In November of last year, I wrote about my thoughts on the medium camp knife here. In a nutshell, my limited experience over the past 4 years and fuzzy recollections from days gone by have suggested to me that a well-balanced woods knife with a 6″/15 cm blade might possibly be more versatile than a more standard 4″/10 cm blade, yet still do the same jobs as well or nearly as well. Let me say right off the bat that just because I like a larger knife does not mean that I have a “Rambo complex”, nor does it have anything to do with “surviving in the woods with nothing but a knife” or anything else like that. What I’m talking about is real field use for a variety of bushcraft, camping and similar tasks. After doing a little Internet research, I was both pleased and surprised to find that several very experienced woodsmen, various native groups and some historical types also tend to favor medium camp knives.
In an early Ray Mears’ survival manual published in 1990, he expressed a preference for the Wilkinson Sword “type D” survival knife, a version of the British MOD survival knife similar to the one shown below (incidentally, Mears designed the type D). This beefy knife has a thick blade a bit over 7″/18 cm long. Not exactly a Woodlore! Mears went on to say how versatile this knife is for a wide variety of tasks and recommended pairing it with an Opinel knife for smaller tasks. I wonder if his later switch to the Woodlore had more to do with knife taboo in the UK than a true preference for a 4″/10 cm blade.
(Linked image, not my photo)
Now let’s consider one of Ray’s good buddies from Sweden, Lars Fält. Apparently, back in the 90s he designed a knife similar to the Finnish M95 Ranger knife (Sissipuukko) from Fiskars designed by J-P Peltonen. According to a recent issue of Finnish outdoor magazine “Retki”, Lars has been spotted with this very knife on his belt. The Sissipuukko M95 sports a 6″/15 cm blade with a sturdy spine. Not exactly a Mora No. 1.
(Linked image, not my photo)
Let’s ask Tor Helge, an experienced bushcrafter and woodsman from northern Norway. According to his website, the knife he has been using most of all recently is the discontinued Storhallingen from Brusletto. This knife sports a 6″/15 cm blade. According to Tor, “…I think that makes it a good all-round knife. It is long enough for slicing bread and bleeding out big game, but not so big it can’t be used for more delicate cutting tasks. (It is also) strong enough for batoning wood”. Sounds good to me.
(Linked image, not my photo)
How about respected British bushcraft instructor Gary Wale at Survivall/Nordmarken Canoe UK – Weiss? He has been a fan of the camp knife for some time (also having designed one at one point), and has recently revealed that he is dumping almost all of his knives in favor of (once again) the Sissipuukko M95. Not a Swiss army knife. Not a khukri. Not a Woodlore. A medium camp knife.
Popular wilderness survivalist Les Stroud aka Survivorman has announced that he will soon be coming out with a line of “survival knives” (I’m not crazy about this term, but that’s what he calls them), which are larger and more robust than his Temagami bushcraft knife and which are intended for rougher use at a wider range of tasks. He’s said he prefers this type of knife over the typical bushcraft knife.
EDIT: Thanks go out to Finnman for reminding me that Tom Brown and Dave Canterbury also like camp knives generally in this size range.
It’s not only well-known contemporary outdoorsmen who share this preference, however. Time and again I see bushcraft/outdoor shows where medium camp knives are being used by natives from Africa to the Arctic for tasks from carving to skinning to chopping. And what about American and Canadian frontiersmen of the past? They seemed to prefer larger kitchen/cooking knives for use as outdoors knives thanks to their versatility.
These are all real outdoorsmen with real experience. Not Rambo wannabes, not youngsters mesmerized by big knives and not show-offs. They appreciate the usefulness, versatility and ruggedness of the medium camp knife. They know what it’s capable of. After having independently done my own testing and experimenting over the past few years, I can’t help but agree with them (only after coming to prefer this type of knife did I find out about our similar preference). Now, my level of knowledge and skill is nowhere near that of these gentlemen, but I have to say I’m pleased to share a knife preference with them. 🙂 As some of you know, my preferred medium camp knife is a modified version of the BushProwler from Ilkka Seikku. It features a 6″/15 cm blade.
As usual, I’m not trying to make an argument for what’s “best”. That’s up to each individual to decide for themselves based on many different factors, including geographic location, season, tasks to be done, preference etc. I’m just sharing my findings and personal viewpoint. In addition, I’m not suggesting that the medium camp knife is “one knife for everything” and appropriate for all tasks. I highly value axes, saws and smaller knives for their respective uses. I like to pair my camp knife with a larger chopping/splitting tool and a small SAK for heavy and fine work, respectively (though honestly the SAK doesn’t come out too often).
If I’ll be sitting down at home for a longer carving project, I’ll grab my small whittling puukko. If I’ll be clearing lots of brush for a while, I’ll grab a khukri or machete. If I’ll be splitting lots of wood at the cabin, I’ll use a splitting axe. These tasks are best done with more specialized tools. When it comes to hiking into the forest, though, there is a limit to how many tools I want to carry with me, so the ones I choose have to be very versatile. As it turns out, the tool I reach for most often while in the bush, for tasks like carving, food preparation, chopping, limbing, brush clearing, splitting, prying, striking a ferrocerium rod and many general cutting tasks, is the versatile medium camp knife. And while it’s true that almost any blade can be pressed into service to do many different things, I tend to think that some would be more ideal than others when it comes to versatility.
Remember, this is just an opinion. Take it with a grain of salt. 🙂
EDIT: I hesitate to write articles like this, because I don’t want to put people off or create an “us versus them” situation. Truth be told, I could certainly get on with a good 3″, 4″ or 5″ knife and have used plenty of them before. They are capable of doing a LOT, and most people swear by them. I really feel like talking about this is nit-picking at this point. No more blade-size posts, I promise. 😀