If you’re in the market for a new survival knife, you’ve probably seen them being called a lot of different names. The two names that come up the most are survival knife and bushcraft knife…but what does that even mean?
A survival knife is designed to be used in situations where you need to do certain tasks to keep you alive. A bushcraft knife is a type of survival knife that is designed to be used for finer survival tasks like building traps, triggers, and fire-making.
Now, let’s break down the difference between a bushcraft knife and a survival knife.
In my mind, all bushcraft knives are survival knives, but not all survival knives are bushcraft knives. Survival knives are an entire class of knife that covers everything from a long heavy blade made for chopping to a smaller light bladed knife designed for fire-making and carving.
Bushcraft knives are more of a subclass of survival knives. They’re usually smaller, lighter, and made so they can tackle more delicate tasks that big, heavy blades can struggle with.
There are even knives that try to bridge the gap between large survival knives and bushcraft knives. These tend to be about the size of a normal bushcraft knife but with a sturdier blade that is more forgiving when it’s used for rough tasks.
You can look at the difference between survival knives and bushcraft knives as being a difference in mindset. The traditional survival knife is overbuilt and strong so you can do things that are damaging to normal knives like chopping, digging, and prying. The traditional bushcraft knife is more delicate so you can do things that require more finesse.
Basically, if you want a knife that you can try to use as an all-in-one kind of tool then a more traditional survival knife is for you. If you want a knife that will complement a small hatchet really well, then you should go for a bushcraft knife.
What is a survival knife? A survival knife is used for skinning, processing wood, building shelters, carving and chopping wood and other outdoor activities that can be done with a blade. They’re not restricted to “survival” skills and many people use knives that are labeled as survival knives for all kinds of daily tasks.
When you’re choosing a survival knife you should look for several things.
Full tang fixed blade knives make the best survival knives. They’re much stronger than knives made in any other way.
Solid handle that will not slip around a lot but also isn’t so aggressively textured that it will cause blisters with long periods of use.
Look for a straight edge or partially serrated blade from 4 – 10 inches long and 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. A flat spine is best because it allows you to strike a ferrocerium rod with it.
A sheath that allows you to carry the knife comfortably and has other uses is the best.
Serrations allow a blade to cut through tougher material than it may normally be able to cut through. They also allow a knife to continue cutting once it starts to get dull.
A partially serrated blade in okay as a survival knife. A fully serrated blade doesn’t usually work well as a survival knife. They’re just too difficult to sharpen and maintain in the field.
I like smaller blades when it comes to survival knives. Usually lengths around 4 inches up to about 8 inches.
Some people like longer blades than that…all the way out to 10 or 11 inches, but that’s a little excessive to me.
If you’re looking for a knife that’s a good chopper, then a longer, heavier blade is the way to go. If you want something that’s a little better for fine work, then go for something closer to the low side.
1/8 of an inch up to 1/4 inch is the generally accepted thickness for survival knives.
The thinner the blade the more careful you’ll need to be with your knife so it doesn’t break during rough use. A thicker blade will allow you to get away with rougher use and even let you use it to pry a little.
Carbon steel is the preferred steel for survival knives. It’s easier to sharpen than stainless and holds an edge really well.
The downside is that you’re going to have to do more maintenance on the blade because they’re prone to staining and rusting.
There really isn’t a “best” knife for survival. There are some that are better for certain things and there are certainly some that are made better than others, but “best” is a really personal thing.
KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade – The Becker BK-2 is just one of the knives in this series that deserves to be talked about when you’re looking at best survival knives. If you don’t like the BK2, there’s bound to be a knife in this series that you will like.
This one has a 5 1/4″ full-tang blade and comes with a coyote handle and Kydex sheath.
ESEE Knives 4P Fixed Blade – The ESEE line of knives has always skirted the line between a more traditional survival knife and purpose-made bushcraft knives. Especially the ones with smaller blades. They’re a good choice for people looking to do some hard work
The ESEE 4P has a 4″ full-tang blade that comes in a variety of colors. The coating is going to wear out on you after a while but it does it’s job well.
What is a bushcraft knife? Bushcraft knives are designed more for detailed work than other survival knives. They are mostly used for creating traps and triggers, getting fires started, processing small game and other survival skills.
They can still be used for things like batoning smaller pieces of wood, but their light weight keeps them from being very useful for chopping and other heavy tasks.
When you’re choosing a bushcraft knife you should look for things that work best for you. These are the things that I like in a bushcraft knife.
Full tang fixed blade knives are the best bushcraft knives. They’re stronger than knives made in any other way, but it’s not quite as important with a bushcraft knife as it is with a traditional survival knife.
Solid handle that will not slip around and will be comfortable when you use it for a long time. I like smoother handles, but it’s really a personal preference.
Look for a straight edge blade from 3 – 5 inches long and 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. A flat spine is best because it allows you to strike a ferrocerium rod with it. Thinner blades are sometimes better but again, it’s personal preference.
A blade with a scandi grind is one of the best grinds for bushcraft knives. A scandi grind is a single taper on one side of the blade. It’s great for working with wood (which bushcrafting knives tend to do a lot of) and has a wide cutting edge that makes it easy to sharpen.
Try to find a sheath that allows you to carry the knife comfortably and has other uses like carrying a ferrocerium rod.
Bushcrafting knives should be around 4 inches long. You’ll find a lot of them end up being between 3 1/2 and 4 inches long, sometimes a little longer or shorter.
I think 4 inches is the sweet spot when it comes to knives pretty much all kinds of survival knives.
A lot of purpose-made bushcraft knives are an 1/8 of an inch thick. This may seem too thin for a knife that is going to get a ton of use, but I think you’ll find that it’s just about perfect.
If you like a thicker blade, then there’s really no downside to going thicker than a 1/8 inch.
Carbon steel is the preferred steel for bushcraft knives, just like other survival knives. It’s easier to sharpen than stainless and can get extremely sharp.
When you’re using it in the field, you’re going to have to spend a little more time taking care of your carbon steel blade than a stainless blade because they can rust pretty quickly.
Just like choosing the best survival knife, choosing the best bushcraft knife is pretty tough because it’s such a personal thing. You may not like what I like and I may not like what someone else likes. With that being said, these are some very good options if you’re in the market for a new bushcraft knife.
Condor Tool & Knife Bushlore Survival Knife – The Condor Bushlore makes a lot of my lists because it’s just made well and doesn’t cost a ton like some boutique knives out there. It has a 3.4″ carbon steel full-tang blade and a hardwood handle with leather sheath.
ESEE Camp-Lore PR4 – The ESEE Camp-Lore PR4 is a good looking knife with a black oxide finish and a brown micarta handle. The full tang blade is 4″ long, 1/8″ thick and made of 1095 carbon steel. It pretty much checks every box that I look for in a bushcraft knife.
KA-BAR Becker Kephart BK62 – Once again, I’m recommending another knife in the BK line-up. The BK62 was designed for traditional bushcrafting. It has a 5 1/8″ 1095 carbon steel full tang blade that’s just over 1/8″ thick. It has a stonewashed finish to add some corrosion resistance and the handle is made of smooth walnut.
Knives are difficult to definitively classify because everyone has their own idea of what something like a survival knife is. It can get even harder when we try to further break down the difference between two types of survival knives.
In general, a survival knife is used for skinning, processing wood, building shelters, carving and chopping wood and other outdoor activities that can be done with a knife. Most of the time, they’re overbuilt so they can be beat up without breaking.
Bushcraft knives are designed for delicate tasks like making traps and triggers, getting fires started, processing small game and other survival skills.