Recently it was brought to my attention that I’ve been using a knife that is not “good” for the bush. In particular, the individual was worried that it was too weak because it was a commercially made hidden tang design.
That got me thinking. Have I been using the wrong knife? Perhaps this person has a point. Most knives that I use now are of a design that can theoretically fail in the bush. So what if you loose your axe and all your gear, and are left alone with just your knife in your hand, fighting for survival? It makes sense that you would want to have the strongest most durable knife, right? Of course!
Then however, I remembered why I actually carry the knife that I do. It is good at what I do on daily bases when I go into the woods. It is extremely unlikely that I will loose all of my gear and have to rely on my knife for those tasks, and ultimately, even if my knife broke, and I lost all of my tools, I can be out of that forest within two days. I am immeasurably more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the woods then I am to find myself in the above scenario. I imagine that most people find themselves in a similar position.
So why are we so preoccupied with this one particular tool? Why do we spend hundreds of dollars on this one item? Why do we link out manhood to our choice of a knife? For that matter, why do we do it with the rest of our tools?
To be honest, I’ve done the exact same thing. For a long time I was very reluctant to carry a knife that I thought could possible fail in the woods. The reason, at least for me was that I had created this whole picture of the bush and my role within it. It was very much along the lines of the early mountain men-me alone in the untamed wilderness, entangled in a life and death struggle for survival, relying only on my wits and my trusty tools. It certainly made the weekend trips into the woods exciting. Shows like Survivorman fed the excitement. What if I found myself stranded in the Amazon jungle with just what I had on my belt? Would my knife be up to the task? Excitement ensued! My kit followed accordingly-a quarter of an inch think knife (the strongest one according to the guy who does the destruction tests), a steel pot (two actually just in case), a second knife just in case I loose the first one, my trusty AK-47 in case I encounter enemy campers (I joke of course), etc. I was ready to face the wilderness!
For most people, bushcraft has turned into a hobby. As a hobby we want it to be interesting and exciting. We end up doing that by looking at the woodsmen of the past, taking what for them were basic and mundane experiences, and turning them into thrilling stories on which we can base out hobbies. This is nothing new. Stories about the mountain men have been around since the time of the maintain men themselves. Reading some of those old novels, you would think that they killed a bear a day with just their specially designed knife (now available for sale).
The reality is that most woodsmen of the past, who we now try to emulate, used what was cheap and available, in order to perform what for them were every day tasks. On some level we seem to understand that. We certainly talk the talk. If we listen to ourselves, none of us care about brands or expensive items. Skills, and basic tool is what we are all about! The reality of course is that the brand names start to enter our kit, and the cost of our gear goes up accordingly. And of course, it is all due to “necessity” in this life and death struggle, also known as a weekend in the bush.
So, we carry a $300 knives rather than the $15 Mora we started out with. It is not that the Mora failed us at any point, but of course, without the specially tempered blade, designed in a wind tunnel for most efficiently cutting through the wood, when we go in the bush, we will DIE!
Along with the knife comes a $400 wool coat from Cabellas (pure wool of course, because we would not want it mixed with any inferior synthetic materials), instead of a $30 fleece coat, because as everyone “knows”, if it is not wool clothing it might catch a spark from the fire, and we will DIE! Well, probably you will just walk around with a tiny hole in your coat, but still, very serious business!
The pot is made out of quarter inch stainless steel designed by the survival guru of your choosing (unless that guru likes another metal, in which case it is okay to use it). Naturally, it has all the bells and whistles. It has three different kinds of handles, a spout, a tiny little container inside (because otherwise you have no way of making bannock, and then what kind of woodsman would you be?!?). The simple $10 aluminum pot is no good because it can fail when you are in the woods, and then you will DIE!
Our axes are imported from Sweden. The grain is perfect, and the blade is shaving sharp-we buy no other. Anything short of that, and you will certainly DIE! True, it costs $130, but that $40 axe has a painted head. We all “know” that axes with painted heads can’t keep you alive in the bush. Besides, then we may have to worry about sharpening it.
Now we are properly equipped for the life and death struggle that will be our weekend fishing trip. We look at our kit approvingly-it’s just like that of a 19th century mountainman-a true woodsman’s kit. Well, almost. Of course we “had” to take those items that were so essential to our survival over the weekend. Now you stand a good chance of making it out alive!
In all seriousness though, there is nothing wrong with trying to create excitement, and there is certainly nothing wrong with carrying bomb proof gear if you particular trip will actually require it. However, let’s be realistic. Most of us do things that will make those woodsmen of the past who we try to emulate roll on the ground with laughter.
I think the recent popularity of survival shows has had a great impact on how we think of the outdoors, whether or not we like the shows themselves. More and more people approach the bush as if thought they are entering a life and death survival situation. Accordingly, our gear and our priorities shift to accommodate those expectations. It is true that one day, one of us may find himself in just such a situation, but developing our camping/bushcraft experience around that possibility is like driving a tank to work every day because you never know when the Chinese are going to invade. By obsessing over the least likely event, we lose focus of what we actually do. At the end of the day we end up with 100lb of gear that will survive the apocalypse and we camp 10 feet from the truck because it is too heavy to carry into the forest and is too valuable to risk losing in the actual bush.
Preparedness, survival skills (urban or wilderness), and the knowledge that goes along with them are wonderful things, worth pursuing on their own. Our time spent in the bush however has its own value separate from that, and a different set of skills and priorities that go along with it. Mixing the two might make the weekend trip more exciting, but I don’t think we should confuse entertainment with necessity.
Well, there you have it. I have not had one of my rants in a while, so here you have it. As always, don’t take what I say too seriously. ;)