What are the differences between the survival and bushcraft knives, the two popular types of outdoor knives. And what do they have in common? We compared them to highlight their characteristics. Therefore, this article will approach these two outdoor activities according to our own conception. Also, the terms survival knife and bushcraft knife can have a lot of different meanings. Here again, we will rely on our definitions, mainly based on our clients that we have been able to help in their choices over the years.
Survival vs Bushcraft
Bushcraft and survival are two activities that are quite similar and sometimes amalgamated. It is impossible to compare the two types of knives without first comparing the two activities involved. Basically, bushcraft is about living in nature, choosing to retreat to the forest and making everything you need for your comfort yourself. It is a hobby. In practice, it is therefore a question of hiking or escaping in the forest, without emergency situations.
Survival, on the other hand, is an activity geared towards survival in a natural environment. So, it’s a matter of succeeding in getting out of the forest as quickly as possible. There is no room for comfort here. The business at hand must be useful and efficient. In practice, it is generally used by military and survival enthusiasts, who want to put themselves to the test by being dumped in the middle of the forest with minimal equipment. Of course, it can also be a hobby. But we can clearly see the approach is clearly different from that of bushcraft.
The Robustness of The Outdoor Knife
An essential criterion, especially for survival knives, is sturdiness. Indeed, in a survival situation, a knife must be reliable. A failed knife can indeed cost you your life. This kind of situation will be less frequent in the context of bushcraft. Therefore, a survival knife has to be really strong.
It must also have a sufficiently thick blade, and in any case proportional to the length of the knife. While a compact survival knife will be perfectly effective with a relatively thin blade, a longer knife will often tend to be used more intensively, increasing the chances of damage exponentially. By the way, it should be noted that a knife is not an ax, as beautiful as the Youtube videos of a knife slicing through huge blocks of wood may be.
We do not recommend wooden handles, as the wood can split or work. Of course, this problem could be solved by using stabilized wood, but there are more suitable materials if our survival depends on it. We will then prefer G10, micarta or a strong plastic reinforced with fiber.
Obviously, a bushcraft knife is also not likely to fall apart in the first breeze. It’s just about making a trade-off between what a knife can withstand and the possibilities it offers. Thus, a thinner blade will make the knife more suitable for cutting fruits and vegetables. Likewise, a wooden handle will work very well under normal circumstances. On the other hand, no one wants their knife to become unusable after falling into the rocks.
One of the activities practiced in bushcraft is woodcraft. This is woodworking aimed at making tools and accessories to improve the comfort of the stay in the forest. An example would be the manufacture of a rack for hanging a saucepan or pot over a fire. Other examples may include making sardines for a tent or a carrying rack as a backpack.
For woodworking, a slightly more subtle bushcraft knife will prove more maneuverable than a more robust and thicker survival knife. Bushcraft enthusiasts will also often opt for a knife with scandi or rounded sharpening, which will lend themselves wonderfully to wood carving.
Of course, a survival knife, with a generally flat grind, will also be used for carving wood. Many bushcraft knives also have a flat grind.
The Ergonomics of The Outdoor Knife
Regarding ergonomics, the important points will also differ. A good grip is essential on a survival knife, so that you never get injured by accident. A bushcraft knife, on the other hand, will be more oriented towards ergonomics. After all, sculpting your camping gear takes time. It is therefore better to avoid having blisters on your hands after a quarter of an hour.
The Steel of The Bushcraft or Survival Knife
One of the things the two types of knives have in common is steel, which is relatively similar. Both categories make heavy use of carbon steel. In the field of survival, this is explained by the robustness and ease of sharpening with a minimum of means. On the bushcraft side, the ease of sharpening is also appreciated, even if it will be more a comfort of use than a necessity.
Also, a carbon steel or tool steel survival knife will be a bit more flexible and strong than a stainless steel. In an emergency, the knife should be able to bend, but never break. In this context, the fact that carbon steel is not completely stainless is a small price to pay. You just have to be aware of what your knife can and cannot withstand. The best-known variant is 1095 carbon steel, used by many brands. CPM 3V steel, on the other hand, is very robust and resists oxidation a little better.
The Format of The Outdoor Knife
Earlier in this article, we touched on several points that are strongly related to user preference. This is particularly valid for the format of the knife.
However, the following trends can be noted for bushcraft knives: The most popular bushcraft knives have a blade length between 9 and 13 centimeters, the majority being between 10 and 11 centimeters. This length is appreciated because it allows the hand to stay relatively close to the tip and therefore to maintain good control. At the same time, a blade of about 10 centimeters is also long enough to allow splitting wood.
The length of survival knives is more variable, with popular knives having blades from 7 to 18 centimeters. Quite a difference. The smaller sizes are explained by the small knives related to neck knives and serving as back-up knives. Larger knives, on the other hand, are used for more intensive work, such as cutting large branches or trunks. It all depends on personal preferences as well as where the knife is carried. Weight should also be taken into account. If it is necessary to walk tens of kilometers to reach the civilized world, the difference between a knife of 75 grams and a knife of 500 grams will necessarily be felt.
The Blade Shape of The Outdoor Knife
When it comes to the shape of the blade, the choices are again very similar. The drop-point is the most popular choice, simply because it is the most popular shape for pocket and outdoor knives in general. And it is not for nothing. A medium drop-point blade combines all the shapes and properties that one looks for in a knife. A sharp point, a “belly” in the wire as well as a straight part.
Besides the drop-point, the clip-point is also a fairly common form, especially in the field of survival. While the clip-point was originally a very popular form of blade for hunting, it is also often found on more tactical knives. It is for this reason that it is often found on survival knives, which have a lot in common with military knives. On the other hand, the clip-point does not generally have any particular advantages or disadvantages compared to the drop-point. You could possibly say that some clip-points have a slightly thinner or pointed tip, which makes them suitable for precision work.
On the survival side, we occasionally find other forms of blade, such as tanto, kukri or sheepsfoot (sheep’s foot), much rarer exceptions on bushcraft knives.
The Outdoor Knife Case
Finally, we would like to discuss the case. For bushcraft, all materials will be quite suitable. In general, there is a preference for leather, which offers a more natural character, but it is by no means an essential condition.
In the context of survival, the needs are slightly different, because they are conditioned by good resistance to the elements and the need for excellent retention. Indeed, it is important to prevent a leather case from tearing due to heavy rain or slipping along a rock wall. This is why users of survival knives often opt for a kydex or plastic sheath. Indeed, a good retention is essential not to lose the knife. The knife must therefore have a good hold in the case. Likewise, sometimes an extra belt can work wonders. If you would like to learn more about holsters, you can find more information about knife holsters here .
So, what to choose? Survival Knife or Bushcraft Knife?
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate that many knives are very well suited for both areas. There are knives specifically designed to be bushcraft knives but also meet the criteria of the survival knife, and vice versa. Personal preference also plays an important role, with some people swearing for example by scandi sharpening for their survival knife, when it would be more of a typical bushcraft sharpening.
On the other hand, some bushcraft enthusiasts sometimes prefer a sturdier and thicker knife to cut their wood, although the majority of them opt for an ax instead.
We therefore recommend that you test to see what works best for you. You can find, even in the entry-level segment, many specific outdoor knives allowing you to try out new tools with a relatively low investment. This can only enrich your experience.
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