If you read your history you’ll know that every trapper, explorer, prospector and frontiersman (or woman) almost always carried two pieces of kit: an axe and a belt knife. Across the Northern Hemisphere it was a rare individual that didn’t have an axe in their saddle, canoe, raft or pack and a stout multi-purpose fixed blade knife on their person. There was little one couldn’t achieve with these two well-honed tools in their hands. Blaze a trail, build a cabin, fell a tree, split firewood, skin and dress game, make a shelter, cut fabric, perform minor surgeries, and of course defend yourself. Sadly, these tools and the skills that accompany their regular use have by and large become a thing of the past.
In recent years, the hunting community has gone rabid for ultralight, replaceable blade knives designed for meat care only, a phenomenon fueled heavily by us ounce counting backcountry hunters. These days it’s not rare to come across a serious backpack hunter that won’t have more than a Swiss Army knife or multitool and a replaceable blade “knife” in their 10 day hunt kit.
We’re all for cutting weight where possible but we’re even more in favour of packing the right tools for the task at hand. Forgoing the invaluable versatility of a lightweight axe or at minimum a sturdy belt knife, in our opinion, is ludicrous and even downright irresponsible.
Considering the potential for the unknown when venturing into the mountains or backcountry our mantra is plan for the inevitability of things going awry. With enough time and enough trips, they will. And you just can’t predict when that will be. With this in mind, we rarely if ever head out without one, if not both, of these essential wilderness tools in our packs, especially when travelling into the North Country or in the late season. If you’re too “new age” to see the value in the weight of an axe then a solid, fixed blade utility knife is the bare minimum tool to keep in your pack for when SHTF. In a no BS survival situation that replaceable blade “knife” might help keep your nails clean but it sure as hell won’t help you stay alive.
If you’re an EDC kind of guy (or gal) you probably have a good folding knife that you might be thinking can fill this role. We’d disagree. It’s hard to match the discrete convenience of a well-made folder but in an outdoors exposure application the potential for malfunction becomes a concern. Again, if you’re dealing with a true survival situation you could be up against rain, mud, snow, ice, sand, or grit and if the pivot or folding mechanism fails you’ll be SOL when SHTF. A fixed blade cuts weight, adds strength to the knife itself and doesn’t have any parts that can let you down in tough conditions.
The interesting part of this whole hunting-centric replaceable blade sensation however is the growing interest in the non-hunting market on self-reliance and post-apocalyptic survival skills. From TV to movies and countless online personalities, the concept of “bushcraft” has garnered more attention than ever before. Of course with this surge in interest, the knife and tool market has been flooded with options, many poorly built and shamelessly masked attempts to make a quick buck.
So where does the modern hunter turn? An entire book could be written on this subject and by no means do we profess to have all the answers when it comes to selecting the best bushcraft/survival knife for every situation. Where you live and hunt and the climate and vegetation you’re likely to encounter in a survival situation will dictate your needs more than anything else but there are some basic elements that will transcend geography and climate.
Bushcraft/Survival Knife Key Elements:
- Full tang, fixed blade and a blade thickness on the thicker end of the spectrum with a handle drilled for lashing/tying to sticks, etc.
2. Drop, spear, clip, trailing point or straight back. The ability to drill holes in material/leather/fabric or wood for a friction fireboard is essential. Note Tanto blades do not make the cut (bad pun), as their usage for skinning/slicing is limited. They also require more sharpening time and a bit of skill when doing so. For us the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
3. No serrations on the spine of the knife. Although popular these require a separate sharpener and limit the hand positions available to the end user. Serrations are most applicable in pure rescue knives as they are designed to cut materials like nylon, rope and webbing and have truly limited outdoors applicability.
4. Single edged blade. Double blade knives like daggers are simply impractical for bushcraft applications. They limit hand positioning and cannot be hammered/hit on the back with a rock or piece of wood when using the knife for splitting wood.
5. Blade length less than six inches. Big ass knives are cool, no question. We grew up with Rambo and Crocodile Dundee too. But for true versatility blades beyond six inches in length simply don’t perform well in refined tasks.
6. No reference to zombies anywhere on the packaging or knife itself. Seriously, grow up.
As we said above, it’s about the right tool for the job and this in turn means the right company for the tool. There are a number of knife and tool manufacturers making solid products that should last a lifetime. Sadly there are far more companies producing products that simply won’t. Only you can decide how to deploy your resources but in our opinion a good knife or axe is usually worth double whatever you pay and given how frequently they get used quickly earn their keep in the field.
We’ve talked about starting a bushcraft/survival column for well over a year now and as we researched the options available for a purpose built survival knife we came across Benchmade’s aptly named Bushcrafter series. So we reached out to them and asked if they’d be interested in walking us through their design philosophy on the Bushcrafter family of knives and doing a “guest column” with us on survival and bushcraft. They were more than happy to get involved and provide their input on why and how they designed and built their Bushcrafter models.
“When we set out to design the Benchmade 162 aka Benchmade Bushcrafter, we teamed up with knife designer Shane Sibert. Shane helped us to develop what is now one of our best-selling knives and provided critical inputs on subtle features, like a hard 90° angle on the spine of the blade for better use with a flint rod and hollow titanium tubing in the handle that allows for lashing to sticks.
Bushcraft knives are a class of heavy duty, rugged knives with classic drop-point style blades shaped from thick steel. Weight is not the concern so much as functionality, versatility and durability, as these knives must perform a wide variety of demanding tasks in harsh conditions with the utmost reliability. As such, the material selection in the Bushcrafter was based around durability and edge performance. This led to the use of CPM-S30V for the blade, a powder metal steel that features a very uniform microstructure that improves initial sharpness and reduces stress risers, resulting in enhanced strength. The handles are machined from G10, an epoxy-based resin originally designed for the aerospace industry and the sheath options include leather or Kydex.”
Is this the only knife we’d consider? Of course not. It’s not cheap and mountain hunting and all the gear that comes with it is an expensive obsession. But there’s no question that based on our research this incredibly well made, purpose built survival knife would be on our short list. And more importantly, a knife of this class and quality in our opinion should be in everyone’s pack this season.
The truth is that for our purposes the bare minimum expedition (7+ day) kit includes a stout survival knife like the Bushcrafter, a short handled camp/canoe axe or woodsman’s tomahawk and a lightweight folding saw. Does this add weight? It sure does. But the confidence gained weighs nothing and the versatility is priceless. With this trio there’s little we can’t handle in the backcountry and for when and where we hunt we’ll cut weight some other way. Or just get stronger. Stay alpha.
BUSHCRAFT IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BENCHMADE