Bushcraft vs. Survival Knife -What’s the Difference?

by Derrick | Last Updated: July 5, 2022

Often when people start getting interested in learning about the outdoors, and you read articles on the internet or watch outdoor survival shows, you will come across the terms bushcraft and survival. You might be wondering what the difference is between the two? In general, bushcraft is about learning how to live off the land using only natural resources, while survival is more focused on being stranded in a remote location and having to find ways to survive until you are rescued.

The first tool someone interested in bushcraft or survival sees experts use is often a knife.

Bushcraft knives are generally smaller, ranging from 3 to 5 inches in length, whereas survival knives are frequently 6 to 12 inches long. Bushcraft knives are typically used for delicate activities like making traps or fire craft. Survival knives are better for batoning, chopping, and heavy-duty tasks.

What Are The Differences Between Bushcraft and Survival Knives (Other Than Length)

While bushcraft knives and survival knives can be very similar, they do tend to have a few common differences. First, let’s look at the shared qualities, then we will shift to the main differences.

Shared Qualities

Bushcraft knives and survival knives have some shared qualities that we should first discuss. Both knives are used to improve your life while in the woods or in a survival situation.

Generally speaking, both knives should be made of quality high carbon steel.

This is important for a number of reasons. First, high carbon steel can take and hold a much sharper edge than lower quality steel. Second, it is easier to sharpen in the field than lower-quality steel while not being so hard to sharpen like some of today’s “super steels.”

Differences Between Survival and Bushcraft Knives

Bushcraft knives are designed with a specific purpose in mind, whereas survival knives are designed to do many things.

Bushcraft knives are made for precision and accuracy when carving and precision wood tasks like building traps, making camp furniture, and other woodworking tasks. With secondary use for fire craft and other general camp chores.

Bushcraft knives usually have a finer edge that can be easier to sharpen to support the above tasks.

While survival knives are thicker and heavier to withstand more rugged use that can be required in a true survival situation. Generally, survival knives have a more robust edge that can be a little harder to sharpen but provide more durability during very hard use.

In the end, having the proper bushcraft knife in the woods makes survivalism more straightforward. A smaller, lighter bushcraft knife may be enough for you, or your excursions might demand a larger, more robust blade. Evaluating the choices and subtleties can make all the difference between having what you need or not.

Common Characteristics Of A Bushcraft Knife

Bushcraft knives are generally smaller knives and usually have one of two blade grinds. The more traditional blade grind is a scandi or Scandinavian grind which is a 0 degree ground blade that really excels at woodworking. The second common grind is the convex grind which is a little more durable than the scandi grind. Where the scandi grind excels at woodworking and is solid at most other things, the convex grind doesn’t excel at any other thing but is really solid at most things.

Blade Dimensions of Bushcraft Knives

The most useful size knife for bushcraft is typically in the 3-4.5 inch blade range on a knife with an overall length of around 8 inches. This gives you a lot of blade to work with while still being able to do delicate bushcraft activities like carving without feeling like you have a large unruly knife.

Personally, I prefer my bushcraft knives to be about 1/8 inch thick or less. I feel this is a good balance that will be thick enough for some hard use tasks but not overly thick where it is hard to use for fine tasks.

Bushcraft Knife Characteristics

Personally, I like to purchase USA or European-made knives. These knives tend to have better heat treatment which comes into play with edge retention. In the past, I have bought knives from other Middle Eastern and/or Latin American countries, and the quality was inconsistent.

Another thing I look for is a full tang blade. Full tang means the knife blade and metal that goes into the handle portion of the knife is a solid piece of metal (with a few holes drilled to attach scales to the knife). Some knives are hidden tang or stick tang, which can be great knives, but I tend to use these for secondary knives that will be in my pack for a backup.

Lastly, I look for bushcraft knives to have comfortable handle grips. This will allow the knife to be used for longer periods of time carving or building items without being uncomfortable or causing blisters on your hand.

Blade Material

This is once again personal preference, but I like carbon steel knives. They strike a good balance between durability and ease of sharpening. If you are near the ocean where salt water is present then you may want to go with a stainless steel blade to help prevent corrosion.

Blade Shape

The grind of a knife (its cross-sectional shape) will have an impact on how it performs in certain activities. The grind of the knife is the shape of the cutting edge. As stated earlier, my recommendation is a scandi grind or a convex grind.

Characteristics of a Survival Knives

Survival knives are a class of blades that are used for a variety of tasks in the wild, where you need to do just about everything with a “one tool option.” This could mean anything from chopping down a tree limb and processing game to fine work to make a shelter.

Bushcraft knives can often do a lot of this same work, but with the typical length and thinner blade, bushcraft knives often have more of a compromise in the heavy-duty tasks, whereas a survival knife might require more of a compromise with the finer delicate work.

Blade Dimensions

Generally, a survival knife will be a USA-made knife, simply because larger survival knives are more popular in the USA, so that is where they tend to be made. Most overseas larger knives will be more machete-like.

A survival knife is usually 8-12 inches in overall length, with the long knives being a little better suited for chopping and hard-use tasks. Like we said before knife dimensions are really a personal preference and if you have the financial means try a couple of different-sized knives and see what works best for you.

Blade Type

All good survival knives are made with a full-tang blade. Full-tang blades will help support the additional size and potential chopping and splitting that is often required of a survival knife.

Survival Knife Blade Material

Survival knives are made from either stainless steel or carbon steel, and you can sometimes now find them made from “super steels” which can be extremely durable but very hard to sharpen.

Blade Shape

Survival knives can either have a single-edge or a semi-serrated edge blade. Serrated edges are better suited to cutting through rope or seat belts where a standard knife may slip off. Serrated edge knives can be challenging to sharpen and harder to deal with for common woods tasks. Weigh carefully where you see using the knife most and choose accordingly.

Handle Design

The handle of a survival knife will either be one piece surrounding the entire blade or two pieces on either side of the metal. Materials used will range from rubber, wood, or Micarta. Personally, I prefer Micarta because it is durable, doesn’t react to changes in humidity like wood, and can be sanded rough, so it maintains good traction in your hand even when wet or sweaty.

Wrapping Up

Bushcraft knives and survival knives are two types of blades that have different purposes. Bushcraft knives are designed for more delicate work, while survival knives are made for heavy-duty tasks. Survival knives are typically larger than bushcraft knives, and they come with a full-tang blade for added strength.

The choice between a bushcraft knife or a survival knife really is a personal preference. I find for most tasks a bushcraft knife works better for me because I am often doing finer work like whittling or making feather sticks. If I had to survive with my bushcraft knife, I could do most tasks that I need to do and make other devices to cover many of the heavy-duty tasks.

No matter what kind of knife you choose, make sure it is a quality blade that will last. The old adage that you get what you pay for is especially true with knives. A $20 knife may last a couple of years, but a $200 knife will last generations with proper care.

I hope this article helped you understand the difference between a bushcraft knife and a survival knife and help you make an informed decision on what type of knife is best for you.