In this two part blog series, we talk to wilderness guide and TV presenter Megan Hine as she shares the fundamentals of bushcraft. Following completion of her degree in Outdoor Studies, Megan spent several years teaching bushcraft in the UK and leading International expeditions before becoming a consultant for adventure TV shows. Megan now predominantly spends her time scouting for wilderness locations and keeping the crew safe when filming starts.
“I love applying bushcraft skills and knowledge in combination with other dynamic outdoor skills.”
Being able to thrive in any given environment is made a lot easier by having the right kit with you, but this isn’t always the case. Dave Canterbury’s 5 Cs, is a good place to start.
The 5 Cs, in essence, are:
All 5 of these are fundamental aspects of kit are not just related to bushcraft, but are important in camp craft and expedition life in general. There is a sixth C which I would like to add and this is ‘concentration’.
We have an inbuilt connection with fire, it stands us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and has allowed us to shape the world around us. From the Industrial Revolution to the digital age, the development of the modern world can in many ways be attributed to our ability to control fire.
For both our ancestors and us, fire has always had many uses. From keeping away insects and wild animals, rendering meat digestible, killing off microbes in water and keeping us warm; it is something many of us take for granted.
Bushcraft techniques are time consuming so I need to be prepared. I am constantly looking for natural materials for tinder which have similar properties to cotton wool like certain seed heads or sticking dry grass and bark in my pockets to dry it out.
So what do we do if we don’t have a method to start a fire with us?
It pays to understand the fire triangle; fuel, heat and oxygen, the three things a fire needs to burn. If you are continually losing your flame then think about which element of the triangle is not in balance. It also pays to practice your fire lighting skills in all conditions and have at least two methods of making fire with you at all times for your given environment. Most of the time this could be a lighter and chemical fire blocks, your secondary tool being a magnesium rod, I actually use mine most of the time to keep my skills up. Finally it’s about the knowledge and experience of how to make fire by friction for when you really don’t have anything.
There is such an incredible sense of achievement when you make your first fire by friction from completely natural materials. Even now, every time I make fire, no matter the technique I feel such a wave of joy and happiness.
The right tool for the job
OK I’m a knife nerd, I have a rather large collection of knives, machetes, saws and axes. However, they are not just for show. The best tool for the environment is usually the one the locals are using, particularly when it comes to machetes. Shape matters; the machete shape that those living in predominantly bamboo areas use will be different to those living in areas with tangled vines.
The steel of choice depends on the environment I am working in. I love carbon steel but this is not great in hot, humid environments or coastal environments where it tends to get wet and rust and from experience this steel takes a huge amount of TLC to keep functional in these environments. Although knife sharpening can be highly cathartic, I need my focus elsewhere, so the kit I take with me needs to require as minimal effort to look after as possible.
Why is a knife so important?
With a good knife you can make the other 4 Cs and I choose a knife based on which is able to carry out a range of tasks from battening and splitting logs through to cleaning animals, a real work horse. I usually carry a second smaller knife for finer work.
What if I don’t have a knife?
Improvising a blade can be tough if you can’t find the right materials. If you can find flint or obsidian then these are perfect, you can fashion a crude adze, axe or knife with these. If you don’t have access to these then finding the toughest rocks you can find you can fashion these into a crude cutting tool.
I always see our first layer of defence as our skin. This incredible organism provides the most intelligent cover, it is waterproof, it produces melanin to help protect us from the sun, it helps the body regulate temperature and helps prevent and fight infection.
But what if you’re caught out overnight out in the wilds without a tent, hammock, basha etc.?
Well then you need to improvise. Firstly ask the question ‘what am I protecting myself from?’ If you find yourself without a tarp, natural shelters can be elaborate and time consuming. It may turn out that ‘all’ you need is a fire.
If you are in the jungle then most likely you need something to protect you from the rain and to get you off the jungle floor away from creepy crawlies. The times I have been in the jungle with nothing but a machete, I always create a rudimentary platform. As trees are competing for light in this environment, they tend to grow very quickly and there is an abundance of straight young trees to use. Banana leaves or bundles of reeds or grasses make an excellent roof.
In the desert temperature may be warm during the day and could drop very low at night. During the day your priority would be sheltering from the sun, at night keeping warm and depending on where you are it could also be from wild animals.
When it comes to sitting your shelter, if you remember nothing else remember this mantra. This has served me well on many occasions. Look up, Look down, Look 360º around.
Looking up, I’m looking for anything which could fall on me, including the clouds in the sky predicting bad weather. Looking down, I am looking for signs of insect holes, animal tracks, watermarked branches and objects, like coconuts, which maybe hidden above. Watermarks will show how high a river can rise, or how water is channelled through an area, when it rains. Also uneven ground, any fool can be uncomfortable. Looking 360º you’re looking for established trails or animal paths through your camp area; these could be from ants, elephants, or other signs of wildlife.