A Glimpse into Bushcraft in America
Wilderness survival is all the rage these days thanks to popular shows like Alone and Naked and Afraid. Let’s dive into the core of bushcraft or the art of surviving in the wild.
Difference Between Bushcraft and Camping
On the surface, these two activities may appear similar, but there are a few distinct differences.
Recreation vs Lifestyle
Camping is considered a recreational activity, something that you do over a long weekend or as a vacation. Even though you’re sleeping on the ground, you still have a lot of comforts.
Bushcraft, on the other hand, is a lifestyle. Learning to live off the land and survive in the wild takes a great deal of skill and dedication.
Gear and Equipment
The biggest differences come down to gear. When camping, you often have more “luxury” items with you and are close enough to civilization to drive into town to pick up forgotten things. You’ll frequently pack items such as:
Fire starting supplies
First aid supplies
When preparing for a Bushcraft expedition, your packing list will look quite different, as everything needs to fit into a backpack.
Water filtration system
Unlike camping, where you can haul your supplies in a truck or car, you have to carry everything yourself on a bushcraft trip.
Bushcraft: A Brief History
Bushcraft can be traced back to the late 1700s, but the modern movement started with Richard Harry Graves, founder of the Australian Jungle Rescue Detachment in World War II. He went on to teach at a bushcraft school and even wrote a book on the subject.
Another member of the Australian Army, Major Leslie James Hiddins, built on bushcraft with his Army Combat Survival Project. During this project, he wrote an army combat survival manual, published in 1987. The skills that form the core of bushcraft started out of need and blossomed in various military training programs. Over time, bushcraft branched out to a skillset that anyone can learn and practice.
Necessary Skills for Bushcraft
Bushcraft isn’t something you can pick up and do on a whim. It requires careful preparation and practice, or you risk endangering your life.
Some of the skills you need vary by region (for example, someone in Alaska will have different needs than someone in the desert), but others are fairly universal.
Whether for warmth or to prepare food, fire is essential. You must be able to make one wherever you are and in any weather conditions. From getting one started with a range of materials to keeping one going and sourcing firewood, this skill can take years to master.
Many bushcraft experts say this is one of the easier skills to master. You need a shelter to protect yourself from the elements, whether that’s the sun, rain, or cold. A true bushcraft master aims to build a shelter that will last for years, like a thatched hut or a lean-to made from logs and moss.
Food and Water
Starting a fire and having someplace warm and dry to sleep means little if you can’t find a steady supply of clean water and food. Whether you plan to hunt or gather, both require great skill. Learning how to hunt and store meat, along with learning the difference between safe and poisonous flora can make a world of difference.
Many elements of bushcraft, like hunting and building a shelter, are made easier with rope. There are many fibrous plants (such as reeds, vines, and grass) that are great bases for rope. Learning to build rope and tie sturdy knots can make a bushcraft trip go much smoother.
Eventually, you’ll be returning to society, so it’s important to know how to navigate your environment or you risk getting lost. Telling time is also different out in nature. While you can always bring a watch and compass, these items can be lost, so it’s best to learn to navigate without them.
Bushcraft in the U.S.
Fortunately, bushcraft is legal in many parts of America, but there are laws in place to be aware of. When in doubt, find and follow local and state rules regarding dispersed camping, which is very similar to bushcraft. Most laws apply to things like chopping wood and starting fires. In some locations, you may need to obtain a permit.
Where NOT to Go
There are a few places where bushcraft is illegal.
Private land (without permission)
Best Bushcraft Locations
Here are some places where bushcraft is allowed.
Private land (with permission from the owner)
BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
Ways to Practice Bushcraft
Before you plan a big trip, be sure to practice all the essential skills, preferably somewhere your life doesn’t depend on your success.
With the comforts of home a few steps away, your backyard is the perfect place to practice skills like water purification and starting fires. At night, you can lay on the grass and study the stars to practice navigation.
Parks and Trails
These places, many of which are free and open to the public, are a great way to practice identifying different trees and types of flora. Trails, especially through wooded areas, can be an opportunity to practice tracking animals.
Bushcraft: The Art of Self-Reliance in the Wilderness
At the end of the day, bushcraft has one goal: learning to survive in environments you can’t control. It’s also a great way to spend time in nature and reconnect with yourself and the natural world.