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The Beginner’s Guide To Bushcraft

Learning bushcraft can bring you closer to an understanding with the great outdoors

Our ancestors may not have had smartphones and Google Earth, but they understood how to make use of the plants and animals in their environment in a way few of us do now.

But you don’t have to be Ray Mears to get a benefit from learning some bushcraft skills – they can help you to connect with the outdoors, and provide an excellent excuse to learn more about the wildlife outside your back door.

Going on a course to safely get some hands-on experience is an ideal route, but here are some bushcraft gems to get you interested...

Bark can be manipulated like leather to make containers and cooking pots

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Build A Shelter
In a survival situation one of the essentials to keep you alive is shelter, so it’s worth learning is how to build a bushcraft one. The simplest is the A-frame, called that because the entrance looks like an A when built.

First, find an area of woodland with lots of deadfall; dead logs and branches on the ground. Next, find a strong, sound branch to act as a ridgepole. Then find a live, strong tree, place one end of the pole into the ground, pressing against a tree trunk, and cut the other end at an angle with a woodsaw, if possible, to rest it flush against the other tree. Test the pole by putting your weight on it.

Then find other branches and logs to place against the ridgepole, to make the sides of the A-frame – place them alternately to cross latch the tops of the logs and create stability. To finish the sides you can place vegetation, such as ferns and leaves. If you can’t see light coming through from the inside then the sides will be waterproofed.

If the ground is wet you can also create a raised bed in the interior, or cover with bracken because you lose more body heat to the ground than the air when sleeping.

Learn Your Plants
Bushcraft is about taking advantage of the natural resources that surround you, so it pays to know what plants are suitable for foraging. Outdoorsman and survival expert Thom Hunt says that, in springtime, the garlic family are widespread.

This includes the three-cornered leak and wild garlic, which is easily identified through the smell. ‘They are very versatile, you can put them into salads and they cook well,’ he says.

Then, in the summer, wild mint takes hold. The mint family has a distinctive square stem and opposing leaves, and there is no known member of the family that is poisonous. ‘It's also very diverse and very common, because mint's effectively a weed,’ says Hunt

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Learn How To Hold Tools
Whether you’re cutting sticks to cook a trout you’ve just caught for supper, or to help peg down your tent, then it pays to know how to use a penknife, or folding bushknife effectively (see the official Government legal advice on knives here).

Ray Mears recommends using the foregrip for power tasks, with your whole hand closed around the handle, blade edge facing away from you and closest to your thumb.

The other key grip is the chest level grip, which is the same but with the edge of the blade now pointing to the knuckle of your hand and placing your thumb on the flat of the blade in support (assuming that the blade is wide enough to do this without risking injury.)

You can then hold your hand close to your chest (with the edge facing away from you) and make cuts to sticks with power but also great control. (Remember it is illegal in the UK to carry a knife without good reason, unless it is has a folding blade with a cutting edge of three inches or less.)

Setting A Fire In An Emergency
Setting fires outdoors is generally a no, no – you only need to see the images of Ikley Moor on fire this year to see why that’s a bad idea. But adventurous hikes up the mountainside have the potential to turn into survival situations if the weather turns wet and stormy, and an injury develops into hypothermia.

In such an emergency it can save your life to have a way to create a warming fire. It can be hard to get one going in wet weather, but bushcraft can come to your aid. Hunt calls it ‘fatwood’ – snapped off pine stumps that become full of resin, as the roots still pump it up.

‘You take chunks of it out and it's really sticky. It dries out a little bit, but basically, you can get a knife onto it and scrape the wood to get these tiny shavings.’ Set a flame to it and these shavings go up like natural firelighters

See Bark In A New Light
Many of the materials that grow in the wild are surprisingly versatile, and tougher than you think. Bark, for instance, can be stripped from fallen trees in sheets, scraped free of its outer layer and, once moistened with water, can be manipulated like leather to make containers and cooking pots, like in this video from Bushcraft Bear.

If you need any other evidence of bark’s suitability for tough jobs, then know that archeologists have recently uncovered an Iron Age shield, made of bark and stiffened with lathes, buried in Leicestershire.

Initially they thought it had to be decorative but they found evidence it was used in combat, and the replica they built showed it was an effective, lightweight weapon of war

Words: Matt Ray @The_Adventure_Fella
Photos: Markus Spiske, 2 Bros Media

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