Bushcraft is a pretty amazing hobby. It’s centred entirely around honing and improving upon your ability to survive in the wilderness. When it comes to bushcraft, the less equipment you have – the more you have to manipulate your environment to obtain what you need. Skilled survivalists can wander into the jungle with little more than a knife and build a safe, secure campsight.
What’s Special About Bushcraft?
Skilled bushcraft enthusiasts have a fairly high level of competency in a handful of other skills. These skills are often incredibly useful, both in general life and in a scenario where you might need to depend on them to survive.
Some Examples Of The Skills Required
Firemaking / Firecraft
Fire making is the process of starting a fire through your own means. It can obviously be done with tools, but bushcraft enthusiasts will generally be capable of creating one without external aid.
This is accomplished with a handful of materials that must be gathered from your surrounding environment. Tinder, wood, and a means of ignition.
Tinder is the easily compustible material that you must first ignite in order to produce the fire. Once it’s heat up to a reasonable temperature, the wood will also begin to combust. You will ignite this material through your means of ignition.
There’s a huge variety of ways in which you can ignite your tinder. If you don’t have any supplies you can ignite a fire with friction by carving specific notches in wood and rotating quickly. Other methods involve the use of flint, flint and steel and other ways of producing sparks in nature. Some obscure methods even involve the use of steel wool and batteries.
If you want to learn a bit more about the specifics of firemaking, you can read our own guide on it.
If you’re looking to procure your own food out in the wilderness, you’ll need to know the basics of tracking. Tracking is a complex skill that requires you to be particularly attentive. It also requires you to have a reasonable level of familiarity with local ecology and environments.
The goal is relatively simple – you want to be able to locate an animal based on evidence they’ve left behind. This evidence can be in the form of outright tracks, left on the ground. Other common identifiers are hair, dung & blood.
Animals can also be tracked by how they’ve interfaced with their surroundings. Either unintentionally – such as through the treading of grass in areas where they commonly reside. Alternatively, they can intentionally deface their surroundings. Deer for example, will scrape the velvet off of their antlers.
Tracking is a very difficult skill to master, it requires a lot of knowledge. As such, a total breakdown isn’t present in this guide – as it would make it too long.
This is the process of actively capturing and killing an animal. Many people may take issue with hunting, but it’s actually massively more ethical than industrial animal farming. Generally speaking, hunting does not cause issues for local wildlife when properly regulated. It’s also much less likely to cause environmental damage.
Hunting can be performed in a wide variety of ways. If you’re a wilderness survival enthusiast, you may be seeking to hunt with a bow. You will have to check with local laws to ensure this is absolutely legal. Especially with a home made bow. You’ll often find that the draw weight of a particular bow is a deciding factor in the actual legality of its use in hunting.
In Britain, for example, how hunting is completely illegal. However, it’s considered perfectly ethical to hunt with a shotgun. In America, the legality of bow hunting is dependant on the laws passed by individual states and provinces.
Fishing is another tool that can be added to a bushcraft enthusiasts repertoir. Just like with hunting, there’s a wide variety of ways in which you can catch fish in the wild. These can include the use of nets, spears, and bows and arrows. Extremely talented survivalists can even construct their own fishing rods from natural materials.
This is another skill that should be learned in order to effectively utilize your bushcraft abilities. There’s actually a whole host of different ways in which the natural environment can be used to orientate yourself. The use of astrological navigation is particularly useful at night, but is fairly useless during the day. You’re not limited to stars when it comes to using the sky to navigate, though. You can also use the placement of the sun and the moon too.
More complicated natural navigation techniques can also involve the use of plants, the use of weather and even the use of animals to proper orientate oneself.
Natural navigation has been in use for thousands of years, sometimes it’s more methodical, such as earlier sailors utilizing the star constellations to navigate. But sometimes it’s just about familiarizing yourself with your environment. One prime example of this is the many stories about viking sea raiders who would observe various key aspects of their environment to figure out where they were. During the day, they would look at the color of the sea, for example. This could give them an indication of how far away from land they were.
They would also pay close attention to the direction the wind and the waves were travelling in. The presence of birds as always a good indicator that you weren’t far from land either, as birds generally won’t waste energy flying too far out to sea. Birds also have a much greater vantage point than humans given their ability to fly, so whilst land may not have been visible on the horizon, you could safely bet that a gathering of avian creatures was a solid indicator of its presence.
Viking navigators also utilized a sun compass, which could give you an indicator of what way north was based on the way the sun cast a shadow on it. Interestingly though, there’s been some debate around the efficiency of these compasses. Some scientists believe it’s possible that they could have utilized them to calculate longitude.
Please note that the information below is designed to give you a broad understanding of natural navigation. We will publish in depth articles for each form of natural navigation in the near future.
Various star constellations can often be used to navigate. But there’s really only one star you actually need to find. That’s the north star. You might wonder how you’re supposed to pin point a specific star in a sky that’s filled with literally millions of them. Luckily – the human brain has evolved a particularly useful survival mechanism: pattern recognition.
You know when you look at an inconspicuous object in the dark and your brain starts playing tricks on you? that’s because your brain is hardwired to try and figure out what exactly it’s looking at – it’s necessary for your survival. You know when you look at clouds and they seem to form very obvious shapes? that’s your brain trying to decode water vapor arranged in a completely random fashion. As such, the same exact thing happens when you look up at the night sky. There’s a few constellations that are very easy to pick out for just about everyone, and we can use these to help locate the north star.
The first constellation you’re going to want to be able to recognize is the big dipper.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this, imagine it as a cooking pot. Do you see that handle? follow it down to the central “pot” area. The top, outermost rim of the pot is the star that’s pointing directly to Polaris (the north star).
You can verify the star pretty easily too, because strangely enough, a smaller but similar “inverted image” type of constellation is connected to the north star. Here’s a diagram:
At this point, you have located the north star. Polaris appears within a degree celestial north. So if you travel towards it, you know you’re heading roughly north.
Using the stars to navigate is a great idea, as such, it can often make sense to use the closest star we have available. The sun. Especially if it’s bright outside. This is not a perfect means of navigation, however. the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun can make navigation utilizing the sun pretty difficult.
If you ask most people what direction the sun rises in, many of them will say “east”, but this simply isn’t all that true. Whilst there are a couple of days of the year where the sun rises east, this isn’t always the case. The March and September equinoxes are the only times you can really confidently say the sun will be rising in the east.
One handy trick for manipulating the sun to navigate is through the use of the moss that grows on trees. Many people like to claim that moss exclusively grows on the north facing side of trees. This is a sort of half-truth. Moss requires moisture to grow. This means it will generally grow on the side of a tree that sees the sun the least often. In an open area, this is generally going to be the north facing side throughout the year. But if you’re in a densely wooded area that the sun isn’t normally able to access, it can grow just about everywhere.
So the best way to proceed forward when utilizing moss to navigate, involves more than one step. Obviously the first step is identifying the moss and observing what side of the tree it resides on. But the second step is a sort of “verification step” – you must ask yourself why the moss is growing here. Are you underneath a densely forested area? is there a large branch or some other obstruction overhead that could be preventing the sun from accessing this part of the tree? Is the sun obstructed by any kind of geological phenomenon such as boulders, hills or cliff-sides? If it looks like there are zero obstructions, you can potentially consider the mossy side of the tree as being north facing. But it won’t hurt to scour your environment and ensure this is a fairly consistent pattern, just in case you missed something.
It’s pretty easy to miss something too, by the way. For example, if the gradient of a trees surface is relatively shallow, it will take longer for rainwater to actually run off of it. This can allow moisture to build up which results in the formation of moss. This is why observing more than one tree can generally give you a better idea of the situation.
Directional Sun Navigation
You can utilize the sun to navigate without every actually figuring out which way is south and which way is north. This is handy if you’re unsure of your environment and travelling away from camp – it can allow you to travel back to camp later on if you’ve forgotten your route.
Simply turn to look directly in the direction you’re planning on traveling. Once you’re facing this way, reach up towards the sun and hold your closest arm towards the sun. This will help adequately instill where you are in relation to the sun. The sun moves quite a lot during the day though, so if you’re going to utilize this technique you’ll have to be prepared to repeat this process every 10-15 minutes.
General Sun Navigation
Our ancient ancestors had a great deal more knowledge than they are often given credit for. The Summer and Winter solstices, for example, occur when the North and South poles (respectively) are at their closest positions to the sun. This means that the Summer solstice is an indicator that the north pole is the closest to the sun as it will ever get at any point during the year. How primitive humans managed to figure a lot of this information out is frequently still presented as a mystery by scientists. But this information remains useful to us, their descendants. Because we now have benchmarks at various points in the year that give us an indicator of roughly how to use the sun to navigate.
The only real requirements are these:
- You know which hemisphere of the planet you’re on.
- You know roughly what time of year it is.Honestly, these are probably requirements for bushcraft in general. If you have no concept of where or when you are you probably shouldn’t be wondering into the woods alone.
So, lets say we know what time of the year it is. March or September time in the northern hemisphere. If you leave in the direction of the sunrise during the morning, you’ll be travelling east. If you travel where the sun sets to get back home, you’ll be travelling West.
Here’s why the time of year is important, though. If you tried this same strategy in winter or the summer, you’d be utterly lost. Because the sun rises in a completely different direction then.
Here’s a list of roughly where the sun will be rising throughout the year:
- June = North East (Summer Solstice Time)
- March/September = East (Equinox Time)
- December = Southeast (Winter Solstice Time)
This is a relatively simple navigational tip, but the way it works is pretty fascinating. This may seem obvious, but the side of the moon that is most illuminated by the sun (i.e the bright side) is clearly the side that is facing the sun. Now, the sun and moon exclusively move along an east and western plan relative to one another, meaning the moon can be used to quickly determine south (or north by working in inverse).
Provided the moon is some form of crescent, you need simply draw an imaginary line from the top of the moon to the bottom, connecting the tips of the crescent in a straight line. Now let that line trail off until it connects with the horizon in front of you. The point where your imaginary straight line from the moon connects to the earth is roughly south.
Now you’ve got a rough idea on how you’re going to navigate efficiently in your environment. How what are the basics you might consider bringing? Now obviously, you don’t want to go in over prepared. That defeats the entire purpose of this hobby, which is to be able to make due in the wilderness with as little as possible. With that being said, some basic tools can bring about some serious quality of life improvements. Like being able to fashion a reasonable shelter on your first evening. (sleeping in the rain is not fun.)
It’s possible to light a fire on your own in the rain too, but unless you’re doing this for some sort of spiritual fulfillment then it’s unlikely you want to spend hours attempting this.
As such, we’ve compiled a couple of our favorite accessories for bringing out into the wilderness.
Mossy Oak Survival Knife
As far as survival knives go this is a pretty reliable one. It’s manufactured with a 440C stainless steel. This well help prevent degradation of the blade in poorer weather conditions, including helping the blade retain it’s sharp edge. This material also guarantees a great deal of durability – it’s unlikely you’re going to damage this thing even if you drop it onto concrete. The full tang handle is manufactured from rubber and designed ergonomically. This can help prevent it slipping out of your hands easily. The sharp tip, great cutting edge and serrated spine mean that it can be use for a wide variety of purposes in the wilderness. Anything from stripping bark off of trees through to gutting fish and even hunting.
This would easily be one of our first picks for a survival knife, although there are quite a few awesome ones out there too.
M-Tech USA Camping Axe
This is a great quality camping axe. It comes with a handful of key features that really sets it apart from some of the other axes available. For starters, it’s small enough to be kept portable, but large enough to still be useful. The handle is wrapped in cord to allow you to have a reasonable grip, but this chord can also double as an emergency parachord, allowing you to quickly fashion a shelter or perform a variety of other important bushcraft tasks. It’s also manufactured from a black stainless steel to guarantee that it retains its stylish appearance, edge retention and of course durability in harsher conditions.
It can be pretty difficult to set a fire without any actual firelighting equipment. Hardcore bushcraft people can often do this, and we recommend anyone with an active interest in bushcraft learns how to start a fire without tools first. But it can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance, and once you’ve learned how to do it, as long as you regularly practice, it’ll stick with you. So we normally recommend that once you have a solid grip on the basics of firemaking, you consider bringing some form of firemarking equipment with you. This can also be an absolute lifesaver if you’re in a wet environment – where starting a fire without equipment becomes substantially harder.
Bayite Flint And Steel
This is a particularly handy little survival tool. It comes with additional parachord that complements the axe above pretty well. It’s a flint and steel style firemaking kit. Which means it’s a little harder to start a fire than say with a lighter or matches. With that being said, it’s still very reliable and you don’t need to worry about running out of fuel. The only real cause for concern is that it wears down over time, but you’ll likely have replaced it by the time this is an issue anyway.
Helikon-Tex Buschraft Bag
A reliable backpack is always a solid call if you’re planning on heading out. You’re gonna want something that’s durable and waterproof to allow you to transport any vital survival equipment. You might consider bringing a portable camping water filter and some basic medical supplies. This particular bag comes in a variety of different colors to allow you to pick the right fit based on the environment you’re going to be travelling in. It comes with three individual drawstring pockets. It has a hip fastener and adjustable shoulder straps. It also has mesh net on the back-facing portion of the back to allow you to pack additional, flat supplies such as maps, bandages and atlases.