What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is sometimes defined as being about the skills and ability to thrive an the raw natural environment. It is often associated with survival skills and the two do overlap to some degree. However bushcraft is more about interacting with the natural world and becoming self sufficient. Whereas other outdoor activities such as tramping focus on observing nature they also tend to separate us from it with space age materials and fancy gadgets. This values technology and gear over knowledge and experience, whereas bushcraft is the opposite. For the vast majority of human history we have lived in small groups, living off the land using skills passed down from generation to generation. Modern advances have made our lives easier but as a consequence most of us have lost that kinship with the natural world.

Going back to primitive living for any extended period of time is not viable for most of us as we have careers and other aspects of our lives fully entrenched in the modern world. To many, bushcraft is about taking a break from our busy modern lives and getting out learning to be self sufficient in a raw natural environment by learning skills that have been time tested for generations. Its wearing clothing made from traditional robust fibres such as wool rather than an expensive goretex jackets that tear on a branch or melt with a spark from a fire. Its about using natural resources in a sustainable way to craft what we need, such as carving our own spoon rather than buying a fancy titanium one. The process of engaging in nature to make the things we need has its own intrinsic value.

Common bushcraft activities include:

  • Observational study of the natural world: weather patterns, plant identification, and how to use natural resources sustainably. Studying animal behavior and learning  tracking are skills that traditionally have been important way of getting sustenance through hunting or trapping.
  • Sustenance: Simple fishing techniques, building up the sufficient knowledge to utilise wild edibles. Learning how to obtain safe water, water purification techniques etc.
  • Firecraft: Learning how to make a safe and effective fire in a variety of conditions as fire can be used for warmth, cooking, sterilising, and comfort. Learning fire by friction methods means that we can be more self sufficient.
  • Shelter: Using minimal gear as well as making the most of natural resources to protect yourself for the elements (with practice it can even be comfortable!)
  • Bushcraft is also about recreation, crafting tools and other things such as cordage from natural resources either alone or in a group is fun and rewarding.

Bushcraft is quite popular in the UK and other European countries with ambassadors such as Ray Mears and his TV series. Les Hiddins and Mors Kochanski are others who have historically influenced the spread of bushcraft around the globe. One of the reasons it is so popular is that it supports a wide range of other outdoor activities and provides the skills to cope in the outdoors when things don’t go to plan. In recent years, the danger of it becoming secular is that has the potential to become commercialised and used as a platform to market products. This goes against the fundamental bushcraft ethos of self sufficiency and needing only basic, robust gear and knowledge and skills that are built up over years of practice.

Bushcraft can mean different things to different people. If you would like to share what bushcraft means to you, head to the forums or blog a post about it, we would love to hear it

Last updated by Ryan Johnson-Hunt Jun 15, 2010.

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