What Is Bushcraft: Survival Skills, Tools, & How To Learn

what is bushcraftThe old saying goes “The more skills you have the less gear you need”.  This is a great mindset to have and it provides a clear path on the journey to preparedness.  Today I am going to share with you a set of skills and tools that all add up to the overall field known as “Bushcraft”.  If you are an old hand at wilderness survival or are just asking, “What is Bushcraft?” this article will show you what skills to learn and tools to use when growing your bushcraft knowledge and survival abilities.

What Is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is the art of using the resources provided by our natural environment to survive and thrive in the great outdoors.  It combines the knowledge of how to best use the plants and animals at your disposal with some basic bushcraft tools to make outdoor living easier and more efficient.  In learning bushcraft skills we benefit in many ways including:

  1. Increasing our ability to adapt to new challenges
  2. Becoming more self sufficient
  3. Growing our confidence
  4. Increasing our survival skills
  5. Becoming better prepared to face unforeseen problems

Bushcraft is not just one thing to learn.  It is a group of related skills that help you survive and adapt to overcome obstacles.  Although traditional bushcraft is focused on wilderness survival, its mindset of using the world around you can easily be applied to an urban or suburban setting.

bushcraft skills

Learning bushcraft survival skills will go a long way in making you better prepared the next time a disaster strikes.  Many of the skills and projects within the field of bushcraft can be directly applied to survival situations and are immensely useful to learn.

What Are Bushcraft Skills?

Bushcraft encompasses several primitive skills to shape the world around you and meet your survival needs.  In this article I am going to focus on the fundamental bushcraft skills that are most related to survival:

  • Food Foraging
  • Trapping and Hunting Game
  • Water Gathering and Purification
  • Shelter Building
  • Fire Building

Now we have discussed many aspects of these skills in other articles (such as this one) but remember, bushcraft teaches you how to do all these things with just a basic tool and the knowledge in your head.  Each of these bushcraft skills have many smaller subsets of tasks and abilities that make them up.  Let’s take a look at what you need to learn to become proficient at these fundamental bushcraft survival skills.

Food Foraging

  • Knowledge of local plants
  • Camp cooking
  • Avoidance of toxic plants
  • How to efficiently harvest

Trapping and Hunting

  • Tracking and stalking game
  • Reading animal signs
  • Building snares
  • Using lures
  • Hiding human scent
  • Tying knots
  • Making cordage
  • Cleaning and cooking game

Water Gathering and Purification

  • Foraging for water
  • Making a water filter
  • Purifying water
  • Fire building (for boiling)
  • Container making (for carrying water)

Shelter Building

  • Felling trees
  • Batoning branches
  • Harvesting other materials
  • Thatching or weaving grass or bark
  • Knot tying
  • Making cordage
  • Natural insulation and waterproofing

Fire Building

  • Collecting wood
  • Gathering tinder
  • Batoning branches
  • Building a bow drill, fire plough or other device
  • Building a fire pit
  • Types of fires and their uses

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How Long Does It Take To Learn Bushcraft Skills?

As you can see there is a lot to learn!  While becoming a bushcraft master can take several years or longer the good news in that there are many small skills that can be quickly learned to get you started.  Additionally, some of the more basic skills like making cordage and batoning branches have many uses and can be applied to more than one discipline.

what is bushcraft

If you are just starting out

If you are starting with no base of bushcraft knowledge it is best to begin with one of the easier skills to learn.  Many of these can be learned in a matter of hours and be further developed whenever you have the time to practice.  Some basic bushcraft skills to start out with are:

  • Batoning wood
  • Carving simple tools
  • Lashing basic camp structures such as a tripod
  • Knot tying
  • Basic fire starting

If you have a basic knowledge already

With some basic bushcraft knowledge under your belt you can start to learn some of the more intermediate skills such as:

  • Foraging for food
  • Primitive fire building (no matches or lighter)
  • Shelter building
  • Basic snares and trapping
  • Water purification

For the pros

If you have a working knowledge of survival or outdoor living you can start to take on some of the more advanced bushcraft projects and skills such as:

  • Making rope and cordage
  • Advanced structure building (camp oven, beds, thatching)
  • Advanced foraging and trapping
  • Land navigation
  • Tracking

 What Are Bushcraft Tools?

At its most basic level bushcraft is the art of going out into the woods and surviving with nothing more than the clothes on your back and an edged tool.  Nearly every skill and most bushcraft projects use a bushcraft tool to make your labor easier.

bushcraft projects
A solid bushcraft toolkit will make most projects easier and faster

Bushcraft Knife

A fixed blade knife is the most common bushcraft tool.  Finding the best bushcraft knife (Check out my guide for picking the best fixed blade knife here) for your kit will make many camp tasks easier and faster.  Bushcraft knives are best suited for light and medium duty tasks:

  • Batoning branches smaller than your wrist
  • Carving or whittling wood
  • Skinning game
  • Making snares and traps
  • Preparing food

Here are my favorite knives for bushcraft:

KnifeSizeCostFeaturesBlade Material
KA-BAR Becker 22

Overall: 10.5"
Blade: 5.25"
Weight: 14.6oz
$$$Glassbreaker/hammer pommel. Extreme heavy-duty construction, ergonomic grip.1095 Cro-Van steel
Tom Brown Tracker

Overall: 11.90"
Blade: 4.25"
Weight: 28oz
$$$$Serrated back and multi-level main edge give this knife maximum versatility. Heavy duty, high quality construction.1095 High Carbon Steel
CRKT Ultima

Overall: 10"
Blade: 5"
Weight: 8.3oz
$$Patented Veff serrations, pry tip in pommel, fantastically designed grip melds to your hand in any conditions.1.4116 Stainless steel
ESEE-6 Survival Knife
esse-6
Overall: 11.75"
Blade: 6.5"
Weight: 12oz
$$$$Textures handle with contoured design provide excellent grip when wet. Glassbreaker/hammer pommel.1095 High Carbon Steel
Morakniv Companion Heavy Duty Knife

Overall: 8.9"
Blade: 4.1"
Weight: 4.8oz
$The king of basic knives. Far better performance than expected out of such a low price point. These knives have been used by cost conscious hunters and campers for many years.High Carbon Steel
Fallkniven S1 Forest Knife

Overall: 9.7"
Blade: 5.1"
Weight: 6.7oz
$$$$Straightforward knife built using some of the best materials available. High corrosion resistance.VG-10 Stainless steel

Tomahawk or Hatchet

As I discussed in my article “How To Choose The Best Tomahawk” (check it out here), a small axe is a highly versatile bushcraft tool.  Generally the design of a bushcraft axe makes it best suited for heavier duty tasks:

  • Chopping wood
  • Felling trees
  • Splitting logs
  • Butchering large game
  • Digging
  • Hammering stakes or posts

Here are some of my favorite bushcraft axes and tomahawks:

AxeLength/WeightCostFeatures
Fiskars X7 14 Inch Hatchet

16.5"
1.4 lbs
$FiberComp handle is nearly indestructible. Designed with power-to-weight ratio for efficient splitting and chopping.
CRKT Kangee

13.75"
1.5 lbs
$$$Sharpened spine and beard, multiple grip options
Cold Steel Frontier Hawk

22"
1.5 lbs
$Also available with flat butt for pounding. Basic, cost effective hawk.
WatchFire Camper's Hatchet

10"
13.6 oz
$Large head, compact handle.
Gerber Gator Axe II Saw Combo

15.2"
1.8 lbs
$$Saw is hidden in the axe handle. Glass-filled nylon handle is extremely strong.

Machete

Functionally a machete is a hybrid between a large knife and small axe.  It can be used for many of the tasks I mentioned above.  The long, heavy blade of a machete is best used for medium to heavy cutting jobs:

  • Clearing Brush
  • Batoning large branches
  • Chopping wood
  • Digging
ToolFeatures
Woodsman's Pal

Designed as a bushcraft tool from the ground up. Heavy duty blade cuts branches up to 1.5" thick in a single stroke and sickle hook on the back side easily cuts vines and briars.

Saw

The saw is a more specialized bushcraft tool as it is only used for cutting branches.  It is however highly efficient at this task.  This advantage should be considered if you are planning on working on any bushcraft projects that will require you to cut lots of wood such as building a:

  • Platform
  • Hut
  • Camp table or chair
  • Bush ladder
SawFeaturesCost
Sportsman Pocket Chain Saw
Lightweight and ultra-compact. Can be used as is or combined with a branch to make a basic bow saw.$
Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

Good basic folding saw. The 8" blade has a safety lock for both opening and closing and is coated with a rust inhibitor.$
Sven Saw

The original classic! I used one of these in Boy Scouts 20 years ago and they are still chugging along. Packs down very compact but quickly assembles to a full sized bow saw.$$

Bushcraft Backpack

Lastly we have the pack that you carry all your bushcraft tools and other gear in.  As highlighted in my article on how to choose a backpack (read it here), make sure you pick a comfortable bag that matches your body type and that you can comfortably carry.  It is also important that your bushcraft backpack is waterproof and has multiple compartments rather than one large sack.  This makes it far easier to efficiently organize and then find your gear when you want to use it!

BackpackFeaturesCost
Global Assault Pack
Large, versatile bag with many organization features. Can carry all your cushcraft tools, clothes, and other gear for a weekend in the woods.$$
Alice Frame Pack

Alice Frame Bug Out Pack
Great basic pack with a time tested design. 1 huge main compartment and 6 smaller pouches easily organize your gear.$$$
Long Range Patrol Pack


Modern military style day pack for shorter bushcraft trips. Hydration ready, lots of storage, and multiple handling options make this a highly versatile bushcraft bag.$

OK but what is the BEST bushcraft tool?

Any of the bushcraft tools mentioned above can be used for nearly every bushcraft project or task.  Remember that one of the core ideas of bushcraft is to be adaptable in approaching problems.  The best bushcraft tool is really whatever you have with you!  Nearly every bushcraft project can be made easier by using a knife, hatchet, or saw at some point so either choose your favorite or bring more than one.

bushcraft tools
The best tool is the one in your hand

Think about what you are going to try and accomplish as well as what the trees and other resources are in the area you will be working.  Will you be doing lots of heavy chopping?  Make sure to bring an axe!  Will you be doing detailed carving for snares and traps?  Having the best bushcraft knife will be an essential tool.

If you have time to plan your bushcraft project out it never hurts to carry all the items you think you will need.  It is better to have a piece of equipment with you than wish you had brought it along!

What beginner bushcraft projects I can try?

As you can see from the bushcraft skills list above there is a huge range of tasks to learn and try.  Starting off with some simple bushcraft projects is a great way to get your feet wet and start learning some useful new skills!  Lets take a look at a beginner bushcraft project from each of the 5 skills we talked about earlier.

Food Foraging Bushcraft Project:

Go out in the woods and try to forage one edible plant.  Make sure you read up on what local plants are edible and palatable and then give it a try!  Check out this video for some tips:

Trapping and Hunting Bushcraft Project

Find and identify one set of animal tracks.  Again, read up on animals in your area and where they tend to travel.  Focus on common animals to increase your chances of success.  Here is another video to help get you started:

Water Gathering and Purification Bushcraft Project

Learn and practice one water purification method.  This can be boiling, building a solar still, filtering, or any other.  The important thing is that you actually practice doing it.  Note for this beginner bushcraft project I suggest practicing with bottled water just to be safe.  Here is a video to get you started:


Shelter Building Bushcraft Project

Build a basic shelter such as a debris hut.  This is an extremely useful bushcraft survival skill and can save your life if you are ever caught outside overnight.  Pour a bottle of water on the completed shelter to judge whether to not it would keep you dry.  Extra bonus points if you actually sleep in your shelter to test it out.  Here is a video on how to build a debris hut:

Fire Building

Build a small fire.  This encompasses many important fire building skills including gathering wood, finding and preparing tinder, and actually building your fire.  If you already know how to build a basic fire try building an upside down fire (how to article here)

Good luck!

Good luck with your bushcraft projects!  If you choose to do any or all of these you will be well on your way to growing your bushcraft survival skills and making yourself more prepared.  Get out there and take action!

More Bushcraft Resources

As you can see bushcraft is a huge field with many skills and activities to learn.  I have provided a basic overview to answer the question of “What is Bushcraft?” but there are lots of great resources out there to help you explore further.

Bushcraft Books

BookWhat It's Good For
Bushcraft by Richard Graves

This was my first bushcraft book. Great explanations of skills and how to apply the bushcraft mindset to problems. Lots of hand drawn illustrations, including some of the ones in this article!
Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury

A good beginner book. Focuses mainly on the survival aspects of bushcraft.
Essential Bushcraft by Ray Mears

Covers survival, projects, and crafts. Lots of color illustrations to help you along.
The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer

Great for an intro to foraging. Many tutorials and over 200 color photos.

Bushcraft Community and Instructional Sites

Conclusion: What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is a diverse and extremely useful skill set to add to your survival arsenal.  This guide should help get you started but there is no teacher better than experience.  I challenge you to go out into the world and practice your bushcraft skills.  You will make yourself more confident, adaptable, and better prepared for whatever fate throws your way.  Always remember, Chance Favors The Well Prepared.

Your Thoughts?

Have you tried a bushcraft project?  Do you have a must have bushcraft tool that you love?  Let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

Chris

Chris Ruiz

My name is Chris and I created this site to help ordinary people prepare for the uncertainties of the modern day world. I believe that a well-prepared society is the best safeguard against any natural or manmade disaster.

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