Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft as a term has been around for a very long time and has been used by outdoorsmen like Les Hiddins, Mors Kochanski, and Ray Mears. In recent years however, due to the popularization of the term by certain television shows, there has been an explosion of different definitions and interpretations of it. Depending on which group of people you listen to, these definitions can be wide ranging, and lead to many misunderstandings.

For me, "bushcraft" is synonymous with "wilderness skills". It is simply a set of skills or "craft" that one can use in the wilderness or "bush". These skills can be used to accomplish any range of things, whether it be survival after being stranded in the woods, or a leisurely fishing trip. These skills or bushcraft, can be used in any of those situations, although depending on the circumstances, certain skills would be more valuable and heavily relied upon than others. For example, on a hunting trip, tracking skills might be more important; in a difficult survival situation, the ability to keep warm by building shelter and making fire would be key; and on a nice weekend trip into the woods, the ability to carve entertaining objects might take priority. These are all wilderness skills, or bushcraft, and a well rounded outdoorsman would have knowledge of all of them, but different set of the skills would be more applicable in different situations.

In recent years, it appears that certain groups of outdoor enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to redefine the term. It has been turned into an activity all of its own. You hear expressions such as "this is not a real bushcraft knife because it is longer than four inches", or "using a ferrocerium rod is the bushcrtaft way to start a fire", or "any knife that does not have a single bevel grind is not worth much in bushcraft". All such statements stem from the fact that those people have redefined bushcraft to mean only a specific subset of wilderness skills, usually concerned more with wood carving and fire starting.

I have no problem with terms being redefined, as long as we are all on the same page. When I use the term, I use it to refer to all wilderness skills. I think it would be quite arrogant of us to say that a tribesman in the Amazon does not use bushcraft because his cutting tool of choice is a large machete rather than a four inch knife, or that the San bushmen do not use bushcraft because they are not accomplished wood carvers and rely on larger knives or that people like Dick Proenneke do not do bushcraft because he uses a folding knife.

Yet another group of people have come to think of bushcraft as some sort of a transcendent activity, which allows people to "thrive" in the bush. Such statements are often based on complete arrogance and ignorance of the wilderness or life therein, and most of them can be traced to specific parts of certain TV shows (mostly taken out of context). I strongly believe that if we do not respect the wilderness, and are not prepared, both with the right tools, and specific local knowledge, "thriving" is the last thing we will be doing even under the most favorable circumstances.

Just like all my other rambling posts, this is just my opinion, and should not be taken as authoritative on any one subject.