The Bushcraft Knife - a catchall term for a knife designed to serve a multitude of purposes in the outdoors. If you've been with us for awhile, you'll know that we say that any survival tool worth it's weight contains more than one function. While any knife can service a variety of needs and purposes, the bushcraft knife stands out as the ideal tool for any seasoned outdoorsmen.
Knife construction is a science that has been improved on by centuries of blacksmiths and as a result has produced multiple styles and shapes for a variety of use cases. As the name implies, a Bushcraft knife is designed for anything outdoors.
If you're serious about the outdoors, you likely already own one (or more!), but if you're just getting into it, stay tuned to learn exactly why the bushcraft knife has earned its homage as a staple to any outdoor kit.
The essence of any good knife is its' edge. What the edge is designed to do, how well it cuts, and how it withstands repeated use is vital. In your kitchen you may have a variety of sharpeners available, but those luxuries will likely not be available to you outdoors. While carrying a sharpener is always recommended, sometimes you'll have to make due without one, and this is where the Bushcraft design shines most.
A benefit of the Bushcraft design is that the edge of the knife is placed on a secondary bevel, allowing this knife to split wood easily as it slides along the larger, primary bevel. This puts less strain on the fine edge itself after initial insertion is made, reducing the strain on your edge if you were splitting wood using a baton method, or for any and all chopping needs. So not only is it designed for strenuous knife work, it will maintain an edge longer than a traditional combat or utility style knife.
As mentioned earlier, the blade of a Bushcraft knife features a secondary and primary bevel. Not only is this ideal for splitting larger logs to get kindling, it's increasingly useful for tasks such as splitting bark or cutting thin vines to create cordage. A sharp tip is helpful for penetration and slicing. Although the primary feature of a Bushcraft is longevity, the slicing edge still maintains good sharpness to cut through ropes and even branches.
One of the best features of a bushcraft knife is the hard edge on the back side of the blade. This 90° angle is perfect for striking a ferro rod, allowing you to maintain the edge on your blade. While Ferro rods and magnesium strips might come with strikers, many backpackers actually don't carry this with them, as they have other tools that can be used - such as a Bushcraft Knife.
Now this next point is not specific to Bushcraft style knives, but a large majority of Bushcraft knives (and any good knife) will have a full tang construction. What a full tang means is that the body of the blade extends down into the handle, providing increased strength to the blade. Not only is it stronger, it's considerably safer to use a full-tang blade for any heavy duty slicing, chopping, and anything in-between. Personally, I would suggest only using full tang knives, relying on folding or multi-tool knives as a backup option, and never for heavy duty bushcraft work.
Length and Construction
From pocket knives to the extreme Bowie knife, the length of the blade varies. I would personally not recommend a blade larger than 6" if you're using it as a bushcraft knife. You want to keep it readily accessible at all times, and any blade larger than 6" becomes cumbersome. My personal knife features a 4" blade length, which I find is perfect for splitting kindling wood with the baton method.
There's far too much to talk about when it comes to metallurgy and the different types of steel. What I will say is that you should pick a steel that's known for durability, not just a sharp edge. A common steel, 440c stainless is a steel that's frequently used in basic kitchen knives. This is meant to hold its shine, but since that steel features increased amounts of chromium for that function, you end up with a softer blade that will easily crack or break under intense load. A strong carbon alloy is ideal for bushcraft knives. Although they are more difficult to sharpen, they maintain their edges better and are built to withstand repeated abuse. My personal choice is 1095 tool steel - a very durable steel that is quite literally meant to be abused and come back asking for more. It might take me 2-3 times longer to sharpen, but for how long it maintains that edge, it's completely worth it.
Now I'm not going to name a specific knife as the best, as that really changes based on your preferences and needs. Some Bushcraft knives will feature a cordage cutter, while others will simply be a straight edge. Handle designs and shape vary widely, and of course the blade design as well. My recommendation is to go to your local outdoor store and hold a few. The best constructed blade in the world can be rendered useless with a crappy handle, so it's really important to choose a knife that fits you. Handles are not universal, so some will work better with different size hands than others.