What do you think is the most important bushcraft skill? Fire lighting? Shelter building? Woodcraft? Plant & tree ID?
I think it’s something far more basic – being comfortable in the outdoors. Comfortable enough that you can deal with unexpected weather conditions, equipment failure, and most other things without too much drama and without ending up in a potentially dangerous survival situation.
How do you get this comfortable in the outdoors? I believe it’s through knowing yourself and how you react to stresses. It’s about finding out how to tread your own path. I don’t mean this in a navigational sense – think of it like finding your way through the maze of bushcraft and survival information and kit recommendations to find what suits you personally.
Rediscovering the Zen of Bushcraft
This year I’m working hard to take my bushcraft up a notch. For the past couple of years I haven’t had the time to devote to it (and between you and me I’ve become a bit soft). 2012 is different and I’m planning some trips that will involve remote wilderness travel. To avoid a) disappointing myself, b) doing anything silly and c) finding myself in a survival situation it’s time to put some work in to make sure I’m in shape for some longer spells of wilderness living.
I think being comfortable and at ease with what the outdoors throws at you takes both education and experience. The education part should take you through some some science and human physiology. The experience part should help you find out how this information applies to you personally and how to incorporate it into your normal routines. Once you’ve done this the way is open to simplify, to lighten your load, to improvise using natural materials, to get out of sticky situations and above all to gain more freedom.
It’s worth mentioning that here I’m describing a do it yourself approach. I have quite a bit of experience under my belt already. Some of this has been my own experimentation but a good deal has been under the supervision of professional bushcraft and survival instructors. I’d thoroughly recommend hiring a professional if you have the and funds. It’s a great way to speed up some of the learning.
Well, you may ask, “how does this apply to me?”. I think it applies to everyone using the great outdoors even if you don’t recognise anything you do as “wilderness travel” or “bushcraft”. Knowing how your mind and body deal with different stresses will help you to become more skilled and more able to take care of yourself whatever you get up to.
So let’s get going
This introduces a series of articles that will take you on a journey to find yourself – to tread your own path. The series is mushrooming every time I think about it so fasten your belts for a long journey! Through the weeks we’ll consider the factors which have the potential to make us uncomfortable. Some of these would ultimately kill us if left unchecked. We’ll do the science bit and then we’ll form some ideas and techniques for dealing with these factors in the field.
How to start down your own path
Like I said before, I’m using the phrase ‘treading your own path’ in a zen kind of way, not a physical, navigational one. One size definitely doesn’t fit all when it comes to wilderness travel / survival / bushcraft / wilderness living – whatever it is you like to call it. One person’s comfort can be another person’s living hell.
To gain confidence, comfort and to then get a shot at achieving mastery in the outdoors you need to go through a process of learning. This process should provide you with at least these two things:
a) Knowledge of yourself and how you interact with nature and the environment- where you fit in.
b) The knowledge to make some smart decisions regarding kit choice.
Ooh, a fancy graphic that shows us the steps we’ll be taking on this journey:
And here’s what these steps mean…
1. How does my body deal with with stress?
In this step you’ll dig into some theory – a bit of human physiology, a bit of science and a bit of risk assessment.
You’ll learn more about these stress factors as we progress along the path:
- Environment – temperature, wind, rain, snow, water etc
- Physical activity
2. Prepare mentally and physically
In this step sets you’ll experiment with what you learned in the previous step and find out how it affects you. You’ll also practice some of the techniques and skills that will get you out of a hole if something bad happens (that old survival situation again?!).
All of us learn about the environment around us from an early age without even thinking about it. In adulthood you tend to be less used to adapting and rather more set in your ways. When approaching wilderness living and travel you can’t afford to be rigid in your approach. When you head off into remote wilderness areas you must acknowledge that the odds are changed – there may be little chance of rescue. A small mishap can easily become a serious situation.
So you must really understand your own response to stress factors and you must really understand the mechanisms you can use to re-stack the odds in your favour. You must build a toolbox of ‘go to’ skills that you can rely on. If you train well this starts to become second nature.
3. Develop my style and kit to suit my physiology and chosen environment
We’re all built differently. Embrace this. Don’t just take someone else’s word for it. Find out what works for you.
In stage 2 you will have discovered how specific activities affect you and learned some solid skills and some opinions about gear. This will stand you in good stead to work out what you really need and more importantly what you don’t need. Efficient and enjoyable wilderness travel requires a level of simplicity in both gear and in your outlook. This stage will allow you to hone both of these.
Once you begin to understand how stress factors affect you personally you can start to make some very informed choices.
4. Recognise problems
Once you know how you react to stress factors and what feels ‘normal’ you’ll be much better placed to recognise when things aren’t quite right. You’re a very good judge of this once you have sufficient knowledge and experience. Just keep an eye on what you’re doing and how you feel. For lone wilderness travel this is especially important – there’s no one else there to look out for you.
5. Improvise and adapt my style and/or kit
With the knowledge you’ve built up at this point you are in charge of your own destiny. Using some solid bushcraft skills you can improvise your way round equipment failure, unexpected weather conditions, whatever. The key is understanding what to do as well as how to do it.
Now you enter a continual loop of improvisation and refinement. Keep a close eye on yourself and use your knowledge wisely.
In the next article we’ll start to look at each of the stress factors, find out how they affect you personally and what you can do about them.