While any knife can help you survive in the wild, a bushcraft knife and a survival knife are not the same thing at all.
As some people say, all bushcraft knives are survival knives, but not all survival knives are bushcraft knives.
So what are the differences between these two types of knives, and how would you choose one or the other? Let’s take a look at survival knife vs bushcraft knife.
Survival Knife vs Bushcraft Knife
Before breaking down the specific differences between bushcraft knives and survival knives, it’s best to first understand their origins and purpose.
Once you know what each knife is designed for, then the visible differences between them become more meaningful.
Bushcraft Knife Origin and Purpose
Bushcraft knives are primarily designed to help outdoor enthusiasts survive in the wilderness with as little gear as possible.
These knives are designed to perform the jobs you can’t do without a knife; they help you split wood, build a fire, make a fishing hook, prepare food, make traps, cut a spoon, etc.
In other words, it is primarily a whittling knife, meant to complement an axe. A bushcraft knife also needs to be sturdy and compact, with minimal weight or size impact in a pack.
Survival Knife Origin and Purpose
The prototypical survival knife is the classic Rambo knife. Around the world, moviegoers watched John Rambo use the knife to fight his enemies, make traps, cut vegetation, and even store essentials inside the handle.
The survival knife needs to be able to do just about anything, so it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well.
It can act as a machete or a hatchet in a pinch, and can also be used for skinning, wood carving, and a host of other tasks.
Similarities Between Survival Knives and Bushcraft Knives
Since both knives are essential for survival, in different ways, here are the properties that both a good bushcraft knife or a good survival knife need to have:
- Fixed blade. Both survival and bushcraft knives are fixed-blade knives.
- Full tang. Full tang knives are stronger and sturdier, which allows the knife to be more durable and reliable.
- Flat spine. A flat spine allows you to use the knife to strike a ferrocerium rod when necessary.
- Handle. Both knives need to have solid, oval-shaped handles that resist impact and water. They should be long enough to use when wearing gloves, and comfortable in the hand. Look for a handle that provides enough grip and control to use in wet or cold weather.
- Easy to sharpen. Generally speaking, carbon steel is the preferred blade for both of these knives, because it is easy to sharpen and very good at holding an edge, both of which are essential in wilderness environments. However, carbon steel is prone to staining and rusting, so more care needs to be taken to keep it dry.
- Excellent sheath. It’s easier to find a great knife than it is to find a great sheath. Cheap sheaths are noisy, loose, or uncomfortable. In most cases, it’s best to invest in a custom sheath rather than use the one included with the knife.
In other words, both types of knife need to be strong, reliable, and able to tolerate rough conditions. Now let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two types of knives.
Differences Between Survival Knives and Bushcraft Knives
- Here are the key differences between these two types of knife:
Blade length. A good bushcraft knife has a 3.5-4.5 inch blade, while a good survival knife has a 7-10 inch blade.
- Serration. A bushcraft knife always has a full straight edge, while a survival knife may be partially serrated. Avoid fully serrated blades, because they are simply too difficult to sharpen in the field.
- Thickness. Bushcraft knives are typically 1/8 of an inch in thickness, while survival knives can go all the way up to ¼ of an inch, so they can be used for rougher tasks.
- Different grinds. The Scandi grind is widely regarded as simply the best grind for bushcraft knives. The Scandi is a single grind, with a with a single bevel to zero degrees at the edge. This grind creates a blade that is especially aggressive and effective when cutting hard and soft woods, because the geometry is optimized for woodcraft. However, the Scandi grind is not preferred for general survival knives, because it isn’t very versatile, and other grinds are faster and easier to sharpen. Generally speaking, a convex grind is recommended for survival knives, as it offers less resistance to a wider range of materials, and is easier to maintain.
Capabilities of Bushcraft and Survival Knives
Some of the specific design capabilities of Bushcraft knives include:
- Wood cutting and carving, including making stakes, hooks, traps, and walking sticks
- Useful for making a fire, including fire drills, feather sticks, etc.
- Used for food preparation
- Can be used as a spear point
Some specific capabilities of a survival knife include:
- Rope cutting
- Batoning and heavy chopping and cutting of wood and vegetation
- Used for processing game
- Prying and digging are hard on any knife, but most survival knives are designed to withstand these kinds of tasks
As a rule of thumb, the bushcraft knife is designed for the outdoor enthusiast who takes planned trips into the wilderness.
The bushcraft knife is a complement to other wilderness tools, including an axe or hatchet, and designed to be compact, lightweight, and useful, requiring little space in a pack and adding little weight to the body.
For people who are hiking, camping, or spending a lot of time in rugged outdoor conditions, the bushcraft knife is ideal.
The survival knife, on the other hand, is designed for the person who wants to be prepared for any survival situation, no matter how rugged or extreme.
They are designed to be useful when you don’t have an axe, or a hammer, a shovel, a crowbar, or a skinning knife.
They are big, strong, rugged knives designed to stay by your side through anything and everything, and are often part of a bug out bag or emergency preparedness kit.
Both knives have essential attributes that will help you survive in the wilderness. But the demands that can be placed on these knives are very different.
Now you know how to choose a survival or a bushcraft knife, and which is better for your needs.