Anyone who loves bushcrafting knows that a good bushcraft knife will quickly become like a best friend. Always there for you no matter what, ready to do anything you ask, and asking very little in return.
Treat these versatile knives with a little respect and they will give you many years of service. Cutting food, splitting firewood, making feather sticks, striking a firesteel and even whittling a little gift for your kids back home – these knives can do it all. The even make great fixed blade hunting knives.
Bushcrafters prize a strong, full-tang blade and a versatile handle. For the many jobs that bushcraft encompasses, the ability to change your grip on the knife is essential. A fully symmetrical grip, however, can result in accidents, as it can be unclear which way the sharp edge of the blade is facing. A handle with defined sides but no finger notches will be easiest and safest to move around.
The belly of the blade should be fairly straight (a slight curve is fine) for woodworking and the blade length should be proportionate to your hands. A blade no longer than the width of your hand is ideal for carving jobs and should be long enough for most bushcraft purposes.
This knife is to be relied upon for survival, so while good looks are a bonus, they won’t be the first requirement. Paramount is a fixed blade with a keen edge that is easily maintained. You also want a handle that feels secure in your hand will give you the confidence to use your knife safely. Finally, you will want to strike a perfect balance between strength and functionality.
Over the years, as your skills grow and your needs change you are likely to begin the quest for the perfect bushcraft knife over… and over again.
Whatever your stage along the path to becoming a true wildman (or woman) and whatever your budget, start the search with these beauties.
Best for the Money: Morakniv Companion Heavy Duty
By a huge margin; the Morakniv Companion is the best bushcraft knife for the money. It may not be up there in the beauty rankings, but it is known all over the bushcrafting world as a tough and competent companion.
The Companion Heavy Duty differs from its little brother the Companion due to the slightly thicker blade. The blade is a semi-tang and measures 0.126 inches wide by 4.1 inches long. It has a classic scandi grind which allows for easy sharpening and the strength to cope with heavy duties like batoning (splitting wood).
The Companion Heavy Duty’s ergonomic grip features a non-slip texture and is designed to be easy to handle. There is a small guard to stop your hands sliding onto the blade, and all but the tiniest of users should be comfortable using this model.
The very low cost of this knife makes it ideal for beginners. You can learn knife skills while not worrying about spoiling a more expensive tool, and this knife is versatile enough to try many different tasks. The Morakniv Companion HD can also hold a very keen edge and is easy to sharpen.
As you would expect from such a low-cost piece of kit, the plastic sheath that accompanies this knife is adequate, but not the best. Beginners can sometimes replace the knife the wrong way round causing it to flop in the sheath, exposing a half inch of blade. With a bit of care taken, though, this blade will prove an excellent teacher.
|Blade Material||High Carbon Steel|
Editor’s Choice: Fallkniven F1
Swedish military pilots, since 1995, have carried this good-looking and reliable knife as thier standard issue survival knife. And, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. The word that comes to mind to describe this knife is ‘serious’. If pretty knives are not your thing, but you still appreciate quality and competence, this may well be the knife for you.
Just one look at the VG-10 laminated steel blade coupled with the minimalist black grip lets you know that this knife is here to do a job, and to do it well. The 3.8 inch blade is strong enough to withstand any job you ask of it, and the F1 is the only knife on our list to come with a full convex grind.
While a scandi grind may be easier for the beginner to sharpen, you owe it to this knife to learn your skills. The full convex grind will repay you with the power to easily perform tough tasks like splitting wood.
The full tang blade is visible in the purposeful black grip of the F1. The rubber Thermorun handle material allows for a safe and comfortable grip, and the whole knife feels well balanced in the hand. A lanyard hole allows you to string the knife for extra security.
While the Zytel sheath might not be to everyone’s taste, it does have a utilitarian, no-nonsense look which suits the overall feel of the F1, and the nylon strap, which could prove a bit on the fiddly side (especially in the cold), will keep your pride and joy where you want it.
Best Beater: ESEE-4
When we say beater… we don’t mean junker. Like a beat up old Ford Escort. What we’re gett at is that this knife can take a beating… and keep on ticking.
In fact ESEE knives are so well known to shrug off the rigors of a hard life there’s a wildly popular Instagram hashtag – #beateresee. People love to put these things to work.
The 4 1/2 inch 1095 carbon steel blade can take a crazy sharp edge with minimal effort. However, it will rust if used as intended. The edge will rust and as soon as the protective coating is worn away rust will begin to develop on exposed steel. To fight this you can use oil, chapstick, or a bit of spray paint. But, those will all eventually wear off and you’ll be back at square one.
But, don’t let that turn you off from picking one up. Sure, they have flaws and aren’t the most affordable knives… but they are known to work. Before we bought our Junglass and Izula we read a bunch of articles, and this one by Garand Thumb almost had us sold on the ESEE-4. In it we learned that this is the knife that the USAF began issuing to SERE trainees back in 2014.
Regardless of what kind of collector or outdoors many you consider yourself… an ESEE is worth owning at least once in your life. They’re well made (in Idaho) and are designed by people who really know what features matter in the wild.
|Blade Material||1095 Carbon Steel (50-57 Rc.)|
|Handle Material||Linen Micarta|
Premium Pick: Helle Temagami
Earlier we said “looks aren’t the first priority in a bushcraft knife,” and then we chose this one to show you last, and it is undeniably beautiful. But if you’ll give us the benefit of the doubt we can show you that this knife is very capable too – it is indeed possible to be both – a bit like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
The first thing you will notice when you hold this knife is the warm feel of the beautiful natural grip. Made from curly birch and antler, this stunning handle should provide plenty of feedback, is maneuverable and will stand up to the elements well. A lanyard hole is present in case you really can’t bear to lose this lovely looking tool.
The Helle Temagami is a semi-tang knife. The tang extends all the way to the pommel and back of the handle but is short of the finger edge of the handle, to keep cold steel away from those sensitive digits. At 3.5 inches the triple laminated carbon steel blade is the ideal length for bushcraft. The flat grind is well-loved in bushcrafting circles for its combination of strength and easy sharpening.
Staying with the natural materials and simple but eye-catching design, the sheath for the Temagami is a slip-in pouch design made in durable leather.
Designed by Les Stroud (yes, that’s Survivorman himself) this knife will be able to stand up to just as much as you can, and if you just want to take it out and look at it, that’s OK too.
|Blade Material||Proprietary Triple Laminated Stainless Steel|
|Handle Material||Curly Birch|
What is a Bushcraft Knife?
Perhaps a better question would be what is bushcraft. We know… that sounds a bit like Yoda handing out advice, but it’s a good place to start. There are a ton of opinions and definitions floating around the internet. But, we like to think of it a self reliant minimalist wilderness survival and recreation.
Kind of a mouth full, but those few words sum it up pretty well. But what do they mean. First, there’s self-reliant. To us that means that you’re getting by using wilderness knowledge more so than gear or supplies. From building shelter, to starting a fire , to preparing a meal you rely more on yourself and your immediate surroundings to get things done.
Then there’s “minimalist” and this is subjective depending on your comfort level. But, in our eyes it means everything you need and nothing you don’t. Minimalism in this sense points back to slightly more primitive and simple equipment. Stuff that’s all but guaranteed to work.
Finally… our little definition includes survival and recreation. The latter bit is because its fun; and let’s be honest hardly anyone frequently finds themselves in a serious survival scenario. If they did we’d probably ban them from the forest. But, kidding aside bushcrafting is a fun way to cultivate a serious skill set that can keep you alive and thriving for a very, very long time without help from the outside world.
What features do you absolutely need in a Bushcraft Knife?
Some people have a really rigid definition of bushcraft knife. We do not.
You’ll hear people go on and on about jimping, choils, sharp spines, and chopping. We think those are less necessity and more nice to have based off your individual style. As far as what you absolutely need… it’s really not much.
Over the years our team has spent enough time in austere environments and situations to know that what you need will vary and there’s no way to pin down the “perfect” bushcraft blade.
The bare minimum that we’d define is that it really needs to be a fixed blade. When you’re out in BFE the last thing you need is a unnecessary point of failure. It doesn’t need to be a full tang carbon steel monster (like a Junglas) but it does need to be strong enough to instill confidence.
Other than that… the steel should be easy to sharpen, yet hold a good edge. Another thing is that knives that bend rather than chip or break is a nice feature. But, do you need to be able to chop or baton firewood? Not really. Bring a hatchet and a small folding saw. We think it’s better to have a knife for more frequent and delicate tasks than go full mall ninja and get something that looks awesome in your moments spent daydreaming about survival.
What is the best steel for bushcraft knives?
One of the common misconceptions we cover in our blade steel guide is that there’s more to a knife blade than the steel the knifemaker spec’s. In fact how it’s treated is incredibly important.
Some makers are experts at building in 1095 Carbon Steel (ESEE, Tops, KA-BAR) while others can’t harden a 1095 blade to save their lives. But, it is a fairly affordable and easy to obtain material so it gets a bad rap among knife reviewers sometimes.
Another steel VG-10 sits at the other end of the metallurgical scale but is plagued by the same hit and miss treatment from knife makers. One VG-10 might be amazing (Fallkniven) while another is less than perfect.
What is important when it come to selecting a steel for a bushcraft knife is knowing enough to realize why two seemingly similar knives have drastically different prices. And, a general understanding of how much more performance you’re getting out of that bladesteel. A good example that comes to mind is the Morakniv companion we included in this list. It’s great but next to the higher end Morakniv Garberg it’s a bit of a joke. Granted, you could have three or four Companions vs. a single Garberg. But the Garberg’s full tang Sandvic 14C28N puts it up there with knives like the Fallkniven. The important thing here is that you know enough to decide if it’s worth it to you.
So while that doesn’t answer the question about what is the best blade steel for bushcrafting… it does open things up for discussion and research. Short answer there is no best steel for a bushcraft knife. Every blade is shaped, engineered, and built to be good at a handful of tasks. If there were a prefect steel this article would be about 2 paragraphs in length.
What would you look for in an entry to mid level bushcrafter?
Personally… only a few things matter. First as we said earlier it needs to be a strong fixed blade. That way it’s easy to clean and isn’t going to break under heavy use. Second, it needs to be good at food prep. We use our knives to prepare meals more than anything else. So the blade for us would be a thin as possible without sacrificing strength. Also, we prefer a bit more of a flat grind or convex grind for food prep.
The next thing we’d want… something that gets crazy sharp. We love using our belt sharpener, and any knife worth keeping will take and hold a good edge. A sharp knife makes detail work so much more enjoyable. Knives like the Fallkniven above are outstanding when it come to task like making a feather stick to start a fire.
Finally, we’d look for something that costs somewhere between 75 and 125 bucks. That way you can still pick up an affordable Mora as a backup or point or reference.
Well, it’s hard to choose an overall “winner” from these fantastic offerings. The Helle Temagami wins in our eyes for its stunning good looks. However, the Fallkniven F1 comes back to the front with its combination of great quality, price, and capability. The Morakniv Companion HD cannot be beaten for its value and forgiving nature. Then again the Spyderco Bushcraft G-10 is an all-rounder that could give them all a run for their money. We’ll leave the final decision up to you – what do you think? Which of these bushcraft beasts would you trust your life with?
Spyderco Bushcraft G-10
Designed in collaboration with bushcrafter Chris Claycombe, the folks at bushcraftUK.com, and Spyderco, the emphasis of this knife is firmly on practicality and versatility. It has a more traditional ‘bushcraft’ look than the Mora Companion and Fallkniven F1.
The gently rounded design of the Bushcraft G-10’s grip should prove comfortable for prolonged periods of whittling, without the dreaded blisters making an appearance. The lack of a guard will also make the knife easier to handle for the different grips needed in bushcraft, and particularly in whittling. That is not to suggest that this knife can’t perform the more extreme tasks required of a bushcraft knife, though.
The O-1 tool steel from which this 4 inch full tang knife blade is made provides a balance between easy sharpening and the ability to hold an edge over a long period while the scandi grind ensures that the blade will resist twisting under the pressure of batoning or cutting wood. The scandi grind will also allow for the shallower cuts needed when making feather sticks or whittling.
Accompanying this knife is an attractive, black, moulded-leather pouch-style sheath. While the sheath appears to be excellent quality, the rivets holding it together may corrode over time, but regular waxing or oiling at the same time as you do your blade maintenance should keep it in top condition.
Like the looks of the Helle? If you’re looking for a really beautiful bushcrafter, you should definitely look in to custom knifemakers. This handmade example by Steve Hostetler mixes great quality with looks that will make you think twice about using it. We probably won’t use it to baton kindling anytime soon, but it is one of our favorite camping / overlanding knives. The copper metal work has a bit of a patina, which we like. And, the blade is so perfectly polished we really struggled to get a pic that didn’t have a mirror image of the camera reflecting in the blade.