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12 Essential Bushcraft Tools: Which Do You Really Need?


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Last Updated: September 30, 2020

The difference between bushcraft and survival is that, with survival, you might be barely alive and struggling. By contrast, bushcraft is about living simply yet comfortably in nature. In order to achieve this, you will need some bushcraft tools.

Bushcraft Tools List

This list includes bushcraft tools which should be in every beginner’s bushcrafter kit.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with bringing some high-tech items to have as a backup or to help you stay comfortable.

As you gain skills and experience, you can lighten your load and rely more on primitive and DIY bushcraft tools.

1. Blade

knife in wood

A knife or blade is the ultimate survival tool and many bushcraft purists would even say that you don’t need anything but a knife.  You can use a knife to make many of your own bushcraft tools, batoning (splitting) wood, preparing foraged food, and much more.

Since blades are so important for bushcraft (as well as survival), a big part of your bushcraft tool budget will probably go towards it.

Note that different blades are required for different tasks and environments – like how all the locals I encountered while in the Peruvian jungle had machetes and my usual drop-point blade was practically useless in most situations.

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2. Bushcraft Axe or Hatchet

While you can get by with a knife or saw, you’ll want an axe anytime you plan on spending a longer time in nature.  It will come in handy for building semi-permanent or permanent shelters, chopping firewood, shaping logs, and numerous other tasks.

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3. Saw

Saws are an incredibly versatile bushcraft tool.  They can be used to clear brush, cut branches for a shelter, saw through bone, cut firewood to size, and much more.

I personally prefer saws over axes; a saw is lighter and easier to carry.  You are also less likely to inflict serious danger on nature (or yourself) with a saw than an axe.

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4. Firestarter

There are many primitive ways to start a fire without matches or a lighter, such as making a bow drill or a fire plough.  However, the standard bushcraft fire tool is a striking tool, such as flint and steel or Ferro rod and striker.

No matter what bushcraft fire-starting tool you use, it’s crucial to have good tinder.  I personally carry some cotton balls dipped in Vaseline to use as tinder.

Yes, purists would consider this cheating – especially since you can make your own tinder by shaving down sticks or making a “feather stick.”  However, it’s nice to have dry tinder as a backup in case conditions are bad, especially since starting a fire can mean life or death.

Another option which is more inline with the bushcraft mentality is to make your own char cloth to use as tinder.

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*There’s no shame in bringing a lighter with you.  See these best waterproof survival lighters.

5. Cordage

yucca rope

Once you get started with bushcraft, you’ll see how important cordage is.  It’s useful for building shelter frames, setting snares, make a fishing net, hanging a bear bag…

While it is possible to make your own rope from natural materials, it takes a long time and the learning curve is fairly high.  Paracord 550 is generally regarded as the best all-purpose rope for survival and bushcraft.

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6. Canteen and Pot

Unless you want to get intestinal parasites, you’ll need a way to purify water.  That usually means boiling water in a pot.  And once you’ve purified water, you’ll need a way to transport it, which usually means a durable canteen.

If you have a metal canteen, you can boil water right in the canteen.  However, I still recommend bringing a bushcraft pot since it is better suited for tasks like cooking meals. You can also use the pot for holding things like foraged berries if you don’t have a basket with you.

*Note it’s possible to make a pot out of birch bark, but this is one of the higher-level bushcraft skills which takes a lot of practice to master.

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7. Clothing and Footwear

Where backpacking and camping clothing is usually made from high-tech synthetics, bushcraft clothing uses natural fibers.  Wool is a favorite and, while I admittedly don’t make them myself, I love the wool socks, leggings, and sweater that I bought from a local grandma.

Military surplus is also popular for bushcrafting as it’s cheap and the material is durable, as is leather footwear.  When the weather turns very cold, then fur-lined clothing is the way to go.   If you aren’t a purist, then splurge on quality clothing from brands like Fjallraven.

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8. Compass

It’s smart to learn how to navigate without a compass, but the stars aren’t always clear and the other tactics also don’t always work.  So a compass is a great bushcraft tool to have in your kit.   If you want to take your orienteering skills to the next level, then get some ranger beads to use too.

9. Shovel

best survival shovels

A shovel is a bushcraft tool which doesn’t get as much attention as tools like knives, but life in nature without a shovel can get uncomfortable quickly.

For me, the primary use of a shovel is to dig a latrine or “cat hole” to bury waste.  Not only is this in accordance with the principles of Leave No Trace, but it’s much more hygienic. Burying waste also helps keep animals away.

A shovel is also necessary in winter for building shelters, in bad weather for making drainage ditches around your shelter, and in many other situations.

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10. Carving Tools

Of all the bushcraft tools, I find carving tools the most pleasurable to use.  After setting up camp and gathering food, you can use these tools to fashion yourself a bowl and spoon to use.  Or a pot hanger, whistle, fishing spear, bow and arrow, gorgeous walking stick, smoking pipe…

The more adept you become at using carving tools, the better you’ll be able to make more of your own bushcraft tools and gear.

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11. Knife Sharpener

Even the best bushcraft knife will get dull after extended use — and you WILL be using it a lot when practicing bushcraft skills.  So, you’ll need to have a knife sharpener with you.

Some bushcrafters prefer to use a natural sharpener, such as a smooth river rock, but it is generally a lot easier to sharpen a knife with a dedicated sharpener.

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12. First aid kit

While this might be considered equipment more than a bushcraft tool, please don’t go bushcrafting without a first aid kit. Especially if you are inexperienced!

Many of the bushcraft tools are large, sharp, and have high learning curves.  I’ve heard plenty of terrible stories about people gashing themselves with their hatchet or knives while trying to do camp tasks.

At the very least, you’ll need clean gauze, a tourniquet, antiseptic balm, and medical tape.

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You Can Make Every Tool You Need

primitive bushcraft trowel from animal bones

Purists will say you don’t actually need to buy any bushcraft tools to live comfortably in nature.  With the right knowledge and skills, you can make everything you need – such as making your own knife blade out of sharpened obsidian, starting a fire with flint you found, or making a trowel out of animal bones.

This is how our ancestors survived and thrived over the years.  There are even more recent examples of primitive cultures rejecting modern tools in favor of their traditional tools, such as the Senoi Praaq – a division of the Malay military who used blowpipes to kill enemies instead of the standard-issue machine guns.

By contrast, other bushcrafters have no qualms carrying large kits which contain machine-made tools including knives, lighters, tarps, and axes.

Is Using Bushcraft Tools “Cheating”?

Personally, I’m not a bushcraft purist.  While I get more satisfaction out of doing things the “old-fashioned” way, I don’t think we need to make everything ourselves. I agree with Gordon Dedman when he said,

“The pursuit of bushcraft brings us closer to the natural world and opens our eyes to see that we are part of the earth and not separate from it.”

Under that definition, any tool which helps us connect with nature can be considered bushcraft.   Obviously, people are going to interpret this their own ways.

For example, most people consider using a lighter to be “cheating” in bushcraft.  Yet those same people don’t consider using a Ferro rod cheating – despite the fact they purchased the Ferro rod.

Likewise, many bushcrafters consider high-tech fabrics like Gore-Tex to be cheating, but I don’t know any bushcrafters who actually make all their own clothing on a loom…

Using Modern Tools Is Often MORE Respectful to Nature

I’d like to point out that the bushcraft way is often BAD for nature. Take bushcraft shelters vs. using a tent.

It takes a lot of wood to build a shelter and fire for a night. It also takes a lot of time, which is why bushcrafters will use their hatchet to hack down live limbs – permanently damaging habitats and even killing trees.

By contrast, I can stay warm and comfortable in my tent and sleeping bag while practicing Leave No Trace.  Yes, it did take resources to make the tent and sleeping bag, but they’ve already lasted me through multiple seasons – arguably causing much less damage than building a new shelter every night would inflict.

The bottom line?

There’s no right or wrong way to connect with nature. It doesn’t matter whether you go primitive or include some high-tech items.  Bring the bushcraft tools which help you best connect with nature.

Bushcraft Tools vs. Survival Tools

It’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between “survival” tools and “bushcraft” tools.  Survival tools are designed to help you stay alive in a specific environment, and just for a short period of time such as 72 hours.  Thus, survival tools are usually disposable or even single-use.

By contrast, bushcraft tools are designed to help you live comfortably in the wilderness for longer periods of time:

Three days is survival. A month is bushcraft. Thus, the tools must be more durable.

A Mylar blanket is definitely not bushcraft gear.  But a saw used to get branches for building a debris shelter? Yes.

What bushcraft tools are in your kit? Let us know in the comments.


Resources:

https://bushcraftuk.com/community/threads/bushcraft-fundamentalism-are-you-a-bushcraft-purist-or-a-techno-camper.25081/page-2,
https://www.forum.txbushcraft.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1584&p=13523&hilit=cheating#p13523,
https://www.forum.txbushcraft.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=109&p=360&hilit=cheating#p360,
https://bushcraftusa.com/forum/threads/first-kuksa-i-think-i-cheated.283938/

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  1. The author makes several significant points in the closing. Bushcraft Is NOT survival. I would suggest that even 3 months isn’t long enough considering that the History Channel used 100 days to make the 10^6 bucks.

    “Leave No Trace” is likely the necessary operational mode until one can find an accepting community to join. After all chopping up the area will leave evidence that a skilled person can spot from cover well over 100 yards away, or a short rifle shot if you prefer.

    As to the equipment selected those choices tend to be highly personal but I can find no grievous fault with what is proposed… I probably would have added a 13th group, having to do with harvesting food, and providing protection from the environment.

    And maybe even another “My Favorite 5 Widgets that Don’t Fit in Elsewhere” just because we all have them, and those lists could be rather interesting!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. As you mention, tool choice is highly personal — I had a hard time breaking it down to “essentials”, especially since an experience bushcrafter could make so many tools — like harvesting baskets — by using other tools. And I’d also love to see those 5 Favorite Widget lists 😀

      Reply

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