I have been reading a few posts about bushcraft, and what we should do or not do so that we do not lose our way. Common themes of course include reliance on skill rather than gear, preserving the traditional ways, and rejecting consumerism and gear accumulation. Many of those articles are expertly written and make excellent points.
Something about all of this bothers me however. Our identity as bushcrafters and the bushcraft community in general seem to be centered around a phenomenon, which I must admit, I don’t entirely understand.
We seem to look back to a particular point in western history; that which spans the time between the mountain man of colonial times and people like Nessmuk and Kephart of the early 1900s. We then try to duplicate their equipment and skills. It appears to, at least from many of the forums and blogs I follow, that the closer we come to emulating those people, the more “true” we become to bushcraft.
The reason why I find it perplexing is that we do not try to emulate the mentality and approach to the woods that those people had, but rather we try to literally duplicate their experience. We don’t seem to worry about how a mountain man of the 1800s would approach a situation in the bush today, but rather, we try to almost role play the life of that person. Furthermore, we seem to reject much of the thinking that those men had about the wilderness. Few of us would even think about killing an animal only to throw most of it away after one meal, or chopping down two trees a foot in diameter just to make an overnight shelter. (See Nessmuk) Even so however, we still strive to duplicate their kit.
For example, let us say that the mountain man of your choosing used to carry a wool blanket as his sleeping implement. Seemingly we ignore the reasons for why the person did that, and rather, just blindly duplicate the kit. Whether or not the mountain man would have chosen the same sleeping gear if he was alive today, does not seem to be a question we ask.
I find it even more peculiar because these were very practical men. In fact, as bushcrafters we tend to value that rugged simplicity and practicality. At the same time however, we are anything but practical. We forget that the men we try to emulate carried gear that was constrained by availability and the technology of their time. Just because it was carried by that person does not mean that it is a good piece of kit in the spectrum of history. It is true, if Nessmuk was living today, he may retain some items from his kit, but many would certainly change. We tend to forget that these men often tried to get their hands on the latest available technology, so that their time in the woods could be made easier.
Of course, if your stated goal was to duplicate a particular period in history, it makes perfect sense that you would try to duplicate the gear of that time period as precisely as possible. If you intended to be a Civil War reenactor, then closely following the techniques, tools and equipment of the time is exactly what you should do. However, I am not sure why bushcraft has turned into this type of activity. I am not sure why the technology of a particular, apparently randomly chosen period in time is favored over all others, and even more, is taken to define “true” bushcraft.
I wish I could tell you that this was leading somewhere or that I had an answer. Unfortunately, these are just my ramblings, based on what I perceive happening with the bushcraft community. I could be completely misreading the situation, so please do not take this as the last word on the bushcraft community.