What is a Bushcraft Knife?

It is not always easy determining the right tool for the right job. Sometimes you grab pliers when you really need a wrench, and sometimes you get a Bic lighter when you really need a firestarter. Knives are one such piece of equipment where there is a decent amount of overlap between types and jobs. Anything from a full-length machete to a simple pen knife can serve a purpose, but you would not use a machete to open a bag of chips for the same reason that you would not use a pen knife to down a tree branch. Bringing a bushcraft knife on an outdoors trip can mean a useful tool for many different applications, but what is a bushcraft knife, and how is it different from other outdoor blades?

The Size and Blade Matter With A Bushcraft Knife

The general definition of a bushcraft knife comes down to its size. While a survival knife may have a blade eight inches in length (about the size of a banana), a bushcraft knife is no longer than five, and sometimes as little as two or three. For reference, a Swiss Army knife’s largest blade is just five inches in length. Unlike a Swiss Army knife, however, a bushcraft knife has a fixed blade rather than a collapsible blade, and can endure much more punishment as a result. Bushcraft knives tend to be relatively thin, too: unlike the quarter-inch thickness of a survival knife blade, a bushcraft knife tends to land between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch. This gives them additional flexibility compared to their bigger cousins. Few weigh more than a pound, with most weighing four to eight ounces.

Tasks and Temperament: What Do You Use A Bushcraft Knife For?

The term “bushcraft” is an Australian invention that simply means any survival skills needed for the outdoors. Given that the Australian outback is one of the world’s largest deserts, about half the size of the continental United States, bushcraft is important for this particularly unforgiving environment. Turning sparse resources in the wild into shelter, food, or first aid is a lot easier with a good knife at your side.

While you want to pull out a survival knife for a tougher task like batoning a large tree branch, a bushcraft knife is a more delicate instrument. It can take a hit, but its smaller size makes it better for tasks like skinning game, trimming rope, or carving small pieces of wood. Its versatility across a range of smaller tasks makes it practical in comparison to some bigger blades, but it does not have the power needed to puncture or hack through durable material.

The Main Characteristics of a Bushcraft Knife?

The factors that make a good outdoor knife are no different for bushcraft knives. A full-length tang (the metal component of the blade) makes the knife more powerful and less prone to failure. A single sharpened side and a single flat side allows for precision work without the risk of cutting yourself. Some bushcraft knives are serrated on the side opposite the blade, but this is often less useful than a true saw instrument, and much harder to sharpen. Finally, while a survival knife blade should be made from carbon steel for greater durability, a stainless steel blade for a bushcraft knife is acceptable, given that it is easier to hone, easier to clean, and will (hopefully) not be required for the most intensive applications.

Other than the blade itself, it is important to carefully select a knife based on two factors: the grip and the sheathe. The grip will need to be comfortable at all times, even if dirty or wet, while the sheathe needs to be able to keep the blade secure, while also riding comfortably on a belt loop or backpack clip. 

Who Are The Major Manufacturers of Bushcraft Knives?

Many knife makers offer bushcraft knives, such as Coldsteel, Fallkniven, or Morakniv. Some do not advertise them as bush knives, but simply as smaller versions of standard outdoor knives. Still others sell bushcraft knives in package deals alongside survivor knives, allowing you to buy the bigger version alongside the smaller version once you discover a type that you particularly like.