My Three Favorite Bushcraft Items

In January I was tagged by Hendrik of Hiking in Finland to name my three favourite Bushcraft and/ or Camping items. Due to old age and my declining memory and partly because things have been a little hectic so far this year, I never got round to posting my response. Sorry Hendrik, but thanks for your patience. So without further ado, here are my three favorite Bushcraft items, in no particular order.

The Knife: Dan Koster Custom Bushcraft

This knife was custom-made for me by boutique knife maker, Daniel Koster and I couldn’t be happier with the final result. Here are the specifications I chose:

  • CMP3V high carbon steel for better edge performance
  • 4-inch full tang blade approximately 5/32-inch thick
  • Aluminum Corby bolts and 5/16-inch landyard hole
  • Full Scandi grind at ~12.5 degrees
  • 3/8-inch natural canvas micarta handle scales
  • Black handle liners
  • JRE custom-made leather sheath

Modified Koster Bushcraft Knife

One thing I disliked about the Koster Bushcraft knife was the thickness, of the natural canvas micarta scales. After several months of regular hard use and far too many bouts of hand fatigue, I finally decided to re-shape the micarta scales myself.

Before & After: Koster Bushcraft Knife Scales

I based the desired form factor for the scales on several other bushcraft knifes that I had seen where the scales are form fitted to a more natural grip with thinner sections front and back and a thicker, rounder middle section.

Modified Koster Bushcraft Knife

Modified Koster Bushcraft Knife

As with many of the smaller knife makers, Dan focuses his attention to making superb knives and leaves most of the leather work to partners who are better suited to that line of work, which in this case is the marvelous skills of JRE Industries.  JRE has been making quality custom-fit leather sheaths for all manner of knifes for a long time and have become very well known for their bushcraft style sheaths.

As you can see that there is no snap down retaining strap to keep the knife secure in the sheath, it is held in place by fit alone. The sheath is a perfect fit and holds the knife very securely and deeply.  Mine is a right-handed sheath with a combination belt loop and neck cord loop on the back held in place by two heavy rivets.  There is an additional vertical loop of leather on the long edge that securely holds a fire steel, allowing me to carry my knife and fire starter all in one convenient package!

Dan Koster Bushcraft Knife

The Kuksa: KUPILKA 21

KUPILKA cups, bowls, and cutlery are made of a new “biomaterial” that is actually a thermoplastic natural fiber composite material made up of 50% pine fiber (wood) and 50% plastic (polypropylene). The benefits of this new natural fiber composite compared to standard plastic are better heat retention and a higher durability thanks to the incredibly stiff structure.

The benefits of natural fiber composites compared to natural wood are that it doesn’t require maintenance, doesn’t absorb smells and is impervious to humidity. In fact all KUPILKA products are actually dishwasher safe.

Routine Means Knowing Where Stuff Is

Here is my 21 hanging from the tip of my trekking pole at te end of my tarp. I hang it here at camp so that I always know where it is and to be able to grab it quickly if I smell someone brewing fresh coffee or tea.

The actual word KUPILKA stems from the Finnish word for cup which is “Kuppi”. It also refers to a term used by Finnish people decades ago, when men and women warmed up their hands with their “Kuppilka” or “little cup” by drinking hot beverages during the rough Finnish winter.

Kupilka 21 - Engraving Cleaned Up

Not too many years ago I used to make and sell my own pottery (I’m pretty good with my hands) and one of my favorite things to do was to carve a small pattern into the wet clay around the edge of the pot.

I’m surprised at how perfect the Kupilka biomaterial is for carving and engraving. It doesn’t take very much effort, especially with a power tool like a Dremel, and the results are gorgeous. Since my first attempts at engraving my Kupilka 21 I’ve wanted to try something a little more adventurous and decorative.

Pouring out my delicious coffee

The Saw: Bahco Laplander

Not only is the Bahco Laplander folding saw amazingly efficient at cutting through wood, thanks to the quality Sandvik 7-inch blade, it’s relatively lightweight weighing just 6.4oz.  Considering what an effective and versatile cutting tool it has proven to be, I don’t think that’s too much of a weight to benefit trade off – at least not for me.

The Bahco Laplander is probably one of the most well known folding saws on the market.  Popularized by Ray Mears, it has earned a reputation for being extremely rugged and reliable.  Bushcrafters all over the world have adopted it as the their “standard” backpacking saw. From what I can tell, it’s earned that reputation for good reason.

Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

The handle is made from a strong plastic that has an army green colored rubberized coating called Santoprene. It provides a very positive non-slip grip surface along the entire length of the handle even when wet or wearing gloves.

Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

The Laplander saw utilizes a black coated Swedish steel blade made by Sandvik. The blade cuts through the toughest of wood with very little effort thanks largely to the coarse hardpoint XT7 toothing and the fact that, unlike a tradition hand saw, this blade cuts on both the push and the pull strokes.

The blade length is just a touch over 7 inches according to my measurement with an overall saw length of 16 inches (9 inches closed). The blade length is referred to as a 7-inch blade and replacement blades are readily available online.

Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

The Axe: Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe 

Hopefully Hendrik won’t notice that this is number four… An ultralight small forest axe? Hardly, but to my way of thinking, every ounce that I carry has to pay its way, and the weight that a good axe adds to my overall pack weight is well worth the effort. I got my Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe from Ben’s Backwoods and have been using it for several months. It is as razor sharp now as it was the day that I got it.

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Gränsfors Bruks is a small Swedish family operated company formed in 1902. Ever since it was founded the company has been making axes and crowbars of the finest quality. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruk are famous for their skill. The axes and the production of axes at Gränsfors Bruks today are based on the following five fundamental principles:

  1. An axe becomes as good as its smith. There has to be a craftsman behind every single axe.
  2. Unnecessary stoning, grinding, epoxy fixing, painting, and other cosmetics are eliminated. This is good for the environment, inside and outside the factory.
  3. More sensible production demands less natural resources at the same time as the quality and durability of the axe increases. Also, increased durability will decrease the total consumption of natural resources and decrease waste.
  4. We have an unlimited responsibility for Total Quality. Working conditions, product quality and concern for nature are some parts of the Total; humanity and ethics are as important.
  5. High level of knowledge of a product will increase its value.

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Weighing in at 2lb 2.5oz, the Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (SFA) is definitely not like any of my other light weight, multi-tasking backpacking equipment that’s for sure. However, I guarantee that you will use a heck of a lot more energy to split your firewood without an axe than you ever would by carrying an axe. It can also be used as a backup knife and hammer if required.

A good axe, a well balanced, sharp, hand-crafted axe, is actually a delight to use and carry. Hand forged axes are also typically much lighter than their mass-produced drop forged counterparts. Not to mention the SFA is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, made by experienced axe-smiths.

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Each axe head is individually hand forged by professional axe-smiths. They take great care in the forging process of each axe so that the finished piece requires no grinding, smoothing, or painting to eliminate imperfections. The smiths at Gränsfors Bruks have nothing to hide and are extremely proud of their craft. So much so, that when they are happy with their work and have accepted the final axe, they mark the head with their initials beside the company’s GBA crown stamp. The initials ‘KS’ indicate that my axe was hand forged by Kjell-Åke Sjölund.

I had read many wonderful reviews of the SFA and was somewhat worried that the hype would set my expectations too high or spoil my experience with this little axe. I’m happy to say that the reviews were absolutely spot on in every way. This is a superbly well made axe that will easily last you a lifetime if you look after it. It’s the type of gear that can be handed down to future generations and continue to perform as well as the day it was bought.

Tag – You’re It!

So now I’m tagging Chad of Stick’s Blog because I know he’s a gear geek and I am very curious to see what three items of his would be most Bushcraft-like.

I’m also going to triple-tag Barry Smith, Henry Landon, and Paul Kirtley of the excellent (British) Frontier Bushcraft website and blog. It’s been one of my favorite daily reads for a long time, so I can’t wait to see what they share as their favorite items.

Share Your Favorite Three Bushcraft Items

If you have any of these items yourself and would like to share your experience or opinions, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you think of them. If you have three different bushcraft items that you’d consider to be your favorites, please share those below too – we can all learn from each other.

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  • Thanks Brian! Very nice items there, that Bahco Saw looks superb. Also fun that you have the same Gränsfors Small Forest Axe as me and value it – it’s a great piece of gear.

  • Good choices, Brian. And a +1 to your shoutout to Ben’s Backwoods. I’ve bought from him five or six times – great selection, good prices, and a very knowledgeable dude.

  • Yeah Ben’s Backwoods has some great gear and his service is fantastic. I’ve bought a bunch of pieces from him over the years.

  • rcMike

    …another post that cost me money…Thanks Brian! ;)

    • Opps, sorry! What did you have to buy after seeing this?

      • rcMike

        I got the saw. I’m glad you’re out there testing things and making recommendations!

        • The saw is superb, I’m sure you’ll be very happy. Light weight, very efficient, and fun to use. Let me know what you think of it when you’ve had time to use it for a while. I’d love to get your feedback.

        • Has the saw arrived yet? Have you had a chance to get out and use it? Love to hear your thoughts on it. I bet you were grinning from ear to ear on the first cut! – Am I right?

  • Another great post , I just got me the Bahco saw and can’t wait to go out and try it , have to admit I was surprised to find that UL backpackers also carry the Gransfors SFA , a great ax and a very useful item to have but not exactly the lightest , me ? I am what you guys call “Heavy Hauler” so the weight is not an issue here .

    • Adan, it’s definitely not a UL piece of gear. Then again I don’t always travel or hike UL. There are times when I don’t care about weight as much and prefer to enjoy some of the other fun activities to be had outdoor, typically when I backpack with my kiddies who like fires. Superb axe either way.

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  • Meierjo

    Great Post – thanks for these great reviews! One question, If you had to pick axe or saw and you could only take one, which one and why?

  • odie11

    Some great choices, and I agree with them. I too have purchased from Ben’s Backwoods. I don’t own the Small Forest Axe. but I own a copy such as the Husqvarna and also a couple of Wetterlings. Whether you carry an axe has a lot to do with the kind of bushcrafting that you do. I own some bushcrafting axes, but Ben’s also sells the Bahco axes which he describes as a high quality old time hardware store axe-and I have to agree with him. I prefer the Bahco axes to the Bushcraft axes because they have a wider wedge shape and in my opinion when I do decide to carry an axe, I want one with heavier cheeks in order to facilitate splitting wood as opposed to cutting down green trees–which I have never done. Plus, they are less than one third the price of a bushcraft axe.

    What I find more appropriate for my bushcrafting needs is either a buck saw and a large knife to facilitate batoning wood, or a Carpenters Saw which is even more versatile then a buck saw (and one third as expensive). I’ve used the carpenters saw with their hardened teeth on my farm, and it had cut well over a mile of road frontage bushes, trimmed the trees and pruned them and it is still going strong–and it is far lighter than an axe. Carrying a 16 oz 8-10 inch blade plus a carpenters saw gives you a lot of options in procuring dead wood for a fire–which is the only application I would use a big knife for.

  • 1Tore2

    Good post. The Bacho and Granfors compliment each other quite well in my opinion :)