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Knife vs Axe for Bushcraft (Pros and Cons of Each)

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Bushcraft is a hobby that is enjoyed by millions of people each year. Each bushcrafter has their tool of choice, but the most important tool you’ll take with you on your bushcrafting adventures will be either a knife or an axe, and sometimes, even both.

So what is the difference between a knife vs an ax for bushcraft? A knife and an axe are both designed for different purposes. A knife that is used for bushcraft or survival is designed to be used as an all-purpose tool. An axe, on the other hand, was created with chopping in mind. Although it can be used for smaller projects such as whittling, it’s not the best tool for the job. Deciding on whether to use a knife or axe depends on how you’ll be using it in the field.

What is Bushcraft

Bushcraft is basically going into the wilderness and practicing your survival skills. Learning how to use only your meager supplies and the natural resources at hand in order to survive is the basic essence of bushcraft.

Bushcraft could be as simple as going on a camping trip and practicing basic survival skills, or if your a much more seasoned bushcrafter, you might spend days on end deep in the wilderness honing your survival skills.

Bushcraft is not just one skill that can be learned over the span of just one, or even two, weekends. Bushcraft is a constant skill that even skilled outdoorsman continue to master.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of skills associated with the term bushcraft. In fact, the term bush craft is a very, very broad term. If you live in a tropical climate, your version of bushcraft looks very different than if you live in the Rocky Mountains.

Basically, anything you would do in a survival situation is what you would practice in and through bushcraft. A few of the skills included in bushcraft are as follows:

  • Foraging for your own food.
  • Learning to cook in a survival situation.
  • How to safely identify, and eat, edible plants.
  • How to hunt your own food.
  • How to trap your own food.
  • The ability to track animals.
  • Basic fire making skills.
  • How to search and find water.
  • How to build a shelter.
  • And hundreds of other skills!

How to Get Started in Bushcraft

Some would say that you could practice bushcraft for an entire lifetime and still not know everything. In other words, bushcraft cannot just be learned in one weekend.

To get good at bushcraft, you’re going to need to practice. Some skills will come easier than others. After your first few bushcrafting adventures, you’ll have a good idea of what skills you’re going to have to practice more often. Two skills that early bushcrafters have trouble learning are:

  • Tracking wildlife.
  • Identifying edible plants.

These two skills take a lot of time, and patience, to master. If you’re consistent, you’ll be a pro at them in no time.

Getting started in bushcraft doesn’t require a ton of expensive tools or gear, although some people will tell you otherwise. If fact, you only need an internet connection to get started!

Start by researching edible plants in your area, or research different ways to start a fire. Once you feel comfortable with what you have learned, take it out on the field, so to speak.

Go in your backyard or somewhere in the great outdoors, and practice what you have read.

I would highly advise to make sure you know what you’re doing before you try to eat any wild plants. Some are poisonous and can cause some major damage to your body. It’s also a good idea to consult with a professional in your area as well.

Once you get into some more advanced bushcraft, it’s now time to purchase your first bushcraft tool, this is where people start asking themselves if they should get a good bushcraft knife, or an axe. There are benefits to both, so in this article we’re going to be discussing which one is the best for you.

The Benefits of Bushcraft

Like I stated before, bushcraft is learning and practicing to live in the wild, and if necessary, the ability to be able to survive a life threatening situation while in the wilderness. Some people look at bushcraft as merely a hobby, but truth is, if you’re an avid outdoorsman, bushcraft is training for survival.

The obvious benefits of bushcraft is that it gets you outside. Here’s a few benefits of being outside according to scientific studies:

  • Walking in nature could improve your short-term memory.
  • Being outdoors has a demonstrated de-stressing effect.
  • Spending time outside reduces inflammation.
  • Enjoying the outdoors helps eliminate fatigue.
  • Outdoor experiences may help fight depression and anxiety.
  • Being outside may protect your vision.
  • Spending time outside lowers blood pressure.
  • It could improve your ability to focus.
  • You may perform better on creative tasks after being outside.
  • Outdoor sessions may even help prevent cancer.
  • Forests also might boost your immune system.

Using a Knife in Bushcraft

A survival or bushcraft knife is arguably one of the most versatile tools you can take with you when bushcrafting. Some would even say that if you had to choose just one tool to take along with you, it should be a knife.

The reason a knife is so versatile is because it can do so many things. Here are a few examples of what a knife can do:

  • Batoning
  • Whittling Small Trap Triggers
  • Chopping
  • Digging
  • Cooking
  • Skinning Game
  • A Weapon

For a guide on. how to purchase a Survival knife for bushcraft, read my article: What Makes a Good Survival Knife: How to Choose the Right One

Pros

A knife is way better at crafting. So if you’re primarily going to be crafting, then a knife is going to be your best option.

Crafting is basically creating small objects with your knife, such as an animal trap, tent spikes, or a cooking rack for your fire.

A knife is also very light. This is important if you’re going to be hiking long distances because the less weight you have on you the better.

Another pro that has to be added to the knife is it’s ability to be an all purpose tool. Most bush crafters like to carry only one tool, and most of the time, they choose a knife. A knife can cut logs, chop down trees, is great at feather making, and is extremely durable.

Cons

A con that is a lot of times associated with a knife is the difficulty it takes to chop down a tree. Chopping down a small tree with a knife will take double, if not triple, the time it would take for you to chop that same tree down with an axe.

Pros of Using an Axe in Bushcraft

An axe is the popular tool of choice for many campers, but that’s not always the case with bush crafters. An axe’s sole purpose is chopping. So if your primary purpose when bush crafting is building, then by all means, use an axe.

Cons of Using an Axe in Bushcraft

If you’re going to be doing other bushcrafting activities such as feather making, trap making, crafting, or digging, a knife is going to be the best tool for the job. Although you could definitely perform all those tasks with an axe, it won’t perform near as good as a knife.

Which is Best for You?

If you’re going to use only one tool, then a knife is the way to go. It can do everything the axe can do, and then some. Especially if you’re just starting out, a knife is the best option. It easily allows you to practice skills like feather making, trap making, and crafting.

If you don’t mind carrying more than one tool, then it’s a good idea to take an axe with you in addition to your knife. The reason for this is the axe will make chopping easier. So if you’re going to be doing a lot of building, then definitely take an axe.

Recommenced Knives

The first recommend knife is the Ka-Bar BK-22 Becker. Some would say this knife is arguably the most popular survival / bushcraft knife on the market. Its super strong and durable while maintaining a great price. This knife also has a full tang, which is very important in a knife. The overall length of this knife is 10 1/2″ with a straight edge 5.25″ blade. View the price on Amazon.

The second and last knife is the ESEE-5. This knife is a bit more expensive, but offers great quality. It’s a bit longer than the knife above with an overall length of 11.0 inches and a blade length of 5.25 inches. This is an awesome knife that will serve you very well while bush crafting. This knife also has a full tang as well. One of the benefits of this knife is that it’s made in the USA. View the price on Amazon.

Recommend Axe

If you’re going to be taking an axe with you as well, it’s important you choose the right one. A cheap one is surely going to leave you frustrated, so it’s a good idea to invest in a good one right from the beginning.

The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is a great option. It weighs about 2lbs and is 19″ long. It’s the perfect axe to go along with your knife. You can also buy a cool handle guard for it as well to protect it. View the price on Amazon.


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