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Survival knives

Best bushcraft knife? We review the American Knife Company Forest Knife

Best bushcraft knife? We review the American Knife Company Forest Knife

Check out this bushcraft knife.

by Leon Pantenburg
Mors Kochanski needs no introduction to hardcore wilderness survival practitioners. He’s a Canadian bushcraft and wilderness survival instructor, naturalist and author, and his established skills and experience in boral forest survival helped set the standard.

The American Knife Company Forest knife is based on a tried and tested pattern.

The American Knife Company Forest knife is based on a tried and tested pattern.

Kochanski’s preferences in survival blades is very specific, and I think he’d like the Forest Knife from American Knife Company.

“The knife, in my opinion, should be unbreakable,” Kochanski writes in Bushcraft. “Therefore, it should have a full tang, and the handle should be made of something that will be unbreakable, and the blade should be of a thickness that you feel would take a lot of abuse … I would say it’s a serious disaster if your knife breaks while you’re using it… You should be able to try hard to abuse it, and it should serve to do all the things you need to do in survival … a knife that is very heavy to the feel and a continuous curvature, definitely almost all the way, and no real hint of a guard.”

Echoing Kochanski’s points, I’ve noticed that Cody Lundin prefers the Mora Classic (also 4.25” blade, 2/25” thick!), and Ray Mears prefers his custom knife with a 4.33” blade (4/25” thick).

I had just finished re-reading Bushcraft when the Forest Knife came out a few months ago, and noticed how it seemed to be built to Kochanski’s specifications. Curious, I ordered and tried it out.

Here are the specs:

  • Overall Length: 8.975 inches
  • Blade length: 4.250 Inches
  • Cutting Edge Length: 4 Inches
  • Blade Steel: A-2 Tool Steel @ 58-60RC
  • Blade Thickness: .140 Inch
  • Weight: 5.875 Ounces

Here are some of Kochanski’s blade requirements, and how the Forest Knife shapes up to them.

Unbreakable: I’d have to deliberately abuse this knife to the point of  breaking to test this, and that seems really counter intuitive. After testing at least a dozen blades with A2 steel,  I’ve found the material to be virtually unbreakable.

The same with micarta. It is my handle material of choice for user knives that will not have an easy life. Micarta gets almost tacky when wet, such as when the knife is being used to clean fish or gut game animals.

The combination of an A2 steel blade, with a micarta handle makes a near ideal combination for durability.

No real hint of a guard: Kochanski comments that in his 50 years of teaching, he has never seen a knife injury due to the lack of a guard on a knife.

The Forest knife handle doesn't have a guard, and it doesn't need one.

The Forest knife handle doesn’t have a guard, and it doesn’t need one.

A well-designed handle doesn’t need a guard, IMO, and a guard or hilt could affect how handy the knife is to use. For a fighting knife, a hand guard of some sort is probably a good idea. But really, knife fighting  is probably the last thing you’ll ever use a blade for (pun intended).

The Forest Knife has a well-designed, 4.72-inch-long smooth micarta handle that fits my (glove size) large hand well.

Continuous blade curvature: Check.

Point: The upswept point makes the knife handy to skin and drill holes in wood. It’s a good choice for a knife designed primarily for bushcraft.

Grind: The scandi grind is designed to be good for woodworking and all-around use. I find the grind easy to sharpen, and recommend it for beginners.

Easy to Sharpen: Use a knife and it will get dull. The better the steel, the longer this takes. A2 has great edge-holding ability, but at some point you’ll have to sharpen it.

The A2 and scandi grind are easy to work with. Basically, you use the angle grind for the guide, then either scrape or strop the edge on a stone. (Here’s more about sharpening.)

Full tang: Yep. The blade steel runs all the way through the handle, making it the strongest possible combination.

Lanyard for long tail: I like the option of adding a lanyard. In deep snow, which I’m in frequently during the winter, dropping your knife means it will probably be lost. And if your fingers are cold, you are more liable to fumble any tasks that requires fine motor skills.

Also, a bright lanyard may help you find that knife if it’s dropped in the brush. Use a lanyard to tie your knife to you and it won’t be lost.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don't make this the best knife for slicing.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don’t make this the best knife for slicing.

Thickness of blade: The 1/8-inch thickness is a good compromise between thin and too chunky. I wish the blade was a little thinner, because I think that makes a more effective blade that slices better.

Good steel is not fragile. In nearly 50 years of woods and wilderness rambling, I’ve never broken a blade, and I generally carry a thin blade.

Given that, I think a bushcraft blade should be a little thicker, just because of the tasks it might be called upon to do.

Should be able to shave wood and debark sticks: The Forest Knife is a good woodworking tool. The grind and ergonomic handle make it comfortable to use for long whittling sessions.

Pommel for hammering: The Forest knife has a solid pommel and it should take hard use with no problems. Personally, I won’t hammer with the end of a knife unless there is no other option. I generally have a hatchet or axe handy that can do any pounding or hammering job.

But if you are stuck in a crashed car or airplane and need to break a window to get out, you’ll use whatever you have. Hopefully, your knife can take the abuse.

The sheath has magnets in it, and holds the blade securely.

The sheath has magnets in it, and holds the blade safely and securely.

Sturdy sheath: A knife designed for constant carry should have a comfortable, sturdy sheath that protects the edge and the user. The Forest Knife sheath is superb, with magnets in the leather for secure carry. But the knife is still easy to remove to use.

The sheath can be carried horizontally or vertically. I like the squared end. To the casual observer the end may look like a pliers case when the end peeks out from under your shirt tail.

The good stuff:

I’ve carried this knife off and on for several months now, and I like it a lot. It was my knife of choice when I went camping in January in about four feet of snow. It was used frequently, and often when I was wearing gloves.

The generous handle always felt safe and secure in my hand. Incidentally, those of us who wear size large gloves appreciate a larger handle –  one too short or too thin is not safe to use in the cold.

I don’t like the Forest Knife for kitchen use, but then again, that’s not what it was designed for. The scandi grind and thick blade don’t make a good slicer, and it is not the best for cutting meat or cleaning fish.

But, it does more stuff well than the average knife that gets taken out into the woods.

Do you need a Forest Knife?

That depends on what you intend to use a knife for. It’s an OK knife for food preparation, and as a fishing knife. It would work fine as a hunting knife, and would be a passable skinner.

But the Forest Knife is outstanding as a tool for processing wood, tinder and related survival tasks. It excels in stripping bark off willows or poplar branches for making snowshoes, fish traps etc. The design makes it handy for drilling holes. The knife carries comfortably in its secure sheath.

The Forest Knife retails for about $250, more or less, depending on the handle. If you’re looking for a dedicated bushcraft knife, this would be a good choice.

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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