Are there effective one tool options? The answer is that it depends on the intended use of your cutting instrument. Are bushcraft knives better than multitools? Are multitools better than bushcraft knives? It is essential to ensure that you have the appropriate tools for functioning effectively and efficiently in the outdoors. Most survival experts advise taking some type of cutting instrument with you into the field, such as a fixed blade knife. Comprehensive packing lists for backpackers and hunters consist of both a fixed blade knife and a multitool. However, what if you are limited to just one cutting option?
The Bushcraft Knife Overview
The bushcraft knife or an equivalent fixed blade knife is the tool of choice for most outdoorsman. The description of these knives are the one tool option to ensure survival and sustainment in the field. There are specific characteristics that define a quality bushcraft knife. Those features are as follows:
- Length of the Blade: 5-8 inches
- Type of Steel: D2 or 1095 HC
- Blade Spine: 90°, sharp-edged
- Coating of the Blade: None
These features can be negotiable such as the case with the Morakniv® knives.
The purpose of these knives is to allow a person to conduct various field tasks. The bushcraft knife blade is short enough to do small jobs like process firewood or carve traps. However, the blade is long enough to adequately process game or to function as a self-defense weapon, such as a spear.
The Multitool Overview
The multitool has grown in sophistication over the years. Most people’s first exposure to a multitool was either a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman® PST. The origin of the multitool concept is with the pocket knife. The addition of multiple blades, can openers, or bottle openers as features on pocket knives reflect the multitool concept. The Boy Scout Pocket Knife was an early example of these kinds of pocket knives. However, contemporary multitools feature pliers, folding handles, with various tools that tuck into the handles. A folding blade and saw blade are often part of the modern multitool. Leatherman® and Gerber® are the largest manufacturers of contemporary multitools.
The purpose of the modern multitool is to function as a compact toolbox for the handyman, mechanic, electrician, or other skilled laborers. Anglers and hunters saw that the contemporary multitool was an asset for their needs and began to use them. Thus, the multitool entered the outdoor world. The favorite features on a multitool for anglers and hunters are the pliers and knife blade. Yet, is the multitool a good one tool option for field survival?
Bushcraft Knife verses A Multitool In The Field
A recent experience of mine revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the single tool option concept. My son and I went fishing as part of a church activity in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. We caught five small to average length trout. We had to cook them since we did not bring a cooler to keep them in for transportation back to the house. The cooler that I intended to take was unusable, and I did not have time to get another one before the trip. I did not have to gut the fish because the folks running the location did it for us as a complimentary courtesy for fishing in their private pond. As an experiment, I used my multitool to prepare the fish for cooking.
I had my Leatherman® Sidekick® on me, so I proceeded to prepare the fish for cooking. My original intent was to fillet them to avoid my son having to eat any bones accidentally. That turned out to be a useless effort and was advised by a more experienced gentleman just to wrap them in aluminum foil and place them on the grill. This was a concept that was familiar with, so I finished preparing the other fish. After they were finished cooking, I ran into another issue, how do you effectively take the meat off and leave the bones? I decided to peel the meat off after cutting the heads and tails off of fish. The saw blade on the multitool was used to cut the heads and tails off. It quickly became evident why anglers have a filet knife in their tackle boxes. A multitool is not the most efficient tool to process fish of average size except for gutting them.
A more recent observation also reinforced the practical nature of a bushcraft knife as a one tool option over a multitool. The latest episode of the television show, Alone, shows a contestant with hunting experience attempting to process a full-sized moose with only a multitool. He successfully killed the moose with his bow and arrow. He later comments while processing the moose that he regretted not having his fixed blade knife on him. Most hunters take a game processing kit with them into the field. These kits have various blades for cutting, chopping, and skinning, as well as sawing bones. A multitool seems to have some of these features. However, the contestant quickly realized that the job of processing that kind of game with a multitool was a daunting effort. It took the contestant six hours to process the moose with his multitool and transport the meat to his bivouac location.
Furthermore, as I was watching this unfold, it brought to remembrance some things that I have read or heard by outdoorsman about the bushcraft knife and its uses. Here is an excellent example of why frontiersman, trappers, and mountain men had the type of knives that they carried in the field. They found themselves having to process deer, elk, moose, or bear after hunting them. A two or three-inch knife blade or saw blade was not going to get the job accomplished. The contemporary outdoorsman is no different. Thus, as a one tool option, it would seem that the bushcraft knife is preferable to the multitool.
Some Final Thoughts
The bushcraft knife or the multitool as the one tool option? Which is best? The answer still comes down to what is your intended use for a cutting instrument. Most outdoor experts will advise carrying at least two or three kinds of cutting tools: a fixed blade knife, a folding knife, and a multitool. The folding knife and multitool are used for smaller tasks like fashioning fishing hooks, carving traps, or making primitive weapons. The fixed blade is used for the more significant functions beyond the campsite. However, if you are limited to just one of those three, a quality bushcraft knife seems to be the choice.
The proper tool for the task is the best option of all. Yet, some people find themselves separated from their gear and only have what they are carrying on their belts. Keeping your fixed blade knife attached to your belt is a sure technique for having a knife when you need it. Thru-hikers, ultralight, and multiday backpackers tend to not carry things on the belts of their trousers or shorts. This is done for the comfort and to avoid getting sores rubbed on their body by the friction of the pack waist belt rubbing against their body and things attached to their belts. It would seem that a drop-leg approach to carrying a bushcraft knife might be an option in this scenario. Nevertheless, a quality bushcraft knife is the best one tool option for wilderness survival considerations. Therefore, shop around and find the bushcraft knife that works best for your needs.