Let's start with Bushcraft 101...
I’m sure at least a few of you have seen this term pop up in books, websites and magazines. Lately it has become a somewhat fashionable term in the knife industry, which has lead to abusive use in advertising (very much like “tactical”). Nobody is really sure what it means anymore.
This is my personal definition of the term, based purely on my training and reading. I consider it an educated opinion, but an opinion none the less.
Bushcraft is a combination of traditional and primitive skills applied to outdoors living. The whole idea behind it is to rescue the kind of practical knowledge that helped human beings rise to the top of the food chain from falling into oblivion. It has very strong links to anthropology and to what some people call practical archaeology. Bushcraft enthusiasts look to aboriginal peoples to learn age old skills that have helped them live off the land.
The knowledge and skills associated with bushcraft are endless, ranging from making cordage out of natural fibres to building an igloo. What remains the same is the attitude behind it: work with what the land has to offer and your own ingenuity to improve your situation. Although there are all sorts of great toys and pieces of kit to help you out, bushcraft tends to take a minimalistic approach. A good woodworking knife is pretty much all you need.
Some people get bushcraft and primitive skills mixed up with survival techniques. There’s a big, big difference. While bushcraft knowledge can certainly save your bacon in a tight spot, most of it is meant for longer term scenarios and sometimes requires too much work. I always use the same example. I enjoy friction fire starting, but compared to a Bic lighter and some waterproof tinder it’s a waste of precious time and energy. In an emergency, you’re playing the calorie game and need to get things done as fast and easily as possible.
However, should you lose or damage your equipment you’ll be happy to carry the knowledge with you to get things done in an alternate way. If anything, just knowing that there’s a “Plan B” will help you keep morale up. Statistically, in the US, most survival scenarios are over within 72hs. That’s why survival experts put emphasis on equipment and techniques that are going to be crucial during those three days (things like food usually take a back seat to the holy trinity of water, fire, shelter). If for whatever reason your emergency goes beyond those 72hs, you’ll be very glad to have invested the time to learn how to make the most of your surroundings.
There are aspects of bushcraft, like trapping and shelter building that are pretty much the same as what’s taught at survival schools. Perhaps with more natural materials used for cordage and insulation (no paracord or space blankets).
Besides its practical side bushcraft is just plain fun. It can be frustrating at first, since we’ve forgotten how to do most of these things. But as you learn and practice it’s just amazing. In a world where people have forgotten how to peal a potato without a specialized appliance making tea on a fire you started with a piece of stone and your knife, and stirring it with a spoon you carved is empowering. Getting back in touch with those basic but fundamental skills on which civilization was built is the ultimate lesson in self reliance.
Get ready to go primitive! It's loads of fun and literally so easy a caveman could do it!