Do you yearn for the Great Outdoors? If you have an adventure on your mind all day, then you got bit by the bushcraft bug. Being outdoors is plenty of fun, and America has plenty of public land and beautiful National Parks for you to enjoy.
From the Great Smoky Mountains stretching across the lands of North Carolina and Tennessee to The Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the United States has some of the finest bushcraft countrysides in the world.
However, it’s one thing looking at the view from the comfort of your armchair on TV and another thing entirely when you’re standing there in real life. Learning how to handle yourself in the outdoors is a challenge that every American should undertake at some stage in life – it’s part of our heritage.
That said, if you’re heading out into the bush for your first outdoor experience, there’s some essential information you need to know before you go. If things go wrong out there, help is far away. Relying on other people for help could end up placing you in a life-threatening position.
In this bushcraft guide for newbies, we’ll discuss the basics to start you safely on your way.
Training and Local Knowledge
The thought of getting out into the bush is eating into your brain – You need to get out there. Before you head out on a camping trip or hike, it’s important to do a self-assessment of your abilities and where you intend to go.
If you’re brand new into bushcraft adventuring and have no-one going with you that knows anything about bushcraft, start slowly. Packing the car and heading for Yosemite to scale El Capitan is not the right choice for you.
You need to start slow and try a field trip into an area that’s local to where you live. Going out for the weekend on a guided tour or hike is a great way to start.
Learn to Use a Compass and Map
Sure, today we have GPS on our phones, and we’re always connected. That’s fine, but what are you going to do if you lose your phone, the battery dies, or the screen cracks while you’re out in the woods? Learning the skill of reading a map and using a compass is the best way to navigate any situation.
Basic Survival Skills
Map reading and using a compass are two essential bushcraft skills. However, it’s a good idea to take a short course on bushcraft survival skills if you’re brand new to the outdoors. A survival skills course will teach you how to tie knots, start a fire, and forage for emergency, food, water, and shelter.
Don’t rely on YouTube videos for these skills. While video tutorials are helpful, you need actual practice with these skills in the real world to train your muscle memory on how to repeat them when you need them.
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Bushcraft Essentials: Cutting Tools
Ask most bushcraft enthusiasts what they would want to take with them on a trip, and at the top of the list would be a knife. A knife is a tool for building, a weapon for defense, and a firestarter all-in-one. Without a knife, you’re going to struggle with your survival skills in a critical situation.
Knives come in many different types, each with a different purpose. Here’s a brief introduction to the best bushcraft knives.
Fixed Blade Knives
Fixed blade knives feature a “full-tang” construction. The blade and the hilt of the knife are one solid piece of steel in this version.
As a result of its sturdy design, the fixed blade knife is the preferred choice for bushcraft and survivalists. Fixed blade knives come with separate sheaths made from Kydex, nylon, plastic, or leather, depending on the brand and the purpose of the knife.
Fixed blade knives come in a variety of sizes, with blades typically ranging from two to seven inches in length.
Folding knives are another popular choice for bushcraft. These knives fold away into the handle, using a pivot on one side of the knife. The blade locks into position, requiring you to release the lock before folding the knife back together.
Folding knives typically feature shorter blades than fixed blade models. There are also limitations to the knife, and it doesn’t have the same strength as a fixed blade model.
The pivot and the handle are weak points on the knife, and they may separate during impact, such as knocking a stone against the back of the knife to help you split a bamboo cane to build a shelter.
Automatic knives are like folding knives because they store the blade in the handle of the knife. However, with automatics, the blade projects through the tip of the handle on one side of the knife, driven by a spring-loaded mechanism that locks in place when the knife reaches full extension.
You’ll need to release the locking switch to push the blade back inside the knife. Some models have a switch you activate to withdraw the blade back into the handle automatically.
Automatic knives are available in the same blade designs and sizes as most folding knives. However, we would suggest that you avoid them for bushcraft use.
These blades feature a curved design, making them look like an arch or semi-circle. Models are available in full-tang or foldable versions. These knives are excellent choices for hunters, and they help with skinning and packing out kills.
If you’re going into dense bush, you’ll need a clearing knife. Machetes feature long blades and full-tang construction. These knives can chop through thick branches, and they help with tasks relating to finding and building shelter.
When we think of these blades, most of us imagine John Rambo wielding his survival knife on the movie poster. However, survival blades are similar in design, features blades of up to 9-inches, with serrated or smooth edges on the rear of the blade.
The hilt of the knife may also feature space for survival materials like ferro-rods and maps. The butt of the knife might also feature a compass fitted into the end of the hilt.
Combination tools feature many tools in one folding knife. A Leatherman is the most well-known and respected multitool, but there are plenty of other manufacturing brands. Multitools are handy for bushcraft. Some models feature saw blades, knives, pliers, and other handy mini-tools that help around the campsite.
Cutting Tool FAQ
What do I look for in a good knife sheath?
If you’re buying a fixed blade knife, the sheath is as important as the blade. We recommend Kydex or plastic sheaths for your knife. The Kydex or plastic provides a non-wearing surface, and it will hold shape better than a leather sheath.
Is bigger better when it comes to knives?
Bigger is not always better. You need to concern yourself with the functionality of the knife, not its size. Bigger blades may have more cutting power, but that’s not always necessary in a knife. Choose a model that suits the tasks you think you’ll be using it for in bushcraft.
What’s the best all-round knife for bushcraft?
We like a fixed blade knife with a three to a four-inch blade and full-tang construction. Look for finger grooves on the back of the blade above the hilt. The grooves give you better control over the knife while cutting. A flat blade with a 45-degree lift into a point at the front is the best design choice.
Bushcraft Essentials: Medical kits
Medical kits are essential equipment in the wild. After a sturdy knife, a first aid kit could be the next item to save your life. Medical kits come in different sizes and formats. Some are task-specific, while others are for more general medical emergencies.
Lightweight personal packs
Lightweight packs are an excellent choice for hunters, hikers, and campers. The compact size of a small emergency medical kit won’t take up much space in your pack, or you can attach it to the rear of your gun belt for easy access in a crisis.
A lightweight pack contains the essentials you need to rectify the emergency and head back to camp where you can receive further, comprehensive medical treatment before evacuation to a hospital via ambulance or airlift.
A lightweight medical kit will contain the following equipment, A tourniquet, bandages, sterile gauze, tape, and antiseptic wipes. Some people may add other components to the pack, depending on their needs. The idea is to have a kit that stops bleeding and sterilizes wounds, allowing you to get back to camp as soon as possible.
General first aid kits
You keep these kits in your car on around the campsite. They have more tools and supplies than personal lightweight packs. This kit should contain everything you need to control a medical emergency until help arrives or you get to a hospital.
The top-10 must-have items to include in your medical kit are the following.
- Gloves and Eye Protection
- CPR respirator mask
- Sterile gauze Pads
- Medical adhesive tape
- Triangular bandages
- Elastic bandages
- Trauma shears
We recommend including these items into your primary medical kit as well.
- A 20-ml syringe with an irrigation cap
- Benzoin tincture
- Biodegradable hand soap
- Flexi-grip opposite film
Before you go out on your first trip, it’s a good idea to take a general first-aid course. Check your local listings, and you’re sure to find an instructor local to your area. A class takes an hour and costs a few dollars, but the skills you learn in training will prove priceless in an emergency.
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Medical Kit FAQ
Is a tourniquet essential for bushcraft?
Yes, a tourniquet is probably the most critical part of your medical kit. If you’re involved in a hunting accident and get shot, or you slip with your knife and make a deep cut. A tourniquet could be the only thing that stops the bleeding and gets you home safe.
What kit do I need if I’m going on an outride?
If you’re going on an outride or a long hike, take your emergency kit with you. Buy a kit that straps to your belt to ensure you have enough space in your pack for other items. A medical kit with a MOLLE system is also an excellent choice to weave into the outside of a tactical daypack.
Bushcraft Essentials: Fire
Starting a fire outdoors can mean the difference between life and death. If you’re in a cold location with minimal shelter, you need a fire to keep you warm and ward off hypothermia. Without a fire, you’re at risk of animals wandering into your campsite looking for an easy meal. Fire is so critical that it’s hard not to think of it as an essential bushcraft skill.
Making a fire from scratch is an incredibly difficult task. Only the most experienced bushcraft professionals can complete this task without using an ignition source. If you have to rub sticks together to make a fire, then you’re in for hours of frustration, and listers all over your hands.
Fortunately, modern technology means that you have portable fire-starting options at your disposal. Make sure you include these necessities in your outdoor kit.
Gas-powered windproof lighters
These lighters are a solid choice. These models light in the howling wind, first time, every time. The electronic ignition in the lighter produces a fierce flame that cuts through the wind, allowing you to start a fire anywhere, anytime.
Some models come in rubberized, waterproof cases, allowing you to light a fire, even after soaking your pockets wading through a river.
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BIC lighters are cheap, and they do the job of lighting a fire. While they aren’t windproof, they have a flit and gas, and that’s all you need to start a campfire and get cooking. We recommend you stash Bic lighters all over your gear.
Put one in a side pocket of your pack. Carry one in a pocket on your jacket or pants, and leave another in the car. The more fire sources you have around your campsite and gear, the better.
However, make sure that you don’t stack any gear on top of your lighter in a backpack or glove compartment. Something might depress the gas release on the lighter, causing it to run dry – when you use it, there’s no gas left, and no fire.
The best fire-starting tools are your knife and a ferro-rod. A firesteel or ferro-rod is a 2-inch cylindrical rod made from mischmetal. This compound features a blend of cerium, lanthanum, iron, praseodymium, neodymium, and magnesium.
Different brands may use variations of these compounds to personalize the performance of the rod. However, they all work in the same manner. You strike the side of the rod with your knife, which produces large sparks that catch your tinder alight.
Firesteels are a fantastic Firestarter, and they even work in the pouring rain – although it might be challenging to keep your tinder dry in these conditions.
Which fire option is the best choice for bushcraft?
We recommend that you include Bic lighters and firesteels in your bushcraft gear. Adding an electronic windproof lighter to your equipment is an added benefit. You can’t go wrong with this one – the more fire starters you have, the better.
Do I use the front or back of my knife on a Ferro-rod?
Use the back of your fixed-blade knife on the Ferro-rod. Repeated striking with the blade may damage its finish.
Bushcraft Essentials: Water
After learning to make fire, the most important element for your survival is water. You can go for a few days, maybe even weeks without food. However, more than three or four days without water in a wilderness situation, and it’s over for you.
When it comes to water, you have two options: carrying in your water or using the available resources on the land. Carrying water is always the preferred option. However, there might be times when you run out or experience a setback that leaves you without supplies.
In this case, you’ll have to have the right equipment to ensure you can get safe, clean drinking water.
A flask is the first line of defense against dehydration. You’ll need a minimum of 2-liters of water a day to survive, and more depending on your energy usage during the day. If you’re going out on a hike, we recommend taking a 34-ounce flask with you for the journey.
You can refill your flask along the way at clean water sources. If you suspect that the water might not be safe to drink, you’ll have to use purification methods to ensure its safe before you decide to drink it.
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A billycan is an essential piece of kit for the campsite. You can use it to boil water, which you cool for drinking. The boiling process kills any pathogens in the water, but it won’t reduce the presence of heavy metals or other non-biological toxins.
Billycans come in a range of sizes, and they are also suitable for helping your heat meals on the fire. You can pick up your Billycan with a 3-inch, 5-inch, or 7-inch diameter. A 5-inch pot is suitable for personal use, and a 7-inch or larger is suitable for two people.
Steri-pens are a fantastic innovation in water purification. These devices utilize UV light in ranges of 254nm. This UV light is effective at killing 99.9% of all bacteria in drinking water. These pens are so effective that you can use them to drink filthy creek water without any issues. The steri-pen acts like a straw. You place it in a cup of water and leave the light on for 30-minutes. The light kills all the bacteria, fungi, and viruses, making the water safe to drink.
Drinking unfiltered or unsanitized water from creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes can leave you feeling incredibly sick. If you do experience an infection, it can require you to receive immediate medical attention.
Therefore, if you don’t have a steri-pen, it’s vital that you take along water purification tablets. These tablets feature concentrated iodine that kills off bacteria and viruses in the water. However, they aren’t as effective as steri-pens, and the iodine won’t kill pathogens like giardia and cryptosporidium.
Where and when is the best place to look for water in bushcraft?
Surface water is your best bet of finding a water source in the bush. To find surface water, just keep heading downhill and learn the basic geography of the area you’re visiting. You can find running water seeping from a cliff, like a waterfall, or you can find it in hollow trees. Set up your tarp at night, and it will collect rainwater or condensation overnight, leaving you with something to drink in the morning.
What are the indicators of water in the bush?
Some various trees and shrubs signal that water is nearby. Look out for willow, poplar, and alder trees. Bullrush, Ramsons, and purple loosestrife are all signs that water is nearby.
Bushcraft Essentials: Shelter and Sleeping
The shelter is the final critical component of your bushcraft gear. You can die of exposure in the wild, especially in cold areas. The shelter is a must if you find yourself trapped outdoors in a survival situation. Shelter keeps out the cold and the elements, and without it, there’s a chance you could perish.
Tarps are cheap, readily available, and easy to set up for temporary shelter. You can pick up a tarp for a few dollars from Best Buy, and stuff it into your gear pack. However, if you want to spend a little more, there are bushcraft tarps available with guy ropes and camouflage designs for easy setup and blending into your surroundings.
If you’re going to sleep rough, then you’re going to need a sleeping bag. There are different grades of sleeping bags. Some suit cold weather, while others are for warm weather conditions. A good tip is to purchase a bivvy for your sleeping bag. The bivvy acts as weatherproofing and waterproofing bag for your sleeping bag, keeping it dry in rainy weather and protecting you from the wind.
If you’re sleeping in the ground, make sure that you use a ground cover mat to provide a break between the ground and your sleeping bag. Sleeping without a ground mat can leave you feeling chilly, even through a heavy-duty sleeping bag.
If you’re caught in the wilderness and have to sleep on the ground with your sleeping bag, try to collect straw and other debris to form a ground cover to protect you from the cold.
Emergency shelter aids – Paracord
Having a hank of paracord in your gear is always handy. Paracord is useful for setting up your tarp or building shelter or a bow for starting a fire, or even fishing.
Paracord comes in bracelet format, which you can tie off ort clip around your wrist. Other hanks attach to MOLLE systems on tactical packs.
Best Selling Emergency Shelters
- KEEPS YOU DRY, WARM AND ALIVE IN EXTREME CONDITIONS: The Life Tent is a waterproof and windproof 2-person tube tent constructed from extra-thick tear & puncture resistant polyethylene material that locks out rain, wind, and snow. Engineered to be your layer of protection against harsh weather, the interior reflects up to 90% of your body heat keeping your warm, dry, and protected from the elements
- PARA-SYNCH TECHNOLOGY PARACORD DRAWSTRING & SURVIVAL WHISTLE: Engineered for emergencies and survival, use the 120-decibel survival whistle to cut through wind and trees to alert rescuers up to 1-mile away. The 550lb nylon core Para-Synch Technology drawstring can be used to tie down or repair gear. In an emergency, your tools are the difference between life and death. The Life Tent stacks the deck in your favor and is perfect for your bug out bag, hiking pack, survival gear, or car survival kit
- FAST & EASY TO SET UP: Just run the 20ft rope of 550lb nylon core paracord through both ends of the tube tent and tie between two trees or sturdy objects 3-4 ft off the ground. Use rocks or gear to anchor the tent’s corners. If there’s nowhere to tie the paracord, the 8x5 foot mylar tube tent can also be used as an emergency sleeping bag, emergency bivy sack, pup tent, space blanket, or thermal bivvy
- ULTRA LIGHTWEIGHT COMPACT SURVIVAL SHELTER: Weighing just 8.7 ounces and packing up into a 5.25” x 3.25” inch stuff sack, your Life Tent is constructed of heavy-duty 28um extra-thick mylar material with a tear and puncture resistant coating to protect you in a survival situation. Durable enough for repeated use, it can be folded up and placed back inside the Nylon stuff sack. The Life Tent is an essential tool for you to escape the elements and stay alive in an emergency
- GO TIME GEAR ADVANTAGE: Better design. Better quality. World-class customer service. That’s the Go Time Advantage. We got tired of low-quality survival gear and cheaply-constructed, unreliable, survival tents. We needed a high-quality survival tent for life-threatening survival situations that didn’t break the bank. It didn’t exist. So we built it. Grab a Life Tent today for your bug out bag, hiking gear, earthquake kit, and survival gear kit so you are ready to escape to safety in an emergency
- TOUGHEST MYLAR EMERGENCY TENT ON EARTH – Designed for hiking and outdoor adventures, the DDITW Survival Tent packs away ultralight & compact and sets up quick with room for two adults. NASA-designed mylar is waterproof and reflects up to 90% of body heat for year-round protection for cold, wet, or hot weather survival.
- “ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE SURVIVAL GEAR” – Your words, not ours. Our tear-resistant, extra-thick HeatFlex mylar is stronger and more flexible than ordinary space blanket mylar. With 425-lb strength paracord & reinforced tape seams, this is a truly reusable survival tube tent built for the outdoors. The perfect balance of durability & weight at only 8.5 oz.
- SET UP IN A SNAP – Simply run the 20 ft paracord through the mylar tent and tie up between two trees. Use rocks or gear to anchor the corners, and climb in. The 8x5 foot mylar tube tent can also be used as an emergency sleeping bag / emergency bivy sack / space blanket if there are no trees around.
- INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH PARACORD & REINFORCED SEAMS – Other emergency shelters are made flimsy and cheap for one time use. We’ve tested and designed every detail with the highest quality materials available to create a reliable, reusable emergency shelter. Stash these emergency tents everywhere – in your car, survival kit, first aid kit, bug out bag, zombie survival kit, nuclear survival kit, earthquake kit, and backpacks.
- 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEED – You won’t find a tougher mylar survival tent anywhere. Guaranteed. PROTECT THE WILD PLACES WE LOVE – We donate a percentage of profits to conservation efforts around the world, including 1% For The Planet, The Conservation Alliance, and many more.
- WARMTH IN ANY WEATHER: Mylar thermal material reflects 90% of body heat & is waterproof & windproof
- COMPACT & LIGHTWEIGHT: Reusable tent packs easily for camping, hiking and emergency supplies
- SETS UP IN MINUTES: Separate the rope & shelter, run rope through both ends & tie to a sturdy object
- ROOM FOR TWO: Huge 8’ X 5’ survival tent accommodates two adults for protection from any weather
- CUSTOMERS SAY: Eliminates one survival problem immediately! | Must have tent for prepper kit!
Shelter and Sleeping FAQ
Where is the best place to get a tarp?
You can buy a specialized tarp from an online retailer. However, sometimes the most affordable options are the best, and a painting tarp from Best Buy will be as useful as a specialized model.
What do I do for shelter in an emergency?
If you need emergency shelter, then pack an emergency thermal blanket into your day pack. They take up hardly any room and weight next to nothing. One of these blankets could save your life in an emergency, protecting you from the elements.
Bushcraft Essentials: Lighting
If you’re camping overnight, then you’re going to need a light source. Using firelight to navigate your way around the campsite can be dangerous. Tripping over roots or coming across a wild animal are nasty surprises that can cause severe injuries.
If you’re hiking, then a headlamp is an excellent idea for hands-free lighting around the campsite or on the trail. A flashlight is a good option to check on noises you hear in the bush at night, and you can use it to scare off animals.
Check the batteries on your flashlight before you leave on your trip, and make sure you’re carrying a spare set.
How many lumens do I need in my flashlight?
We recommend looking for a model with a minimum lumen output of 1,000. 1,500-lumens is our preferred choice for a flashlight for bushcraft.
We hope this brief guide to bushcraft equipment gets you off on the right foot for building your supplies.
Remember to check your gear before you leave and write an inventory before you start packing. Use the inventory list when leaving your campsite to ensure that you remember all of the items you packed.