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.

What do you think? Leave a comment…

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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.

 

{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

Windy

Unfortunately ‘kit’ n ‘stuff’ are synonymous with our consumer society. The accumulation of ‘stuff’ then hides the wood from the trees and the true essence of the outdoors is missed.

Its quite sad really.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jrlsf/Surviving_Progress/

Everyone reading Paul’s blog should have a watch of the above. Sit back, have a think.

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Elen Sentier

Too right, Windy :-). Ta for the article.

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Jeremiah Bess

You have captured how simple Bushcraft really is, and how bloated is can easily become. I have the philosophy that Bushcraft is more knowledge and skill, than what you carry in your bag. Dave Canterbury said it best that you want to bring things into the woods that are hard to replicate. He didn’t say impossible, he said hard. Having a great and cheap knife like the Mora allows you to focus on other skills, rather than flint knapping a new knife every time you go out.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jeremiah,

I like your use of the word bloated; very apt.

I think Dave Canterbury’s point about taking what is hard to replicate is a very good one and worth bearing in mind.

All the best,

Paul

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David Atreides

My view on bushcraft. Bushcraft – Knowledge is far more heavier than the pack on your back. Well said paul..

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Barry

Paul, Well done for an simple but important article.

Its easy to believe that you need loads of kit and its nice to see an article showing people you dont. Passion and practice…

Baz

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Baz. I want to encourage as many people as possible to gain bushcraft and related outdoor skills. I’m sure some people are put off by a perception that lots of specialist kit is required.

Cheers,

Paul

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Paul Shakesby

This sums up all of our experiences over the last few days, and for those who haven’t gone on a course with Paul, i cannot recommend it highly enough.
Each skill begins basic, but the course is cleverly layered so on the last day all of your skills come together.
It is nothing to do with kit!! The best advice would be to save that money and spend it on a frontier bushcraft course!

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Paul Kirtley

Well said Paul! :)

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Par

I was reading Calvin Rutstrums “The Wilderness Life” the other day. In there (in the chapter “The Wilderness Indian”) he mentions meeting up with a Cree familly. At night he mentions his top notch gear (eiderdown sleeping robe, airmattress, superlight cotton tent, all bought at considerable expense) and compares it to their kit (crude canvas tent, balsam bough bedding, rabbitskin robes) and comes to the conclusion that he is no more comfortable than they are, perhaps even less.

And I notice the same thing: I love my mosquito proof hammock and sleeping bag for the comfort, but there is actually more convenience, in a strange way, in wandering the summer woods with just a capote, cookpot and knife. Less kit to carry, less stuff, just me and the woods.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Par,

Thanks for sharing a really nice comment. It made me smile :)

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Mark H

Thank you Paul….
The knowledge and skills taught by Paul are far more valuable than any piece of kit. Paul really brought home the message for me ,which is contained in this simple statement..”I learned how much of what we think to be necessary is superfluous. I learned how few things are essential and how essential those few things really are” (Bernard Ferguson).
Great blog,

Best
Mark

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Mark,

Thanks and it’s nice to see you carrying forward this philosophy with Countrylore.

All the best,

Paul

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elen sentier

What is really important needs to be carried in your head :-). I’ve got some of it but want much more. And I want to get the eye, the ability to see and know what is around me and what is useful. Looking fwd to this getting better and better, you never stop learning.

Elen

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Paul Kirtley

Very true Elen – you never stop learning. I’m also amazed at the amount of useful information we can get into our heads if we really try. And when we do and it sticks, it’s there whenever we need it….

All the best,

Paul

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Terry Halls

Absolutely true! Since childhood, I have been put off getting involved in many hobbies and sports because of the need for (or perceived need for) expensive kit. Having no money has helped me to not fall into that trap with bushcraft, and i find that it becomes more rewarding as I go along. I am currently making a spoon knife from an old kitchen devil….!

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Paul Kirtley

That sounds like a great little project Terry. Are you keeping the original handle or creating a new one? I’d love to see a photo of the finished article…

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scott

Another top article,thanks…you cannot substitute knowledge for kit.

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Scott!

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Richard

Great article, clearly written – as ever. Knowledge is certainly the most useful thing that we carry, particularly as it weighs nothing. Any kit that we use is only there to make us a little more comfortable; we don’t actually ‘need’ it but it can ensure a good night’s sleep, a fire, ready shelter and safe drinking water with greater ease.

I was interested in your view on the ubiquitous Mora knife. I agree: they are superb and great value. Does make you wonder why there are folk who are prepared to pay hundreds for a similar tool, hand-made by Raven Armoury…!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your comment and the thought-provoking points it contains.

You make the valid observation that additional kit makes us more comfortable/safe. While I’m arguing for simplicity, the point of the article wasn’t to suggest beginners camp out in the woods with only the featured items. It was more that, over and above what most people already have (some reasonably robust clothes), all which is required to start working on specific bushcraft skills are the items in the article. I think you understand where I was coming from but I just wanted to follow on from the first paragraph of your comment so this is completely clear for anyone else reading.

As for the seeming inconsistency of my comments about Mora knives in the light of my design – and use- of the Raven PK1 :), it largely comes down to a consideration of what is necessary and what is sufficient under different circumstances.

An argument I often see amongst bushcraft enthusiasts is that best value means best. This isn’t necessarily so. It depends on how much you have to rely on something (your life?) and for what duration without the opportunity for replacement.

The Mora Companion knife is a great knife to learn with under fairly domestic circumstances but I wouldn’t recommend someone heads off into the wilds with one as their sole cutting tool. In my eyes they are too easy to break to be a reliable wilderness bushcraft knife. I’ve handed out hundreds and hundreds of these knives to students and I’ve seen many ways in which they can be broken. The main weakness is caused by the short tang. This combined with a plastic handle makes them vulnerable to damage. A full-tang knife is much more robust. Better still a full-tang knife with a blade that is at least 4mm thick will be virtually bomb-proof.

Mora knives of this design can fail while batoning even moderately-sized wood. Only last week did I snap the tang of one of my students knives while trying to baton it through a piece of wood in which they had got it stuck. Mora’s response to this weakness is that the knife is not designed for batoning. Fair enough. But batoning is an extremely useful technique if you don’t have an axe. A knife for wilderness use should be strong enough to withstand this technique. On a course I can get another one out of the box in stores. In the wilds of Canada, I can’t.

For most people beginning to learn bushcraft skills, particularly in the UK, they will not be anywhere remote. At Frontier we are clear that we are training people in wilderness skills. This informs what we teach and how we teach it, including thinking hard about what equipment they choose for different levels of remoteness. It doesn’t mean we can’t train with a Mora knife though.

A robust knife need not cost what a Raven PK1 does. Once you get past basic material costs, what you are paying for with any hand-made item is craftsmanship, experience and time. The man-hours that go into a hand-made knife make them very good value compared to paying for the time of, say, a lawyer or an accountant!

I find pens a useful analogy for knives – you can spend pence on a Bic, and this will probably do most of us most of the time. You can probably have a better writing experience, and possibly neater hand-writing on that special card or letter with a (still mass-produced) Parker pen. Some, however, will want to buy a Montblanc for the materials and craftsmanship. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. You’ll get 90% of the improvement with Parker.

All the best,

Paul

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Par

I am of two minds when it comes to the “batoning level knife”. I have one — a custom job by a semi-renoved maker — but I also have everything from a yard sale wooden handled Mora (SEK 10, less than a pound) to handmade Sami antler-knives (still with Mora blades in at least one case…). The heavy duty knife is more durable, but not at all as nice a working blade for all other tasks as any of the others (ok, the drop point makes it a better skinning knife). Basically the question in my mind is “what do I loose when I pick a knife that is designed to do take over tasks that properly belong to the axe?”. I have no final answer…

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Par

But I agree about the plastic Moras, the wooden handled ones with a full tang are better.

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Paul Kirtley

That’s a very good question Par. :)

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Par

Ahh, so you don’t know either. :-)

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Paul Kirtley

haha maybe not :) But I do know it’s easier to keep a knife on my person at all times than it is to keep an axe on me at all times. So, when I’m a long way from home, I like my knife to be robust. If weight allows though, and I think I’ll have time for some craftwork, I might also take a little carving knife in my kit too.

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Richard Tiley

Your arguments for both the Mora and for the Raven PK-1 are succinctly and fully explained. There was a certain amount of my tongue firmly in my cheek when I posted the comment and it was a real pleasure to see it answered in such a level-headed manner – thank you for that. In the meantime, I am still waiting for Simon to finish off my PK-1 so that I can get to grips with this wonderfully designed and made cutting tool!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Richard,

Ah-ha! Well I recognised your tongue was in cheek but I didn’t realise quite how far :)

Please do let me know how you get on with your PK1.

All the best,

Paul

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Julian

I agree keep it small & simple, I’ve even used the my own boot laces instead of strong cord before now, you don’t have to carry the kitchen sink when enjoying bushcraft in the wilds.

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Paul Kirtley

Boot laces are an often overlooked resource. I replace mine with paracord.

I think keeping things simple is part of the knack of enjoying the wilds.

All the best,

Paul

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Chris Allen

Its a sad fact that so many taking up bushcraft these days are getting the wrong message when they first venture out of their cosy homes, too much emphasis on how big their knives are, what toys they have in their sacks. They forget, or rather they are not aware of the bigger picture. For me its a journey into our primitive beginnings, I think its important to remember that. The thirst for knowledge will never be sated.

Another great article, as always, a refreshing approach. Thankyou.

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Paul Kirtley

Knowledge is truly king (and queen). You realise this when you meet people who are able to live by knowledge and little else.

Thanks for your comment Chris.

All the best,

Paul

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Dean

Hi Paul,
I agree with everything you say. The saying ‘All the gear and no idea’ seems to sum up around 90% of all bushcrafters you meet, some have spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds on gear but ask them to make and light a fire and… You could also apply this to most sports and hobbies nowadays, it seems the need for more and more gear becomes the main focus and nothing much else. It’s just a sad reflection of our far to materialistic society we all now live in.
All the best and kindest regards
Dean

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dean,

We do indeed seem to have been very conditioned into thinking that we can buy our way into a skill level. We see it everyday in advertising – for example, want to play (enter sport of your choice) as well as the pros? Buy these trainers/shoes/boots….

What got most of the pros good was a lot of very hard work.

Same with most physical skills – you get out what you put in.

All the best,

Paul

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danny

thanks for another great article paul.ive always been of the opinion that material possessions once purchased own you rather than the other way round.what always drew me to the woods is the freedom of its inhabitants and the dream that someday i could be as comfortable as them with what nature provides,while im a long way from that goal its clear that all you really need is to be taught how, just as young animals are taught and then the determination through practice to succeed in each of the skills . material possessions are my crutch at the moment but hopefully someday ill be confident enough to throw that too away.thanks again paul for this and all the other fantastic guides. danny

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Paul Kirtley

My pleasure Danny :)

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Elen Sentier

I so agree, Danny :-), particularly that it’s so easy to allow possessions to own you rather than you own them. Choice and learning to choose is what we all need. Gaining skills shows you how to do this.

There’s a lovely story about the famous pianist Alfred Cortot. One of his students came to him for the first time and noticed he just had this apparently beat-up old piano. The student (now another famous pianist) thought, “Poor old man, he must be poor”. Cortot asked the student to play for him so the sutdent, unhappily, did his best on the beat-up old piano. When he’d done, Cortot sat down at the piano and played. The student realised immediately just how much he had to learn as the sweet and beautiful music flowed out of the old piano under Cortot’s skillful hands !

Bushcraft is like that, as I see when I’m fortunate enough to go out with skillful folk like Paul … it’s the skills I need not the flashy kit *g*.

Elen

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Paul Shakesby

Not to be controversial, but in terms of the “all the gear, no idea!” I do wonder sometimes
If having everything in one place in the “woodlore” shop helps.
As I said in an earlier post, you would be better saving your kit
Money and spending it on a course!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Paul,

I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial point :) I think the ease of purchase of kit is a double-edged sword. While it’s true that browsing for kit is easier than working on skills (both in terms of available time and effort required – a point Stu made elsewhere in this thread), it’s also true that much of what is for sale in mainstream high-street outdoors shops in the UK cater for a very narrow range of outdoor activities. When I travel it’s interesting to see how different it is in other countries – knives, stoves, tents, jackets, canoes, fishing rods, skis, shotguns, etc can all be found under one roof.

It was once the case (10 or more years ago) that UK bushcraft schools supplied a limited range items (such as those featured in the article above) that were otherwise hard to find. They were outfitting their students with kit necessary for the skills they were teaching. This is no longer the case.

It is interesting that people will less readily part with their hard-earned for quality training than they will for quality kit. The skills will always outlast the equipment. In fact while your kit will deteriorate quickly the more you use it, your skills strengthen the more you use them…

All the best,

Paul

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Dave Gregory

Good knife, a way to start a fire & the knowledge to use it is all you need!
Respect to all the followers! :-)

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Dave! :)

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Adrian

A knife is an inverse extension of your psyche.
A big, expensive, ‘Rambo’ knife shows that the person wielding it is trying to compensate for lack of knowledge on how to cut with a small knife.
Small knife, small folding saw and axe, tarp, cooking pot, mug, string, rucsac and your clothes… you only need something to sleep in if you’re staying out overnight.
Great article.

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Paul Kirtley

Interesting point about the knife. I’d not thought of it that way before.

The article above wasn’t about camping kit but minimal kit to get started with training in bushcraft skills. You seem to have the wider kit down to the bare essentials and, particularly in the context of the article, you’re right to make the distinction about whether you are staying out.

Thanks for your comment,

Paul

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Andrew. Ellison

I echo all the opinions in this great article.Sometimes we all get lost in the bushraft consumerism
and forget what is was and should be that keeps us transfixed when in the woods.
The sights, sounds and smells that transport resonate deep within us. Still, I do admire that
new knife though.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Andrew,

I think we can appreciate the beauty of nature and of hand-crafted workmanship :)

All the best,

Paul

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MIchael Portis

First I am afraid I must partially disagree with the comment of a large knife being an extension of the psyche.A knife is a tool, whether small or large.Depending on design a large knife can be versatile with several different cutting areas for different tasks,but still a tool.
The one item that is necessary and should be carried by anyone is an OPEN MIND.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Michael,

Good to hear from you and thanks for your comment.

Yep being open minded and flexible is a key skill, particularly in a survival situation. And the best knife in a survival situation is the one you’ve got :)

All the best,

Paul

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Stu B Adger

What a sobering article. Like the back to basics approach. It is easy to get lost in the quest for more gear, even when aware that the aim is to have greater knowledge and skill.

Of course, skill and knowledge take time and effort to grow, whereas it is so easy to browse and buy.

Save your money for face to face learning, I say. Learn from someone with the skills and the ability to teach.

Pleased to say that my firesteel, axe and knife came in handy camping recently. Furthermore I had more time to practice those skills. Making time for these skills is my biggest challenge!

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Paul Kirtley

Wise words there Stu

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John Swarbrick

You mean I don’t need my: Blow Poker, Ventile poncho, Leather Trimmed Sabre 45 or any of the other ‘Essential Bushcraft’ kit I’ve got ?????

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Paul Kirtley
Adrian White

I entirely agree with this article. Having “kit “may make things a bit quicker or easier; having a stove is a necessity if you are somewhere that fires are prohibited, but a good solid grounding and practise (in which I for one am woefully deficient) in the basics of fire, water and shelter – together with observation, are what gets you through, and helps you to be comfortable in your surroundings.

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Adrian. The more highly trained/skillful you are, the more you can cope with. For example, what for one person is a slightly tricky fire-lighting exercise in the rain at the end of a tiring day’s canoeing, is another person’s survival situation.

All the best,

Paul

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Steve Bayley

Lets just spare a moment to look back through Paul’s Blog. There are plenty of articles about choosing good kit and appropriate clothing to be found there. Whilst I agree that Bushcraft isn’t all about kit, the right kit makes life easier. I don’t think anyone regularly goes out to be uncomfortable or equipped in such a way to put themselves at risk. Going out with a minimum of kit is liberating and can be testing but there isn’t a right way and a wrong way to experience the natural world. There are techniques that work and some that are more reliable or efficient than others. Some techniques don’t work or have a negative environmental impact. I think that with this article Paul is trying to point out that knowledge and understanding are the key and that an open and enquiring mind is more important than kit. The keep it simple mantra is a good one as poor kit can lead to problems that at best get in the way, spoiling a hiking trip or leading to missing a mountain top objective for example. At worst shoddy kit can precipitate an accident that can turn a weekend trip into a survival situation. The same goes for techniques and knowledge; consider the implications of misidentifying a poisonous plant for an edible one. Or making a navigational error leading to a fall or having to risk a dangerous river crossing. Good kit is important. Knowledge is important. But you don’t need to have the very best or most expensive kit in order to learn useful skills, be able to identify trees and plants or enjoy watching animals and birds in the wild. To my mind getting the balance right is the real trick. I think that’s an important part of what Paul and his fellow instructors at Frontier Bushcraft can teach us.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve,

Good points and very well made :)

For the sake of clarity but being in danger of repeating what you’ve already said Steve, I wasn’t suggesting beginners head out into the woods for a camping trip with only these items.

Training in bushcraft skills doesn’t necessarily require the participants to sleep out. Nor does camping out necessarily mean you are practicing bushcraft skills. The two are separate but related considerations.

The article covers what I think people need to start practicing bushcraft skills. Without them, they would find it very difficult.

All the best,

Paul

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Dave

Great Artical Paul, it really is this simple as far as Tools go. Cheers

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Paul Kirtley

Cheers Dave! :)

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phil pemberton

A really interesting read Paul,and one that is very true.I always found it amazing when clients turned up on courses,loaded down with shiney things,their rucksacks bulging.By the end of the week, they saw the woods and outdoors with new eyes, and realised that they didnt need reams of kit,but the knowlege and skills they carried in their heads and hands.My saying is travel light,travel far.

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Paul Kirtley

You’ve hit the nail on the head there Phil. Seeing nature with new eyes is at the centre of what we try to do with our teaching.

All the best,

Paul

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Paul Shakesby

Well said Phil

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Paul Kirtley

Indeed :)

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Dave Gunn

Your wrong about fire being number one. Shelter is always number one. After medical probles.

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Paul Kirtley

Dave,

Thanks for your comment (albeit somewhat blunt).

I suggest, however, that you re-read the article.

It isn’t about priorities in survival situations (I’ve written plenty about that). The aim of the article is to encourage people to practise bushcraft skills without getting caught up in kit fetishism.

If it covers any prioritisation, it covers which skills to prioritise in training.

Fire takes longer and more practice to master than shelter. Hence it is a priority in training.

Paul

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David Turner

I always find it funny when those entrenched in bushcraft talk about equipment. I’m very much a beginner and only dabble in it, but it seems that the essence of bushcraft is doing everything you can without any gear other than what nature can provide. I’m hoping to start blogging more about bushcraft on my oen site as I learn more. The older I get the more intrigued I am that here we are in our current culture with so much dependence on modern technologies when people lived fine for thousands of years without most of the conveniences we take for granted in our modern era. Great thoughts!

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Will

I would say that it comes from the thinking of the USA idea of prepping. For some it is all about having this tool for this job and that tool for that job. Some will even say you need this gun for this action and this gun for that. For a zombie hoard attacking a shotgun and samurai sword.

My view? Nope. If you need to have all of the latest kit then go “glamping”. Case in point is this youtube clip on lightweight backpacking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqoEJGSUyEM

Either way a tarp wrapping your kit up and slung over your back is better than a 85L backpack and tiring yourself out in the process.

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Midge_fodder

The average person doesn’t go on a polar expedition for the weekend, nor do they ever get enough time of work for a 2 day camp a few miles from home. Yet the average person will still think that a 60-70l Bergen is needed for a 12hrs in the woods. I have been working with the idea that a small backpack I can put an extra layer, a few odds and ends and my lunch/flask in is ideal, and yeah it works. I have been known to take a tarp if the weather looks grim, but that just saves me building a Bivvy. Frankly I’d rather be collecting firewood and tinder, and then working on my carving skills making my 50th net needle (which is important as a skill). OK with experience I have upgraded my knives a bit and have made my own with a very nice blade that suits the way I work with it (heavier works for me better oddly), but that is a treat and not really essential to what I do. Skills, patience, practice and knowledge are the foundations of Bushcraft. We should try to obtain these tools instead of the ones that can be bought.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi there,

Thanks for your comment. It’s good to hear from someone else who values their skills over their kit. I particularly like

“Skills, patience, practice and knowledge are the foundations of Bushcraft. We should try to obtain these tools instead of the ones that can be bought.”

All the best,

Paul

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DaveBromley

Hi Guys

I am a big supporter of the less is more principle, and on hot summer nights (not very frequent in Manchester, unfortunately) I have been out with nothing more than the clothes on my back and a decent blade.

However to be able to enjoy all seasons in this wonderful country of ours i would suggest 2 additions to the kit mentioned above.

1. decent sleeping bag, my preference is for a synthetic bag that stays warm(er) when wet.
2. small basha/tarp

with these 2 additions you can prolong a stay in the woods from a 1 nighter to a couple of days quite comfortably.

I know i’m going to get slated for adding more kit but i really do think that a certain level of comfort is essential, after all we do this for enjoyment (don’t we?) and being cold and miserable isn’t what i signed on for!

like i said above there are seasons where minimal kit can be used comfortably making use of natural shelters and fires etc. but from someone who has to do a fair bit of stealth camping due to lack of permissions these extra 2 bits of kit can extend the times of the year you go cmping massively.

just my 2 cents

Dave

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your comments.

I don’t think you should be slated for adding more kit! I think the point you make is a valid one and the equipment you suggest is a good addition to the items covered in the article for people wanting to stay out longer.

Just to be clear – I wasn’t suggesting beginners head out into the woods for a camping trip with only these items.

The aim of the article was to cover what I think people need to start practicing bushcraft skills. Without them, they would find it very difficult.

Just as I didn’t cover clothing or footwear, I didn’t cover any additional kit for camping out if that’s what people want to do.

Training in bushcraft skills doesn’t necessarily require the participants to sleep out, although it’s one of the joys of being out in the woods – I always feel short-changed if I can only spend the day out in the woods and go home when it gets dark. But camping and bushcraft are separate considerations, albeit linked: Just as training in bushcraft skills doesn’t require the participants to sleep out, camping out doesn’t necessarily mean you are practicing bushcraft skills.

For people interested in what else might be useful for staying out for longer periods of time and for different budget levels, I’d recommend the following articles:

http://paulkirtley.co.uk/2011/bushcraft-tarp-in-your-day-pack/

http://frontierbushcraft.com/2012/07/06/bushcraft-on-a-budget-kit/

http://paulkirtley.co.uk/2011/bushcraft-camping-equipment/

All the best,

Paul

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Elen Sentier

Paul you had me grinning with joy from the beginning. It’s soooo true and we desperately need to stop being gear-fanatics – in every walk of life. What’s in your head will last far longer than what’s on your back and you’re unlikely to leave home without it *g*.
ATB
Elen

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Paul Kirtley

Glad you enjoyed it Elen ;)

All the best,

Paul

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will Northcote

Sleeping under a tarp in summer can be nice but to truly enjoy a summer camp is to sleep without a tarp over your head.

When I was in Catterick with the Army we had a weekend shooting on the ranges. Most of us just spent a nice summers evening in a field without any cover on the floor as it was a nice early summer night. If you just put out a hammock (like the one you get from DD hammocks in Edinburgh, withthe mesh netting) you can have a decent sleep and wake up looking at the sky. That really is a good way to be out in the open.

Better still use a bivvy bag. The Marines use them as shelters. Case in point is from the youtube channel ColinOutdoors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3MHFSUh6OE By having that low to the ground there is less to be affected by wind. Plus you don’t need to worry about stringing up a poncho/tarp when you just guy out a bag and sleeping bag in hand, crawl in and go to sleep.

If you haven’t tried it, go get one and see what it is like.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Will,

Good to hear from you. Agreed – there’s something special about sleeping out under the stars (and still being able to see them).

Interesting to see the pup tent. Personally I find this style of camping for anything more than a night a bit of a faff these days. I used to make bivvies out of survival bags when I was a teenager and loved the adventure. And before I got hold of a decent light-weight one-man tent, I used to do a lot of solo backpacking in the Highlands with a double-hooped bivi bag.

This bivvy kept my pack weight down as well as allowing me to bed down anywhere there was space for me to lie. I had some great nights camped on my own high up on ridges in Scotland as well as the Lakes. The integral mosquito net was also handy duirng midge season. The downside is that there was nowhere to go when it’s raining or the midges are bad, other than to get in and lie down.

I now have a one-man tent that weighs the same. I can sit up, get changed, read and don’t have to pack everything in the pouring rain. I can also easily stow all of my kit, backpack, wet waterproofs and boots in the vestibule. The tent weighs the same as the double-hooped bivvy bag – 1kg.

That said I still love the freedom of bivvying and would always recommend it to people. I just choose a tent in the hills now when I’m going to be out for more than a night or two.

When I’m running courses in the woods, I use an MOD bivvy like the one in the video, often under a tarp but also out in the open. I don’t bother pegging it out. If it starts to rain, you can pull the drawcord tight around your face. If it’s really wet, you can turn the bivvy around and have the closure flap draped over your head as you lay on your side.

It’s certainly good to know all the possibilities with any type of shelter and, as mentioned in Colin’s video, the pup tent could be good as an emergency shelter.

All the best,

Paul

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Duane Yates

Very well put Paul.
All the fancy kit in the world will get you nowhere if you don’t know how to use it.
One point that seems to have been missed in all the comments is, buying expensive kit is going to be doubly expensive if you don’t know how to use it properly. Because you are going to have to buy it again when you break it. Even a Raven PK1 can be ruined in minutes by someone with no idea how to care for and use a knife correctly.
Start out with the basic kit as Paul has said in the article and build up your knowledge first. That way you can gradualy build up better kit as time goes by and as you learn what you need and what suits you. Its like passing your driving test and going and buying a ferrari, only to find that what you need is an estate car for luggage space or a 4×4 because you visit granny every day and she lives up a dirt track.
There are many different facets to bushcraft, start learning about it first and you will find out what parts of it interest you and which don’t, then you can start thinking of improving your kit accordingly.
Have to say though Paul you have missed one vital bit of very basic kit off the list. A billy can, even if its just a baked been tin with a wire coat hanger handle or a metal cup such as a crusader. When you perfect your first fire you are going to want to make a brew on it at the very least :)
As others have pointed out, get on a course and get the knowledge before you waste a fortune on expensive kit. I can say from personal experience the amount of knowledge you come away with from one of Pauls courses is phenominal.

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Paul Kirtley

Good points, well made Duane.

And how remiss of me – an Englishman who forgets about the need to make tea. I’ll have a word with myself. ;)

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Paul Shakesby

Yes, I remember the filter coffee made by yourself in a billy can! That is the one skill that keeps Mrs Shakesby coming out camping x

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Paul Kirtley

Filter coffee without a filter! Definitely an important campfire skill :)

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Duane Yates

Filter coffee sounds interesting. How do you do that? Come on spill the beans :)

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will Northcote

Take coffee and a filter. :D

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Paul Kirtley

It’s even more simple than that! :)

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Paul Kirtley

Next time I see you Duane. Maybe. :)

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Hans Gidenstam

To be honest one of the best Survival tips i hear heard were: Make yourself a cup of tea!

That makes you stop, look around for the things you need: water, some way to heat the water, a way to drink the tea.
You will also get some other bonus effects;getting a small rest, time to think ,something hot (and hopefully sweet) into you.

Afterwards when you have made your cup of tea, then you might discover that that is not a survival situation anymore.

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Paul Kirtley

A good cuppa is always welcome.

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gordon

another great article
i think there is a link here between bushcraft and survival
it seems to me after several discussions online and with friends most of us get involved in bushcraft with some common reasons the need to get closer to nature,adventure,a test of ones resolve and ability,a link with the past to skills that are being lost and finally a urge to survive hidden in the back of your mind to give yourself an advantage if ever the chips are down a head start.
now this is where i love the content of your site the whole bushcraft on a budget is i think the closest (i hope )most of us will ever come to a survival situation
i have wasted loads of cash in the past on all sorts of stuff i have never needed but my new goal is a £ shop challange,i intend later in the spring to pootle off into the local wild on my trusty moped (very cheap) with a kit purchased entirely from poundland

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Gordon,

Thanks for your comment. I think you are right about the multiple and often intertwined reasons people are interested in bushcraft skills. In some ways I think it just comes down to being a human being. The desire to be able to look after ourselves using natural resources is part of our nature.

I’ll be interested to read about your moped-poundshop challenge :)

All the best,

Paul

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Steve Amos

A man who taught me much said ‘Never replace knowledge with kit’. I haven’t always followed this but I’m trying.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve, that’s a very good motto and an ideal to strive for. Thanks for sharing it.

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Dan

for me the secret is in the name “Bush – Craft” its not wallmart-craft DIY, woodwork, camping, ect.. It may involve parts of all these things along the way, but the more accoutrements you take with you the less bushcraft you are actually doing. Crafting your own flint knife every trip may be a chore but it is valuable bushcraft none-the-less.

As with all things though we all have limitations on what we do, my Gran always told me three things we can never have enough time, money or patience! As I get older I find the need for one often means the sacrifice of another even for bushcraft.

It’s nice to see I’m not the only one needs reminding what its all about, many thanks for the article

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dan,

Great comment. Thank you :)

All the best,

Paul

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John

Agree to a certain extent although trying different things needs some gear and just because people have expensive gear does not always mean the have no idea for example if someone buys a woodlore saw ,which is very expensive , and using it for bushcraft doesn’t mean they are stupid as the may have a log fire at home which requires a big saw to cut large logs the Laplander couldn’t handle.

But that’s only for certain things where I think not price but quality matters where other things are best bought cheap like zebra billy tins only £15 and last pretty much forever

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Marco DL

Now that I am beginning to understand the ethos of bushcraft more each day I couldn’t agree more….I just wish I would have known this a few months ago! In his seminal book “A Journey to the Northern Ocean,” Samuel Hearne says exactly the same thing. If it worked for him in one of the most extreme expeditions ever undertaken, it’s good enough for me. And I have a feeling that back in 1769, on a 4 year expedition into the unknown wilderness of Canada “kit” was just a tad more important than in 21st century Britain!
Cheers Paul, and keep the info coming, it’s of great help.
Ciao, Marco

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Paul Kirtley

Ciao Marco,

It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for your great comment. I think you are right to point out that we should all keep things in perspective – people have undertaken some very tough endeavours with only a fraction of the kit a typical camper packs into a rucksack for a long weekend. Those of us who champion bushcraft must look to our skills and knowledge first and foremost.

Cheers,

Paul

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Cal B

I’ve built up quite a collection of gear over the years and made use of all of it. Some of it expensive and most of it less than £20. Once I became confident enough in the skills that enable me to spend longer than a day away from home I went through a year or so of slowly leaving items in the house. Over time the kit I carried with me dwindled until I carried only my knife, a flint striker and a metal mug. During the warmer months in areas that I am familiar with I thoughtnothing of spending a few nights out nothing more than those three things and I really was comfortable. Most of the time nowadays I venture out with a rucksack with the essentials in and I have a grand old time. But I do still like to sometimes strip it right down again and head out with next to nowt, sensibly of course (mobile phone etc) just to keep my base skill set fresh. Bottom line is, in my very humble opinion, you can have all the kit you want but if you wouldnt consider going out with next to nothing then you don’t need to buy something you need to learn something…….:-)

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Cal,

Thanks for your comment.

“in my very humble opinion, you can have all the kit you want but if you wouldn’t consider going out with next to nothing then you don’t need to buy something you need to learn something…”

Very well phrased. I like it! :)

All the best,

Paul

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Windy

What a cool way if putting it.

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Jimmy

Thank you for the ideas. I’ve often wondered while watching ” you tube” why bushcrafters skip to there gear instead of focusing on the woods with all they offer. Lately, I am more in tune with the resources I find (food, water, fuel and, most importantly, friends). I notice natural shelter, animal tracks, edible plants, sun, wind and rocks. The weather is a hobby of mine, too. We are the bushcrafters and we need to step out away from technology and into the woods.

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Gwyn James

Thanks for being generous with your knowledge! It makes training my scouts and their leaders(especially) much easier.AS many never use any type of tool these days.

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Paul Kirtley

You’re very welcome Gwyn. I’m glad you found this useful.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Stephen Walker

Most thought-provoking, Paul, and some real sense in replies, especially CalB.

Some folk starting up spend a fortune on kit, even multiples of various items, ‘just in case’.
Yet simple and few carefully selected low-budget items will suffice.

Then it’s all about acquiring the knowledge and skills to use them well, so you can ‘smooth it’ rather than ‘roughing it’, working with nature rather than simply surviving.

Elen makes a great point in ‘getting the eye’, what she sees as ‘the ability to see and know what is around me and what is useful’. Achieving this high level of understanding, being ‘in tune’ with nature, will lead to greater knowledge and, ultimately, wisdom!

And practise those things you find most difficult – what Paul (through Ray Mears) calls ‘attacking your weaknesses’.

Enjoying the process, becoming more independent and deriving significant meaning from your adventures will set you up for, should you wish, gradually changing the basic kit you started out with.

When your knowledge & skills and confidence grow, replace the old budget stuff.
Buy the best you can afford, in the knowledge you can use it wisely.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve. Very well put my friend :)

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Rune Bjørnsen

As I see it, kit is what enables me to be out out and do bushcraft. I know I can sleep on the ground, perhaps with a £5 tarp that will do an excellent job of keeping me out of the rain, and even snow. But I prefer to be swinging in a hammock under that tarp. I am not out on a survival excercise when I am out in the woods. Am out there having fun. And I prefer to use my little snow shovel (Essential survival kit where I am from) to dig my self a comfortable seat in the snow to soak up those late march sun rays in, rather than use it to dig myself a snow cave to sleep in…while knowing how, and having practiced the snow cave sollution. So that I know how to and when to use that sollution to an immediate survival problem.

For me, knowing how and when to use technology to aid myself when being out is also bushcraft. But the axe does not need to be a Gransfor Bruks, and the hammock does not need to have DD Hammocks stamped to it.

But going out with a stick and a knife is also nice. I just prefer doing it after the hammock and tarp is set up….

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Walkie Talkie India

Hi, thank you very much for help. I am going to test that in the near future. Cheers

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Julian

Aggghh.. I luuuurve the gear ! I enjoy browsing the next upmarket shinny new piece of kit that will enhance my time in the wilderness ! I love the purchase, the unboxing, the smell and feel of a brand new piece of high end kit ! …. On the edge of Fernworthy forest (Dartmoor), I draw out my woodlore knife…mmm gaze at the Alan wood/ray Mears stamp and process some kindling for my Biolite, or honeystove, if the biolite is on, I’ll charge my iPhone at the same time, so I can watch “American blackout” :) If it’s wet, I’ll break out the sawvivor ( yeh I know every one bangs on about the laplander, but it’s kinda wimpy compared with a sawvivor ) .. and the essee junglas to make processing the larger wood easier…of course I won’t get wet in my £300 ventile jacket (not prone to damage by sparks from the fire either ). Resting in my tera nova laser comp tent (sub kilo) is luxury, when in a down filled marmot helium bag ( sub kilo ) upon my sub 500g inflatable air pad. Mmm luxury ! Night time is fun with my zebralight emitting 200 plus lumens or a moonlight glow to read by..but it’s nice having the fenix tk45 in backup should disaster strike and I need to hoof it out of there :) … The gransfors axe is a nice addition when required. Optics ? Dokter monocular – nice glass. Loving the blue flame turbo lighter that RMears uses with some inner tube…..Also the soto pocket blow torch xt… Primarily and above all …..I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of knowledge above gear…but hey… The gear is a hell of a lot of fun too isn’t it ? Nothing wrong in that I think, it’s part of the fun :) I have to stop now, need to shop !! :))

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Randell

I Really enjoyed this post, i learned quite a lot. I really liked this

“Think more like the Hadza and less like a bushcraft shopping channel addict.”

Funny you said that cause a mate of mine that got me interested in bushcraft started by telling me all about his wild new toys. I always wondered why he needed 15 knifes and a bunch of other useless rubbish he was never going to use.

I think you nail it on this post, it’s filled with great information and really simplifies the whole process for newcomers. great work mate thanks much for sharing your knowledge.

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Paul Kirtley

Thank you mate. I really appreciate the feedback and glad this post resonated with you.

Go well and enjoy the bush and what it has to offer (rather than the shiny things).

Warm regards,

Paul

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Rody Klop

Excellent article with some down to earth questions and advice. My advice would be “the scraplist”. On this list you note the items you (really) missed/needed for tasks which can not be improvised.

Although my closet is also full of “nice to have” stuff, the scraplist safes you weight in the rucksack and learns you to focus on skills and environment, not on gear.

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks Rody.

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John

I have made the mistake of buying and changing my gear so many times it’s silly. Recently I have seen the light and started to cut back to the basics so I can appreciate my time out more.
Instead of the Bergen I carried I have started using a small shoulder bag and basic bedroll
The hardships I have put up with are dissapearing as I learn to come to terms with what Mother Nature is offering me. The less you carry the more you rely on the resources around you.
I don’t have the skills to forage for food so still rely on taking it with me but one day……….

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Paul Kirtley

Hi John,

Great comment. Thanks for sharing.

Warm regards,

Paul

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