Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Basic Bushcraft Kit And How To Get Started

When I first got interested in Bushcraft, my initial questions were... "What should be my basic bushcraft kit and how do I get started ?"

In this post, I hope to give you and bit of an idea, how I got started and what kit you want to consider, to get yourself up and running.

I must point out though, you can have all the kit in the world, but if you don't have the knowledge to back it up, you're not going to get very far. And when I say knowledge, that doesn't mean you have to be an expert before you go out into the wilderness. You just need tutorials or basic instructions, that you can refer to, that will allow you to go out into your local woodland and practice your skills.

You can then build on these skills, improving them as you get more experienced. And over time you will arm yourself with an arsenal of knowledge that will stay with you wherever you may find yourself and whatever situation you are faced with.

Marry this with some reliable equipment and you're good to go, ready for whatever is thrown at you. But the main thing is, have some fun. Enjoy the learning process and be proud of yourself when you learn a new skill.

And when you do start to go into the outdoors, make it an enjoyable experience. Have the appropriate kit for the conditions and terrain. There is nothing worse than trying to light a fire in the rain with a box of cheap matches, just to make a brew. Be prepared (Yes I was a Boy Scout)

Ok, so where should you start...

Well a good place to start is with some reference material. If you have never put up a basha (tarp shelter), made a fire or chopped wood, you need to know how to go about it. So you need some form of reference.

This can be in the form of written instructions from a book, or something I found usefull when I first started, a video tutorial. We're not all the same and some people learn better from books whereas other people, like myself, much prefer to watch a video. So you use whatever reference material suits you best.

Books... And What To Consider...

If you want to chose a suitable book to get started, look no further than Ray Mears Outdoor Survival Handbook.

This is a fantastic book for beginners and more experienced bushcrafters, as it covers all four seasons in seperate sections. This means you are not overloaded with information, you just concentrate on what is around you at that particular time of year.
If you are looking to spend just a day, a week or even months in the outdoors, this book guides you, with great illustrations and simple to follow instructions.
It takes you through all the basics, such as shelter building, firelighting, woodcraft and first aid.
This is a great book to start with and will serve you well, as you increase your bushcraft knowledge.

This is not the smallest of books and if you are struggling for space or just want something you can carry in your pocket, when you're out and about, then consider the SAS Survival Guide by John 'Lofty' Wiseman.
Speak to any bushcrafter or outdoorsman (or woman) and they will no doubt have the pocket version of this book either in their pocket or in their rucksack. John 'Lofty' Wiseman is a legend in the world of survival, so you can rest assured that this little book is full of quality information and great to keep with you when you are on the trail.
It covers virtually every aspect of survival you could possibly think of, so if you are ever out in the wilderness (or your local woodland, to be more realistic). And lets say for example you need to know how to filter some stream water to make a safe and drinkable cup of tea, just refer to this fantastic little book and you will no doubt find your answer.

There are many other books on the market, which you should also look at, but to get you started, you can't go wrong with these two books.

Another way of learning new skills is to go on a survival/bushcraft course, where you are actually shown what to do and you can see exactly how things are done. However, these courses, although extremeley good, can be very expensive. So what's the alternative... ?

Video Tutorials...

Video tutorials are a great (and cheap) way to learn new bushcraft skills. You can watch other people trying out the skills that you may want to also learn more about. You can see their mistakes, their methods and listen to advice they may have to offer.

You can see what kit they use, what they recommend or reviews they have done on kit that you may be looking to purchase. All valuable information, just from the click of your mouse.

As you will no doubt be aware, Youtube is a fantastic source of information (It's not just for cats that can juggle or drunk people falling off tables). And I can say from experience that there is a core group of people on Youtube, that regularly submit videos to their respective channels (This is how I first started and eventually began to create my own videos and so evolved my own channel, JesterBushcraft), providing great information, kit reviews, advice and tutorials.

The great thing about these videos, is that if you forget an element of the skill, you can always go back and re-play the video, just to remind yourself. You can save all your favourite videos into a specific folder, depending on what skills you are working on.

And probably one of the most popular uses of Youtube channel videos, is for kit reviews. If you are looking to buy a new piece of kit and you want to know how good it is or what other people think of it, watch a video of somebody who has already purchased it and used it.

Ok,so we've bought a couple of books and we've watched a few videos, just to get us in the mood and possibly find a couple of new skills to start practicing.

One of the next things I would recommend, is to either get yourself a map of your local area or go onto Google Maps and print out a map of where you live.

Get To Know Your Location...

When you are starting out, you don't want to be driving hundreds of miles to a remote location that you know very little about, with possibly the wrong kit for that particular environment.

What I like to do, is simply print out a map of the area that I am going to spend my bushcraft time in and keep it in a plastic map case or simple clear plastic folder type pocket (See photo). Or you can produce your own "Minimal Maps"
Having a visual view of your surrounding area, will show you potential spots to explore. You will be surprised what small areas of woodland are reasonably close by, that you can use to practice your skills. Do make sure that the areas you want to explore are not private land.

I have spent several hours/days visiting different areas of woodland near to where I live, just looking for the perfect place to took myself away and practice my skills. Somehwere that I know I can get to within half an hours walk or a few minutes drive.

So, we know what skills we would like to try first and we have an idea of where we are going to go to try these new skills. Now we need some kit... The exciting bit !

Basic Bushcraft Kit... What Do I Need ?

The kit you take with you is all down to the area you are going into, what you intend to do when you get there and the situation you may find yourself in (intended or not).

And also, personal choice. A lot of people favour certain types or brands of kit and that's fine. It's your kit, so you take what you are comfortable using. None of this information is the law, its just a guide.

Well, no matter how much or how little kit you end up with, you are going to need something to carry it all in. So first on the list is a rucksac or pack of some kind. It doesn't need to be a huge 100 litre pack and it doesn't need to cost a fortune.

Rucksack or Pack

If you are just going out for a few hours a small 10 litre (Grab Bag) pack is fine. If you intend to be out for a full day, you may want to consider a larger pack (approx 20-30 litres) which will give you enough space to pack all your essentials.

At this point, I am going to assume you are wearing the appropriate clothing and footwear for the terrain and conditions you are expected to find in the location you are heading for.

The second thing on my list would be a form of shelter, to protect you from the elements. this can be as cheap or expensive as you like. Basically you just need a tarp (sometimes called a basha) of some kind and a means of support, usually a length of paracord and some guylines.


If you want to go down the budget route, simply get a cheap 2m square groundsheet, that will cost you a couple of (£) pound. Try to get one that comes with some form of attachment point in the corners (brass eyelets).

Or you could spend a little bit more (£5 - £20) and treat yourself to an ex-army surplus basha, which is just a sheet of waterproof material, approximately a 2.5m square with brass eyelets and webbing fixing points to enable you to string it up in various configurations, using whatever you may have with you or around you.

Ex-army surplus gear is a great way to build up your kit, as you know it is going to serve you well and be of good quality. And if you search around, you get can some good bargains.

You will also need a length of strong string, cord or even better paracord (about 10m should be plenty) to use as a ridge line to hang your basha from. Add some guylines to each corner and you're good to go.

I have listed a couple of basha configuration examples below, that you could use to setup your own shelter...
Ok, so we've got a rucksack or pack, a form of shelter like a basha or cheap groundsheet, some paracord to form a ridgeline and some guylines to create our shelter.

We're under the shelter, keeping dry from the rain and its time for a drink and something to eat.

Food & Water

You are always going to need water, so we need a means of carrying your water. At first a simple drinks bottle that you recently consumed is sufficient. Just rinse it out and fill it up with water. A litre size bottle is going to be just fine, the more robust the better. Eventually you can get a purpose made water bottle, relatively cheaply, like the ones issued to the army or similar.

If you are getting your water from the tap at home, then you can assume it is safe to drink. But if not you are going to need to make sure it is safe. Now I could ramble on in more detail about making your drinking water safe, but for now we are just going to assume the water is debris free and just needs to be boiled.

And to boil your water, you are of course going to need a means of heating your water up. Not only that, if you want a warm meal, which you will if you're out in slightly cooler conditions, you will need some form of stove or cooking system.

Again, the type of stove you chose is dependant on how long you expect to be out for and how many people you are catering for. But for the purposes of getting started, we are going to assume its for yourself and potentially another person.

There are many forms of heating up your food and water, from meths/alcohol, gas canisters and natural materials. But for sheer simplicity I would recommend a form of meths/alcohol burner style stove.

These are easy to use, relatively light and compact and not much can go wrong with them. I recently purchased a Trangia Triangle, which is basically a form of wind shield, with a wire framework that houses a standard Trangia burner. It packs down very small and is lightweight, which makes it ideal for day trips or just a few hours in the woods.

Twinned with a form of billy can to contain your water, will allow you to get a rolling boil within 5-6 mins, ready for a hot cup of coffee or soup... Mmmmmmmm !

You can of course use the same setup for other meals, like noodles, porridge or beans etc.
You will of course need a means of lighting the fuel, so a simple box of matches, disposable lighter or what most bushcrafters carry, a firesteel, which will never let you down (even in wet conditions), snap or run out of fuel.
I have prepared a video demonstration of the Trangia Triangle and billy can, So FEEL FREE TO WATCH IT HERE

So we know where we are going, we have a means of shelter should the conditions worsen. we have a means of heating up water for a hot drink and meal. And once we have prepared our meal, we can sit down and learn more about bushcraft and survival from one of our chosen reference books.

In addition to these items, I would suggest also carrying the following :
  • A first aid kit
  • A good pocket knife
  • Camera or notebook
Everybody should carry some form of first aid kit, whether it be for an hours walk or a days hike (or overnight camp). And the kit should be tailored to the type of outing you are embarking on. Always keep your first aid kit in the same pocket or place in your rucksack. This way, you will always know where to go for it in an emergencey. And make sure it is somewhere easily accessible.

When you are starting out in bushcraft, you don't need a huge bladed knife, for hacking your way through the undergrowth. You just need a good, reliable pocket knife that maybe has a reasonable sized main blade, a small saw and possibly a can opener. Thats it, you don't need much more. If the knife also has scissors, tweezers etc. great, you never know when they may be required.

But for now, you just need a knife that will allow you to prepare some guyline pegs, cut some rope or string, carry out small cutting jobs etc.

And although, not an essential piece of kit, I think recording your progress (Maybe on your own Youtube channel) or what you have found when out in the woodland, is a great way to learn your craft and build up your knowledge of the great outdoors.

And so for that I always carry a small camera (Plus a tripod... one of those pocket bendy ones is great) and a notebook and pencil). This way, if I spot a species of fungi I don't recognise, I can simply snap a photo and look it up when I get home.

So there we are, I think you are ready to get out there and start exploring your surroundings. But as I said earlier, it's all about enjoying your time in the woodland.

So be prepared, be safe and enjoy yourself !


  1. Excellent Post, very insightful you show a great knowledge of bushcraft. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Awesome. Thanks for posting this.