What is Bushcraft?

By on October 30, 2014

What is Wilderness Bushcraft ? What Skills Will it Teach You?

Filleting a fresh salmon

Filleting a fresh salmon

Here’s an overview…


Bushcraft is about thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include fire-craft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, and rope and twine-making, among others. There are many key components necessary to master Bushcraft. Here is a list of the core skills commonly developed by Bushcraft folks.

Water and Water Purification: In different environments you need varying amounts of water to remain well-hydrated. In some environments water can be hard to find and you need to know where to look. Even when you do find water, more than two-thirds of the world’s fresh water is unsafe to drink. Developing an in-depth knowledge of what the problems are and how to avoid them, with failsafe protocols for water purification anywhere in the world, are at the core of Bushcraft training.

Shelter: Being able to provide ourselves with shelter from the elements is essential in the great outdoors. From fast and efficient tarp pitching (and we mean really fast) to considerations for locating and building shelters from natural materials.

Fire: Harnessing fire is what differentiates us from other species. It allows us to subsist in regions where it would otherwise be too cold or too wet. Fire warms us, dries our clothes, cooks our food, makes our water safe to drink, illuminates our camp, discourages dangerous animals and biting insects, allows us to signal and provides the means to manipulate and shape natural materials. From basic survival through to more advanced bushcraft, being able to light and manage a fire is the most important wilderness skill.

Fire-Lighting: Whatever level of fire-lighting skill you already have, this course is designed to refine and broaden your skills. You’ll master fire-lighting with sparks, matches and lighters, even in pouring rain. You’ll be amazed at the range of natural and man-made materials that can be ignited if prepared properly. We’ll show you all the ways in which you can create a flame. Top of most course attendees’ lists is the desire to light fire by friction – something that the majority of people find extremely difficult without being tutored. The most basic, and oldest, method is the bow-and-drill method. This is the most widely-applicable of the friction fire-lighting methods.

Fire-Management: In addition to being able to reliably and consistently light a fire in all conditions, you also need to know how to select fuel and structure your fire to provide the outcome you require: Are you looking to boil a billy can quickly for a brew? Are you going to roast a meal over the fire? Are you building a fire for warmth during the night? Do you need illumination? Some woods burn quickly, others brightly. Some woods provide hot, long-lasting embers while others are toxic. Different fire-lays produce different effects.

Natural Cordage: Producing cordage from natural materials is a much under-valued skill. You need bindings for many purposes in the outdoors, from camp gadgets to bark containers to shelters. Without cordage you can’t make snares, fishing lines or nets. You need cordage for the bow-and-drill method of friction fire-lighting. More advanced traditional skills such as building canoes or toboggans also require natural bindings.

Cutting Tools: While many of the tasks of bushcraft are possible without a cutting tool, some are impractical and most are made easier if you have at least a knife. You’ll need to understand tool selection, use and care, including practical advice on sharpening.

Carving Skills: With access to metal tools that can attain and hold a good edge, the possibilities of what we can fashion from natural materials is extended considerably. The course covers the safe use of cutting tools then progresses through basic utility carving to shaping more elaborate but equally useful items. Even if you are used to using a knife, learning to carve will enhance your bushcraft skills.

Wilderness Fishing Techniques: While modern angling for sport is a leisure activity enjoyed by many, it isn’t always the most efficient way of catching fish. There are many you-tub videos showing you the most effective active and passive fishing techniques that are easily applied with minimal equipment. Practicing these skills will increase your chances of getting fish out of the water if you need to.

Traps and Trapping: If we are to rely on nature for sustenance, then in addition to knowing where animals may be active, we also need to know how to catch them effectively. Studying traps is interesting even for those who have no interest in catching animals. Many of the trigger mechanisms are ingenious and they give an insight to the inventiveness of our forebears.

Small Game Preparation: If we obtain small game, then we need to know how to prepare it. Many people these days have very little idea of how to butcher even a small animal, let alone a larger one. Even though larger animals can feed many people for days, you will most regularly be preparing small game.

Plant and Tree ID: At the heart of bushcraft is the study of nature. Central to this is knowledge of trees, plants and their uses. This starts with being able to reliably identify various useful species. Until you can recognize which bark to use for tinder or for cordage-making, for example, then you cannot proceed to the next stage of the process.

Plants and Trees for Food and Medicine: In addition to identifying key species for their utility, you should also know important species for food. Which species yield the most energy? Which contain a significant amount of protein or fat? Which are easy to collect? Which have a wide geographical distribution? How do you process them? Plants are also a source of medicine and we look at some of the more important ones. Importantly, when selecting plants for food or medicine, one needs to ensure they select the correct species and do not confuse them with toxic species.

Wilderness Outfit: What kit do you really need? What are the most essential items to carry on your person? Which clothing works well and why? How do you pack it? All this and more will be discussed and explored during the course. Even the hardened kit fanatic will be discarding previously-essential items at the end of this week. One of the beauties of bushcraft is that it shows us how little of our equipment is of much importance as well as showing the great importance of a few key items.

Natural Navigation: There are many natural navigation techniques that can always be used wherever in the world you are. Bushcraft skills help you to observe local directional indicators and use them to help you orient yourself while in the woods. In addition they are many great websites that provide some key pointers on why people get lost and how to prevent yourself from doing so. The beauty of these techniques is that none of them require a map, compass or GPS.

Looking After the Land and Leave-no-Trace: Throughout the bushcraft skill sets, there is an emphasis on using natural resources sparingly, taking only what you need. While many bushcraft skills have an impact on the local environment, one should encourage thoughtfulness in harvesting materials. There are also some legal considerations, particularly with regards to foraging. One of the key skills of wilderness bushcraft is the harnessing of fire. But a fire managed badly can cause damage to an environment.

Practical Bushcraft Skills for the Trail: It’s one thing to practice various bushcraft techniques from the comfort of a base camp. It’s another to apply them in real-time while undertaking a journey.


You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply