There’s an old saying that you need less gear when you have more skills. That’s basically what bushcraft is all about. But what does bushcraft mean specifically?
Bushcraft is less of a specific skill and more of a mindset. It’s the mindset that with little more than a few very basic tools and your wits, you could live on your own out in the wilderness.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the differences between bushcraft and survival, the most important bushcraft skills to learn, and how you can start learning bushcraft skills today.
What is the difference between bushcraft and survival?
Contrary to what many people think, bushcraft and survival are two very different things. Survival is literally about surviving for as long as you can out in the wilderness until you can make it back to civilization (or until civilization finds you).
The term bushcraft originated from Australia and included skills need to survive in the “bush”. Hence, bushcraft is more than survival. It’s about how to utilize the resources the wilderness provides you so you can live and thrive. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Adapting to new challenges
- Becoming self-sufficient with the resources that nature provides you
- Growing your confidence when forced to live or survive in the outdoors
- Becoming better prepared for life-or-death situations thrown your way
Learning bushcraft is not about learning just one skillset. It’s about learning a group of skills that are all related to how you can survive in the outdoors. And while bushcraft is traditionally focused on wilderness survival, the mindset of staying alive and healthy using the resources at your disposal can just as easily be applied to an urban survival setting as well.
Let’s put it this way: survival is about just barely meeting your needs in order to sustain life and hopefully make it back to civilization. Bushcraft is about how to stay comfortable in the wilderness without necessarily needing to survive.
Again, bushcraft is more of a mindset and less of a set of skills. It’s believing you can survive and thrive in the wilderness with limited resources. In order to do this, you need a collection of key skills.
In the next section, we’ll dive into the most important bushcraft skills you need to learn.
Important Bushcraft Skills
Bushcraft covers a wide variety of different survival skills. In this guide, we’ll focus on the most essential skills that you need to learn. Consider the following skills a “bushcraft for beginners” run down, or the most basic and yet critical skills that you need to know.
We can’t survive for more than three days without water, and you’ll feel the negative effects of dehydration (most notably migraine headaches and a substantial loss of energy) in less than one day.
This is why knowing how to find, gather, and purify water is perhaps the most critical bushcraft skill of all. Referring to our original question on what is bushcraft, remember that bushcraft is not just about survival, but about staying comfortable in the wilderness. This is why you really do need to learn how to forage or collect enough water to stay fully hydrated.
Important skills to learn include:
- navigating your way through the woods and valleys to find a stream
- collecting morning dew to drink
- finding specific areas to dig into the ground for water
- making a water filter out of natural resources
- making your own container to carry your water
One of the most important bushcraft skills to know is how to find and forage for food in the wilderness. Remember, bushcraft is not just about surviving, it’s about staying comfortable and content in the wild. That’s why you need to learn how to be able to find enough food to fuel your body and stay healthy.
This encompasses two critical areas: plants and game. You need a strong knowledge of the local plants in your environment, and which plants are safe to consume . You also need to learn how to efficiently harvest those plants and prepare them.
The second part is learning how to track, stalk, trap, and kill game. How to read animal signs, set up traps and snares, hide your own scents, tie knots, clean a kill, and prepare meat over a fire are all skills you must master.
An additional critical skill that you will need to learn is how to fish using natural resources as well (such as making your own fishing pole, line, and hooks out of branches and vines) and then hunting for your own bait.
Building a Fire
Fire provides us with warmth, comfort, the ability to see in darkness, and the ability to cook food or purify water. Needless to say, you simply can’t stay comfortable (or even alive) for long without first building a fire.
Learning how to build a fire is also about more than simply just building the fire. You need to learn what kind of fire burns best, how to collect wood, how to gather tinder, how to baton branches, and perhaps most crucially of all, how to build a fire without actual fire starting devices like matches, lighters, ferro rods, or magnesium flint strikers. Could you build a fire right now using the fire plough or bow drill methods?
If not, then you need to learn how to Bowdrill from Jack over at Black Scout Survival.
More critical fire skills include how to build a fire pit, how to build the fire in such a way that it burns for a long time, and how to build a natural ‘fire oven’ so you can cook meals without the aid of traditional cooking items.
Yet another crucial fire making skill to learn is how to maintain and carry a fire with you while you are on the go through the woods. This can be accomplished through creating a fire bundle.
Building a Shelter
While a fire is designed to keep you warm, a shelter is designed to keep you protected from the elements.
Basic shelter building skills include: falling trees, batoning branches, harvesting barks and grass to use for a floor, tying knots, making cordage out of vine, and positioning your shelter so it shields you from the wind and rain.
But probably the most basic shelter that you should learn how to build is the lean-to. The lean-to is little more than a pole held horizontally between two trees, with more poles leaning to one side to form a wall that shields you from the wind.
Create a fire on the open side of the lean-to for more warmth, with moss or leaves on the ground for bedding.
The lean-to may not be the fanciest shelter, but it’s one of the quickest and easiest to make. And it will keep you comfortable in the vast majority of survival situations.
How do I Start Bushcraft?
So now that you know what bushcraft is, how do you get started?
Basic Skills to Practice
The following is a list of the most basic bushcraft skills to start practicing:
- Batoning wood
- Tying knots
- Getting a fire started (without the aid of firemaking tools)
- Researching plants that are safe to eat in your area
- Setting snares
- Boiling water
- Building a water filter out of natural items
- Turning vine into cordage
- Tracking game
- Land navigation
- Building basic shelters
Learning the above skills may not turn you into a bushcraft expert able to live off the land like Jeremiah Johnson, but they will greatly improve your ability to survive and set you up well for more advanced bushcraft skills.
While bushcraft is mainly about the proper mindset and skill set, you also need tools to support you. Even though you should aim to live off of the land as much as possible, there’s nothing wrong with bringing essential items such as a pack, container, and bladed tools.
One of the most important pieces of bushcraft gear to invest in is a high quality backpack. This pack is what you will carry all of your tools and gear in. In other words, when spending a weekend out in the woods bushcraft style you will literally be living out of this pack.
Pick your backpack wisely. You want your backpack to be waterproof, built out of high quality materials, and have multiple compartments for organization.
When choosing a backpack, you will also always have to choose between an internal frame or external frame pack. Internal frame packs are lighter and smaller, while external frame packs are usually much larger. The main advantage to an external frame pack is that they provide better ventilation (to reduce sweating) and positions the weight in such a way that you can walk more upright.
A good water container or canteen is another good item to have with you. Go with a metal container that can resist flames so you can easily boil water if you have to.
You’ll also need a way of filtering water. We like the life straw bottle because it is both a container and filter.
The quintessential bushcraft tool is a fixed blade survival knife. Your knife can be used for a variety of tasks, including cleaning game, preparing meals, and batoning. But the most common task will be to cut and carve wood.
Scandi grinds are the most common knives you’ll see for bushcraft because they are better for carving wood. We also recommend going with carbon steel because it will be easier to strike a spark with flint.
We like knives with a full tang to handle more rigorous tasks.
Arguably even more important than the knife is the survival hatchet. Not only can a hatchet sometimes be a more effective self-defense weapon, it can also be used for more robust tasks including butchering game, digging into the earth, hammering stakes, splitting logs, chopping ice, or even falling larger size trees.
If you read this guide wondering ‘what does bushcraft mean’ at the start, hopefully your question has been answered. There is a lot more to learn about the art of bushcraft, but you should now understand what bushcraft is and the basic skills you need to learn.
Remember, the vast majority of people don’t know any bushcraft skills at all. Learning just a handful of the skills presented in this guide will give you a major advantage over most of the population.
So go out and start applying a few of the skills that we have covered in this guide.