Bushcraft combines essential survival skills with essential bushcraft survival gear that can help you survive any wilderness emergency when it’s just you, your survival tools, and your wits to to help you get out alive.
Although Mother Nature is a wonderful provider for those creatures who are adapted to a life of survival in the wilderness, she provides next to nothing in terms of creature comforts other than the occasional sharp-edged rock for cutting and fallen leaves for insulation (she’s also prone to throw natural disasters our way to keep all of us honest).
However, because Homo sapiens left the life of a hunter/gatherer many centuries ago, most people have lost the ability to survive in the wilderness without certain creature comforts. Therefore, the survival tools we typically use to meet our basic survival needs (build shelters, start fires and obtain food and water) are an essential component of putting our survival skills to work. Any modern day survivalist must be properly prepared when they enter the wilderness because the bushcraft survival gear that they bring with them will determine whether they live miserably or comfortably for the duration of their ventures into the “bush” – and if they get lost, it could even mean the difference between life or death.
Hunter-Gatherers Were The First Survivors
So, what bushcraft gear is most important to a person entering the wilderness? Well, first all, while knowledge is not technically a “tool”, it is the single most important part of your survival strategy. Therefore, in addition to your other “tools”, learning survival in the modern age is made easier when we hit the books, read and absorb survival guides, and learn proven methods of survival used by hunter-gatherers, and other methods used by modern day survivalists and experts in survival.This article is a primer to get your started on becoming a true survivor, knowing what survival items are key for your backpack (see our guide to the best survival backpacks), and which survival tools can save your life in an emergency when you have to turn to bushcraft in order to survive.
The dictionary defines bushcraft as: “the skill gained by or necessary for living in bush country.” In other words, bushcraft stands for the skills needed for wilderness survival.
Survival Manuals That Can Teach You Bushcraft
Well-written and high utility survival manuals such as Bushcraft 101 by Dave Cantebury or the S.A.S. Survival Manual by John Wiseman are great places to start; in fact these are good survival manuals to keep in your backpack or in your get home bag so that you can refer to methods taught on shelter making, emergency survival fishing, fire making, purifying or distilling water, etc. anytime you’re on a wilderness excursion. Though this article will recommend several items that are my personal choices for survival bushcraft gear based on my long life of experience in the wilderness, without knowledge of how to use them, the best survival tools available will do you little good. So, if you’re new to survival, definitely hit the books first, and start reading these recommended survival manuals!
Talk To Some “Old Timers” About Bushcraft
If you have the opportunity, meet and talk with “old timers” including farmers, hunters and fishermen and you can learn an arsenal of information for various aspects of providing food in a pinch or as a long term survival strategy. Also, while such manuals do provide you with detailed information on how to build various types of shelters, how to find water in the wild and, how to build traps and snares for obtaining food, they seldom provide the detailed information you need about various animal’s preferred habitats and habits and thus, additional books such as Trapper’s Bible by Dale Martin are a useful addition to your survival library.
Trapper’s Bible can quickly advance your survival skills for procuring food and before you know it you’ll have the ins and outs of trapping small game, and assuredly know how to feed yourself and your family in a pinch.
While having the proper knowledge in a survival situation is an extremely important part of surviving in the wilderness, it is essentially useless without the proper bushcraft gear to accompany it. Therefore, the answer to the question of what tools are absolutely essential for wilderness survival are:
- Those tools that keep you warm and dry
- Tools that enable you to build and sustain a fire
- Tools that enable you to obtain clean water and food.
Here’s a range of bushcraft survival gear that we feel is essential. All of these items meet at least one of the requirements above, which is what makes them ‘essential’ for survival in the truest sense.
Bivvy Sack / Emergency Bivvy Sack
A bivvy sack is an outer weather-proof bag that zips over a sleeping bag with a hooded enclosure, protecting you from wind and rain while you lie in your sleeping bag; on the other hand, an “emergency bivvy sack” is an emergency sleeping bag that reflects your body heat, keeping you warm in cold temperatures.
While most people are aware that the human body can go two to three days without water and as much as 30 days without food, the fact is that hypothermia can kill a person far faster than dehydration or starvation by lowering the body’s core temperature below the point where it is able to maintain its autonomic functions.
Therefore, the first and, most important tool a person can carry with them is an emergency bivvy shelter (aka bivvy sack) which is designed like a sleeping bag but, is commonly made from a very thin but waterproof material such as polyethylene with a heat reflective lining such as Mylar. Not only will such a shelter provide you with a means to retain your body heat on cold nights, it will also provide you with protection against wind and rain until you can build a more permanent survival shelter.
Once you’re in your survival shelter, your bivvy sack will still come in handy as even some of the best made shelters may not stand up to heavy winds and rain that take place if you’re caught in a storm. This is particularly troublesome if you’re trying to sleep in the middle of a storm (an additional tip is to wear a paracord survival bracelet – in strong winds or a storm you can use this length of paracord secure your shelter to a tree or something else sturdy enough to withstand the weather). That bivvy sack will be your best friend and one of your best pieces of bushcraft survival gear, coming in handy again and again, helping protect you from hypothermia, which as mentioned is one of the surest ways a person can quickly lose their life.
Some Mylar “Emergency” Bivvy Sacks:
Portable Water Filter
Next to the ability to stay both warm and dry in cold and/or wet weather, the ability to find drinking water in the wild takes precedence. While most people are aware that boiling water from natural water sources will kill the harmful microbes that often inhabit it, boiling water requires some sort of container to hold the water and a fire to heat it to the boiling point. As such, a far better solution is to carry a portable water filter in your survival backpack.
However, it should be noted that not all portable water filters are created equal and that there are many different types that operate on different principals. We’ve found that the most convenient type of portable water filter for survival use is a straw type filter – here are a few examples:
Portable Straw-style Water Filters:
Although both an emergency bivvy shelter and a portable water filter are certainly essential survival supplies, the fact is that a sharp, well made, truly reliable knife has long been one of Man’s best wilderness survival friends. Therefore, whenever you enter the wilderness, you should always carry a good survival knife (here’s an article about the best survival knife that includes recommendations and a buying guide). Here are a few that we recommend:
Other Survival Knive Options:
While most people who have any interest in wilderness survival have seen videos of someone starting a fire using primitive methods such as a hand drill or a bow drill, the fact is that these ways of building fires require a dry fire board, a dry spindle and, extremely dry tinder which is not always available; plus it’s a lot of work! If you’re truly stranded without any equipment, then obviously this knowledge is extremely important to have – but as we state constantly on this site, real survivalists are prepared. Don’t let your ego get in the way – in a real survival situation, you should always default to the easiest method, less time (and energy) consuming methods. Rather than depend on primitive means to start a camp fire in a survival situation, a far better choice is to carry one of several different types of fire starters with you.
For instance, both fire starter blocks (there are several different types) and fire starter paste or gel are readily available and they make starting a fire far easier than using primitive methods because all you have to do is cut a small piece from a block or extrude a ribbon of paste or gel to place at the base of your pile of tinder and kindling. That way, when you light the fire starter, it will provide enough heat to cause your tinder and kindling to burn and get your fire going much quicker and with far less effort than a flint-and-steel or other primitive methods. Additionally, starting fires in wet conditions requires a tremendous amount of initial heat to dry the wood prior to ignition, so we also recommend carrying a Magnesium fuel block with an embedded flint rod, or alternatively a ferrocerium rod which also works very well in wet and windy conditions (see our list of the best ferro rods here). If you have both these items (and they are pretty lightweight), you’ll be properly prepared, with the right tools for both regular and wet conditions.
Fire starter blocks and magnesium fuel blocks:
Having both the means and proper materials to start a fire is completely useless without the means to light the tinder. While carrying waterproof matches or a survival lighter is certainly a good idea, an even better idea to carry an butane torch in addition to waterproof matches because a butane torch will last far longer than a limited supply of matches and, it is far easier to use than a flint-and-steel.
Matches, Lighters, and Butane Torches:
Survival Hatchet or Pocket Chainsaw
While it is certainly wonderful to have the means of building a fire readily available, the fact is that sustaining a fire requires fuel and, in most cases, the most readily available fuel source is wood. But while gathering the fallen branches you need for kindling and starter is often a relatively simple matter, finding and cutting/chopping the larger pieces you need sustain a fire in over a long period can be somewhat difficult.
That’s why you need a tool that will make this easy, whether it’s for chopping larger tree branches or cutting smaller pieces of wood. We recommend either one of the best survival hatchets recommended here, or a pocket chainsaw depending on your personal preference. Both these tools will make the task of cutting large pieces of wood into workable fuel for your fire much easier.
Other Recommended Survival Hatchets
In a wilderness survival situation, there is always a need for cord of various types and diameters for different purposes. For instance, stout cord is extremely useful for building some of the more elaborate survival shelters and, there is always a need for binding materials together such as when constructing submersible fish traps or constructing Atlatl darts and arrows.
Therefore, while primitive cord can be made from by twisting plant fibers together, it is a wise idea to carry a length paracord, nylon string, dental floss, and nylon thread with you to accomplish the many different binding needs you may encounter. We recommend just getting one of the best survival bracelets we recommend – it’s the most convenient and lightweight way to always have a good length of paracord with you.
Paracord Survival Bracelets
While all of the above mentioned tools are absolutely essential for wilderness survival, they all focus on a means of staying warm, dry, and hydrated. However, in a survival situation, the human body also requires food in order provide energy and thus, having the means to obtain food is also paramount in any survival situation. Obviously there are a number of survival fishing methods, but it’s ultimately easier to just have a fishing kit with you.
It’s wise to have the means to assemble a simple fishing kit consisting of a length of monofilament fishing line and numerous wire fishing hooks as well as some lead split shot; all of which can be contained in an empty medicine bottle.
Other Fishing Kits
Of course, if you happen to find yourself in a location where fishing is not feasible, you will still need a means of obtaining food. While collecting insects is a viable means of providing your body with much needed protein, a far more palatable choice for most people is to consume animal meat. Therefore, it is also a good idea to carry a coil of light wire with you so that you can use it to construct the some type of animal trap or snare for smaller game.
Snare wires and trapping kits
Also, if you’re interested in snares and traps, make sure you read our this article about the best coyote traps.
Headlamp Or Flashlight
Last but not least, it is sometimes necessary to venture beyond the boundaries of your camp fire at night and, doing so without a means of seeing where you are going is very dangerous. You could stumble or even fall over unseen obstacles (or a cliff edge). Falls are one of the top ways that people die in the wild.
While you could conceivably remove a burning branch from your camp fire or make a torch from scratch, carrying a small, lightweight, headlamp or flashlight is a far better idea since either will provide you with the light that you need to safely navigate in the dark.
Survival Bushcraft Combines Skills And Essential Supplies
So, while the ability to stay warm, dry, and properly hydrated is certainly essential to wilderness survival, it is the ability to create our own tools and to make fire at will that set primitive man apart from the other animals and allowed us to survive and flourish. Nothing has changed in that respect – tools are what set us apart, and real survivalists know that we still depend heavily on survival tools today.
So, unless you are one of those people who is comfortable surviving in the wilderness with nothing more than a sharp rock and your ingenuity, carefully considering the various survival tools you choose to carry whenever you enter the wilderness just may mean the difference between returning from your sojourn in the wilderness and not returning at all.