One thing that we definitely have in the UK is weather – and we have a lot of it! Whilst other parts of the world may have more extreme forms of weather, from desert heat to perms-frost winters, few have a more unpredictable or swiftly changing weather pattern than ours. This means that factoring weather into your planning is a big component of successful bushcraft in the UK.
Knowing what’s expected is vital to good survival. Where weather can change quickly – sun to mist, dry to wet – the successful bush crafter will have planned ahead. Check the weather forecast and be aware of changes in clouds, wind direction/speed and air humidity that could mean trouble ahead. The famous movie trick of birds falling silent before a storm is a genuine fact of nature. Using such information to be aware of your surroundings is not just a bushcraft technique – it can make the difference between an enjoyable outdoor experience and utter misery.
The gap between ‘knowing’ how to start a fire and ‘being able’ to start a fire is huge. Theoretical skills are useless in true outdoor situations – learning a fire-starting technique and building your skills through practice and experience is vital. Try one of our Friction Fire-lighting Courses to develop this key life-saving ability. Packing fire lighting equipment on your bushcraft trips will allow you to know that you can start a fire if the weather becomes bad. A camp fire is not just something to keep your body warm, it’s also a way to heat food, to signal to others, and a potent morale booster. Being able to locate and dry tinder is also important, as is the skill of identifying good wood to burn.
Shelter is also necessary. A tarpaulin provides shelter in cold weather and gives a dry area in the wet. Cordage, either carried or made from natural sources, helps build a shelter. A tent is great if you have one, but other forms of protection such as lean-to shelters, pit shelters, tree platforms and even snow caves or trenches are ways to create a safe environment and use your body heat to keep you warm.
Water is vital in cold weather as well as warm, so make sure you remain hydrated whilst working to ensure your own comfort and safety. Don’t eat snow, regardless of what you see in films, it will reduce your core temperature to sometimes dangerous levels. Instead, pack it into a canteen and carry it next to your body to melt it, or make a snowball, pierce it with a long stick and place it near your campfire. Ensure the drips melt into a billy or saucepan or even a bark ‘dish’.
The biggest danger in hot weather is hyperthermia or overheating. Often this is associated with the sun, but that’s not the only risk. Simply put, if the ambient temperature is higher than your body temperature, you cannot cool down naturally by radiating heat from your body – even if you sweat, you won’t cool down. Sunburn can dramatically increase your body’s surface temperature and put you at greater risk of the mental confusion, dehydration and eventual organ failure that are caused by extreme hyperthermia. Whilst this is rare in the UK, it should be considered when spending time outdoors in summer.
Protect yourself from direct sun by wearing, or making, a hat. Use natural shade or create a shelter to protect yourself from the heat of the day and be most active in early morning or late afternoon/evening. Drink more than you think you need to.
Just assume you’ll get wet – our climate makes that almost certain. If you spend more than a few days outdoors every year practicing your bushcraft skills, you’re going to get soaked by rain, snow, sleet or mist at some point.
Not everywhere has tree cover, and where there is no tree cover, there is little or no fuel for fires – bear this in mind when planning your trip and carry material if necessary. Wind chill in wet environments can be exhausting. In wet and windy weather, ensure you have suitable clothing and that your core temperature remains high. Mist, snow and even rain can massively affect your ability to see your surroundings, understanding basic navigation, carrying a compass and map, and knowing where you are likely to find shelter can turn bad weather into an adventure, rather than a disaster.