Monday, October 13, 2014

Bushcraft, Woodsmanship, and Stupid Number Rules

Have you guys noticed how bushcraft, woodsmanship, wilderness self reliance, etc are filled with random number rules? Rules of three, five items you must have, ten essentials you must carry, etc. Am I the only one who finds these number guides to be ridiculous? Not only do I find these numbers to be arbitrary, but they carry absolutely no meaning.


Take for example The Ten Essentials. That concept has been around for a long time. It sounds very important: the ten things you should always have with you when in the woods! Fine, except that have you ever actually looked at the recommended lists? No two are the same. On half of the lists part of the items seem to be nothing more than filler designed just to get the number up to ten, while on the other half of the lists, important items are missing. So why ten items? Why not eight or thirteen? Are we such children that everything we carry has to be in threes, fives, and tens so that we don’t get confused?

Or how about the tool trio combinations, or concepts like the 5Cs or any other variant of the same thing? Why are we so drawn to such uselessly vague concepts? Why do we insist on putting silly restrictions on ourselves? Then we sit and perform mental gymnastics to fit all the tools we actually need into these arbitrary numbers, more often than not adding tools we don’t need or leaving out tools we do need just so we can get to this magical number.

Oh no, you carry four tools with you?!?! But that neither fits in the Nessmuk Trio, nor in Dave Canterbury’s Five Tool Rule. Clearly you have done something wrong! Clearly you must be an inexperienced n00b, who has no place in the woods. Unless… you carry four tools because you need four tools, and know enough about what you are doing not to leave one of them behind so you can fit into a random trio, or add an item you don’t need to match somebody’s random tool number requirement. How mind blowing would it be if we were guided in what gear we carry not by random numbers picked by some person out of a hat (I’m sorry, from their many years of wilderness experience), and instead were guided by what gear we actually need? 

I know, I know, but new people need everything to be in basic numbers so that they don’t forget. Really? Do we think that little of people? They can remember ten items, but eleven?!? No way!

I like to put forward the theory that these number rules carry no practical significance or use, but rather function just as means of attracting readership or viewers. For some reason people are drawn to titles with nice round numbers: The Three X, The Best 5 Ys, The 10 Zs of Woodsmanship, etc. Such posts and videos attract more readers and viewers. However, they serve no practical purpose, and just cause people to waste their time trying to fit the tools and gear they actually need into arbitrary number categories.

I’ll go even further and say that numbers are not a valid criteria for selecting your gear list. I say that because the number count of the number of items you have on your back when you are in the woods has zero bearing on what you are doing in the woods or how successful you will be. The actual practical considerations are weight, volume of gear, and whether you have the tools you need for the task. Whether you have three, five, seven, ten, eleven, twenty, or a hundred items makes no difference. The considerations that actually matter are whether you have the tools you need for the trip you have undertaken, and whether you are capable of carrying those tools.

There is no such thing as “the best number of tools to carry”, or “the numbers of tools you really need”. Such rules are the domain of armchair woodsmen. Sure, as a theoretical exercise, it is fun to play games like “Which three; which five; which ten items would you take if you were going to…” As a practical guide to what you should bring with you into the woods however, I find them to be of no value.

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