If you were to ask 100 people who identify themselves as Bushcrafters what ‘Bushcraft’ means, you’ll likely get 95 different answers. But the common core of all these perspectives is that we all like to spend time outdoors, share our knowledge with others, and learn more. And if we look at the very essence of Bushcraft, we find a variety of skills which have allowed people to live in the wilderness for millennia. Of course, these skill-sets would vary depending on location, but the goal is universal – to live in the bush.
Many of the skills used today, such as tracking, making snares and traps, maintaining a fire for warmth and cooking, or identifying useful (and edible) plants/trees, would have been recognisable to our Ancestors, though they wouldn’t have called it ‘Bushcraft’ – it was a way of life for them, as it is for the primitive tribal populations that exist today, even though modern influence has made it’s way into their societies. Skills were passed-down to the next generation, and from that generation to the next, and so-on, preserving the knowledge.
Of course, today we have nylon tarps, firesteels, down sleeping bags, and the like, so we no longer need to rely on building shelters, an open fire, animal furs, etc. But a key element of Bushcraft is “the more you know, the less you carry”, and it is worth minimising our kit as we learn more and feel comfortable with. We shouldn’t have to be burdened with so much kit that we end up not getting anywhere, looking (and feeling) like a pack mule.
Another aspect of Bushcraft which has gained popularity in recent years is the code of “Leave no trace”, akin to the old backpacker’s maxim, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Let’s face it – we live in a disposable society, and wherever you find civilisation, there will be trash/litter. The idea of “Leave no trace” is to minimise your impact on the environment and leave everything the way you found it out of respect for Nature. This means taking out everything you brought in, disposing of waste properly, picking up litter left behind by others, and restoring your campsite to the natural setting of your environment. If you have a fire, whether it be open or contained in a wood stove, the ashes, after they are doused and cool to the touch, should either be scattered about the surrounding area, or buried.
A lot of people today link Bushcraft with survival, often using the two terms interchangeably. “Survival” has also become popularised on TV, where it’s meaning seems to be taken very much out of place. As I understand it, a survival situation is one in which your life is potentially in danger, and you have minimal tools or none to work with. Often, survival scenarios are brought about through carelessness, unpreparedness, or rash actions. Survival skills, on the other hand, are abilities you put to use to get yourself out of a survival situation alive. Going into the woods with a pack for an overnighter isn’t “survival”, though during that time you may practice some survival skills…and hopefully you never find yourself in a situation where your life depends on them.
Now, I could go on and on about these skills which require physical effort (friction fire, natural shelter building, etc.), but something that is far overlooked yet so critical to survival is mental preparedness, being able to overcome fear and panic…these are probably your worst enemies in a survival situation. Once fear and-or panic takes hold of a person, he or she will do very irrational things, greatly lessening their chances of getting out alive. There are, however, a number of ways to overcome fear and panic. Stop, think about your situation and consider your options, plan your next move, and then act. You can also find solace in spirituality, and use humour to your advantage. And don’t underestimate the beneficial effects of controlled, deep breathing.
In conclusion, one can say that there are some similarities between Bushcraft and survival, but they shouldn’t be interpreted as the same. I hope this clears up some of the confusion.