Bushcraft Mistakes: Do’s and don’ts
1. Stringing a tarp up to sleep under: For some reason this has become really popular in the bushcraft community. Why this is better than a small tent with walls is beyond me. I was watching a great video on youtube by a guy who has a lot of followers. He puts a stretched waterproof thing up for shelter. In one video he complains about the rain coming in sideways…. Ya, no shit, get a tent.
2. Not trying out gear before a trip: This is a big mistake a lot of people make. 40 miles from the nearest road isn’t the best place to find out that your new “rain jacket” isn’t waterproof.
3. Double up on essentials: Being out in the middle of the wilderness isn’t the ideal place to find out that your flashlights batteries are dead, or your lighter is out of fluid. As such, It’s advisable that you carry extra batteries and lighter. You don’t need to double up on everything (obviously), but an extra lighter and batteries are advisable.
4. Turn your cellphone off: Ya it’s fun to take pictures of flowers and selfies with that massive trout you caught. However, in our modern society I have gotten cell service on top of mountains and high hills. The worst time to find out that your phone doesn’t work is when you are lost or injured.
I live in a region were people vanish in the woods every year. However, many are saved (especially when climbing) because they are able to call for help.
5. Improperly packing your gear: When you pack for a long trip into the wild, it’s important to pack properly. Luckily, this isn’t rocker surgery. All you need to do is pack the most essential things near the top of the pack, and the less important things at the bottom. For example, pack warm cloths and rain gear on top, and your sleeping bag at the bottom. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have to empty your pack in the middle of a rain storm to retrieve your ran jacket/pack cover. Water bottle, snacks, knife, and other supplies that you will used frequently should be packed in the pouches on the outside of your pack.
6. Ziploc bags: Wet maps and wet lighters don’t tend to work well. As such, it’s advisable to keep your maps and fire starting supplies in a waterproof container. There are fancy waterproof bags and containers that you can buy at outdoor supply stores. I personally use Ziploc bags. They are cheap, lightweight, and have never failed me.
7. Put your boots in a waterproof bag and inside your tent: You don’t want to wake up to find out that your boots got soaking wet from rain and gnawed on my some wild animal. If you don’t want stinky hiking boots in your tent, I would recommend leaving them tucked under the front of your tent.
8. Another story from my grandpa (also fire related). He built a fire to close to the base of a tree thinking it would reflect the heat. Went to bed only to have this giant tree come crashing down in the middle of the night. Turns out the fire had burned out the base of the large dead/rotted out tree.
9. Building a large fire to keep you warm: You don’t need a large fire. You especially don’t need a large fire to keep you warm while you sleep at night. Just invest in a quality sleeping bag. Don’t start a forest fire.
10. Buying cammo/earthy colored supplies: Being decked out in army surplus and leather might look cool, but is also blends into the woods. As such, it is harder to find/easier to lose. Also, if you get into trouble it’s nice to have bright colors that make it easier to find you. This is one reason arctic ships are painted red instead of white or grey.
11. Carrying too much stuff: When first delving into outdoor recreation such as hunting, bush craft, backpacking or climbing, people have a habit of just going to REI or some other outdoor supply store and buying everything they think they could possible need. This might sound like a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t bode well if you are planning on covering any significant amount of ground. The more stuff you carry the heaver your pack is and the heavier your pack is the harder it is to cover ground. Often times people find that the stuff they carry is more of a burden than it’s worth.
12. Not taking enough stuff: I am a big fan of ultra-light backpacking/climbing/ camping. However, there is a point where this can be detrimental. For example, I was recently talking to a PCT hiker on a recent backpacking trip. We got to talking about how heavy his pack was and the gear he was carrying. He told me about a guy who started out at the same time he did. The guy’s pack was only about 18 pounds. He wasn’t carrying a stove or a pot. I asked him why the guy quit and he said it was due to exposure. He was too cold too often. He never had a warm meal and eventually it took a toll on him.
13. Starting a fire: Not being able to start a fire is one of the biggest Bush Craft fails there is. It’s also one of the most dangerous. Many people are overly confident in their fire starting abilities. You might be able to start a fire with a bow drill in perfect weather. But try making one when it’s been raining for a month straight and you have hypothermia.
I once had a case of severe hypothermia. Hypothermia doesn’t just mean that you shake. It’s also effects your ability to think. I remember that I kept looking at my analog watch (watch with an hour/minute hands) over and over again. I could make out the numbers just fine, but I couldn’t process what they meant. If you are so cold that you can’t tell time, then you are going to have a hard time making a bow drill fire or one using a feral rod.
14. Exploding rocks: The river may seem like a great place to find rocks for your fire circle, but if they are heated quickly, wet rocks can burst sending shrapnel in your direction. An old Bush Craft trick is to heat water by placing hot stones in it from the fire. This works well in a pinch if you need hot water and don’t have a metal canister you can put over the fire. However, there is the risk of the previously mentioned exploding rocks.
15. Leaving your pack on the ground or in your tent: You should always hang your pack up before you go to sleep. Preferably have it hanging down from a tree branch. The reason being that rodents and bears can smell the food. I have woken up to find a hole in my backpack and my trail mix missing.
16. Using a hatchet, machete, knife: It’s astonishingly common for people to cut themselves while using a knife, hatchet, or machete. Most are harmless cuts, but some can be serious gashes. One of the biggest causes of cutting one’s self with a knife is because people cut towards themselves. However, they tend to only make this mistake once.
My grandfather once told me that he was whitteling a stick when he was a young boy when all of a sudden a giant insect landed on his hand. He did the logical thing and tried to swipe if off with his knife. He was “successful” in removing the insect. He also got a few stitches out of the deal.
When using a hatchet or machete, you may have it glance off of whatever you are chopping. This is usually uneventful. However, most injuries happen when people successfully chop through whatever it is they chopping and straight into their leg.
17. Check the weather and know when to turn back: As previously stated, people go missing in my area every year. Most are found, some are never heard from again. Many of these cases can be attributed to one thing: bad weather.
Check the weather forecast before you leave. If the weatherman is predicting snow showers, it might not be the best time to go climbing or hunting in the high country.
I have heard of several disappearances that happen the same way: The people get to the top of the mountain, they get caught it a “surprise storm” (it’s January in the PNW, shouldn’t be a surprise), call for help but their cell phone battery dies midway though call, are never heard from again.