Getting Started with Bushcraft: Debunking the Kit Myth

by Paul Kirtley

Bahco Laplander, Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel and Mora Companion Knife

Equipment. Not bushcraft equipment. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

There’s no such thing as bushcraft equipment.

There’s bushcraft.

And there’s equipment.

At the heart of bushcraft is a study of nature and the resources she can provide.

Some resources are obvious and don’t take much skill or knowledge to access; making the most of other resources requires a large knowledge (e.g. fungi) or a high level of skill (e.g. building a birch bark canoe).

And there is much to learn in between.

Given the breadth and depth of the subjects encompassed by bushcraft, it can be a little overwhelming to begin learning some of the techniques.

Where do I start with Bushcraft?

The best place to start is at the beginning.

The most important outdoor skill is fire-lighting. Start there. Learn the basics and build on them.

In learning to light fires well you will also learn to identify many tree species and their specific burning properties. You will learn which fungi, plants and trees provide good tinder and kindling. Some of the techniques such as feathersticks (done well) also require good carving skills.

Most people who are interested in bushcraft don’t spend enough time on their fire-lighting skills.

You could spend years refining your fire skills. Don’t be in a hurry.

All the gear and no idea

There is a lot of paraphernalia associated with bushcraft these days. Most of it is unnecessary. Much of it is glorified camping equipment.

As your bushcraft gains in strength, you’ll need less and less kit. Not more and more.

Those, such as the Hadza, who are truly skilled in their bushcraft, own virtually nothing. They use cheap knives that a typical “bushcrafter” would be embarrassed to have on their belt. Yet the Hadza’s skill is consummate; the steel composition or whether the blade has a “Scandi grind” is completely unimportant.

Hadza in the Tanzanian bush

The Hadza live day to day through their knowledge of bushcraft. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

If you are a beginner, don’t be put off. Think more like the Hadza and less like a bushcraft shopping channel addict.

What do you need to get started with Bushcraft?

If you ever go outdoors, then you probably already have some clothes. You may even have a waterproof jacket. If so, then you are already equipped for a day in the woods.

If you want to stay a little longer then, as a beginner, you might need a few extra things.

When I was a kid, all you needed to sleep out in the woods was some basic camping equipment – in my case a cheap 2-man tent (for 3 of us), a rubbish sleeping bag I found in the cupboard, a tin of beans, a bottle of water and a box of matches. Since then, the woods haven’t changed. So this is still pretty much all you need. It’s nothing specific to bushcraft either. It certainly doesn’t need to cost much.

In learning bushcraft, what’s most important is a keen interest in nature. This doesn’t cost anything.

What about a knife?

Many of the techniques of bushcraft are made easier by having a basic cutting tool. Just like the Hadza, it’s worth having a cheap yet durable knife. Mora make a range of knives that fit the bill.

Mora companion knife

Mora make a range of inexpensive, durable knives. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

You can get by with just a knife but, as a beginner, a durable little pruning saw can be helpful until your develop a full range of knife techniques. A small saw will always make some jobs easier than they are with a knife; it will also make some of them safer.

Bahco Laplander saw

A folding pruning saw such as the ubiquitous Laplander is a useful tool. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Work on your bushcraft skills, not bushcraft kit

Lighting fires with a small flame is a valuable skill. Practice with matches. Practice in the rain.

Then progress on to lighting natural materials with sparks. This will allow you to explore which materials will accept a spark, which will burst into flame and which will only smoulder. Then you’ll have to learn how to take the smouldering materials to a flame using other natural materials that are available.

Always be broadening the means by which you can achieve a flame. This will feed into the work you did with matches.

To start down this path, invest in a Swedish Firesteel. This will light the widest range of materials of any sparking device. Work on your material preparation and technique.

Light My Fire Swedish Fireflash

Swedish Fireflash and striker. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

A long and fulfilling road

Bushcraft isn’t about collecting kit. Learning bushcraft is about attaining knowledge and actively gaining skills.

If you exploit the full potential of the three items above in the pursuit of learning bushcraft skills, you’ll be busy for a long time to come. Your bank balance will be much healthier and your bushcraft skill level much higher.

Less is indeed more.

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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog as well as for various publications including Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine.


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