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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Are you a bushcrafter, or a backpacker?

Today we have a really exciting opportunity. One of our readers and regular commentators, Haliboy - contacted our admin to just add a personal note to some of his comments. On talking a little more, Haliboy offered this article as part of an opinion piece he posted on a forum. Thanks Haliboy.



Bushcraft or Backpacking? My take on it is that while certain people have been using the term "Bushcraft" for years, I think of Mors Kochanski here in Canada, and Americans like Nessmuk used "Woodcraft” (the original 1920 title, later changed to "Woodcraft and Camping") and Kephart used the term “Woodcraft” as part of the title of his book called "Camping and Woodcraft"; however the term "Bush" and "Bushcraft" are largely a UK and more so an Australian term. In North America we have woods; in Australia they have the bush. In North America we have woodsmen while in Australia they have bushmen.

It was not until the popularity of both TV and the Internet that North Americans really started to pick up on the term Bushcraft from British shows like those put out by Ray Mears. Before that people were content to use the terms, "Backpacking" and "Hiking" for their activities and books.

Where is the difference? If your list of "bushcraft" gear looks identical to what you can find in any backpacking book today (tent, sleeping bag, pot, water filter, wash kit, first aid kit, compass, stove, etc.) you are just packing backpacking gear. Cry as you might, your gear is no different and no cooler than a "Backpacker” that time honoured American term. On the other hand, if you plan on making your shelter, using a wood fire to cook your meals, perhaps even not using a pot, then you are Bushcrafting which is to say you are crafting what you need to live out of the bush. The key part to Bushcrafting is in the crafting. If all you do is go is set up a nylon tarp made in some factory, use an axe made in some factory, start your fire with a firesteel made in some factory, and cook food you got from some store, then you are Backpacking my friends.

Is it wrong for a Bushcrafter to carry Backpacking gear? No, certainly not, and indeed Backpacking gear is needed by the beginning Bushcrafter as a safety net while he builds up his Bushcrafting skills. No matter how skilled at Bushcrafting you are, I would still recommend that you carry modern survival gear as a back up should things go wrong. Also, rather than carry a haughty attitude that you are better than your Backpacking brothers, pack along some humility due to the fact that you are reading this on a plastic and silicon computer and likely got to the woods by driving a truck that is made of metal and much plastic.

In closing, let’s look back to our heroes both old and modern. Hephart, Nessmuk, Kochanski, and Mears all used various gear that was made by someone else; they were recent people of European decent, not Aboriginals living off the land thousands of years ago. The difference between these men and Backpackers were the amount of skills/crafts they employed while in the woods. Backpacking is largely a self-contained activity that has gotten away from the destructive 50’s Boy Scout days of digging a ditch around your tent, cutting tall saplings every time you need poles for your canvas tent, and cutting down several trees for each night’s fire. The Brushcrafters of today are a much more environmental group who see the hypocrisy of bringing all that stove fuel and petro-based nylon from many hundreds of thousands of miles away into the woods compared to the careful and measured use of natural resources right where they are found.

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