It may come as some surprise that I am about to tell you that it is not a good idea to walk off into the woods with nothing but a knife and a smile and use your wits and skills to sort out you’re needs for shelter, water, food and fire. Considering that I teach these things with a passion and that I myself am in the process of getting ready to run a course that teaches people to do just that, I am about to tell you why this is not a good idea in practice. We should all experience the true freedom and the full range of hard ship that comes with the old romantic idea of just you and your knife against the world and why the phrase “Travel Light, Freeze at Night” has merit, stay with me and i’ll get right into it.
Nobody enjoys walking long distances with a very heavy rucksack. It really takes the fun out of everything and converts any sense of joy or excitement into pain, exhaustion and frustration very quickly. It is this effect that drives many people to begin learning bushcraft in general so that they can make better use of the materials in the environment to save them having to carry everything with them. Why carry a tent or a tarp if you can just throw up a quick lean too every day right?
The truth is, almost all of us end up taking too much stuff with us. We make a list of everything that we might need and we have spare batteries, spare torches, loads of spare clothing, snacks, water, books and a whole host of other crap that we don’t need. I set myself a target weight of 10Kg and pack accordingly. This is a light bag and you have to be very strict about what can go and what has to stay. I always end up leaving items behind that I wish I could take with me but i have learned to use bushcraft skills to make up for missing items and so must you.
Generally speaking, traveling light means not having much stuff with you, this could mean that you go cold at night because you packed the light weight sleeping bag instead of the nice, heavy warm one or that you left the extra jumper at home. We can pretty easily make up this insulative shortfall by making use of bundles of dry grass and leaves so it does not have to be a big drama with some prior thought and preparation. Similarly we can just build a shelter out of woodland material like a debris shelter or a lean too.
The problem with this is that it takes Time and costs Energy, a lot of energy.
My tarp, which I use nearly everywhere to keep me dry and out of the wind, weighs about 1Kg including the ropes and guy lines. It takes 10 minutes to set it up and 10 minutes to take it down. A lean too can take 4 or 5 hours to build and cost thousands of calories which leaves you thoroughly exhausted afterwards and in need of food which you don’t have time to collect because you used it all building a shelter. The next day, you can’t take it with you so will have to build a new one all over again at your next campsite. If you plan on heading to a single campsite and spending many nights there before going home then this may be an option that is worth the weight vs time and energy consumption equation but for most of us, it’s not.
In some area’s it just might not be appropriate to build from natural materials, there may be some sensitive ecological reason that you should not disturb the environment too much or you may wish to keep a small footprint and leave no trace after you leave. In that case then a leanto or debris shelter is going to be a bad idea as they require large amounts of material to construct and in some cases, that material may not be in abundance or may necessitate felling live trees. This is generally something to be avoid if possible.
With my 1Kg tarp, It take´s up 10% of my allowance but it is going to save me 4 hours and thousands of calories every time i use it so it is an item that I have no problem carrying with me.
I see a lot of people on the internet who take a spare of everything with them, spare knife, spare flashlight, spare hat, spare kitchen sink. That is all wasted weight in your pack for things that you could have taken instead like more food or a warmer sleeping bag. Take better care of your stuff and use good quality stuff to avoid needing a spare of everything.
Source consumables locally. Finding and purifying water on the move is an essential bushcraft and survival skill. We should be able to do this everywhere which is excellent because water is also just about the heaviest thing that you will be carrying. I know people that buy big, 5 litre bottles of water from the supermarket to take camping with them, This is a waste of money and the weight will soon drag you down. You should be carrying about 2 litres of water with you but it is best to source it locally from the environment.
Sleeping bags. Not only can it get cold without a sleeping bag, it can get very, very cold and without that “under the covers” feeling it can be hard to sleep too. Not being able to strip off and snuggle up in your own, warm, little safe space can make life really difficult outdoors. It is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one and “doing battle” is not what you want when you are trying to sleep. Without good quality sleep, even after just one or two bad nights, our physical and mental abilities suffer and the likelihood that we make small and then large mistakes increases.
It is therefore worth our while to not just take a sleeping bag with us but to research and invest the money in something really good.
My favorite sleeping bag is an old British Army Cold Weather sleeping bag. It is warm, I have slept out in a Snow Grave with temperatures reaching -35 degrees Celsius (-31 F) and was so toasty I woke up and thought I was at home in bed. It is not expensive either, they can be picked up for around 40 – 60 £/€/$ so they are also cheap. They are made of a synthetic material that allows them to still function if they get wet and they dry very easily too. They are easy to wash and to keep clean, they have a toughened foot section that means that you can keep your boots on inside if you had to and the zip is big and chunky and never gets snagged on it’s self. They even have two really useful mesh pockets inside for keeping things in and as it is designed for military use, it can be ripped open and you can leap out of it in one swift, easy motion to begin killing the Russian’s at any moment. It is an excellent sleeping bag and one of the few highlights of British Military equipment from the mid 1990’s
What the British Army Cold Weather sleeping bag is not, is lightweight. It is heavy, very heavy and will be the second heaviest item in your kit (water being the first). As it is so heavy and so warm, I am afraid that it is a prime candidate on the chopping block as we search for ways to lighten our load.
What I prefer to do with sleeping bags is compromise. I will accept a trade off between warmth and weight. I can live with cold legs if it means I save 500g. After many years of searching I finally gave in and spent a lot of money on a mountaineering, down (feathers) sleeping bag which is so light it literally floats on water and in the air if you throw it up it drifts down like a leaf settling in the wind, but it is fragile, not as warm and very hard to dry if it gets wet. Foam is heavy but dries quickly but also works fine when wet, down (feathers) are light, pretty good but don’t work when wet and take a long time to dry).
This is turning into a whole post about sleeping bags so I am going to cut this off here and save the rest of the sleeping bag talk for another post but suffice to say, I like sleeping bags and consider them worth the weight as sleep is extremely important to me so as a rule of thumb, get the minimum size / weight bag for your conditions, no excess for comfort and supplement the bag with a breathable (water proof) bivi bag over the outside of it and also stuff dry grass and leaves inside for additional insulation.
Being able to live from the land with nothing but your knife is a level of ability that we should all aspire to but make no mistake, it is difficult, very difficult and requires a large amount of training, research, practice and skill to accomplish. You can expect to be hungry most of the time until you eventually work out all of the nuances and tricks to acquiring enough of the right kinds of food that are available in your area. Likewise, a certain type of shelter that you are adept at building on one location may not actually be appropriate (or possible) at another location so you need to start filling your mental tool kit up with new tools and options before embarking on such a journey.
We tend to have a knife with us at all times because with the knife, we can make every other tool that we may need and it should be on your belt, attached to your person at all times (when out in the wilderness, ill considered laws prevent it elsewhere)
Even after taking a few training courses with exercises at the end, it will still be difficult to achieve without lots and lots of practice and even then luck can vanish and you can be hungry. It is with your skill and experience that you can recognize when to move to a new area and when to change your tactics.
As a minimum, I would suggest that you carrying the following essential items, perhaps in time, you can start to leave some of these items at home as your skill level improves. In time it will become clear to you which of these items you can safely to without.
- Good, strong, all purpose, sharp knife
- Folding saw such as a Laplander or Silky Saw (Lapland is significantly lighter but the Silky Saw uses less energy)
- 2x water bottles to store 2 litres of water
- A metal cooking pot or large metal mug for boiling water and cooking in
- A small fishing kit
- Snare wire or Paracord
- Lighter (for starting fires easily)
- Wool hat when cold or Wide Brimmed Hat when Hot
- *Sleeping bag + breathable Bivi bag. The choice depends a lot on the time of year and location
- Some food (have a good calorie to weight ratio)
- Something to take your mind off of things, A book, A notebook, something to allow your mind to escape once in a while)
- Small first aid kit with a Tourniquet
- Whistle (to call for help)
- Compass for navigation
- Phone (for calling for help)
- A small to medium sized lightweight backpack to put it all in
There a few places available on a 12 day course which is scheduled to run in August 2018. We will be discussing the above in detail along with a whole range of other, exciting and empowering skills that once mastered, will allow you to use the environment to feed yourself, get a drink, be warm and dry and to really thrive as you become the master of your own destiny. It will be challenging and it will be hard but with that hardship comes a big reward.
This course will be taking place in Sweden, max group size is 8, It is 1997 pounds per person. Contact me to book or find out more.