Vermes: The wastebucket of the natural world ................

Found this interesting little article on mumblage international - some interesting points raised here particularly the ones about authors suffering "diarrhea of the hand" after all in recent years I cant think of a new manual that is in anyway unique, well thought out or encompassing skills the author can truely say he or she is totally familiar with 100% .............


Vermes: The Wastebucket of the Natural World
A Column by Leif Fredrickson

By Leif Fredrickson

Mors Kochanski, author of the Canadian bestseller Northern Bushcraft, once told me that survival writing is plagued by a “diarrhea of the hand.” The symptoms are not pretty: writers indiscriminately swallow chunks of half-masticated information, pass it quickly through their system, and shoot it undigested from their fingertips into books.

The prognosis, however, is not too bad: possible widespread acclaim.

Ray Mears, though largely unknown in America, is a celebrity in Britain. He is the host of the BBC produced TV series World of Survival and is the author of several survival books. His latest book (with a forward by Ewan McGregor) is The Essential Bushcraft, a more portable version of Mears’ much larger Bushcraft: An Inspirational Guide to Surviving in the Wilderness.

The Essential Bushcraft shares more than a name with Kochanski’s book—Mears borrows prodigiously, and without acknowledgement, from Northern Bushcraft and some of Kochanski’s other pamphlets. And indeed if Mears simply copied solid information out of older books his own would at least be trustworthy. But—call the doctor!—Mears has the terrible affliction Kochanski describes, and the result is the standard survival-writing hodgepodge of useful and dubious information that is confusing and potentially dangerous to the amateur.

According to some reviewers, and the author himself, Mears is an expert outdoorsman. “Ray Mears is a bushman first and foremost,” writes a reviewer from GQ, “and really can survive in any extreme environment. I can’t think of a better companion to have in a crisis.” The doughy Englishman does have some good meat on his bones, but it is clear from his book that he is inexperienced in at least one environment: the northern woods.

Mears writes that felling trees is not common in the bush, and evidently he is not joking. Actually it is one of the most important skills for the northern woods, especially when snow covers the ground (which can be the most of the year in some places). It is also one of the most dangerous tasks, and Mears’ tree-felling diagram contains a serious error: the undercut—it is named that for a reason—should go under the backcut. This keeps the tree butt from kicking back and hitting the faller, so it is not a trivial matter. Following Mears’ instructions could get you killed.

Less dangerous but equally impractical is this advisory: “When using your axe in sub-zero conditions warm it with your hand to body heat first to make the steel less brittle.” I have never chipped an axe in subzero conditions, but I do have a scar on my finger from resting it a second too long on the trigger guard of a rifle in freezing weather. At best your hands will be too cold to use the axe; at worst you will frostburn your hands.

A basic understanding of human physiology should be a part of every putative survival expert’s knowledge. Mears, however, repeats a common misconception about survival in cautioning against eating snow because “the amount of energy you lose will outweigh the benefit of water gained.” Water is far more important than the calories burnt to produce heat that can melt snow. Eating snow cools you down, obviously, so you don’t want to eat it if you are getting hypothermic. Otherwise, chow down—a person can live roughly ten times longer without food than without water.

These are just a few of the problems with The Essential Bushcraft that make it poor if not pernicious. Many other details indicate the author’s inexperience in the bush, including the conflation of the boreal forest with the arctic (which is above the tree line). The book contains information on desert and jungle survival as well, but considering the erroneous information about the northern bush environment, you have to take it with a grain of salt.

Beyond this, Mears’ writing is tedious and redundant. He (or they—he switches to the royal “we” sometimes) often informs the reader that what you want to do, or bring, or build, in a situation depends on a number of factors, such as weather, or your environment, or length of time, but then he does not elaborate on how those factors might effect your choice. The writing, in other words, is a bit doughy itself. There are also curious phrases like “maximum efficiency for minimal effort.”

We should all strive for efficient efficiency, really. Unfortunately, The Essential Bushcraft does not deliver; it is neither reliable nor a good distillation of facts. The idea of a single book encompassing the essential survival skills for the entire planet is ridiculous anyway. But if you just need a small book with lots of nice pictures to effortlessly tote from the comfy armchair of your den to the lavatory, this one might just be the ticket.

Copyright 2000-2005 Mumblage International

Recession proofing your bushcraft? Back to Basics? Budget bushcraft?

Call it what you will the recent down turn in the economony has, in my humble opinion, been a good thing for the dyed in the wool bushcrafter. That and the recent trend which has seen bushcrafters turn to new activities such as hiking.

In the last fifteen or so years a whole, and in many ways, expensive industry has built up around the magic words "bushcraft". However some of us have been around long enough to remember the outdoors before the coming of bushcraft ......... yep once upon a time those of us who went into the woods to practice the ancient skills of the woodsman, the aboriginal native and the survivalist never knew the stuff we did had a name and a price tag ......... it was just what we did, and had fun doing, we called it "hunting rabbits" or Building a camp or fishing or even going for a long walk or having a bbq!

I say price tag because that has been the most obvious change to my mind. A change which has had both good and bad effects - good in as much as there are now millions of "must have" items available to the "shrafter" - bad as in the now percieved "needs" and expense there in of what is supposed to be a hobby taking folks back to nature! I find nothing sadier than browsing forums where newbies ask, "what kit do I need to buy to start out in bushcraft?" well only one thing is sadier and thats the reply from so called "experienced" folks "well x brand is a good knife and y brand is a good sack. Buy the best you can afford etc etc etc"

As an example of this lets look at the most basic cutting tool the knife - in 1994 I got my first Mora knife compliments of David Haye Jones and the Wilderness News. As we all know Mora knives are factory made and very practical around the bush, so much so that they have always been championed by Canadian expert Mors Kochanski. In all my years experience I too have used Mora knives time and time again. So why now is a supposed "good" bushcraft knife priced at over £130?? Why are newbies and those less "experienced" all led to believe that a mora is a good starters knife yet you must "aspire" to be able to buy as expensive a knife as possible?? Even I have swallowed that load of poppycock in the past! So, dear reader, from now on remember the mantra, "price does not equaite to value in the bush!"

Now we understand that we dont need to spend a fortune on expensive kit, a truth even Ray Mear and his Woodlore company used to add on its kit list! Ray used to say something like, "dont spend your hard earned cash on expensive kit, your understanding of your kit needs will most likely change after doing a course". We can free ourselves from the shackles of the commercial demons and in so doing step into a new light!

To get back to basics we first need to forget the sales hype which bombards us all the time. Ignore the myths put out by manufacturers and sellers with a vested interest in parting you from your hard earned wages.

Now lets work on the simple rule of our kit being broken down into "something to sleep under, sleep in, sleep on. Something to cook in, cook on. ETC." That makes it nice and simple I think!

Now an article covering every item carried would be a cumbersum read so I'll break it down into bite size chunks to make it a bit more digestable.

Firstly, let me touch upon the one item which most folks have spent most likely spent small fortunes on - the knife! Yes the hallowed cutting tool with we are often lead to believe is the be all and end all of life! "YOUR KNIFE IS YOUR LIFE" is a common mantra. But why is it your life? Sure its a sexy tool, a shiny and beautiful thing but at its root its JUST A TOOL and a Mora Triflex is just as good as a Woody WOODLORE - Im not talking quality of materials, I'm not talking the hours spent by the crafts man - all I am talking about is whats important cutting edge, reliablity and usability. Think of it this way a bushcraft knife is merely a craft knife, a knife designed to be used to whittle wood, open food packets and slice meat in camp - if you understand that you will save yourself a fortune! Personal experience has even taught me how little I really need a knife, often these days I happily survive weekends and weeks away with only a small pocket knife - a british army clasp knife - as it happens and I havent died yet!

Secondly lets talk about Mister Knifes buddies, Axe and Saw. Axe around the base camp is handy but not essential. The saw around camp is likewise handy - but can we survive without them?? Of course we can! Now heres another revolutionary thought, instead of a axe and a saw maybe a billhook or a machete would suffice?? After all THEY have done for hundreds of years especially among the armies of the world! And thats what I know use the British army Golok no2 - its not as clean as a saw for cutting wood but kept sharp and used correctly its an acceptable alternative and a thrid of the price of the later two. That said IF you have a place that needs wood for a stove and to make your daily household needs then a bow saw and a full size Axe are THE tools to have and dont be pussy footing around with compromises .........

Price wise - Mora Triflex £19.95, lesser priced Woodlore Clone £130 = £110 difference!
Saw and Axe (laplander and gransfors) £20 and £50, No2 Golok £25 = £45 saving!

Another item worth thinking about is our waterproof layer .......... how often do you need a waterproof?? How many days are you in the woods days on end when it rains and arains and rains?? Whats the average price of a "brand" waterproof £200 or more? Well folks consider this a poncho is not only a fraction of the price its also multifunctional too ... for my money I use the Swiss army poncho £7.50 and as robust as you could want! Is it better than goretex for example?? Hell yes, I have known goretex to leak after a long duration in the rain my poncho have never - and its easy to ventilate. The poncho is rubberised and as such should it ever tear or leak it's gonna be easy to repair with tape or a rubbery universal type glue.

And thats what bushcraft "should" be about, not just an understanding of the natural world and how to live in harmony with it but also how to find and use kit that doesnt cost the earth, that is long lasting, multifunctional. If we were to truely become one with nature and live among its citizens for more than a week or two then we need gear that is "soldier proof" to use the phase ........... more importantly, more important than any kit is KNOWLEDGE, if you know HOW to life in the woods then you dont NEED to expensive brand name kit and copious amounts of it. The adapt the old saying "learn to replace missing kit with knowledge, not missing knowledge with expensive kit."

Next time we'll look at rucksacks and daysacks, sleeping mats and maybe cookware such as stoves and pots and pans.


The best Emergency Stove ..........from the Swiss army

Volcano stoves arent new. But in my experience they are hard work - especially if your expecting your main fuel to be twigs! Primarily due to the fact that most stove designs are to small to allow a good hot burn - when after all in a emergency you could just as easily make a fire!

So what makes the Swiss army stove so special?? Well its not just a stove ...... the stove contains no only the stove itself but a 500ml cup and a 1 litre bottle or flask thus making the emergency stove a complete kit! Word of note here some folks replace the flask with a sigg bottle - I have tried both and both work equally well to be honest but the cork stopper is handy as a lid for the flask if using it to boil water!

And thats the trick as I find generally its better to boil the flask than to use the cup - one, its better if theres two people! Two, if your boiling water to purify it the larger the amount done in one go the better and three it avoids a sotty tarry mess on the cups bottom which will mess up the inside of your pack!

So if the stove any good? Its not a jet boil for sure but for the pennies its one hell of a back up stove - and if its any recommendation at all its the stove that now lives perminently in my daysack and emergency pack .............

stainless steel vs Ali ............

The Swedish army meal kit - or kitchen as the Swedes call them is, to my mind, the most versatile piece of cookware available to the dedicated outdoors person.

But whats better - the Ali or the stainless model??

Well the stainless one weighs almost double the Ali one ....... but it is bomb proof! But boil time is a critical facture as the faster the boil the less fuel needed etc.

So I decided to carry out a less than scientific experiment ............. the mission to boil a pint of water in both pots on my modern gas stove at home (where conditions were controlled) and see which was fastest to a rolling boil ........

Well as you can see the stainless stel pot boiled a pint of water in 6.25 minutes only a fraction on a second or two a head of the Ali .......... so which is better?? Well that depends on the weight ..............

Just a thought

Wool clothing ........... so many self proclaimed experts preach the wonders of wool, especially those who sell it! But recently, while reading a book about Dunkirk where the the soldiers were infested with lice living in the seams of their wool serge battle dress, I began to wonder if this was a potential down fall of wool??

Admittedly these days very few of us actually live outdoors and close to nature for periods longer than a few days, but surely part of our hobby is the training for, and dreams of living in the wild long term.

As such clothing attractive to lice might not be so good - admittedly most modern manufacturers wash in some kind of mould and pesticide but this doesnt offer long term protection!

Is wool really a bushcrafters friend?? A evening of research found hundreds of references to lice and woollen clothing - but none for lice in modern clothing, even polycotton uniforms ......... not conclusive but defo worth remembering next time you pnder buying that expensive wool shirt ...........


Swedish Snow smocks ............... dyed and excellent

I have just read with great interest an article about dying a swedish army snow smock and how good they are (attached) I whole heartedly agree.

I have had one which I dyed orange and use on arctic/sub arctic courses for a while now and I agree with the author these are hands down better than ventile ........................ as long as you remember they arent trying to be waterproof jackets!

I say that as ventile often is sold as being supposedly waterproof ........ which it isnt as the whole premiss of ventile is the fibres swell when wet creating a barrier - once saturated the water passes through .......... hence not waterproof just resistant! And I speak from experience both of Snowsled and West winds ventiles ...........further more a down side of Ventile is its like cardboard when wet, stiff and clammy and takes an age to dry! Dont forgot the price which is eye poppingly high! Ventile IS tough - it is windproof but thats as far as it goes hence its popularity in the dry cold!

I almost wet myself reading some of the comments on the linked article - surely a ventile seller wouldnt defend his product lol ........ as for some of the other replies well you make up your own mind!!

One thing I would say is double layer ventile is MORE resistant than single layer for sure - stands to reason!

Anyway as I say these smocks arent pretending to be waterproof - if your expecting rain buy a goretex or a aquafoil or similar jacket ............. if you want a well made, well priced, tough as old boots smock to wear over your expensive mid and base layers then the snow smock might just fit your bill ..........

Experience counts for a lot these days when prices are so high and my experience is thus, there are two types of bushcrafters - whose who have good kit and use it and those who buy expensive kit and defend it!

Oh and I'm off to Devon for a weeks hiking on Exmoor in my Paramo windshirt and Cascade jacket ................

Nice article compliments of BUSHCRAFT STUFF - WRITTEN ABOUT A 2010 Visit to our area - good read well done.


Winter WEISS - just a thought

One of the many subjects we look at on the Winter WEISS training is emergency kit. In a sub arctic enviroment wet and dry cold can be experienced so the kit for this region needs to be a little bit more well thought out than for just a dry cold world.

As such (and because I know a fair few of those attending the winter training are readers) I have add a basic emergency kit below. The kit should fit in a 20lt day sack or less and is a combination of MOD Mountain and Arctic warfare pamphlet, my own experience and the standards recommended for any hiker in the uk .....

Where specific items are named feel free to change those to another item of a similar design for example the Mora Triflex can be replaced with any bushcraft style knife ...........


Each person must carry or wear the following or similar when away from the camp location: (this will act as the basis for students emergency packs)

a. Clothing.
(1) Windproof outer garment (with full contents of pockets).
(2) Mitts outer and inner.
(3) Head dress (Issued or approved). FLOPPY HAT/woolly hat
(4) Daysack.

b. Contents Of Pockets.
(1) Aide memoire.
(2) Goggles
(3) Emergency survival bag.
(4) Lip salve.
(5) Notebook and pencil
(6) First aid.
(7) Face mask.
(8) Whistle.
(9) Compass/map.
(10) Matches or lighter.
(11) String or para-cord (20m).
(12) Headover/balaclava.
(13) Emergency rations.
(14) Gloves/mittens (if not worn).
(15) Spare gloves.
(16) Wristlets.
(17) Leathrman wave.

c. Contents Of Daysack.
(1) Waterproof suit.
(2) insulation jacket (buffalo belay or snuggie)
(3) Torch.(head torch)
(4) Bivvy bag.
(5) 24 hours rations.
(6) Vacuum flask or thermal mug.
(7) SS mess kit comp
(9) Mora Triflex and Mora classic No3
(10) Folding saw
(11) Axe stone
(12) Spare socks