Friday, 18 May 2007

Backyard Bushcraft Experience

Personal Project 1 The Backyard Bushcraft Experience
Picture - lighting the tinder bundle.

To boldly go where you may not have gone before. For this project we are going to recreate a wilderness survival experience in the safe confines of your back yard. If you haven't already got one, borrow one, or turn your front yard into one, or actually go some other place; or as a last resort use your home!

- The Weekend Self Taught Backyard Bushcraft Survival experience:- making a ditch bag, no electricity, where's water, where's food? Just a knife.

We're going to learn by ourselves how to safely purify water, make a campfire, improvise a shelter, look for some wild food, and we're going to spend the weekend outdoors. All of it if possible. To do this we're going to improvise. We're not going to buy huge amounts of kit (though you can if you want) and we're not going to start eating any poisonous plants or going to the toilet on the lawn.

Before we go anywhere we're going to consider the wisdom of 'a Ditch Bag'. This is a bag that contains useful things. Sailors carry ditch bags so that if they have to leave the boat in a hurry and use the life raft they'll have a few things that make life more comfortable.
Do you have a ditch bag already? If before you head out your front door you've grabbed your keys, your money and your coat; in a sense you've grabbed your ditch bag. These are your urban survival tools.Cash and credit card are our survival tickets for all of our basic necessities. But as many of us have experienced in times of crisis - fuel crises, powercuts, hurricanes, floods etc, Sometimes they don't work. Sometimes you just can't find a cash machine with any money in it; or your pin number has escaped your memory, or for extremes sake the garage has been crushed by a tree with your car in it, the electricity depot has exploded. The tap's dried up.

If you don't have a credit card or cash a city can become a desert and for many homeless people that is their experience. We have created for our 'convenience' streets without seats, places without running water, land without food, corners and alleys without safety. As I already said it is for our convenience that we have replaced the liberty of gathering our own food from the wild, and choosing where we'd like to live, with the measure of our income and how far it stretches or doesn't stretch. Many people have the mistaken perception that hunter gathering was a tenuous life style that was raw and difficult and led to an early grave. In fact it was hunter gathering that allowed people to survive and flourish for thousands of years; you can see the comparison particularly well in Return of the Tribe and Macintyre's Edge of Existence.

A ditch bag has the following:
1-Pure water and purifying tablets/solution
2-Emergency food and matches
3-Survival kit
4-Spare clothing and blanket/sleeping bag
5-Torch and batteries and candles
6-Important documents
7-First Aid Kit
8-Emegency Shelter (tarp, light weight tent, or bivi bag)

It's not a survival kit, but having a survival kit in your ditch bag is a good idea. A ditch bag is for if you have to leave your home in a hurry for whatever reason, maybe its a forest fire. It has enough for an individual to carry easily. If you have family make sure they have their own ditch bags.You may want to tailor the contents to suit your needs (personal medication etc) but always make sure you have the above necessities. You can update the food/first aid contents and water, using them and replacing them before they go out of date.

Having a ditch bag is a simple thing and its surprising how often a power cut happens and you have to run around searching for candles. If you have your electric/gas cut off its a good idea to have a camping stove of some sort with spare gas cartridges.

The best ditch bag is your own knowlege. The wild places are where we came from, so we shouldn't forget some of the simplest ways we knew how to survive there.

You can have your own fun making a survival kit, I suggest though that its your use of it that will be most helpful. there is plenty of information out there on making one.

In bushcraft, it is learning how to craft nature to your benefit. So what's in a bushcraft survival kit. The knife, axe and the handsaw are basic tools for practice, and with them you need a sharpening stone and spare blades. Stepping further back you would have to learn how to make a stone/metal knife/axe and that is something you can pursue separately if you're interested.
With these tools you have nature's supermarket at your disposal - if you know how to use them.

The most imporatnt thing is to consider the effect of your actions in the long term. Safety is paramount when there are sharp blades in use and the best place to learn this is with someone professional who already knows. It is surprising how many woodsman have bad habits. Three things that are very important are to always have a FIRST AID KIT at hand when you are using tools/working with fire. To never cut towards yourself unless you are using controlled grips; and to be aware of follow through where the direction of the cut is going and make sure you and anyone else are out of the way. Pay particular attention to the main femoral artery on the inside of your thigh; which people often forget when using tools. Try working to one-side of you instead.
Learn the correct methods for using theses tools. If possible in a workshop that a professional is running and know how to treat problems if they occur. I always try and let someone know if I'm planning on working with my axe/knife/saw, for safety's sake.
Well maintained tools are safer than blunt ones (I cut my thumb on a half sharp/half blunt blade to learn this one). So learn how to keep them sharp and in good condition.
The use of a block between you and the blade, that will stop a cut is necessary. You can use a wood block, downed tree or even the ground (but be aware that the ground and blades don't mix and will damage your blade).

What do we take?
So if we're going camping for the weekend, what do we need?
We need to replace all the things we usually need with what we can carry. Practising Bushcraft allows you to learn ways of living in the wilderness that enables you to carry less, CAUTION - its not an overnight process. You are the governor of your knowledge and comfort level. If you head out for the weekend in December with just a knife you will either end up very cold and uncomfortable/suffering from hypothermia/frostbite or very comfortable, maybe even too hot - depending on what you know. That is the big difference.

So for the moment I am going to pretend 'I know nothing...', nada, rien etc.
I have to replace my running water, my central heating, my walking around the house with less on than I might in public, my refrigerator, my sofa, my bed, my lighting.

Journey of learning
When I first set out on this journey, I was about eleven years old on a school trip. We set up the tents provided by the school. We collected water from a spring. The teacher built a fire while we collected wood. I went off happily to canoe in the lake with one of the teachers. A thunder storm blew up, it was raining but we were immersed in watching a heron fly and dive and catch an eel; then proceed to have its dinner not feet from our still boats. Though it was the middle of summer goose bumps appeared on my skin I was only wearing a swimsuit and plimsoles, we were soaked through but mesmerised. As we were carrying our boats back I looked forward to drying out by a nice fire and having dinner.
When we got back to the camp, I was shocked. Tents were being taken down, the fire had been put out and all my clothes were strewn on the ground soaking wet and covered in mud. Needless to say I was disappointed. Some of the other kids and staff had made a decision in our absence to go home they didn't like the rain and the cold (one of them had asked where they could plug in their hairdryer)and they were generally unimpressed and complaining. Not only was I disappointed, but I was freezing cold and very hungry; the difference was, even so, I did not want to go home. I wanted to stay there. It was a beautiful place, with ancient oak and beech woodland, these lovely lakes that were created for the iron industry in the Industrial Revolution. But back then I wasn't thinking that. I was feeling. I was feeling joy and boundless freedom. I was feeling nourished and fulfilled. I was feeling purposeful. It was like everything made sense and I didn't feel separate but very connected.

That is the feeling I'd like to share with you as you leave you home and go for a bushcraft experience. Later on as a bushcrafter you can get bogged down by wanting what I call 'know how'; how to make a hand drill? how to build an all night fire? where the fish bite? what tree that is? These things are good knowledge but not if they are at the expense of your experience. It is your experience that is your life. I would rather you went out with everything you could possibly need in the back of your car or in your rucksack ( you know cool box, deck chair etc) somewhere wild and beautiful and just enjoyed it all weekend - than that you went out with your tiny tarp and all your field guides and got yourself and them damp, dirty and unhappy.

The knowledge downloading requires a time and a place, but it should be at a comfortable pace. Even your comfort level should be pushed at a comfortable rate. The idea is discomfort teaches you the need for the knowledge, but the knowledge gained means you don't have to do the discomfort. Gain it slowly. Pace yourself. Make sure your foundations are strong.

Practical Projects

Fire -To purify water, you need to heat water. So you need to be able to make a fire. What are the main conditions for making fire? Which locations shouldn't you have a fire? (think about dry brush in summer, peat and pine forests)What local trees and shrubs provide good fuel for a fire? Is their wood fast or slow burning? What is the nearest tree to you that provides good available wood for making a fire? What structure should you consider for making a fire? What is the fire for? How do you harvest wood for a fire? Is it better to collect from the ground or among the branches? Which is best dead wood/greenwood? How does damp dead wood burn in comparison to green wood? What is a platform? What puts out fire? How should you leave your campsite after you've had a fire?

Finding out the answers to these question is your experience. Don't just guess. Find out the correct answers and if you don't know them ask.

Water - So you know how to make your fire. How do you purify the water? Why is filtration important? What is the simplest method of filtering your water?
Is it good to get it to a rolling boil for ten minutes or for five minutes? Could you just leave at 60degreesC for ten minutes (handhot)?
When purifying water with tablets or solutions which kind do you prefer? Why? (Check out iodine solution and silver tablets) Where is it easier to have these methods to purify water? (consider places you may need to purify a lot of water for consumption like the Jungle).

Food - Now you've got a fire and water to drink/use for cooking. What can you eat? Now we're not about to go hunting here or catch a deer, but I can introduce you to a small edible plant that most of us are very familiar with, the Dandelion (Taxicum Officinale). What is dandelion good for? How do you prepare it? Does it have any look-a-likes that you can't eat? How do you tell if a dandelion is a dandelion and not an Orache or a Hawksbeard. You can find a lot of information at An interesting thing I recently found out about dandelion is that regularly drinking a tea made from dandelion root can cure Hepatitis C. This is a severe illness affecting the liver that can be very dangerous, (before I knew how healing dandelion root could be for the liver). I try and eat a few young leaves every day and find that it clears my skin and I simply feel healthier. I must add here that I am not a qualified herbalist, (though I have studied Tibetan Medicine for four years), but Michael Tierra L.Ac., O.M.D. is and he wrote the excellent 'the way of HERBS' where I learnt this bit about Dandelion.

Shelter - For the moment maybe you've brought some camping food, or you've made your own ration pack up, maybe you're trying out your new stove. Sit back now and look around and consider. A fire offers some warmth, but if its raining or going to rain, or if its very hot, you need your shelter. If it has been raining or is cold you'll now understand why shelter is so important and why really when you arrive at the place you've chosen to camp; (what are the reasons for camping there is it a good spot, what makes a location good and bad?) you'll want to get your shelter up right away - this varies according to occasion, but its a lot easier getting a tent up when its dry than in the dark when its suddenly decided to rain on you.

Have you got a tarpaulin? A tarp offers immediate shelter from the rain if you know how to put it up and which knots to use. It can be useful in group situations where more people can gather together near a fire but out of the rain to socialise. A bivi bag is all very romantic and practical but it's completely antisocial. Without these things, what kind of shelter could you build with what's around you? What's a debris hut? What's a snowhole?
What does nature have to offer in terms of building materials? How long does it take to build a debris hut for one? Or for a group? Is it practical?
Do you know the difference between A-Frame tents, Dome tents and the Geodesic variety? Can you put them up?

Hygiene - You can't know this stuff unless you've done it. So here's your opportunity. Don't forget if you want to wear the same clothes the whole time that's up to you - it's not like you'll have an entourage. But cleanliness is important as far as health is concerned even though its might seem more awkward outdoors than in your own bathroom. It's also an opportunity to check for ticks/ bites that require treatment, why do they require treatment? What's Lymes's Disease? What's Leptospirosis?

Passing the time
Messing around in your garden is a great place to learn about yourself. If you're wondering what else to do consider:-
Finding any poisonous plants, that grow in your garden, then leaving them well alone.
Finding any edible ones? I recommend strong caution until you are absolutely confident in your ID abilities when using wild plants. The Kamana Naturalist Programme or a local Botany programme are brilliant for this.
Listening to the birds. Identifying the birds. Does their song stop and start according to when you approach or settle?
What wildlife or insect life are also living in your backyard?
What trees can you see? What are they specifically used for?
Can you make a bow drill or a hand drill to start a fire?
Do you know any tracking techniques? Track your dog or cat, friend, or yourself by putting trays of sand down and standing, turning and running across them. Learn to ID different tracks, and trails.
There's plenty to do.
I hope you have a great Backyard Bushcraft experience.

If you have enjoyed reading this site please help me to keep raising the standards by leaving a donation

Related Articles:-
Course Outline,
An Introduction to Shelter,
Habitat-Shelter from the Skin Up,
how to remove a tick
Return of the Tribe,
Progress is Process - Training program
How to put up a tarp and Hammock
Learning to Identify Plants
plant medicine
Navigation by using the sun

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tags - backyard bushcraft, making a ditch bag, finding water, finding food, survival course, bushcraft course, bushcraft, camping, Hepatitis C,


viridari said...

The most frustrating thing I've found in my journey is that in some superficial ways we've become SUCH an environmentally friendly society that I cannot cut down small trees in a part or publicly owned forest to practice making shelters, thus forcing me to carry a tent or a tarp.

inwoods said...

If you go to one place often enough you can use dead wood to make a long/short term debris shelter. It takes a while to make one but worth it if you go back often enough and even justto try it. Also I think we need to preserve all the tree's we can but gaining knowlege is also necessary - try gatting owner permission if possible, eveb if its annoying.

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