How to Catch and Cook Fish in the Wild

How to catch a fish in the wild, how to cook a fish over a fire, these are all questions that we will be answering in this week’s blog post about bushcraft fishing techniques. While there is nothing better than enjoying freshly caught fish over a fire keep in mind the legalities.

As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

Catch and cook a fish in the wild

Legalities of catching fish in the wild

If you are going fishing in England or Wales you will need a fishing licence. In Scotland while, for the most part, you don’t need a fishing licence, you will need the landowner’s permission. However, in England and Wales, you don’t need a fishing licence to fish off the beach, provided that you don’t catch certain species.

 

Also, remember that you should only use the techniques described below to catch fish in a true survival situation; it is illegal to catch fish using anything other than a hook and line in UK rivers.  

For licenses in England and Wales please see the Government site here. For rules surrounding what equipment you can use the UK Government has a breakdown here.  Now that’s the legalities done, let’s have a look at how to catch fish in the wild.

Methods of catching fish in the wild

Remember, these techniques should only be used in a survival situation, now that’s covered let’s take a look at bushcraft fishing techniques.

 


Fish for your dinner and sleep under the stars.

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Making hooks in the wild

The biggest challenge that the bushcraft practitioner will experience when making hooks in the wild will be making them small enough yet strong enough. In order to overcome this, one of the simplest hooks to make is the gorge hook. The gorge hook is a piece of strong wood or bone sharpened at both ends with the line tied in the middle. The fish then swallows the bait and the hook acts as a toggle inside the fish’s stomach.

Making a fishing line in the wild

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to catching fish in the wild using a hook and line is in making the line. It is always preferable to carry some with you, however, this is not always practical. In such cases, lines can be made from plants, particularly nettles which make a strong natural cord. However, your best bet for making a fishing line in the wild is to use animal hide. 

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Catching fish in the wild using traps

In fast flowing rivers and streams, the most effective method for catching fish is by using a trap. Simple funnel traps are particularly effective in rivers of this type. The easiest way to catch fish in the wild using this method is to use interwoven saplings to guide the fish into a narrower and narrower funnel in which the fish are trapped by the force of the water against them. A similar method can be used to guide fish into an eddy on the river.  For more information about catching fish via this method, have a look at our blog on foraging along Scotland’s rivers.  

Cooking your fish in the wild

 

Catching and cooking fish in the wild

Cooking fish over a stick on a campfire in the wild, is there anything better? While it might seem intimidating at first cooking fish in the wild is actually quite a simple process. But before you can sit back and enjoy cooking your trout on a stick over the fire you need to know how to gut the fish.

How to gut a fish in the wild

Stick your knife into the belly of the fish, just below the gills, and cut downwards towards the tail. Having made the cut insert your finger use it to scoop out the guts. Cut off any bits of the internal organs that are dangling out, and burst the swim bladder – this may be inflated inside. 

How to cook a fish over a campfire

The easiest way of cooking a fish over a fire is to cut off the tail and fins, cutting down the spine – being careful not to sever the spine. Be sure to extend this cut down the side of the fish down behind the gills.  The fish can then be opened up, lifted away from its skeleton and then put on a split stick and roasted by the fire.

Other ways of cooking a fish in the wild

Another method for cooking fish in the wild is to split the fish straight down the middle and then drape each part of the fish over a piece of hard firewood.  The wood, with the fish on it can then be placed in the hot coals of the fire. Be wary though as the fish will not take long to cook using this method. Using either of the above two methods you can easily cook a whole fish in the wild!

Further information

 

Learn how to prepare fish, light a fire, build a shelter and much more on our
weekend bushcraft course.

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Trapping and Snaring a Beginners Guide

 

This blog looks at trapping and snaring in the UK. However, before we get into it a word on the law and on ethics.

Trapping and snaring  of animals  is illegal in the UK without landowners permission and with a legal type snare. Not only is it illegal but it is unnecessarily cruel

Bushcraft is not about harming nature, it is about being in harmony with nature. You should only ever attempt to trap or snare animals in a true survival situation. If you have any doubts about the legalities of what you’re doing then refer to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Deer Act 1991.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the theory behind trapping and snaring animals in the UK. Remember, you’re welcome to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

Bushcraft skills of trapping and snaring from Wildway Bushcraft

An overview of trapping 

There are a wide variety of traps that you could, in a true survival situation, make. However, you don’t need to set a trap to kill, you can practice setting the following traps and triggering them with a stick or other means. Be sure though to dismantle the trap that you have set afterward and never leave it unattended.

Below is an overview of a small selection of bushcraft traps that you can make. Essentially though your type of trap will depend upon the materials that you have to hand, and the type of prey that you are hoping to catch.

Deadfalls 

Deadfalls are traps which are designed to crush the prey. While they require very little cordage and can be used on barren grounds they need to be carefully constructed. If they are not carefully made then the traps will maim, not kill the animal that you are trying to catch. Typical deadfalls feature a heavy ‘deadweight’ and a trigger. The trigger should cause the deadweight to fall when dislodged. 

Snares

Snares have been used all over the world almost since the dawn of man. They work by tightening a noose around the neck or legs of the animal that you are trying to catch. The simplest snare is the running noose. The running noose is secured by a post which is set at the head height of the animal that you are trying to catch. The noose should be wide enough to let the head of the animal to pass through but not the shoulders.  The noose is set on a slip knot so that when the head and neck of the animal passes through the snare tightens and chokes the poor animal. 

Spring-loaded snares 

In our video below we demonstrate how to make a spring loaded snare that lets you capture the animal alive. Watch the video to learn more. 

Spearing/Impaling traps

Traps that spear or impale the animal that you are hoping to catch are needlessly cruel. Not only are they cruel but they may also ruin the meat of the animal that you are trying to catch or alert nearby scavengers to the dying or dead animal. For these reasons, these types of traps are not covered in this section.

Where to set traps and snares 

No matter how skilled you are at bushcraft and building traps you won’t catch anything unless you put your trap in the right place. The best place to set a trap is on what is known as a ‘run’. A run is a passage which is frequently used by animals, typically to get to a water or food source. In order to identify these runs look for flattened vegetation and animal tracks. If you would like to know more about tracking read our blog on animal tracking

Setting your trap/snare on a run 

Your trap should not be obvious, it should be well camouflaged to fit in with the surrounding vegetation. Place your trap towards the end of the run or just after open ground where your prey will be more concerned about escaping possible predators. Cover the side of the trap with twigs and bits of the local vegetation to prevent the animal that you’re hoping trap from running around the outside of the trap. Take care not to trample down any surrounding vegetation which could alert your prey to a change in the landscape.

Funnelling

Funnelling is the act of…funnelling your prey into a trap. When creating a funnel to guide your prey into a trap you need to be subtle about it.  

 


REMEMBER, TRAPPING AND SNARING IS ILLEGAL IN THE UK. ONLY EVER USE TRAPS/SNARE IN A TRUE SURVIVAL SITUATION.

 

Further information 

Our weekend bushcraft courses offer trapping and snare tuition as well as teaching how to light a fire, build a shelter, find water and other key bushcraft skills.

 

Join us for a weekend bushcraft course,
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For more information about finding food in wild, read the following blog posts:

 

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Foraging in the UK
An Introduction and Tips on Getting Started

 

Foraging – a steep learning curve


It is with good reason that those starting their bushcraft journey often find foraging one of the hardest skills to get to grips with. After all, it requires hours upon hours of not only field craft but also the studious reading of books on identifying the trees and plants of the UK.

Staying safe


Foraging also carries with it heightened risk. When learning bushcraft in a safe environment if you fail to light a fire using friction, for example, then the worse case scenario is a sense of disappointment. Failing to correctly identify the fungi you have consumed however has a very different and more serious set of consequences.


With that in mind, this blog takes a look at the broad spectrum of wild foods available in the UK, briefly covers what foods are safe to eat in the wild in the UK and how you can start foraging in the UK. As usual, please feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

 

 


Before we begin though, a word of caution:
ONLY EAT THAT WHICH YOU HAVE POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED AS SAFE

Foraging and bushcraft in the UK - only eat what you know is safe.

When it comes to foraging in the UK the law is relatively clear.

 

The law and foraging in England and Wales


In England and Wales, foraging is covered under the Theft Act of 1968.  The Theft Act states that
“A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what s/he picks unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purposes.”

In other words, if what you pick is growing wild (e.g. not farmed) then you can pick it as long as you don’t intend to sell it.  

 

The law in Scotland


In Scotland, the Outdoor Access code covers pretty much the same idea, it’s okay to pick it as long as you don’t intend to sell it for commercial purposes.

However, be aware that it is technically illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981  to uproot plants in the wild ground. It is also illegal to forage on sites of special scientific interest and/or National Trust land.

That’s the law, read on to learn about the wild foods that are readily available in the UK.

 

Wild Foods and bushcraft in the UK 

 

Remember, don’t eat anything that you’ve not positively identified as safe!

Spring and summer are the best times for foraging in the UK, though autumn and winter can also provide a good bounty for those that know where to look. It would be impossible to provide a complete list of all that is available to forage in the UK, so what follows is a few select highlights.  

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Foraging and bushcraft in the UK the plant Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

More commonly known as horse parsley alexanders are a wonderful wild vegetable. Thought to have been introduced into the UK by the Romans Alexanders are most commonly found in coastal regions of the UK. The whole plant is edible but the stem is the most succulent. Best eaten when fresh in March and April Alexanders are best flavoured with salt and pepper and added to salads.

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) [AnemoneProjectors]

Dandelions are edible, if slightly bitter, both raw and cooked. Found across the UK from early spring dandelions are best used by adding them to stir-fry or omelette type dishes. For a more long-term use, they can also be used to make beer and wine. 

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica) wild bushcraft food in the UK

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Of course, no blog about foraging in the UK would be complete with a mention of nettles. This versatile plant is very rich in Iron and Vitamin A and D. Found throughout the UK and best picked in early March, remember that the best parts to use are the tips of the leaves. The tips of leaves taste a little bit like spinach and can be used to make tea, soup, and even beer. 

Wild garlic (Ullium ursinum)

Wild garlic (Ullium ursinum)

Wild garlic (Ullium ursinum)

 

Found in damp woodlands and along the edge of hedgerows in England and Wales wild garlic is a wonderful plant. Both the leaves and the stems of the plant are edible, they make a wonderful addition to salads, soups and sauces. The leaves can even be mashed up to make pesto.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) 


Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
By The original uploader was Burschik at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=240694

Sorrel or rather common or garden sorrel is found among meadows throughout England. It looks a little bit like spinach and has a slight flavour of lemon. Sorrel can be used to make soups, added to salads or combined with wild garlic to make pesto.  

 

That’s just a small section of the wonderful range of wild foods in the United Kingdom. The best way to learn about wild foods is to take a foraging course with a bushcraft instructor. 

Join our weekend bushcraft course to learn foraging, shelter building, fire lighting and much more.
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Where to forage in the UK

Wild foods are found throughout the UK. Our island provides a rich scope of foods that vary wildly from south to north and east to west. Coastal regions, woodlands, hedgerows, and meadowlands all have a distinct variation of the wild foods available.

If you’re interested in foraging along Scotland’s rivers, using it as a way to supplement your canoeing diet then read our blog, Foraging on Scotland’s Rivers.

While the best way to learn where to forage in the UK is with a bushcraft instructor here are a few tips that you can follow to safely find foods in the UK.  Remember though, leave enough food for the local wildlife.

The main risk when foraging is from animal feces. Be sure to wash everything that you find, remembering never to put anything in your mouth as part of the identification process, and boil everything before eating it. Read on to learn how to start foraging in the UK.

 

Start foraging in the UK 

The best way to learn foraging in the UK is by taking a foraging course with a bushcraft instructor. 

Join our weekend bushcraft course to learn foraging, shelter building, fire lighting and much more.
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Another way to start foraging is to look for local groups. Such groups are increasingly popular due, in part, to a growing awareness of where our food comes from.

 

Further information


Have fun learning how to identify wild plants in the UK.
Remember, don’t eat anything that you have not positively identified as edible.

Learn the art of foraging, shelter building, fire lighting and much more on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information.

Weekend bushcraft courses from Wildway Bushcraft.

Walking at night is a wonderful experience, particularly if there’s a full moon. The landscape takes on a very different context and what was once familiar becomes unknown again. To fully enjoy walking at night though you need to be able to navigate at night, and navigate well; marshes, edges, streams and other features may not be visible until you’ve sunk in, fallen off or fell in them. On a less romantic note, the ability to navigate at night can also save you from making navigational errors in poor visibility.

In this blog, we introduce you to some of the skills needed to navigate at night. As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or to skip to the relevant section. 

It goes without saying that if you’re going to be practicing these techniques them practice them somewhere that you can get home safely from – you don’t want to be calling out the mountain rescue.

Navigating at night – considerations

When going out in the woods or the hills you must always be prepared for the conditions that you might face. You must also be carrying the relevant equipment for your chosen activity. So before we begin…

Headtorches

Night time navigation, or in fact any type of navigation must begin with preparation. Aside from the obvious map and compass this preparation must also include a headtorch and spare batteries, and you know where they say the best place is to store spare batteries? In a spare headtorch.  It should really go without saying that you must also bring the standard kit – warm clothes, waterproofs, emergency bivvy bag, whistle, water, spare clothes, etc.

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Compasses

Obviously, bring a compass. But it’s worth investing in one with a luminous dial, this will make picking out accurate bearings that much easier. The Silva Expedition 4 is an affordable compass from a trusted brand that boasts this feature. They can be picked up from the OS for about £30 – see here

Map cases 

Again, obviously bring one, but if you can bring one with a matt finish. The reason for this is that if you bring a map case without a matte finish then the light will bounce off it; making it very hard to see what is going on.

Pick your times

If you’re just getting used to navigating at night then starting off as soon as sunsets in the middle of winter might not be the best idea. It’s going to be very dark, for a very long time, and cold and, let’s face it – probably wet. Rather, why not set off in the milder months a few hours before sunset? This will enable you to get some night time practice in but, should you get lost also mean that you only have a few hours to wait it out before daybreak.  

Bushcraft is about more than survival, it’s about being comfortable in nature, working with nature.
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Navigating at night – key skills 

Navigating at night means getting your skills really up to scratch, this is the difference between thinking one can do it and knowing one can do it. We’re not going to touch on compass bearings and the like in this post (for more information on finding north, natural navigation, etc. see our blog posts here and here. What we will focus on though are some key skills navigation skills that will come in extra handy at nighttime.  

Aiming off

Aiming off is, at its most basic, using one easily findable feature as a guide to a smaller, harder to find feature. It works when the smaller feature is located along a large linear feature such as a river.

Aiming off – an example 

Rather than taking a compass bearing from your location to a shelter and then trying to walk on that bearing until you reach it you ‘aim off’. That is you identify an easier to find linear feature, on which the river lies, say a river. You then take a compass bearing from your location to a point on the river, say 200 meters away from the shelter. You then walk on the bearing until you hit the river, knowing that when you do you have to turn, say right, then walk along it until you hit the shelter. 

Aiming off a useful technique for navigating at night

Handrailing

Handrailing is very similar to aiming off. It involves navigating to a feature which is easy to follow to your intended location. Even though handrailing might make your route longer it will, in the long run and especially at night, make navigation easier. You can handrail to handrail multiple times before you reach your intended destination.
 

Handrailing – an example

You know that the bothy is along the course of a river, prior to the river and next to your location is the edge of a forest. You use the forest as a handrail to the river, having reached the river you then use it as a handrail to the bothy. 

Another example

Navigating at night use handrailing to help

Attack points

Attack points are features that are close to your intended destination but much easier to find. There can be several attack points in a navigational stretch. Attack points can also be used to lead you to handrails or prior to aiming off.

Attack points – an example

Say that there is a large boulder formation next to your destination. To use this an attack point you would aim for the feature, this would then take you closer to your intended destination. In reality, you are likely to use several attack points, breaking the route up into smaller, more manageable ‘legs’. This is a particularly effective technique for night time navigation.

Another example

Attack points for navigating at night

 

Catching Features

‘Catching’ is a technique that can, and should, be used with all of the techniques described above. A catching feature is a previously identified feature which lets you know you’ve overshot your objective. Any catching feature that you identify shouldn’t be too far from your intended destination. 

Catching features – an example

You identify that while aiming off the river that 50 metres past the bothy, close to the river bank are the ruins of an old house. By noting this information you know that, as you’re following the river, if you hit the ruins you’ve gone too far. Depending on your skill level catching features don’t need to be so pronounced. They can be as simple as a downward slope after a period of traveling uphill.

Another example

Catching features for navigating at night

Keep a tick list

Not a physical one as such, but a mental tick list of all the features that you should encounter on your route. Make this tick list for each leg of your route, for example, after 50 metres I should cross a small stream, 100 metres and I should be on a downward slope of about 10 degrees, 125 metres I go past the ruins of an old house, 200 metres and I hit the first attack point, or identified feature for this leg of the route. If you fail to tick off any of these features as you progress stop and orientate yourself. 

Don’t panic 

Dad’s Army impersonations aside, it is vitally important that you don’t panic. Panic causes one to make rushed decisions without carefully considering their actions. It is no different when navigating. If you feel that you are ‘temporarily disoriented’ then stop. Look around you and see what you can identify and how that correlates to the map (it’s very easy to make the map fit anything that you see if you’re panicked).

Give yourself a break

If you do find yourself disorientated and temporarily mislaid (rarely is anyone ever truly lost) the pause. It’s always a good idea to carry a bothy shelter. These are small temporary group shelters which are very simple to use, Terra Nova do a pretty good range. Get the group inside, brew up a cup of tea and give yourself time to think about the situation. Ask, what was the last feature you passed? How far away was it? Asking yourself or the group these questions can help bring about a sense of calm and clarity to the situation.  

Next week

Next week we’ll be looking at foraging in the UK, what to expect and where to get started.

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Learn all about natural navigation, water sourcing, fire lighting, shelter building and much, much more.

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River navigation can be difficult. It’s often hard to see what is around you, due to your low-down position, and hard to place exactly where you are due to limited forward visibility. But knowing where you are on the river is a key canoeing skill. It enables you to judge your time and distance, pick out (then find) a good camping spot and make sure that you don’t miss a good pub.  

Join us on our Swedish canoe expedition for a true trip through the wilderness.
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In this blog we’re going to look at how you can tell where you are on the river, how to navigate and how to use your map on the river. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the part that interests you the most. 

Remember though, canoeing is also about enjoyment, keep an eye on where you are but be sure to take in the scenery as well.

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice, where you can ask any questions that you might have about bushcraft and meet like-minded people. Click here to join our Facebook group.

The importance of knowing where you are 

Canoeing rivers such as the Wye, particularly in the summertime, may mean that you might never really need to work to ascertain your location if in any doubt you can simply ask one of the many passing canoeists, riverside anglers or pop into the pub just to check. However, if out in the wilds of Scotland or crossing the remote Swedish wilderness then knowing where you are is important; particularly if someone has an accident or you need to find a pre-arranged campsite in poor visibility. Read on to learn some basic techniques for finding out where you are when on the river.  

Navigating on the river

 

Judging paddling speed

Speed is, as every school child will remember, distance/time. So in order to judge your speed on the river, you need to establish how long it takes you to do a set distance, for example, a mile. In order to get a realistic average, you will need to record this over several miles. After you’ve done this you’ll have an idea of how long it takes you to canoe a certain distance, therefore you can estimate how long your trip will take you, so sit back and enjoy the river.

Of course, being able to judge your speed means knowing where you are. Read on to find out more.

Finding where you are on the river

Assuming you’ve basic navigational skills then finding your way on the river is a pretty simple task; it just involves a little bit of readjustment. Note that, in this blog post we are looking at navigation on the UK’s inland waterways – we’ll look at extended open water crossings another day. 

Navigating on the river

Use your bearings

Bearings are your friend. If you know which way you’re heading when you begin your journey then as the river bends, so will your heading. It is then a matter of lining up your new position, in relation to north, with a part of the river on the map that corresponds to that bearing. For example, if the river heads south then bends east, your compass will show that when you begin your heading (south) then when the compass turns to show you’re heading east – you’ll know you’re on the easterly bend of the river.

Look to the landscape

Use the features visible from the water in the same way that you would if you were walking. What can you see from the river that corresponds to what you can see on the map? Woods, forests, bends in the river can all help you to work out where you are on the river

Look at the river

Certain river features, such as narrowing channels and large bends will also be identifiable on the map; helping you to pinpoint exactly where you are.  

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canoe the river spey

Use a GPS

GPS technology, although still expensive, is more accessible than it was a few years ago. As a result more and more people who enjoy the outdoors are using them. Though you should always carry (and know how to use) a map and compass as well as a GPS the latter can be invaluable in pinpointing your position. A number of specialist GPS systems are available that are designed for kayaking/canoeing.

Planning a multi-day canoe trip? Read our blog ‘Packing for a long canoe triphere.

Use local knowledge

Local knowledge goes a long way. Before the start of your trip ask canoeing locals, or those outside the are returning from a trip about any particular water features that you need to look out for. This will not only help you to plot your position on a river where the surrounding terrain may be quite featureless; it will also help you to avoid any potential hazards. 

Use attack points

You might not always know exactly where you are, but knowing pretty much where you are is a good starting point. Provided that you stick to the main river and not go up any tributaries (unless of course, that’s your plan) it’s pretty hard to go wrong. However, on occasion, you may need to know exactly where you are. In this case, use a version of the walker’s ‘attack points’. These are a series of distinct points on route to your destination. Take note of each one then as you pass them mentally cross them off. This helps you establish an accurate location as you will always be between two ‘attack points’.  

Next week

Next week we’ll be looking at navigating at night when walking, be sure to check in next week to find out more.

 

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Natural Navigation in the UK

 

The abilities to find north, navigate short distances and tell the time of day without a map, compass or watch are key bushcraft skills. In this latest blog, we will look at we will introduce you to these skills and show you how you can get started in navigating without a map or compass.

As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most. 

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice. Here you can ask  questions about bushcraft and meet like-minded people.
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Navigate without a map: how to find north
Finding North without a map or compass

The ability to find north without a compass when out in the woods is a key bushcraft skill.  In the following section, we’re going to show you some different ways of finding north when you are out in the woods. First though, a word on the different kinds of north. 

Grid north, magnetic north and true north 

There are, essentially, three different types of north. Grid north is the direction of the grid lines on your map, magnetic north is the direction indicated by a magnetic compass while true north is north on a longitudinal line that converges on the North Pole. For more information about the differences between grid, magnetic and true north see the Ordnance Survey site here.  

Why does this matter?

Over an extended distance, magnetic variation will start to matter, likewise, it’s a good idea to factor it in when walking on a bearing in the Scottish mountains in a whiteout. However, when trying to navigate using natural features then it’s almost impossible to be accurate enough that it will matter when you try to relate the bearing you’ve taken from natural features to the lines on the map.

Learn more about natural navigation by taking part in our weekend bushcraft course.
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Finding north using the sun

Find north without a map or compass

Despite what you might read about finding north using an analogue watch, this method is, in reality, far from reliable. An easier way of finding north is by using a shadow stick. Place the stick in the ground and mark the tip where the shadow ends. Wait about 15 minutes or so then mark the new position of the shadow tip. Draw a line between the first marker and the second. Stand with your left foot on the first marker and your right on the second marker, you’re now facing in a northerly direction.

Finding north using the stars

Keep in mind that this blog is written for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the UK in particular. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere finding north using the stars is a very different matter.

As you might remember from Scouts or the like, the key to finding direction by using the stars is by locating the North Star.

How to locate the North Star

In order to locate the North Star, you first need to find the constellation known as ‘the plough’, ‘the saucepan’ or, for the Americans, ‘the big dipper’. What you’re actually seeing is the seven brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you can identify it. 

Remember, the Plough rotates around the North Star so will sometimes look like it is upside down. However, this doesn’t change how you can find the North Star.

The North Star, or Polaris, sits directly over the North Pole. In order to find it is to go straight up from the two stars that make the ‘edge’ of the ‘saucepan bowl’ for about five times the distance that these two stars are apart. This will lead you to a bright star on its own. This is Polaris or the North Star, and there you are, you’ve found North.

Navigating using the north star

Learn more about natural navigation, fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and other key bushcraft skills in our  weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information.

Navigate without a map: calculating pace and distance 

Use natural navigation to measure pace and distance

Calculating pace and therefore distance covered is key to successful navigation without a map or a compass. In our blog last week we looked at how to judge distances without a map, knowing the distance you are from an object you then need to be able to calculate how long it will take you to walk that distance. This is particularly important if the light is fading or weather conditions are worsening, you need to be able to judge if you will be able to reach your objective in time or if it is better to stay put and wait it out. Perhaps the best-known method for calculating distance is by using Naismith’s rule.

Naismith’s rule

Naismith’s rule is a rule of thumb for judging pacing when out walking. It was originally devised by the Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith in 1892. The basic principle of Naismith’s rule is that each 5km takes one hour to walk, for every 600 metres ascended during that hour add an additional one hour. Another way of looking at it is an hour for every 5km with an additional minute for every 10 metres of ascent (this would be one contour line on a map but you will need to judge ascent yourself if you don’t have a map).

Modifications to Naismith’s rule 

Weather, weight carried, terrain, conditions underfoot and fitness of your party can all impact on Naismith’s rule. Generally speaking though when walking on rough or hard terrain alter the pace from 5km per hour to 4km per hour, a strong headwind will reduce this further to around 2km per hour. Walking with a heavy pack will also cut your speed on flat ground to around 50% of your unladen speed.

Telling the time of day

Natural navigation for telling the time

 

Now you can estimate the direction in which you are traveling, the distance (see our earlier blog), and how long it will take you, you need to know the time of day. Knowing the current time (without a watch or phone) and the time of sunset will let you work out whether you have time to make the distance of whether it will lead to you being benighted.

Estimating the remaining time before sundown

A handy little trick to estimate the amount of time you have left is to measure, in terms of horizontal fingers, the distance between the sun and the horizon. Extend your hand out in front of you so that your palm is facing across your body with your little finger horizontal to your feet. Remove or add fingers until your palm covers the gap between the horizon and the sun. Each finger represents about 15 minutes, so four fingers represent an hour.

Direction of the sun in the sky

The sun rises in the east (roughly) and settles in the west (again roughly), at midday the sun will be directly overhead. Therefore, knowing what time sunrise is and being able to see the current position of the sun in the sky will enable you to make a rough estimate of the current time of the day.

Coming up

Next week we will be looking at how to navigate accurately on the UK’s rivers. In the meantime, why not join our Facebook group for bushcraft tips, advice, and discussion.

 

 

Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills in our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information.

The natural world has been helping people find their way since the paleolithic era, and it’s been helping animals to do the same for even longer. This is still the case, for those that know how to spot them, the natural world provides signs and markers that can help find water, food, and direction. This blog post introduces the concept of natural navigation and provides an overview which will help you get started.

As always, please feel to read the whole blog or click on the links below to skip to the section that interests you.

 

Join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice, where you can ask any questions that you might have about bushcraft and meet like-minded people.
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What is natural navigation 

Natural navigation is something that,  theoretically, all of us, can access.  In his seminal book ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ the legendary Harold Gatty states;


“a man with a good sense of direction is, to me, quite simply an able pathfinder – a natural navigator – somebody who can find his way by the use of the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the senses that he was born with) developed by the blessing of experience and the use of intelligence”.


In short, someone who is merely skilled at noticing the signs around him and interpreting these signs.  

Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information. 


Early examples of  great uses of natural navigation

Natural navigation early examples

Humankind has always been developing methods of navigation. The compass can be dated back to around 206 BC, and issues determining longitude and latitude plagued early modern navigators well into the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite this, early humans traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles using only the natural signs around them to find their way out and of course, home.

 

Navigation in 3000-1000 BC


There is evidence to suggest that between the years 3000 and 1000 BC the people that became to be known as Polynesians traveled thousands of miles across the open Pacific ocean; spreading their culture and their language, with only natural navigation. Australian aborigines passed down ways of finding one’s way across the often featureless landscape through the medium of song and dance. The routes described in these songs were known as Songlines . They often followed the stars, with lyrics and movements to the song acting as memory aids for the routes.

In short, natural navigation, like most things in bushcraft is about being at one with the natural environment. It’s about knowing how to spot and then interpret the signs that nature is showing you.

How can different elements help us to navigate

Natural navigation with trees

This blog is not supposed to be an in-depth guide to natural navigation, to learn these skills in detail it is worth attending a course. This blog merely provides a general introduction to natural navigation.

Natural navigation with trees/plants

Aside from the sun and the moon, trees and plants are among the best tools for natural navigation. The best way to use trees and plants in terms of natural navigation is as direction finders.

Trees, plants and the sun 

Trees are rarely symmetrical. Look for the side of the tree that appears ‘heavier’, or more abundant in terms of leaves and branches. In the UK if a tree is relatively isolated then the abundance of foliage on one side will indicate a southerly direction. This is because the southern side of a tree gets the most sun, so it naturally grows in that direction.  Additionally, branches on the southern side are likely to grow out in a horizontal direction,  those on the northern side are likely to grow upwards in an effort to reach the limited sunlight.

The effects of sunlight on the directional growth of a tree will become very confused in wooded environments. For this reason, it is better to consider isolated trees when trying to establish direction. 

Trees, plants and the wind

Trees and plants help to provide a clue as to the general trend in terms of wind direction. In the UK the trend is for the prevailing wind to blow in from the southeast, that is it travels from a southeast to a northeast direction. This often means that the tops of exposed trees exhibit a sort of combed effect, with the ends of the branches pointing in a northeasterly direction.

Using natural navigation to estimate distance 

Estimating the distance to an object relevant to your position is a key aspect of navigation. When combined with a direction it enables you to triangulate your position on a map with pinpoint accuracy. Being able to judge direction enables you to estimate how long it will take to reach your destination. With that in mind here are some natural ways to judge distance if you don’t have a map or a compass. 


Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information. 

Use your fingers

This section should more correctly be titled, ‘judging distance using parallax’, but that’s not very snappy. Parallax is, in short, a method of judging distance by holding out a finger and shutting your eyes. It works like this; when you hold your finger out straight in front of you and view it only using your left eye, then, keeping your finger out in front of you, view it only using your right eye, it seems to have moved. This phenomenon is known as parallax. 

To use this to measure distance, hold your finger out in front of you so that it is pointing upwards in line with the object that you wish to know the distance of. View your finger through only your left eye, then, without moving your finger, view it only through your right eye. Note how many feet along the object your finger appears to have moved. Your distance from the object will be ten times the distance that you perceive your finger to have moved.

For example, if your finger appears to have moved thirty feet the object will be approximately three hundred feet away from your current position.

Judging distance with natural navigation

 

Know your distances

It is also worth remembering some key distances. Keep in mind that, like many elements of natural navigation, these are rough tools and not entirely accurate. With thanks to Harold Gatty’s ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ rough distances are:  

46 metres/50 yards: a person’s facial features, such as eyes and mouth, can be clearly seen.
275 metres/300 yards: the outline of faces can be seen.
1600 metres/1 mile: large tree trunks can be seen.
4km/2.5 miles: you can just about make out chimneys and windows
14.5km/9 miles: the average church tower or steeple can be seen.

Using the sun

When it comes to natural navigation the sun is one of the best indicators of direction. Roughly speaking, the sun rises in the east and settles in the west. However, it is only twice a year that the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.

One of the simplest ways of navigating using the sun is through the use of sun tables. These are tables that relate the latitude and time of day to the angle that the sun will be at. Having a copy of these tables jotted down in the back of your notebook helps you to establish direction.  Harold Gatty’s book, ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ features some excellent examples of these tables.

Get started with natural navigation

Don’t throw away the map and the compass just yet. One of the best ways of getting started with natural navigation is to incorporate elements of nature in your normal navigation when on your next trip. For example, how does the position of the sun relate to the direction you’re heading in? How far away do you estimate the church in the distance to be?

 

Next week

Next week we will be looking at how to find your way without a map or compass in more detail.
Remember, if you have any questions join our Facebook community here.

 

 

Try your hand at natural navigation and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Foraging is a fantastic way to either support yourself or to supplement your meals. The latter is especially true when on a long distance canoe trip across some of Scotland’s wildest landscapes. In this blog, we show you how to forage for food and catch fish in and along Scotland’s rivers.

Join us for a spectacular trip along Scotland’s river Spey.
Click here for more details about our five-day Scottish canoe expedition along the river Spey.

 

As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or click on the section that interests you the most. 

Ethical foraging 

Foraging on the rivers of Scotland

Foraging, like anything else, has its limits. Taking more than the environment can replenish will not only reduce the amount of food available for other fellow foragers but will also have a serious impact on the wildlife and general biodiversity in the area. When foraging there are a few rules that you can abide by to help maintain the environment; take only what you will need, forage from a range of locations, not just a single focused area; eat/use everything that you take.  

Recommendations from Reforesting Scotland

Reforesting Scotland produced an in-depth study into sustainable foraging and provide the following further recommendations;

  • Don’t uproot plants.
  • Don’t hunt out of season.
  • Only take a limited number of leaves or fruits from a plant. This will leave it with the resources necessary to survive and reproduce.
  • Only harvest a limited number of plants or animals within a given area. Spread the harvesting load as widely as possible.
  • Take care not to damage the ecosystem.

Further considerations in Scotland

Foraging in Scotland is loosely governed by three sets of guidelines, these are available via the links below.

 

As normal, never eat anything that you have not absolutely, positively identified as safe.

 

Good spots to forage for food

foraging on Scotland's rivers

When it comes to foraging the first thing to be able to do is to identify where to look for food. This blog won’t cover specialist instructions on identifying fungi – to do that you need to take a course. If you’re interested in learning more about foraging why not take part in our weekend bushcraft course.

What we will look at in this blog is where to look to find foods to forage and good spots to fish along the Scottish rivers. Remember, this is to supplement your meal when canoeing in Scotland, not to provide all the nutrition that you need. Also, keep in mind that this is a broad look at what is available to forage in Scotland and doesn’t mean that all the foods mentioned are available throughout the country.

Foraging for berries

Scotland is a wonderful place for foraging for wild berries. There are around ten varieties of edible berries that can be found in Scotland; these include blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, juniper berries and even wild cherries. These berries can predominantly be found in Perthshire, Strathmore, and Fife. Though they can also be found within the Grampian, Highland areas as well as Arran, Ayrshire, and the Borders.

Foraging for mushrooms

If you know your fungi then Scotland can be a great place for fans of mushrooms. Popular edible species found in Scotland include Chicken of the Woods, wood Blewitt, and hedgehog fungus. For more information about the different varieties of fungi available in Scotland see the Scottish Natural Heritage guide to fungi.

Foraging on Scotland’s coasts

Of course, should your canoeing trip take you within sight of any of Scotland’s magnificent coastline then a wealth of foraging opportunities await you. In addition to the mussels, limpets, and winkles typically found along the British coastline, parts of the Scottish shore can also provide Dulse, a wonderful red seaweed which can make a good soup. 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Fishing in Scotland’s rivers

River Spey canoe trip
Unlike in England, you do not require a license to fish in rivers in Scotland. You do, however, need the permission of the landowner to fish for salmon and sea trout, and permission from one of the owners of any loch that you wish to fish in; each river also has its own seasons. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://fishinglicence.eu/uk/scotland.

The river Spey is one of Scotland’s finest Salmon rivers but is also home to Trout and Pike. For more information as to what to expect in the Spey see: http://www.fishpal.com/Scotland/Spey/ .

Bushcraft techniques for fishing 

There are essentially three broad types of bushcraft fishing techniques; hooks, traps/nets and spears/harpoons. In the following section, we will take a quick look at each of these in turn.

A word on the law

The techniques described below are bushcraft fishing techniques and some may not be legal within the UK. Please be aware that the law in Scotland states: “No person shall fish for or take freshwater fish in any inland water except by rod and line”. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/marine/Salmon-Trout-Coarse/game/methods

Hooks

Hooks are the classic method of fishing. A basic principle that remains the same whether being used with the most basic wooden rod or by the most experienced sport fisherman. The most basic hook is the gorge hook. This is a piece of strong wood or bone sharpened at both ends, the line is tied in the middle of the hook. It works on the premise that when the fish swallows the bait, the hook becomes lodged in a toggle fashion in its mouth.  Hawthorn also makes a great fishing hook.

Lines

While lines can be made from materials such as rawhide it is best, particularly when on a canoe trip where weight is not a huge concern, to carry your own line. This can be used in conjunction with a rod or strung across the river with the hooks suspended vertically from the main line.

Traps and nets

Traps and nets enable you to (in theory at least) to catch more fish with less effort. At their most basic all fish traps work on the same basis; that is the fish swim into a narrowing funnel which they are unable to swim back out of. Fish traps work best of fast flowing or tidal rivers where the force of the water can help to trap the fish. Depending upon the amount of time available to you fish traps can either be complex woven basket-type devices of simple rock walls which guide fish into blocked off eddy pools. In bushcraft, traps are preferable to nets, simply because the latter requires a great degree of cordage. However, if you’re going to be out in the woods for a while then they may well prove a worthwhile investment of your time. 

Spears and Harpoons 

While it might look easy in the films, fishing with a spear or harpoon is actually very difficult and requires considerable practice. Just to be clear, technically harpoons are thrown rather than thrust, both can have detachable heads, though in reality the terms are used interchangeably.  Your spear/harpoon should be made of a light yet strong wood with a narrow point (either of bone or carved into the harpoon itself); this point should be narrow enough so as not to destroy the fish.  

Coming up

In next week’s blog we will be taking a look at natural navigation in the UK. In the meantime take a look at some of the wildlife that you might see if you join us on our five-day canoe expedition along the river Spey; read River Spey Wildlife . 

 

 Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

River Spey Canoe

Canoeing is one of the best ways of exploring the wilds. More than that though it enables you to relax; to linger and to sit back. It connects us to an earlier way of life where explorers of old would traverse waterways in search of trade, knowledge, and lands anew; plus, it’s just darn good fun.

With all of this in mind, this week’s blog takes a look at how you can read the river when out canoeing. This doesn’t just mean being able to spot the rapids, it also means being able to pick out good places to set-up camp. First, though, we’re just going to recap some basic safety stuff.

As always, feel free to read the whole blog or click on the section that interests you the most.  


Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five-day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Basic safety when canoeing

Canoeing: Basic safety 

There are a number of canoeing accidents on the river each year,  what makes them even more tragic is that the majority could probably have been avoided.

Whenever you go out paddling it’s very wise to adhere to some basic rules of safety and carry some basic safety equipment with you. British Canoeing, the governing body of paddling sports in the UK recommends that whenever you go out paddling you;

  • Let others know where you’re going (same as you would if you were wild camping).
  • Be certain that the journey you’re doing is one that is within your capabilities.
  • Make sure that you never paddle the river alone.  

In addition to the above precautions, it is always wise to check the state of your equipment before every outing; check the weather forecast and to ensure that your boat has the buoyancy needed to keep it afloat should it capsize.  

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five-day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information. 

Basic safety equipment

The safety equipment that you need to take with you should, at a bare minimum, include the following:

  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Buoyancy Aid
  • Bailer/sponge
  • Phone (in a waterproof bag)
  • Drinking water and snacks
  • Suitable clothing for the weather

For more information have a look at the British Canoeing page on safety.  

Key river features you need to know 

canoeing trips with Wildway Bushcraft

Now that we’ve covered some very basic features it’s time to take a look at key features of the river that you need to know.

Remember though, being able to really read the river relies on practice, lots and lots of practice.  First though, a word on the types of hazards that you are likely to come across on the waterways of the UK.

Three common hazards for canoeing

There are three common hazards that you are likely to come across when canoeing. Rapids are not included as they are obvious features that you’re likely to encounter. 

  • Sweepers
    Sweepers are overhanging branches or trees. While these might be easy to spot the current of the river can carry you into the bank and into the path of these sweepers.
  • Strainers
    Strainers are underwater objects, such as roots, collapsed trees, plant matter, etc. that can easily trap underwater objects – such as capsized canoeists.
  • Undercuts
    Undercuts are parts of the bank, underwater, that protrude further than the part of the bank above the water. Typically made of rock or earth undercuts can act like strainers and trap objects beneath them.

River Feature: Eddies

Eddies are spots on the downstream side of an object that has acted to interrupt the current, for example, boulders. Because of the way the current works the water in Eddies can often be flowing in the opposite direction to the rest of the river. The water in Eddies can be calm and still or, on occasions, violent and swirling. Eddies are also a fantastic space to catch fish such as trout.  

River Feature: Upstream ‘V’s 

A ‘V’ shaped flow of water that faces upstream should be approached with caution. Where the point of the V is facing upstream the likelihood is that there’s an object is at the point of the ‘V’ and is forcing the current either side of the point. Hitting the underwater object that’s forming the ‘V’ is obviously not a good idea, it could even flip the boat.

River Feature: Downstream ‘V’s

Where the point of the ‘V’ is facing downstream it indicates a (relatively) safe passage through the rocks, the safe passage being the middle or point of the ‘V’. 

River Feature: Constricted channels 

A constricted channel is a point where the river narrows sharply.  Water through this point will be flowing faster than at the previous section of the river that you were on. This is due to the same volume of water being forced through a narrower opening, this increases the pressure and therefore the speed of the water.

River Feature: Weirs

Weirs are man-made features that essentially act as a dam and hydraulically recycle the water. Weirs are exceptionally dangerous and should not be attempted without an expert guide on hand (if at all). 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Choosing a wild camping spot on the river 

Learn how to read the river

Wild camping alongside your canoe and the river that you’re paddling is one of the greatest joys of the outdoors.  In this section, we’re going to look at how to choose a good spot to wild camp along the river.  First though remember to ensure that you are abiding by the laws of the area, which in England and Wales means obtaining the landowner’s permission.  

  • Check the weather
    When camping near to waterways it is worth checking the weather [learn how to read the UK weather in our blog here]. If the weather is looking stormy, or if there is a lot of snow higher up the hills then it would be worth moving away from the river.
  • Check the height of the river
    Check the height of the river before pitching up. If the river is already very high then any overnight rain, even if it’s not torrential, could cause you to wake up with a tent in the middle of a river.
  • Be aware of wind tunnels
    That little piece of lowland between the rugged mountain peaks might look ideal but can act as a wind tunnel.  Consider how exposed your pitch is, particularly if camping alongside a loch, and the impact that the wind is likely to have on the temperature. In particular look out for Cols. These are  an ancient pathway formed by glacial movement and are the lowest crossing point between two ridgeways. Learn more about Cols here, be aware though; what constitutes a Col is a little bit like the debate between Munros, Marilyns and Nuttalls.

For more information on how to choose a wild camping spot read our blog ‘Where to camp? Tips for tents and shelters in the UK

Extra considerations when wild camping with canoes

Make sure that your equipment is properly packed! For more information on how to pack a canoe read our blog on what to pack for a canoe trip. Having found a suitable bank to spend the night make sure you secure your canoe, you don’t want to wake up in the morning and find your canoe drifting downstream.

Coming up

In next week’s blog we will be taking a look at foraging and fishing along Scotland’s rivers. In the meantime, in case you missed it,  learn all about how to pack for a long distance canoe trip in our blog: ‘Packing for a long distance canoe trip, what to take and what to leave behind’. 

 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Wildway Bushcraft river Spey

 

Sourcing and purifying water when on a long canoe trip or out wild camping in the UK can be a challenge.  
But, the ability to purify water is not only a key bushcraft skill, it can change a survival situation to into a thoroughly enjoyable time outdoors.

In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at sourcing and purifying water while out and about in the UK. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or click on the links below to take you to the section that interests you the most.  


Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information  

Understanding contaminants in water

Purifying water
Sadly, the days of drinking water straight out of streams and rivers in the UK are long gone. Except for perhaps from springs in the wildest regions of the Cairngorms, all water in the UK should be considered to be contaminated.

This does not necessarily mean polluted in the sense that the water is obviously filthy, but polluted in the sense that it is contaminated with animal/human matter or chemical runoff from farmland.

Purifying water begins with understanding the risks involved. This means understanding the contaminants that you need to remove.

These can be divided into the following broad categories:

Broad types of contaminants

  • Turbidity

      Turbidity is the number of individual particles in water (the particles themselves are invisible to the naked eye) that, together, make the water appear cloudy or hazy. In short, it is the stuff in the water that makes it look ‘dirty’.

  • Parasites

    (With thanks to https://www.nhs.uk/conditions)
      Parasites in the waters of the UK can be divided into two broad types, multicellular organisms, and single cell organisms. The thing that they have in common is that, like all parasites, they survive in/on other organisms to the detriment of the host.

    •  Multicellular parasites in UK water include parasitic worms such as nematodes, cestodes, and trematodes.  Single-cell parasites include protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Cryptosporidium is very tolerant to chlorine disinfection and causes Cryptosporidiosis, resulting in severe bouts of watery diarrhea. Giardia causes Giardiasis and is typically contracted by drinking water infected with feces. If you’re infected with Giardiasis or have diarrhea then you should avoid handling food or utensils that might be used by other members of your party until you have been diagnosed as free from symptoms.
  • Bacteria

    The difference between bacteria and parasites is that while bacteria can live outside the human body parasites need a host in order to survive. Common bacteria found in water in the wilds of the UK, most likely from fecal contamination, include E.coli, Dysentery, Salmonella, and leptospirosis which is transmitted through rodent urine. These types of bacteria can produce a range of symptoms, most commonly sickness and diarrhea. Leptospirosis, however, can, in extreme cases lead to organ failure and internal bleeding, in the worst case scenario it can cause Weils Disease.

  • Viruses

    Like parasites, viruses need a host. The difference being that viruses only need a host to multiply. They are even smaller than bacteria. Fecal contamination of water often leads to diarrhoea but in certain cases can lead to more serious diseases such as Hepatitis A.

  • Chemical pollutants

    This is a serious one for the UK. Chemical pollutants in UK rivers often come from run-off from farmland pesticides and chemical fertilisers. This is particularly the case when the water source is near intensive farmland.

  • One thing to note

    It is worth remembering that ‘pathogenic organism’ is a blanket term for any organism that causes disease; so that covers viruses and bacteria (both multicellular and single cell) but not chemical pollutants.

Further in this blog, we will be examining how you can protect against the types of contaminants outlined above, however first let’s look at the effects of dehydration in the wilderness.

Remember though, broadly speaking, boiling water will kill all pathogenic organisms.


 Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information

 

The human body and water

 


The human body cannot survive without water. This is what makes the ability to source and purify water such a key bushcraft skill. The human body can survive for around two weeks without food but only around two/three days without water, and that’s at normal temperatures with little or no physical exertion.

 

The need for water even on short trips

It may sound like an exaggeration but even in remote parts of the UK, such as Dartmoor, the ability to source and purify water can make or break a trip.  

Think of it this way; according to the hill walker’s bible – Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir – a person needs 30 -35mls of water per kilo of body weight per day.

This means that a 70kg person would need 2.1 -2.5 litres of water per day; when exercising this amount triples, making around 6.3 – 7.5 litres per day. So, a two day overnight wild camping trip on Dartmoor, with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require, as a minimum,  between 12.6 – 15 litres of water. One litre of water weighs one kilo – are you really going to carry 15 kilos of water with you?


A two day overnight wild camping trip with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require a minimum of between 12.6 – 15 litres of water.
Are you really going to carry 12-15 kilos of water with you?



Signs of dehydration


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Dehydration impacts on your strength, power, and endurance. More severe dehydration hinders coordination and can, in the worst case scenario, lead to heat stroke and even death.

There is a debate about whether it is better to wait until you are thirsty to drink or to drink before you are thirsty. Ultimately though it is a personal choice. Bushcraft is about being at one with nature, not about overcoming it, so by following bushcraft principles correctly and planning ahead, you should never find yourself in a situation where water is a critical issue.

One of the best early warning signs of dehydration is urine colour. Darker yellow urine equates to more severe dehydration, while slightly yellower than normal urine equates to slight dehydration. A urine colour chart can be found here.


Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information


Further signs of dehydration

  • Lack of energy and increased fatigue
  •  Complaints regarding temperature/clammy skin
  • Nausea


Signs of advanced dehydration

The following are signs of advanced dehydration and if experienced by yourself or by any members of your party then they should be treated immediately.

  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Shortness of breath


Keeping in mind that a loss of only 2% of body mass can be enough to impact on your ability to perform muscular work. So, for a 70kg man, a 2% body mass loss would equate to 1.4 litres (1.4kg) of water [source: Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir].

Sourcing water

It goes without saying that in order to purify water you need to first be able to source it. Generally speaking, the rule is always going smaller, stream rather than a river, spring rather than stream.


Use your geography

When it comes to finding water use your geography and look for the lowest elevation, this is particularly true if you’re at the top of a valley.

Animals/birds

Animals and birds can be good indicators of water sources. Look for grazing animals such as cows and wild horses which never stray far from water. If you happen upon a trail made by animals then follow it down hill until water is reached. 

Morning dew

Dew can be a great source of water. It can be collected using a T-shirt and a mop style action to gather dew. Be aware though that although rainwater is one of the purest forms of water you should still boil water collected from dew as it may have been contaminated by pesticides or other pollutants on the grass.

Rainwater

If it’s raining, which let’s face it is quite likely, then rainwater itself can act as a great source of water.  It can be collected by simply placing a suitable container outside the tent or by setting up a more sophisticated system using a funnel made from an old tarp or other material.

Snow, and  a word on melting it

When boiling snow it is important not to compact all that you intend to boil into the pan. What happens, in this case, is that the snow at the bottom melts, turning into water, a gap between the water and snow forms, the base of the pot gets too hot and can burn through. A better way of doing things is to add any water that you have to the snow that you’re melting or to only add a little bit of snow at a time.



Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information

 

Purifying water


Broadly speaking, water purification falls into two main categories; boiling and chemical.

However, before you start purifying water it is best to remove the turbidity  that we discussed in the first part of the blog. Remember that turgidity is particles that are individually invisible to the naked eye. The best way of removing turbidity  from water is by using an old Millbank bag or brown filter bag (these are available from various online outlets).

Once you’ve removed all the sediment and turbidity from water then the time has come to purify it. Let’s look at the two main options for water purification.


Chemical water purification 

Chemical water purification is not as surefire as boiling water. Some, such as chlorine dioxide will deactivate most pathogenic organisms. Other chemicals, such as chlorine will kill the majority of pathogenic organisms.
Activated carbon filters can remove certain, but not all types, of chemical pollutants.


Boiling water purification

Boiling is the best and safest way to purify water.  Bring the water you want to purify to the boil and then hold it on a rolling boil for four minutes. This might be slightly more than is needed but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Boiling will kill all pathogenic organisms but it will not remove any chemical pollutants.

Of course, being able to boil water means being able to make a fire. To learn more about fire lighting in the winter read our blog ‘Lighting a fire in the winter: Tips for UK bushcraft and camping

 

Learn how to source and purify water on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information