The terms bushcraft and survival have developed two distinct connotations as a result of their portrayals in various forms of media. If you think of a survivalist, you’ll probably envision someone who takes a modern approach to preparedness, often using contemporary weapons and tactical gear in an urban environment. On the other hand, bushcrafter usually evokes images of a seasoned outdoorsman clad in wool and leather, honing primitive skills at a remote campsite in the backcountry. Bushcraft is clearly linked with an emphasis on perfecting traditional techniques as opposed to relying on store-bought gear — as legendary Canadian outdoorsman Mors Kochanski put it, “the more you know, the less you carry.” (See The Last Page in Issue 31 for our review of Kochanski’s eponymous book, Bushcraft.)

If you tend to fall into the survivalist camp and can’t imagine willingly leaving behind any of your modern gear, it’s easy to write off the concept of bushcraft as one that’s outdated or irrelevant. However, we’d argue that bushcraft and survivalism go hand in hand. By learning primitive skills such as friction fire-starting and improvised shelter construction, you’ll become less dependent on the lighter and tent in your pack. As your abilities improve, you’ll be able to confidently head into almost any situation with only a handful of critical tools — even if you choose to keep carrying all your modern gear as an added advantage.

Even for the most ascetic bushcraft practitioners, there’s one tool that’s considered irreplaceable: a knife. It’ll be used to whittle trap triggers, shave feather sticks, baton firewood, gut fish, carve notches for bow drills, and countless other tasks. Given the wide variety of roles they must fulfill, bushcraft knives must be exceptionally versatile, durable, and comfortable. For this reason, they're equally effective for anything from camping trips to disaster scenarios.

We selected seven bushcraft knives, and studied each to gauge its adaptivity and effectiveness. Read on for our thoughts on each of these multipurpose tools.

Elk Ridge ER-555

Overall Length
10.5 inches

Blade Length
5.3 inches

Weight
8.5 ounces

MSRP
$17

URL
www.amazon.com

Notes
With dozens of five-star reviews and a sub-$20 price on Amazon, how could we lose? As it turns out, we got what we paid for. The plasticky Pakkawood scales were loosely installed, and the nylon sheath’s retention strap was barely held together. We found no mention of steel type, aside from “stainless steel” on the blade. Our best guess is that it’s 440A, a soft, low-carbon material. Thankfully, a sharpening stone is included. The knife’s shape and dimensions are great — a classic drop point with full-tang construction and a comfortable handle. Two screws can be removed to reveal a small storage cavity with needles, thread, and matches in the handle. A ferro rod and striker are also included.

Pros:

  • While the design is undeniably generic, it’s also fairly versatile.
  • Grind is surprisingly even and clean for a blade at this price point.

Cons:

  • Questionable steel quality — when a manufacturer won’t mention the specific steel they used, that’s a cause for concern.
  • Aggressive hollow grind also reduces strength, as does the hollowed-out handle

Emerson HUCK

Overall Length
8.6 inches

Blade Length
4.3 inches

Weight
4.6 ounces

MSRP
$318

URL
www.emersonknives.com

Notes
From a company that built its reputation on tactical folding knives, a bushcraft fixed blade might seem like a departure. But the HUCK — short for Hard Use Camp Knife — is a simple, well-made tool that’s clearly an Emerson. Its S35VN blade is hardened to a durable 57-59 HRC and features a wide primary bevel with the company’s signature single-edge grind — a feature some love and others hate. The full-tang handle is exceptionally comfortable, with a large palm swell and thick Richlite scales. Black G10 scales are also available and reduce price by $60. The included, veteran-made RK LeatherWorks sheath looks classy and fits like a glove.

Pros:

  • Both the knife and its leather sheath are made in the USA and display outstanding quality.
  • S35VN is one of our favorite varieties of stainless for multipurpose knives. It stays sharp under heavy use and isn’t hard to maintain.

Cons:

  • Asymmetrical single-edge grind is a strange choice here — great for shaving feather sticks, but difficult to control during precise right-angle or reverse cuts.
  • Rather pricey considering its features. Richlite scales look nice, but G10 offers better value.

Mora Companion Spark

Overall Length
8.8 inches

Blade Length
4.1 inches

Weight
3.2 ounces

MSRP
$35

URL
www.moraknivusa.com

Notes
Mora is a name that has become synonymous with this category, thanks to testimony from bushcraft godfather Mors Kochanski and other instructors. The Companion is one of this Swedish knifemaker’s most popular models, with a slim 12C27 stainless drop-point blade, classic Scandi grind, and 90-degree spine that’s perfect for striking a ferrocerium fire-starter. This new Spark version makes the latter feature more useful by integrating a ferro rod, which locks into a slot in the rubberized handle. The polymer sheath is nothing to write home about, but has good retention and a thumb ramp for added leverage. Put simply, at this price point, it’s tough to beat a Mora.

Pros:

  • Impressive value for the money
  • The addition of a ferro rod is a nice upgrade to this popular Mora design.

Cons:

  • The website and packaging advertise an included reflective lanyard, but it was missing from our early production sample.
  • Mora says the holes in the handle were meant to make it lighter; they mostly serve to show off the ferro rod and collect dirt. We’d prefer if they were filled for added strength.

Ontario Knife Company Robeson Heirloom Drop Point

Overall Length
9.1 inches

Blade Length
4.2 inches

Weight
4.8 ounces


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MSRP
$230

URL
www.ontarioknife.com

Notes
As the name implies, OKC intended the Heirloom to be a trustworthy tool that can be passed down through generations. The tough D2 steel blade is hardened to 57-59 HRC, and flat-ground with a secondary edge bevel. Most of the spine is ground to a false edge that improves piercing effectiveness, but we were glad to also find a 90-degree section that can be used on a ferro rod. The handle is clad in laminated hardwood scales and features a comfortable contour and large forefinger notch. Drawing the knife from its soft leather sheath is easy thanks to the extended tab on its retention snap.

Pros:

  • Made in the USA with nice materials and workmanship (aside from the grind issue). We can see this knife living up to its Heirloom name.
  • Also available as a Trailing Point model with an upswept tip that’s better-suited to skinning

Cons:

  • Our sample had a noticeably lopsided edge grind — it’s easy enough to fix, but disappointing for a knife that costs this much.
  • We would’ve preferred solid hardwood over laminate.

Ruger Knives Powder-Keg Drop Point

Overall Length
9.5 inches

Blade Length
4.6 inches

Weight
7.7 ounces

MSRP
$100

URL
www.crkt.com

Notes
This full-tang fixed blade is marketed under the Ruger Knives brand and features the iconic logo on its handle, but it was primarily a collaboration between two big names in the knife industry: CRKT and Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical. Johnson devised the knife’s design, and CRKT manufactured it. Clip-point and drop-point variants are available; we chose the latter for its simplicity and practicality. The knife is constructed from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel with a dark stonewashed finish and two-tone thermoplastic resin (TPR) handle scales. It comes with a basic leather belt sheath — this accessory serves its purpose to protect the edge, but feels cheaply made.

Pros:

  • Simple design emphasizes functionality over style
  • The butt of the handle makes a nice hammer or, with a little filing, a ferro rod striker.

Cons:

  • 8Cr13MoV is a Chinese-made stainless with so-so edge retention. It’s fine for light use, but not ideal for harsher tasks like batoning.
  • Good leatherwork is costly, and this sheath was clearly made on a budget. We’d take a plain, durable Kydex sheath instead any day.

Spyderco Proficient Carbon Fiber

Overall Length
8.8 inches

Blade Length
4 inches

Weight
6.3 ounces

MSRP
$490

URL
www.spyderco.com

Notes
This knife was developed in collaboration with Bushcraft UK instructor Chris Claycomb and bears a clear resemblance to the original Spyderco Bushcraft (now discontinued). While its predecessor featured a single-bevel Scandi grind, the Proficient has a full-flat grind with secondary edge bevel. Top-shelf materials were used, including carbon fiber and CPM S90V — a “super-steel” with high levels of vanadium for immense wear resistance. The contours of the handle are supremely comfortable, though it wouldn’t be our first choice for wet and slippery conditions. An elegant black leather sheath is included; passing some paracord through its grommets can easily set it up for scout carry or attachment to a pack.

Pros:

  • A functional work of art with no expense spared on materials or craftsmanship
  • Photos cannot convey how comfortable this handle is. It’s among the best we’ve ever used.

Cons:

  • The quality is undeniable, but $490 is really tough to justify for any production fixed blade — especially one from Taiwan. Street prices are closer to $315, but even that’s a chunk of change.
  • S90V’s extreme toughness makes it difficult to sharpen in the field

Wander Tactical Lynx

Overall Length
9.4 inches

Blade Length
4.3 inches

Weight
11.4 ounces

MSRP
$267

URL
www.wandertactical.com

Notes
The slogan “they don’t shine, they work” conveys the philosophy of Italian knifemaker Wander Tactical. This knife was meant to take a beating, and it shows. The D2 tool steel blade is 1/4-inch thick, cryogenically hardened to 59-61 HRC, and fitted with deeply textured Micarta handle scales. While no knife should be used as a prybar, this one certainly could be. The broad skinner-style blade curves steeply at the tip and includes aggressive thumb jimping, as well as a 90-degree spine. There’s also a large choil that accommodates a choked-up grip for extra control. The Lynx comes standard with a leather sheath and belt loop, ferro rod holder, and straps for scout carry.

Pros:

  • Built like a tank — you’d have to be trying to split a boulder to substantially damage this blade.
  • Many options are available, including two-tone blade finishes, black or brown handle scales, and leather or Kydex sheaths in several colors.

Cons:

  • Although the extreme thickness inspires confidence in durability, it also adds a lot of weight and makes the blade feel less precise.
  • Tip geometry doesn’t make this a good choice for piercing tasks.

Prepare Now:

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