Three Hallmark Outdoor Skills
There are a plethora of wilderness skills and topics to learn depending on your interests, whether mountaineering, canoeing, fly-fishing, or hunting. The bushcraft and survival realm are no different. Like studying a martial art, each field has its own set of basics and I’ve listed what I consider to be the top 3 skills for wilderness living, using some of the more traditional skills. These are focused on living in the backcountry in comfort, not in eking out a miserable night during an unexpected emergency, though possessing these skills will surely help you get through such an ordeal.
1. Knifecraft: whittling and carving your own tools from wood you’ve gathered is nearly a lost art. Making spoons, bowls, carving deadfalls, cutting notches, fashioning digging sticks and bows are just a few of the ways to reconnect with your surroundings. Find a quality knife that fits well you (i.e, not the tacti-cool blade touted in the latest issue of Survival Beast & Brawn Magazine). Next, learn how to sharpen it and then carve constantly during freetime, around camp, or in your backyard. As many of you know, I’m a fan of the Swedish Puukkos (Mora knives) but there are many fine bushcraft-specific blades out there. Kellam knives, Bark River, and Frost all fine companies to consider. A crook knife and Swedish spoon gouge is ideal if you plan to do some finer woodworking around the evening fire.
2. Firemaking: can you light a fire under cold, wet conditions with just one match or with the first pass of your spark rod? This isn’t about luck or reality show-gimmicks but about following the logical steps for firelighting that will ensure your success. Learn the tipi firelay or the survival firelay and then become adept at making fire in the cold, rain, snow, at night via headlamp, with one hand, and using various tinders. Firemaking is a skill of repetition so buy a box of strike-anywhere matches and practice until you can finally get it done with only one match in under ninety seconds.
3. Sheltermaking: this covers a lot of ground from camp selection to tarp rigging, building lean-tos, Quinzees, and wickiups, to making a fire and shelter combo work smoothly. The area I’d start with is learning to set up a tarp using two different hitches such as the timber hitch and half-hitch. Then practice your skills under a variety of environmental conditions and with different configurations (diamond, A-frame, etc…). I rarely use a tent in the backcountry and prefer either a nylon 8×8 Campmor tarp or, if weight isn’t an issue, a 12×12 canvas tarp from Panther Primitives.