The Ultimate Guide to Bushcraft: The Comprehensive, Informative Reference for Wilderness Living

by Derrick | Last Updated: April 22, 2021

Bushcraft is a form of wilderness living designed to provide all the skills needed to survive in any environment.

This comprehensive guide will discuss everything you need to know about Bushcraft, including gear, clothing, and other kit. Whether you are an experienced outdoorsman or just starting out, there are tips and tricks for everyone!

What is Bushcraft, and Who are Bushcrafters?

Bushcraft is a common term used to reference practicing skills related to life in “the bush.” “The bush” is common terminology used for the backwoods, or areas that are not developed, and common in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada. Within the United States, Bushcraft is commonly known as Woodcraft, and the bush is often known as the environment the craft is practiced. For example, the forest, backwoods, desert, and so on, although some areas within the United States reference remote areas as the bush, such as in Alaska. This is likely due to proximity to Canada and interactions with folks from Canada who have used the term.

Bushcraft is practiced for a range of reasons, including occupation and hobby. Bushcrafters may be employed by the government or private sector as nature guides, park rangers, conservation officers, or other professions related to outdoor activities.

Others use bushcraft skills as their primary professions, such as hunting guide services and those living off the land. Others are more recreational bushcrafters and are people practicing this form of survival skills, often living in a primitive way with few modern amenities over a weekend or multi-day trip.

Bushcraft skills are practical ways of living in the wilderness, or “the bush,” by finding food, water, shelter, and clothing using natural materials that you see around you.

Bushcrafters are the people who practice these skills and follow these practices.

Bushcraft is more than just survival; while bushcrafters practice surviving, they also practice thriving within whatever environment they are in.

Common Bushcraft Skills

Basic Safety and First Aid Skills

Bushcraft, by its very nature, can be somewhat dangerous. You are working with a lot of sharp objects such as knives, axes, and saws. Learning some basic safety and first aid can go a long way to ensuring you have a safe, enjoyable experience in the bush.

To practice first aid, you need to know how to take care of yourself and those around you in case of an injury or sickness.

This section will cover some basic skills that are important for any person going out into the wild. Whereas we cannot do in-depth explanations of each as this article would be longer than a book, take this list and do your own research and work with a professional to learn some basic first aid skills if needed.

Some important things to ensure you are safe in the bush.

1) Staying hydrated; dehydration can make you sick and potentially, if severe enough, can kill you. You need to be able to recognize the symptoms of it and how to avoid it if possible.

Signs of dehydration are decreased urination and thirst, nausea, headaches, darkened urine color, or sunken eyes. You can prevent it by staying hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids before and during your adventure into the wild.

2) Knowing how to treat primary injuries such as scrapes, cuts, and burns. This is important; as a bushcrafter, we are working with sharp objects and/or building fires and can easily injure ourselves. I am not a medical professional, so I will not give you medical advice other than to say find out how to treat these common issues.

3) Working on using tools properly and safely. This is a considerable part of Bushcraft, knowing how to use each tool for the job.

Here are some basic guidelines that I find myself repeating over and over again, but they’re worth it. The first one being “don’t act like an idiot.” It’s essential to keep your safety in mind at all times.

Often someone gets hurt when using a knife, saw, or axe when they are rushing or not paying attention.

It’s also important to keep safety in mind when using sharp objects. You should always have a cutting board or other surfaces to work and never cut directly towards your hands or feet. This is one of the most common mistakes that people make with knives.

With axes, you should make sure the area you are working in is cleared of limbs and small saplings that could get hit by the axe and be thrown back at you.

When using an axe, it’s essential to make sure that no one standing behind you always works in an open space. As usual, you should consider some type of eye protection.

Lastly, when using a saw, it’s essential to make sure you are using a saw correctly. When using a saw to cut wood for a bushcraft project, we have one hand on the saw and another hand on the piece of wood. You will often see the saw slide, and people will run the teeth across the top of their hands.

My final advice here is to learn how to use the tools properly and not do stupid things. This, when held as a general rule, will usually be enough to keep you safe. But remember, accidents happen, and it’s always best to be prepared for the worst.

Fire Building

Fire building, or what is commonly called fire craft, is the practice of learning to build fires within the environment you are in. There are multiple ways to start a fire and many different primitive materials you can use to build it.

In some cases, starting a fire is the most important thing you can do to survive when out camping or hiking. Knowing how to start and keep your fire alive will help you stay warm, cook food, purify water and potentially signal for rescue if necessary.

Firecraft can be as simple as knowing how to gather the right fuel to start a fire and then using your knowledge of the environment to find an appropriate large fuel.

Subsequently, you can learn more advanced skills like creating friction fire such as a hand drill or bow drill for more primitive means of starting a fire.

As someone new to the art of Bushcraft, I would recommend you learn tinder and kindling selection and preparation, and proper fire management.

Tinder is the initial source of ignition that will create the fire to ignite larger kindling. The kindling will create even more heat that will progressively develop coals, keeping the larger fuel-burning until you have a well-established bed of coals and sustainable fire.

The next logical question is what makes good tinder?

Tinder can be something you carry on you from home to assist in starting a fire or something found in nature when or as you need it.

Here are some examples of good tinder:
-cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly or other flammable material
-finely shredded birch bark, wood shavings/scrapings, fatwood shavings, tinder fungus

The art of Fire Building is one that every outdoorsman should know well!

What Wood Makes Good Kindling?

I was taught by a mentor Terry Barney that some of the best kindling is from a split wood fire. I will link to his video below, but let’s walk through a few items, then you can watch his video to make sure you grasp the content.

You should find a dead standing tree. This will help ensure that the wood is dry versus lying on the ground and wet. The wood should be straight-grained, free from knots, and about 12 to 16 inches long. Find a couple pieces like this. If your tree has knots from branches, cut between them where possible to get a knot-free piece to work with.

Personally, I like to work with red oak or ash, but any wood will do. Sometimes you have no choice and have to use whatever you have at hand.

Splitting The Wood Down

Next, you will need to split the wood down. You should try and get pieces that are pencil lead size, pencil thickness, and then thumb size. As a general rule, try to make two times the amount of each of these than you think you will need. This will ensure you have enough wood prepped to make a sustainable fire.

Making Tinder & Shavings

You can make tinder if you don’t have any already. Simply take your knife’s back (spine) and scrape some of the split-down wood (be careful you don’t cut yourself). This will produce really fine shavings that, if dry, will take a spark easily.

Light the shavings, then place your pencil lead size pieces on, ensure you do not smother the fire. Then take your pencil size pieces, followed by the rest of your prepped wood.

The following video will walk you through the entire process step by step:

Shelter Building – Natural Shelters and Purchased Shelter Options

Building a shelter when practicing Bushcraft is essential.

There are two ways to do this, either by building a natural shelter or purchasing one. Natural shelters can be anything from a lean-to (using branches and saplings) to an A-frame tent made of sticks covered with a thick layer of leaf litter.

Purchased shelter options include the bivouac bag (or bivy bag), essentially like sleeping in your sleeping bag, but the bivy provides an out waterproof shell. Think of a raincoat for your sleeping bag.

Other commonly purchased shelter options are tarps, which can make a shelter by stringing a rope between two trees and draping the tarp on top. Tarps are also great for keeping your gear dry or stretching them out in front of you as an emergency rain poncho when it’s raining.

Lastly, another purchased shelter option would be a traditional tent that I am sure most people are familiar with.

Cooking Over The Fire

Cooking over the coals and fire is an important skill to have. Most people think you need to cook over the actual flames, but 99% of the time, you are actually cooking over the coals.

It is common for beginners to burn their food because they think they need to cook over the fire.

Cooking on coals is done by removing a layer of hot coals from the fire and placing them below the cooking surface, which is usually found in an ash-pan or grill under the grate where you place your pots and pans (or directly on top of the coals).

Purifying Water

First, it’s also important to purify your water. If you have a large pot or kettle, you can boil your water.

If you don’t have a pot or kettle, water purification tablets are available to purchase online and stored for up to five years. If you need them in an emergency, they will already be there. To use, you just add the correct amount of water and wait for the required time as specified in the directions.

General Camp Craft

Camp craft is a general term describing the skills associated with improving your camp experience. Some examples of this is building tables or chairs from natural materials within your environment.

Some other things I have done in camp are making a place to hang my pots, pans, and cups, make a drying rack for clothing and dishes and hang my food.

I like to use natural materials found within my environment when constructing these. They blend into the environment more and allow you to really utilize the skills you have spent time learning.

Plant and Animal ID

Another area that is useful to practice is plant identification. This is important as knowing what plants are harmful, edible, and medicinal can be the difference between life or death.

Plant ID can be a long-term area that you can practice because plants vary widely based upon where you are within the world. Plants in the eastern woodlands of the United States will vary significantly from plants that are in a place that is a jungle environment.

A good general practice is learning specific plants and learning characteristics such as what style of plants make good cordage or common features that may evidence a plant could be harmful.

An excellent place to start is by researching the local flora for where you live and then find ways to identify them in their environments, such as a plant book or online courses.

Such resources are available at your public library, community college, and even though some universities offer degrees specifically in wild edibles and medicinal plants.

One piece of advice, reference multiple sources, and if you are not 100% sure something is edible, do not eat it.

Animal ID is another valuable skill to have. Knowing animals in your environment can be helpful from a food procurement point of view. Animal IDs via tracks and/or identifying audible sounds can be helpful in numerous ways as well.

For example, knowing what a fox screaming sounds like can be helpful in the event you hear one at night as you won’t be scared of the sound because you understand what it is, and it is pretty much harmless.

Common Bushcraft Gear

Bushcraft gear, when put together, is what we call a Bushcraft Kit. Many of us, when we are not bushcrafting, will reconfigure our kit. It gives us something to do when we can’t spend time in the actual woods practicing our skills.

There are a lot of bushcraft gear essentials that you should know about. It is essential to understand each piece’s importance and function to be fully prepared, not just with knowledge but also by packing your kit accordingly.

In this section, we will explore some of the basics of a well-rounded kit, and you can customize it as you gain more experience or if where you are going dictates it.

We are going to cover a lot of gear here. Please understand you do not need all of this to have a good time out in the woods. Much of this gear you may already have or can make or procure relatively cheap. Do not let not having something keep you from getting out. With the proper knowledge, you will find you need less and less gear.

Clothing

Having the appropriate clothing for the environments you will be in when practicing Bushcraft is essential.

For example, I am on the east coast of the United States, and we have everything from sub-zero temperatures to 90 degree hot and humid days. The temperature and weather will make an immense determination in what type of clothing I need.

Ideally, you should have a layering system that can cover any number of scenarios. We will provide more detail on this concept in the future in a separate article, but you can align your clothing choices for the temperature and climate you are working in.

Cutting Tools

A basic bushcraft kit should have a knife, a saw, and a hatchet or axe.

For a budget-minded kit, you can pick up a basic kit at pretty reasonable prices. A Mora brand knife is a great choice and can be had for under $30. You can pick up a small folding saw at any hardware store, and a hatchet or axe can easily be found at any hardware store as well. These budget choices are great for getting started, and you can upgrade later on when you see what needs to be improved or not.

Cooking Equipment

A basic cook kit could be an old cast iron frying pan and a kitchen pot or kettle. If you have some extra funds, you could upgrade to an aluminum, stainless, or titanium cook kit that is lighter weight and more portable.

You should also have some type of water bottle. Personally, I use a Nalgene brand bottle, but if you are on a budget, you could re-use Gatorade bottles and get by just fine.

Shelter

While you should know how to build a natural shelter, you shouldn’t always rely on one. Sometimes you will want to get out for an overnight trip and want to practice other skills. Having a small tent or tarp is ideal in these scenarios and will allow you to set up a shelter quickly.

Sleep Gear

Sleeping gear is another area you should invest some money in. Sure, you can make a debris bed, but you aren’t going to want to do that every trip. Having a sleeping pad (air or foam) and a sleeping bag is the minimal kit, and you can invest in one based on your budget.

Cordage

For a lot of bushcraft projects, having access to some cordage is ideal. Again, you can make cordage and learn this craft over time, but I would buy some parachute cord and some cheap twine. Use the twine when you can, as it is cheaper, but if you are looking to tie off a food bag or lash a shelter pole to a tree, you want to use something more substantial such as a paracord.

Where To Practice Bushcraft

Truth be told, you can practice Bushcraft just about anywhere. Many things you can practice in your own backyard. For extended trips or more remote camping-style trips, look into public land near you. If you live in an area that doesn’t have many public lands, you can seek out private landowners that may allow you to use their property for a small fee or maybe even for free if you barter some work.

For longer duration, remote trips, I choose to drive a few hours to a national forest in Pennsylvania.

Sometimes just getting out for a walk in a local park to do some tree, plant, and animal ID can be just what is needed and is a great skill to practice.

Famous People Who Teach, Practice, or Promote Bushcraft

Over the years, many people have practiced some form of Bushcraft (even if they didn’t call it by that name). Some have become relatively well known. Everyone has opinions about the folks they follow, some good and some bad. This is simply a list for you to do more research and determine who’s teaching style most resonates with you.

Mors Kochanski was a famous Canadian bushcraft and survival instructor. Mors passed away in 2019, but many people consider Mors, a mentor, and his legacy lives on.

Bear Grylls is more of a survival instructor, but some overlap occurs between survival and Bushcraft. He is well known for various TV shows he has hosted.

Another famous British bushcraft instructor, Ray Mears, is a TV personality and author. Many people look to Ray as one of the better sources for promoting Bushcraft.

Dave Canterbury has been on TV and also has a relatively large Youtube Channel. He is a full-time bushcraft and survival instructor with a retail outlet that sells gear associated with the outdoors.

Cody Lundin is more of a survival and wilderness living instructor, but he has extensive knowledge on wilderness living and Bushcraft techniques. Lundin is what many people would consider the modern-day “Swiss Army Knife” when it comes to outdoor skills. Cody, for a time, was on TV with Dave Canterbury hosting a show that was called Dual Survival.

Horace Kephart was an author and travel writer who wrote Camping and Woodcraft. He passed away in 1931, but his writing has lived on and has influenced several folks interested in Woodcraft.

Les Stroud, otherwise known by the nickname Survivorman, is known for his long-running TV show and what made him famous in the outdoors industry, is another well-known Canadian instructor.

Popular Bushcraft Youtubers

YouTube and individuals recording and sharing bushcraft skills and knowledge has become immensely popular in recent years. Several bushcrafters have become well known, and if you are interested, you can check out these individual’s YouTube Channels for more information about Bushcraft. Overall I have learned a lot from these channels and proud to say I shared a camp with a number of them.

Joe Robinet – Joe started his YouTube channel to chronicle his outdoor adventures and entertain folks along the way. Joe often took his dog Scout on these adventures with him, where Scout became as popular for viewers as Joe was. Joe’s channel has over 1.5 million subscribers and is still growing!

Wendell Adams – Wendell is a contributor to Wandering Outdoors, and he has his own YouTube Channel, “The Prepared Wanderer.” Wendell shares many of his outdoor adventures and reviews a lot of gear that many of us may be interested in. Wendell also has a lot of experience with Search and Rescue.

Mike Pullen – TA Outdoors – Mike is a bushcrafter from the UK, and he shares many of his bushcraft projects. Some of his more popular videos are around building shelters around a theme; for example, he has built a “Viking House.”

Common Bushcraft Terminology

Like any other hobby, there is a terminology that is common amongst those that follow the hobby. If you are new to Bushcraft, knowing some of these standard terms is vital to understand what you read online or see in the various YouTube videos you may watch.

Bushcraft – is focused on wilderness survival skills. Usually, the bushcrafter will be in an outdoor environment, and they need to understand how to survive with limited supplies. This may include but not be limited to shelter, water purification, fire starting, hunting/trapping for food.

Bushcraft Kit – refer to the set of supplies that a user has on them at all times in case they need it. This might include items like matches, bandanas/head coverings, knives, compass, etc.

Bushcraft Knife – is an outdoor survival tool and means different things to different people but most commonly refers to knives used for various tasks within Bushcraft. Generally, a bushcraft knife is smaller in size, where a survival knife is larger in size and will generally be more of a one tool option.

Blade Grind – this is the edge that is put on your knife. Two common blade grinds for Bushcraft are a scandi grind and a convex grind. A scandi is generally at a 0-degree angle, with two flat bevels. A convex has been ground at an angle that comes together and creates a sort of pointy “hump” towards the base of the blade near the cutting edge.

First Aid Kit (FAC) – this is a kit with basic first aid supplies that you can use if you have some type of injury while bushcrafting.

Personal Survival Kit (PSK) is a small survival kit many bushcrafters will keep on them. It usually fits in a small pouch or tin.

Fire Kit – this is a kit that is dedicated to making fire. This could include flint and steel, fire steel, and various tinder options.