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It is not necessarily about carrying the lightest, most technologically advanced kit on the market, but rather about using the right basic tools and equipment to make yourself comfortable outdoors and to reduce the amount of equipment that you carry.
A skillful bushcrafter, for example, might carry a knife, cooking pot, firesteel, and axe. Together, these will weigh between extra four or five kilos. An ultralight camper that is saving on weight, will carry a tiny pocket knife, titanium cooking pot and lightweight camp stove for a total weight of fewer than two kilos.
The difference between the two is that the bushcrafter has the skill, knowledge, and equipment to find the food they need from the wild and cook it over a fire. Meanwhile, the lightweight camper has to carry five kilos of food in MREs or other food to survive.
It was bushcraft skills that made the exploration of the Coppermine River by Samuel Hearne in 1770, and many other explorations and expeditions of the frontier period, possible as those pioneers realized the need to rely on native knowledge and wilderness living skills rather than modern equipment. George Washington ‘Nessmuk’ Sears was another advocate of packing light and carrying simple tools and utilizing them with superior bushcraft skills, rather than modern vices when in the wilderness.
So what bushcraft skills are the most important to learn to help you in the wild? If I was to pick the five skills that you absolutely must know to start your journey to become a proficient bushcrafter it would be:
So let’s take a look at those a little closer.
No matter how good you are at advanced bushcraft skills, whether it be hand drill firelighting, flint napping or decorative carving, if you can’t find your way in the woods or wilderness, you need to re-assess your priorities.
Without a doubt, you must be able to find your way in the event of an emergency where you may need to call for help to your location. Not being able to read a map or give a grid reference may cost you or a member of your party their life.
Navigation is a must-have skill, and you can take it much further than the basic skills of map and compass navigation. Celestial navigation using stars and sun, the navigational clues that can be gleaned from vegetation and a myriad of other skills are all part of the massive topic that is bushcraft.
Wayfinding is more than just navigation as well. Simple travel from A to B is important but bushcraft focuses on the environment and your surroundings. With wayfinding, it is a survival skill as it includes the search for and finding of resources, food, water sources and suitable shelter.
More so than having the skills to hunt using primitive methods, identify edible plants and purify water, wayfinding includes the skills and knowledge required to locate those resources in the first place.
Bushcrafters get very excited about their knives, axes, saws and various specialist carving tools but they are not disposable tools and must be cared for and maintained.
They are an investment, and may even save your life in an emergency, so learning how to properly care for and service your survival tools is vital. If you are buying a knife you should also ensure you have set money aside to purchase a sharpening stone or stones and you should practice sharpening and caring for your tools.
You will need to ensure your tools are serviceable and sharp if you are going to get the best results from them.
As well as caring for your tools you need to be able to care for yourself too. In the event of an accident in the wilderness or a careless slip with your axe or knife you need to be able to perform lifesaving first aid on members of your party and yourself in emergencies.
Hopefully, you will never have to deal with anything more severe than cuts and scrapes, but having the kit to deal with those incidents is important in the first instance and knowing what to do is absolutely vital.
Carrying a tourniquet, substantial would dressings and equipment to deal with a catastrophic hemorrhage is important if you are going to be using axes and knives as a small slip can sever a femoral artery or cause other severe bleeding. So make sure you can deal with those situations when they arise.
You should at least master the bow drill and learn how to make cordage from natural materials for use on your bow and then if time, and your enthusiasm allows, progress to more challenging methods such as the hand drill and fire plough.
Being able to light a fire is an absolutely vital skill, and these five buschraft basics are not presented in any particular order, but if they were fire may come nearer to the top. It will save your life in the cold, allow you to signal for rescue, cook your food, purify your water and improve your morale. It is an absolutely essential aspect of bushcraft.
This is where bushcrafters really see the benefits of focusing on skill over kit. With a bit of practice, you have the ability to make things from wood and other natural materials that will take away the need to carry so much kit.
With basic tools you can make traps, replacement tool handles, poles for your shelter, netting needles, cord, rope, fish hooks from wood and bone, and almost anything else you can think of. Simple tools such as an axe and knife are all that is required.
Even without them, stone and bone tools and strategic use of hot coals and fire can produce marvellous results without the need for any modern equipment.
With these five basic bushcraft skills, you are equipped with everything you need to learn more wilderness living skills, prepared with basic skills for emergencies and will also astound your friends and family with how light you can pack on camping trips.