Learning simplicity from bushcraft

There is a saying amongst bushcrafters: “The more you know, the less you have to carry.”

If you know how to build a shelter, insulate the ground, light a fire, make water safe and forage and hunt for food, then you can live in the outdoors for extended periods. You might be roughing it but by adding a few basic items (see list below) you will soon be smoothing it.

The point is that carrying around too much stuff is a burden in more ways than one. As well as sapping your energy, it costs more money, it takes more organising and maintenance, it makes you less self-reliant and what happens if you lose it all? In bushcraft the more you know and the less you have to carry the better.

There are plenty of bushcrafters (often newbies) who are gear junkies but the purpose of bushcraft is not to have lots of gear but rather:

  • to get away from the rat-race
  • to get exercise and fresh air
  • to clear your head
  • to be self-reliant
  • to connect with and enjoy nature
  • to live simply but comfortably (smoothing it!)
  • to learn and practice skills
  • to be alone, or
  • to enjoy the company of others

You could say the same things about the purpose of a good life. In life, as in bushcraft, the more you know, the less you have to ‘carry’.

As well as minimising your kit, other lessons from bushcraft that can be applied to simplify life:

  • Multipurpose items are better than single-purpose items
  • Take what you can’t easily make
  • Skills and tools (knife, axe, saw, cordage) are better than ready-made items
  • Know how and what to forage
  • Share your kit with others, you don’t all have to take everything
  • Share your knowledge with others
  • Look after nature and leave no trace
  • Caring for and maintaining your gear could save your life – prevention is better than cure
  • The 80/20 Principle – most of the weight of your gear comes from only three areas – sleep system, shelter system and pack. If you reduce the weight of these by half you can reduce the total weight by nearly half.

Basic bushcraft gear

In addition to carrying water (depending on where you are), food (if you aren’t hunting/fishing/foraging) and wearing (or carrying) a full set of clothes sufficient to be comfortable even in bad conditions the basic items you will need for bushcraft are:

Bare minimum

  1. Bushcraft knife (attached to your belt)
  2. Cook kit including a metal bottle (to carry and boil water) and a metal pot/cup to cook in
  3. Tarp and cordage
  4. Waterproof groundsheet
  5. Sleeping bag (or traditionally, a wool blanket)
  6. Fire lighter and dry tinder or fire starter (it’s best to take at least 3 ways to make fire, probably the most reliable in all weather is a ferrocerium rod)
  7. Small waterproof emergency kit (attached to your belt) including: compass, whistle, signalling mirror, spare ferro rod, dry tinder, small folding knife, small torch.

Extras (Minimum+)

  1. An axe and/or saw
  2. A headlamp (more useful than a handheld torch)
  3. A sleeping pad (or breeze bag for filling up with leaves, grass, ferns etc for ground insulation)
  4. A spare set of dry thermals and wool socks to sleep in
  5. Small comfort kit including: toothbrush, toilet paper, sunblock, insect repellant, torch/headlamp, bandana (has many uses), first aid items.

That’s it.

(NB: This list assumes you are allowed to light a fire. If you can’t light a fire you won’t need an axe or saw but you will need to carry a stove with fuel (which can be very small) as well as a sleeping pad as part of your bare minimum kit.)

Apart from the sleeping bag and pad everything else would fit easily into a haversack (shoulder bag). Altogether they could fit in a larger daypack or small rucksack.