As preppers, proper gear selection is key for success and all kinds of survival situations. This maxim is all the more true when discussing the most essential and most important types of survival gear. The right boots, the right water filter, the right fire starter and certainly the right type of knife.
Chances are if you’re heading into a real survival situation, your folding everyday carry pocket knife will not quite be the best tool for the job. You want something bigger, stronger, and more capable.
Chances are you’ve probably seen a couple kinds of knives regularly discussed for the job: bushcraft knives, and survival knives. With all the talk about these two, should you choose one over the other? Is there a big difference between them?
While both terms are used often, there is no major difference between bushcraft knives and survival knives. The term can be used to describe any variety of large, fixed, and heavy bladed knives that are ideal for all kinds of tasks in an outdoor setting, tasks that are useful for survival, like the processing of wood, shelter creation, the making of cordage and other similar chores.
Some knife savants would make the distinction that a survival knife comes with or stores within itself specialized survival gear, though this one quirk has very little to do with the capabilities or role of the knife itself.
The important thing is, is it both knives are equally adept at the survival tasks you will typically face went out in the wilderness.
Design Features of Survival and Bushcraft Knives
The most obvious design features of these knives are their very heavy, broad builds. Wide, thick blades, durable, almost prow- like tips and a general air of durability and ruggedness define knives in this category.
These knives have to withstand impacts, prying and abuse that will make other knives balk, and their owners blush.
One of the most common essential tasks that the bushcraft survival knife will be employed at is the batoning of wood, where he knife will be used as a wedge to split wood for fire or for building.
This is done by pounding the back of the spine literally with another branch or piece of wood, called the baton. This type of use is a severe test of a knife’s overall durability and certainly its edge holding capability.
Speaking of edges, most every knife in this category will have a very conservative grind, meaning the angle of the grind itself is more on the shallow side, more oblique than acute.
All this means that the edge will never be particularly keen, or razor sharp, but it also means that what age is established is more durable and especially suited for splitting.
Sharpening is essential, but time spent sharpening in a survival situation is likely time wasted that you could instead be better putting to use working.
These knives are fixed blade as a rule, as even the strongest folding knife doesn’t hold a candle to a fixed blade knife when it comes to overall durability and strength. And it’s not just the blades; the handles are designed to support the tasks the knives are intended for.
While a good bushcraft or survival knife will have an ergonomic handle, it won’t be particularly grippy, or covered with abrasive material. Those traits are important in fighting knives, but are a liability on a bush knife that will be in your hand and doing work for hours at a time potentially. Deep grooves and channels or gritty scales are a one-way ticket to blister town.
You can also expect to find these knives with serrations, specifically saw teeth, either near the back half of the blade or on the spine of the blade, at least partially.
These saw teeth can come in handy if you want you to saw through branches or even small saplings while saving the primary edge for more important work, like batoning.
Do take care when choosing a knife with a saw back feature as this will come at a cost: the spine of a knife covered with sharp teeth is more difficult to baton, and the same feature on the primary edge may be damaged if you baton it through wood.
Just something to keep in mind.
When time comes to bug out, you’ll definitely want a good knife at your side or in your BOB. Choosing the right one for your needs and the tasks ahead is an important part of planning.
Don’t get caught up in any of the numerous enthusiast discussions of bushcraft and survival knives; the two are largely synonymous. No matter what term they are marketed under, both will likely have the features you need for survival in an outdoor setting. That’s what really matters!
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
5 thoughts on “Bushcraft versus Survival Knife – What is the Difference?”
My first survival knife did not have a tang that extended thru the handle. Of course the short narrow tang broke as soon as i held the handle & batonned the back of the blade to make kindling. The supplies stored inside the handle were preserved, but I wud have preferred an operational, strong knife
Always considered a “survival” knife to have a more applicable use for self defense opposed to a “bushcraft” Knife. Both should be able to perform the same tasks / take abuse. But the survival knife outshines the bush craft knife when one has to defend ones self. Just my 2 cents.
The best advice I have ever gotten on this subject is ; Quit trying to find the perfect Knife. Find a knife that can do anything you think you will need it to do and learn to use it to use it to do all of those tasks. Skill in using a tool is more important than the tool itself. The knife is only required to be functional and durable. It only does what you can make it do.
I would never baton with a knife period!
I keep a coleman hatchet for that.
I think a Mora knife would be used for both.
a buck 11o would also work both ways in my opinon
I have a number of Bushcraft knives.
Ontario Bushcraft Field knife, Ontario Blackbird, Becker BK62 Horace Kephart, Mora Garberg, Becker BK2, Becker BK5, others. Of the lot, the Becker knives have the Survival heft and strength, while the others are lighter. I have others, like the Buck 632, that are right on the cusp.
So, I’m wondering, with things like the Bushcraft Field knife and the Kephart knife, and the Blackbird, are these also considered “survival” knives?