The Art of Bushcraft
Being able to thrive in any given environment is made a lot easier by having the right kit with you, but this isn’t always the case. Dave Canterbury’s 5 Cs, is a good place to start.
The 5 Cs, in essence, are:
All 5 of these are fundamental aspects of kit are not just related to bushcraft, but are important in camp craft and expedition life in general. There is a sixth C which you can add and this is ‘concentration’.
We have an inbuilt connection with fire, it stands us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and has allowed us to shape the world around us. From the Industrial Revolution to the digital age, the development of the modern world can in many ways be attributed to our ability to control fire.
For both our ancestors and us, fire has always had many uses. From keeping away insects and wild animals, rendering meat digestible, killing off microbes in water and keeping us warm; it is something many of us take for granted.
Bushcraft techniques are time consuming so you need to be prepared. You should be constantly looking for natural materials for tinder which have similar properties to cotton wool like certain seed heads or sticking dry grass and bark in your pockets to dry it out.
So what do we do if we don’t have a method to start a fire with us?
It pays to understand the fire triangle; fuel, heat and oxygen, the three things a fire needs to burn. If you are continually losing your flame then think about which element of the triangle is not in balance. It also pays to practice your fire lighting skills in all conditions and have at least two methods of making fire with you at all times for your given environment. Most of the time this could be a lighter and chemical fire blocks, your secondary tool being a magnesium rod. Finally it’s about the knowledge and experience of how to make fire by friction for when you really don’t have anything.
With a good knife you can make the other 4 Cs and you should choose a knife based on which is able to carry out a range of tasks from battening and splitting logs through to cleaning animals, a real work horse. You should usually carry a second smaller knife for finer work.
What if I don’t have a knife?
Improvising a blade can be tough if you can’t find the right materials. If you can find flint or obsidian then these are perfect, you can fashion a crude adze, axe or knife with these. If you don’t have access to these then finding the toughest rocks you can find you can fashion these into a crude cutting tool.
If you are in the jungle then most likely you need something to protect you from the rain and to get you off the jungle floor away from creepy crawlies. As trees are competing for light in this environment, they tend to grow very quickly and there is an abundance of straight young trees to use. Banana leaves or bundles of reeds or grasses make an excellent roof.
In the desert, the temperature may be warm during the day and could drop very low at night. During the day your priority would be sheltering from the sun, at night keeping warm, and depending on where you are it could also be from wild animals.
When it comes to sitting your shelter if you remember nothing else remember this mantra. Look up, Look down, Look 360º around.
Looking up, look for anything which could fall on you, including the clouds in the sky predicting bad weather. Looking down, look for signs of insect holes, animal tracks, watermarked branches, and objects, like coconuts, which may be hidden above. Watermarks will show how high a river can rise, or how water is channeled through an area when it rains. Looking 360º, you’re looking for established trails or animal paths through your camp area; these could be from ants, elephants, or other signs of wildlife.
When sourcing a water bottle or container, whether natural or man-made, one of the biggest considerations is can it go on the fire? A lot of people advocate that drinking water straight out of watercourses is safe, but it really is not. You do not know what has died or defecated upstream and the microbes; protozoa, bacteria, viruses are so tiny you will never see them. Some of these microbes can live in your system for years before they show any symptoms so unless there is really no other option, always stick to this mantra:
Filter (if lots of sediment or organic matter)
Heat (boil) or
Treat (with chlorine)
When you think about how many different ways you use cordage (aka cord) when you’re out and about you’ll quickly realize the importance of it. From tying your shoelaces, tent guy lines, fishing line, making fishing nets, tying shelter parts together, and everything in between.
But what if you don’t have any paracord (parachute cord)?
Cordage making is time-consuming. If it’s just a temporary fix or to bundle something together then maybe just use a tree root, with minimal processing, or some young flexible branches. However, if you want to fish with it or use it for a bow drill string then you will have to take the time to process it properly, so it can be as strong as possible.
Our brains have a finite amount of energy and resources to draw on each day. In a potentially overwhelming scenario anything we can do to minimise the output, allowing us to stay focused on improving our situation, is vital.
Two things to consider which free up energy are acceptance and routine; this is the first step in any scenario which requires resilience. If our mind can grasp this, then we can suddenly free up energy and space to focus on the things we can change and influence.
In the wilderness, after accepting the situation you are in, you should enforce a routine on yourself. You know that you are easily distracted, can often feel a bit lost and be prone to
overthinking – unless you have something to focus on. Routine gives you this.
On expeditions, routine plays a part in everything, from how you organize your hammock or tent each evening (every time the layout is exactly the same) to the order in which you find and treat water; when you fish or gather firewood.
Routine is so important because as the days wear on and you become tired or exhaustion threatens to overwhelm, you know you are meeting your basic needs each day. This minimizes the chances of you just giving up and not getting out of bed.