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Some people say it is just a term some people use for wilderness survival, but some people say it is not survival.

What actually is bushcraft?

  • This Q&A is in response to the meta discussion here: outdoors.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1281/… – Aaron Sep 5 '18 at 18:21
  • As I stated on that meta discussion, tag selection was difficult here since there was no single tag which was appropriate, as evidenced by the quick edit by @CharlieBrumbaugh . For closest fit, it came to a choice between foraging and survival, though neither of them fit great. I suggested a tag related to this in meta. – Aaron Sep 5 '18 at 18:24
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Bushcrafting: also known as wilderness skills or primitive living. Many people less familiar with the skills associate it with wilderness survival because of similarities and overlap.

I don't think there is any truly official definition of bushcraft, but if you ask Google "define bushcraft" you get the following:

  • skill at living in the bush
  • wilderness survival skills
  • the skill gained by or necessary for living in bush country

Though different people may define it different ways, the common theme among bushcraft practitioners is that they are people who practice the skill of relying on natural resources.

For example: While a typical minimalist hiker might bring 10 pounds of food, a tarp and some cord to tie it up for a shelter and maybe some tent stakes - a bushcrafter might instead forego the cord and stakes and make their own cord from plants and stakes from wood, might bring half as much food and forage to get the rest from the forest, and they might even forego the tarp and use natural resources to protect against rain or wind.

Some bushcrafters are known to walk out into the wilderness with minimal tools, sometimes with nothing but the clothes on their back, and to make due by living minimally and/or making whatever they need. For this reason, many people connect bushcrafting with survival. If your idea of survival is any activity which is related to making sure you survive, then grocery shopping at Wal-Mart is urban survival, but I think most of us can agree that usage is much too loose. Similarly, many bushcraft practitioners will say that their skill is not necessarily a survival skill.

There is a great article about the difference between survival and bushcraft.

A quote from that article:

Important distinctions here are those of duration and adversity. Wilderness Survival is about methods and psychology for dealing with unexpected and adverse circumstances that threaten our lives outdoors. More often we are talking about a relatively short period in which we either return to safety or perish.

From the above definitions for bushcraft, one of the operative words is “living”. This implies a long-term strategy and not necessarily an unexpected situation, or an immediate threat to life. The longer duration implicit in the term “bushcraft” also sheds light on another important distinction – the knowledge of natural resources and their sustainable use.

Ultimately, a definition is in the eye of the beholder. To-may-to, to-mah-to. But many of us prefer to keep the distinction that for people not stranded on an uninhabited island bushcraft is not survival, rather it is living by nature.

How this compares to other outdoor activities

Just like other outdoor activities, bushcrafting is often merged with other activities. The below comparisons assume a bushcrafter who is specifically practicing their craft as opposed to, for example, "bushcraft-hiking".

Hiking:

  • Typically, hikers travel light by balancing minimalism and functionalism in what they carry and they cover a lot of average daily distance. After all, the point of hiking is to walk long distances.
  • It is common for bushcrafters to be much less mobile than other outdoor activities, especially compared to hiking. Bushcrafting requires a lot of time searching for materials, more time setting up and taking down camp, etc.. If you are practicing hardcore bushcrafting (but not minimalist living), then you likely cannot hike or will at least have an extremely low average daily distance.

Car camping (inc. campers/RVs):

  • Car campers often bring everything, sometimes even the kitchen sink.
  • Bushcrafters generally bring little to nothing.
  • About the only similarity here is that car campers and bushcrafters are both usually making a semi-permanent camp and are not necessarily living minimally.

Wild camping (ie: camping in a wild location not designated as a camping spot, such as in the wilderness of a state park):

  • Probably the most similar. The only differences are in the level of naturally sourced resources.

Minimalism (as pertains to any other category [eg: minimalist hiking]):

  • Minimalists tend to perform their activity with as little as possible. For example, a minimalist weekend hiker might bring nothing but a bottle of water and a protien bar or two for a two or three day hike.
  • Bushcrafting goes extremely well with minimalism. Bushcrafting allows the minimalist to be even more minimal in what they bring, and many bushcrafters are minimalists.

Bushcrafting is a great compliment to all other "The Great Outdoors" activities and can enrich each of them. Bushcrafting in its purest form need not be counter to other activities, except car camping and possibly speedy hiking.

Bushcrafting is not necessarily minimalism

Bushcrafting might involve originally bringing a minimal amount of tools, but even that is not strictly necessary. Some bushcrafters will bring knives, saws, axes, or more, sometimes more than another non-bushcrafter camper nearby, but the bushcrafter brings these tools to aid in crafting things out of scavenged resources. Once people get good at bushcrafting, many of them do enjoy going minimalist.

An expert bushcrafter might be able to go out into the forest with nothing and make their own knife and ax. So they went out with minimal gear, but now they have more than they went in with, so you decide if you want to consider that minimalism.

Examples of pure bushcrafting

Some of the following examples people often consider wilderness survival, but if an emergency victim in a survival situation does these things, then they are likely either not maximizing their survival rate or they are very unprepared. Usually, emergency survival does not turn into bushcrafting unless you are lost or stranded in the wilderness for a long time.

A hardcore bushcrafter might go out into the wild with nothing but their shorts and maybe a shirt for a month long trip. Here are some examples of some things they might do which would be considered bushcrafting:

  • make a knife out of stone
  • make an ax out of stone and wood
  • make shelter out of plants and wood using previously made tools
  • make tools out of stones (to produce sparks) or wood ("rubbing sticks") for starting fires
  • make a bunch of cordage out of plants
  • make containers out of cord and/or plants to help contain or carry crafted tools or other resources
  • make a fishing line or net out of previously made cord to catch fish to eat
  • make a bow with wood and previously made cord to hunt
  • make food, tools, shelter (if big) out of hunted animals

As you can see, a lot of these activities are essentially living the way some primitive cultures used to live, or how they still do live in some cases. This is why some people call it "primitive living". There are multiple primitive living channels on YouTube which cover these activities and more. Possibly the most famous one is about a man in Australia who goes out with literally nothing but the shorts on his waist and works up to having primitive tools, buildings, pottery, forges, and even iron, all done silently... he never talks in any of the videos: that channel is called Primitive Technology (note: he doesn't stay out there the entire time - he breaks from it to come back to civilization then goes back out to continue where he left off).

Some of the above points are already getting a bit advanced, but some bushcrafters go even beyond these types of activities and essentially get into recreating various primitive advancements. For the following list, these activities are not really done except by those who stay at one semi-permanent camp and are willing to put in a lot of time and effort into the activity.

  • find or make clay and make pots to hold anything, especially water
  • find sources of metal and make metal tools
  • make brick or concrete for more permanent structures

A couple caveats: 1) By the time you make brick or concrete and make a shelter out of that, you have essentially just made a new permanent home. At this point, you might want to call your place a homestead instead of a bushcraft camp. 2) I know of at least one person having gone out with nothing and worked up to the point they were smelting small amounts of iron, but I am not aware of anyone who has successfully taken the last step as part of their bushcrafting and ended up with a usable iron tool when they started with nothing.

Is all that stuff really common?

Most of the things I mentioned are almost universally accepted as part of bushcrafting, but many of them are not actually very common.

I tried to cover the breadth and scope of bushcrafting, but the vast majority of bushcrafters are likely not firing clay pottery, not feeding themselves by hunting successfully with bows they have crafted naturally, and definitely not making concrete shelters.

Crafting blades from stone or starting fires by the friction between two sticks are much more common activities, as are feeding yourself by plant identification, fishing, and trapping.

There are a few tools that many people take into the wild with them because of those tools' vast usefulness even if they plan to craft a lot of what they need. This almost always includes a knife, which is the most likely tool you will find on anyone who brings only 1 tool. Also common are axes, as any wood thicker than a few inches quickly becomes very difficult to use without a good sawing or chopping tool. Also common are tarps, as good dry shelters take a lot of time and are not easy to make.

See also:

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