Camp Knives: All-Purpose Performers

Camp Knives Are The Jack Of All Trades When Out In The Field On A Long Hunt. These Three Factory Blades Were Put Through Their Paces Chopping, Fire Making, And Skinning.

The camp knife, a large blade with many functions, has been something of a mainstay for most of human history. However, in recent years—at least for the general populace—it has fallen by the wayside. This has much to do with the types of training available to the public, and schools of thought surrounding the size and function of blades in an outdoor role.

Fieldcraft has, for the large part, become absorbed into the broad bushcraft series of skills. In general, I find this to be a detriment as the focus now is heavily gear-based. The amount of specialized equipment needed for these tasks has expanded; when I learned much of my skills, all that was needed was a long, thick blade and a striking rod.

Testing The Camp Knives

Last year, my friend Greg Ray, owner of Outdoor Solutions*, invited me to Two Hats Ranch in Big Rapids, Michigan, for a week of deer hunting. It provided the perfect test for this story’s review blades, as not only would we be shooting deer, we would also be butchering and preparing meals for each other under the guidance of an expert chef. 

The Outdoor Solutions “From Field To Table” event is the perfect way to get introduced to hunting and game prep. At every step along the way you are guided by the best instructors and it is a great way to learn the art of the camp knife in a real, hands-on way.

For me, an experienced hunter with countless dozens of deer taken, it would be a great time to put the test blades in the hands of novices and put them through the paces few knives undergo. The party shot about a dozen deer in a few days, and the knives got used for everything from gutting to grilling—but more on that performance later.

What Is A Camp Knife?

For this trip I ended up putting three high-quality knives through an arduous wringer that encompassed virtually every aspect of true fieldcraft, including butchering game, chopping wood, starting fires and more. 

Each piece had a blade longer than six inches and a thickness no less than .19 inch at the thickest, the minimum dimensions I find to be useful for such general use. Why not a shorter blade as is in fashion now in bushcraft, something around 3-4 inches? Well, fact is a short blade is usually a thin one and a thin blade can’t keep up with what I put these knives through.

A proper camp knife needs to be a tool with many uses, not something that essentially is dedicated to small cutting tasks. True, a shorter blade can be used for big game and striking to make fire, but rarely is it thick enough for batoning through large logs and branches or heavy enough to really bite in when chopping. 

A smaller blade limits the amount of work that can be done by merit of size alone. To readily baton there needs to be enough exposed spine to beat the blade through for a complete split of the wood. Needless to say, a shorter blade that is thick enough not to break is going to be very stout and thus limited as far as utility when skinning or butchering. 

Of course, carrying multiple knives is an option, but when I am afield I prefer to occupy extra available ounces with ammunition and dry socks, not more knives.

The reality of modern camp chores is something of a far cry from the minutiae of survival bushcraft, the latter favoring small tasks, trapping, and subsistence from point to point on a trek or hike. The former relays the modern saturation of firearms and pack hunting where it’s not rabbits and squirrels that get snared, but rather deer and elk in deep country. The camp knife here is a single tool for everything from making fire to separating joints, and it must be able to do both at the same time for a hunter such as yours truly.

TKC Architect Field Buddy 6.5

First up is the TKC (The Knife Connection) Architect Field Buddy 6.5. The knife is part of a noteworthy modular system that starts with the blade. You can pick a steel type, handle scale color, sheath type, accessory configurations and more. There are hundreds of possible combinations that can sate the needs of any outdoor enthusiast. 

I chose a 1095 carbon steel blade as well as green and orange scales. I combined these with the TKC polymer sheath and installed it into an ESEE backer with front pouch. The modularity of this knife system allowed me to assemble it exactly as I liked, and I can carry a tinder scraper and 6-inch ferro rod in the front pouch.

MSRP: $74.95

White River Knife & Tool Firecraft FC7

The White River Knife & Tool Firecraft FC7 is far more slender and elegant than it appears in photographs—until you pick it up. The knife is a thick, razor-sharp chopping tool that subtly hides a great number of features in its profile. 

It has the longest blade of the test bunch but is not the longest overall. It has a shorter handle than the Field Buddy 6.5, giving it a much more point-heavy feel in the hand. Despite this, it feels like a much smaller knife and moves like one when cutting. 

The blade has a sharp spine that is ready to strike on at any point. You can save your edge this way and I love it. It also features a grip insert for use with a bow saw to start a friction fire. Of note is the leather sheath has a cutout for the insert so you don’t have to try to use an unsheathed blade if you need/want to make fire in such a way. The optional leather sheath is by far the best way to go and looks very flashy.

MSRP: $330

Bradford USA Guardian 6

Coming in at under 9.5 ounces is the Bradford USA Guardian 6, a large knife that feels substantially smaller. It has a much more tapered spine profile than the other two review knives and is thus balanced to the rear. Consequently it is not exceptional as a chopper, though it is serviceable. 

The knife has a variety of factory options and there are several variants on the theme in different colors. If weight is a concern this is a great option, as it offers the ability to act as a camp knife while being 25 % lighter than the other two test pieces. Indeed, it approaches the same weight as a standard chef’s knife. It’s great for fine tasks and the high saber grind makes it excellent in food prep.

MSRP: $239-259

Chopping With A Camp Knife

For general wood splitting it basically was a tie between the Field Buddy and FC7. Both went through just about all the wood I could find, each able to baton and split fine tinder with no issues. 

The Bradford was not exceptional at wood splitting and the blade easily stuck. The fine point taper doesn’t offer much surface for striking with a baton, and I feared it would break if I gave it too much gas. 

The only knife to come out unscathed in batoning was the FC7. The Field Buddy has a Cerakote® finish and it showed a great deal of wear after only light use in wood splitting and branch cutting. Overall, the best performer was the Field Buddy. Its handle is substantial and easy to hold onto while splitting wood.

Making Fires

For making fire, hands down the winner was the FC7. The blade is called the Firecraft for a reason. The edge is so fine and strong that I was able to shave off wood fibers even after splitting wood. Starting a fire with the ferro rod on the blade spine is exceptionally easy. The other two knives are limited to using the edge for the task, as they lack sharp spines.

Skinning With A Camp Knife

Skinning was a toss-up. Each blade performed well, with the Bradford being better at fleshing out a pelt by the account of those who tried it out. I personally found the FC7 to be the best because I prefer the rounded belly of the blade profile when working a skin. 

The Field Buddy did well, but the things that make it great for splitting make it troublesome for fine work. Care must be taken with the Bradford when opening a felled deer; it can easily pierce the belly with its fine point, where the others tend to not puncture as readily.

Processing Meat With The Camp Knives

Again, the FC7 is a stand-out performer here. I used this knife to help break down several deer, including the one I shot for the “From Field To Table” event. The coating on the Field Buddy made it collect fat easily.

Due to its high grind and lightweight blade, the Bradford was great for table work. It was a bit too pointy for me to be comfortable using it to remove game still on the bone, again for fear of breaking off the tip in a joint or hip socket. Many of the attendants in the class saw my work with the FC7 and I was happy to recommend it.

Ranking The Camp Knives

I concluded that of the three test models, the FC7 was best suited as a camp knife, though this decision was not taken lightly. The Bradford was superior in fine work, the Field Buddy better in heavy work and splitting. What it came down to for me was that the FC7 has no wasted space. Every feature is utility based and I feel like I’m carrying more than one tool with me when I use it.

The Field Buddy has what amounts to a decorative scoop ahead of the bolster one could assume bore a purpose as a quillon, but the shape of the handle doesn’t really allow the finger to go forward that far. 

The Bradford has the opposite problem ahead of the bolster: the trigger finger is forced into the quillon and the start of the edge is directly next to the side of the finger. It’s possible to slip up the small handle into the edge. I am not a fan of that as I cut my fingertip badly on the sharp corner.

The shape of the FC7 is such that it is minimalist but has a full choil to protect the fingers without being overly bulky. While it is the most expensive on the list, the FC7 is arguably the best at the role of camp knife.

*For more on Outdoor Solutions, visit https://www.ammoland.com/2019/05/outdoor-solutions-new-long-range-school-facility-in-michigan/#axzz7Pd9JClwA.

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