When I take up a new hobby I have to work really hard to stop myself buying loads of new stuff before I know what I’m doing with it. For a long time, bushcraft was a rich breeding ground for this habit. When I started out I didn’t really know what I needed. Looking around at my peers I replaced many of the things I already had with new things that were almost the same but drab green, then set about buying more bushcraft kit than I could shake a featherstick at.
This was in the days when there wasn’t even anyone marketing bushcraft specific kit. My decisions were based on a little experience and knowledge but mostly on seeing what others were using and what was available.
Following the herd
It’s very easy to look at what other people use and assume it must be good. It might be good, but it might not be good FOR ME. Those last two tiny words are often missing from the equation.
Some of this is just human nature. Whether we like it or not, we learn early on that having the ‘right’ stuff makes us fit in and look like we’re part of the tribe. What seals the deal is that in our everyday life, we’re firmly hooked in the groove of exchanging money for solutions that involve no further effort on our part. Unfortunately it seems like this has become the default setting. Sometimes it’s difficult to see past it.
As it turns out, the solution I get the most out of isn’t the easy one. It’s the one that engages me, that uses skills that I value. It often isn’t the solution everyone else seems to choose.
A glimpse into the future
Who’d have guessed that in the future, after kitting myself out with all this stuff, most of which has been given away or never sees the light of day, I’d look back and think
“wasn’t it all supposed to be about self reliance and how to make things and how to work with nature?”
But when I did, I saw the irony.
It’s always easier to pass time searching out new shiny kit than to spend that time doing something useful. In reality it’s probably the worst thing I could be doing with my time but the rewards of finding that shiny new titanium spork* arrive sooner than new skills. When Fedex start delivering new skills this might change.
If you’re a serious student of something, I’d hazard a guess that time spent actually doing anything vaguely connected with your study will prove more fruitful than the tiniest amount of time you spend acquiring new stuff.
Living in the present
More than a decade on, I value knowledge far more than any possessions. It’s a cliche but it’s the truth. The things I’ve been most proud of are those I’ve made with my own hands, those that I’ve repaired using knowledge and ingenuity and those where I marvel at their very simplicity.
Very few items remain from the original MkI bushcraft kit. Those that do are there on merit alone and, interestingly, all are very basic items. I’m not going to list them because I want you to find your own way rather than get distracted by another pointless kit list.
These days you’ll find me using a real mish-mash of gear. Some of it traditional, some of it modern. Some of it bought, some of it self-made.
When I spent an extended period in Maine last summer, the bulk of the stuff I took was very simple. I was restricted by airline baggage allowances but, predictably, still managed to take too much. I was, however, brought back to reality by noting how much I actually used. It was still a small proportion of what I took. And again, it was largely the most basic items. It’s still a work in progress.
The whole bushcraft kit buying thing is something I’ve tried hard to break down and rethink from the bottom up. If I were starting again with the benefit of hindsight, I’d just use what I had lying around (what is “bushcraft kit” anyway?) plus a good, cheap knife like a Mora and possibly a folding saw – and simply get out and live with it.
But, of course, I can’t start again so the best I can do is tell my story of having done it the hard way. Like most things in life, what seems like the easy way doesn’t necessarily turn out to be that way in the end.* For the record, I don’t actually own a titanium spork, it was just an example. Someone offered to give me one and I used it for a few days and during that time realised it just wasn’t me so I gave it back.