This originally appeared at Badlands Fieldcraft.
I’m a big fan and proponent of Dave Canterbury’s “10 C’s of Survivability” system. One of the “C’s” is Cutting tools, and I’d like to detail some of my favorite knives here.
I don’t like limiting myself when it comes to tools, and knives are no different. I’ll typically have at least a few knives with me at any given time, usually depending on what I’m doing and for how long.
I’m also not a fan of the “one tool option” types of knives out there, although I do understand some versatility is useful. Why limit yourself to just one knife though? I’ve also never been into the tactical knives. I’m sure they have their place in the world, just like all the other different kinds of tools out there. They’ve just never been something I have needed or used, so I’ve chosen to spend my money else where. Instead, I prefer knives that are more utilitarian in their design and construction, built for obvious and practical use in the bush and based on historical designs that have proved their worth time and again.
A good bush knife can be a subject of hot debate. Blade length, materials, grinds, thickness and etcetera are the usual discussion points. In this article, I’d like to present a few knives that I own that are all very different, but are all good knives for the tasks I use them for. I’ll try to give you my rationale for selecting them and what I like and dislike about them, as well as why. I’m not trying to convince anyone that it’s a perfect setup, I’m just sharing this information for educational purposes.
I think there are a few categories my knives fall into depending on what I intend to use them for. I’m a tradesman at my day job, so I understand the importance of “the right tool for the job”. I guess I’ve brought that mentality with me to my training as well.
The “Survival” knife: this is a knife that should be very durable and functional enough to complete most of the tasks needed to help someone survive. This predominantly involves those jobs pertaining to maintaining your core body temperature, hydration, acquiring food, and signaling for rescue. It should be easy to sharpen in the field but still have a durable enough edge to put up with some abuse. I like high carbon steels with a sharp 90 degree spine. A full tang blade with a length of at least 5 inches is good for splitting smaller wood and is the minimum length I would consider. It is the closest to a “one tool option”, although I would steer clear of anything that isn’t clearly a knife.
The belt knife: This is a knife that should share most of the same characteristics of the survival knife, but should be of a size that makes it comfortable to carry but large enough to do most camp chores. A 5” belt knife could certainly be considered a survival knife as well. I still opt for high carbon, full tang blade here.
The everyday carry knife: This is a knife that I carry all the time. I have a couple folders that I like, with a focus on the knife’s defensive use as well as its usefulness in the bush. While I normally prefer carbon steel for my fixed blades, I actually like stainless for these EDC knives. I figure it will be less maintenance due to the resistance to corrosion, and although it is harder to sharpen, I’ll typically have the luxury of my tools at home to help me resharpen rather than what I’ve carried into the bush.
Habilis Bushtools SRT
First up is my Habilis Bushtools Self Reliance Tool. This knife clearly fits into the survival knife category. This is the largest of the knives that I’ll be discussing, with a blade length of 6 3/4” (5 3/8” cutting edge) and overall length of 11 3/4”. It’s a strange looking knife with a lot of useful design features that help make it even more useful for alot of bush work.
With this knife I wanted something that offered a lot of bang for the buck, since it is a bit spendy. I also wanted something that would be very useful in the bush, whether it be for building shelters, starting fires or killing and processing game.
The subject of batoning wood with knives is another hot topic of discussion with knife people. Some arguing for, and some arguing against, saying that a knife isn’t designed for that type of work. That may be true for some knives, but not the SRT. It’s designed from the ground up for batoning. It features a curved portion in the spine, referred to as an “anvil” by the maker. This portion is there to help guide the energy from a baton while splitting wood, and it works quite well for that. Combined with the 3/16” thick full tang cryo-treated blade that further helps split the wood, this blade is noticeably better at batoning than most of my other knives.
As I stated, the blade is 3/16”, although an 1/8” version is available as well. I think a person has to be careful when deciding what thickness to order and base it off of what purposes the knife will most likely used for. The grind is a beveled Scandinavian grind, and although sharp, at 3/16” it isn’t the best slicer. This is apparent when making notches, feathering etc. If that is your primary concern, I would go for the 1/8”. But if your more concerned with processing wood down, the 3/16” thickness splits great, since it more resembles an axe grind more than a knife.
Although I bought the knife for its splitting capabilities, I also wanted to carve a little better with it, so I put a finer edge on the last 1.5” , right in front of the generous finger choil for a bit better slicing performance. I feel this gives the knife even more capability.
Another interesting feature of the knife is the “dog bone” on the pommel. This is there to help when trying to use the knife as a chisel. Although I don’t usually use a knife this way, I have tried it a few times when breaking down rotting stumps and logs to get to fat wood and it works quite well.
The knife is well designed to help with one of the primary chores out in the bush, and that’s starting a fire. Since the knife is made from 1095 high carbon steel, and is uncoated by any finishes except blueing, it excels as a fire steel with a good piece of Chert or Flint. I usually carry a dedicated fire steel (made from an old file) but it’s nice to know I have a solid back up.
Next, the knife comes with a very nice 90 degree spine, very useful for striking a ferrocerrium rod and processing tinder for igniting. It also has a unique half circle feature on the spine designed for use with a ferro rod. To utilize this, you flip the knife the opposite way as you would striking a ferro rod normally. This puts the opening of the half circle pointing towards your tinder, then strike as normal. What I’ve found is this acts similar to a reflector in a flashlight and focuses all the molten material into one general area, rather than it flying around like it was fired from a shotgun. The only modification I plan to do here is to make it a bit larger so my preferred 1/2” ferro rods fit better.
The knife also includes a nice divot in the G-10 handle for use as a bearing block when making a bow drill fire. The bearing block can often be a difficult piece to create in the wild, depending on what resources are available. To help lubricate the spindle, I put pine resin in the divot. The spindle action polishes the resin, and if it gets hot enough it melts and lubricates the spindle. I also like to wrap the choil area with a piece of bank line that I’ve used for bow drills before. This gives me a pre-stretched piece of cordage for a bow should I ever need it, and also cushions the choil area when I’m choked up on the knife.
Overall, this is a very rugged and useful tool out in the bush, but it’s size and weight make it a bit cumbersome to carry full time. I don’t bring it with me on day trips for this reason, but anything longer and I do. If I could only bring one knife, this would be the one.
Mora Garberg Carbon
Next up is my Carbon Mora Garberg. This knife is a bit smaller than my SRT at 9” overall with a 4 1/2” blade. While it doesn’t excel at chopping like the purpose built SRT, it is a great all around camp knife.
It’s full tang 1095 high carbon blade is about 1/8” thick and comes with a razor sharp Scandi grind. The tang protrudes about an 1/8” out of the handle and this portion is great for scraping a ferro rod or tinder.
Mora makes two different sheaths, a flap covered belt sheath and what they call a multi mount sheath. The multi mount sheath is what I have since it allows for mounting to MOLLE webbing.
Mine rides on the bottom of my chest pack full time so that it is always ready to go. With it and the other contents inside I have a very good setup for any grab and go situations.
While not packing as many features as the SRT, it still has the right stuff where it counts. Being a high carbon steel knife, it too excels in use as a fire steel. It also happens to come with the best 90 degree spine I’ve personally seen, great for striking a ferro rod and scraping tinder. The blade is finished with a treatment similar to blueing. The handle is a molded polymer with a very grippy texture, fitting my medium sized hands very well.
At a price point of around $100, with the sheath, I feel like it is one of the best knives you can get. It’s my personal recommendation for anyone just getting started. It’s size is a great balance, being large and durable enough to do most things, while being small enough to comfortably carry. If you’re looking to invest in one knife and be done, you couldn’t go wrong with this one.
Cold Steel Finn Wolf
Next is my Cold Steel Finn Wolf. I like to carry a folder all the time, and this one has been great. It’s a stainless knife, but I’m OK with that because I like that kind of durability in something I’m just throwing in my pocket for daily carry. I know that stainless is harder to sharpen in the field, but with this knife I hope I don’t find myself in that situation since I’ll have one of my other knives with me typically out in the bush.
With its 3.5 inch long, 1/8” thick Scandi grind blade it is a very good slicer. It also surprisingly came with a really good 90 degree spine, although I keep the knife folded when I’m using it with a ferro rod.
The scales aren’t anything really fancy, feeling like the same polymer PMags are made from. But at $35, I’m just fine with that. It allowed my to stipple the scale so my thumb can get a good purchase on it when drawing it.
The belt clip is a very sturdy stainless design. One problem I had was the screws attaching it started to back out, but I’ve since loctited them and haven’t any more problems.
I believe the locking system is a very strong design, having batoned smaller diameter rounds easy enough with no signs of weakening. It opens smoothly and locks open very positively.
In conclusion, there are as many ideas on good knives as there are “you know what’s”, but I hope I’ve been able to share something that you might be able to find useful if you’re looking for your first, or next, knife.