Bushcraft is the knowledge and practice of traditional woodsman techniques. It is the art of crafting life in the wild. Explorers, Mountain Men, Trappers, and adventurers of all sorts lived ‘off grid’ before there was a grid. They invented ingenious and extremely practical ways of living off the land using the resources available to thrive in the wild for years at a time without restocking supplies from stores. Bushcrafting is a wonderful hobby if you already enjoy the outdoors. Not only can your skills be very handy and a lot of fun when you are camping and hiking, but learning the old tricks offers a fascinating first-hand experience of how life used to be. While many bushcrafters spend days out in the wild it is certainly not a requirement of the hobby. Many afternoons have been enjoyed practicing the hobby before returning home that evening.
To better understand what bushcraft is, we can look at what it is not. It is not survival training, emergency preparedness, or any other zombie apocalypse minded activity. It is not militarized either. While a hobby is a reflection of each individual, and thus unique to them, overall Bushcrafters tend to prefer the more organic and natural style. Bushcraft is the art and skill of traditional self reliant living outdoors. It is the art of turning ‘roughing it’ into ‘smoothing it’ in the wild. To not survive the wild, but to thrive in it, with dignity for oneself and nature.
If this sounds interesting to you, let’s get started with Your Intro To: Bushcraft.
The first thing most people encounter or want is bushcraft gear, equipment, or other supplies. Unlike other outdoor hobbies like ultralight hiking, Bushcraft is about doing more with less through the use of your skills and knowledge. A good woodsman can make a great life for him/herself with little more than a knife and a ferro rod.
But since most people want to know all about Bushcraft Gear, I’ll start there.
There is no such thing as Bushcraft Gear
I will say this a lot, so it is important to understand my meaning. I say this not because it is necessarily true, but because it is beneficial to remember. Buying products just because they have the word ‘bushcraft’ on them rarely produces optimal results. Instead, by remembering ‘there is no such thing as bushcraft gear’ we focus on the task we want to accomplish, and then choose the best tool for that job. Bushcraft is the art and skill that is within the woodsman. The best paintbrush in the world does not make you a painter any more than the best “bushcraft knife” makes you a woodsman. The greater the skill of the woodsman the less gear he needs to thrive as the wilderness and his skill will provide anything necessary. In this Intro we will definitely be going over a lot of gear, but keep in mind these are just tools to assist you, the woodsman or woodswoman, in the art of bushcraft. The collection of tools you carry with you is commonly referred to as your “kit”.
The 5 Cs of Bushcraft
The 5 Cs of Bushcraft were coined by Dave Canterbury, author of Bushcraft 101, which is a fantastic book that I highly recommend.
1: Cutting tool.
Have you ever hung out with an older person or someone who spends a great deal of time outdoors or works with their hands? My grandfather was such a man. No matter where he went he always carried at least a small pocket knife. Church, wedding, funeral.. didn’t matter. He always had a knife. If he was going out into the woods he usually carried a larger fixed blade knife on his belt. A knife is the single most important bit of gear you can carry with you. It is almost impossible to duplicate in nature. A small pocket saw or a hatchet or small axe are also highly prized by the woodsman.
Fire is the single most important aspect of bushcrafting and long term thriving in the outdoors. It keeps us warm, purifies our water, cooks our food, and keeps away the boogeyman at night. The only reason that ‘combustion’ comes after a knife is because with a knife we can make a fire bow set or other friction fire method plus many more things. Starting a friction fire is tedious and error-prone so having a ready-made combustion method is essential. The most common combustion methods are: matches, lighter, fire steel, magnifying glass, and friction.
When rain, snow, or just night falls you’ll need protection. This is a very common mistake made by novice woodsmen or outdoor adventurers. Modern materials like space blankets or emergency blankets fold down small and weigh almost nothing but generally are one time use. In the old days more durable materials were selected when heading into the wild. Waxed canvas tarps were the most common. Today we have ultra modern materials that offer the best of both worlds. Paired with a warm layer (wool blanket, sleeping bag) a tarp of any material is a highly effective kit for staying dry and warm.
Specifically a water container, preferably stainless steel. A large canteen or 32-oz stainless steel water bottle will last you forever and serve many functions. Locating freshwater is usually not difficult but without a fire-proof container it is likely to do you little good. A stainless steel water bottle is easy to transport, easy to fill with water from a local stream and can be set on the edge of a fire to purify the water inside.
The last of the 5 Cs is cordage, or rope. Generally all that is needed is small diameter cordage. A very popular cordage is paracord, sometimes called 550 paracord (it has a 550 pound tensile strength). While paracord has its place I find bankline to be more versatile. Paracord is made from 7 small nylon cords twisted together with a nylon sheath around the outside. It has a fair degree of stretch. It is also somewhat slick due to the nylon. When cut paracord begins to unravel and is usually burned with a lighter to melt the ends to prevent unraveling. Bankline is nylon based with a coating of “tar”. I put tar in quotes because while this is technically accurate there is no stickiness or tackiness to the line at all so it looks and feels just like black cordage. Bankline comes in various thicknesses that are measured by a numbering system. The higher the number the thicker the cordage. “#36” is the most commonly used in bushcraft. It has a tensile strength of 360 pounds but is about 1/3rd the diameter and weight of paracord. Bankline knots tend to grip better than paracord knots since it is less slippery.
Bonus C: Care
This is my addition to the 5 Cs and that is Care, primarily in the form of a first aid kit. This is especially important when you are starting out. You’ll be working with knives, axes, and saws to make all sorts of things. You’ll be traipsing through the wilderness which is full of things that want to stick, gouge, and scrap you. A little first aid kit is a must.