Learning Bushcraft and Outdoor skills without breaking the bank
‘There’s nothing in life for free’, or ‘it’s too good to be true’ are a couple of common sayings that mean you can’t generally get something for nothing, and although this is true to a point it doesn’t stop you taking advantage of all the free ways to learn about bushcraft, camping and the general outdoor activities that are available.
You need to practice your skills. When we talk about free ways to learn things, we’re not talking about some magical plugin for your mind like Neo in the Matrix, giving you instantaneous skills; you need to put effort into it and physically master (or at least get to a point where you’re not dangerous to yourself or others) the skills and be able to apply the knowledge you gain, learn from your mistakes and become confident. There’s no replacement for just doing.
Forums and websites
Forums and websites are a great resource through your whole bushcraft and outdor experience, and a good site will be able to help you along through all levels of your journey, with information on what you can do, how you can do it and resources that can help you. On a forum such as Bushcraft UK, you get to speak with and discuss all manner of bushcraft subjects with people that have actually done it or are in the same boat as you in wanting to find out information. There’s very little that someone here won’t be able to help with, and this is a huge resource, especially when you’ve got thousands of really helpful people.
There are some great sites and forums that are worth looking at and getting what you can from them, many states have a forum for outdoor activities going on, and there’s plenty of general sites and forums that you can tap into.
We all love books, well I do, so I’m assuming that everyone does! In many respects books are the original resource (after humans themselves) for learning more about bushcraft and the outdoors as well as most things in and about the world we live in, particularly classics like Mors Kochanski’s Bushcraft (previously Northern Bushcraft), Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook or Ray Mears’s The Survival Handbook (out of print).
In many ways, books have been replaced by the internet which can provide instantaneous answers to questions as well as video demonstrations and examples, but books still have a very important role to play in our learning, and if you need to buy them they’re not too expensive, especially if you buy second hand.
The thing about books is that they’re easy to access (once you have them), easy to transport (if you want the information with you while practising), you don’t have to be online to use them and to be frank, there’s some really, really good content in many of them that can really help you learn and become more capable, at your own pace.
TV / Videos / YouTube etc.
This is something that’s become more and more available over the last few years and for many has become the main way they learn about new things. Bushcraft lends itself particularly well to videos because of its hands-on nature, and it is easier to see how someone is doing it for real when you’re watching them do it rather than looking at a picture in a book, or reading about it.
However, be cautious about what you accept as a good video, there’s a huge number of videos that are misleading and even dangerous, so be warned. Asking opinions on a video on the forums is a good way of getting to know if someone is worth your time in following and using to help yourself learn.
Meet-ups and Events
There are lots of meet-ups all over the country and the world in general and at most of these, there’s the opportunity to practice some skills and learn some crafts. One of the great things about the Meets is that most people are more than happy to share their knowledge and skills, it’s there just for the asking.
Events such as the BushMoot in the UK, Rabbitstick in Idaho and there’s a Canadian survival Expo, all of which are fantastic for learning new skills and knowledge sharing, there’s a fee for the events, but the workshops are generally free or at the cost of materials, the advantage of something like this is that you can have upward of 80 workshops available to you over 4 or 5 days.
There are also plenty of local meets organized on the forums, so it’s well worth keeping an eye out for things in your area.
Just try it out! Sometimes we hold ourselves back wanting to get it just right; we wait till we can afford that book, or we wait for a meet etc. But to be honest, there’s so much that you can just go and try. If you know some basic knife safety then get stuck into carving a spoon or a walking stick, if you have some space then practice making fires, all you need are some sticks and matches! Have a read on the forums and jump in, make some char cloth, do some tracking, tree ID, leatherwork, knife sharpening, traps and snares, get stuck in and give it a go; we learn a lot from our mistakes so don’t worry about making any, just be safe and do your best.
Learning skills in isolation
You don’t have to have a place to camp out with a fire and lots of wood to chop to learn bushcraft. Lots can be practiced on day walks in the countryside without bending any laws. Too many folk say they don’t have anywhere to “practice” when they mean they don’t have somewhere to camp out; make the most of what you’ve got.
Are courses essential?
Most of the time courses are not essential, even though they can be very useful. Sometimes you can bypass paid-for courses and use other resources to gain knowledge, experience, and skills. Generally though if you’ve got the money and there’s a course that fits what you want to learn, go for the course.
“You can spend money, or you can spend time, sometimes you may wind up spending both, but don’t expect to get anywhere without spending one or the other… and time isn’t always the cheapest.”