As bushcraft continues to grow in popularity across the globe, the term has begun to take on a life of its own. At its very core, bushcraft is about using primitive skills to not only survive in the wilderness, but thrive in it. With that in mind, a list of the best bushcraft gear may seem a bit ironic.
If you’re a purist at heart, and prefer to venture into the wild with nothing but your bare hands and the shirt on your back, more power to you. For everyone else, we’ve done our best to keep this list to the essential bushcraft gear that will make your life just a little bit easier.
What is Bushcraft Gear?
The term bushcraft gear refers to any item that is imperative to wilderness survival. Examples include things like fire starters, knives, and tarps.
As bushcraft has become more mainstream, we’ve seen the term conflated with other outdoor activities, such as camping. While the two certainly have areas of overlap, we believe there are some distinguishing factors.
Camping gear tends to be a little more luxurious in the sense that it is used more to enjoy the outdoors rather than survive it. The truth is, anything could really be considered camping gear, even electronic speakers.
DIY Gear vs. Buying Gear
Earlier we touched on the idea that bushcrafting purists don’t really believe in bringing gear with you when you brave the elements. That doesn’t mean you need to go without any essential items.
Instead, many wilderness survival enthusiasts choose to live like our ancestors did, and tap into our primitive roots.
The problem is, it takes extensive knowledge and experience to master all of the skills required to survive in the wilderness with nothing to aid you. You’ll need to learn to build shelter with nothing but what surrounds you. If you need to cut wood, you’ll have to fashion your own hatchet, which can make life significantly more difficult.
So, does that mean you can’t enjoy bushcraft if you can’t build all your gear yourself? Of course not.
When you’re first starting out, there’s nothing wrong with buying some essential survival gear. It’s actually a great way to determine what skills you want to eventually learn down the road. Additionally, it allows you to ease into an otherwise daunting experience.
Bushcraft Gear You Definitely Need in 2020
There was a lot of though that went into creating our definitive bushcraft gear list. Each item that we’ve included plays a critical role in not only helping you thrive in the elements, but enhance your overall experience.
Again, we tried to keep this list to just the essentials, so you’re not going to find any item that doesn’t have a specific purpose.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
To kick off our list, we’ve decided to go with the most essential survival item, the bushcraft tarp. As most nature enthusiasts now, your number one priority when spending significant time in nature is setting up a durable shelter.
Tarps are great from protecting you from the elements, especially when the weather gets rough. They not only keep you dry during rain storms, they also serve as much needed protection against harsh sun rays.
Outside of shelter, tarps also survive a myriad of other purposes. For example, since most are waterproof, they are great for collecting water and creating makeshift floating devices. With their durability, tarps are well equipped to serve as stretchers if needed as well.
Most materials can be used as a tarp, but that doesn’t mean all materials should be. When looking for the perfect bushcraft tarp, you want to make sure it hits all of the following criteria:
That being said, your best bet is to go with a nylon tarp that has been treated with either silicon or polyurethane. It will be both lightweight and extremely durable, holding up well against rain and strong winds.
Fire Starter Kit
When out in nature, you can start a fire with virtually all of the materials that surround you. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always be prepared with a back up plan, especially if you’re newer to the world of bushcraft or wilderness survival.
Take the following scenario, you set up camp at a great spot when all of a sudden it starts raining. You take a moment to enjoy the relaxing sounds of rain echoing through the woods, until you realize the temperature is beginning to drop.
All the wood around you is soaked, and you’re having a tough time finding everything you need to build a fire to help keep you warm.
That’s where your fire starter kit comes in to play.
A fire starter kit is an essential part of any bushcrafter’s pack. The thing is, the type of kit you create or purchase is completely up to you. It could be something as simple as a box of waterproof matches and some dry tinder in a tin case, or something like an instant fire starter.
Regardless of what you choose, as long as you’re comfortable and confident that you’ll be able to start a fire, you can’t really go wrong.
If you ask any wilderness survival expert what tool they never leave home without, 9 times out of 10, they’ll tell you it’s their favorite knife. Just like tarp, a bushcraft knife is extremely versatile, and will make sure you’re prepared for whatever nature throws your way.
So, does that mean any knife will do? Not exactly.
All knives are designed specifically for the task they are meant to be used for. For example, kitchen knives come in all shapes and sizes, because they are all meant to perform different tasks. Try carving up a turkey with a paring knife, and let us know how that goes.
A bushcraft knife is more than just a blade and a handle, it’s a piece that is built to withstand the harshest conditions and uses. Your knife is your all in one survival tool, which is used for things like preparing food, carving wood to fashion hooks and stakes, protection, and even to help start a fire.
With your survival depending on your knife, do you really want to go out into the wild with your kitchen knife that has a tough time cutting through baked potatoes?
Not a chance. When choosing a bushcraft knife, there are some qualities that you want to look for. For starters, you want a knife made from quality and durable materials. For both the blade and the handle.
Let’s start with the handle, because it’s the part of the knife that will be doing all the work. If you want the best of the best for your bushcraft knife, you’ll want to go with 154CM steel. The reason being, it has all the advantages of stainless steel and high carbon materials.
With a 154CM steel blade, you won’t have to worry about rust, chipping, or breaking as much as you would with other metals. Additionally, as it inevitably experiences the normal wear and tear from extended use, it’s easy to sharpen.
Other popular materials that will serve you well include AUS-8 steel, 1095-HC steel, and D2 steel.
When it comes to the handle, any material will do, so long as it’s durable and comfortable to grip. If you’re going to use wood, make sure to treat it properly.
While most wood may be popular because of aesthetics, the best handle materials for your bushcraft knife are modern synthetic nylon or dense rubber. They tend to last longer than other options, and hold up better to the elements.
When it comes to carving wood, and most small woodworking tasks, a knife is your best bet. However, it’s just now going to get the job done when it comes to cutting down large, sturdy trees and branches for shelter and fire. That where this next item on our list comes into play.
Most people are familiar with both axes and hatchets. While the two are very similar, and often used interchangeable, a hatchet is smaller and more compact than an axe. Which is both a good and bad thing depending on what you plan to use it for.
An axe, or splitting maul, is perfect for chopping down larger trees, and is built with a longer handle than a hatchet. A hatchet, on the other hand, is used for chopping down smaller trees and branches, and splitting them for firewood.
Should you go with an axe or a hatchet?
The answer really depends on what you’ll be using it for. If you’re looking for something for more heavy duty tasks, like building a shelter from wood, probably an axe. However, it can add a lot of weight to your pack, and can be a burden if you’re traveling long distances.
If you are looking for something more compact and lightweight, then you’ll definitely want to go with a hatchet. It really comes down to your preference. Although, we do strongly recommend choosing at least one.
The human body is capable of surviving without food for weeks. When it comes to water though, you won’t be able to survive without it for more than a couple of days, and that’s assuming all the conditions are working in your favor.
Here’s the thing, the threat of dehydration is real, and is something that you need to prepare for before starting your adventure in nature. That’s why a canteen makes our list of important bushcraft gear that you shouldn’t leave home without.
Looking around your home, you probably store your drinks in a variety of different containers, which is perfectly normal. But, how many of those containers are made to weather the elements?
A good bushcraft canteen will not only store water, it will be able to keep it insulated as well. A great canteen, on the other hand, can be used to boil and purify your water as well.
So, what is considered a good canteen to take bushcrafting?
This one also comes down to preference. The military actually uses a durable plastic canteen, which is designed to take a beating. When it comes to bushcrafters and survival enthusiasts, both plastic and metal options are used.
A knife may be the most essential item on this list, but bushcraft backpacks are by far everyone’s favorite. It’s where you’ll spend the most money, but it’s going to be worth it in the long run.
With bushcraft, the average backpack just isn’t going to get the job done. You know the ones we’re talking about. The backpacks that line the shelves at every store when school season is just around the corner. Ya, those ones won’t cut it.
Your backpack is essential because it’s what allows you to stay prepared, and keep all of your important survival tools in one convenient location. These backpacks are also designed to carry heavy loads, and maintain their integrity in the harshest conditions.
It’s not uncommon for a bushcraft backpack to come equipped with tons of pockets as well. This isn’t just good for storage and transportation, but necessary so you can access crucial tools in a hurry.
A good bushcraft backpack isn’t just built to be durable, it’s built to be comfortable as well. Remember, this is something that you’re going to be carrying for long distances, and can easily become a burden if constructed poorly. That’s why it’s a good idea to opt for the option with belt straps that take some of the weight off of your back.
A quality backpack should be made from materials that don’t break easily. If it’s a viable option for you, try to go with a heavy duty material like nylon or polyester. If that’s not an option, or out of your price range, canvas makes a good substitute.
We’re going old school with this one, but for good reason. A compass is completely necessary if you’re going to be venturing out into the wilderness. Here’s why.
Today, people take navigation for granted. Most people don’t even look at street signs when they’re getting where they’re going because they have a handy GPS that tells them exactly when to turn and when they have arrived.
In nature, you don’t have that luxury. Both your phone and GPS usually require service in order to work. If you’re out, deep in the trenches of nature, getting service is nearly impossible. That’s why we recommend bringing along an old school compass.
A compass is considered essential bushcraft gear because it helps you navigate in the event you lose your way. By using the earth’s magnetic field, it will conveniently point you in the right direction, leading you back to safety.
Not all compasses are built the same. Your needs will directly influence the type of compass you should include with your bushcraft gear. The four main features to look into are:
- Declination adjustment
- Sighting mirror
- Global needle
Along with your compass, you should bring along a physical map of the area. A compass alone is helpful, and can get you going in the right general direction, but used together with a map, and you’ll never have to worry about getting lost.
First Aid Kit
Regardless of skill level, bringing a first aid kit with you on your bushcraft adventures is extremely important. Even if you don’t end up using it, it’s always best to be prepared in the event of a medical emergency.
The question isn’t if you should bring a first aid kit, it’s what you should bring with you.
Nobody plans on getting hurt, but it happens far more often than most people realize. Picture the following scenario where you set out on a nice relaxing solo bushcraft trip for the weekend. After a few hours of hiking, you catch your foot on an exposed root, and cut open your knee.
Leaving an open wound exposed in the wild is incredibly dangerous, which is why you should have sterile equipment to clean and dress the wound.
At the very least, you want to bring medical items to treat any serious injury. That means, gear that will help in the event of a serious trauma. Here are some things you may want to include:
- Sterile heavy gauze
- Roller bandages
- Trauma pads
- Butterfly closures
- Blood clotting agent
- Burn salve
- Nitrile gloves
- Antiseptic wipes
- Small scissors
- Skin glue
- Medical tape
It’s always a good idea to get first aid certified. If you’re not, you should bring a travel sized first aid book that can be really useful.
The last item on our list of essential bushcraft gear is a space blanket, aptly named since they were developed by NASA and used in space. You’ve probably seen these blankets before, especially if you’ve run or watched a marathon.
If you’re not familiar with these thermal blankets, look like large pieces of tinfoil that you wrap yourself in to regulate your body temperature.
Space blankets are designed to be a lightweight insulation option. They keep heat out, and keep heat in by reflecting your body heat right back to you.
Space blankets are a great addition to your bushcraft gear because of their ability to keep your body at a safe temperature. More importantly, they are lightweight, and durable, making it easy to bring along with on longer trips.
Bonus: Luxury Gear (Nice to Have)
We decided to throw in a little bonus for you, just because we’re feeling extra nice today. Our list of essential bushcraft gear is important to helping you thrive in nature, but if you have some extra room in your backpack that you’re itching to fill, we’ve got you covered.
We decided to make a smaller list of luxury bushcraft gear that you don’t really need, but will enhance your overall experience. Especially if you haven’t mastered the art of survival.
Portable kitchenware is definitely nice to have, and most people include it with their bushcraft gear. However, we couldn’t bring ourselves to say that it was as essential as items like a tarp, space blanket, and first aid kit.
The reason being, cooking in a pot or pan is a luxury.
Yes, if you’re living off of the land, and hunting and fishing for food, you’ll need to cook it first. Although, you’ll be just fine roasting food over an open flame as you would be cooking it in a cast iron skillet.
Thankfully, there are a ton of options for portable kitchen equipment that are both lightweight and durable. The perfect combination for your bushcraft kit. It may be a luxury, but it’s definitely a luxury that makes your life a thousand times easier.
While we’re on the topic of cooking, who says you can’t eat good out in nature? Certainly not us.
A small spice kit that includes some of your favorites, like salt, pepper, chilli powder, thyme, and whatever else you like, enhances your bushcraft experience.
Do you need it? Definitely not. Now that you know it’s an option do you want it? We’re willing to wager you do.
All you need to make your own spice kit is a few small containers that are easily sealed. Small plastic or glass vials will do the trick. Keep in mind, if you are going to use glass, then need to make sure they are protected so they don’t shatter when the going gets tough.
It’s probably not a good idea to get completely drunk when you’re out on your own near an open flame, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nightcap to celebrate a job well done.
Durable flasks aren’t essential, but nobody will blame you for enhancing your bushcraft experience with a classic steel flask. It’s also a great way to make friends if you happen to run into any fellow bushcrafters on your journeys.
Well, that’s what we got for you. Our list of essential bushcraft gear will help you get started.
One last note, this is not an exhaustive list. So, if we left anything off that isn’t essential to everyone, but is essential to you, bring It.