-inch full tang blade and ergonomic grip, make it your right hand for opening, puncturing, or drilling just about anything.
Made of high end O-1 carbon steel its strength and ability to hold its crazy sharp edge will serve any Bushcrafter well. Complete with the well-known Spyderco thumbhole and weighing in at 7.75 ounces, it’s no lightweight. On the high-end of the price range but definitely worth it at just under $200.
3. Morakniv Bushcraft
The Morakniv Bushcraft knife is 4.3 inches of Sandvik 12c27 Swedish carbon steel with arm hair shaving sharpness and a corrosion resistant black coating. Weighing in at only 5.75 ounces and no exception to the Mora reputation for dependability, this knife is one of their best.
Its strong distinctive tip serves bushcrafters well whether opening cans, drilling a fireboard hole, or striking a fire. Though priced at around $50 this is no discount knock-off, it’s a superior knife that performs reliably.
4. Condor Tool & Knife Bushlore
The Condor Tool and Knife Bushlore has raised the standards bar for bushcrafting knives. It’s a ridiculously strong 1075 high-carbon steel blade with an elegant gray/black marble look to its Micarta handle. It comes with a full leather sheath and fire starter and is an insane value at under $50.
5. Helle Temagami
If you’re looking for a beauty pageant appeal in your bushcraft knife or one for the wife, the Helle Temagami, designed by Les Stroud of Survivorman fame, should top your list. This knife proves that beauty and braun can go together nicely. Diminutive but durable, a great addition to your kit.
The handle is made of beautiful linseed oiled birch matched nicely by the triple-layered 3 ½-inch blade of stainless steel. Boasting a plain edge, flat grind and desired drop point tip and weighing just 3 ounces, the Helle Temagami knife is every Buschcrafter’s dream knife at just under $200.00.
6. Fallkniven F1
If Swedish military pilots count on the Fallkniven F1 for isolated crash landings, you can bet your life on it too. This tenacious 3.8-inch VG10 stainless steel knife, with its plain edge, flat grind, and drop point, comes complete with out-of-the-box razor sharpness. Weighing in at 6 ounces, it’ll handle shaving to log splitting and is priced right for the value at just over $100.
7. Esee 3
The Esee 3 was designed with feedback from military personnel and our men-in-blue as a fixed-blade knife for tactical use originally. With a strong thick blade of 1095 carbon steel, just under 4-inches in length, and a Micarta handle, it soon made its mark as a bushcraft favorite. Weighing in at just 5 ounces it’s reliable enough to maintain its sharpness time after time. Great value at $120.
8. Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion
The heavy weight of the group is the Ka-Becker BK2 Campanion, which weighs in at a full one pound. The 5 1/4-inch 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel blade gains added strength and durability from a chromium/vanadium carbide infusion. It comes with a full tang, plain edge, flat grind blade with a drop point tip, mounted in a black Grivory handle and is still under $100.
9. Morakniv Classic Original 1
This small-handled knife is a rock hard 61 on the Rockwell hardness scale. The oiled birch wood handle holds a laminated steel blade that is high carbon steel sandwiched by an exterior alloy. The Morakniv Classic Original 1 keeps it simple. A stellar knife priced less than $50 that will serve you in the wild or as a utility knife if needed.
10. The Condor Kumunga
I just had to add this one to the list after one of my best writers and one awesome survivalist, Ryan, purchased one. If you’re an avid hunter, you’re going to absolutely love it.
11. Schrade SCHF9
The Schrade SCHF9 is one of the biggest knives for bushcrafting on the market. Weighing in at just under 16 ounces total, it’s tough and maintains sharpness well. It can double as a machete if needed in thick brush or dense forests. The 1095 carbon steel blade, favored by knife lovers, is 6.4 inches long and a full 1/4-inch thick, it will hold up to twisting and turning.
The handle of this hefty knife is made of thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) which gives the benefits of both rubber and plastic. It’s also designed for stability and grip versatility. The cutouts in the bottom of the handle, the raised circle pattern, and the line of notches on the top side of the handle make it easy to get the right grip for whatever task comes at you. It’s an insane value at under $50.
12. Benchmade 162 Bushcrafter
Our top 10 list just isn’t complete without the Benchmade 162 Bushcrafter. This top of the line knife weighs in at 7.72 ounces. The S30V stainless steel blade is 4.43 inches with a drop point, and harder steel than the 400 series. This is a full tang blade, with more strength than a Scandi grind but it still maintains its edge well. A G10 handle in a great shade of blue with red highlights is eye catching.
The use of flared titanium tubing to secure molded scales in the handle, results in greater stability and strength. Complete with top and bottom finger guards and dual hollow tubes to serve as lash points so it can be used as a spear or even to cut or prune out of reach branches, this workhorse knife is sure to please at $180.