These days getting kitted out for camping in the woods can appear dauntingly expensive.
There’s a lot of pricey ‘bushcraft kit’ for sale but in reality you don’t need much equipment to get started with learning bushcraft skills.
A knife, saw and fireflash is all you really need.
But a beginner needs more than this to stay out in the woods overnight.
So, I set myself a budget bushcraft challenge.
I wanted to see if I could buy everything I needed to camp out in the woods for a budget of just £100.
Do You Really Get What You Pay For With ‘Bushcraft Kit’?
Now let’s get one thing straight from the outset. I’m a big believer in having good quality gear. The old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is often true. But I’m also a believer in not spending more money than necessary. For me, decent kit does what it’s designed to do effectively, consistently and is hard wearing. That’s it.
But buying decent kit can be expensive, and because many people who might be interested in bushcraft cannot afford to buy lots of pricey gear all at once, I wanted to find a way of putting together a beginners’ kit for a budget that pretty much anyone can afford.
The point here is that a lack of money should not be a barrier to anyone enjoying the outdoors. And should the beginner become a novice and want to spend more time in the woods, then upgrading the kit can be done steadily over time, making it much easier on the wallet.
The other big advantage with this approach is that you really get to know what kit works and doesn’t work for you. You know where it’s worth spending some money (e.g. decent boots) and where its not (sorry titanium spork enthusiasts – I just don’t get it!).
This way one also avoids becoming the dreaded ‘all the gear – no idea’ walking cliché – something to be avoided at all costs in my book!
So the aim was to buy everything someone who had no equipment would need to spend a night in the woods and do it on a modest budget.
What Does the Bushcraft Beginner Need For an Overnight Camp?
I began by thinking what kit I would include in my ‘starting out kit’ and decided upon the basics:
- Something to sleep in, on and under (e.g. sleeping bag, mat and tarp)
- a metal container to cook with over the fire
- a spoon
- a knife
- a folding saw
- a fire flash
- a torch
- some cord
- a rucksack to carry it all
- a waterproof rucksack liner to keep everything dry
Sourcing Budget Kit
Now, from the off I realised that if I was going to do this article, it would only be right and proper to use the kit for a night or two myself to prove it was all up to standard. This was a great motivator to get it right!
I began to source the kit by looking on various websites including eBay, to get an idea of what everything would cost. I quickly realised that with such a strict budget, there were a few things I had to compromise on. The most difficult item for me to find within budget was a sleeping bag – the only thing for the right price was a British Army Jungle bag, but I knew that for me anyway it would be too thin for 3-season camping in the UK so I carried on my search.
From previous experience, I knew that my money would go much further investing in issued military kit instead of low quality leisure gear; my theory being that military equipment, although sometimes a little heavier, has been extensively researched and designed to do the job and to be durable. As many a squaddie will testify, not all issued army kit is great, but on the whole the theory is sound. This is in stark contrast to cheap and nasty leisure kit, often designed to look the part but with many corners cut to reduce the manufacturing costs as far as possible.
After some time searching, I ended up with a kit that I was pretty confident would serve me well.
Below is a list of what I got with details of the price and the supplier:
|Equipment Item||Price £||Supplier|
|Sleeping system (Czech Army)||15.99||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Sleeping Mat (Ex-British Army – issued)||3.99||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Sleeping Bag Liner||4.50||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Swedish Army Trangia Stove with Danish Pan set||6.99||Militarymart.co.uk|
|British Army 1l water bottle x2||5.98||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Highlander Folding Saw||10.00||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Mora Clipper Sheath Knife||9.99||Ronniesunshines.com|
|100’ 550 Paracord||5.45||thebushcraftstore.co.uk|
|‘Wildo’ small cadet Fire Flash||6.99||Militarymart.co.uk|
|LED Head Torch (used)||0.99||eBay|
|Bin bag rucksack liner||0.00||free from home*|
|Metal Spoon||0.00||free from home*|
|Norwegian Army Vintage Canvas ‘Telemark’ Rucksack||15.99||Militarymart.co.uk|
|Green Heavy Duty Plastic Tarp||6.99||Halfords (discounted)|
|Total shipping for online orders||5.98|
*I reasoned that everyone has access to a bin bag and a spoon, so no point in buying one.
So How Did the Budget Bushcraft Kit Fare?
Well, the first outing was a little ambitious. It was back in early March and I had promised Paul I’d get this article written up for a date that ended up being in the middle of a trip to Sierra Leone. I’d left the field test to the night before the flight. So I headed to the woods near my home on the wind blasted fells of the Lake District. I set up camp, wriggled into my bivvy bag and slept like a log. Until around 3am that is, at which time I woke up feeling colder than a penguin’s cold bits.
With a plane to catch, a long journey ahead of me and knowing I wasn’t going back to sleep I conceded I was beat and headed home to a warm bed.
At first I felt rather ashamed at falling at the first hurdle. But on reflection, my digital home weather station informed me the temperature had got down to around freezing that night as the heavy morning frost bore testament. After all, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected my normal 3-season sleeping bag to have kept me snug on a cold night like that. I would’ve used a thicker winter bag. So, not a failure.
I used the kit again while working on a week-long Elementary Wilderness Bushcraft course in Sussex. This time the weather was a little more friendly and the kit worked really well in the woodland environment. The Mora knife I was already familiar with and it performed as you would expect. The saw was the unknown quantity amongst the cutting tools but this also performed well.
At the first camp it didn’t take me long to get the tarp up and a fire lit (with the fire flash). The cooking pot made for a great billy can. I did find the fire flash quite tricky to use due to its small size and occasional reluctance to shower any sparks, but having said that – it did light my fire!
That night, the sleeping kit kept me warm and was certainly comparable to my 3 season sleeping bag and bivvy bag. I really like this sleeping system, the zip around the edge made it very easy to climb in and out of the swag and extra wool blankets could easily be added for extra warmth. The downside was that it is on the bulky side but it’s a great compromise for the money.
My favourite buy was definitely the rucksack. Using this vintage pack proved why it has become a design classic. Despite being seriously durable, made with canvas, leather and steel tube, it was also very comfortable to wear fully loaded. With a treatment of cotton canvas proofer this rucksack would make a very practical addition to anyone’s kit!
All in all the gear proved itself to be totally up to the challenge, and in many ways performed as well or very close to much pricier kit. Some things like the rucksack, tarp and sleeping bag were fine to use but were heavier and or bulkier than my normal gear. But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, and if I was new to bushcraft with a light wallet, I would certainly use this gear to get me out of the house and into the woods!
What equipment bargains have you discovered or used? What recommendations would you give to a bushcraft beginner? Let us know in the comments below.