On Discovering Self

"Walk in Peace... Learn from Nature... Find Yourself...

Monday, October 29, 2012

To Define Bushcraft or Not Define Bushcraft... That Is The Question

   There has been a lot of discussion as of late, about the necessity to define Bushcraft. It has been the topic of discussion in more than a few threads on the BushcraftUSA forum site. Here is a link to one of the longer threads, that has since been closed in part for all of the surrounding controversy, Why should we define Bushcraft?  It was also part of a topical discussion at this years Annual Woodsmoke Gathering 2012. Here is a link to a Youtube video of that presentation. Defining Bushcraft Woodsmoke 2012
   For the most part I have stayed out of the discussion, because for me, it really has held no relevance. Bushcraft for me, just seems to define itself and it is a different definition on just about any given day. It is more of a living thing or rather more about living in general, then something you can put a description to, so that it can be bottled and sold. I for one will resist the urge and temptation to define it. I would rather live it.
   There is one key idea though that I came away with, when looking at how people are trying to define it. I took the liberty of re-dressing the Venn diagram presented in the Woodsmoke video and I would like to share it with you here.

  The part that spoke to me most was that piece of the Venn diagram in the very center. It is called "Core Bushcraft Skills" and speaks to the very heart of what Bushcraft is all about. 
   The way I have it figured, if I understand the center of it all, the core skills, the things that all the other areas have in common, I can explore all the other areas at will and become comfortable being in any of them. So than I have to ask myself, what are the core skills?
   I believe them to be related to the 5 pieces (some folks will expand this to 10) of bushcraft kit that are essential for living in the wild.
  The first thing is a Cutting tool. Whether it is stone, copper, iron or steel, you need a means to cut things and the skill to use it effectively.
  The second is a means of Combustion. Whether a hand drill, bow drill, flint-steel or ferro-rod, you need a means to make fire and the skill to control it. With fire, you have heat, protection, a means to purify water, cook, shape and make things and many, many more uses. 
  The third thing is access to Containers. Whether you make a clay pot, hollow out a piece of wood with fire, make birch cups and trays, weave a basket or carry a stainless steel canteen, whatever it is, you need a thorough knowledge of containers and how to make or use them.
   The fourth thing is Cordage. Whether you carry man-made cordage such as paracord, or use other types like jute twine or manila rope or if you have none of these, you need the skill and knowledge to make natural cordage and then a thorough understanding of knot tying and lashing with these materials to be able to construct things, such as shelters and pack frames and the like.
   And finally, the fifth thing is Cover. This involves a thorough understanding of the materials necessary to make clothing and shelter and bedding and other items. Just knowing the properties of wood and leather and wool and canvas and nylon and many other materials and the skill to use them in multiple settings is key to protecting yourself and your environment.
   Some would call this the "5 C's", others would continue to expand on it, but I think that they cut to the very core of Bushcraft. They are all very hard to come by in nature. To have the ability to create these things or to gather them as essentials and to understand how they relate to the "core skills", that experience is what I believe will help to define Bushcraft for you in your own way. Until next time, Happy Exploring.


  1. I think the problem with defining "bushcraft" is that it is more a set of skills than an activity. I think the more we try to turn it into an activity (like jogging for example), the more confusing the definition becomes. That is why we come up with things like the above diagram, which are inclusive of everything, yet say nothing. For example, what skill or tool encompasses primitive, traditional and modern skill sand tools? How can it incorporate or utilize all three at the same time? Is it supposed to be in the alternative. What if i use only a modern knife, does that make it bushcraft? Does the use of any cutting tool make it bushcraft? I don't know. The video didn't address that.

    Anyway, I think that the sooner we start thinking of buscraft as a set of skills, the better off we will be.

    I've personally stopped carrying about the definitions, or for that matter the pointless acquisition of random skills. Many, including myself at one point get trapped in the academic pursuit of learning skills, and forget to actually go into the woods to apply those skills in some type of a meaningful manner. I know guys who have catalogs of wood for friction fires, but don't spend a single night in the woods. Perhaps the academic pursuit of fire lighting is satisfying for them in and of itself. For me however, these are just skills that facilitate being int he woods. If they are not doing that, I think we miss a large part of the picture.

  2. Thanks Ross for your thoughts on the subject. I couldn't agree more. I am sorry I did not see your comment sooner.
    Pursuing those much needed core skills that, like you said, facilitate my being in the woods, that's where the adventure lies. It is the only place you really find out if what you know works.