Bushcrafting has really taken off as a hobby, or at least an area of interest. This may be due in part to the success of TV shows and online videos showing survival and bushcraft activities. It might also be that the hectic, stressful and abstract nature of modern life has left many people looking for ways to reconnect with a sense of their more basic nature, and little things like making a fire, or trapping an animal, or building a shelter, can really be satisfying in a deep way (that a nice dinner out and a show really just replicate).
Bushcrafting is all about survival in the wilderness—utilizing the natural materials available in the wild to meet your needs and desires. Consequently, the primary tool for bushcrafting is a good knife.
So, with that said, please take a moment to view our interactive table below, where you can compare many of the top knives on the market against one another (and see how well they stack up to the other blades we’ll discuss in this article):
|ESEE Knives 3P||$$$|
|SOG Flash II||$$|
|Ka-Bar Fighting Knife||$$|
|Kershaw Shuffle II||$|
|Spyderco Paramilitary 2||$$$|
What Makes a Bushcraft Knife?
There are now many commercially available knives that are designated as bushcraft knives, but all you really want for a good knife for bushcraft is a fairly solid fixed blade knife made of good steel, heavy-duty enough to handle chopping and battening (usually a “full tang” blade is preferred for this reason, though not always necessary).
You want a blade that is large enough, but not too large (usually around 4 inches is recommended, and I have found that to be a good size, though anything from maybe 3 1/2” to 5” is fine).
Most bushcrafters prefer a grind style that is either Scandinavian (“Scandi” — meaning a large symmetrical flat bevel) or flat ground, but a good hollow ground blade can work too, it just depends on what you want to accomplish, and personal preference. A Scandi is good for wood working on a smaller scale — making a bow drill set, shaving feather sticks etc.
A full flat grind is better for chopping and slicing. So it’s all relative. I haven’t been happy with convex ground knives I’ve worked with in bushcraft, but every knife is different. Convex blades theoretically lend strength to a finer slicing edge, so can be good too.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives available on Amazon (and see how well they stack up to some of the bushcraft knives we will discuss throughout this article):
|1) Mossy Oak|
|2) Ka-Bar USMC|
|3) Cold Steel Survivalist|
|5) Camp Lore PR-4|
|4) Cold Steel San Mai SRK|
What’s the Point?
It is also rather important for a bushcraft knife to have usable point. A spey blade may be great for wood carving in general, but try gouging out the starting divot on a new hearth board for a bow drill or hand drill with one of those! There are plenty of bushcraft tasks that can involve piercing (setting up a tarp shelter, working with an animal hide, making a bark bowl) and so a functional point on the knife tip is important. Generally you’re looking for a drop point or spear tip. Drop point is my preference because it has plenty of strength and leverage and is easier to manipulate without risk of slipping.
What a Steel!
Of course the steel quality is important too, but this is also largely based on preference and use. High carbon steel blades are all the rage in bushcrafting because they can get very hard and therefore really hold a sharp edge even with heavy work banging through wood. But they are prone to corrosion and so require more upkeep than a stainless steel knife.
There are fantastic “super steels” that combine the best of both, but can get outrageously expensive. Accidentally losing your knife in the woods is one thing if it cost you forty bucks, but it’s quite another thing if it cost you three hundred! Plus, part of the fun of bushcraft is in working the edges of your blades. It seems a better solution to have a nice diamond sharpener in your pack and be sure you always have exactly the edge you want on your blade rather than spending a fortune for one so hard you couldn’t really sharpen it without getting it to your workshop anyway.
You can read our in-depth article on what the best steels are on today’s market here.
So the features we are looking for are:
- Fixed Blade
- Flat spine
- Full tang
- 3 1/2” to 5” blade
- Hard Steel, but not too hard
- Scandi or Flat grind
- Spear or drop point tip
Knives fitting these criteria can get quite expensive, but they don’t have to be. There are some very high quality options that meet the needs of bushcrafters but are available for less than $100.
In fact, here are 7 top picks, and why they made the list.
- Colt Bushcraft Knife
- Condor Bushlore
- Schrade Frontier Full Tang Fixed Blade
- Morakniv Bushcraft Carbon Steel Survival Knife with Fire Starter
- Boker Real Steel Bushcraft Knife
- KA-BAR BK-22 Companion Fixed Blade Knife
- Ontario RAT-3 Knife
Though Colt is known far more for guns, they do make knives as well, and we know they know steel! The Colt Bushcraft Knife has a 4” full tang blade (with a nicely extended butt end for breaking stuff) of 440A stainless with a well-designed drop point and a stonewash finish. Synthetic handle scales give a little bit of grippy feeling, though not textured so prone to getting slippery when wet.
Throw in a MOLLE compatible nylon sheath with a little storage pouch (for some tinder or cordage maybe?) and you have a really great bushcraft piece for under $20 online.
The Bushlore from Condor Tools & Knives is a real interesting option — it has the classic style of much more expensive “brand name” bushcraft knives, but though it comes in MUCH cheaper than some of them, it can really give them a run for their money on many front. Sure, the fit and finish will not be as reliably perfect as a $400 knife, but one thing you can count on with this blade is the strength of the steel
Exceptionally well heat treated for a blade of this price, though the steel is not flashy, they get it right! This is a rare but effective approach — take a steel that is not expensive or “in” but one that can be heat treated with relative ease (in this case 1075 carbon steel), and handle it just right.
You often get more actual benefit from how well the steel is treated and handled than you do from the steel itself, and Condor teaches us that here. With a 4 1/2” blade length, Scandi grind, drop point on walnut wood handle scales and leather sheath, this knife will get the job done.
Also coming in at right around $40 online is the Schrade Frontier. Though “Schrade” knives have fallen massively out of fashion since the company was taken over and manufacturing moved to China, this still manages to be a good and trustworthy knife for the money.
The blade is just over 5” (a little long) of 1095 carbon steel with a drop point and flat ground with some jimping on the surprisingly flat spine (good for use with a ferro rod) and a nice coating. The handle scale are “grivory” (aka plastic) which leave a little to be desired, but light and workable. It’s full tang with an extending butt that is also jimped (seems odd at first, but can be practical for leveraging deep work).
Comes with a leather sheath, ready for work.
Perhaps a somewhat controversial pick, the Morakniv Bushcraft Knife with Fire Starter deserves its place on the top picks, even though lots of folks like to criticize the fact that Mora knives are not full tang. They have a long rat tail tang that extends down much of the way through the handle, but not fully.
But this one has held up to any batoning I have ever needed it to do. Maybe if you think you’re going to be building a semi-long term shelter in the woods and refuse to carry a hatchet, this might not be enough knife for you.
Otherwise, you’ll love the 90 degree spine, the razor sharp high carbon steel and symmetrical Scandi grind, the tungsten coating, the grippy and ergonomic handle, the simple and effective blade geometry and the sheath with integrated fire starter rod and sharpener.
I will say that the steel is not as hard as some others, and so it is good to have a sharpener with you, and the one on the sheath may not really be up for the job. But this blade is designed to be workable and therefore to be able to be kept very sharp.
The Boker Real Steel Bushcraft Knife is another one of those knives that might surprise you at how little it costs relative to similar knives out there, if for materials alone! The blade length is just over 4” and about 1/8” thick from D2 steel with G-10 handle scales.
This is quality material, and though there’s nothing flashy about the design, it is functional. The blade is a Scandi-ground drop point with spine jimping and full tang with a lanyard hole. The kydex sheath has a removable belt loop. If you want that high-end fit and finish for under $60, this is your bushcraft knife.
The Ontario RAT-3 Knife is a blade that looks utilitarian, and delivers. Though there are various version options, the straight edge is probably best for bushcraft. They all have a 3 3/4” flat ground edge and black coating on the full tang blade of 1095 carbon steel, and micarta handle scales.
Known for this particular handle look, the micarta comes with a sort of weathered finish, giving it more grip than look. The finger grip choil is a little shallow for serious choking up on the blade, but still good for more detailed work. Known for good edge retention and sharpness, this knife also has a great flat spine for throwing sparks. Comes with a nice nylon sheath.
There’s no way this list could leave out the KA-BAR BK-22. Though perhaps widely hyped (and maybe beyond the realities when compared to other options) this is just a bush crafting icon currently available for about $80 online.
Though of course Ka-Bar is a name forever linked to the US Marines and lines of combat knives that defined “tactical” blades, the Becker versions have moved solidly into the wilderness adventure world. This knife is something of a beast at 5 1/4” blade length that’s 1/4” thick. The blade is flat ground with a drop point and coated 1095 Cro-Van steel. The sheath is heavy duty polyester, the handle scales are glass reinforced nylon, and everything is matte black. It’s a knife that screams “I mean business!”
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