Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tagged: My 3 Favorite Bushcraft Items

I was recently tagged by Stick in a blog post of his, himself also being tagged by another blogger, and the chain seems to go on and on from there.  Bushcraft seems to have become a somewhat mainstream topic/hobby, thanks in no small part to the many survival-type TV shows.  I don't even think I need to list examples, nor do I bother to watch most of these shows.  But I do need to clarify my opinions of Bushcraft before I answer the question at hand, which is what my three favorite Bushcraft items are.

As the son of a US army veteran who was enlisted for over 20 years, from an early age I was taught survival knowledge by my father because I have always had an interest in the outdoors and nature.  The older I got, the more advanced information my father passed down to me, along with field manuals from the military on the subject to read.  Back in the 80's and 90's I never heard the term "Bushcraft," but then again I was more of a lone wolf when it came to going out into the woods to put what I had learned to use.  Sure, I went camping and backpacking with friends back then, but it was mostly car camping and traditional backpacking, so there was hardly any emphasis on the survival or primitive knowledge aspects when I was with others outdoors.

Then about 5 years ago or so, as I looked to further my skills (and sharpen ones I already had) by researching/reading online, I discovered two survival experts and their respective TV shows that I enjoyed watching and also learned from.  One was Ray Mears, the other was Les Stroud, and their TV shows as far as I am concerned (or that I am aware of), are the exception in this genre when it comes to both artistic merit and actual providing solid survival skills.  I highly recommend their work.  

Yet one of them (Mr. Mears) used/uses a word I was not familiar with, and used it quite a lot: Bushcraft.  I like Mears' shows and his personality, so I looked into Bushcraft more online.  Long story short: what I found out is that a lot of people that are into Bushcraft are nothing like Mears or Stroud.  If you are into nature/camping/backpacking and want to learn more about Bushcraft, I suggest you stay away from most of what constitutes the online Bushcraft community.  Or if you must check it out for yourself, or are already a part of that community, take everything with a grain of salt and have a healthy amount of skepticism.

There are a lot of people that lack an identity and think that taking pictures of their knife/axe collection and/or pictures of them in front of a campfire (that is less than a mile from their car) will fill that void.  It's reminisent of live action role playing, or like wearing a lot of TapouT and/or MMA t-shirts but doing little or no actual martial arts training.  Which is fine, really it is, and I have no problem with people that do so...until they start pretending like they are experts or know-it-alls on the subject rather than casual fans or hobbyists.  Be honest and humble, people.

There are plenty of good books and documentaries you can find on the subject of "thriving in the natural environment" (as wikipedia states about Bushcraft), and primitive survival skills (e.g. firestarting, shelter building, gathering, fishing, etc.) that you can learn on your own and just get out there and do it in the wilderness.  If you are interested in these things and want to learn more, please respect nature, too--you don't need to chop down a bunch of trees to build a shelter for one night, for example.  And of course be safe.  Knives, axes, and fire can all be very dangerous and should be treated accordingly with care and your full attention.

My point is that I don't want to be associated with the majority of what in practice is "Bushcraft," nor do I promote a lot of what it stands for in general online--which at worst can be (and sometimes certainly is) a bunch of extreme right-wing, macho, posers that are deliberately destructive and/or wasteful the rare times they actually go out into nature.  Of course this does not at all apply to Stick, the nice UL backpacker and talented blogger that tagged me, it should go without saying!  And there are plenty of very knowledgeable, honest, humble, and talented people into Bushcraft out there too--it's just from my experiences that these people are in the minority, unfortuntely.


Now onto my 3 favorite Bushcraft items (and yes, all the pics are mine except the two close up pictures of mushrooms):

1.  Sticks

They can be used as fuel for a fire, a makeshift fishing rod, a walking staff, to help set up your tarp--and leave your trowel at home if you're traveling through the woods with an abundance of sticks--you can just dig your cat holes with a nice, sturdy stick.  Gather enough sturdy sticks together, and you can even make a primitive shelter.  If you don't have string, you can use roots or vines or other such type of vegetation to tie the sticks together.

2.  Rocks

Great for hammering in tent stakes (or used in place of stakes altogether), helps in cooking food over a campfire (e.g. a flat rock in the middle of a fire to grill food), or as a weight on top of maps and other light gear that can be blown away, rocks also have a wide range of practical applications in the field.  Also good for self defense against hostile animals.  I have thrown rocks at an aggressive moose in the distance once to scare it away, for instance (no, I didn't hit it, it was just to spook it away).  

If you want to check an area of water to see how deep it is or if there is anything potentially hazardous hidden under the water like a log with jagged branches, tie a rock to a long piece of string and throw it into the water and troll the bottom as needed.

3.  Mushrooms (first two pics below by my friend Manolo, thanks man!)

For those of you that know me or have been keeping up with my blog, will know that I love wild edible mushrooms.  I also love non-edible mushrooms for their beauty, and service they provide the earth by breaking down waste and also helping out trees in symbiotic relationships, for instance.  There are several pictures of the mushrooms themselves or me holding a bag of them as I am out backpacking on my blog, and they are one of my favorite foods on and off the trail.  My favorite is the chanterelle, which has a sublime flavor that is exceptional in many different foods, such as gravy, pasta, omelets, game meat, the list goes on and on.  I also pick plenty of hedgehog mushrooms, porcini, and funnel chanterelle.  

This year I have already harvested about 1kg of lovely mushrooms and look forward to a whole lot more, hopefully.  I have harvested as late as early December here in Sweden.  Make sure to do research before doing any mushroom hunting, and better yet, have a trusted local teach you how to identify mushrooms.  You have to be careful!  Some mushrooms are deadly if eaten, and some of the poisonous ones can resemble the edible ones.


I went to a Scandinavian Bushcraft meet up several years ago where I met some cool guys, one of which has a blog.  His name is Paul and has a blog called The Wandering Axeman, and I will tag him to keep things going.

*Note: I emailed Paul about this tag and he never got back to me, and doesn't look like he has responded to this tag.  Oh well, at least I tried.

Thanks to Stick for the shout out and the tag, and also keep your eyes peeled buddy, because I have a small surprise for you in a blog post that I plan on writing sometime soon.  ;)

*Edit 25/05/2014 - Added a bit of emphasis and formatting, and note about tag to Paul.