The Three-knife Survival System: Heavy Duty Chopping Tools

As I mentioned in one of our previous articles, as an experienced wilderness survivalist, I have discovered that there is simply no such thing as a single, do-all, survival knife! Therefore, instead of carrying a single survival knife, I carry a three-knife system consisting of a heavy duty chopping tool, a somewhat smaller fixed blade camp knife, and a significantly smaller utility knife. Therefore, in this article I will provide a more in depth look at heavy duty chopping tools since they are the foundation upon which my system is built.

Although I used to carry only a large, fixed blade, camp knife designed by A.G. Russell with an 8 inch, recurved, blade made from AUS-8 stainless steel which, in my opinion, is a slightly better blade steel than 440C for use in constructing large knives due to its slightly lower Carbon content, its slightly higher Molybdenum content, and the inclusion of both Nickel and Vanadium which 440C lacks, I found that it was inadequate for the purpose of chopping down saplings to build survival shelters, primitive weapons, traps, and snares.

However, I also found that a hatchet was not versatile enough to suite me and thus, I started searching for a heavy duty knife design that could perform the same function as a hatchet but still function as a knife as well. But, the only large, American, knife design that I am aware of is the Bowie Knife and, while adequate for the job if it is made large enough (such as the Outback from Down Under Knives), the traditional Clip Point Bowie Knife design was not what I was looking for. Therefore, I did some in depth research and I discovered that because the indigenous peoples of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines live in a rainforest environment consisting mostly of fibrous, woody, plants, they have developed several knife designs such as the Enep, the Parang, the Bolo, the Barong, and the Golok Rembau that are specifically made for the very purpose that I needed my heavy duty chopping tool to perform.

So, I then started looking for American manufactures who produced versions of one or more of these designs and I discovered that I am apparently not the only one who has discovered need for such knives since I was able to find several American manufacturers and one Italian manufacturer who produce the type of knife I needed. For instance, Fox Knives (the Italian manufacturer that I mentioned) produces two knives called the Pathfinder (an Enep design) and the Parang XL while both SOG and Ontario Knife Company produce versions of the Bolo called Jungle Bolo the Bolo Knife respectively while Bark River Knives produces a version of the Bolo in three different sizes called the Grasso Bolo I, II, and III as well as a version of the Golok (longer than a Golok Rembau). In addition, Cold Steel produces an extra heavy-duty version of the Barong called the Smatchet and Entrek produces a version of the Enep that they call the “Destroyer”.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the Nepalese chopping tool called a Kukri although, its bent, recurved, blade design is a bit too radical for my purpose. However, both Cold Steel and OCK do produce versions of this type of knife called the Gurkha Kukri and Kukri respectively. But, my personal favorite out of all of the knives that I looked at is the Kershaw Camp 10 which is a version of the Thai Enep with a checkered, Krayton, handle which isolates the user’s hand from shock. Last, if you want a truly authentic version of one of these types of knives, then you need to check out Condor Knife & Tool since they sell several authentic versions of these indigenous knife designs.

Then, there is the issue of stainless steel versus high carbon tool steel. While there are several stainless steels that are suitable for constructing large knives such as AUS-4, AUS-6, AUS-8, 440A, 440B, and 440C, in my opinion, both AUS-8 and 440C are the best possible choices when selecting a stainless steel. But, although all of these steels are relatively corrosion free, none of them are as tough as high carbon tool steels such as 1065, 1095, and 65Mn and thus, they are all more prone to chip or break than high carbon tool steels are. On the other hand, high carbon tool steels are FAR more prone to corrosion and thus, most American manufactures who use this type of steel also apply a coating of some sort to the blade to help prevent corrosion. But, that still leaves the edge exposed and thus, significantly more care must be taken with this type of blade steel to prevent the edge from rusting.

So, as you can see, when choosing a heavy duty chopping tool for use in a three-knife survival system, the choices are widely varied. However, the two features that all of the knives mentioned above have in common are heavy duty construction and an extreme weight forward design that enables them to perform like a hatchet and yet, still function like a knife when needed.

Written by,

Bill Bernhardt

Outdoor Professional

PS: Just a reminder to pick up your free SMith & Wesson knife here.


  1. Pingback: The Three-Knife Survival System: Camp Knives | Self-Reliance Association

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