When you start to get into survival techniques and are interested in improving your skills, chances are that you have come across the term “bushcraft” and probably got overwhelmed when you looked for more information on this topic. In this post we are going to look at some of the bushcraft essentials that you should learn.
The word bushcraft is probably most commonly used within countries such as Australia, New Zealand and also South Africa, however it is used within other countries as well. The Australian that is known as Les Hiddins who was also commonly referred to as the Bush Tucker first introduced the term Bushcraft.
So what is bushcraft to begin with? Well, bushcraft is a very broad term which basically encompasses all outdoor living and survival skills that date back millennia.
For most people, the wild and lonely places of this world can be a source of immense beauty, solitude and physical challenge, and they attract millions of visitors to mountain ranges, ice caps, deserts, forests and wetlands around the world.
However, uncertainty and the outdoors go hand in hand, and so it is very easy to find a simple recreational activity in the wild becoming a struggle for survival, almost in the blink of an eye.
Think about it. It could range from a lack of experience and preparation leading to something simple like a miscalculation on food rations on a long hike in the mountains, leaving you far from assistance with dwindling supplies.
Imagine an accident such as a capsized boat on a kayaking trip, losing vital equipment at the bottom of a lake and leaving you soaked and cold on a wild shoreline. A simple slip on a trail leaving you injured and unable to traverse the miles left to go before you reached your planned shelter.
How many of us carry the right supplies in our cars to cope if we ran out of gas on a lonely highway, far from a town and with few if any passers-by willing to help? Mastering essential bushcraft skills can be a life saver when you find yourself in critical outdoor situations. Not only are these skills very useful, they are very enjoyable and rewarding to practice.
With that being said, lets look at some of the bushcraft essentials and how you can learn them.
You need to get out there. More often. Land access does get in the way. I’m not discounting this. But it is possible to find places you can go regularly to camp in the woods.
It does not matter where you live, every area has at least a few suitable spots for wild camping. Yes, it is not the easiest thing to do, but just get out there.
Walk into the wilds, set up camp and spend the night there. It’s good for your bushcraft soul. Whatever level of experience you have, plan some nights out over the coming year.
Some of you have never spent a night out before. There’s nothing to be frightened of (or ashamed of). Plan some overnighters. Once you gain more experience, plan to camp out for at least a night or two each season – spring, summer, autumn and winter.
If you are used to camping in the woods, get into the hills. And if you are used to camping in the hills, find some woods to camp in and have a campfire.
Fire-making is the most important skill for any woodsman to master. With fire, you can warm yourself, dry your clothing, and make your water potable.
These are the simplest of things you may need from your fire on a daily basis around camp, but its usefulness goes further than any individual piece of kit.
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You’ll need fire to cook your food, to create needed ash, to char materials for future fires, and to keep away the boogieman in the middle of the night. By the fire, you will spin the yarns of your adventures and dream of future ones.
The campfire is the television of the woods, ever changing and surfing the channels as it burns through the night.
Understand Water Purification (Properly)
I receive a lot of questions regarding water. Some people won’t camp out because they worry about water.
We need 3-5 litres per day and if you are going to spend any time moving through a landscape, camping out, even for a night, you need to get to grips with water purification.
You need to understand the five contaminants which might be present in water – turbidity, protozoa, bacteria, viruses and chemical pollutants – and the different protocols for dealing with any combination of them.
It’s not difficult if you strip it down to first principles and make the effort to understand the problem you are trying to solve in producing potable water for yourself. A bit of research and you will be up to speed. Then you can start to apply this knowledge on your overnight camps.
Even with very basic cooking equipment, you can create delicious one-pot meals from fresh ingredients. These can be purchased and taken with you.
Later, as your ID skills improve, you can add foraged ingredients. In a single stainless steel cooking pot or billy can over the campfire, I can cook a meal some people would not think of producing at home.
Indeed, I have taught people to cook meals over a fire, who have never cooked anything other than ready meals at home. If you want to accelerate your cooking abilities, then of course lots of cooking outdoors will help, but also consider experimenting with recipes at home.
Pretty much all of the recipes I cook on expeditions were practiced at home first, then taken to the woods and cooked over a campfire, simplified and optimised for the context.
Anyone who has come on a canoe trip with me can tell you how much flavoursome good food can be produced in an overnight camp. Then, of course, you can go large.
Adding more complex meals to your repertoire, roasting joints of meat – over the fire or in Dutch ovens – creating elaborate multi-pot meals, baking bread, Yorkshire puddings… anything you might think of taking out of a recipe book at home can be done on the campfire by building up experience, step by step, over time.
Tree and Plant Identification
At the core of Bushcraft is a viable investigation of nature. To have the capacity to utilize any plant or tree for any reason, you first have to identify it. Without a doubt, many woods will burn great, however beyond identifying a material as dead, dry wood, there is some subtlety required, even inside the context of burning fuel.
Which woods burn rapidly, delivering a great flame for quick boils or signal fires, which wood creates a ton of heat and embers, which woods deliver less smoke, for use inside your shelter, which woods are useful for smoking meats and fish, which woods are best avoided for any of the above?
Keeping in mind the end goal to apply this information, you must be able to to identify the relevant species. And that is only a few aspects of burning wood.
Clearly, when foraging for plant foods, your identification skills must be solid. Nothing should be going into your mouth for ingestion unless you are 100% sure of what the species is. Yes, a practical skill level is required to apply bushcraft skills, but the fundamental skill, the part which comes first in any of the processes mentioned here is the correct identification of the relevant resource.
Research your destination
If you are planning a trip make sure that you know as much as possible about the area you are going to. Look at guidebooks, buy as high spec maps as you can afford and speak to local guides and experts.
Carry the right equipment
Even if you are going out for a day hike you should make sure that you have the right equipment to keep you safe and warm and able to get to safety in the event of an emergency.
Keep a first aid certification current
Even if you are not intending to go for long hikes in the wild or be involved in any risky activities it is good practice to keep a current knowledge of first aid techniques. You never know when they will come in handy.