Heading out to the backcountry for a few nights away from civilization is relaxing. Sometimes solitude brings clarity, which is why more and more people are getting into outdoor activities of all kinds.
That being said, one’s ability to survive out there depends on the type of tools they have. If there’s one tool you’ll regularly default to while outdoors, it’s your bushcraft knife. Here’s what you should know about these knives, and then some.
The Elusive Definition of a Bushcraft Knife
Knives are a touchy subject in the outdoor community. As with many things in life, different people have different tastes. Where things get off the rails is when you discuss the definition of a bushcraft knife. As it turns out, there isn’t one.
A bushcraft knife can be any type of blade that’s being used for bushcraft. Naturally, some blades work better than others and that’s partially what we’ll discuss today. Things such as the Scandi grind bring the proven benefits out in the bush. We’ll touch upon that a bit later.
If there’s one thing you should know about bushcraft knives is that there isn’t a strict definition.
What Works Out in the Boondocks?
Building upon our previous point, there are features on a knife that have been proven to work outdoors. Outdoor survival is a skill, and using a bushcraft knife to hone that skill has led to certain trends.
We generally know what works and doesn’t work in the bush. Remember the Scandinavian grind we’ve just mentioned or Scandi grind as it’s often called? As it turns out, it works great for splitting wood and that’s something many people do with their bushcraft knives.
An Outline of a Solid Knife
An outline of a good bushcraft knife starts with the blade. The blade shouldn’t be too long, generally up to 5 inches for most applications. Going longer tends to make the blade hard to work with. For example, cleaning fish or doing any kind of precision works goes out the window with a long blade.
That being said, there is a lower limit to length beyond which you compromise functionality. Around 3.5 inches is probably as short as you’d want to go.
The thickness of the blade is also important. A proper bushcraft knife is no sheet queen. It will be used and abused, meaning that it needs to be durable enough to endure such use over time. ⅛ inches should be a good starting point.
What you’re getting with ⅛ inch thick blade is something that you can beat on with a split wood with. At the same time, such a blade shouldn’t be too brittle. Some of the best bushcraft knives feature blades that are ⅛ inch thick. You can read this article to find out what some of the relevant brands and models are. Generally speaking, thickness plays a large part in knife selection for serious outdoor use.
If you ask 10 knife enthusiasts which steel is best for a blade, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. It’s no secret that different steels bring various benefits. We’ll limit the discussion to carbon vs stainless steel, as these represent the mainline of separation.
Carbon steel is great. Hands down, it’s a good choice for most applications. However, it’s not the best for actual bush survival. As most of you probably know, carbon steel will rust when exposed to water or even plain moisture.
Not that it won’t cut well or offer the durability you need. But, at the end of the day, you’re exposing carbon to water and that means rust in knives.
Stainless steel is a much better choice for the outdoors. There are plenty of awesome blades out there that run stainless steel and offer great performance.
Choose the Right Tool
The question of which knife is the best for bushcraft shouldn’t only be limited to the said knife. You should look at it through the prism of other tools you are or aren’t bringing with you. A small, 3-inch blade won’t do you much good on its own, but it’s the perfect companion if you’re bringing a hatchet as well.
On the other hand, you might decide to compromise with a blade longer than 5 inches if it’s the only thing you’re bringing. Try to layout your gear and see what kind of knife would fit the best.
Skill Over Gear
It’s so easy to get lost in the different features and specs of modern knives. The world of blades is diverse and constantly expanding. That being said, no blade can compensate for the lack of skill. If you’re just starting out, go and get yourself a cheap blade. Work it out in the bush, beat on it, treat it poorly, but learn how to use a knife in such a setting.
Then, once you’re comfortable with your knife, go ahead and treat yourself with a decent blade. By that time, you’ll already have a formed taste, you’ll know what works for your type of outdoor activities and generally what works for you individually. Skill over gear, every time.
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