Daniel Koster’s new BushMaster survival knife is an excellent example of what I consider a practical field knife that will be just as useful when Murphy rules the day.

While there have long been knives promoted as designed by one “wilderness expert” or another, TV reality shows have turned this into a major cutlery trend in the last year or two. One industry insider told me he knew of seven survival shows currently running, and that there were others in the planning stages. And each has its own celebrity “extreme survival” guy competing to be the one true authority on the subject. This obviously also doesn’t even take into consideration the hoards of YouTube hobbyists, some of whom are actually very good at what they do. The end result has been that every major cutlery company seems to have sought out their own “survival/bushcraft guy” whose name they can stamp on a knife. Most readers of Tactical Knives will probably know most of the names: Jeff Randall, Ron Hood, Bear Grylls, Ray Mears, Tom Brown, Les Stroud, David Canterbury, Robert Young Pelton, Cody Lundin and many others.

What has pleasantly surprised me, with only one or two exceptions, is that most of these experts have given their endorsements to knives I would actually personally be willing to carry in the wild. The problem with many would-be “survival knife” designers is that they feel they must start with a clean sheet of paper and invent something no one has ever seen before. I know this personally because I’ve been asked more than once to create the “perfect survival knife,” and few cutlery companies are ever happy with the result. Why should they bother if it looks pretty much like a hundred other knives that have been around for decades? Well, one reason some designs have been around that long is because our Genus has been experimenting with cutting tools for something like a million or so years. Plenty of time to find what works and what doesn’t. Adding a bunch of finger grooves, funny hooks on the spine, and the ever-popular “recurved” edge is not really going to change the course of evolution.

A point seldom brought up is that there are really two competing theories on survival-knife design. The first is the knife for when some unforeseen catastrophic event suddenly dumps an individual with very limited gear in a wilderness environment. Frankly, I think this is virtually impossible for the average person. In the second school are those who actually enter the backcountry for some normal activity—hunting, backpacking, hiking, wilderness canoeing, kayaking or exploring—and are then faced with an emergency that they need to overcome. This could be something like simply getting lost, losing all your gear in a canoeing accident, having a bear tear your camp up, an unexpected snowstorm or a flood closing a trail. For most of these people, the knife that they carry for their everyday outdoor needs then becomes their survival knife. Which brings us back to most of these new survival expert-designed knives. As a group, they seem to be practical tools first and specialized survival knives second. In my experience, that is the way it should be. If it works in the wild for normal times, it will work just as well in a survival situation.

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