There are only 26 million people living in Australia on an area of over 7.5 million km². Ingenuity and survival skills are therefore part of the daily lives of Aussies who are living far away from the big metropolises.
Here in Germany, on the other hand, things look quite different: there are three times as many people on less than one-twentieth the area of Australia. Vast bushlands? – Nope. Pristine forests? – Yes, in a protected conservation area! Secluded from civilisation? – Well…
When it comes to surviving in the wilderness in Germany or the UK, help is usually just an emergency call away. However, we’re talking about bushcraft here, which isn’t the same as survival. Survival is about getting out of an involuntarily dangerous situation and back into civilisation quickly. And according to survival expert Bear Grylls, this entails feeding on all sorts of unusual plants and insects. Getting injured outdoors and having no way of getting help or making an emergency call can cause you to go into survival mode.
Bushcraft, on the other hand, entails adventure and challenge. The primary goal is to have a near-natural experience using as little and as efficient equipment as possible. Some activities include starting fires, sawing wood, building shelters and sleeping under the open sky (or tarp).
Without going into detail about it now, the difference between bushcraft and survival can be defined by the fact that bushcraft is done voluntarily. The skills needed for bushcraft can actually be very useful for some survival situations.
Equipment for bushcraft adventures
When the TV survival expert is dropped off far from human civilisation, they are usually equipped with practical gear such as a climbing rope, a large knife and all kinds of helpful equipment. The good thing about bushcraft is that you can learn in advance about the area you will be in and can adapt your equipment accordingly.
The basic equipment for bushcraft includes:
- Warm and weatherproof outdoor clothes
- Water bottle
- Walking, mountaineering or trekking backpack
- Something to start a fire
- Equipment to build a camp (e.g. tarp, sleeping bag, sleeping mat or hammock)
- Knowledge about animals, plants, weather, etc.
- Maps and a compass
- If required: water filter or tablets to purify water
The beauty in all of this is that you get to decide if you want to reduce the amount of equipment to vary the degree of difficulty. No lighter, no saw, no cord or no knife? There are always ways to make bushcraft more challenging.
Fire making for beginners and professionals
The best way to start a fire without a lighter is, of course, matches. Okay, but all jokes aside, there is a whole list of ways to start a fire in the wilderness. Here are some of them:
- Starting a fire with sparks The ready-made fire steel kits with magnesium and metal scraper are available in specialist shops. You can use these to ignite fine sawdust (you may need a little practice though). A chisel or a battery can also produce an ignition spark.
- Using a sunbeam Using a magnifying glass as a burning glass can ignite sawdust or dry grass in a short amount of time. The catch: you need a magnifying glass (or another burning glass, like a bottle) and the sun must be shining.
- Chemical fire Certain chemicals in combination with other chemicals and air can start a fire. However, this is only mentioned for the sake of completeness. Bush crafters use other methods that are better suited than chemistry sets.
- Fire through friction The fire drill is probably the oldest and most universal method of starting a fire. The great thing about it is that you basically don’t need any tools (well, a knife is helpful) and the method has been tried and tested millions of times since the Stone Age.
In the world of bushcraft, knowing how to start a fire is essential and for some, it’s said to be the most essential skill. Fire gives warmth, allows you to cook, fry food and boil of water. It also provides light and can offer protection against wild animals.
By the way: if you want to know in detail how to start a fire at any time, you will find many useful tips in our series of articles “Starting a fire” (only available in German):
Building a shelter and sleeping outside
Bushcraft is not always about going deep in the wilderness. While some bush crafters venture through the forest during the day, moving further and deeper in the woods towards a specific goal and looking for or building a new sleeping spot every day, others stay in their self-made shelter for several days. The shelter may be simple or more elaborate.
- Bivouac or tarp If you’re a beginner, a tarp, a simple hammock or a bivvy sack is the perfect solution to get through the night safely. Of course, you can also sleep in a sleeping bag. However, if you want to build a real bushcraft shelter, it will require a little more work.
- Shelter If you don’t want to crawl into a cave, under a pile of leaves or a rocky outcrop for the night, setting up a simple shelter is the perfect solution. To do so, attach a stable branch to two fixed points, i.e. trees, using the cord you have in your backpack to create a roof beam. Place thinner branches diagonally to make your shelter. This creates a sloping roof that you can continue to cover with branches, leaves, fir twigs, etc. Depending on how much time and effort you put into it, the roof can become quite waterproof and also offers very good protection against the wind and sun. You can also get creative with it and add more things.
- Advanced bushcraft camp It’s possible to make all sorts of items with bushcraft skills. From a campfire tripod and chair to a table and various containers – anything is possible! You can also create utensils by using a knife and a string or rope. You can also use fibres, bark and grass to make cords. Making such objects makes the whole set-up slightly more elaborate and is recommended if you’re an experienced individual looking for a challenge. It is definitely worth learning how to tie a few knots and, if necessary, learning about the construction of houses, huts and scaffolding in the Middle Ages. In the process, you may get new ideas for your next bushcraft project.
In any case, the shelter should be safe and sturdy. You need to make sure it will remain stable if it were to get completely soaked by the rain or have 20 cm of snow on it.
Bushcraft nutrition – how do I get food and water?
There is no such thing as a special bushcraft diet. Instead, what is on the menu depends on many factors, such as the type and duration of the trip, region, season, etc. Finding food in the wilderness without directly committing a crime is also not that easy.
Basically, the only thing left to do is to collect berries, fruits, nuts and mushrooms. So, it’s better to carry the amount of food you’ll need with you and supplement it with local food if necessary.
Things are a little different in a survival situation. You will need to find anything that gives your body the energy it needs.
Now back to bushcraft: you should have food that provides a lot of energy at a low weight and that doesn’t need extensive preparation (e.g. no, or only little water and no fire). Muesli bars, dried fish and meat, and dried fruit are great options.
You definitely need to be a little careful with water. The body needs about 1.5 litres of water per day even without physical exertion. For more intense bushcraft activities, the amount required can increase to 3 litres. In a survival situation, drinking from springs, streams and even rainwater may seem like a good idea. However, it’s usually not very safe to do so (unless you drink high up in the mountains, directly from the source). Therefore, water in the wild should either be boiled or filtered.
Fortunately, Alpine Trekker Simon has hiked through Norway twice (and lengthways, too…) and collected many tips on clean drinking water.
Bushcraft in Germany
Outside your own property, bushcraft is basically forbidden everywhere in Germany. You are not allowed to pitch your tent in the forest, to build a camp nor to start a fire in a place not intended and designated for this purpose.
Trapping, hunting and fishing are also not allowed without the necessary permits. Similar rules apply in most other European countries. Walking through the forest with large knives, machetes or special axes is also not recommended. Cutting down trees, removing bark, cutting branches and even picking up the wood from the forest floor is not allowed either.
So if you want to pursue this special passion for a life in harmony with nature (outside of special bushcraft camps or private properties), just know that it may be illegal or a legal grey zone.
We are not trying to inspire you to engage in illegal bushcraft activities. However, the grey zone may offer sufficient leeway to spend a night outdoors. If a forester catches you building a shelter in the forest, they may turn a blind eye and demand that the “illegal dwelling” be taken down.
If you are caught fishing and hunting without permission, you will definitely face charges. There is also no room for negotiation in the case of unauthorised felling of trees, larger fires or littering.
If you are calm, quiet, inconspicuous and don’t leave any traces, you may have a chance of completing your bushcraft adventure in Germany.
In any case, you should inform yourself beforehand and, if necessary, ask the respective municipality or the owner of the property for permission. This is the best strategy to stay on the safe side if you want to complete a bigger project.
Training at a bushcraft or survival camp
Those of you who want to try out different bushcraft techniques while being assisted and who enjoy engaging with outdoor enthusiasts can have fun and gain experience in a bushcraft or survival training camp. After all, bushcraft is not just about walking through the forest, setting up camp and sitting in front of a fire, but also about gaining knowledge of nature and living in and with it.
You can learn a lot about plants, animals, different materials, techniques, climate, astronomy, weather and geology, too. The more you learn to understand the natural processes of things, the easier it is to orient yourself and correctly assess situations in bushcraft.
The more knowledge you have, the less equipment you have to carry on your back.