And finally

Just a quick note to congratulate the cadets from the Kent squadrons who attended the bushcraft course last weekend - many of whom were not only new to cadets but also to sleeping outdoors!!

As such their achievements are doubly good as they slept in natural shelters in some very challenging weather.

It was a great way to wind up the year - spending my last course with some old and very good friends!!

Looking forward to next year already - but never mind now time to populate my you tube channel!!


A little italian number ..............

Outdoors gear has always been a talking point even back in the days of the fur trade certain items gained reputations as being the best kit to have, things such as Hawken rifles and Hudson's bay point blankets become "the" item to have and many aspiring Mountain men would go all out to own such things so trusted were the reputation and word of the experienced men who went before them.
In the last decade word of mouth reputation seemed to slip by the way side as the outdoor industry grew and sales blah, biased reviews and bushcraft forums became popular. Sales pitches can generally be seen as what they are, biased reviews with a little research can be confirmed or negated but a lot of misinformation was and is pumped out by forum members, some to boost their own ego's, some to improve the rating of the forum and thus create a money making opportunity etc - regardless the reason ultimately forum reviews in my experience tend to be from guys who rarely actually get out in the field and as such these days I don't visit forums with the sole exception of the finnish bushcraft forum, this small forum is made up of mostly genuine outdoors men who actually spend more time in the woods than on the computer.
Anyway the reason I point this out is that for me the best research source now is you tube, here you can sort the wheat from the chaff just by watching guys trying to do or replicate various skills and here also reputations are being made. There are some excellent woodcrafters on the tube, DC from wilderness outfitters (apart from the politics of his being dropped from discovery channel a mistake on his part lead to a major mistake on their part as the new co host doesn't cut the mustard for me) Mitch from Native survival even good old Mors can now be found on there as well as yours truly!! With regards to kit likewise some items seem to be very popular, Mora knives for example and rightly so.
An item proving popular and growing in reputation on YT is the Italian Army Rucksack (known by other names too such as Italian Alpine backpack etc) these are canvas sacks with a classic look that I like.
Some of the YT reviews of these are done by experienced guys so straight way giving them some credence right off (just like the OH butcher knife mind you) but are they as good as these folks say??
Well only one way to find out ................................
These sacks seem to be virtually non-available in UK so I had to order one from America. The company I ordered from deserve a note here as unlike many US firms they ship very quickly (items arrive within 2 weeks and are tracked throughout) they don't over charge postage and if you contact them offer excellent customer service.
They only seem to stock used packs however but at $13 I figured used was good enough and so placed my order. When the sack arrived I was not only pleased with the speed of the delivery but also the "newness" of the sack - it did have writing on the flap and the metal strap ends of the lid were missing but bought as used and at that price I wasn't going to complain as the rest of the sack looks new.
Now one YT vid I watched the guy modified his sack by replacing the shoulder straps with Alice pack ones and this I did too - mainly as the shoulder straps supplied are not only very heavy for what they are, they also seem to be designed for someone with the anatomy of a stick insect and me being a burly 6 foot found I couldn't actually wear the sack comfortably or at least adjust it out enough to fit.
Three other changes I made were to add a paracord loop between the middle eyes of the lid draw cord as part of the axe suspension system (my axe is now carried with the head through the loop and the handle slid inside the strap between the buckles). I also rethreaded the cordage on the sides to allow the side pockets to expand easier and the cordage to be tightened or loosened as required. Lastly I replaced the lid draw cord with paracord, so nothing to "imaginative!"

Italian army backpack (above left) with ALICE PACK SHOULDER STRAPS and pictured next to a Swedish army LK25 for size comparison.
So the sack itself, firstly its small (about 20 to 25 litres I imagine) and the canvas is heavy duty. But this isn't actually detrimental rather the opposite as it makes you think about what you carry and why! Those who have read or seen my article/vid about bed rolling will be pleased to hear the sack will easily take that amount of kit - indeed I'll add a kit list below this review. Again on YT many of the reviewers also change the straps at the base and here attach thick bedrolls or woollen blankets. 
The lids, both main sack and pockets, is lined with a waterproof material as is the base of the main sack however the rest of the canvas sack is merely canvas (waterproofing materials are available for canvas) however being of a generation of soldiers who grew up with 58 pattern webbing I simply waterproof all my gear by lining the sack with a heavy gauge rubble sack.
The last item worth noting is the buckles for the lid, these are a pressed steel with a sliding gate style lock - the metal is thin but not so delicate as to appear weak, simply sliding the strap through and pulling locks it down but it is easy to open again when you need to so not a hassle if you were wearing gloves or mittens for example.

Over all I can say this sack actually deserves the positive reviews and popularity it is gaining. It is robust, well priced and with minimal adjusting extremely fit for purpose. It also typifies the new bushcraft trend towards functional and traditional gear going back to what in my mind bushcraft should be.

Kit list of what I actually pack in mine.

·        Mora Classic No3, Hatchet and Saw (small cuts first aid kit)

·        Candles, tinder

·        20m bank line + para cord, sharpening stone, snare wire.

·        Slingshot and ammo

·        Solo cook set, stainless steel water bottle x 2 and cup, Spoon/s (1x US 1x Wooden) – condiments - Lighter

·     Primus gas stove and fuel

·     24hrs Rations and brew kit

·        Head torch

·        Jungle sleeping bag – green reusable space blanket

·        Desert camo tarp and cordage/pegs

·    Spare socks (thick wool)

·    Radio

·    Goretex jacket

·    Quilted Jacket liner
(A wool blanket would replace the jungle bag in winter when fire is needed for warmth but the above kit is easily enough for overnighting and or emergency use)


Girls rule Boys Drool ...............

This very wet and miserable weekend saw us leading yet another survival/bushcraft course for the cadets of the Royal Air Force - a course I always enjoy doing as much for the fact I don't have to organise it as for the fact that the students are generally eager, bright and motivated (generally!)

The course itself runs over a weekend and we have been running these for various cadet squadron's in the south east of England for about 8 years now - I teach these for free (well food and board anyway) and really enjoy them as its a labour of love - giving something to the future, maybe a future Ray Mears will be beginning their "career" with me, and if not at least I hope to teach the kids a little of my love and understanding of nature.

This weekend we covered all the usual skills,
  • Knife craft
  • Saw craft
  • One match fire
  • Arctic (firesteel) lay fire
  • Shelter building
  • Game harvesting and prep
  • Water collection and purification
  • Outdoor cookery
  • Flora selection and ID
As well as all the "side" products that come from this training such as self confidence, the understanding of nature, team and individual spirit and motivation etc.

But as an aside I also wanted to try a new minimalist kit ideal - basically sleeping under a £1.95 tarp with just a blanket - October temperatures and the prospect of torrential rain would test this idea.


Above was my bed for the night - 100% wool blanket with an economy tarp roof - I have slept in the blanket before at minus 10c in Sweden but in that environment we had a fire to heat us. Here, the ground was water logged and the night nothing but constant rain so the only fire we had was the communal campfire. How did I fair - well I slept well but I think this was as much due to the fact I was also wearing a hoody made from a US army blanket (top picture) as to the blanket but it was a damp experience as the rain was heavy. To heavy indeed for the tarp whose weave wasn't tight enough and while not leaking and drippy did allow moist through in the form of fine spray or mist.

Overall the experiment was a success and the kit would have allowed me to survive - but in the conditions experienced it would have been a miserable night especially if you were in a survival situation. The tarps cost and weight make it attractive but end of the day I think a Poncho and poncho liner while heavier would offer longevity and more versatility.

Luckily for me breakfast was a sausage sandwich or two and with these and a hot campfire coffee inside me all was again right with the world!

Cadets carry out game prep - we did both bird and mammal

They also enjoyed their wild food - kebab (below) and in a sustaining and tasty rabbit stew

The following morning was wet (and that's an understatement) so we decided to give the guys a little competition to keep the motivated - in this cause they had to race to light their individual fire with a spark - the winner became fire meister and lighting and thus owner of the communal fire ...........

And our winner - was the only female on the course (well done Katie) hence Girls rule and boys drool ..... She got her individual fire going before any of the boys and then commenced to light the cooking fire, enjoying the warmth of the fire she managed while the lads had to endure the wet weather gathering fire wood!! Lesson's were learnt - especially fire wood that's sat on the ground isn't the ideal wood for cooking. One thing I always remember from my woodlore days which is as true today and it was then is that those who learn fire lighting in wet weather learn it better than those who learn it in good weather and this weekend the fire was very much centre of attention and a hard task master teaching the cadets well!

A great weekend - good to catch up with old friends and even better to share a little knowledge with the future generations of not only our service men and women but also bushcrafters and outdoors folk!

NNUK Knives - update

Their are those who will tell you that you cant carve with a big knife!
Personally I say never judge the knife judge the owner - or more correctly, see what they can do with their knife before to decide whether the knife is a good tool for the environment.
And that brings me back to my NNUK Knife made for me to our own specs by Jan Ververs. A knife happily I see he has now made quick a few of!
For a all round bushcraft survival knife this is a robust tool and one well worth consideration as per my previous review
But now having used it for a bit longer I thought I would up date the story .....................

So update 1. Edge retention - initially I found I had trouble with this, it seemed sharpening the knife achieved nothing and I wondered if the temper was wrong. Speaking to Jan he told me this was common as the metal needed to settle down - I was a bit sceptical but Jan's a good man and I trust him so I continued to work the blade and dah dah - suddenly it settled down and now has and holds a razor edge through thick and thin.

Update 2 - Size and shape, this is a big camp knife, the spines thick and the bevels small, in combination it makes this a tool which carves well but hacks and chops like a much more "meaty" tool - an excellent combination. (Spoon pictured was carved in about an hour with the knife)

Update 3 - my only gripe and a minor one it is too - the kydex sheath is fine but either the kydex is a little to thin or top rivet location is a little to low and this means the knife isn't locked in the sheath when not in use, ie it can be shaken out when upside down. To rectify this I use the lanyard pictured above and when not in use loop this around the bottom of the fire steel as a lock.

But this aside I really cant fault the tool and it is now my winter/survival knife and (to use a American term I don't like much) my go to knife ........... if I had to trust my life to a knife this one would be the one on my belt for sure!!


The last trapper

I thought this film was not only very enjoyable but inspiring. It tugged at heart strings I never knew I had and left me yearning to live that life.
The views are stunning and the scenery breath taking. Having worked with camera crews before I know or at least came imagine the amount of scenes set for the camera and the amount of retakes ................ Nebraska is one hell of a women too but the real stars of the story are the dogs ........... well worth a watch!


Old Hickory - in action ..................

This is the Old Hickory in action carving feather sticks and batoning a seasoned willow branch - and this was all that was required for the scales to come loose??