Is Bushcraft Legal? Laws to Know Before Your Next Adventure

by | Sep 22, 2020 | Bushcraft

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Nature has this incredible ability to provide us with an escape from our daily routine, and the constant hustle and bustle of city life. For many, nature adds much needed beauty and serenity, and can be a truly calming experience. 

While campsites are a favorite for most wilderness adventurers, there are those of us who prefer to go completely off grid. Which brings us to potential legality issues that arise.

If you’re here, you’re probably trying to find out whether or not bushcraft is legal. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many government guidelines on the legality of bushcraft specifically, so the answer is a little long-winded.

Is Bushcraft Legal?

Yes, it is legal to bushcraft here in the United States. However, there are still some laws about bushcraft that you need to be made aware of. Because the last thing you want to do is violate policy and end up with a fine or worse.

Before we get started, you should be aware of how bushcraft is categorized by the government. Unlike traditional camping, that usually takes place in a designated campground on private property or in a National Forest, bushcraft takes place off the beaten path. 

So, for the purpose of this informative article, bushcraft rules and regulations would fall under the same category as dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is how the government refers to camping that is outside of designated campgrounds in National Forests.

Dispersed Camping Guidelines

Perhaps the most important guidelines for dispersed camping are the most obvious.

When camping at a traditional campsite, you are usually provided with certain amenities that both make your life easier, and make upkeep simple. For example, for hygiene, you’ll usually have access to running water, restrooms, or even showers. 

No such luxuries exist when you venture off into nature.

For that reason, it’s important you follow the Leave No Trace guidelines provided by the USDA. These guidelines are put in place to minimize any impact campers and buscrafters will have on their surrounding environment. 

The guidelines cover everything from planning and preparation, to respect for wildlife and other campers. Most of the information you can find is common sense, but if you’re not well versed on the rules and guidelines, you should definitely review them before your next trip.

Can You Bushcraft Anywhere?

In legal terms, no, you can’t bushcraft anywhere you’d like. For example, it is largely illegal to bushcraft on private land, designated campsites, or recreational areas. There are also tons of regulations that vary state to state when it comes to bushcraft activities. Like cutting down wood, building fires, and hunting.

When it comes to dispersed camping, on the other hand, there aren’t any federal regulations that govern what is legal and what isn’t. Instead, laws and regulations are created at the state level, and will often vary depending on where you are.

Take California for example. Due to a history of devastating wildfires, and the ease at which these fires spread, building a fire in any National Forest requires a permit.

If you plan on spending time on any government land, your best bet is to do your research and planning ahead of time. That means, looking into local laws and gathering all the necessary permits beforehand.

The easiest way to make sure you’re not breaking any rules, or bushcrafting illegally is to call ahead to your closest Forest Service Office. They’ll provide you with all the necessary information, and can also provide helpful tips.

If you want to camp on private property, the rules are fairly straightforward. You’ll first need to obtain permission from the land owner, who will provide you with all their personal guidelines.

To obtain permission to bushcraft on private property, you can either call ahead, or physically knock on their door. If you do plan on disturbing someone to ask if you can camp on their property, make sure to be considerate. Meaning, be polite, and don’t knock on their door or give them a call in the middle of the night.

Chopping Wood

Wood is essential to bushcraft and survival. Although it’s primarily used to build shelters and fires, it can also be used for whittling and creating essential tools. If you’re bushcraft out in a National Forest, you’ll be surrounded by an abundance of trees perfect for chopping wood. But here’s what you need to know.

For personal use, the majority of National Forests allow people to harvest trees for firewood, and even around Christmas time. However, you’ll need to obtain a permit first, and follow the very specific, yet important guidelines that the US Forest Service has laid out.

To start, you’ll first need to contact your local Forest Service Office to obtain your permit. Permits and regulations vary by area, season, and even time. Keep in mind, these permits are for personal use only, meaning you can’t sell or profit off the wood or trees you cut.

You also need to be informed on additional information. For example, not all National Forests allow you to harvest dead trees. The main reason being, dead or downed trees may be an essential habitat for local animals and other wildlife.

On the other hand, some National Forests may not even require permits. For example, some National Forests allow you to collect downed and dead trees if you plan on using them for a campfire during your camping trip. 

Building a Fire

It’s fair to say that most people believe they are being careful when building a campfire. Even so, 87% of wildfires were caused by humans in 2019 according to the National Interagency Fire Center. It’s a staggering number to say the least.

Just like with chopping wood, the laws and regulations around building a campfire vary by state and season. For that reason, it’s important that you talk to your local Forest Service Office before you begin building a flame of your own.

Just because you can build a fire, doesn’t always mean you should.

Experience campers and bushcrafters understand the dangers of fire, and how quickly things can get out of hand. So more than just the rules, you should also know the current fire conditions. For example, is it dry and windy? If so, there will likely be rules against building a fire, or creating a fire of a certain size. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Best Places to Bushcraft Legally

Now that you know if bushcraft is legal, it’s time to get out there and start honing your survival skills. If you’re still not sure where to go, we’ve put together a short list of the best places that you can start bushcraft legally. 

National Forests

When it comes to bushcraft, it’s hard to beat the breathtaking views and scenery that National Forests provide. Most of these forests and grasslands are protected land, meaning their natural beauty remains largely untouched.

Aside from beauty, these national treasures are ideal for bushcraft because of the incredible amount of natural resources available to you. From trees to streams, you’ll be able to cut out a small little oasis that you can truly live off of.

The laws may vary depending on where you live, or where you travel, but a quick phone call is well worth the time.

You can easily find National Forests near you by running a quick search online. But for convenience, we’ve decided to make things a little easier on you. Quickly search for the best bushcraft spots in the country by using the helpful National Forest Locator.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management, usually referred to as BLM, is responsible for managing 1 in every 10 acres of land across the United States. Although, the majority of BLM land is located in the Western and Southwestern regions of the US.

Restrictions for bushcraft on BLM lands are similar to those of National Forests. Meaning, you should still call ahead to local offices before setting up camp anywhere. However, the topography is considerably different.

For the most part, the BLM manages mainly flatlands and desert lands. It may not provide as many natural resources for the casual bushcrafter, but still provides a natural beauty, and definite change of pace. 

Locating Bureau of Land Management territory can be a bit tricky. Your best bet is to use the BLM’s own map to find the perfect location for your next trip.

Private Land

If you own a large plot of land with lots of natural resources, then you’re set. You can easily set up camp in your own backyard, and quietly practice your bushcraft skills in peace without asking permission or getting any permits.

If you don’t, you should still look into private land as a viable option for your next bushcraft adventure.

You’d be surprised with how many people own land, and are completely cool with other people spending a night under the stars. Now, we don’t mean knocking on a suburban house’s door and asking to camp in their backyard. We’re talking about people with ranches, farms, or just massive plots of land.

When choosing to bushcraft on private land, you’ll first need to obtain permission from the land owner. From there, you’ll need to adhere to rules or guidelines that they may have. Make sure to follow them.

Private land is a great option, especially for bushcraft newbies. You’ll still be out in nature, but in an emergency, help won’t be too far away.

The laws surrounding dispersed camping and bushcraft may change, however infrequently. It’s still a good idea to check back periodically for the answer to Is bushcraft legal.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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