The bow drill method of friction fire lighting is one of the most popular methods of lighting fire by friction in bushcraft. Although it can take many attempts to get it right, it is definitely worth the effort and perseverance.

Here are our bow drill troubleshooting tips:

Squeaking: Try changing the amount of pressure you are using, add some or reduce it as needed until the noise goes. Once things get warmed up things should get a lot smoother and the squeak should disappear. Sometimes it helps to roughen up the surface with a knife if you think that the drill is polished up (it will look glassy). A polished drill will reduce friction and not help you at all.

Cord keeps slipping: You need to tighten the string, if you struggle with this you can tie the cord straight to the bow before its bent. Then when you twist the drill into the string, it won’t slip. Make sure the bow is as long as your arm, which will make it easier to drill with greater effect.

The cord keeps wearing out and breaking: This might be because of a looser cord causing friction and heat which will melt it rather than wear through. Try with a tighter cord and if that doesn’t work, plait three bits together as this will also help grip the drill causing less slipping. Para cord works well but does not last forever, if you can get hold of a leather strap or thong then this is perfect.

No smoke: If you aren’t getting any smoke, don’t stop bowing but instead add pressure and bow speed.

Not the right colour dust powder: You want dust powder that is dark brown/black.  If the powder is light brown in colour and dusty, then you are going too slow and not applying enough pressure. If the colour of the powder is too light but the consistency is correct, then you are going too slowly. Also, if the colour is right but the consistency is that of little rolls of fibre, you might be going too fast or not pressing down hard enough on the bearing block. If you are getting the right colour but the powder looks crusty, then you might be going too fast, pressing down too hard, or both.

Moving the bow is too difficult: The drill may be too wide, so try lubricating the bearing block with Vaseline, or if you don’t have any at hand, facial grease or earwax would also do the trick. Make sure the drill is not binding on the edges of the bearing block hole and whittle the drill accordingly.

Drill keeps popping out and the notch has become irregular or oval shaped: This can be caused by a number of things such as the hole in your bearing block may not be deep enough, the notch in the hearth board may not be whittled deep enough, you may not be holding the hand-hold steady enough or you may be jerking the bow back and forth too vigorously. You need to use smooth even strokes.

A great way to get to grips with using a bow drill is by joining our one day friction fire lighting course held in beautiful woodland in Dorset and Hampshire. You will learn what wood to look for and be shown how to make a bow drill set, before heading into the woods to make your own. Our instructors will demonstrate how to use it and make fire by friction, with plenty of time to practice until you produce your very own ember. We hope to see you out in the woods very soon.

AxeAn axe is a popular and useful tool for bushcraft and is generally used for cutting, splitting and shaping wood. But before you rush out and get one for your kit, do bear in mind that not all axes are the same, so here is our advice for what to look for in a bushcraft axe.

You need to begin by deciding what type of bushcraft axe you need as you have a choice between a general duty axe which is good for most tasks like chopping and carving, and then the bigger more tougher axes, often called a splitting maul, which are more capable of splitting large logs.

The hatchet is an axe that has a shorter shaft and is smaller and lighter in weight, making it a good choice for smaller bushcraft tasks and trekking.

There are different axes available for different jobs. A cutting axe and a splitting axe for example. When you look at its profile, a cutting axe is thin which gives it the maximum force on a low surface area and severs what it cuts across. Axes that are better used for splitting have a wider angle with a wedge like action which will force the log apart.

For general woodland purposes, a rounded bit is more versatile.

If you are very tall then you may find that you benefit from an axe with a long shaft handle as you will probably find it much better to use. If you will be sharing your axe then it’s worth remembering that a longer handle may be awkward to use for someone that is much shorter. You are a brave person if you start sharing your tools though, as no one will look after your axe quite as well as you!

It might sound obvious but it is worth keeping in mind how you will be carrying the axe when you are out in the woods. You will probably want it to fit in your rucksack so think about that when you making your choice. You should also make sure that it has a leather sheath or axe mask with it.

You will need the axe to last and to be able to stand up to tough use, so choose wisely and do your research.

Look for a good sized chopping head of 3 1/4”. A good quality axe should cut through a 6″ diameter timber with ease so its edge should be able to hold its sharpness.

If you want to find out more about axes and how to take good care of yours, we recommend you visit

But before investing in a new axe, make sure you pick it up and hold it to see how it feels in your hands. You will want it to be comfortable to hold and easy to handle as it is likely to come a key part of your kit out in the woods.

To really get to grips with using your bushcraft axe safely and effectively, sign up to our bushcraft axe skills and charcoal making weekend course, ideal for anyone who wants to become competent in using an axe, whether a beginner or more experienced but would like to hone existing skills.

For more tips about what to take with you when out in the woods, see our list of top 10 buschraft items. Whether you are new to bushcraft or already have experience, there is a Wildway Bushcraft course for you. We hope to see you out in the woods very soon.

At Wildway Bushcraft we enjoy the changing of seasons, especially autumn, as it offers an opportunity to forage some lovely nutritious and delicious foods. From nuts seeds and berries, there is a lot you can gather while the weather is still fine.

Foraging is about finding food from nature, but you should only pick what you need and make sure you leave a good amount for the nearby wildlife to enjoy. Here we share our top foods to gather at this time of year.


Rosehips were used as an alternative for citrus fruits during the Second World War and used to make a rosehip syrup and to add flavour to foods. Discard the seeds and just use the flesh of the fruit and make syrup or jelly with either wild dog rose varieties or the more common Japanese Rose. Full of Vitamin C, they are a good nutrition-packed snack. You can find these fruits in hedgerows, rough grass and scrubland. It grows up to 3m high with pink or white flowers and the fruit is orangey red and rectangle shaped. Be careful of the thorns when you pick them.


An easily recognisable plant, raspberries will be coming to the end of their season soon, but you should still be able to gather a few. It is a spiny fruit with toothed oval shaped leaves and a white underside.

Crab apples

Crab apple trees are deciduous and grow up to 10 metres tall. The round fruit is very tart and comes in a variety of colours and ripens from October. Crab apples are great for making jams and jellies accompanied by other fruits like blackberries, rowan berries and rose hips which also ripen around this time.

Beech nuts

Tasting similar to a walnut, these tasty nuts grow with four, three-sided nuts to one brown prickly shell. The tree can grow up to 40m with bright green and oval shaped leaves. You are competing with the local squirrels for these so you will need to gather early.


You will need to look in woodland and hedgerows for a medium sized tree or shrub with distinctive rough bark and mid green coloured leaves. These berries are small, sweet and are a dark-red, purpley colour, packed with vitamins and antioxidants. They grow in clusters and have green, slightly toothed leaves and are perfect for sweet pies, jams and crumbles. Their rich deep flavour also makes them ideal for wine making.

Wild strawberries

They might only be small and can be difficult to find, but these berries are definitely worth the effort. Full of delicious flavour, they are best eaten straight from the plant. They can be found low on the ground in open woodland and on grassy banks. The fruit’s shiny, toothed leaves are in clusters of threes.


These may prove difficult to find as you will be up against the squirrels again. The nuts are perfect for picking when the leaves are just starting to turn yellow. At first you may think that a bush is bare, but if you lift the branches you will often see that they’re hiding underneath as the nuts grow under the leaves. You can also give the branch a shake and then look underneath. Found in hedgerows, woods and scrubland, the leaves are round, downy and toothed while the nuts are enclosed in a green, leafy shell. There are a variety of species of hazel which produce nuts. You can eat them when the shells are still green, if they have a developed nut inside, these are delicious. Dry the nuts in a dry dark place and you can use them dry or roast them.


poppy-1446340_1920The seed heads are perfect for picking when they are a grey-brown colour and have small holes underneath the flat top. If you put the whole seed heads into a paper bag and shake, you can easily take out the heads leaving the seeds in the bag which can be used for sprinkling on rolls, bread and cakes or as a tasty snack to nibble on.


Most of us have probably picked blackberries at some time. The prickly shrub grows in hedges, waste places and woods and has prickly leaves that turn a reddish green in the autumn. The berries should be a deep purpley black when picked. Berries should be used the same day that they are gathered. Use them for jams, chutney, wine, or freeze the berries to use in the future.

Hawthorn berries

Autumn foraging Hawthorn

This shrub can be found in scrubland, woodland and hedges and on heaths and downs. Its leaves are a glossy green and found on spiny branches. The round red, nutty tasting berries are called haws and grow in small bunches.

Has this inspired you? Find out more about foraging and other bushcraft techniques by signing up to one of Wildway Bushcraft’s courses and see what you can discover in the great outdoors.

If you want to learn more about what outdoor adventures you can have with your family, Bushcraft: A Family Guide is the perfect book for you.

Written by Wildway Bushcraft’s John Boe and Owen Senior, this illustrated practical guide, is packed with essential information and useful hints and tips that can be used by all the family, to help you get more out of your time outside together. This guide has everything both children and adults need to know to have fun and be safe in the great outdoors.

Whether you are planning a mini adventure in the woods or countryside, a camping trip or simply exploring your own back garden, this guide can teach you the art of bushcraft and get you and your friends and family out there ready to explore and have fun.

With activities such as how to find and collect water, build a shelter, how to navigate by the sun and stars, making a bow and arrow and tips on how to make the perfect toasted marshmallows – an essential when you are in the great outdoors!

Bushcraft : A Family Guide is not just for beginners, but offers practical tips and ideas for even the more experienced bushcraft adventurer. The guide covers subjects such as the law, equipment, fire, water, foraging, hunting tools, preparing meat and seafood for the pot, cooking in the great outdoors, staying out overnight, tracking, natural navigation, making things, carving and how to make sure you leave no trace when you are finished. Each chapter also has a useful section at the end where you can make your own notes.

John and Owen are both passionate about the great outdoors and sharing their skills and enthusiasm with others. They have been teaching practical and adaptable survival skills for many years, helping people get the most out of their outdoor experiences and adventures.

Being outside in the fresh air is the perfect way to spend time with friends and family while learning about nature and gaining confidence and practical new skills together.

The aim of this book is to encourage people to catch the ‘bug’ and spend more time outside with the people they love. ‘Perhaps you can persuade your friends to do the same. More people getting outside means more knowledge, enthusiasm and energy for all the wonderful things you can do in the great outdoors.

As the guide says, the basic ingredients of having fun and adventures outside is very simple, ‘just friends, family, food, woodsmoke, dirt and laugher’.

Bushcraft: A Family Guide is available from Amazon and book shops.

When you are going on a bushcraft trip, whether it’s a short or long trip, a well packed basic kit is absolutely essential. You will be reliant on your kit for the whole trip so you will want it to be good quality, durable and have everything you need.

Bushcraft kit essentials

Here are our top ten things to carry on a bushcraft trip:

bushcraft knifeA good knife is one of the most crucial items that you can take with you. The uses of a knife for bushcraft are endless and it’s best to take a knife with a fixed blade as they are more durable. Last year we reviewed the Bear Blades Forest 3 knife and it is now our preferred every day knife. Before going out with a knife, make sure you know about the knife law.  

 A folding saw is a very useful tool to have in your kit. It takes up very little space and along with a knife you can do everything that an axe can do and often more efficiently and quicker.

 Taking a first aid kit with you is essential, whether you are going on a short or long trip. A good first aid kit should include plasters, scissors, tweezers, antibacterial wipe, dressings, thermometer, surgical gloves, safety light and burn treatments.

 Whatever the weather, you will want to take a sleeping bag with you. It’s surprising how cold thesleeping bag nights can get when sleeping outside. Make sure that you’ve checked that you can fit comfortably into your sleeping bag and move around.

billy canYou will need a metal cooking pot as part of your kit. You will want to get something big enough but still light and easy to carry over long distances. It’s worth considering getting a pot that’s wide and tall as it provides a better distribution of heat and can be used as a frying pan. You may also want to get a cooking pot with a handle to make it easier to use.

Bushcraft in dorsetMost tarpaulins are very lightweight, versatile and will take up minimum space in your bag. With a tarpaulin you get more room than you do with a tent. It can shelter you from the rain and wind, especially if you are sleeping on the ground. They can also be used with poles as an emergency stretcher if needed.

Suitable waterproof clothing is a must. Carry a waterproof jacket or coat even if you think the weather will be dry. Good walking boots are also important. You may be doing a lot of walking in bad weather and you need to be comfortable and safe, especially if you are going to be carrying a heavy backpack.

Fire steel is a fire-lighting tool and capable of producing a shower of very hot sparks, enough to create a fire. It is one of the most reliable methods of lighting a fire outside.

It is important to get a good quality backpack to carry all your kit and it’s worth spending a little more money on a bag to avoid having to replace it too soon. The size of the bag will depend on how much kit you want to carry. Side pockets are handy for quick easy access to items that you will want to use regularly.

A water bottle is an essential item to take with you. Make sure it is strong and water tight. Avoid trying to carry all your water from the start of the trip as your bag will be too heavy, just make sure you refill often.

Seashore foraging is the art of finding food on the beach. As part of the bushcraft that we teach at Wildway Bushcraft, we will show you how to find seasonal food, prepare and enjoy it. Seashore foraging is the best way to grab some free tasty sea food!

If you know what you are looking for, seashore foraging can be a wonderful source of free and delicious food. But with all types of foraging, it is important to treat the area respectfully and only take what you need.

Get as much information as possible about the area and the cleanliness of the beach before heading out. If unsure, speak to the Environment Agency.

The best time for foraging on the beach is at low tide. Always check the weather forecast and make sure you are prepared if the weather suddenly changes. It can be easy to be trapped by rising tides or get caught in quicksand. Make sure you look out for any warning notices in the area. Have a map of the area with you and leave before the tide comes in.

Common seashore forages

Marsh Samphire, also known as glasswork, can be found in mud flats and coastal salt marshes around much of the south of the British Isles. It has a soft green water filled body and no leaves. It is one of the few wild vegetables available to buy. Pick the young plants whole in July, but it is still edible in August and sometimes into September and the freshest it is, the tastier it is.

Sea Beet is the wild relative of spinach and grows profusely on cliffs and by dunes near the sea and tastes like spinach but saltier.

Alexanders can be found around the coast and also inland by some roadsides. Pick it before it flowers, but if you miss it in spring, look again in autumn when it starts growing again.

Bladder wrack is seaweed with little air holes on it that makes it float up. Pick it in spring, it’s the most common seaweed and has a salty flavour. Only pick it when it’s still moist and attached to the rock.

Sea Lettuce looks like lettuce leaves and is a green and leafy seaweed found between the low and high tide marks all around Britain.

Sweet Oar Weed is browny green with straight but frilly fonds up to 3m long and can be found right at the low tide mark, extending into the sea. It’s at its best when picked in spring. This makes tasty crispy fried seaweed.
Limpets look like snails. They are difficult to prise off rocks, so you will need to give them a quick strike with a small rock before they realise you’re there.

Winkles might be small but they are tasty. Ensure that you never empty a whole pool of them, instead take a few from lots of different pools. Common throughout the British Isles, these little grey-black sea snails are found in rock pools in the littoral, tidal zone.

Mussels are best picked from rocky shorelines. It is important that the shore is clean, so check with the Environment Agency if you are unsure. Once cleaned, take each one, tap it to make sure it stays closed (if it isn’t closed then throw it away as it is dead and not safe to eat), scrape off the barnacles, pull out the byssus (the little hairs) and they are ready for cooking.

If the idea of seashore foraging has inspired you and your tastebuds, sign up for one of our Dorset based foraging courses and find out for yourself what delicious delicacies the seashore has to offer.



Week-long canoeing trips – the next step in your bushcraft adventures

Most people hanker for a few days escape from the modern world. The idea of sleeping under the stars, eating in the open air, observing wildlife not for an hour but through the whole day, or night, seeing nature unfold around you at its own pace. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?

But a week long canoeing trip gives even inexperienced people the chance to find their place in nature and to understand how the natural world operates.

Choosing a bushcraft canoe trip

Bushcraft is a fascinating and complex subject, and finding the right bushcraft canoe expedition operator can make a huge difference to your comfort, safety and the exposure to wildlife you experience. Look at references and reviews to find the best bushcraft organiser to take you on your long trip and then ask the following questions:

  • Ask about their safety records and training, how long they’ve been around and when they last organised a canoe trip.
  • Find out what kind of canoes they’re using. Canadian Canoes are the best for trips longer than a day or two, as they offer the best combination of space, comfort and stability.
  • Find out what will be expected of you – find out what you should pack, what you can expect to be asked to do during the trip and how to maximise your chances of seeing and recording wildlife.

Assess the depth of knowledge of those who will lead the trip and make sure you feel comfortable in their hands. If possible, take a day trip or overnight bushcraft trip with them, so that you have first-hand experience of working alongside them.

Packing for a bushcraft canoe expedition 

Your bushcraft canoe expedition guide will tell you exactly what to bring along and ensure it’s properly packed for a week long trip. They will use special bags that keep equipment and food dry. It’s vital not to overfill the bags so they can easily be ported. A bushcraft or canoe leader will also help you balance the bags in the canoe for maximum stability. Heavier items should be placed in the middle of the canoe, whilst lighter and bulky items like clothes, are located towards the ends.

Your guide will have tested all the equipment and the canoes, to make sure they are trip-worthy and capable of coping with the most rigorous conditions. Although each wilderness trip is carefully planned to avoid bad weather, a good guide will prepare for all possible scenarios. Check with your group leader to find out if you should bring:

  • Binoculars (make sure they’re waterproof!), snacks and a headlamp.
  • You’ll definitely be responsible for organising your own camera (with spare batteries) and memory cards/flash drives, sunscreen, lip balm and any medication or painkillers you require, your own clothing (you should get a list of items to pack), toiletries, spectacles and sunglasses (make sure they have a retaining cord so you can’t lose them overboard!) and whatever small luxuries you can’t live without.
  • Ask about insect repellent (especially in Scotland, where midges are troublesome) and consider packing earplugs, just in case your group includes a snorer!
  • Many people like to carry a diary (in a waterproof bag) pencils and something to read.

Foraging on a week long canoe journey

You’ll be amazed how much food you need to pack. Even though you’ll probably do a certain amount of foraging during your week-long trip, you need to consume a large number of calories to be in peak condition and you can’t rely on finding them during your trip. Living off the land isn’t possible because it depletes the natural environment as well as requiring years of experience to develop accurate foraging skills. You can expect to have a few wild treats: berries, herbs, maybe even a little wild protein, along the way, but you’re not going to find the bulk of your diet in the water or on the banks!

Wildlife of the Great Glen region

On a week long Canadian canoe trip in the Great Glen area, you can comfortably expect to see red deer, buzzard, osprey and ravens. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of red squirrels, wild boar and black grouse. For the incredibly fortunate there are rare glimpses of pine martens and golden eagles. The elusive Scottish wildcat is almost never spotted but everybody hopes to be one of the lucky few! Bird watchers can hope to see black-throated divers and crested tits, whilst the chequered skipper butterfly is found only in the Great Glen area, where the pearl-bordered fritillary can sometimes also be seen.

To find out more about a canoe buschraft expedition with Wildway Bushcraft just get in touch or for information about our other courses, check out our courses page for more information. We hope you will join us for an adventure very soon.

It is important to know and understand the current laws on buying and carrying knives in the UK before venturing out anywhere with a knife, whatever its size.

The information below is taken from

Knives: the laws on buying and carrying

The laws about buying and carrying a knife depend on the type of knife, your age and your circumstances.

It is illegal to:

  • sell a knife of any kind (including cutlery and kitchen knives) to anyone under 18,
  • carry a knife in public without good reason – unless it’s a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62 cm) or less, eg a Swiss Army knife,
  • carry, buy or sell any type of banned knife (the list of banned knives is below),
  • use any knife in a threatening way (even a legal knife, such as a Swiss Army knife),

Lock knives (knives with blades that can be locked when unfolded) are not folding knives, and are illegal to carry in public.

The maximum penalty for an adult carrying a knife is 4 years in prison and a fine of £5,000.

Good reasons for carrying a knife

Examples of good reasons to carry a knife in public can include:

  • Taking knives you use at work to and from work, 
  • you’re taking knives to a gallery or museum to be exhibited, 
  • the knife is going to be used for theatre, film, televison, historical reenactment or religious purposes (eg the kirpan some Sikhs carry)

A court will decide if you’ve got a good reason to carry a knife if you’re charged with carrying it illegally.

Knives that are illegal

There is a complete ban on the sale of some knives:

  • flick knives (also called ‘switchblades’ or ‘automatic knives’) – where the blade is hidden inside the handle and shoots out when a button is pressed
  • butterfly knives – where the blade is hidden inside a handle that splits in two around it, like wings; the handles swing around the blade to open or close it
  • disguised knives – eg where the blade is hidden inside a belt buckle or fake mobile phone
  • gravity knives
  • sword-sticks
  • samurai swords (with some exceptions, including antiques and swords made to traditional methods before 1954)
  • hand or foot-claws
  • push daggers
  • hollow kubotan (cylinder-shaped keychain) holding spikes
  • shuriken (also known as ‘death stars’ or ‘throwing stars’)
  • kusari-gama (sickle attached to a rope, cord or wire)
  • kyoketsu-shoge (hook-knife attached to a rope, cord or wire)
  • kusari (weight attached to a rope, cord or wire)

This is not a complete list of banned knives. Contact your local police to check if a knife is illegal or not.

Criminal Justice Act 1988

The Criminal Justice Act 1988 mainly relates to carrying knives in public spaces, Section 139 being the most important:
(1) Subject to subsections (4) and (5) below, any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) Subject to subsection (3) below, this section applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocketknife.
(3) This section applies to a folding pocketknife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches.
(4) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.

The definition of “public place” is unsettled, but can loosely be defined as anywhere the public have a legitimate right to be whether this access is paid for or not, which could include any populated area within the United Kingdom, including one’s motor vehicle, which is defined by law as a ‘public place’ unless parked on private property. In a remote or otherwise unpopulated area, a public place could include: 1) an organised wilderness gathering or event; 2) a National Park; 3) Forestry Commission land that is held open to the public; 4) public footpaths; 5) bridleways; and 6) any area where an individual does not need to ask specific permission to walk, camp, or travel from a landowner.

The phrase “good reason or lawful authority” in Subsection 4 is intended to allow for “common sense” possession of knives, so that it is legal to carry a knife if there is a bona fide reason to do so. Subsection 5 gives some specific examples of bona fide reasons: a knife for use at work (e.g. a chef’s knife), as part of a national costume (e.g. a sgian dubh for the Scottish national costume), or for religious reasons (e.g. a Sikh Kirpan). However, even these specific statutory exceptions have proven unavailing to knife owners at times. It is important to note that that “good reason or lawful authority” exceptions may be difficult to establish for those not using a knife in the course of their trade or profession, but merely because the knife is needed in case of emergency or for occasional utility use. A person on holiday and travelling by motor vehicle in the UK might well be obliged to purchase a knife at their destination, rather than risk prosecution if one is found by the police during a routine traffic stop or checkpoint.

Although English law insists that it is the responsibility of the prosecution to provide evidence proving a crime has been committed, an individual must provide evidence to prove that they had a “good reason or lawful authority” for carrying a knife (if this is the case) upon being detained. While this may appear to be a reversal of the usual burden of proof, technically the prosecution has already proven the case (prima facie) by establishing that a knife was being carried in a public place.
As the burden of proving “good reason or lawful authority” lies with the defendant, it is likely that an individual detained and searched by the police will need to prove the following (sometimes known as the THIS list):

Has THIS person got permission; to use THIS article (knife); for THIS use; on THIS land; and by THIS land owner.

The special exception which exists in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Sec. 139) for folding knives (pocket knives) is another “common sense” measure accepting that some small knives are carried for general utility; however, even a folding pocket knife or multi-tool equipped with a blade of less than 3 inches (76 mm) may still be considered an offensive weapon if it has a locking blade. It is a common belief that a folding pocket knife with a blade of 3 inches (76mm) or less must have a locking blade to be considered an offensive weapon, but the wording of the Criminal Justice Act does not mention locking and the matter becomes a question as to the definition of “folding pocket knife”.

In the Crown Court appeal of Harris v. DPP (1992) and the Court of Appeal case of ‘R. v Deegan (1998) the ruling that ‘folding’ was intended to mean ‘non-locking’ was upheld. As the only higher court in England and Wales to the Court of Appeal is the Supreme Court, the only way the decision in R. v. Deegan could be overturned is by a dissenting ruling by the Supreme Court or by Act of Parliament.T’s & C’s

If in doubt leave it at home.



Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

What’s the difference?

Many places offer bushcraft and survival skills courses. Is there a difference between these two and if so, why does it matter? The answer is quite simple. There is a pretty big difference. And it does matter.

Survival Skills Training

The basic definition of survival skills is to possess the ability to survive in the wild in an emergency situation. We’re talking about a few hours, at most a couple of days, in which you, the survivor, will be able to use learned skills and available technology to get yourself to safety, or to keep yourself safe until you are discovered/rescued.

What does this mean in practice?

A lot of survival training is about priorities and decision-making. Essentially this means defining our survival priorities (safety, shelter, water, communication/transportation/navigation/signalling, food) in roughly that order, and then being able to undertake meeting those needs using whatever is to hand, whether it’s part of the natural environment (friction fire-making) or not (a lighter plus perfume as an accelerant to get the fire burning well).

It’s a short-term mindset that might involve behaviours that aren’t great for the environment – if the car breaks down in a remote part of the country and we’re travelling with a frail person who can’t hike to safety, we might decide to siphon out the petrol and start a fire to signal our whereabouts, even though that’s hardly environmentally friendly behaviour!

Bushcraft skills

These are longer term skills that allow us to thrive in the natural environment without harm to ourselves or that environment. Using the example above, it’s about hiking into that remote area, carrying only what we need, and then using that natural environment to meet our needs with respect for nature’s processes and the whole ecosystem that supports us in our bushcraft.

This skill-set gives us confidence in our knowledge and security about our ability to adapt to our environment. It means we can build an appropriate shelter instead of needing to carry a sleeping bag. It allows us to forage food and hunt on a long-term basis so that our nutritional needs are met and we remain strong and active. It’s about learning skills that our ancestors knew such as friction fire making, bow hunting, flint knapping, butchering, and preserving found food.

The survival/bushcraft overlap

Of course, there are areas where these two skill sets overlap. Navigation, for example. Using evidence in our natural environment to find our way to safety is an ability that both forms of training would contain, and basic shelter construction is also essential to survival and a necessary part of developing bushcraft. Being able to read your surroundings, predict weather and appreciate changes in the environment that tip you off to future events (birds roosting as a sign it will soon be dusk etc) is also a crucial talent.
The difference between the two sets of skills is partly one of degree and partly one of commitment – many people start out learning survival skills and become fascinated by the process of bushcraft because it allows them to enjoy their surroundings, not just survive in them!

Natural Cord Bushcraft

Bramble Double Twist, Bramble, Yucca and Nettle

Natural cordage is both vital to survival skills and a satisfying and rewarding process in itself. For those wanting to develop their wilderness skills, the process of making natural cordage is an essential step to the further construction of fishing line and bowstrings for hunting, for lashing poles for shelters and bundles and thousand other uses that can make the difference between a pleasant bushcraft experience and a miserable one. Whilst foraging is often seen as simply the art of gleaning food from nature, bushcraft skills such as producing cordage from the natural environment allow for a far wider range of foraging experiences, as well as providing the opportunity to develop an amazing ability to make a cord or string from unlikely appearing materials.  


Brambles and grasses offer a good range of cordage possibilities, although the preferred plant-based cordage in the UK is probably nettle, partly because they are so readily available for so much of the year and partly because nettle offers a superior cordage owing to the length of fibre available and the ease of working with the nettle fibre. Nettle makes a cord or braid that can be used effectively for most purposes and can even be woven to make a durable if coarse fabric – as is proved by the fact that World War I knapsacks were woven from nettle fibre!

Nettle-based cordage

Remember that if you’re working with nettles you need to avoid the stinging hairs which are found on the underside of the leaves and the stem. You can rub these off the plant completely while wearing gloves, then tear off the leaves.
Crush the stem along its length using your fingers, but don’t use a stone as this can damage the fibres. Using your fingernail or a knife, slide into the end of the stem and open it up like a book so it can be laid flat.
Scrape out the inner fibres to leave the outer fibres of the nettle which will serve as your cordage. This can be used straight away, or you can thin the stem down by tearing or slicing it lengthways to create a narrower fibre.
Allow your cordage to dry either in the sun or by putting it near a camp fire – this is vital as nettle, in particular, shrinks when dried and you need that process to happen before you use it.
Nettle cordage may then need to be soaked to prevent it becoming brittle, and to strengthen it further you can twist your nettle fibre. Simply find the half-way point of your cordage and fold it in two. By twisting one half of the stem with your free hand and then allowing it to twine itself round the other half of the stem you’ll massively increase the tensile strength of your cordage.


Tree-based cordage

Complete stems from a range of trees can be used as withies – the most successful trees for this purpose are hazel, willow, birch, elm, poplar, and ash – however any tree that produces thin pliable stems can be used; where such stems are short, withies can be woven together to make a relatively pliable withy which is good for lashing or adding structural stability to structures.

Inner bark, known as bast, is a more substantial product but requires a greater range of skills and more time. The plus side of tree based cordage is that it lasts longer and is much more durable. Begin by locating a suitable tree: goat willow (aka pussy willow), crack willow, oak, elm and lime are great trees for bast cordage. Lime was in fact the the chosen fibre for cordage and was used across Europe until hemp became more readily available in the 15th century. Even roots can be used to make bindings – Scots Pine is superb for this purpose, but of course you need to take care that you’re not going to damage the tree if you grub to extract some of the smaller, younger roots.

If you’re going for bast-based fibres you’ll have the best raw materials for cordage but to actually produce the finest cordage you need to use a softening method such as beating, boiling, heating, retting or smoking.

Begin by stripping the bark from your chosen tree stems by slitting the bark down the centre and peeling it off carefully. Then prepare the bark using one of the methods describe above – retting and smoking in particular require more expertise and hands-on demonstration than we can cover effectively online, so why not book one of our Dorset bushcraft courses and discover the best techniques for yourself?

IMG_0886Once made, bast cordage is great to work with and we can show you how to use it in a hundred ways to add to your survival skills experience.