Starting Out In Bushcraft

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A simple pouch setup for casual trips

BUSHCRAFT - a valuable life skills activity with start-up costs as little or as large as you wish.

The Kit List Headache:
Creating a starter kit package is probably the biggest headache for the novice. It's a chicken and egg situation: you need some practised knowledge before you'll have a good idea of what you really need!
Bushcraft is KNOWLEDGE based - NOT kit based. You need only a few simple tools and these will vary according to your knowledge, skills, the environment and the climate. As your confidence, knowledge and skills increase, the kit carried can decrease.
Many go the route of mistakenly relying totally on a pre-constructed tobacco tin "survival kit", thinking that'll do the job, others may buy the latest shiney gadgets, thinking that these shall fast track them to success.
Such shortcuts can lead to frustration and disappointment - then the kit is put aside, largely forgotten, and/or enthusiasm for bushcraft peters out.
There's no fixed kit list as such and for numerous reasons. By the time you read down to my kit list (at the bottom), you should have an idea of what are your needs and how best to start out. Keeping these in mind when you're bushcrafting will help you evolve your kit towards what works best for you.

Beware Of Branded Kit!
There is no shortage of celebrity endorsed products. Some TV experts are exactly that - expert. But there are also very prominent showmen on TV cashing in on their name. Most of their products I personally wouldn't touch: the best kit sells itself by proven reputation and certainly doesn't need promotion from a sensationalist.
My advice is to start small and build on experience, expertise, clothing and kit. Don't start with a shopping list of branded goods. Instead, start with whatever's to hand. Have a look at what you already have around the home, take it out with you and see how well it works.
Most of these items you'll choose to replace with proper outdoors kit that should be more compact, lighter, tougher and possibly safer to use. It's a good lesson to have to improvise with whatever you already have in the home because:
  • improvisation is an essential skill in bushcraft and wilderness survival.
  • the experience shall also help you understand WHY you make your kit choices, enabling you to better weigh up the pros and cons of your initial kit purchases.

Dave Canterbury's "Five Cs":
The considerations of survival are Fire, Water, Shelter, Food in an order that varies according to circumstances. The US bushcraft expert, Dave Canterbury, has a principle that simplifies what you carry into the wilderness. His "Five Cs":
  1. Cutting: Tools for cutting vary from a folding penknife to saws to axes. Whatever you carry out must be sharp - and you will need to be able to resharpen these on location. (In Britain, you will need to be aware of "Every Day Carry" ("EDC") legal compliance.)
  2. Combusting: Tools for starting a fire vary from matches to lighters and into the prefered lighting methods of the bushcrafter, the ferrocerium rod (aka "Ferro Rod", amongst many names). Dave Canterbury's advice expands to include camping cookers, if necessary. (In Britain, you will need to be aware that you'll need the landowner's permission to make a fire. Fires in areas of natural beauty, commonland, parks, etc, are almost always illegal.)
  3. Cordage: This can vary between twine and rope. So called "paracord" is a popular choice - but most people do NOT seem to know the difference between fancy string and real parachute line. (I shall write a guide on this)
  4. Containing: A receptacle to carry water - and to contain food being cooked.
  5. Covering: A shelter and/or a covering to keep warm. As kit, this translates as anything between a large sheet of polythene and a tent. As for a covering, this can translate as a blanket or sleeping bag. A single, well-chosen item can actually serve both purposes but this method is best left to those with experience and conditioning.
On top of these, you will need "comfort" items as well as items to safeguard yourself and enhance the experience, etc.

Kit List:
First, I'll cover bushcraft kit in it's basic essentials. After that, a kit list to support bushcraft activity.
Bushcraft Kit List: So let's put Canterbury's principles into use!
  1. Cutting: A Swiss Army Knife (made by either "Wenger" or "Victorinox") is a sound choice for general outdoors activities - but you'll be far better off with a larger bladed lock knife or fixed blade knife. Both "Opinel" and "Frost" (respectively) make very decent, inexpensive knives. I complement either of these with a cheap folding  garden saw bought from a shop like "99p Store", "Lidl" or "Aldi". If you have nothing, you'll need to knap flint. [Household item: small kitchen knife, if it's not too flexible.]
  2. Combusting: Start out with matches carried in a waterproof container - you'll need to carry the striker in a way that the matches won't strike by themselves. There are some inexpensive ferro rods available on eBay. I've not tried them all. "BCB" make an excellent one - but there are many decent, bargain priced versions that work well enough. If you have nothing, there are numerous ways of making fire - but don't expect it to be at all easy! [Household item: matches/lighter.]
  3. Cordage: I'd recommend carrying 30 metres of polyester twine wrapped around a plastic card: it's dirt cheap, compact, indispensable and consumable. If you can get a length or two of real parachute line, you should avoid cutting it or removing strands: it's a potential lifesaver as is. If you have nothing, you'll have to make "withy" type cordage from thin willow branches, brambles, etc, or plait grasses. Natural fibres made in this way are extremely difficult to use in a firebow. [Household item: twine or string.]
  4. Containing: Two items immediately spring to mind: a British 1958 Pattern waterbottle and a 1944 or 1995 Pattern mug. The bottle nests into the mug. If you use a metal waterbottle, you can boil water in it - but you can't cook in one. In the pouch setup I used to illustrate this guide, I have a military mess tin and Swedish folding cup. There are many products out there, most with their benefits. If you have nothing, you're going to struggle. If you know what you're doing, you can make a birch bark container. I've seen Les Stroud use a large sea shell in which to boil water, but finding such a container naturally in the UK - especially inland - is no mean feat! [Household item: drinks bottle & small kitchen pot or large tin can.]
  5. Covering: These days, that'll tend to mean a shelter sheet and sleeping bag. The British 1990, 1995, 2008 & 2014 Patterns shelter sheets are the best of the less expensive shelter sheets to buy and these are always available on eBay (The different patterns relate to colour/camouflage scheme). The 1990 Pattern sleeping bag is excellent in winter - but seriously bulky. During my military service, I often used my issued British 1990 Pattern sleeping bag cover (aka "bivouac bag" or "bivvy bag") combined with issue Arctic trousers liners and my "Buffalo Mountain Shirt" - no shelter sheet or sleeping bag. If you have nothing and can't find basic shelter, you can use bracken or tree branches for shelter and leaved, soft branches or grasses for bedding - amongst many other methods. In Britain, employing these methods is usually damaging to environmental resources so is best avoided.  [Household items: tarpaulin, wool blanket, duvet.]

Bushcraft Support Kit: The above list are bushcraft essentials. You'll need other items of kit, some essential to wellbeing, some that may not be so necessary. The following is meant as a guide only:
  • Any required medication
  • Rucksack
  • Water
  • Food
  • Whistle
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cellphone
  • Map & Compass
  • Books: bushcraft manuals, plant/tree guides
  • Notebook and Pencil
  • Torch
  • Knife, Fork, Spoon & Can Opener
  • Spare Warm Clothing
  • Toilet Paper!
Even if your rucksack is made from waterproof material, you should keep items in separate waterproof bags, preferably in a large waterproof bag lining the rucksack.

The Airborne Womble
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Chilling out with very basic kit

About The Author

Having had a strong interest in outdoor pursuits from school age, the author has been involved in bushcraft as an activity over several decades. These days, he constructs bespoke survival kits for individuals and groups.
He is currently consulting former colleagues to organise an informal bushcraft club based in SW London. At present, the idea is in it's very early stages so watch this space.
He also researches, collects and restores British soldier delivery parachutes for collection/prop/display purposes. He is always seeking parachute hardware and components for this purpose as well as for the purpose of rigging bespoke bushcraft equipment. He has previous parachuting experience, both static line and freefall.
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