So just what is Bushcraft? In a literal sense, it’s the skills required to live in the bush. The bush being a commonly used term to describe an area of wild country, one that is remote and does not generally have much if any habitation.

Living in the bush could be just the construction of a shelter, building of a fire and finding water and food. Whilst these are clearly important priorities, they are the bear essentials, they are more about surviving rather than really living. Living is more than just surviving (I hope you agree), so the skills required to live will extend beyond these basics as well as expanding upon them to make life comfortable and enjoyable, whilst living away from the conveniences of modern life.

Bushcraft or Survival?

Is there really a difference between Bushcraft and Survival skills? There is undoubtedly an overlap in the skills required, but is there more to be considered? From a technical perspective they have much in common, what is perhaps different is the situation and / or reason for there application.

Survival conjures up visions of having to survive a natural disaster or a man made one such as a plane crash or perhaps in a military context, an escape and evasion from an enemy. There is also a common link here with ‘preppers’ who want to be prepared for an imminent or perceived threat, which also involves the stockpiling of food and other supplies, but is still in the context of survival.

Bushcraft by contrast, is generally thought of as the enjoyment of living in a remote, wilderness location. No one is expecting impending doom, rather they are seeking to live life outdoors, appreciate nature and leave no (or minimal) trace of their activities.

Unlike the person or group in a survival situation, who are seeking to get back to civilisation, safely and as soon as possible, those interested in Bushcraft are in no hurry and are content to make a comfortable home in the wilderness.

A common set of skills?

Whether you are in a survival situation or just wanting to spend some time living in the wilds, you will need to acquire and practise these practical skills:

  • Tools – use a saw and knife safely and effectively
  • Fire – confidently light and maintain a campfire using a range of different methods
  • Shelter – construct a shelter using natural and / or man made materials
  • Water – find, filter and purify water so that it is safe to drink
  • Food – forage for edible plants, prepare wild game and cook these on a campfire
  • Navigation – find your way, direction by compass, the sun, stars and other natural methods
  • First aid – be able to look after yourself or someone else in case of injury or illness

Each of these skills may vary depending on the anticipated or chosen situation:

  • Will you have the use of a knife or will you need to fashion one from a piece of stone, such as flint?
  • What resources will be available to create a fire, what will you use to ignite the fire, a fire-steel or will you need to create fire-by-friction?
  • Have you got a small tent or tarpaulin for shelter of will you be using natural materials?
  • How will the environment effect your ability to find water or forage food?
  • Will you find a suitable location for a shelter and stay put or will you be navigating along a trail each day?
  • What risks are associated with the terrain, flora and fauna and how may injuries or illnesses be managed?

Some differences perhaps?

For those with a planned trip into the wilds, you are perhaps more likely to have a few essential items; knife, fire-steel, tarpaulin and billy can, packed in a rucksack with sleeping bag and at least some food supplies and other items that make life comfortable in the wilds. Alas, those in a survival situation may not be so lucky, possibly having a just a survival tin, but with increased security, they will probably not have even this and need to improvise everything in order to survive.

There is perhaps a greater interest in natural history and desire for a deeper understanding of flora and fauna by those interested in Bushcraft. That said, anyone preparing for a survival situation would also do well to understand the natural environment they will encounter. Imagine being surrounded by plants with fruit that could be easily gathered but knowing which were safe to eat or being located on the coast and not knowing what easy to reach seafood would provide a good meal?

In a survival situation, whilst you may save yourself and / or your group, it is perhaps more likely that you will need outside help, so how will you attract the help you need? What strategies will you adopt? Will you stay put, trek to a more visible location or will you attempt to travel to safety? Whilst these are also useful things to understand for those travelling into the wilds, they are very important in a survival situation.

Those interested in Bushcraft are likely to take their crafting to a level beyond the essentials required for survival. Whilst utensils and gadgets will be useful in both situations, processing hides to make buckskin garments or carving spoons or cups will be a  time consuming luxury that those in a survival situation will not be able to afford. It may be that making a bow and arrow seems  like a good idea, but unless practised both in the making and use it may not be worth the time investment.

Isn’t this just camping?

For those, perhaps of a certain age and / or experience, it could be said that this is not that different to old-time or classic camping. In times past, when tents were made from tightly woven cotton, you fashioned useful gadgets with your knife or axe, prepared your food and cooked over a campfire, then yes Bushcraft is just like the classic camp of years past.

But with all the modern camping gear, some of the need to improvise, to make things has perhaps been lost along the way. Obviously there are times now when you aren’t allowed and shouldn’t have a campfire, so you must use a stove, but you can still enjoy being in the wilds. The advent of lighter gear has benefits too, in the form of lighter tarpaulins, warmer sleeping bags, etc.

Final thoughts

By way of conclusion, a few final thoughts. In writing this short article, it appears to me that these subjects, Bushcraft and Survival have far more in common that one may at first perceive. From a skills perspective there is significant overlap, all be it situations may dictate that the skills taught differ in approach.

So what is Bushcraft? For me it’s learning the skills to live outdoors, appreciate the natural world, know your flora and fauna and be able to craft useful items from natural materials. All of these and most of the above, with varying degrees of emphasis depending on whether the goal is to enjoy living life in the wilds or preparing for a potential survival situation.

The major difference is arguably one of perception, with one being more focused on the pleasure of being outdoors, observing nature, perhaps with some classic camping thrown in and the other has its purpose in preparedness for a disaster situation.