A personal view on kit and bushcraft.
There’s no denying that well made, field tried and tested, outdoors equipment is a very important part of a bushcrafters’ set up and well-being when out and about.
Personally, it’s only the equipment, materials and items that would be most difficult, repetitive, unecological or time consuming to improvise from nature that are the golden items I would want in my rucksack.
I really liked a piece online I had seen a few years back from Dave Canterbury of the Pathfinder School where he listed his crucial acquisitions in any given outdoor scenario as the 5 c’s – Cordage, Carrying, Combustion, Cover and Cutting.
With these categories taken care of perhaps in the ready prepared and packed form of paracord, rucksack, matches, tarp and knife you would be well set up for a short to medium term stay with a good dose of knowledge of how to use these items and being able to compliment them with finding resources in the woods.
Mr Canterbury’s 5 C’s may be met in a more emergency or primitive skills scenario perhaps by fashioning 5m of nettle cordage, an improvised pack frame or woven burden basket, a bow drill or hand drill set, a simple debris shelter and a not so simple bi-facially flaked flint knife.
I’ve always found a combination of both approaches the most satisfying when spending time in the woods: go prepared with your essentials well thought out and ready packed but train yourself to improvise alternatives or make do without should you need to – carrying out this training in the safety and knowledge that your modern kit is on stand by should your debris shelter not quite perform on the 1st night in a deluge is a great way to boost skills and confidence.
Today is a blog day, that means being indoors for a change and today my indoor space is the Bedford world of bushcraft! Looking around there are plenty of items I would LOVE to have in my rucksack but only a few I regularly rely on for my comfort and well-being either in the woods at home or further afield on expeditions.
So if I was ‘bugging out’ of Bedford right now and heading for the woods my must have items from our well-stocked shelves are as follows:
A razor sharp reliable knife – here a Mora basic blade capable of anything from splitting wood to fine wood shavings for fire lighting and all manner of crafts and game preparation. Many argue the most important piece of bush equipment – note the bright red handle, if it’s that important you’ll want to find it should you drop it.
A light weight, compact, water proof tarp – DD make all manner of shapes and sizes but a good all rounder for sheltering just myself or a small group is 3×3 metres. Plenty of attachment points makes this piece of kit very versatile in how it is rigged and for what. More imaginatively these tarps can act as rain traps to help meet your hydration in an emergency or even get you out of dodge by being incorporated into a basha boat!
My favourite colour. Enough has been written over the years on the wonder material para cord. Spend a few days in the woods and see if you don’t need to lash something together – when you do that lashing ask yourself how important it is that it holds unquestionably together without breaking – better take some paracord.
Being snuggy and getting enough sleep I feel just isn’t driven home enough in alot of the contemporary literature. Anything you can do to get yourself a comfortable 8 hours or smaller blocks of the equivalent within a 24 hour period will dramatically improve your health and psychology towards coping with an emergency scenario or enjoying time spent in the woods. Buy the best you can possibly afford in a sleeping bag and ground mat, you will never regret it when your sleeping in it!
Something to carry all your kit in. Lots to say about packs and best saved for more in-depth blogs/ articles suffice to say it needs to be comfortable on the back and suited to task (the golden theme of kit choice!). Are you carrying everything every day from one camp to another down the trail? Are you set up from a base camp and only undertaking day hikes and satellite tours?
Generally in the UK woods my pack is nothing more than 30litres as my big bulky sleeping kit is set and waiting for me. Out on the multi-day mountain trail generally it has to be lighter weight items of sleeping gear or on expeditions packed into the canoe/ loaded onto the toboggan where different packs and gear storage become possible.
The trusty fire steel. Again plenty written here on the all round great performance of these indispensable pieces of fire lighting equipment. Along with my knife this particular item is physically attached to me via a lanyard. The greater the need of fire the harder it is going to be in reality to get one started – practising in all weathers with the fire steel shows you just how reliable they are when compared next to matches and lighters.
A stainless steel cooking pot. The luxury of containing and cooking food is not missed until you don’t have a vessel like this to make your meals. Without one you are back to cooking in, on and under the camp fire – a great skill set to learn but often time-consuming and prone to disaster for the inattentive! A pan of around 2l capacity with a bail arm to hang it over your fire will easily purify your minimum daily water needs and do all your cooking releasing valuable calories from otherwise unappealing food stuffs.
Finally a solid construction water bottle. This design in theory could replace the above pan as it is stainless steel and could be put into the fire to cook and boil inside in an emergency. Having a dependable way of storing water once purified rates as extremely high on my list of must haves. I have broken too many other designs of water container that I wont buy anything with bits to fall off, break or go wrong unless it is possible to improvise a repair with a knife string and what I can find in the woods.
In summary this is simply a personal list of the bare essentials I always have or would look to establish if I was preparing to head out to the woods. To me kit is a tiny part of what bushcraft should be about and I find nothing more satisfying than either learning to do without modern equipment or making my own equipment and clothing to use out in the woods.
Always there will be differences of opinion on what is the best type of this or the most useful one of these but always bring it back to what are your basic needs, what items help you meet them, are they fit for purpose or prone to breaking/ malfunction? If you can transport your kit, sleep warm and dry, light a fire, find and purify water, cook food and shape/ bind materials then you have it made.
Lastly, it is worth looking at what these very minimal pieces of kit help you achieve and realising that the physical items themselves are only a tiny part of the picture. Surely the underlying message and true nature of bushcraft is the knowledge and acquired skill of USING equipment in combination with natural materials to achieve comfort and safety in the outdoors.