Information: bushcraft & survival skills

Information on the theory and practice of bushcraft & survival skills outdoors – from case studies to policies, examples of forms, documents & handouts, research and articles, and much more to support your theoretical explorations into the outdoors.

With your help the information section can grow – can you recommend sample policies, signpost articles or videos, share documents or resources? Please contribute so we can build the knowledge and good practice of all people working with groups outdoors. Contact us via share@muddyfaces.co.uk

Reports, articles, research etc are, as much as possible, arranged in chronological order, most recent at the top. 

Bushcraft & Survival skills

Bushcraft expert Dave WatsonDave Watson has been teaching bushcraft professionally since he founded Woodland Survival Crafts in 1995,  following a ten year career working in outdoor activity centres.

He shares a little of his knowledge with us here:

What is Bushcraft?

The term bushcraft originally referred to the skills of living/surviving in the Australian or African Bush. In the UK we have taken hold of the word and adapted it, widening its use to encompass the many special aspects of the subject.

For me, it brings together some key/magical ingredients: adventure, creativity, inspiration, survival skills, which are all-in-all good for wellbeing. At the heart of good bushcraft is a philosophy that focuses on “working with our environment,” rather than a focus on disaster survival where you do whatever you need to in order to survive the immediate situation. For me bushcraft should also challenge peoples perceptions/the way they see their environment.

What does it involve?

The sort of skills that bushcraft includes are: effective shelter building, responsible fire lighting, campfire gadgets & cooking, identifying and gathering wild foods, string making, tracking, whittling, flint knapping.

There are a lot more things we could mention but perhaps it is a good idea to get to understand what is at the heart of bushcraft: one of the key elements is that it will heighten your understanding of your surroundings.

Using a bow and nettle cord to start a fire

Who can get involved?

It really can be for anyone.

At the age of 2 my daughter spent a night in a cave with me. She loved it so much we spent 4 nights in it that year.

Benefits of participation

In the 1970s Richard Graves wrote a book called Bushcraft. In his opening paragraph he wrote this quite prophetic statement.

The practice of Bushcraft shows many unexpected results. The five senses are sharpened, and consequently the joy of being alive is greater. The individual’s ability to adapt, improvise is developed to a remarkable degree. This in turn leads to increased self confidence. Self confidence and the ability to adapt to a changing environment and to overcome difficulties is followed by a rapid improvement in the individual’s daily work. This in turn leads to advancement and promotion. Bushcraft, by developing adaptability, provides a broadening influence, a necessary counter to offset the narrowing influence of modern specialism. The practice of Bushcraft conserves and does not destroy wildlife.”

Where can we go to do it?

There are a good number of companies who run courses ranging from a family fun session to a full week for adults. Each year many new companies emerge offering exciting looking packages. Some will be excellent, some mediocre and some poor or even dangerous.

Questions to ask: who is the main person behind the business? What is their background? Have they a real passion for what they do or is it just a business venture?

Local Wildlife Trusts and National Parks often offer simple daytime packages or sessions that might include shelter building and fire lighting.

Woodland Survival Crafts logoThanks very much to Dave Watson

Visit his website:

www.woodlandsurvivalcrafts.com

Bristol recovering alcoholics learn bushcraft skills

Bushcraft skills are being taught to women recovering from alcohol addiction in Bristol as part of their treatment. Short video from the BBC, 16 October 2015 (2 mins 12).


My cat for your firewood: a fair trade?

Funny irreverent article about a father’s love for gathering and chopping firewood, and the author’s attendance at an Introduction to Forest Skills course in Devon. The Guardian, 20 November 2014.


Seven Things You Need To Know About Bushcraft

The 7 key areas of bushcraft, according to survivalcache.com (not dated).


Fascination of Fire – Charcoal, by Claire Warden

One of a series of books that ‘outline adult knowledge and skills, case studies of children’s voices, progression in learning, and curriculum links … will give you an insight into the knowledge you need as an adult in order to facilitate learning.’ Available from Muddy Faces.


Fascination Of Fire - Charcoal - book cover

Knife Use with Groups

Forest School Leader’s Guide
A really useful handy-sized book with practical guidance based on recognised good practice and Forest School Training Network recommendations. Deals sensibly with popular misconceptions & sets out the legal position of using & transporting knives for educational purposes. Produced by & available from Muddy Faces.


Knife Use With Groups book cover

Fire Piston Information sheet

Aluminium Fire PistonProvided by Bushcraft tools

Buy a Fire piston in our shop

How to use a fire piston video

Please read this before using your Fire piston, as it will help you get it correctly set up.

To begin

Attach the washer to the small cup and then screw it into the end of the piston rod.
Before doing so, apply a little lubricant to the tip of the piston rod, then screw the washer and cup on. This will allow you to easily adjust (squash) the washer to the correct diameter (approx 1mm wider than the piston rod diameter).
Apply a little lubricant to the edge of the washer and insert into the piston barrel.
Do this a few times until the piston rod springs back freely.

Make sure you have compression

After lubricating the washer, push in and out of the piston barrel until it springs back smoothly. Then press and hold the piston rod into the barrel for a few seconds.
If the rod springs back then you have compression.
If the air escapes then you have no compression.
You can turn the cup on the end with your fingers to adjust the washer. Then try the compression test again.

A little tip

If you find it difficult adjusting the washer to fit the inside of the tube, try this:

  • Unscrew the washer and end cup from the piston rod
  • Now dip the end of the piston rod in some lubricant and then screw the washer and cup back on. The lubricant will make it easier to adjust (squash) the washer to the correct diameter.

Using your fire piston

If you have compression, place a small amount of tinder into the tinder cup.
Make sure the washer is free from dirt/tinder and push into the piston barrel approx 10 mm.
Firmly strike them together either in your hands or by pressing hard and fast onto a piece of wood.
Make sure all the caps are screwed tight otherwise you will damage the threads.
The rapid compression should cause the tinder to ignite. Do not hold it in too long after striking as you may starve the tinder of oxygen.

Tinder

If you still fail to do this but have good compression then you will need to try another tinder as your tinder may have become damp or contaminated with lubricant.
NOTE: make sure there is not a build up of lube in the bottom of the piston barrel. If there is, remove the excess with a stick/twig.

I recommend using a cramp ball fungus/King Alfred cake (make sure it’s dry and powdery when you use it as many freshly picked ones are moist/damp).
You can also try making some charcloth. This is easily done… see YouTube videos for instructions.
The charcloth works extremely well with the fire steel too.

This is basically all you need to know!

So… the most important thing is that you have compression. If you have compression, you know you will be able to light a fire… it just comes down to the tinder.

Replacing the washer video:
Firmly grip with a cloth and twist to unscrew.
Remove washer.
Dip the tindercup thread and piston rod end in some lube (helps get the washer on).

How to start a fire

A selection of articles on fire-building and fire-starting techniques.

A (Near) Complete List of Fire Building Techniques (+ Tips and Tricks) and 15 Best Fire Starters for Backpackers & Preppers for 2018 from Geek Prepper.

Basic fire-building techniques from ThoughtCo.

Beginners guide to making a campfire from BWCA – the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness in north-eastern Minnesota.

Firestarters. A selection of home-made fire starters as alternatives to matches or lighters, from Love the Outdoors.

How to make a pocket wax burner. From Woods Monkey – ‘for anyone who takes a playful and inquisitive look at the outdoors’.

How to make waterproof matches. Nicely illustrated guide to how to make matches waterproof, from Wikihow.

How to start a camp fire. Article from Trip Savvy.

How to start a fire. Extended & indepth article by legendary outdoor authority Tom Brown Jr, from Earth Mother News.

Primitive fire building. The five steps to fire-building & lighting, including preparing your area, making a spark & using a flint and steel, from Ridgerunners –  ‘for those who take to the woods & fields for work or play.’


Links

Our bushcraft & survival skills links page signposts you to the main national bodies, key organisations, initiatives and websites in the world of bushcraft, survival & wilderness skills outdoors.

Have a browse – there are tons of links to loads of interesting, important & inspiring organisations!