Camping and bushcraft are outdoor activities that involve spending time out in the wilderness, and they share many similarities. They’re also similar in the sense that both can vary in terms of difficulty level and extremity.
Where camping and bushcraft diverge is that even the most hardcore, lightweight campers will use a form of tent as a shelter and carry their necessities with them. Bushcraft, however, is about using finely honed skills to survive using only natural resources, and a small selection of hand tools.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about the core elements of bushcraft so you can see exactly how they compare to traditional camping.
As conditions become more challenging, camping is likely to involve more high-tech equipment, whereas the more extreme bushcrafters are likely to eschew mass-produced tools completely and craft their own in the wild.
In general, bushcraft is more challenging and time-consuming than camping, the skill set required is much wider, and the risks are far higher.
You’ll need to be prepared to create a shelter from scratch for protection, find or hunt your food, and locate a safe water source to survive.
This article will give you a better idea of what skills are involved and whether bushcraft is something you’d like to try your hand at in the future.
After covering these, we’ll delve deeper into some of the bushcraft-specific skills you’ll need.
With traditional camping, you’ll almost certainly find yourself spending the night under a tent of some description. Depending on your needs and preferences, these can vary in size, shape, and material.
Generally, they’ll be made from cotton canvas or a water-resistant synthetic polymer like polyester or nylon and, if well-made, won’t take too long to set up.
You’re also safe knowing that if you need to change your camping spot, you can simply pack everything away and re-pitch your tent in a different spot.
With bushcraft, you’ll be responsible for building your shelter from scratch with whatever materials you have on hand. Typically, you’ll require some form of cordage and a cutting tool.
Many bushcrafters will take these along with them, but the purists may also insist on going as far as creating these from naturally-sourced materials.
Below, we’ll introduce you to the three most common types of bushcraft shelter.
The Lean-To is by far the most common type of bushcraft shelter for several reasons.
They’re relatively quick and simple to construct, and the materials needed can usually be found in abundance, especially in deciduous forests and wooded areas.
When well made, they’re suitable for most conditions and can even be used for long-term shelter.
The Lean-To is named because of how it’s constructed: a single wall of branches leans against a ridge pole to provide shelter from the elements and trap heat.
While not the warmest shelter you could build, in colder weather, you can build a fire in front of the open shelter for warmth, and its simplicity means you won’t be exposed for long.
The easiest way to build a Lean-To is to find two adjacent trees from which you can suspend your ridge pole, but if this isn’t possible, you can use long branches to create supports.
Where the Lean-To protects from one direction, an A-Frame shelter has a triangular shape that offers a greater area of protection from two angles and is better at trapping heat.
The trade-off against a Lean-To is that an A-Frame is more time and material-consuming. However, it’s a much better alternative.
The simplest way to construct an A-Frame shelter is essentially the same as how you’d build a Lean-To, except you’ll be building a second wall that leans against the same ridge pole on the opposite side to the first.
The space inside may seem more cramped, and it can be harder to position a fire near the entrance, but the extra insulation compensates for this.
With a Lean-To and an A-Frame, you can bolster your wall’s protection, using twigs and leaves to fill in any gaps.
The Debris shelter is probably the best survival shelter for a few reasons.
With a bit of experience and the right materials on hand, you can build one of these in around an hour, and their compact size means they’re excellent for containing heat.
A Debris shelter is similar to an A-Frame’s basic structure, except your ridge pole will be much closer to the ground.
Once you’ve used branches to create your walls, you’ll need to gather as much forest debris as you can find – twigs, leaves, moss, pine needles – and pile them on top of your frame.
The thicker your debris layer, the better your shelter will hold heat and protect you from the elements.
If you’re expecting heavy wind, you can add additional sticks on top to hold the debris in place and prevent it from blowing away in the night.
You won’t have enough space to light a fire inside a Debris shelter, but the construction should provide more than enough comfort in the worst conditions.
Nobody can survive for more than a few days without water. We need at least two to three liters a day before considering additional factors like extreme temperatures or physical exertion.
You probably carry enough water with you in bottles or a water bladder if you’re camping.
This won’t always be the case, and many wild campers will bring some water filtration system or purification tablets or boil their water to remove harmful microbes.
At this point, sourcing water while wild camping for extended periods and during bushcraft is similar.
Both require a freshwater source like a lake, stream, or river, and both require a system for making water safe.
It is possible to collect freshwater without one of the sources mentioned above by creating a dew trap or a solar still.
However, these are best used in emergency survival situations and shouldn’t be relied upon as a regular water supply.
The exceptions are collecting rainwater or melting snow, but these are environmentally dependent.
To make water safe, the first step is to filter out any debris, which can be as simple as pouring it through a piece of cloth.
By boiling your filtered water afterward, you’ll exterminate any bacteria, viruses, or parasites, making it safe to drink. These contaminants could do you the most harm in the shortest time.
However, it’s worth noting that boiling water won’t make it completely pure, and it could still contain things like pesticides, fertilizers, or microplastics, depending on the source.
Without a purification device, chlorination, or distillation, you won’t be able to remove all of these, but you’ll still have perfectly potable water.
There are several ways to take care of your nutritional needs when camping.
Whether you’re cooking on a camp stove, over a campfire, or in a campsite kitchen, the common denominator here is that you’ll bring your food.
Even the most lightweight camping packs will contain compact freeze-dried rations ready to eat with a little boiling water.
Based on the previous section, you’ve probably already guessed that bushcraft involves the natural sourcing of your food.
Building a shelter out of branches and leaves is a relatively straightforward exercise in comparison, but there are a few different ways to keep yourself fed in the wilderness.
Each of the following requires a different set of skills, and some are more difficult than others, but you’ll need to be well-versed in at least one of them to avoid starvation.
Foraging is the art of identifying and collecting wild food for consumption and is one of the best bushcraft skills you can possess.
The identification part of the process is particularly important as there are plenty of non-edible nuts, fruits, berries, fungi, and plants that, at best, might leave you with an upset stomach and, at worst, may kill you.
The food you find will vary significantly based on your location and the time of year, so if you’re foraging in an unfamiliar area, you’ll need to do plenty of research before you go.
Foraged foods are handy if there’s a shortage of game or you’re unable to produce a fire to cook meat, and you can even preserve some food for later by drying it out in the sun.
It’s worth noting that foraging alone is probably not sufficient for long-term survival. It can be enough in an emergency. Otherwise, it should be used to supplement your diet.
This is especially relevant in colder months when forageable foods will be in a far shorter supply.
Fish are an excellent source of protein and essential nutrients and, combined with foraging, can form a completely sustainable bushcraft diet.
Of course, you’ll need to find a suitable lake, river, or stream, but you should already be close to one of these to take care of your water supply.
You’ll need a hook, line, bait, or a trap to catch fish. You can bring fishing hooks and lines with you on your trip, although purists may insist on making their own.
The simplest hook is the gorge hook and is one of the oldest types in existence, consisting of a sharpened piece of wood or bone that will snag the fish when it takes your bait.
Your choice of bait might depend on the type of fish you’re trying to catch but you can always use some leftover food or dig into the mud for worms or insects.
If you haven’t brought a fishing line on your trip, you’ll have to make your own, but we’ll cover that in more detail shortly.
If you’re situated next to a fast-flowing stream or river, the most efficient way to catch fish is to build a trap.
By weaving saplings into a conical funnel with a closed end and securing it in the water, fish that are swept downstream will get caught in it and be unable to escape.
Lastly, you just need to know how to prepare your freshly-caught fish by gutting it with a knife to remove the internal organs.
Once it’s ready, you’ll be able to spit it on a split stick and roast it over an open fire until it’s ready to eat.
While hunting can be the most complex and time-consuming method of securing food, it can reap the highest quantity and nutritional quality reward.
First, you’ll need to learn how to track your prey before you can think about catching it, and this can take years of practice.
Tracking involves recognizing several clues to identify and pursue animals, which can include their habitats, behaviors, footprints, feathers, droppings, environmental markings, and even the actions of other animals, to name just a few.
Experienced trackers will be able to use these signs to predict their prey’s whereabouts, characteristics, and intentions, making them easier to hunt.
Killing larger games such as deer or wild boar might involve using a rifle, although true survivalists prefer to use a bow and arrow, with the most hardcore bushcrafters choosing to craft their own.
Smaller game like rabbits and squirrels can be easier to hunt by setting and baiting a snare trap, of which there are numerous varieties.
Ethical hunters know their actions involve the taking of a life and respect their prey by ensuring the process is as quick and painless as possible.
They will only hunt what they need to survive, and most will take more than just the meat from the animal to ensure its death was not wasted.
Fire is arguably the most important tool humanity has ever had, as demonstrated by the number of cultures with myths and legends dedicated to its discovery.
In bushcraft, a fire will keep you warm, provide a light source at night, and cook your food. We’re taught about the three things any fire needs to burn at a young age:
- fuel, and
- a heat source.
You’ll need tinder to get your fire started, kindling to catch the flame, and firewood to keep it burning and produce enough heat. The best natural tinder is birch bark or dry grass.
Leaves may work in a pinch, but they usually burn too quickly to be effective.
You can also create a “feather stick” by using a knife to shave the heartwood of a dead branch to create thin curls that will catch fire easily.
Look for dead twigs or branches no thicker than your thumb and no thinner than a pencil. These should catch easily once placed on top of your burning tinder.
If you can’t find the right-sized kindling, you’ll need to split larger pieces of wood down. Lastly, you’ll need larger pieces of firewood that can be sourced from bigger branches.
Wood that’s been split will burn more easily, so it’s a good idea to use split pieces first before placing larger logs on the fire. Remember to allow enough airflow between the logs when building your fire.
The most common fire-starting tool used by survivalists is a ferrocerium rod, or “Ferro rod.” Ferrocerium is a synthetic metal alloy that works like a flint when struck and produces hot sparks.
If you don’t have a manmade tool or prefer the all-natural approach, you’ll be looking at using the bow drill method, using wooden sticks to produce heat from friction.
Building shelter and fire and sourcing food and water are the four most important abilities you’ll need in bushcraft, but each involves further skills to carry out with any degree of success.
Cordage is a necessity when it comes to bushcraft and a strong piece of rope has dozens of uses.
If you’re bringing rope, you’ll need to be well-versed in various knot-tying techniques, including the reef knot, clove hitch, and overhand knot.
Every knot has its purpose, so it’s important to research these and get plenty of practice before setting out on your trip.
If you’re not bringing any rope, you’ll need to learn how to weave your own from leaves, roots, or fibrous bark.
A sharp, sturdy knife is one of the most useful tools in any bushcrafters pack. Again, deciding to take the hardcore approach, you’ll have to make your own.
Bushcraft tool-making techniques haven’t evolved much further than those used by our ancient ancestors, using handles of wood or bone and blades of stone or flint.
Flint-knapping is the art of shaping the rock and is an essential skill for crafting tools of your own, from knives and axes to hammers and arrowheads.
We’re not equipped to provide medical advice, and you wouldn’t catch us camping without a modern first aid kit, but survival-style bushcraft should never be attempted without the familiarity of emergency first aid skills.
Some plant-based medicinal remedies can help with wounds and have been used by indigenous peoples for centuries. However, we always recommend seeking modern medical treatment as soon as necessary.
Hopefully, this article has demonstrated just how different camping and bushcraft can be. While there are clear similarities, bushcraft requires a much wider skill set than camping.
Although both entail being close to nature, bushcraft involves utilizing nature itself to survive in the great outdoors.