A second (and third, and fourth….) opinion on the medium camp knife

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. 😀


21 comments on “A second (and third, and fourth….) opinion on the medium camp knife

  1. Finnman says:

    You forgot Tom Brown and his Tracker-knife and Dave Canterbury and his Pathfinder-knife both being between 15-20cm.

    In Finland traditionally right lenght for general purpose knife have been widht of your palm being around 9-11 cm, but they haven´t even tried to use it for heavier tasks where axe comes handy.

    Personally I use knives both 10cm or 15cm blades or even longer depending on mood. I haven´t “picked side” on that really, both works but bit different ways.

    – Finnman

    • Thanks! I forgot about Brown and Canterbury. The truth is, there are probably lots more.

      I agree that a 9 – 11 cm puukko and axe cover a lot, but I think a 15 cm knife and axe cover even more. 😀 Keep in mind that just because the traditional blade length in Finland is 9 – 11 cm doesn’t mean that this is ideal. In the old days, steel was expensive, so maybe 9 – 11 cm was “affordable”. 😉 When humans first started making knives out of metal, I wonder if anyone said, “No thanks, I prefer my flint knife because it’s ‘traditional’, so it must be best”. JUST KIDDING!!!! 😉

      Of course no-one has to “pick sides”. It’s not an “us versus them” kind of thing. I have a 7 cm puukko knife which I love, but it’s best suited toward whittling and finer tasks. I also have a 23 cm leuku which is great for rougher work. I don’t plan on throwing these knives away just because I prefer a 15 cm knife. I will keep them in my “collection” and use them when I want/need to. The article I wrote is talking about a general purpose field knife, not a knife that’s perfect for everything. 🙂

  2. Ross Gilmore says:

    You and your Rambo knives! When will you learn?! It’s not real bushcraft if your blade is more than 4 inches. I learned that on a forum long time ago. 🙂 Just kidding of course.

    I find that I like a blade around 4.5 inches, maybe 4.25 is the curve is very gradual like on the Mora #2. Anything shorter than that, and it impedes my ability to do slicing cuts. I tend to run out of blade material before I run out of force in my push, which causes the blade to jump abruptly at the end of each push (draw).

    • 🙂

      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. 😀

  3. OZme says:

    Again you have done it! Excellent post. I find this post not just talking about the size of blade for bushcraft. I read it as a good example of how we all find our preferred blade.

    Some follows the celebrities blindly, some examines what works.

    As myself, I often facing the problem caused by the gap between, what I like to carry and what I like to use… It is basically a fight between comfort and convenience.

    Choosing knife is a serious and complicated business 🙂

    • Well, I don’t really think I’ve “done” anything. 🙂 I’m just trying to talk about what I like.

      I’m very happy to read that you see the post as an example of how to find out what we prefer. To me, critically thinking about something is so much better than blindly following a celebrity, as you mentioned.

      Can you give me an example of what you mean by carry versus use, or comfort versus convenience? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

      Yes, knife selection is “serious business”, hehehe. 😉

      Thanks for the comments!

      • OZme says:

        What I meant was that, versatile knife is convenient to carry. It does the all round work, therefore prefer to carry. But once I start doing some task, I would like to have something bit more specific to the task, because it is comfortable and does that job better/ best. So that would be the one I would like to use.

        If I know in advance, what I will be doing most on the trip, the choice will be easier. But often that is not the case for me. Perhaps, I will find my balanced knife which is comfort enough and convenient enough.

        • Ah, OK. I understand. I think lots of experimentation may be the only way to solve your dilemma! 🙂 Maybe a selection of tools which are not too bulky or heavy? Maybe taking the items you use most often? Hope you figure it out! 🙂

  4. Finnman says:

    Before I was looking one knife to do it all, but found out that there´s not such blade existing. I have went through decent amount of different size and shape of blades to find it out.
    Medium size like Sissipuukko M95 is good general purpose size that does not really excel on anything but get job done in most of the tasks. In that size of knife I just find it´s tip bit difficult / clumsy to use in detailed work, but it´s possible.

    Trying to do wide selection of tasks with one blade is always a compromise.

    Yes knife selection is serious business, atleast for knife freaks 😉

    • True, finer work can sometimes be tricky with a blade of this size, but I just saw a really great trick in a video to make it easier! Move your hand higher on the handle so that your index finger would be on the blade, but don’t wrap your index finger on the blade (obviously). Just hold the handle with your middle finger, ringer finger, pinky finger and thumb. This moves your whole hand closer to the tip of the blade and makes it act like a shorter knife overall. It’s like doing the opposite of the leuku “finger-ring grip”. In other words, you hold the handle with the bottom fingers instead of the top fingers. I don’t know if I’ve explained this very well. Let me know if you understand my ramblings. I can take a picture to show you what I mean. 🙂

  5. Finnman says:

    Yes that what I do. I even place all my fingers on blade sometimes and offcourse not wrap fingers around blade 🙂 Sure grip is not nearly as firm as squeezing safely handle, but gives much more control for tip work when needed.

  6. stellingsma2010 says:

    the only thing between my MOD 4 and me is god almighty LOL and a 4 inch pocketknife ……greetings

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