Bushcraft Knives vs. Survival Knives

One forged for wilderness - the other designed to do whatever it takes for survival. Both can save your life. But, what's the difference?

They say seeing is believing. I say experience is knowing. Unless you've been out there on the deer trail or negotiating with the wolves, it's hard to tell which knife is for you.

The terms 'survival knife' and 'bushcraft knife' originated in the 80s. Canadian survival genius Mars Kochanski published a book called 'Bushcraft' during that time, drawing detailed instructions on how to survive in the Great North Woods with bare minimum equipment. Here, for the first time, I saw the subtle nuances between the survival knife and the bushcraft knife. Understanding these unique characteristics can mean the difference between food and hunger.


Not All Survival Knives Are Bushcraft Knives

All bushcraft knives are survival knives. However, not all survival knives are bushcraft knives. The key difference is in the size and tasks they execute. Bushcraft knives tend to be smaller, typically ranging from 3-5 inches in length. Survival knives on the other hand are bigger, often 6-12 inches in length. You usually use bushcraft knives for delicate tasks like setting up traps and skinning a game. The bigger sibling is suited for batoning, chopping, digging, and hacking.

Both knives have strikingly similar features with full-tang carbon-steel or stainless steel blades. Handles for both should be designed to be grippy, comfortable, and shaped to be held for an extended period of time. Ultimately, it's your surroundings that'll determine the right blade for you. Sometimes, a compact, lighter bushcraft knife is all you really need. While in the wilderness of Alaska's Wrangell Mountains, you'll need a bigger, stronger, rugged survival knife.


Bushcraft Knife. Task Knife.

This subset of survival knives will help take on the lighter yet essential outdoor tasks like trimming ropes, shaving tinder, carving wood, skinning a game, and starting a fire. These light tasks still call on duty a reliable, robust knife, with a fearsome edge that can withstand torture and retain its sharpness. They should be hardy, durable, and reliable.

Blade Dimension: Blades should be approximately around 3-5 inches in length, and 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick.

Blade Type: Best bushcraft knives are all full-tang fixed blade knives with no moving parts. There are a plethora of sites that list folding and automatic knives for bushcraft knives. IGNORE. If you want a bushcraft knife that'll help you survive, ignore all and focus on getting the best fixed blade knife for the job. A full tang means the blade runs all through to the handle. This allows heavy strikes as energy has more mass to travel through. Folder and automatic knives simply do not have that kind of mass for impact to travel. Hence they break. It's physics.


Survival. One Life, One Knife.

This is the one-man army in your sheath. It's the John Rambo knife you need when you're in the land of bears and wolverines. Best survival knives take on the most arduous tasks like digging, chopping, splinting. They're designed to withstand ultimate abuse without breaking, bending, chipping, or losing edge.

Blade Dimension: Ideally the blade should be well balanced and long measuring anything between 4-12 inches. The length depends on the tasks at hand and personal preference. There is no right or wrong here. The thickness should not be any less than 1/8 to 1/4 inch as it should be able to handle impact shock.

Blade Type: All the best survival knives are fixed blade knives. They can be single-edged or semi-serrated. Many prefer the hybrid semi-serrated edges as it gives them the saw power to cut through stubborn materials like wood and metal.