Choosing a bushcraft knife is like buying a car. Everyone has personal preferences and finding the right bushcraft knife for you will be a personal preference. For this article I am going to cover what I look for when choosing a knife and other things you can consider when you look for one.
What Makes A Good Bushcraft Knife?
A good bushcraft knife is made from a quality steel, has a comfortable handle and is durable enough for long term use. Another important aspect of a good beginner bushcraft knife is that it has a secure sheath to protect you and the blade.
Overall, for your primary bushcraft knife I would say limit your choices to a fixed blade knife. Fixed blade knives are knives that do not fold. If you want to carry a secondary knife or your locality doesn’t allow fixed blade knives then a pocket knife could be a good choice.
The main benefits of a fixed blade knife comes down to safety. Sometimes a folding knife can fold down at inopportune times causing injuries.
Generally, fixed blade knives are more robust than folding knives, they should stand up to harder use and last much longer than your average folding knife .
The steel the knife is made from is one of the most important aspects of a good bushcraft knife. Low quality steels could be brittle and break when you need the knife the most. Low quality steel is generally really soft and easy to sharpen, but will not hold the edge very long.
There are many different types of knife steel on the market, all have different characteristics and different properties. Personally for a bushcraft knife I have two preferences 01 Carbon Steel in most cases is my primary choice, it is fairly easy to sharpen and has solid edge retention. Being carbon steel it requires a little more care as it can be prone to rust if you do not take care of it. I like to put a light coating of food safe mineral oil on the blade to keep it from rusting.
The second knife steel I like is a good quality stainless steel, this is usually if I am going to be using the knife near the ocean where salt water is present.
The edge grind is a critical factor in how well the blade cuts, how durable it is as well as the edge retention which will determine how often you need to sharpen the knife.
I have two different knife grinds I like to use for bushcraft scandi grind and convex grind, both have different properties that make them ideal in my mind.
Let’s talk about them know.
Scandi Ground Knives
For bushcraft purposes, I like to use a Scandi ground knife. The grind is excellent for working with wood and carving and can be serviceable in most other situations you would use for bushcraft.
The main benefit is it is good at removing wood when you are carving, making a primitive trap or shavings for starting your fire. It has a flat bevel on either side that makes the edge. This makes it a great choice for beginners as it allows you to use a flat stone to sharpen the knife and as long as you place it flat on the bevel it will act as its own guide to endure you have the right degree angle.
It is not always the best knife of choice when skinning game or doing food prep tasks, the thicker grind and fine edge that make it excel for working with wood can be a challenge when using it to process game and can dull quicker when it hits bone over a grind with a more robust edge.
I am not saying you can’t use it for these tasks, just understand you may need to touch it up afterwards.
Convex knives have a continuous bevel from the spine to the blade edge that makes a convex shape hence the name. Convex knives are good all around knives, the shape of the convex blade puts a decent amount of steel behind the edge so they are a relatively strong knife that is good for hard use tasks that we use in bushcraft, some people use a larger knife and like chopping small branches with it, or to split wood down into kindling this can be something with a convex grind really shines.
Smaller convex grind knifes can also do well at things like food prep and generally are better at slicing than a scandi grind.
The only thing I don’t like about convex grind knives is they can be harder to sharpen than scandi ground knives, it can be difficult to find the grind lines of a convex knife.
Handle Material, Size and Shape
Bushcraft knifes should have a comfortable handle, when you practice bushcraft you will often use your knife for a wide variety of tasks and sometimes for hours at a time. Having the wrong type of handle can make simple tasks brutal to carry out.
The grip is one of the most important features to consider when buying a knife for bushcraft. You want something that will provide a secure grip, but not too form fitting that you cannot you a variety of grips to use the knife at different angles.
In addition, the handle should be easy to grip even if your hands are wet, or slippery from skinning game.
A bushcraft knife should have comfortable handle scales, some knives have a wood handle, while others may be made from micarta or G-10.
The knife should have a handle shape that is comfortable for long periods of use, not too large where it tires your hand, but not so small and thin that is hard to grip the knife.
Ideally, in my opinion the knife should be full tang, which means the knife steel runs through the handle to the butt end of the knife.
Can Be Carried Comfortably (When Not In Use)
Having a quality knife sheath is important for your safety when the knife isn’t in use. Since most of us are on the move while we are bushcrafting having a sheath that secures the knife and is comfortable to wear on the belt while carrying a pack is important.
Some knives are so large to be frank they suck for belt carry, they flop around, get stuck on things or weigh down your pants by tugging your belt. So choosing a knife that is the right balance of size, function and weight is important.
Ability To Use For A Variety Of Knife Tasks
A good bushcraft knife should be able to do a variety of tasks, whether that includes slicing vegetables or skinning game. Often people will start bushcrafting and have a knife that is too long, or too thick, likewise others start with a knife that is too small.
The main thing is to simply get started use the knife you have and find out what you look for in a knife, this will help you get to a point where you buy a knife that is perfect for you.
Remember, these are all just tips on what to look for in a knife. It is a very personal choice and what I like may not be what you like.
That is ok!
Find out what works for you and get out and enjoy the woods.
Just don’t fall into the habit many make and keep buying knives looking for the perfect one, it doesn’t exist and it is always a balancing act between size, shape, material and durability. Generally speaking, you can’t have them all.