Be it chopping wood or prepping a meal, a solid bushcraft knife is an essential piece of backwoods kit.
Bushcraft is a specialized skill set that ensures survival in the wilderness using foraging, hunting, fishing, shelter construction, and firecraft, all accomplished with minimal tools. The primary bushcraft implement is a fixed blade employed not only for food prep but the other mentioned skills, too.
As a result, such a fixed blade must be a tough tool capable of more than just standard cutting tasks, including whittling, carving, splitting wood or, in conjunction with a ferrocerium rod, starting a campfire.
What Defines A Bushcraft Knife?
Five basic chores of outdoor survival can be performed with a bushcraft knife. The tasks are elemental and a must-learn if you want to use a bushcraft knife to maximum effect.
- Fire Starting
- Food Prep
Whereas a small hatchet, ax, or even a machete are better suited for the task, a bushcraft knife can turn the trick. Grip the handle as far back and as securely as you can, and chop as you would with a larger knife, ax, hatchet or machete.
Basically, to baton a piece of kindling is to split it. Take a rather large/thick piece of wood to act as a baton/hammer in one hand, lay the blade edge on the end of the secured piece of kindling with the other, and, using firm, deliberate blows, pound the blade lengthwise through the kindling, effectively splitting it.
Again, an ax, hatchet or even a folding saw would be better, but if you lack any of these, your bushcraft knife is capable of handling such a task.
One of the most important bushcraft skills is to carve bowls, spoons, or even whittling sticks to roast hot dogs. Chopping and batoning are tasks using brute force; carving is more finesse and control.
This can be accomplished by using the knife and a ferrocerium (aka ferro) rod. The job is best done by using a knife that has a blade with a 90-degree spine as opposed to a chamfered or radiused one.
Grasp the knife firmly, cutting edge up. Lay the corner of the blade spine on the ferro rod and with one swift, downward motion, as if you are whittling o a piece of the rod, move the blade down it. Doing so will result in a white hot shower of sparks. The sparks can ignite tinder to start a fire.
The key to fire starting is always select a bushcraft knife with a 90-degree spine. If it lacks such a spine, you can always use the edge but this will dull the one spot on the edge faster than standard cutting will.
And, obviously, a bushcraft blade can also adeptly handle any cutting task related to food or campsite prep. Bushcraft knives prove a knife need not have sheer size and weight to be effective. It’s all in smart design of the blade and handle.
Our Picks For Best Bushcraft Knife
Boker Magnum Life Knife
The most affordable bushcraft model of the test bunch, the Boker Magnum Life Knife has a 3.9-inch blade of 440A stainless steel in a modified clip-point pattern. Built rugged for the outdoors, the knife comes with a sturdy Kydex sheath for safe carry.
At 7.87 inches overall, the Life Knife sports a handle of machined black G-10 in a coarse crosshatched checkering pattern for enhanced hand traction regardless of conditions. The grooves in the crosshatching work are similar to those of a radial car tire by displacing moisture. Red fiber liners under the G-10 add a nice pop of color to an otherwise dark knife.
The handle includes integral forward and rear guards to prevent your hand from sliding in either direction. The three large traction notches in the thumb rest area of the blade spine also help improve grip. The handle felt a bit skinny in my hand, so I would prefer a slightly wider one.
Conversely, the Life Knife might be a great choice for those with smaller paws. The 3.9-inch blade is a great size for belt carry. The rather compact nature allows it to carry comfortably, with the length neither too long nor too short. The short blade tip accomplishes precise cutting chores easily.
The sheath is a simple fold-over design of Kydex with a Boker Plus clip for belt carry. The sheath features quality construction, retains the knife well, and is simple yet effective.
Condor Tool & Knife Bushcraft Bliss
Composed of high-quality materials, the Bushcraft Bliss from Condor Tool & Knife boasts a 5-inch blade with a flat grind. The 1075 carbon steel can be rather easy to sharpen in the field and still retains an edge well. The modified clip point shape offers a generous belly for slicing and a defined point. A swedge gives the blade a bit of attitude, and bead-blasted flats and satin-finished bevels provide a two-tone finish that’s very eye-catching.
The ergonomic handle of red linen Micarta® is an excellent choice thanks to its being largely impervious to temperature and humidity changes. Three thong tubes fasten the scales to the full tang. Three large notches at the spine permit non-slip thumb placement so you can bear down on the blade. With its rounded edges, choil, and scale contouring, the handle felt as if it were molded to my hand.
The sheath is Condor’s hybrid molded Kydex and leather rig, an unusual material combo. The belt loop and securement strap are leather. The leather belt loop allows the sheath to move somewhat, unlike the more rigid molded clamshell fastener—which doesn’t—and makes it easier to sit down while wearing it. A thumb break molded into the top of the sheath assists in extracting the blade, which is a nice extra touch.
I found the handle to be very comfortable. A distinctive trait is the prominently elevated traction notches. They almost look like part of a gear. The feature ensures your thumb isn’t going anywhere.
The 5-inch blade makes baton work easy, as well as food prep tasks. Out of the box, the 1075 carbon steel was plenty sharp and ready for use. The Bushcraft Bliss is a consistent performer.
TOPS Knives Brakimo
Joe Flowers runs Bushcraft Global, where he instructs students on basic and advanced survival skills while in the Amazon jungle. A notable authority in the field, he also designs knives, including the Brakimo from TOPS Knives, a tool that can carve, cut, split, and perform just about any task involving outdoor survival.
The 5.25-inch blade of 1095 carbon steel is a drop-point pattern with a Scandi grind. It has a generous belly for easy slicing and a defined point for delicate work.
The green Micarta handle is ideal for bushcraft given its stability and minimal weight. It is matte-finished for a nice grip quality without being overly aggressive. The integral front and rear guards provide a measure of safety that locks the knife in the hand. The divot in the handle is for use with a bow drill for making fire.
If there is a solid all-around performer of the test bunch, it’s the Brakimo. I like how it easily handles heavy work like chopping and baton work, as well as such lighter work as whittling and food prep. You can choke up on the handle for tasks requiring more control where a slicing or rocking motion is used. Grip the handle more toward the rear and feel how the balance point shifts to a blade-heavy profile for easy, effective chopping.
The Scandi grind acts as a wedge and splits the wood in a snap, almost as if no effort were invested—very impressive performance! For one knife that does it all, the Brakimo is it. In-hand it feels substantial and capable of taking on serious work.
Spyderco FB42G Zoomer
Designed by Tony Zoomer, an outdoor enthusiast and survival skills instructor from the Netherlands comes the Spyderco FB42G Zoomer. Made of high-end materials, the knife is expertly configured and has a list of features that quite possibly makes it the most comfortable bushcraft knife you’ll use.
The 5-inch blade in a drop-point pattern is premium CPM 20CV stainless steel for enhanced edge retention. The blade has an ample belly for slicing and whittling/carving tasks and a defined point for close-up detail work. The full flat grind transitions to a convex edge, which is durable and extremely sharp.
The black G-10 scales are machined where they join the tang, so the handle is completely rounded in profile. This translates into a super comfortable grip that eliminates hot spots. An integrated rest at the blade spine permits placement of your thumb for additional pressure on cuts and for added control. The full tang extends a little beyond the end of the handle for use as a light-duty hammer.
The sheath is a custom-designed, well made leather drop-leg-style rig with a free-floating belt loop. It has an exterior storage pouch with a snap closure. The pouch can carry your choice of survival supplies, a large folding knife, a multi-tool, etc.
The free-floating belt loop allows the knife to swing freely as you move or pivot out of the way when you are seated. It also can temporarily break away in the event the sheath gets snagged by brush in the woods.
The Zoomer is a solid performer. The heavily contoured G-10 handle feels mighty good in the hand. The full flat grind allows the blade to sail through whatever you cut.
While the handle is comfortable, it felt big in my hand. Those with smaller hands might not take to it easily. While using high-performance CPM 20CV stainless steel is not typically a bushcraft thing, with some regular stropping and honing, you can prolong the edge and skip sharpening during your trip.
Fallkniven S1 Pro Forest Knife
Fallkniven’s S1 Pro Forest Knife is the evolutionary descendant of the company’s S1, which has been in production for over 20 years. The Pro version is made with better steel than the original S1, is more sophisticated and a better performer.
The S1 Pro simply does everything well and with no fuss. Its convex grind does not bind in deep cuts, goes through tough, knotty wood with little effort, peels bark, makes feather sticks, does fine work as on fish spear points with full control, and slices duck through skin, meat and bone like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. It cut through 2-inch-thick saplings in about a minute with little effort. The non-slip grip is comfortable and does not, in fact, slip.
Compact enough to always have on—or with a custom sheath, inside—your belt, the S1 Pro is as close as I’ve seen to the mythical “one knife to do it all.”
Ontario Bushcraft Woodsman
Veteran bladesmith Dan Maragni designed this issue’s cover knife, the Ontario Bushcraft Woodsman. The big blade shows his expertise and lineage as an accomplished smith, and is far more sophisticated than a first glance might suggest.
The distal taper gives it excellent balance, and, combined with the taper from spine to edge, great chopping ability.
We slashed through 2-inch-thick saplings with a single swipe, an important point in the calories-expended-vs.-results-achieved equation, and when night is falling and you need to get a fire going.
The blade’s geometry, combined with the overall design, good steel and heat treat, make for an exceptional big knife. Again referencing Tolkien, Ash called it the “Goblin Cleaver.”
Not as handy for fine work as the smaller knives, Dan’s design is a reassuring blade to have by your side in deep woods when the jackals are howling—or the Orcs.
Larry Roberts Signature Edition Gen6 Scandi (L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knife Co.)
The Larry Roberts Signature Edition Gen6 Scandi from L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knife Co. performs like a “Mora on steroids,” according to Ash. I agree.
If you’re familiar with the scandi grind, the only surprise with the LRSEG6S is that it takes scandi-ground blades to a higher level of performance. It excels at controlled shallow cuts, holds an edge well, and is strong enough that when batonning you can twist the blade with no worries and quickly pop the batonned material apart.
I like the longer 6-inch blade much better than the popular 4-inch pattern because you can get more stuff done faster and at no penalty to doing fine work. Due to the scandi grind, which tends to hang up in deep cuts, an average of three minutes was required to get through 2-inch-thick saplings.
Comfortable in the hand, it is also beautifully made and finished. A good all-around performer, it is a classic belt knife for the woods.
Editor’s Note: Dexter Ewing and James Ayres contributed to this post.
- My Five Favorite Makers
- Unzip ‘Em: Best Gut Hook Hunting Knives
- Best Skinning Knives: When You Dress The Kill
Knife Guide Issue features the newest knives and sharpeners, plus knife and axe reviews, knife sheaths, kit knives and a Knife Industry Directory.
Get your FREE digital PDF instant download of the annual Knife Guide. No, really! We will email it to you right now when you subscribe to the BLADE email newsletter.