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The thickness of a bushcraft knife really comes down to personal preference. People posting on bushcraft forums or that you meet in person at bushcraft meets will often debate the topic and these discussions can become heated. People are passionate about gear and some are stubborn that only one correct answer exists.
I am not here to tell you exactly what type of gear to use, but I will give my opinion and you can make your own choice.
So I will give my opinion on how thick a bushcraft knife should be, then I will provide some qualifying statements the clarify what I mean.
My personal preference for a bushcraft knife is for the knife to be between 3/32″ and 1/8″ for a scandi ground knife, which is the preferred grind of knife I use for bushcraft tasks.
Why do I want to use a thinner bushcraft knife? I personally use my knife for carving things, cutting saplings to create camp items (pot hangers etc), cutting cordage, making fire prep and cutting food. For most of these tasks a large, thick knife can become tiring and harder to use in many of these situations.
I usually have a saw and/or an axe with me that I can use for other tasks like gathering firewood. If you are of the school of thought where you need a one tool option and that is your style of bushcraft then you may want a thicker knife (and that is perfectly acceptable).
Some individuals who prefer convex knives often use thicker than 1/8″ knives, usually in the 5/32″ – 1/4″ range, these are common thicknesses for convex knives and if it works for you great!
Why Is A Thinner Knife Ideal (for me)?
A thinner bushcraft knife is inherently lighter, thus over longer periods of time using the knife it keeps your hands from getting tired of a comparable larger (and heavier knife). This suits me just fine, I will use an axe or saw if I have a heavier duty task to tackle.
Another reason thinner knives work better for me is I generally use a Mora knife, which are inexpensive, scandi ground knives made in Sweden, these knives for the most part are thin. If I had started using thicker knives my preferences may have been different.
I also find thinner knives better for slicing and making certain cuts in camp craft.
They are also easier to carry and generally aren’t as heavy on the hip when you are moving around camp or moving from camping spot to camping spot.
When May You Want To Use A Thicker Knife?
If you commonly baton heavy wood you may want to get a thicker knife (or an axe), battening is using the knife as a wedge to split wood by driving the knife blade through the wood using a piece of wood to hit the end of the knife driving the knife blade further into the wood. There are right and wrong ways to baton so you are best watching a video on the subject. Battening the wrong way could cause your knife to break (even when using thicker knives).
As I said earlier if you are into the “one tool option” you may want to follow what others of this school or thought do and get a larger, thicker knife.
Many of the custom knife makers will only make knives 1/8″ and thicker, is this because that is the ultimate thickness of knives or some other reason? I have hear people say makers are worried to go any thinner on knives because knuckle head customers will not take into account the characteristics of a thin knife and try to use it to pry open windows and other tasks a knife wasn’t design for. This often leads to unhappy customers when a knife breaks and they go around the internet talking bad about the knife maker.
This leads to the best way to get the right thickness knife, you need to sit down and really think about what you do most. For example, if you are into fishing then maybe you want a thinner more flexible knife, if you are into camp craft again get a thinner knife. While if you are into prying open windows, cutting through car hoods or chopping down redwood trees then maybe a thick knife is the right way to go.
What I do know is most of us start with a really thick knife and generally over the years the knife we grab the most progressively gets thinner and thinner are more geared to whatever you do most with the knife.
Nothing is wrong with this because if you could have a conversation with the “grandfathers” of bushcraft or camp craft you would see they had evolutions in knife choice over the years based on what was available at the time and what they used the knife for.
At the end of the day use whatever knife you like and can afford, any knife is better than no knife you simply have to practice with it and know the limits of the specific type of knife you are using. If you have a larger knife you can do many of the same tasks as a smaller knife it just make be slightly harder, if you have a thinner knife you can use work arounds to do many of the tasks of a larger knife.
Keep things simple and realize that tastes in gear will often change over time and this is completely normal evolution of someone who enjoys the woods.
If you want to find my favorite knives check our our recommend knives page for more information.