If you asked us to choose a single piece of bushcraft gear to bring on a trip, it’d be a bushcraft knife. Why? Because not everyone can rip out logs like Captain America. But with a knife, you can fillet meat, make a shelter, and create all kinds of tools—six-pack abs not necessary.
Now, if you're new to wilderness survival, you’d probably have a difficult time choosing the right knife. Knives come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, materials, and what-have-you. There are just so many options to choose from. So, which one should you get?
If you need help finding the best bushcraft knife for you, here's what you need to know:
What’s the Anatomy of a Bushcraft Knife?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, you need to know the parts of the knife first. To the untrained eye, a bushcraft knife just has two main parts—the blade and the handle. But if you look closer, it can actually be broken down further into the following:
- Point - This is the part of the knife where the spine and edge meet. The point is typically used for piercing.
- Tip - This is the knife's forward part and it includes the point. The tip is used for delicate or intricate cutting.
- Edge - This is the blade's cutting part. It reaches from the point to the heel of the knife.
- Spine - The spine is opposite the knife edge. It's the top of the knife blade.
- Heel - The heel is on the opposite side of the point. It's the rear part of the edge.
- Bolster - This is the band that connects the handle of the knife to the blade. The bolster offers balance and it protects your hand from the knife edge.
- Tang - This is the part of the blade that reaches into the knife's handle. The tang is the surface where the handle and the blade connect.
- Scales - These are used to create the handle. Normally, two scales are secured to the tang with rivets.
- Rivets - These are metal pins that connect the scales to the tang to assemble the handle.
- Pommel - Also known as the butt, the pommel is the end of the knife's handle.
When it comes to picking your knife, being familiar with its parts will help you make a more informed choice.
So, how do you know which features your knife should have and which ones to avoid like the plague? Keep reading to find out:
What Features Should a Bushcraft Knife Have?
Good bushcraft knives stand out because they have awesome features. With that said, you gotta make sure that the knife you choose can give you the best performance possible. If not, then it would still stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.
Does size matter? Of course…in terms of bushcraft knives, at least.
Go too big and bulky, and you'll find it difficult to do precision cutting. In contrast, using a blade that's too small will make tasks like splitting wood a challenge. You need a knife that's big enough to be durable but small enough to make precision cuts.
You may be tempted to get a larger knife because you think it looks cooler, but don't. It'll be too heavy for everyday carry and it's just too large for carving. Sure, it looks nice in theory. But when everyone and their mom would end up laughing at you for lugging a too-large-to-be-of-any-use knife, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The advantage of a folding knife is that you can carry it without a sheath. The problem, though? Its joint. When you depend on a folding knife for bushcraft, the joint will eventually loosen, weaken, or break completely.
Have you ever heard of horror stories where a knife breaks in the middle of a grueling job? You don’t want that to happen to you. That’s why you should go for a knife with a fixed blade because it’s dependable and built to last. It can help you do major tasks like chopping, prying, splitting, cutting, and carving.
Modern knives are available in different kinds of blade compositions. But there's one material that's…a cut above the rest. We're talking about carbon steel (cue the heavenly music).
The hardest element is carbon. And blades built from carbon steel boast of unparalleled sharpness, hardness, and better edge retention than standard stainless steel blades.
But carbon has a downside. It's more vulnerable to rust and has to be cleaned after every use. Have you ever tried washing plate after plate after Christmas dinner with the whole (extended) family? That’ll give you an idea of what a turn-off this could be.
Well, you can go for stainless steel since it’s more resistant to rust. But compared to carbon steel, it can lose its edge more quickly.
Essentially, when it comes to material, we recommend picking a blade based on how much moisture and abuse you'll expose it to. If you’re exposing it to a lot of moisture or if you’re working in a humid environment, choose stainless, but if you plan on doing more backbreaking tasks, go for carbon steel.
“The thicker, the better.”
It’s true for a couple of things, but what about a bushcraft knife?
Generally, bushcraft knives are known for having thick blades. An adequately thick and resilient blade will last years of extreme use. And it won't break or bend from demanding tasks like cutting, chopping, and prying.
It all comes down to how you plan on using the knife. Basically, if you love to play rough, your bushcraft knife should be able to keep up, too.
A knife grind refers to the way the blade's cutting edge is fashioned. There are different kinds of knife grinds. You need to choose one carefully, since the grind affects a knife's cutting ability. Some knife grinds are easier to sharpen than others while some grinds are more fitting for more specific tasks.
What Are Some Examples of Blade Grinds?
A convex grind is made up of a continually rounding blade that ends in a sharp point. This grind is more popular on tomahawks and axes, since it's really effective at chopping and splitting wood. It's also used in some bushcraft and survival knives. A convex grind places more metal behind the edge, which produces a stronger blade edge.
The bad thing about a convex grind? You can’t sharpen it as easily as you can sharpen pencils.
Hollow grinds aren't as common as the other grinds. This kind consists of a concave or hollowed-out upper portion on the blade. It tapers out to a secondary bevel, or the knife edge.
A hollow grind has less metal behind the cutting edge, which means it's lighter. It's also thinner and weaker compared to the other grinds.
Call this grind what you want—a flat grind with a secondary bevel or a compound or secondary bevel grind. Whatever you call it, a saber grind is commonly found in mass-produced knives since it's one of the simplest to make.
It consists of a primary bevel or angle and a tinier, secondary bevel, which is the real blade edge.
This is one of the best grinds for woodworking. It's named for its prevalent use in Scandinavian countries, which is a result of the indigenous Sami people's influence. Plenty of bushcraft knives have a Scandi grind.
Out of the other grinds we’ve talked about, this one’s the easiest to sharpen.
What do knife blades and vampire teeth have in common? Sharp and pointed tips. Those are the only things you need to look for in a blade tip.
Skip the elaborate blades since they may not be versatile enough for your needs. Go for a strong, sharp point instead. It’s your best option since you can use it for a lot of things—even hunting.
When we talk about tang, we mean the part of the knife that connects the handle with the blade. It's essentially the butt or tail of the knife that's covered by the handle.
The only tang you should care about when picking a bushcraft knife is a full tang. It offers unequaled strength and sturdiness. Choose anything else and you may just break the handle or the blade. Or worse, you’ll end up hurting yourself while you’re chopping down wood.
Like Rick Astley, a full tang won’t ever let you down (for the most part).
What's a blade without a handle? Well, what's Han Solo without Chewbacca?
When picking your bushcraft knife, the handle matters just as much as the blade. If it doesn't feel right in your hand, then it doesn't matter how amazing the blade is. You won't be able to achieve much with your knife if the handle is in the way.
Since we’re talking about bushcraft, we recommend getting a knife with no upper guard or jimping (notches or filework cut into the blade's back). An upper guard can disrupt certain carving grips while your thumb may find jimping uncomfortable if you're carving stuff.
Here are other things to consider:
- Does the handle stay attached to the tang? It should.
- Does it wobble? It shouldn't.
- Does gripping it feel comfortable? If it feels even slightly awkward in your hand, it's hasta la vista, baby.
You may also want to think about the material, as this can affect the handle’s comfort and durability. Normally, bushcraft knives have hardwood handles. But since that material can absorb moisture after a period of time, you can choose a handle made out of synthetic materials like G10 fiberglass or Micarta instead.
What good's a knife if you don't have it on you when you need it? There’s a reason why sheaths exist in the first place.
Fixed blade knives usually include a sheath, so before you commit to a knife, check the sheath out, too. It shouldn't rattle when you move around and it has to hold the knife well. Otherwise, face a nasty cut…or even a missing body part.
Ideally, the sheath must have a loop (can be adjustable or secured) that can get it attached to a belt. In some cases, you'll be able to attach the sheath to MOLLE webbing on a vest or pack.
Sheaths can be made from different kinds of materials, each with its own set of pros and cons. Here's a little info about two of these materials:
- Leather: It's durable, but not exactly resistant to extreme weather and moisture.
- Polymer: It's tough and can prevent the knife tip from poking you accidentally, but it can be noisy and uncomfortable.
Are You Ready to Take a Stab at Choosing Your Knife?
When you're new to bushcraft gear, a knife should be one of the first items you get. It's one of the most versatile tools around. But, we’ll let you in on a little secret—there's no such thing as the “perfect” bushcraft knife.
Ultimately, when it comes to choosing your knife, it boils down to what would serve you best. That means knowing things like your strength, hand size, what you plan on using it for, and how committed you are to maintaining it. Also, don’t pick a knife that would make you cry like a baby if it ever got lost.
After you’ve weighed in these factors, you’ll be able to choose the right knife for you.
"A knife is only as good as the one who wields it." - Patrick Ness
A god-tier knife is useless if you don’t have the ability to work it. That’s why you need to keep practicing your bushcraft and survival skills. When you’re armed with the right tools and skills, surviving out in the wild won’t leave you grasping at straws.
Is there anything that we missed out on? Share it with us. Leave a comment down below.