The closing of a year is always an important time, a time for us to consider change, a time of hope for something better and a time to look back and remember the adventures and the camp fires of the passing year.

And for me it is also a time to complete an experiment I started at the end of last year. It’s all about going (heres a few phrases) back to basics – the common man approach – carrying less by knowing more – etc etc – phrases we all hear all the time spouted out by experts and guru’s who rarely practice what they preach!!

So what am I going on about? Well starting with the article I wrote on this blog about bedrolling (http://survivall.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/bedrolling-future.html) and the you tube film (http://youtu.be/H6Prd3MSDHw) - these might help but it is something that has been brewing in my heart for a while now.

Basically, it’s a wish to leave behind the commercialism, the brand names and the general watering down of what bushcraft is to me. Popular bushcraft is ok, if it is your thing great - but there are only so many spoons you can carve, there are only so many knives you can own and never use, only so many brand name items that the guru’s wear on tv or recommend (because they sell them) that the sheeple can buy before the path becomes muddled and confused.

To me the whole ideal of bushcraft is to find a simple, low impact way of passing through nature, in the beginning it was to achieve the aim of being able to go out into the woods with only a billy, a blanket and a knife and to be able to live comfortably, something I have done now many times.

Then like many I too fell into the commercial trap – the money pit of consumerism where the true needs of an outdoorsman are lost to the money making endeavours of the industry ………… the amount of money I have wasted on overpriced crap is truly shocking! Knives, dozens of them which I thought would be ‘the one’, only to end up giving away, selling or dumping before going back to the same old knives I always use ………………Now, at last the simple truth has dawned on me – if I go back to them again and again then maybe it is these that are ‘the one’ and so why waste time and money??

In simplifying your approach to gear you also simplify your kit and come quickly to understand what are really needs and what simply wants! Put it another way, the bushcrafter needs to learn to read the tracks in the retail store or bushcraft school shop just as he learns to read the tracks of the flora and fauna around him. Learning to do the former can save you money if nothing else, learning to do the later can keep you safe or fill your belly. For me army surplus seems to be the way ahead - Swedish military surplus is popular for example and justifiably so!

Once this ground breaking idea – ok, ok, common sense – dawned on me I, and I advise you all to do this, caste my eyes back to my greenhorn days remembering the kit I carried then and then pondered the kit I carry now. Did I carry more back then as I didn’t know so much? Well actually no, it seems now I carry more??
Because I am told to by the sellers of the must have gear!

“No one tells me what to carry” I hear you cry – no? Me neither but it’s the suggestion that’s the killer. For example why do I carry a spoon knife for a weekend in the woods? Do I intend to carve a spoon? No, then why carry one? Is it going to be minus 15c while I’m out?? No? Then why do I need a expensive wool coat or shirt when maybe a simple wool jumper will do?

Let us expand on the wool jumper argument  as an example – what is the real difference between a brand name wool shirt and say a british army jersey heavy wool?? Apart from price of course! Really nothing – except what the seller tells you and the suggestion that the wool shirt with its snazzy autumnal colour scheme will make you a better bushcrafter, or if you are not a better bushcrafter it’ll make you look like one …………… which of course is utter rubbish even though many newbies and even some so called experts fail to understand that! “oh but their harder wearing or more in tune with nature” more sales pitch swallowed by the willing gullible – after all the army wouldn’t issue a jumper that wasn’t hard wearing or toned down to blend with nature! Be interesting to know the "true" processes used to make and dye these items too - how ecological are they? 
We have all seen guys dressing to the nines like little Ray Mears clones who can’t even tie a boot lace let alone a taut line knot, or wandering around the place with 3 knives and several axes hanging off them (and hopefully a first aid of adequate size to match) which to the trained eye are obviously as unfamiliar to their hand as they would be to a martian or a 3 year old, but the na├»ve bushcrafter carries them firstly in the belief that they make him look like a pro and secondly because he knows no better, after all that bloke on the bushcraft forum with all the pictures of the shiny looking tools says that Is what he does and he must know what he’s talking about he has over 10,000 posts ……………right? WRONG! And lastly lets not forget the fact "they have paid for them and will show them off!"

So, why carry more? I can find no answer. It’s easier to replace missing knowledge with gear than to speed the dirt time learning the knowledge needed and if you lack the knowledge it is wise to ensure you have the correct gear UNTIL you gain the knowledge - but if you have the experience and skills why lumber yourself with all that tut? So is the guy loaded down with all the must have gear telling us he's a expert or merely proving he isn't??

Comfort? Maybe it is more comfortable to have a dutch oven than a billy can – maybe it is more comfortable to have a cool box full of steak and beers than to carry a few rations in your rucksack, maybe it is more comfortable to have a folding chair than to sit on the ground or your sleeping mat but maybe that 4 x 4 you need to carry it all isn’t – take only pictures leave only foot prints, not fire scares and certainly not dirty great welts in the track where your cars tyres have torn up the earth, scaring mother nature!! If you seek that kind of comfort why not go to a proper camp site which is designed for it??

OK, I won’t labour the point, you know what I’m saying.

So to me simplifying my needs was a simple thing, it was merely a matter of looking back, understanding my needs, my true needs and sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Anyone can do it, leave out anythings that have only one use for example, select items with multiplicity in mind. My kit (now) is robust and weighs less than 20lbs including 2x 58 pattern water bottles and 24hrs rations ………so I have food and water for 24hrs, well the food can be stretched for as long as three days if needed but the water cant! So that’s 20lbs of kit which will (baring food) last me indefinitely and has been used year round from the deep winter cold to summers hazy heat both in UK and the Swedish boreal forests! Use common sense when it comes to food and water and you have a kit which would certainly be good to go for a week or two hiking (I intend to use this set up below for my next hike of the wall for example) or canoeing most places in the world – and which with a tweak or two would be spot on for most of the other places too!!

So what do I carry? It isn’t some silly survival kit, it is proper gear it is just not fussy and the items I carry are versatile!

Below are two lists – one for bushcraft the other for hiking – note the merge between the two and the distinct separations also.

Possibles (pocket items)
  • Small folding knife, lighter, Twine (paracord), torch, tinder card, firesteel, sharpening stone
  1. Neck/sheath knife – Small folding kuksa
1.      Socks and pants
Socks and Pants (long hiking pants)
2.      Trousers – 5.11 or Fjellraven (with braces)
Trousers – craghoppers with braces
3.      T-shirt (zip neck) and or
4.      Rollneck merino (cold weather)
5.      Light Fleece – check shirt
       5a, insulation Jacket –
       5b Swedish army parka – winter/extreme
6.      Jacket – dpm goretex lined
Jacket – waterproof/berghaus cornice
6a long johns (as underwear or sleep in)
6b Ventile windshirt/jacket
Rucksack packing list – Medium Alice pack
Rucksack for hiking - karrimor                                                    
1.      Patrol bag in brit bivi (for over nighters)
2.      Black Sleeping bag and Bivi
(USA system parts as needed in stuff sack)
3.      Army sleep mat - groundsheet
Therma rest
4.      US army Poncho + woobie
Tent (banshee or hubba)
5.      Hygiene items
Wash kit – small towel (bandana?)
6.      first aid kit
Hussif and first aid
7.      Winter hat –mitts – scarf (cap in summer) Mosi headnet
8.      Radio
9.      Cylume(s)
10.   2 x 58 Pattern Bottles + 2 x plastic mugs
11.   Puritabs
Pre-mac filter
12.   Cook Set – including spices etc
Msr stowaway + Woodgas stove
b.      MSR gas stove and vango set for hiking
13.   Brew kit
Flask (jack or Weiss)
15.   Spare clothing – insulation (long johns –thermal trousers)
16.   Axe/hawk
17.   Map/compass/gps
18.   Insualted clothing as required


And that’s it really, most items are now tried and tested over several years and so I know they work – ask yourself what do you carry? how much does your kit weigh??

Remember the rule of threes – if you carry an item and don’t use it for three consecutive trips then ask yourself do you really need it? Apart, that is from first aid and safety gear!

I hope this article has, if nothing else got you thinking, re-evaluating you kit and more importantly your skills or lack of them pertaining to your needs for kit at least!


Ross Gilmore said...

Great post. I think you mentioned a lot of things that are very true.

I find it hilarious that we need to have such posts and discussions in the bushcraft community. It is an unfortunate sign of how little time people in the community actually spend in the woods. The gear list you showed is common sense and standard for any backpacker out there. Go to any backpacking or hiking forum, and that is a fairly standard gear list that would not require much discussion. Yet in the bushcraft community it comes as some form of revelation, largely because most people who post on bushcraft forums have never spent a week walking through the woods with their gear.

I think that is also why we see so many items in the bushcraft community that are prioritized to a silly degree over other items which are much more useful to a person actually spending time in the woods. You get discussions on knives that go on forever, but you can count on one hand the threads about proper sleeping bags. You get discussions about living in the woods with a billy can and a knife, with prayer clearly being the third tool, as perfect environmental conditions are the only thing that will keep you out for more than a day. Proper common sense gear lists get ignored because they don't sound as cool to people who never plan on being in the woods to begin with.

I think technology and commercialism has its place. Over time we do get improvements on items that we use. For example, my sleeping bags are expensive and technologically advanced. I used to use surplus sleeping bags, but my new ones are about a third of the weight and a quarter of the size respectively. proper rain gear has also been a huge advance. I would pay the money for Goretex any day over the older options, although these days these old options are being sold as new miraculous technology-Ventile anyone? Who would have thought that any of us would be paying this kind of money for what is pretty much a cotton jacket.

One question-why do you have a separate backpacking gear list. What makes one item a bushcraft item and the other a backpacking one. For me they tend to be one and the same thing. Bushcraft just provides some skills that let me do more in the woods, but the gear is the same functional stuff I always carry.

I think the more the bushcraft community grows, the less relevant it becomes to people who spend time in the woods. Initially it had some value in introducing some skills that might have been forgotten. At this point however, it has all been covered a million times. People who spend time in the woods have taken the skills that can be practically applied and have done so. What is left is a stylized discussion on how to be a Ray Mears clone, and what is required to be in the club. I have little use for it.

Anonymous said...

Gary, the Bushcraft List isnt showing properly

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.