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.