Bushcraft skills, like anything, fall on a spectrum; you may notice traits of survivalist and ‘prepper’ ideas, also similarities to homesteading and self-sustainability.  All these comparisons are fair as these communities use many bushcraft techniques, but Bushcraft is not any of them in itself.  Below is a very rough description of some categories I have created for illustrative purposes.  As you may expect few people fit neatly into just one of these categories and some may take exception at the simplicity of the definitions, but as a general guide, I find the following good to help understand where we fit in.

  • Car Camping: Where you drive to a campsite and park next to your tent, you may have a motor home or trailer, are likely to carry a lot of things with you, possibly even solar power and televisions. This type of camping doesn’t really go without many of the comforts of home, but does get you out and living in the bush or campsite for a short time.  Usually favourable to families.

  • Backpacking: This is camping where everything is carried in on your back while hiking, or perhaps on a bike or paddling a kayak/canoe. You can carry a lot less when you have no vehicle and must do without; tents become smaller, stoves become smaller, food becomes simpler and one must adopt more skills to travel like this.  Typically the camp sites are more remote and greater first aid knowledge is advised, especially snakebite readiness.

  • Bushcraft: This can be part of Backpacking, but is often not done with travel at all as many bushcrafters like to stay in one spot to build a woodland base camp. Some, however, do prefer to be nomadic and wander around setting up simpler, quicker shelters as they go. A bushcraft trip would likely not carry much food or additional water with them (or only small amounts) and would carry the least amount of gadgets possible, preferring to gather what they need from the land.  Many carry appropriate tools such as knives, axes and saws, a first aid kit and fire striker and that’s it.  Some may carry a tarp to sleep under to reduce environmental impact of building a shelter every time or a camp blanket/sleeping bag to sleep in, but that’s about the limit.

  • Survival: A situation no-one wants to be in, but everyone in the wild should prepare for, typically it is managing a bad situation such as being injured or lost, or both, learning what you need to survive and how to get help; being resourceful.  Simple survival techniques start at the ‘sit and stay’ advice, how to light a fire and signal for help and can range up to advanced long-term survival techniques such as hunting and trapping, and cover many bushcraft skills as well.

  • Prepping: In its most simple definition ‘prepping’ is to prepare for long-term survival in a world that cannot support you, for example after a major war or epidemic.  Often this includes heavier medical and defence training as the assumption is that there isn’t anyone else or any infrastructure to help you, you’re completely on your own. Some choose to prep in their homes to survive for long periods of time and stockpile caches of food and weapons, others take a more bushcraft mentality and learn to be mobile and gather what they need from the land so that they can survive on the move.

  • Long term encampment: This category is pretty much self-sustainable, long-term living, without any dependency on societal infrastructure (just like the Preppers), but often with a reduced emphasis on defence and stock-piling, and more on gardening, growing, canning and so forth.  Very similar to homesteading in many ways and with lots of bushcraft skills, this category are assuming to live in assumed peacetime, but without technology.

As you can see, there’s a lot of ‘bleed’ between these categories, but they are also quite distinct

For a more direct example -a hiker (backpacker) would likely always carry a compass and map, while a bushcrafter would know how to navigate without one (but would probably carry one anyway!).  Most people would carry food and a stove, but bushcrafters would carry a flint and steel, make their own fire and catch their own food.

I should also acknowledge that it is rare that people practice all these things at once, many bushcrafters carry tents as building a bivouac every time is harsh on nature’s resources and takes time away from other activities. If you only have a weekend off work, you don’t want to spend it all creating your camp.  Similarly many may carry in food and water, and as a sensible safety aid almost all would carry a compass and first aid kit.

The difference though, is that bushcrafters know how to live without these things, as opposed to some hikers/campers who would be lost without their gadgets.  They take with them the knowledge and self-confidence that if they lost their pack somehow they would be ok, they’d know what to do and how to get out of their situation.  They are comfortable in the wild and confident…this is the key difference; life is not man versus wild, it is man with wild.  We should be symbiotic, as we are all part of the greater ecosystem and this connection to, and joining with, nature is where bushcraft (at least for me) becomes the most all-round and preferred ideal on the spectrum.  Do you agree? Disagree?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.